Authors: Jaymin Eve
Copyright © Jaymin Eve 2013
All rights reserved
First published in 2013
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All characters in this publication other than those clearly in the public domain are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To Lola Eve who taught me the true meaning of unconditional love
I glanced over my shoulder at the approaching darkness.
Move your butt, Abby, you’re almost safe
I’m fooling myself but I need the pep talk. It should surprise me that this is happening again, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Lately it’s become a regular part of my daily routine. Get up, go to class, escape the compound and get chased by Gangers all afternoon ... sure, just standard stuff. I really need to find someone with a normal life, kill them and take their identity. I’m kidding, of course. In my seventeen years, I’m yet to meet anyone with a normal life.
I ran across the road. Where had the footsteps that had been echoing my own hurried pace for the past twenty minutes disappeared to? I
found it unsettling that the only noise to break the silence was my own shallow breathing.
Hesitating, I scanned the area. The street was empty.
Shadowy and unnaturally silent. I looked again in the last rays of the setting sun. Shattered shop windows – junk piles – were the norm. Courtesy of the current world crisis. But the gang of tattoo-faced thugs that struck such fear in me when they attacked in Central Park were thankfully missing. Four on one hadn’t been the best odds, but I’d managed to shake them off and almost ... almost I was back at the compound.
Fidgeting a little, I stifled a cry of pain. Lifting my
raggedy sweater, I breathed in. I hadn’t escaped entirely undamaged. In the still-fading light I could just make out the dark bruises shadowing my ribs. Purple already? That was going to be a pretty sight by morning. A rodent scuttled by – but that wasn’t causing the tenseness that filtered into each of my muscles. I couldn’t see the source – or hear it – but I could feel it. I wasn’t alone. Pulling down my thin top, ignoring the pain, I tried to determine where the ambush was coming from.
’s an understatement to say I’m not patient. I acknowledged that. I was ready for lunch the moment I finished breakfast, although, I thought wryly, that might have more to do with a love of food rather than impatience. So action of any kind was my preference and I’ve always worked on the theory that in dangerous situations there was little point sitting around waiting for the axe to fall. A theory expertly formed through my formative years, which were spent watching pirated old-school horror movies. Ah, yes, the loss of television was one of the things I’ve long mourned since the fall of New York. Funny, considering how many other things we had lost, but escapism was harder to come by now.
So back to my current predicament.
My instincts were urging me to stop running and get off the street. Avoid the Gangers until they moved on to some other nefarious business – which preferably wouldn’t involve me. I was banking on their notoriously short attention spans. Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the nearby alley.
Almost no light penetrated this far off the main road. And even with excellent night vision I
crept cautiously. The dusky light barely highlighted the alley. It was short and dirty, with just a few rusted-out dumpsters scattered close to a brick wall dead-end.
Bad idea, Abby.
My instincts d
on’t usually let me down, but the danger on the street was preferable to being caught in a dead-end alley. Bad horror movie script.
I turned to leave, but only took two steps before
the faint sounds of feet scuffing the footpath halted my escape. My heart skipped a beat.
I was about to become that idiot heroine
, you know the one: stupid, stacked, blond and dead. The film industry doesn’t exist anymore, but I had watched enough old movies to know the general plotline. Considering I was neither stacked nor blond, I might pass on that career choice today.
I moved further into the shadows. There were exactly two suitable dumpsters. The rusty faded red, which was emitting suspicious rat noises
; or the other, a delightful brown color, which, judging by the smell, was home to at least two dead bodies.
Moving faster, I flipped a mental coin before sliding in behind the red one. There was just enough space to hide. Leaning back against the wall, I ignored the rustling and forced my tense muscles to relax.
I tried to contain the flood of unpleasant memories.
It’s as if the moment I sit still all the negative crap piles in on me. It still amazes me that people of the early 21
century thought Earth of the future was going to be awesome. By the year 2020 we would have flying cars, talking dogs and somehow live in houses suspended in the sky. The reality – it’s 2035 and we live in a dead zone.
Technology and communication systems – gone.
Malls – gone.
Schools and sports – gone.
Fossil fuels and transport systems they powered. Sigh.
ed in a chaotic cycle of militia, gangs and destruction. The Brutal Gangers – currently chasing me – were one of the many gangs fighting for survival and power. All striving to dominate control of food sources, drugs, human trafficking, and, of course, the ever prevalent battle for more territory.
It was during my lifetime that the rebels tried to regroup, to take society back. But the militia and gangs had a strong hold. They controlled the majority of weapons, food and the only communication
s system left – archaic two-wave radio. We were the rebels. We had less numbers and no choice but to barricade ourselves into compounds, only leaving when necessary.
Kicking back against the dumpster, I thought briefly of raiding it for food. There wasn’t much point
. I hadn’t found anything remotely edible for months, but we were dangerously low on supplies. We barely survived, but we were good at biding our time and being smarter.
sitting in various types of gunk on the freezing ground, waiting to be beat down by some thug –
It was about time I initiated a safer escape from the monotony of the compound. Next time I felt a need to jog, I’d just stay home. Strike that, I’d just stay in bed. This wasn’t my first experience with the Brutal Gangers and probably wouldn’t be my last.
I hoped my luck wasn’t due to run out anytime soon.
It was pitch black in the alley now and my legs were almost asleep. I’d exhausted enough patience and spent way too long brooding.
Time to make a break for it.
Easing myself free, I brushed down my jeans, dispelling the dust and the other disgusting items I
’d been sitting in. It was a small comfort that the darkness hid the ground. Shuffling along the alley, I headed toward the street front, discernible in the faint spectre of light cast by one of the few working street lamps.
I paused at the end of the alley and focused. A secret to my survival was ‘trust your instincts and use common sense’.
Yeah, it wasn’t much of a secret, but common sense – whew, hard to come by. Lucy always told me she’d come running with me when I was at the survivalist level of Bear Grylls. On a scale of one to Bear Grylls, I wasn’t even close. I missed television. No new shows had been made past 2015, but I’d always enjoyed the oldies. No more, though. Our television unit now housed mice and quite a few cockroaches.
I waited patiently, absorbing the silence. It was a good sign, time to make a run for home. Easing around the side of the alley, I breathed deeply. No time to hesitate. I took the first step, pushing off hard from the ground. But, before I even landed, my right arm was jerked roughly, flinging me to the side. The pressure didn’t ease. Shi... I’d been caught. Twice in one day was a record, even for me.
A large masculine hand was wrapped tightly around my arm, long fingers overlapping on my bicep.
I had seconds to escape.
He was alone now, but that wouldn’t last long.
Going limp, I slumped against him.
He grunted at the unexpected force of a hundred and thirty pounds of dead weight, and his grip eased slightly. Using my leg muscles for leverage, I wrenched myself backwards, landing in the alley. Pain exploded through my body as I hit the ground hard, but I had some space. Brushing my long hair from my eyes, I scuttled down the alley. Distance was the key to my fighting style. I’m too light and weak to have much chance if they get their hands on me, but I am fast.
The shadowed figure had not moved from the alley entrance.
Upon reaching the end of the path, I stood carefully, the brick wall anchoring my back. My escape had been too easy; there was definitely an ambush coming. I needed to take him on while he remained unaided. That was my only chance. My much abused muscles ached in protest and I was grateful for the amazing power of adrenalin.
I took a few steps closer, leaving the safety of my wall. My arms hung loosely at my side, my stance relaxed and ready for battle. I stopped halfway, ten feet from the man, his features shadowed but discernible in the backlight.
An average man, albeit a little weathered. His dark hair was peppered through with silver highlights and it was cropped close to his scalp in a haphazard manner. Either his hairdresser really sucked or he cut it himself, with a blunt knife and no mirror. It was a small relief that he displayed no facial tattoos or clothing insignia from the local gangs. Although, truthfully I was more comfortable with the monster I knew. The motives of gang members I understood.
This man I did not.
His clothing looked tattered, an array of brown and tan fading into each other. The shabbiness didn’t disguise their unusual quality and style. He could have stepped off the pages of my history books, elaborate military-style dress with large medals on each shoulder.
What was this mystery man doing on the
streets? Out here there were Gangers, the occasional lost human (dead men walking) and the crazy homeless beggars. But this man didn’t fit any of the profiles. A lone wolf. He emanated a unique strength and power, but more than that, he was strangely familiar. In an almost involuntary movement, I took a step closer. The cooling air sent chills down my spine. It was either that or the energy pulsing in the space between us.
I was now close enough to distinguish the dark blue of his eyes, shrewd and perceptive. On top of that his commanding and charismatic presence dominated the space. What a plethora of contradictions. This familiarity was crazy; I had never known anyone but the rebels from my compound. So what was my connection to him?
And then it hit me. Figuratively speaking.
I’d been probably nine years old, I guess. It was only the second time I’d escaped the compound. The situation in New York was not as bad then, but being a child I’d had more restrictions. The first ten minutes had been fun and uneventful. But then I’d noticed a group of men standing near Central Park. Unsure of the situation and worried for my safety, I decided to make my way home. It had been near this very street that I locked eyes with a man.
This man. I was sure of it now.
The same warmth
... the same strength ... the same sense of safety had reached across the space to me.
As a child, I hadn’t even hesitated, stepping onto the road
toward him. I’d taken three steps before he’d smiled sadly, lifted his hand in a wave, and taken off into the park.
The memory had stayed with me for years, gradually fading until now. I guess any psychiatrist would assure me he was the reason I ran the streets: I had been searching for him.
Standing here, eight years later, he still evoked feelings of warmth and safety. And my curiosity would not be denied. My sensible side was demanding over and over that I move my butt out of there, but, if I hadn’t listened for seventeen years, I wasn’t about to start now.
He didn’t seem dangerous.
Just standing there – silently.
So, I conveniently ignored that he’d grabbed me only five minutes before. What did I have to lose?
Don’t answer that question.
Since my escape from his clutches, he had made no attempt to approach me again. Usually this would be to lull
me into a false sense of security. But the vibe I was getting was the opposite. I tapped my foot reflexively. For the world’s most impatient person, it had reached the point where I couldn’t stand the silent staring any longer.
Time to speak up.
What’s the worst that could happen? Yeah, I
threw that out into the universe ... I liked living on the edge.
“Strange man with horrible haircut,” I acknowledged his presence, “who are you and what do you want?” My words cut through the semi-darkness.
There was a subtle change as my words broke our stare-off. His muscles tensed, as if expecting a confrontation. I tilted my head to the side. It seemed important to hear him speak; I felt like I had been waiting my entire life for this moment. His lips turned up at the corners.
“Fiery redhead, with an attitude.”
I smiled at his words. He had a sense of
humor. How refreshing.
“I am your watcher,
. Tell me, what is the name you are called here?”