Authors: Jennifer Martucci,Christopher Martucci
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction, #Survival Stories, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Dystopian, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Fantasy & Magic, #Paranormal & Urban
By Jennifer and Christopher Martucci
URTH (BOOK 1)
Published by Jennifer and Christopher Martucci
Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved.
First edition: October 2013
Editing by FirstEditing
Cover design by Damonza
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Wind howls through the trees and rushes in the cracks of the cave, whistling shrilly. I bolt upright, startled. In the bleary moments just after waking from a deep sleep, I worry that they’ve found us. When my eyes adjust, I see that we are alone and our defenses have not been breached.
I sigh and feel the panic begin to leak
from my body as my eyes sweep the familiar surroundings. The sun has not risen yet. Eerie, iridescent light trickles in with streams of air that carry the sweet, pungent zing of ozone. Sharp and fresh, the scent fills the cave. I wonder if my sister, June, smells it. It is one of her favorite scents, the way the atmosphere smells before it rains. But she is still asleep, her small body curled in a ball beside me. I am tempted to wake her. She does not like to miss any opportunity for joy, as joy is a rarity in our world. But she looks too serene to disturb. With her eyes closed and her features relaxed, she looks her age: eight years old. Her brow is not creased in concern. Her eyes are not narrowed as they usually are. Her face is smooth, innocent. She looks at peace. But I know that when she finally wakes, favorite scents or no favorite scents, peace will seep from her. Daylight will appear to age her. It always does.
I watch her for several moments. The familiar ache begins in my chest and quickly tightens my throat. I swallow hard
, gulping in vain against the lump of dread stuck there. I don’t know why I bother. It never moves. I doubt it will ever leave.
Thunder rumbles and shakes the
cave’s stone walls. Rain patters at first then drums loudly, the shriek of the wind accompanying it. A violent storm is underway. Still, June remains asleep, unbothered and unaware of it. I almost envy her.
Her eyelids flutter and a small smile tilts the corners of her mouth upward.
She must be having a pleasant dream. I have forgotten what pleasant dreams are. My dreams are never pleasant. They are usually filled with dreadful images, and running, always running, without a destination in sight. The veil between nightmares and reality is thin. Some days, I have trouble distinguishing between the two. I would have ended it all long ago were it not for June.
June is my reason to live, the
reason I still live. She is my purpose. I exist to keep her safe, for she needs protection from many things in this world. It has been eight years since I’ve seen another human being that wasn’t my father or my sister, June. I’m convinced we are the last human beings on what was once called
. I would never tell June that. I tell her every day that I believe someone will find us, that we will one day feel safe instead of scared all the time. But I know that is not true.
I force a smile on my face each day, in defiance of the truth, in defiance of the ache in my heart, and tell June
that one day our lives will be filled with calm and order. It is a sharp contrast to the jumbled chaos of our day-to-day existence. Most days the madness of it all weighs on me so heavily I contemplate scouring the forest for berries my father warned me against, and filling my belly with them. Once, I came dangerously close to doing just that that.
A few weeks ago,
I leaned against a tree trunk, mesmerized by the yellowish-orange fruit, and picked a handful. I brought my hand to my mouth and parted my lips, tears of relief slipping down my cheeks as I envisioned an end to it all, to the never-ending tightness in my throat, the constant worry, the suffering. I was about to eat several berries when my sister called out to me in the distance. She was cheering excitedly about catching her first squirrel, which turned out to be a skunk. I froze. The gravity of what I was about to do hit me like a fist to my gut. The berries fell between my fingers and dropped to the ground below. “In a minute, June,” I yelled. I needed time to collect myself and breathe through the swell of emotion crashing over me. I had intended to take my life, had come dangerously close, in fact. The actuality of it staggered me. I was angry, scared, and grateful all at once. I sprang to my feet and paced for several moments, panting like a wild animal, before I calmed down enough to plaster a tight smile on my face. I returned to June and did not speak of what I almost did. She never asked, and I never told. I haven’t done anything that reckless or stupid since. I don’t have the luxury of doing such things.
, as I watch the rise and fall of June’s chest as she takes deep, even breaths, I realize I was selfish weeks earlier. I am selfish every time I entertain the idea of ending the yawning pit of sadness inside me for good. She needs me. She would not survive without me, especially since our father died a little more than a year ago. He lived what I guess was a much longer-than-average life and passed away peacefully at the age of fifty. In the days before his death, I promised him we would stay safe, and I would keep June out of harm's way and never give up. He showed me how to do it, how to survive. The rest, namely living, is a bit more complicated.
back down and close my eyes, remembering all my father taught me. I curve my body around June’s sleeping form, comforted by her stillness. She does not feel me there. She continues to sleep. The storm rages outside. And the lump in my throat balloons to the point that I fear it will strangle me.
But in spite of the turmoil outside and
the havoc rattling around inside me, exhaustion takes hold and pulls me on a dark and velvety tide. I sleep until the chirping of birds wakes me.
s still stretch across the cave I’ve called home for the last six years, but the light filtering in is considerably brighter. My stomach clenches violently, rumbling and growling, and I know it is time to hunt. Food has been scarce the last few days, leaving only small animals to trap and eat. I have only caught rats. They taste terrible, have very little meat on them, and always leave me feeling sick. I crave the filling sustenance of boart meat, but haven’t seen one recently, not in the last three days, at least.
The thought of filling my stomach with tender, succulent boart
flesh forces me to sit up. My back complains and my neck aches. Too little sleep and positioning myself oddly conspire against me. Regardless, I push myself to stand, shoving my palms and heels against the hard, rocky floor. I scrub my face with my hands, and then stretch before pulling out the logs that are lodged between the wall and the boulder at the mouth of the cave.
Six years ago, my father found a stone to cover the cave’
s opening. He spent months etching it, chipping away at its surface little by little, until it fit, rounded and able to roll bumpily. With an assortment of wood stuck all around it, the boulder conceals us, and keeps creatures of every kind from getting in. The beings that roam the land after dark are deadly. We cannot go out once the sun sets, not even in the event of an emergency. No human being can, should any exist. And together, the boulder and the logs safeguard us from Lurkers.
of Lurkers makes my skin crawl, as if thousands of insect feelers are scuttling across it. The need for fresh air and light becomes urgent. Large logs wedge the boulder into the mouth of the cave to keep it securely in place. The logs extend from the boulder to the far wall. I frantically clear them, working so hard I am winded. When the last log is cleared, I rest my hands on my knees and gulp air greedily. I brush my brow with the back of my hand and my eyes immediately go to June, still fast asleep. I regret having to wake her, but the next task is too difficult to be performed by only me. The boulder is heavy, and while I’m at my prime at age seventeen, my strength is no match for the stone.
Reluctantly, I move toward her and sit. I brush a lock of golden hair from her forehead.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” I say.
She stirs and
slowly opens her eyes. Her eyes narrow and focus on my face, erasing the smoothness of youth. She suddenly looks all of her eight years, plus some.
“Time to move it.
” I thumb over my shoulder to the boulder.
June groans and
scrunches up her face.
, lazy bones,” I tease her. “If you want to get outside and enjoy the long, warm day, I suggest you quit moaning and help me.” I poke the tip of her small nose with my index finger. She smiles, an expression that lights her entire face, then sits up and hugs me tightly. The gesture loosens the tightness in my chest and I am reminded of what, or who, I am living for.
“I do want to go outside,” June murmurs into my hair. “I hate nighttime.”
Her words resonate in my bones. She loosens her grip on me and sits back. “We need to do a lot today, but if we have time left, we will go to the meadow.”
Her face lights up and her pale-
blue eyes sparkle. “Oh, Avery, you promise?” she squeaks, and her eyebrows nearly disappear into her hairline.
“Promise,” I say.
She mumbles something about having the best sister ever and my cheeks grow hot. I do not deserve her compliments.
June scrambles from her sleep sack and stands. Her long limbs are thin, her elbows and kneecaps prominent.
Our recent diet, reliant on rats as a source of protein, is taking its toll on her. I curse myself under my breath for not doing a better job, for not taking care of her properly as I’d promised my father I would.
this thing out of the way,” I say more cheerily than I feel.
We must crouch to
walk through the narrow, tunnel-like structure that leads to the mouth of the cave. It is a tight squeeze, but we do whatever is necessary to secure ourselves.
June follows, placing her hands beside mine
. A crisp breeze blows, cooling my skin just before we pull the stone until a thick rim of light appears all around it. We continue until a brilliant glow pours into the cave. I squint and shield my eyes with my hand as they adjust to daylight.
“Wow,” June comments, her eyes round with wonder. “Look at the sky. It’s so blue.”
She’s right. The sky is bluer than usual. It looks as if it has been scrubbed clean. Not a cloud mars its perfection.
“You know why it looks
like that, right?” I ask.
“No, why?” S
he looks at me quizzically.
“We had storms
a couple hours ago, and someone slept through all of it,” I comment playfully and elbow her lightly in the ribs. She frowns and knits her brow as if she’s done something wrong, not quite the response I’d hope for.
“Were you scared?” she asks
, her eyes pleading pools of crystal-clear water.
“Nah, not at all,” I lie. “The o
nly reason I woke is because you snore.” I elbow her again. This time, a wide, goofy smile spreads across her face that makes my chest temporarily release the stranglehold on my heart.
“Yeah, well, it’s better than drooling like you do,” she teases me back.
“Hey!” I say with exaggerated annoyance.
, drool-girl, I’ll race you to the river!” She arches a pale brow and twists her mouth to one side before darting off into the woods toward the fresh-water river where we start our days.
“No fair!” I call
as I dash after her.
The air is cool, refreshingly so, when it rushes in my face as I race after June. She is small and thin and quick as lightning as she streaks between trees and bushes, dodging vines and creepers. Birds flit from tree to tree and chipmunks peep in annoyance. All around us, the woodland wakes. A new day has dawned. Sto
rms have passed and the grass is wet, but the mugginess is gone, the air is lighter, as if the world has sighed away a heavy burden. But I know the Lurkers still exist. I wish it were that easy.
When I reach the river, June is there already. Her hands are on her hips
, and her chin is tipped upward, a sly smile rounding her cheeks.
“I thought you’d never get her
e.” She tries to sound smug, but she is incapable of conceit or arrogance of any kind. She is better than that.
“What can I say? Y
ou’re fast, too fast for me,” I reply.
Her smile broadens. It reaches her eyes and makes them dance with pride.
“Come on, let’s wash up and hunt.” I splash my face with water warmed by the summer sun.
s my lead and scoops handfuls of water and scrubs her face and underarms. Once we are clean, I turn to her.
“We are going out a little farther than the perimeter today,” I
say. June’s brow furrows deeply and her eyes narrow to slits. She folds her willowy arms across her chest and listens intently. “Do you feel comfortable going off on your own out there? Do you think you’ll be okay?” I ask, fearful that she is not ready yet.
She nods resolutely and says, “I’
ll be fine.”
I place a hand on her shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze as I smile. I do not hide the pride I am feeling, or the relief. Going beyond the boundaries we’ve observed for years is crucial. The knobbiness of her shoulder is a painful reminder that if we do not push our boundaries, our food supply will continue