Author's note: This novel is inspired a dream that my boyfriend (at the time) told me about. We're not together... Show full author's note »
Prologue: A FugitiveBefore we begin, I want to make two things perfectly clear.
First, I’ll probably be dead by the time anyone finds this. I want to be.
Second, I'm a fugitive.
I wish I could think of a better word than that, but I suppose I'm lucky enough that I still have the mental capacity to even think of the one. However, the word fugitive paints the wrong picture, makes my frantic actions seem selfish and unjustified. You might picture me as an escaped convict running from the police, fighting
The reason I'm dragging on with this is because you couldn’t possibly imagine the nightmares I've faced. No one had foreseen this until the very last ash had settled onto the broken, scorched land. Just months ago, I was merely a teenage girl. I lived in my safe home with my loving family—both of which have been blown to hell by now. The thing is, they weren’t the only ones. That would have been horrifying enough, but the range of devastation has snaked it’s skeletal, deathly fingers farther than my hometown, than my state, than even my country’s borders.
The world as you know it now is far from the world I've been forced into, headfirst and completely against my will. My world is a dark place, and people like me—rebels, fighters, fugitives—are a dying breed.
So, how exactly did it all go up in smoke? Exactly how most things do—greed, hatred, and of course, good intentions gone horribly wrong. Rumors started flying in July of 2013, but it wasn’t until about October of that year that fighting over land and power broke out in several countries, including America and a few of its allies. The government had tried to negotiate in order to keep the peace, and when that failed, they tried to use the military’s force to control the situation. If they’d succeeded, the situation might have ended right there and I might be sitting at home with my family at this moment, and I might have been able to look forward to about forty more years of life. Needless to say, they didn’t succeed; that much is evident as I cower in the wreckage, alone in the world and with time rapidly running out. What had started as a few international clashes had snowballed into World War III, and this time we were foolish. We didn’t stop the fighting until we’d bombed each other to the point where civilization began to crumble beneath our feet. It immediately became evident that our race was too flawed to withstand anything on this scale, because our darkest sides began to emerge as the situation spiraled downward. Supplies were short and, being the greedy, selfish people that we were, riots broke out and looting was a common offense.
The riots hadn’t touched our town. Yet somehow, the unrest eventually grew in small spots in the country until it spread; so much so, in fact, that by December of 2013 America’s entire population—even people like my family who saw no reason to fight were caught up in it—was thrown into full-scale rebellion. That pretty much dragged down whatever bits of society that remained, and by December of 2013, the sun seemed to be setting for America’s future. And it did set, for people like me. For more than a month we wallowed in our own destruction, until help slowly reached us. They gave us food and rebuilt the damaged areas of our cities, gave us enough money to get us started once more. They called themselves Samaritan. Of course, people immediately clung to the absolution that they’d found, and even doubters like me had to admit that they showed promise for our broken land. For a while, their uniformed soldiers that stood on every block were a sign of comfort, a sign that we finally had control again.
But in just a few months, it became startlingly clear that we were under a dictatorship’s thumb. They began to slowly, almost to the point where it was unnoticeable, cross the line with the way they ruled. The new laws that they’d placed over our healing society were bindingly strict, almost a complete one-eighty from the freedoms that were once our right. They didn’t offer second chances. The death penalty was issued at least a dozen times a week in Albuquerque, the city to the west of my small town. I suppose that maybe that could have been excused; maybe we needed to be frightened into good behavior, because hadn’t careless rebellion been the cause of our downfall in the first place? But then our privacy was invaded, and the soldiers began to put invasive devices into our poorly repaired homes—that is, if you were lucky enough to have someone do the repairs for you or if you were enough of a craftsman to do it yourself. The second that Samaritan operatives got word that you were speaking against their supposedly infallible rule, you were hauled off and never heard from again. As word leaked about what usually became of Samaritan’s captives, people started to see Samaritan’s injustice and unrest once again boiled over and conditions worsened for even favored, loyal citizens. We were in trouble.
And now, as I let these pages narrate my personal account of this horror story, I want you to imagine the world as it is now, as it might still be to whoever cares to read this. Imagine, if you will, a small town in New Mexico, one that most outsiders have never even heard of. A town surrounded by distant mountains in almost every direction, with a few hills here and there, dotted with juniper trees and prickly-pear cacti. Other than stretches of ranches and houses, a few schools and a library, the only bustling part of town was a little square with a convenience store, gas station, et cetera. You’ve lived here ever since you can remember. It’s your home.
And in less than six months, all you can make sense of is that the rest of the country is in the process of being punished for rebellion.
They say that your town is next.
Now, as these horrors weigh like a thousand bricks on your shoulders, imagine lying in bed and wracking your brain, crying out as you try to think of how to go back. Imagine the torment of knowing that it’s only a matter of time before your town becomes like the cities that Samaritan has shown on the TV screen to serve as a warning to what’s coming. Imagine having no choice but to wait until the fire and the firing squads bear down on you like a shadow in the night. You’re watching an even more horrifying form of punishment spread through your town like a disease—starvation. Your family’s been lucky enough to preserve enough food to stay afloat, but what happens when they cut you off completely? When you’re forced to watch your family waste away to nothing?
Sometime in the middle of these horrors, a dim memory comes to you.
I’d just thrown myself against the bed and hurled myself into another fit of sobbing when it came to me—a voice that I hadn’t had the privilege to hear in almost a year, speaking softly over the telephone and asking me for a favor. I’d sort of laughed it off as his author side carrying him away, but now I knew that he’d known more than I’d given him credit for. He probably didn’t remember the promise we’d made each other, but I had. I could hear his voice whispering to me, silencing the sobs that rocked my body:
“Skylar, if something ever happens to where you can't trust the people around you, come find me. I don’t care how long it might be since we talked, I have a place to hide out and we’ll be safe, alright? Promise me”
I knew it was a long shot. That Daniel had probably fled to his hideaway the second he saw the danger, which would have been earlier than most did. I hadn’t talked to him since I was almost sixteen years old, more than a year ago. But he’d have the solution that would protect my family. Besides, I'd missed him. So I owed it to everyone involved to leave my family for the moment to search.
I didn’t know that it was already too late to save my family.