Authors: Casey L. Bond
Copyright © 2016 by Casey L. Bond. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any way by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise without the prior express permission of the author except as provided by USA Copyright Law. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.
This book is a work of fiction and does not represent any individual, living or dead. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,
King James Version, Cambridge, 1769. All rights reserved.
Book cover designed by Marisa Shor of Cover Me, Darling.
Cover Model: Daniel Wells
Cover Photography by Pink Ink Designs
Professionally Edited by Stacy Sanford, Girl with the Red Pen
Paperback and E-book formatted by Allyson Gottlieb and Marisa Shor of Cover Me, Darling.
Published in the United States of America.
More than my family, my few friends, Blackwater, or home, I missed her. I missed her voice in my head. I missed sharing a frequency that only she and I had. I missed her strength and the softness of her body. She had the fortitude of steel and a heart as beautiful and delicate as a spider web covered in dew, and just as easily broken lately. I wish I’d made time to know her sooner.
From afar, I’d seen her from time to time; she and her sister, Mercedes. Mercedes and her beau Noah were well known around the Colony. Both were outgoing and full of life individually, but together they shone. The entire Colony was present at funerals, farewells, weddings, and the occasional gathering that the Elders mandated, but Porschia would sit in the corner alone or stand on the fringe, sometimes flanked by Ford. When she went, her mother would stick close to her father and neither paid their children any attention at all. If one of the three was the favorite, it was definitely Mercedes. Porschia was hated and Ford forgotten.
She was convinced that what we had wasn’t love, and for the briefest of moments I convinced myself of the same thing. She didn’t love me; she merely needed me, and I was a convenient way out of her hellish home life. The friendship we had was only that. Maybe a hint of something more, but certainly not love.
Love was something too strong to break. Love was without condition; a foundation and a shelter. And we took shelter in one another, calling it love… calling it something it couldn’t have been in such a short amount of time.
That was what I told myself.
Over and over.
As if saying it often enough, forcefully enough, would make it true and would make my heart believe the logic of my mind.
Our minds were tethered, despite all I’d done and the cowardly way I refused to drink from my ring, assuming it was all over for me and selfishly giving up all hope. The fire itself. Killing her mother.
I still couldn’t stop watching her, making sure she was okay, making sure she fed and was well. Hiding in the trees and thickets to get one glance of her wasn’t enough. My heart missed her. It ached for her above all else, even as she hated me and her hatred grew stronger every time I came near. I wasn’t bonded to her like Tage was, but I felt hate radiate from her like heat waves rising from the hot, crumbling asphalt that bisected Blackwater. However, my feelings for her—even if it wasn’t called love—weren’t gone. They didn’t disappear.
Despite repeated attempts to reconnect and in spite of her open disgust for me, I still watched. But watching wouldn’t make her feel the same way about me. I erased any chance for a future with Porschia Grant the moment I lit the flame that torched that building. It was why I decided to approach Mercedes. It was why I had to leave Blackwater.
Befriending someone who could help me achieve that goal, even if that someone was Porschia’s sister, was step one. Fortunately, Mercedes was fast to forgive, fast to offer food, and open to helping in any way she could, in her own words.
I would ask her for that help very soon.
I climbed the oak as high as its branches would support me, bracing my back against its trunk, my feet stretching out along the strong wood. I waited for night to fall over me like a thick, dark shroud. Porschia was the collection of tiny lights that peeked through the tightly-woven fabric. Sometimes her light was missing, and soon it would be too far away for me to see. So every opportunity, every night, I waited for her.
Certain moments are bigger than others. They hold more weight, more importance somehow. I remembered the first time I took a step onto the log that crossed the river, the step that took me out of the confines of the Colony and led me into the forest and into the unknown. Over time and with each hunt, the forest became less of a mystery. I learned her valleys and hills, her streams and rocks. Memorizing her paths with my feet, we became quick friends. She was simply a place covered with beautiful trees, providing life to the animals who lived there and food to those who hunted them. The forest saw everything, even the most feral parts of humanity. Because in the end, parts of every creature, Infected and night-walker alike, were human. And though I was neither and both at the same time, I was human too, beneath it all.
Venturing beyond the river and into the forest was a huge step. Traveling beyond the forest to tell other survivors about the cures? That would be an enormous leap, one taken in both fear and faith, but it was one that just might save the world and all the people left in it.
Mercedes burst through my front door, yelling my name. I looked up from the backpack I was stuffing. “Porschia?” she screamed again, her voice panicked and trembling.
I ran to her, the wind from my speed making her hair blow back away from her face. “Hey,” she said, startled and blinking. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.”
In the last few weeks, I’d found the balance of nutrition that seemed ideal for me: one part blood and three parts raw animal meat. With that ratio I was faster than I’d ever been, and stronger and more in control than I’d been since changing. I felt an intense power flow beneath my flesh, like tiny forked rivers of lightning sparking beneath the surface of me.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. Things had changed between me and Mercedes, perhaps permanently, and I knew small talk wasn’t going to happen now. It was pointless. She had a choice and chose to stand beside Saul instead of with me. I also had a choice, and it was to keep her at a distance.