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
As soon as my eyes open, the realization that today is the day I not only meet the boy by the lake, but tell June everything as well, makes my insides curl into a heavy knot. Both are tasks I desperately want to fulfill, yet at the same time am terrified of fulfilling.
Beside me, I feel June stir. She typically sleeps later than I do. I am the one who wakes her, but not today. On this day, she rises with the sun.
“Avery,” she whispers softly. “You awake?”
I close my eyes and do not answer right away, stalling. I know it is foolish of me, that there is no way around the things I must do today. Still, I wish to buy myself a bit more time. I wish I could roll over, pull the cover of my sleep sack over my head, and hide from the always-chaotic and scary reality that is my life. But I cannot.
“Avery?” June tries a little louder.
“I’m up,” I say in a strong clear voice, startling both of us.
I feel June jump.
“Sheesh, you scared me!” she gasps.
“Why didn’t you answer
me the first time?” she asks.
“Sorry,” I say. I take a deep breath. “L
et’s get ourselves together and have some breakfast. There are some things we need to talk about.”
“Talk about?” June asks
, and a worried expression clouds her sunny features. “Am I in trouble for yesterday, for being in the tree because of the whole boartling thing?”
” I start but June talks over me.
“Because that mother boart was huge! I mean
, did you see the size of her head? Her head was bigger than the two of ours put together! I got scared. Anyone would have. Well, not you. But most people, if there were any people,” June rambles.
“There are other people,” I say.
But my words do not register with June right away. She continues thinking aloud. “You are like a boart expert, a boart slayer.” She laughs at her own joke, and then her face goes blank briefly. Her brows gather and she looks at me. “Wait, what did you just say?”
I said there are other people, other humans.”
I did not plan to tell her like this. The words just fell from my lips like rain. I do not know who is more surprised by what I’ve said, June or me.
June bolts upright and twists her body so she is facing me. Her jaw has unhinged and her eyes are wide. “Other human beings?” she says, and her eyebrows rocket to the middle of her forehead. “As in, more than one person?” She can barely get the words out.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Oh my gosh!” she exclaims and explodes from her sleep sack. “Where? Where are they? When did you see them? How many are there?” The questions fire from her in rapid succession.
“I saw them two days ago. There are five, a family. They live past our perimeter, out where a river and lake meet,” I say
, and hope I have answered all of her questions.
“Two days ago!” she nearly shouts. “And you’re ju
st telling me about them now?” Her cheeks blush a deep shade of pink. Her eyes have narrowed to slits and her hands are on her hips. She begins pacing.
“Please don’t be angry,” I begin, but she cuts me off.
“Don’t be angry? Are you kidding me? I am angry!” She stomps her foot. “The one thing I have been waiting for my whole life, to find other human beings, and you wait to tell me? It should’ve been the first words out of your mouth when you saw me!”
I have never see
n June so angry. She is livid with me. I am not sure what to do.
“June, calm down,”
I say. “Please I did not mean to upset you.”
“But you did upset me!” she fumes.
“I am sorry, June,” I say feebly.
A long moment passes between us.
June simmers. But after a while, she nibbles on her lower lip and a small smile rounds her cheeks. “I am not as angry as I seem, just disappointed. I mean, really, how mad can I be? I just found out we are not alone!” she squeals suddenly.
I am impressed by how maturely she is handling my misstep of not telling her right away.
“So what are they like? You said they are a family. Are there any children that are my age? I can’t believe this, Avery! I can’t wait to meet them! Tell me all about them!”
She is exuberant. She bounces and twirls and smiles from ear to ear. I am afraid of what she will say when I tell her I did not speak to the family by the lake.
“Well, uh, let’s see,” I fumble. “How do I say this?”
“Just spit it out already! I want to know everything!”
“I don’t really have much to tell,” I say quietly.
“Huh? Why?” she looks at me,
“I didn’t exactly, you know, go up to them and, uh, you know, talk to them,” I admit embarrassedly.
“What?” June shrieks. “You didn’t talk to them! Why? Why in the world wouldn’t you talk to them?”
I lower my eyes to my feet. “I chickened out,” I say
, and my cheeks blister with shame.
“You were scared?” June asks. Her tone is softer, gentler. I feel undeserving of her understanding.
“I-I don’t know what happened to me,” I confess. “I saw a little girl. She’s probably your age, and a boy who looked about twelve, but then the older boy came out, and I don’t know, it was like I couldn’t breathe or something. I choked. I wanted to go talk to them, but my legs were shaky and my belly felt all wobbly and squishy and I just couldn’t.” I feel so ashamed I wish I were a turtle with a shell I could tuck myself into. I cover my face with my hands. “I probably sound crazy right about now. I’m not making much sense.”
I feel a warm hand on my shoulder and drop my hands fr
om my face. June kneels beside me.
“You don’t sound all that crazy,” she says soothingly. “I can’t say I know what I would do if I came across another human. I would probably chicken out too.”
She wraps her arm around my shoulders and pulls me close. She does what I do to her when she is feeling insecure.
“I should have gone anyway.
I should have gone even though I was scared out of my wits,” I say. “I guess I am not as brave as I think I am.”
June shakes her head.
“You are the bravest person I know.”
“I am the
person you know,” I say.
“Not for long,” June smirks. “And you are still brave,” she adds with a wink.
I shake my head. “No, I am not. I chickened out twice. I saw them again yesterday, and I think the older boy saw me. But like an idiot, I ran off. Trust me, I am not brave. I am a coward.”
June considers what I’ve said and I expect her to erupt and scold me. I deserve it. I had a perfect opportunity to meet one person from the family, to not be outnumbered or overwhelmed, and I blew it. I ruined my chance by running away.
“You were scared. So what?” She shrugs. “I don’t blame you. I probably would have done the same thing. Besides, we need to be careful, even with other humans. What you did doesn’t mean you aren’t brave.”
“I don’t know, June. Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared, that you do things without fear. I always thought being brave means doing something
She is quiet for a moment then
s at me and smiles sadly.
“You are mean to yourself, you know that
, Avery,” June says, and rests her head against my shoulder.
d you are too kind to me,” I say and kiss her forehead lightly.
She flashes a lopsided grin at me. “Okay, so when
are we leaving to meet them?” She claps her hands together in excitement.
“I am going to them as soon as we wash and eat,” I say and emphasize the word
I am coming too, right?” June asks with a smile.
No, June, you can’t,” I say matter-of-factly.
What? Why?” Her smile collapses completely.
“June, the family is not the only discovery I made in the woods when I went hunting,” I tell her. Remorse swirls in my gut. I am about to stab
a dagger through the heart of her hope.
“What do you mean?” she asks
, and I can see fear flicker in her silvery eyes.
I fill my lungs then blow out a breath through pursed lips.
“Yesterday, on my way back from watching the family, I came across two Urthmen.”
Her face drops
“Oh no,” she breathes. “Oh, my gosh, no.” Her hands fly to her mouth, covering it.
“I killed them both, but I think more are coming,” I say.
June looks as if she’s been punched in the stomach. “You fought them?” she asks. Her complexion is pale, and her bottom lip quivers.
“Yes, I did,” I say. “They are dead now. But where there were two, there will be more.”
June throws her arms around my neck and a small sob trembles through her body.
“You should never doubt your bravery,” she
says, her voice a strangled whisper. “I am so sorry that happened to you.” She weeps.
, no, no, please don’t cry. I’m okay. I’m right here. I got them,” I try to reassure her.
“But you were out there alone, and could’ve been,” she says
, but her voice trails off. “You could’ve been killed.”
’s words send a chill racing down my spine. She is right, of course. I could have easily been killed. There were two of them and only one of me. What if there had been more? What if there had been a dozen? The what-ifs rattle through my brain, through my bones, and any semblance of safety I ever had in these woods is stripped from me.
True, something primal, something animal and ferocious overtook me when I faced off with the Urthmen. But
I don’t know if that was a one-time occurrence. I may not be so lucky in the future.
“I have to warn the others
. That is why I am going out there today. That is why you can’t come. In fact, I want you to stay in the cave while I am gone. Keep your spear at your side and don’t leave it for a moment.”
June’s entire body is trembling. She doubles ove
r and clutches her belly. I rub her back.
“I-I-I can’t do this. I can’t be alone all day wondering if you are dead, or if Urthmen are coming for me, or both,” she says.
I understand how she feels and wish there were another way. But she is much safer tucked in a cave no Urthmen would bother to look in than out in the open with me. No, that cannot happen. I will go as quickly as possible and warn the family. Then I will return to her. And when I do we will decide whether or not we will leave.
“June, the Urthmen were right by their cave. They must know about the family. Why els
e would they be there? I have to help them.”
June nods in agreement then adds, “Get them out of there. Bring them here.”
As much as the idea of sharing our tight space with the older boy makes my stomach flop like a fish on dry land, the fact of the matter is that our cave cannot accommodate five more people.
“We don’t have enough room for five people,” I tell her.
“We can make room if they want to come, if it will save their lives.” She levels her sharp gaze at me. She looks so much like my father my heart clenches. She has his fire, his commitment. I see it plainly now.
“Okay. I will invite them here,” I agree. “You’re right. We cannot leave them to die.”
“Good,” she says, and somehow, she looks as if she’s aged in the moments that have passed.
“You will stay here and ready
this place for our company. After we wash and eat, I need you to help me move the boulder to cover the opening so that you are as concealed as possible,” I tell her. Her spine lengthens at news that she has a job. “I will leave enough room for you and me to get in and out of the cave, but that’s it. When the family gets here, we can open it further. But while I am gone, I don’t want to take any chances,” I say firmly, and then add in a faltering voice, “You are too important to me.”
I do not like entertaining the possibility of ever losing June. I am sickened by the idea of leaving her, but taking her is not an option.
“I will be fine here,” she says. “And I will get everything ready. You have nothing to worry about. Our new guests will feel welcome and comfortable.”
I want to tell her that I high
ly doubt any of us will ever feel welcome or comfortable in these woods after knowing Urthmen were here, but I keep that grim thought to myself. She is calmer, and that’s all I care about. If I am to fight for my life, I must preserve the one who is most important to me, the person I fight for, the person I live for. My sister must remain as safe as possible, as healthy as possible, and as happy as possible in this sinister world we live in. June must live for me to live to fight another day.