Read Planet Urth Online

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

Planet Urth (9 page)

BOOK: Planet Urth
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Chapter 9

 

My heart pumps frantically and echoes the hurried pace of my footsteps as I journey through the forest toward the outer banks to warn the family near the lake.  My insides quiver and my mouth is dry, but I know the option to chicken out does not exist.  I must overcome my overwhelming anxiety and go to them.  Lives are at stake, five to be exact, and that’s not including June and I. 

Despite the direness of the situation, the thought of crossing the thin s
trip of woods and coming face to face with them makes the contents of my full belly somersault endlessly.  For once, having breakfast seems to be working against me.  Every time I picture myself approaching the family, my food threatens to launch up my esophagus.  I take deep breaths to calm myself, but they are of little help.  I am still a nervous wreck.  But I must warn them.  I must warn the boy with the shimmering eyes. 

Just thinking of him sends a jolt from my stomach
to my feet.  My knees feel weak.  I realize my fear is less about the mother, father, and younger children than it is about the boy who looks close to my age.  Thinking about standing arm’s length from him makes me lightheaded.  Speaking to him might make me faint. 

What if I faint? 
The question whirls through my head.  What if I see the boy with the aquamarine eyes, faint, and never even warn him and his family that they are in danger?  I will make a complete fool of myself and fail to accomplish the task I set out to achieve.  The worry joins the multitude of other worries swimming around in my brain and worsens the tumbling in my belly.  The last thing I need right now is to play out possible scenarios in my mind, especially ones that involve me failing, fainting, or falling.  Imagining any of those possibilities works against my waning courage.  I will get there in one piece, still standing, and I will warn them. 

I continue repeating that sentence in my head over and over.  It becomes a rally cry as I slip through the forest.  But with each step I take, the challenges to my self-confidence are replaced by the sensation that I am not alone. 

I quiet my racing thoughts and focus every bit of my energy on the space surrounding me.  Every twig that snaps, every shuffle of leaves and stir of treetops sets my heightened senses on even higher alert.  I lower my stance to a crouch, clutching the hilt of my sword as I dash through the woods.  I swear I feel eyes on me.  But what I believe are the sounds of footsteps following me stops me dead in my tracks. I unsheathe my sword and spin around, ready to fight.  I expect to see the deadly, milky-eyed stare of an Urthman.  Instead, I see a plump rabbit watching me with oversized eyes that sit unusually close together on its face.  I take bold step toward it, warning it off.  It hops away, but not before unhinging its jaw, showcasing its impressive fangs, and hissing at me.

I contemplate running after it and adding rabbit to our
boart feast later, but I do not have the time.  Each moment I am not moving is a moment wasted.  I slowly turn from the rabbit’s path and head to the lake. 

My run-in with the Urthme
n the day before has shattered my feeble sense of safety.  Now, as I tread in unfamiliar territory, I feel an added element of fear.  I believe these woods could be overrun with Urthmen.  I quicken my pace and jog; thankful for the boart meat I ate this morning.  It supplies me with enough energy to continue until the sun is high overhead and the twisting vines underfoot become so dense and tangled that I must slow down.  As I do, I hear the river and know the lake is nearby.  My moment has come.

When I reach the edge of the woods
, where the trees grow farther apart and the brush thins, I see them.  The family is out of their cave and sprinkled around the lake.  I must go to them.  It is the reason I came. 

I slide one foot forward
, and it feels heavier than usual, unstable.  I am dizzy and nauseated.  I feel cold though it is warm.  My palms are damp and the base of my throat throbs in time with my racing heartbeat.  My mind wills my body to move, but my body is reluctant to cooperate.  I am a quivering bundle of contradicting signals.  I do not understand what is happening to me.  I have slain wild animals, have fought and killed mutant beasts known as Urthmen, but those tasks generated less of a physical response than my current undertaking.  I feel as if I may need to vomit.  I pull in a sharp breath of air in hopes it will have the same effect as before.  To my surprise, it does not.  Instead, my legs are shaking violently.  So I do what has become typical of me in recent days.  I duck behind a hostile-looking bush and stay there to try to build my courage.

My cheeks burn
.  I am embarrassed of my behavior.  The family’s safety depends on me alerting them that a threat is on the horizon.  I cannot let them die because I am a coward.  I will not live with more blood on my hands.

I stand, emboldened
by the knowledge that lives depend on me.  I close my eyes briefly, and then take a step forward, then another, and another.  I keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, until I am at the shore of the lake.  I see all of them, the entire family.  Each of their heads whips in my direction.  I quickly raise my hands up, my palms facing outward, in surrender.  I do not want them to feel threatened.  I want to communicate that I will not do them harm. 

“Hello,” I say because I do not know what else to say.  I have not seen another human being in
a long time.  My socialization has been limited to June in the last year. 

Glances
volley from one person to the next, and though I have been consciously avoiding looking at the boy with the aquamarine eyes, I turn my head and meet his gaze. A small smile plays across his lips. 

My breath catches in my chest.  I wonder if he is smiling at me because he is happy to see me, or if I have done something stupid. 
Thankfully, his mother’s voice yanks me from fretting about it.

“You can put y
our hands down,” she says.  “You are not a threat.”

I am not a threat;
to them at least.  But if they only knew of my hunting and sparring skills, that I killed two Urthmen by myself just yesterday, the woman might have thought twice about counting me out in the threat department. 

“My name is Avery,” I begin, but my words are
suddenly smothered by the woman’s shoulder when she wraps both arms around me and brings me in for a tight hug. 

“Avery,” she says my name aloud.  “You have a beautiful name befitting you
r beautiful face.” 

I wonder how she could possibly
know what my face really looks like.  It is buried in the space between her neck and elbow, but I keep that detail to myself.  She sounds as though she may cry and I do not want to upset her further.  Especially since I do not know why she is so upset.  I am perplexed by her words and actions.  She hugged me and complimented me, yet she is sad. I do not know what to do.  I stiffen a bit and she releases me. 

“Oh, go
sh, I am so sorry,” she says.  She brushes back tears with the tips of her fingers.  “It has been so long since we’ve seen another.” 

“We haven’t seen another human in a few months,” the man
whom I presume is her husband says.  “Kate is just so happy to see you.  We are all so happy to see you.”

I
awkwardly shift my weight from one foot to the other as I blink back the hot tears that threaten unexpectedly. 

“Oh dear,” Kate says and shakes her head.  “You’ve introduced yourself and here we are not doing the same.  I guess that’s what isolation does to people,” she says. 

I smile tightly.  I know all too well about isolation.  But I do not speak.  I do not trust that my voice will hold up.  I feel eyes on me, and if they belong to whom I think they belong to, I do not want to risk breaking down in front of him. 

“I am Kate
, and this is my husband, Asher.  And these are our children,” she begins.  “This is my daughter Riley and my sons Oliver,” she points to the smaller boy, “and Will.”

Will.  The boy I’ve been watching for the last two days i
s named Will.  I say his name in my head and each time my stomach flutters.  I inexplicably feel like twirling.  I don’t, of course.  I look from face to face and smile at the new people I’ve met.  I mutter something about being pleased to meet them as my dad instructed me was proper to do if or when I ever met another human.  But when I get to Will, my smile capsizes.  He looks directly into my eyes and heat creeps up my neck and spreads over my cheeks.  A boy has never looked at me the way Will is looking at me right now.  Probably because the last time I saw a boy my age was when I was eight and lived in the village, and even then, I had not seen many boys at all. 

“Glad to meet you, Avery,” Will says
.

M
y heart sets off at a gallop.  I wonder if he can see it bashing my ribs, if it is causing my shirt to drum visibly.  I bite my lower lip and look at my feet.  I am grateful when his sister Riley starts talking.

“Avery, I’m so glad you’re here.  Another girl makes things even. You can be my sister,” Riley’s eyes light up
, and she bounces on the balls of her feet the way June does. 

“Uh, thanks,” I say
self-consciously.

“Who says she’s staying?” Oliver asks unexpectedly. 

Kate and Asher’s glances shoot in Oliver’s direction.

“Oliver!” his mother says with obvious embarrassment.  “Say you are sorry.”

“No, don’t.  You don’t have to be sorry,” I say quickly.  “I am not staying.  And neither should you. That is why I am here actually.”  I dive into my purpose of coming without thinking.

Five sets of eyes land on me. 

“What?  What are you talking about?” Kate asks.  Her soft brown eyes are fixed on mine.  She is crestfallen.  “Why would you want to be alone?”

I look at
her and Asher then to the smaller children.  “Maybe we can talk somewhere else,” I say when my gaze returns to them. 

“Oh, I see,” Asher says
and takes my rather obvious hint.  Then to the children he says cheerfully, “Can you two go to the cave and collect the clothes?  We need to start our chores.”

The children’s
faces droop, but they take off toward the mouth of the cave before their father utters another word.  I smile at Asher and he smiles back, but it does not reach his eyes.  Worry seems to be weighing down his face.

Kate folds her arms across her c
hest and Asher places a hand on her back.

“So what is it you need to speak with us about?” Kate asks
with concern.

“Urthmen
are here,” I answer and watch as my words transform their demeanors. 

“Urthmen
?” Will repeats.  His voice makes my scalp tighten and tingle, even though it should not.  The circumstances are grave, but I am powerless to stop the effect his voice has on me.  His hands rocket to his hips, fists balled.  “How do you know?” he asks. 

“I saw them,” I say.  “I killed two in the woods right beyond this lake.”

Will cocks a brow, as if he does not believe me.  A quick look at his parents tells me he is not alone in his doubt that I could kill not one, but two, Urthmen. 

“You killed two Urthmen?” Asher asks.  I hear the disbelief in his voice and feel my temper flare ever so slightly.  I am not used to proving myself to anyone.  I am what I am, and that is not up for debate or question.  If I say I did something, I did it.  In the world we live in,
exaggeration does not possess a benefit.  If any other humans exist in other areas, they either have the skills to survive, or they do not.  The ones who do not are likely dead. 

My spine lengthen
s and my shoulders straighten. “Yes, I did,” I say in a strong, clear voice. 

“But, uh, you are so small,” Kate says and looks embarrassed by her words. 

“My size means little.  My father trained me well.  I hunt each day for my sister and me, and have killed boarts as well as the two Urthmen yesterday.”

Kate, Asher
, and Will look at me skeptically.

“Believe me or don’t believe me.  I know what I saw and I know what happened.  The Urthmen are dead. I would show you their bodies
, but I’m pretty sure Lurkers took care of them as soon as the sun went down last night.  I came here to warn you,” I say as annoyance blisters inside of me.  I am not accustomed to this kind of interaction, the exchanges of secret glances, and the subtle facial expressions that doubt my integrity.  “I also came to invite all of you to stay at the cave I share with my sister.  It is a quarter of a day’s walk from here, so I suggest you gather your things and come along.  Do not waste any time.  We need to go right away.”

I expect the three of them to begin moving and gathering
their belongings, but they don’t.  They stand perfectly still as if they’re made of stone. 

I clear my throat, wondering whether I imagined what I just said to them. 

“Uh, you guys heard me just now, right?” I ask quietly. My stomach feels like a bag filled with snakes slithering and rolling over one another. 

“Yes, we heard you,” Kate says
, and tilts her head to one side the way I do when June is melting down.  “But I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say thank you for the invite, but we will be fine here.”

BOOK: Planet Urth
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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