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Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss

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BOOK: VOLITION (Perception Trilogy, book 2)
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“God will provide,” Finn said. “In the meantime the women will
preserve what can be saved.”

“Anyone hear the weather forecast?” I asked. “We’ll leave as
soon as the storm clears.”

“We don’t listen to the radio,” Mr. Galloway said, playing with
his glass. His was the only one that remained full. “The Lord makes each day,
and we accept it as it comes.”

Taylor put his feet up on an empty chair. “Ran into another
humanoid, yesterday.”

An uncomfortable pause settled in the room, the flickering
candlelight reflected spookily on each face.

Taylor looked at me. “Do you want to tell’em, Noah?”

I narrowed my eyes. He was baiting me. “You go ahead.”

“The thing charged Noah’s battery. I told him we should go
somewhere else, but he insisted.”

Chairs shifted as everyone turned to stare me down.

“You bringing the devil on us, boy?” Ike asked.

I leaned back in my chair. “No. I just got my battery
recharged. So we can
leave
.”

“But you ain’t gone yet, are ya?”

I snorted. “I can’t control the weather.”

“Like I said—” Ike looked at each of the serious faces around
the table, “—he brought the devil on us. We lost our fall crop!”

I balked. “I thought the Lord made each day?”

“Today was a pretty good day,” Taylor said smirking.

I pushed my chair back and stood with tight fists. “Do you want
to take this outside?”

“Whoa,” he said with hands up in fake surrender. “We’re
pacifists, remember.”

“What in God’s name is going on between the two of you?” Finn
said.

Neither of us answered, and Taylor fell back into his chair.

“Whatever it is, it’s nothing hard work won’t cure. The both of
you get outside and shovel the driveway.”

“But, it’s dark and it’s snowing heavily,” Taylor said. “It’ll
just need to be done again in the morning.”

“Nothin’s getting’ shoveled in the morning. It’s Sunday.” Finn
motioned for Philip to clear everything away.

Then his gaze settled on me. “We’ll be seeing you and Miss
Morgan at chapel?”

 

 

The good thing about Sunday morning on the commune was that
everyone washed up the night before. Water was brought to a boil in the
kitchen, and a big tub was filled and soap added. The ladies went first and
then us guys. It was kind of gross but better than nothing.

Laundry had also been done so we all had clean clothes as well.
Everyone smelled a whole lot better, which was a nice change, especially since
the cold weather kept the windows closed, so not much in the way of
circulation.

Breakfast was a lighter affair, too. I asked Philip where the
chapel was and he said right there in the living room.

Zoe stood in the hallway and waved me over.

“I’d really like to talk to you,” she whispered. “Can we take
off?”

I nodded. If I had to choose between being alone with Zoe or staying
here to listen to Finn go on, it was an easy choice.

We selected a couple winter coats, scarves, mitts and wool
hats, then slipped out the back door.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Somewhere out of sight.” She pointed. “Behind the shed.”

“Lead the way.”

The snow was crisp under our feet and we sank about six inches
with each step. The snow still fell, but it was lighter now. My lungs burned from
the cool air I breathed in, and my breaths shot out in rhythmic puffs.

We stopped to rest when we could no longer see the house.

“What do you think they’ll do when they realize we’re gone?”
Zoe said. “And
unchaperoned?”

I chuckled. “I don’t know. It’s not like they can
ex-communicate us.”

“They could send us to bed without supper.”

“I suppose, but it’s worth it.”

Zoe’s wool hat was pulled down over her ears and her dark hair
stuck out barely touching her shoulders. Her nose was already red from the
cold, and snowflakes had gathered on her eyelashes.

Adorable.

“I’d never seen snow before coming here,” she said. She scooped
up a little in her mitt and licked it with her tongue.

I couldn’t stop staring at her mouth, and decided then and
there it was worth forgiving her.

“Me neither,” I said. “It’s not so bad, except that it’s cold
and wet and keeps you from leaving a crazy commune.”

Her eyes lit up. “Yeah, besides that, I don’t mind it either.”

The commune intersected with the forest. The snow frosted the
trees and blanketed the forest floor. It deadened the sound in a way that made
silence seem loud.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, feeling weird that I felt
weird being alone with Zoe.

She stared behind me into the trees.

I turned. Something moved.

“What’s that?” Zoe whispered.

My heart jumped and the first thought I had was that Grant had
found us. But it was a gentler creature of the four-legged variety.

I sighed in relief. “It’s a deer.”

It emerged into view and stared back at us with large brown
eyes. We stayed statue still, watching it nibble branches of exposed leaves.

“Wow,” Zoe said softly. “It’s beautiful.”

It moved onto another brush, before disappearing back into the
woods.

I kicked at the snow.

“You’re worried, aren’t you?” Zoe asked, catching my gaze. “I
can see it in your eyes.”

 “I’m worried that we’ve been in here too long. I’m sure your grandfather
hasn’t given up looking for you, and I’m scared Grant is going to show up here
any minute.”

Zoe turned her back to a plot of unbroken snow and let herself
fall backward into it. “I saw this on TV once,” she said. She moved her arms
back and forth along her sides and her legs to match. Then she stood up
carefully and examined her snow image.

“It’s called a snow angel.” She fell again to make another one.
“Come on, Noah.”

I dropped to the ground beside her and moved my arms and legs.
We didn’t get up when we were done.

“What do you guys do after supper?” Zoe asked. “When us girls
are slaving away cleaning up the kitchen.”

“Finn opens his locked cupboard.”

“Really? I wondered what was in there.” She turned her head to
face me. “So, what’s in there?”

“Booze.”

“What? They’re drunks?”

“One drink doesn’t make a drunk. I haven’t seen anyone get
drunk so far.”

“But they’re
religious.”

“Yeah, I was surprised, too.”

“So
you
get to drink, and
I
have to mop the
floor.”

I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Talk about a reversal of
roles.”

Zoe reached for my gloved hand. “I was a jerk to you, before, I
know.”

 “It’s fine. I was kidding.”

“But it’s true. I’m ashamed at my behavior towards you. And to
your mother. I really looked down my nose at you.”

I could tell by the seriousness of her tone that this was the
heart of the thing she’d wanted to talk to me about.

“You didn’t know any better.”

Her eyes steadied on the snow. “And I’m sorry about the whole
Taylor…thing.”

“You’ve apologized already. It’s okay.”

She sighed. “You’re too good for me.”

I leaned up on my elbow. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

“It’s not.” I lowered my head, slowly, waiting to see if she’d
reach for me or move away. She nudged closer and parted her lips. I kissed them.
Her lips and tongue moved with mine, eager and desperate. I rolled her on top
of me, awkward in our heavy clothing, not caring about the mess we were making
of our snow angels.

Her nose and cheeks were flushed red from the cold and
something more. Passion. For me. Her lips moved across my jaw and she nuzzled
her cold nose in the warmth of my neck. I shivered and groaned.

“Well, what do we have here?”

Taylor’s voice. Damn.

We both stiffened and Zoe inched off of me, looking
embarrassed. I could understand. That was two guys in two days for her.

“What do you want, Blake?”

“Brother Finn sent me to search for you two heathens. Make sure
you don’t do something sinful while on our commune. Looks like I found you just
in time.”

My chest tightened as I stood to face him head on. “You weren’t
worried about being sinful, yesterday.”

“Noah!” Zoe said.

Taylor laughed. “Well, you got a point there. I’d come in if I
were you. Before you get to ruffling all the feathers around here.”

He left us, but the magic spell Zoe and I had shared was
shattered. I helped her up, but she wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

“Zoe?”

“What?” she sputtered.

“Just stay away from that guy, okay?”

 

 

Chapter
11

 

 

Finn had more than a few ruffled feathers. He accosted me
outside.

“I asked you to attend chapel,” he said through gritted teeth,
his spit spraying through chapped lips. “You dishonor me in front of my family
while taking advantage of my hospitality!”

He leaned in close and I took a step back raising my palms.
“Look, sorry, Finn. We didn’t mean to offend you.”

His eyes narrowed and he pushed close, poking my chest with his
finger. “You did offend me. And as long as you’re on my commune, you’ll do as I
say.”

I wanted to punch this chump in the nose. He outweighed me by
fifty pounds, but I had a couple of inches. I stood up tall and peered down my
nose at him, my fingers curling into a fist at my side.

The veins in Finn’s neck bulged with barely controlled rage.
His eyes were bloodshot and glossy, piercing me like swords. I felt a flush of
fear. This was a side to Finn he worked to keep hidden. I didn’t doubt he was
capable of harming me if he lost control.

“Like I said, I’m sorry. What do you want from me now?”

He huffed. “Since you’re a heathen, you can do heathens work on
the Lord’s day. The wood needs chopping.”

I was raised in a good Christian home. My parents loved us kids
unconditionally and gave us the gift of faith.

They were nothing like this lunatic.

Finn was too crazy to argue with. I’d chop his wood and pray
the weather warmed up enough for me and Zoe to get the hell out of here.

I found that I liked chopping wood. It was a way for me to take
out my anger and frustration without drawing blood. Especially Taylor’s or
Finn’s, who showed up when my pile to chop was almost completed.

“Meet me in the bunker when you’re done. Don’t let no one see
ya,” was all he said before disappearing.

I finished up the rest of the wood, and piled it up against the
house. I wiped my brow and tried to quench my thirst with snow, debating
whether or not I should go. I hated being dictated to, but the conflict that
would result from not complying with Finn’s request wouldn’t be worth it. I
sighed hard before sneaking off for the bunker. I took a circuitous route,
being careful not to be seen.

I tapped on the bunker door before opening it. I could picture
Finn down there with a loaded gun pointed at the entrance, and I didn’t want to
take the chance of startling him.

“Finn?”

“Hurry up and close the hatch,” he said. He was sitting in
front of his old laptop, squinting at whatever was on there.

“Reading the bible?” I said.

“Don’t get smart with me, boy. Get over here.” He stood and
motioned for me to sit.

“Another blog post?”

He grunted and nodded.

Something about blogging under Finn’s orders didn’t sit right
with me. I almost refused, but the thought of getting online again and checking
in with the outside world was too much of a draw.

Finn offered me his chair, and I breathed out a defeated sigh
as I accepted it. I tapped in my password and waited for my blog page to load.

“Anything in particular you want me to say?”

“How about your encounter with that humanoid in Marley?”

“I can’t give my position away. You know that.”

“You don’t have to say where you are, just what happened.
Aren’t you at all concerned by the increase in humanoid activity?”

The folks here leaned toward being delusional conspiracy
theorists, but I had to agree with them on this point. I was concerned.

“It’s a little un-nerving,” I reluctantly admitted. I didn’t
want Finn to get the idea that we were on the same page philosophically. We
couldn’t be further apart in that regard. “There seems to be a sudden rapid
rise in numbers mingling with society.”

Humanoids were the latest tech gadget recently available to the
average citizen. Like other tech toys, they were first developed and used by
governments and big corporations before becoming affordable enough for everyone
else. It was like a big sale had taken place when I wasn’t looking and everyone
had run out to buy one.

I could understand the interest. The initial investment would
be recovered over a short period of time if you no longer had to pay domestic
help or an employee by the hour.

And they were starting to look more human all the time. Skin
and hair, voice intonation, emotional expression—each generation would only
improve on the one before it.

“My blog focus is more against GAP inequalities than the
problem with artificial intelligence.”

“Both are the devil’s playground.”

I slumped in the chair. “I’ll need some time to work on
something.”

“Well, you’ve got fifteen minutes, so get to it.”

Like last time, Finn settled into a chair behind me, and within
moments he was snoring. I took the opportunity to do a little web surfing.

Zoe Vanderveen’s disappearance had dropped in rank on the news
charts as other world and national events took center stage. Lots of stories
about the cold snap hitting the northern states and Canada, and concerns about
whether or not we were about to enter another ice age. In contrast, there was
also unprecedented heat and drought in the south. All of which resulted in
growing food shortages, which stirred up civil unrest. People were protesting
government offices across the country. Politicians were shaking their fists at
the current government.

BOOK: VOLITION (Perception Trilogy, book 2)
5.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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