Authors: Mary,Kate L.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to person, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Kate L. Mary
Cover Art by Kate L. Mary
Ebooks are not transferrable. They cannot be sold, shared, or given away. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
For all the fans of the
series who refused to let go of Axl, Vivian, and even Angus. I hope everyone is satisfied with how things have turned out, even if it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. The zombie apocalypse never is.
that swept over me was warm and sticky, and as suffocating as the wall I was sitting on. It caught my dark hair and whipped the locks around my face and neck until I felt like they were trying to strangle me. I brushed them aside almost absentmindedly, my eyes still glued to the distant horizon.
Below me, the landscape was green and lush and overgrown, the houses that had once held what I imagined were happy families had long ago been overtaken by nature. Even in the fading orange glow of the setting sun, it looked like a jungle. Occasionally, something moved. It could have been a bird or some other animal brave enough to venture out into the open, but at this distance, it was impossible to know for sure. Most likely though, it was one of the dead.
They were still out there. Moving across the deserted country like they actually had a purpose. How they kept going was a mystery that I doubted anyone would ever be able to solve, and not one I wanted to waste what little free time I had thinking about. Plus, it wasn’t like I had scaled this wall hoping to get a glimpse of the walking dead. The world out there
was what I was interested in. Or, more accurately, the world that
to be out there. It was gone now, as extinct as malls and movie theaters, and a thousand times more intriguing. I’d never set foot in that world for real—hell, I’d never even set foot outside the wall I now found myself sitting on—but the answers to so many of my questions about the past were hidden in those ruins.
Mom was my age when this whole thing started. Just Twenty years old. Not my biological mother, but the mom who raised me. Vivian Thomas. Young and full of life, her future had held the promise of something better than what I currently found myself living. Then the virus hit and the world around her began to die, but she was a fighter, and somehow, through months of struggle, she made it here. To safety.
If it hadn’t been for the virus, she and Dad would never have met. In the world that was before, they never would have crossed paths, and even if they had, she probably wouldn’t have given him more than a second look. But after the virus, everything was different, and they were perfect together.
The smashed car underneath me rocked, making the whole wall groan. Even though I knew the wall was secure, I found myself gripping the rusty metal for support. The car shook again just as Jackson Star came into view. He pulled himself up and flopped onto his belly at my side, a grunt forcing its way out of him from the effort. Then he rolled onto his back and grinned up.
“Thought I’d find you here,” he said, pushing himself up so he could settle in next to me.
I rolled my eyes even as I returned the smile. “You say that literally every time you climb this wall.”
“It’s our thing.” He nudged me with his elbow before looking out toward the horizon, but the sigh he let out didn’t match my mood. It was more like exhaustion from climbing the wall than longing. “Today?” he asked, nodding toward the world in front of us.
“Shopping,” I replied, my voice coming out so soft that it sounded more like an exhale. “My mom and I are at the mall shopping for dresses. There’s a movie premiere this weekend. My first starring role.”
My biological mother, Hadley Lucas, was a celebrity during an era when most people had so few problems they could waste time reading about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. She’d been worshiped, and I was enthralled by the idea of her. I’d dug through hundreds of old magazines just hoping to catch a glimpse of her face, and watched hours of old movies with Jackson at my side, pretending that it helped me know who she was just a little bit more.
My obsession was only partly about her, though. Yes, Hadley was my mother, but I had a mom. A mom who’d held me when I was sick and cooked dinner for me every night. She’d taught me how to kill a zombie in the most effective way, and told me stories about what life was like before the virus wiped out most of the population. I didn’t need another mom. Not like that.
“First movie premiere?” Jackson cocked an eyebrow in my direction.
“She didn’t want me to be one of those bratty child actors,” I said, lifting my chin.
My obsession with Hadley Lucas was about the past. About being able to envision what my life would have been like if all of this hadn’t happened. I was luckier than most people my age in that aspect. I had documentation of who my mother had been and how she’d lived her life. Pictures even. Most people my age didn’t have a clue what their lost parents had looked like. They were shadows in their lives, always in the back of their minds, but never to have a face.
Jackson laughed and shook his head, and his brown eyes sparkled like one of the stars that dotted the dark sky above us. The little bit of light left on the horizon gave his brown hair a reddish tint, and when he turned his face toward mine, the shadow that cut across his profile made his features seem sharper.
Jackson was handsome. He wasn’t a tall man, but his broad shoulders made him seem larger than he was—of course, next to me everyone seemed large—and his skin had taken on an earthy bronze tone thanks to the harsh New Atlanta sunshine. Then there were the freckles on his nose and that little dimple in his right cheek. Those two things, coupled with the smile that he could turn on and off in the blink of an eye, helped soften his features just enough to make him approachable. As fun as it was for me to dream about who I would have played on the big screen, Jackson was the one who actually looked the part of a movie star.
“You could never be bratty,” he said, sliding his arm around my shoulders.
Next to his solid body I felt tiny, and it wasn’t just my petite frame. Jackson had a knack for making me feel young and helpless. Childish even.
I had curves that somehow got lost in my small frame, and arms that were thin and wiry despite the hard work I’d known all my life. My mother had been a slim woman, and I’d gotten that from her. Along with her smile and smooth, pale skin. Even her green eyes. But my hair was my father’s. Jon Lewis. All I knew about him was that he’d had dark hair and had loved my mother more than his own life.
“Anyone can be bratty given the circumstances,” I said, ducking out from under Jackson’s arm.
He frowned and shook his head, and then let out a deep breath that I mimicked.
This had been our life for the past year: him trying to love me while I shied away from it. Love was a killer. That much I knew for sure. I’d seen firsthand what it did to people in this world and I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to be able to get through it. Husbands died while trying to clear the country, and wives gave up. Kids lost their parents and ended up in the slums, settling for the scraps of an already threadbare life.
Dad disappeared and Mom turned into a shadow of herself.
No. Love lifted you up only so it could drop you farther, and when you hit the ground it was like being thrown from the tallest building in the world. It didn’t just break you; it shattered you. Even my one attempt at romance had proven that to me. Although I wasn’t delusional enough to think that I had loved Colton, it had still stung when he died.
No. Romance and love weren’t things I was interested in.
I exhaled while shaking my head, hoping it would clear the memories and erase the pain. It didn’t, though. It never did.
“I need to get home,” I said, scooting away from Jackson before twisting my body around so I was facing the other direction.
With my back to the outside, New Atlanta loomed in front of me. The city was dark and gray despite the lampposts on the streets and the lights shining from windows. Everywhere I looked were living quarters on top of living quarters, with all of them so crammed together it was impossible to distinguish where one ended and the other began. My family had arrived in the beginning, shortly after the wall was built, so we’d been lucky enough to get an apartment. But many of the refugees who came here weren’t so fortunate. The existing spaces had filled up faster than they could build new ones, and people had found themselves living in tents on the street. Soon, they began making their own shelters, bringing in supplies from outside the wall, which resulted in dwellings that were little more than shacks. Barely able to sustain a family, let alone keep the weather out.
“It’s only temporary,” I muttered, shaking my head again.
That was the motto of this new government:
We’ll pull together, we’ll rebuild. Soon things will go back to normal.
The only problem with that was the fact that
never seemed to come. I didn’t believe they intended to do anything about the slums any more than the people living in those shacks believed it. Not after all this time.
“What?” Jackson scooted over to sit beside me, his arm flush with mine.
His skin was warm, and I’d be lying if I said the thought of being with him wasn’t tempting. Lately, I’d found myself feeling more and more alone with each passing day, and Jackson had been my best friend since he saved my life when I was only eleven years old. There were moments, especially when we were alone, when thinking about the two of us together seemed as natural as breathing.
But right now, I wasn’t ready for that step, and I was starting to think I never would be. All losses I’d experienced over the years had piled up inside me, building a wall around my heart that was even taller than the one I currently found myself sitting on.
“They keep saying they’ll do something about the living conditions in the city,” I said as I inched away from him, “but they haven’t.”
“It takes time.” Jackson’s voice took on the hard tone he always got when I criticized the way things were run, and his expression was even harder. No wonder he intimidated people. “You need to let the people in charge do their jobs.”
“It’s been twenty years!” I shook my head when my voice echoed across the night sky. “We’re running
of time. Every few years some new illness spreads through the city, killing more people. There are so few of us left as it is. How long can we go on like this?”
“What can they do?” When Jackson turned to face me, his brown eyes captured mine. “The zombies are still out there. Almost Twenty-one years, Meg. How the hell are they still moving?”
“I don’t care,” I muttered, tearing my gaze from his.
“You should. We all should. That’s the key: Doing everything we can to figure out how those things work. They go and go and go, outliving those of us who are actually
, and no matter how many crews we send out to fight them off, it’s never enough. The CDC creates a vaccine and things start to look up, but the virus mutates and before we know it, even that doesn’t work!”
He sounded just like his dad, reciting the same lines everyone’s heard a million times before, and I had to bite back the urge to ask him if he was gearing up to take his father’s place as Regulator of New Atlanta.
Instead of saying anything against Jackson’s father, I chose to let out a snort. “Don’t talk to me about the vaccine. It was my uncle, remember?”
Jackson slammed his mouth shut and looked away like it would take back the words he’d just thrown at me.
“Forget I said anything.” I scooted to the edge of the smashed car before once again twisting my body.
I caught a glimpse of him as I lowered myself down. He was still sitting on the car and his mouth was still clamped shut, but his eyes followed me as I climbed down the wall. They were cold enough to send a shiver down my spine, but somehow apologetic at the same time. I was seething, though. So angry I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was no big deal.
I didn’t even know why I was mad. I’d never met the man who gave his life to help create a vaccine, and from what I’d been told by Uncle Al and Aunt Lila, Angus had been a bit of an asshole. True, in the end he’d done the right thing, and Dad sure as hell had never had anything bad to say about him—not really. The negative stuff was always said jokingly, like a pill that had been covered in chocolate to help it go down easier. It was obvious he’d loved his brother, and from everything Mom told me, he should have. Angus practically raised Dad.
Angus gave humanity a fighting chance, and even though he’d died in the process, my uncle was something even bigger than a legend to most people. I’d grown up hearing stories about him from Mom and Dad, as well as everyone else in my little extended family, but it was the people in the colony who’d made him seem larger than life to me.
Most of time, people treated me differently the second they found out who my uncle was. There were moments when it was nice, but mostly it had made me feel strange. Secluded. Maybe that was why I’d formed so few real relationships outside my close-knit little family. Other than my one boyfriend and Jackson, that is, and both of those had come later. Jackson had popped into my life during a time when I’d felt totally alone, giving me exactly what I’d needed in that moment: comfort. Colton, too, but in a different way.
I was so lost in thought that I made it down the wall without even realizing it, and the second my feet hit the ground I took off running. Suddenly, I felt like a kid again. Rushing home after a disagreement with a classmate or acquaintance. Only, back then I’d had someone to run to. If Dad was home, he’d listen silently to what I had to say, ready with advice that sounded wise despite the slight drawl marring his speech. Mom’s reaction, however, had usually been the opposite. She’d interject and ask questions. Calmly try to get to the root of the problem so she could help guide me in the right direction.