I plan to publish This Wasted Land (formerly titled In Lonely Lands) in Spring, 2017. To give you a taste of it, here’s the first chapter (subject to revisions).
Track 1. You Could Be Mine
“Hold on, babe,” I tell Sam, just like every time. I feel him tense up, arms wrapping tighter around me, just like every time.
“Alyx, just for once, please don’t go so fa—” he starts, but I thumb the switch, and the bike—Ninja 250R; it’s red, of course—fires up. My left hand pops the clutch, and we take off down the long gravel driveway, first gear, second gear, third, pebbles and dust flying up behind us.
Fourth gear past the gate and the big wooden sign that reads, FAIRMORE FARM. I’m hearing Sam in my head, yelling to slow down, but it’s just my imagination. He’s not psychic or anything. But I’m not slowing down. At all.
Hang a right onto asphalt—Still Pond Road—no cars coming. It’s too loud to tell him, “Lean with me,” but he does anyway as we take the next curve. When we come out of it, I clutch it and tap the shift, and we’re in fifth gear, 62 miles an hour.
Down the road, past big houses on acres of green. Dumb richies way out in Whitey McWhite-White Kent County. Some of them have horses of their own, like the ones at Fairmore that Sam rides for his CP.
A long, steep dip, across the low bridge that goes over the little stream at the bottom, then up the other side. Seventy-four now, and the bike’s bitchin’ at me for sixth. I don’t give it. Not yet.
Deer standing by the road, came out to eat cuz it’s sunset. Frozen, watching us—and then they flash white and they’re gone, running, and we’re gone, too. Sam’s arms loosen, like every time, and he leans back a little on the rear pad. He loves riding, but it always scares him at first. He’s not used to it yet. He’ll get there.
Blue pickup truck coming toward us in the other lane. Guy in a baseball cap, big black Lab next to him, them looking at us looking at them. I shift to fourth, letting out the clutch so the gears slow us down and I don’t need to brake so much. Look left—no one coming on Route 213. Look right—a black Mazda with a Domino’s rob-me sign on top, headed north to HellifIknow. Maybe some other big richie-rich house, cuz everyone likes pizza.
Shift to third, feathering the clutch so we slow, slow, roll through the stop sign. Hang a right onto 213 and throttle back up to fourth and BOOM we’re doing 56, BOOM we’re in fifth doing 78, and BOOM we’re in sixth doing 89. Sam takes one arm off from around me, puts it all the way up, as straight as he can (which ain’t much), and his thighs squeeze tighter around my hips to hang on. I feel more than I hear him scream, “Wooooooooooo!” long and loud.
There he is. He’s not scared anymore. He’s free. He’s with me. He loves the bike. He loves me.
I think maybe I love him, too.
* * *
We have to slow down when we hit Chestertown. Lots of red lights, speed limit’s 35. Chestertown’s built around Washington College. Sam’s going to go there in the fall, taking English Lit. Says they have a big cash prize every year for the best student story or essay or poems. Sounds cool. He has scholarships—he’s smart—and his folks have money.
They’re not together anymore. Happened a few years ago, he says, when his older sister went off to college. Cynthia. I’ve met her. Weird-ass bitch. She’s a pediatric nurse or something. At least Sam’s mom is cool. She does real estate, and she likes me. Haven’t met his dad. He lives in DC. Lawyer or lobbyist or both. Don’t remember.
We putter through town, Sam wiggling around on the back pad, trying to get comfortable. A Ninja 250’s not really made for doubling up, but neither of us are big. Him because of the cerebral palsy. Me cuz I’m a girl and Korean. Half Korean, anyway.
Route 213’s the way out of town, so we stay on it. Past a strip mall, the college, some bars and coffee places, lots of houses. Then across the bridge over the Chester River. Sam’s told me that back in colonial times, they had a tea party here, like the one in Boston. He would know that. Dork.
The sun’s halfway into the water as we ride. He’s sitting back again, all chill, hands on my sides as he looks around. Leaving Kent County, entering Queen Anne’s, where Sam’s lived his whole life. I haven’t been here a year yet.
More houses, then fields again, and I jack the bike back up to sixth. He holds on a little tighter, leans against me a little closer, but he’s still good. We don’t say anything—can’t say anything: the bike and the wind and the cars going the other way are too loud.
About 15 miles, the road flat and straight for the most part, curves and dips every so often. The sun’s almost all the way down when we get to Centreville. It’s smaller than Chestertown, with lots of old houses. Victorians, Sam’s told me. Cop cars at three different spots, looking for speeders. They’ve gotten us before.
At the other edge of town, I rev us back up, headed for the ramp off 213, onto 301, toward home. Sam’s home, anyway. Kent Island.
We don’t get to the ramp or the highway. A semi lying on its side across both lanes. Blue and red lights: cops, fire trucks, EMT ambulance. Cars backed up in front of us. I go down through the gears, slow us, brake, stop. Flip up my helmet’s visor.
“Crap!” Sam shouts over the engine. “My mom’s gonna be pissed.”
I turn my head so he can hear me. “Can’t help it!” I kill the bike, peel off my gloves, leave them on the gas tank. Put my hand over my shoulder. “Get me my water bottle, willya?”
He takes it from the mesh sleeve on the side of my backpack, hands it to me. “Thanks.” I pop it, take some swigs. So good. I put in one of those Orange Crush flavor packets before I left the house this afternoon.
Headlights from the cars stopped behind us. He’s tapping his phone. “I’ll text her we’ll be late.”
I give him back the bottle, then take out my phone from the jacket pocket where I keep it and a little LED flashlight. I ask Siri like three times for another way to Sam’s house, but she keeps wanting me to take 50. Never mind. I hit Google Maps.
“What’s up?” he asks.
C’mon. C’mon. Find us already. So slow, out here in Nowhere, Maryland. “Hold on.” I type in his address.
He stands up on the foot pegs, steadies himself, his hands on my shoulder. “Damn, we are so close to 50. Can’t we go around?”
“Cops won’t let us.” There. Got it. A road off 213, not even a quarter-mile back from where we are. It’ll run us west and north, and then we can catch another road south and west, back to 301. A little out of the way, but it beats sitting here.
“Let’s go,” I tell him, stashing my phone. “Google says there’s another way.” I pull on my gloves, fire up the bike, slap down my visor.
We do a u-ie, head back up 213. Just past the shopping center with the Mickey D’s, Sam taps my thigh, points left. Vincent Drive. I nod and slow down, turn that way. The woman stopped in the gray Honda beside us, in the other lane, backs up enough for me to ootch the bike through. Sam waves to her. Thanks, lady.
Full-on dark now. I hit the high beam and jack up to sixth gear. Chilly—I feel it through my jeans, on my knees and the tops of my thighs. Two-lane road: no cars around. “Don’t get us lost,” I can almost hear Sam saying in my head. We’re good. I know where we’re going.
The road runs straight for a while, then bends right, straight, right again. Straight. A low bridge over a creek. Straight. Left. Lefting again, a tight bend this time. I pull in the clutch, ease up on the throttle as me and Sam lean into it.
His arms squeeze tight. Yank the hand brake, stamp the foot brake, back end fishtails let off the brake still too fast tap tap tap with my foot, front’s locking up let it go long enough to downshift downshift feather the clutch, bikes whines sounds like it’s screaming. Jam to a stop a few yards before we can hit.
Train in front of us, going slow. klgg klgg klgg klgg klgg
“Are you kidding me?” Sam snaps. It’s not me he’s mad at.
The train keeps rolling—no end to it. We passed some other roads off this one—any of them go back to 50? Not that I remember from the map. I pop my visor, shut off the bike. Take off gloves, get out my phone.
“She is going to be totally mad,” Sam says.
“I thought you texted her.”
“What’d she say?”
He gets out his phone, checks it. Google Maps is even slower this time—I’ve got one bar.
“She hasn’t texted back.”
“Maybe she hasn’t noticed.”
“Well, she’s going to notice. I’m supposed to be back home in ten minutes.”
“Well, there’s not a damn thing we can do about that. She’s just going to have to get over it.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Don’t get all pissy.” Honest to God, sometimes he makes me crazy.
klgg klgg klgg klgg klgg
“We’re just sitting here.”
“What’d ya want me to do?”
“Find another way.”
Maps has finished loading. I show him. “There’s no other way. Unless we go back.”
“That’s not right.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“You pulled up the wrong road.”
“Did not.” I zoom out, show him my phone again so he can see the names of the road. “That’s 213,” I tell him, pointing. “That’s Vincent.” I take the phone back, zoom in, hold it out to him again. “Here we are.”
He takes the phone. Looks at it. Looks around. “No, it’s not.”
“Yeah, it is. Don’t be dense.”
“There aren’t any railroad tracks on the map.”
“So the map is wrong.”
“No, we’re on the wrong road,” he says, giving me back my phone. “So who’s dense now?”
“Damn it, Sam, the ma—”
Bike spills falls to the road, my leg under it ow ow ow! my head bounces off the asphalt thank God I still have my helmet on. Sam sprawled next to me. The hell just happened, car hit us? No, no headlights, no car here ow ow ow my ribs my side I scraped my hands DAMN IT that hurts. Sam—is he okay?
Oh good God, what’s that smell it’s like—
EEEEEEEEEEEE shrieking right here right on top of me it’s an old woman gray tattered dress long scraggly white hair wrinkled face like a rotten apple when they get mushy and horrible, it’s HER, she’s what smells so bad, like a garbage dumpster on a hot day. Jesus what’s going on? She leans over me her eyes are all messed up, her eyes are silver where they should be brown or blue or whatever.
“Alyx,” Sam gasps, trying to get up. The old woman grabs my helmet—both hands long skinny fingers yellow ragged nails—starts to pull me off the ground by it no no no don’t do that don’t do that it hurts it HURTS my neck, my back.
“No,” I try to say, but I hardly hear it. Grab her arms; she’s yanking me up from under the bike. My boot catches on the handlebar for a second—OW OW OW—then it’s loose and I kick her. Nothing. She jerks me close to her. God she smells so damn bad.
EEEEEEEEEEEE she screams, right in my face, her mouth is dribbling blood and her teeth are actual pieces of broken glass. She bites through my plastic face visor and I freak and I kick her in the guts and the crotch and the chest where it should hurt her but she’s got no tits. I punch her on the side of her head and in her face and she’s snapping, bites my hand, it hurts it hurts but don’t care don’t care I punch and kick and
She slams me to the ground—legs, hips, shoulders, neck, back, everything hurts. My hand’s bleeding where she bit me. Sam, Sam, are you okay the hell is this
“Alyx…” he gasps, like he got the wind knocked out of him. That crazy old smelly bitch is dragging him by his foot away from the bike, toward the train.
klgg klgg klgg klgg klgg
I get to my feet, everything spinning around me something burns my side, my right side, did she break my ribs? Never mind deal with it ignore it. Lean over, almost fall, pull my knife from my boot. Straighten up. Toward them. Sam Sam he’s hurt he’s bad. Blood on him. His? Mine?
She notices, turns around, lets go of him. Lurches over like there’s something wrong with her, like she can’t walk too good, like Sam.
She grabs my wrist, bends it back toward me, gonna stab me with my own knife. Trying to fight. Can’t. She’s too strong. I drop the knife before she can cut me and I tromp on her foot again and again and again. I can’t tell if she feels it.
She tosses me a few yards. I hit and it hurts everywhere. When I can look up again, she’s got the back tire and she’s picking up the whole bike, right off the ground, over her head. Three hundred pounds.
She’s going to kill me. For real, kill me.
She grabs the frame with her other hand, swings the bike, and I roll mostly out of the way as she smashes it down, pieces of it breaking, flying off. Part of the engine hits my foot; the boot takes most of it, but it still hurts so bad I scream, though I don’t want to. Want to get away get Sam get out of here. I start to scramble to my feet.
“Alyx!” Behind her. Sam, hobbling toward where my knife fell. “Alyx! Hold on!”
She drops what’s left of the bike on me. I’m down again.
Sam calling my name over and over. Everything going dark.
Hurt. Only hurt. I can’t. I’m done.
She grabs him by the hair before he can take the knife, pulls him—kicking, thrashing—toward the train.
Black train. Black.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is This Wasted Land, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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