Please to enjoy the first chapter of This Wasted Land, my new young adult dark fantasy novel. What’s TWL about? At its core, it’s the tale of a misfit high school girl and her misfit high school boyfriend, but it’s not your typical teenage love story. No, it’s more like:
Boy meets Girl
Evil Witch takes Boy
Girl goes to get Boy back
TWL’s available on Amazon, and for a limited time, the Kindle version is $0.99. Without further delay, then, here’s the opening chapter, wherein our Feisty Teenage Heroine Alyx and her boy Sam go for a ride to….
Track 1. You Could Be Mine
“Hold on,” I tell Sam.
His arms wrap tight around me. “Alyx, just for once, please don’t go so fa—”
I thumb the switch, and the bike—a red Ninja 250R—fires up. My left hand pops the clutch, and we take off down the long gravel driveway. My foot hits 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 hear Sam in my head, yelling to slow down, but it’s just my imagination: we’re not telepathic, or anything. Not that I’m gonna slow 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 knows to do it anyway as we take the next curve. When we come out of it, I clutch and tap the shift again, and we’re in fifth gear, 60-something miles an hour.
Down the road, past big houses on acres of green. Rich people here in Kent County. Some of them have horses of their own, like the ones at Fairmore that Sam rides for therapy.
A long, steep dip, across the low bridge that goes over a little stream, then up the other side. We’re doing about 75 now, and the bike’s bitchin’ at me for sixth. I don’t go there. Not yet. Sam’s arms loosen, and he leans back a little on the rear pad. It still freaks him out how fast the bike takes off, a lot faster than a car. When I was learning to ride, it used to scare me shitless just doing twenty, but I got used to it. He will, too, I guess.
I shift down to fourth, then third, feathering the clutch so the gears slow us and I don’t need to brake much, then hang a right onto Route 213. Throttle back up to fourth and we’re doing about 60, then we’re in fifth doing almost 80, then we’re in sixth doing just over 90. Sam takes one arm off from around me, puts it all the way up, and his thighs squeeze tighter around my hips to hang on. I feel him more than I hear him scream, “Wooooooooooo!” long and loud.
He’s not scared anymore. He’s free. He’s with me.
He loves the bike.
He loves me.
But I don’t know if I love him.
* * *
We have to slow down when we hit Chestertown. Lots of red lights, speed limit’s 35. Chestertown’s built around Washington College. Sam says that for a while, he was thinking about going there this fall and taking English, cuz he likes to read, and he’s written some poems for our high school’s lit mag. And also, Washington College has this big cash prize every year for the best student writer, which sounds cool. But at the last minute before applications were due, he changed his mind, and now he’s been accepted by Loyola up in Baltimore so he can study engineering. I can’t wrap my head around being so smart you’d consider going to two different schools for two totally different things. He moves into his dorm the next-to-last week of August, I think. The whole thing sounds real expensive, but Loyola gave him some scholarships—he says they usually don’t—and his folks have money.
They’re not together anymore. Happened a few years back, he says, about the time his older sister went off to college. Cynthia. I’ve met her. 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 Chicago. Lawyer or something.
We stay on 213, 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. Me especially, cuz I’m a girl and Korean—half, anyway.
We cross the bridge over the Chester River. The sun’s halfway into the water as we ride. Leaving Kent County, entering Queen Anne’s County, 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. Sam holds on a little tighter, leans against me a little closer. It’s about 15 miles to Centreville, the road flat and straight for the most part, curves and dips every so often. Cars—too many cars—along the way, trying to slow us down. I pull up close behind each one, then when the other’s side’s clear, I weave across the yellow line, go full throttle and blow past them, swerve back into our lane. Again and again and again, pushing the bike as fast as it’ll go.
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, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Usually, there are county cop cars at three different spots, looking for speeders, but not today. I go slow just in case, but 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 laying on its side across both lanes. Blue and red lights: police, fire trucks, EMT ambulance. Cars backed up in front of us. I go through the gears, slow down, drift onto the shoulder. Maryland state trooper up there by the wreck sees me, shakes his head, waves for me to get back onto the road. I brake, stop, shrug, point past the truck. He shakes his head again, mouths No, waves me back, more insistent this time. Another asshole, just like all the Maryland state troopers. I give him the finger, then pull back in behind a black Dodge Avenger.
I flip up my helmet’s visor. “Crap!” Sam shouts over the engine. “My mom’s gonna be pissed.”
I kill the bike, turn my head so he can hear me. “Can’t help it!” I want some water from the bottle in the mesh sleeve on my backpack, but I don’t feel like asking Sam for it. He’s already stressing out about being late—because of course he is—and if I ask him for shit right now, he’ll probably go off on me. So annoying when he does that.
Headlights from the cars stopped behind us. He’s tapping his phone. “I’ll text her we’ll be late.”
I peel off my gloves, drape them over the gas tank, take out my phone from the jacket sleeve 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?”
“Didn’t you see? That shithead cop 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.
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. “She hasn’t texted back.”
“Maybe she hasn’t noticed.”
“Well, she’s going to notice. I’m supposed to be back home in twenty minutes.”
“Well, she’s going to have to get over it, cuz there’s not a damn thing we can do about that.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Don’t get all pissy.” Honest to God, sometimes he makes me crazy. Gloves off again, and I check my phone. Google Maps is even slower this time—I’ve got one bar.
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. “Who’s dense now?”
“Damn it, Sam, the ma—”
Then the 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? 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 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. 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 I’m following, 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 the ground and it hurts everywhere. When I can look up again, she’s got the back tire and she’s picking up the whole bike, 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 get up.
“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 writes kickass SF/F for young adults and adults who are young. In addition to This Wasted Land, he is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog.
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