, I made some modifications to the book. One of the things most commented on was the story world and wanting more information on how the Union came to be and how it functions. Details are scattered through the book, but I beefed up the first chapter with a little more information to help better set the scene.
I wonder if I would have spent so much time
agonizing over my future if I’d known I’d be dead so soon. Something tells me I
would have done a lot of things differently. If I’d known, maybe I would have
done everything differently.
I try to inhale deeply but the pain stops me short.
Every inch of my body aches, my lungs only the latest casualty.
It’s been days since I’ve had anything substantial
to eat and yet I no longer feel hungry. I think I remember reading that
disappearing hunger is a bad sign. When was the last time I drank something? I
guess that’s the real issue. It might have been yesterday or maybe the day
before. I’m having a hard time focusing – my thoughts are all a jumbled mess in
I try to move but it sends a jolt of pain through my
head. The grimace that follows stretches my bottom lip causing it to crack and
bleed. I reach out my thick tongue and the burned metallic taste of blood
nearly makes me sick. The nausea is constant now.
I squeeze my eyes shut, believing that somehow it
will block the pain, then turn onto my side and curl into a ball. The dry
packed dirt, unyielding and rough against my skin, the small jagged rocks that
scrape my cheek, and the putrid odor of the decaying leaves remind me where I
I begin to cry as the hopelessness of my situation consumes
me. Without enough fluid left in my body to produce tears and a throat so
ravaged that no sound comes out, my body heaves with dry silent sobs until I
have nothing left. Not fear, not grief, not even despair. I am just…empty.
I roll to my back as a gust of wind whips the crisp
leaves near me into a frenzied dance. The sharp caw of a bird in the distance
cuts the air, followed shortly by an answer from another.
I raise my hand over my head. It moves oddly, as if
underwater. Crisscrossing my cracked palm are tiny rivers of dried blood from
where I’ve cut myself. Between my fingers, the brilliant blue of the sky is
punctuated by the bright sun high overhead.
My hand feels foreign to me, like it’s detached from
my body, floating strangely. It falls gently to my chest like the dead leaves
around me fell from the trees in the distance before they were blown here by
the wicked hot wind.
I close my eyes, no longer afraid it might mean
never opening them again.
I think about all the movies I’ve seen over the
years. Not just the modern ones, but older ones, too, from the 20th and 21st
centuries. Movie deaths are noisy and dramatic, filled with action and brutal
emotion. By contrast, mine will be silent, almost serene. I wonder if they’ll
ever find my body out here.
The intense light from the sun penetrates my eyelids
and I see nothing but white as I try to remember the events that led me here.
Was it really just a week ago when it all started? No, longer than that. I
think it all began that evening in May when I decided to take Barklyn for a
walk in the park to clear my head. Back when my biggest concern was the lack of
any plans for my future.
Now I know my future. My life ends here. Alone. In
BOOK 1 – THE
100 Years After
the Second U.S. Civil War
“It is not in the stars to hold our
destiny but in ourselves.” ― William Shakespeare
1 :: My Biggest Concern
The clock on the wall seems to tick louder with each
passing second reminding me that its hands are moving too fast. Each incessant
click grates on my nerves and distracts me from the task at hand – studying for
my history final.
In the early 21st century, climate
change was just beginning to be understood. By the beginning of the second
decade, a combination of scorching temperatures and some of the driest months
on record, the once mighty Mississippi River was drying up and stranding
The words on my tablet that are supposed to remind
me of the past are pushed aside by thoughts of the future. Graduation is
breathing down my neck and tearing away at what time I have left to pick a
career and line up a summer internship. I’m no closer to declaring than I was a
week ago, a month ago, or even a year ago.
Rising average temperatures coupled with
a near-record lack of rainfall led to some of the most severe droughts the
United States had ever seen. CO2 emissions were at the highest levels ever recorded
leading scientists to conclude that the causes were manmade, and unless humans
made drastic changes, the world was on a collision course with a disaster that
it could never recover from.
Tick, tock, tick. I pick up a shoe from the floor
next to my bed ready to hurl it at the clock. With a loud sigh, I release it
and instead let it drop benignly to the floor. I slump back on my bed staring
at the canopy above. My thoughts are as disorganized as the stars I’ve hung up
there to look like the night sky. They are random and scattered, just like me.
I roll off the bed and walk downstairs where my
sisters are watching television. Our dog, Barklyn, leaps off the couch where
he’s been curled up with Katie and Rachael and bounds over to me. Looking down
at his eager face I realize that both of us could use a change of scenery. I
grab his leash and call to my mom that I’m taking the dog for a walk.
She looks up from her tablet and glances at me,
I look down. I’m wearing lounge pants and the same
worn T-shirt I wear to bed every night. I shrug. I’ve seen kids in pajamas at
the Daily Grind all the time.
“Sure. It’s not like I’m going to see many people
this time of the evening. I’m just going to the park.”
She rolls her eyes before returning to her tablet.
My mom is far more worried about appearances than I’ll ever be. I know I’m a
disappointment to her but then I guess that makes us even.
I let myself out the front door and head down the
path that curves away from our apartment to the public walkway. I dodge one of
the delivery drones bringing a package to our neighbor and cross through the
plaza to a trail that leads to my favorite park.
We live on the top level of the Union, nearly 100
levels above ground. Up here we have nearly a mile width of rooftop terrace
that is used for parks, gardens, restaurants, bars, and the Union’s high-speed
A-Trains. I know how lucky we are to live up here where we have so much open
space. People who live on some of the lower levels have less than a
quarter-mile of terrace.
I wind past the greenhouses and swing open the old
gate into the park. The rusting metal is rough in my hand and creaks as I push
through it. I make my way down a narrow paved walkway lined with bushes,
shrubs, and low-growing ferns. Tall trees on either side of the path reach out
their tangled fingers to pull at each other. Late spring flowers produce
natural lavender and orange aromas.
As often happens when I come here, I lose myself in
the park and forget why I came in the first place. I walk up the gentle sloping
stone steps to the clearing and let my mind wander to Lisa and Colin, my two
closest friends. I love them like family, but right now, I feel a little
resentful. They both are so sure of what they want to do with their lives.
I suspect they both came kicking and screaming into
the world knowing exactly what they wanted from life. Colin, no doubt, was
playing air guitar on his umbilical cord in utero, and Lisa is the only
17-year-old I know who throws dinner parties just so she can cook for her friends.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent more time thinking
about my future than living in the present. And even with all of that focus and
attention, there is nothing that I can envision myself doing for the rest of my
The problem is that I’ll be 18 soon and I need to be
a fully-functioning member of the Union by then. I can either pick a vocation
of my choice, anything I want, or find another way to contribute through
community service. No one in the Union gets a free ride. Everyone is expected
to contribute to the best of their abilities. So while I’m free to choose
whatever I want, there is still this intense pressure to choose something.
I let Barklyn off his leash so he can run around. I
watch a blur of brown and white fur tear across the grass, his legs barely long
enough to keep his belly above the blades. He spots a group of pigeons on the
other side of the clearing and lowers his front paws, raising his back end as
if he’s hunting them. He runs at them as fast as he can. The pigeons take off in
a dozen different directions, the beating of their wings and loud coos
disrupting the silence of the park, followed by Barklyn’s sharp yips as he
leaps in a futile attempt to catch them.
I think he might have the perfect life. He has a
loving family, all his needs are met, and the biggest decision he will ever
have to make is which tree to pee on first. I sigh and blow a piece of hair
from my face. I know a lot of people spend their whole lives in careers they
don’t love, but I want more than that, so much more.
In my quest to find my true calling, I’ve
volunteered for community service in almost every capacity available in the
Union. It’s also another way I’m a disappointment to my parents. They can’t
understand why I volunteer for community service when they choose to pay taxes
The one thing I seem to have any kind of natural
ability for is the only thing I refuse to even consider. I guess I can’t be the
almighty Rock God Eddie McIntyre’s biological daughter and not have some
musical talent, but I will never do anything that has to do with music. I
started playing the piano at age two, but I haven’t played in years now — not
since I found out the truth. I wonder why my mom wanted me to learn to play, it
seems bizarre in light of everything. I guess it’s just another thing about her
I will never understand.
With Colin, music is a love. More than that – music is
in him. But for me, music is a rival, the thing that tore my family apart and
spawned secrets and lies. Of course I know logically that music didn’t do any
of that, but it’s easier sometimes to blame music. I see it as the other woman,
the seductress that forced Eddie to split when he found out his 18-year-old
girlfriend was pregnant, encouraged my mom to tell me that my father was dead,
and lured my stepfather, Joe, into going along with the deception.
Eddie tried to make up for it after his wife had a
baby. He probably felt guilty and realized what a giant ass he’d been to me and
Mom. It took four years of therapy for me to finally come to terms with the
fact that Eddie is just a lousy excuse for a father, that my mom probably
believed she was doing the right thing, and that Joe has no backbone when it
comes to my mom.
For a long time, I blamed myself for all of it. If
I’d been a better kid, prettier, less moody, maybe Eddie would have come back
years before he did. I used to fantasize about Eddie showing up at the hospital
the day I was born taking one look at me and falling instantly in love. But he
didn’t show up until I was 12.
My thoughts are interrupted when a beautiful husky
wanders into the clearing followed by his equally beautiful owner, Bryce
Vaughn. My heart rate immediately increases, sending my central nervous system
into a frenzy.
I swore off boys years ago. Not long after I discovered
while making out with Avi, the son of my uncle’s chief of staff, that kissing
boys made me want to do lots of other things with boys. I may not know what I
want to do with my life, but I’m damn sure what I don’t want — to end up as a
single teenage mother.
It just seemed easier to give up boys rather than
try to affect any sort of serious self-control. I’m not the kind of girl that
guys heavily pursue anyway. But, if I was ever going to ditch my no-boy pledge,
it would be for Bryce Vaughn. Bryce’s skin is the color of milk chocolate and
his slate gray eyes are like the winter sky. And if that combination wasn’t
striking enough to make my knees turn to jelly, he has these dimples that make
my heart forget how to beat for a few seconds.
He walked into my English lit class for the first
time five months ago. You could hear every girl in the room inhale sharply
followed by complete silence. When he walked past me to take his seat a few
rows back, those incredible eyes met mine and he smiled. I’m pretty sure I
stopped breathing before my face turned as red as my hair.
Whatever fantasies I’d had about me and Bryce
quickly evaporated when he began dating Alivia Benton. While it’s not
surprising that the hottest guy in school, and quite possibly the entire
Eastern Province, would be dating the Queen Bee of Moores Academy, it was still
a devastating blow. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
It’s hard to remember the time when Alivia and I
were best friends and as inseparable as she and Bryce are now. These days she
either ignores me, which is my preference, or goes out of her way to humiliate
me. And when she’s not around, she has her minions, Gia, Montreal, and Brinna,
do her evil bidding for her. I wonder if Bryce can be placed into the minion
category. It might be better if I duck out before he sees me.
I call to Barklyn and he lifts his head to look at
me, but he has no intention of leaving the tree he’s sniffing. I whistle and
this time he comes bouncing toward me. A whistle means a treat and apparently
that is better than whatever odor he was fixated on. But the whistle also
catches the attention of Bryce, who looks in my direction, smiles his
incredible smile, and waves. I look over my shoulder to see if he’s waving at
someone else, but no one is behind me. When I turn back, he’s walking toward
I snap on Barklyn’s leash and brace myself for the
impending encounter. I’m pretty much prepared for anything thanks to the
constant attacks by Alivia and her idiot friends. But Bryce rarely talks to me.
Most of our interactions have been taking part in the same discussions in
class, although when he caught me staring at him in the cafeteria a few times,
he smiled at me. And a real smile, not a smirk.
Maybe he’s just here to walk his dog and the wave
was nothing more than an acknowledgment of my presence. My apprehension builds
into full-blown anxiety as I realize he’s coming over to talk to me.
I pop up off the ground and hastily assess how I
look. Crap, I just remembered what I’m wearing, but there isn’t anything I can
do about it now. I reach up to touch my hair, knotted on top of my head, and
give a fleeting thought to letting it down, before realizing that’ll be too
obvious. I steel myself and turn to face him, hoping it’s a short
conversation…or…maybe I don’t.
“Hey, Evan,” he says, his smooth and sexy voice causing
my heart to do funny things.
Those incredible steel gray eyes of his lock onto
mine and I almost forget to speak. “Bryce,” I find my voice and nod my head in
what I hope is a causal acknowledgment but probably looks more like I might
have nerve damage somewhere in my neck.
He stands with his hands shoved in the front pockets
of his jeans. “Do you live around here? I usually bring Bella here this time
every night but I haven’t seen you here before.” He smiles that smile that
makes me loopy and glances at Bella, who is vigorously sniffing in the plants
where Barklyn was just peeing.
“Uh…yeah, just over there,” I say, pointing in the
general direction of where we live in a way that will only further fuel the
appearance that I might have just had a mini stroke. “I usually come right
after school but I was studying for tomorrow’s history final.” It comes out
like an apology and I feel desperate to end this conversation and get away from
him before I make a complete idiot out of myself.
“Oh yeah, I took mine this morning. I love history.
I can’t get enough of it. Learning about the government regulations to curb
greenhouse gasses and restrictions on gun ownership that led to the second
Civil War is fascinating. But trying to remember all those dates makes me
crazy.” He laughs, and there is something spontaneous and genuine about his
laughter that puts me little more at ease.
“That’s my biggest issue with history. Not what
happened, I mean that’s pretty interesting. All the stuff about scientists and
climate deniers arguing over the causes of climate change and all the other
events that led up to the War. It’s just trying to remember the exact dates
that everything happened makes my head hurt. Does it really matter if the first
shot was fired on…” Oh hell, I realize I don’t even remember the date.
He smiles that smile again and says, “July 4, 2052,
for the record.”
I sigh. “See? I wish the dates weren’t half of the
test.” A warm breeze gently blows across the clearing, sending pieces of hair
down and into my eyes. I twist my head to get them out of my face and then use
my hand to shove one of the more offensive ones behind my ear.
“That’s probably everyone’s biggest issue with
history. The easiest way for me to remember dates is to make up poems, like ‘In
1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,’ or ‘In February 2065, the war ended with
more dead than alive.’”
“Hey, that’s a really good idea. That last one’s
kinda morose, but I’ll probably remember it because of that.”
He pulls his hands out of his pockets and shifts
slightly on his feet. “That’s the secret – make them as bizarre and twisted as possible.”
As he talks about his love of history and how
fascinating he finds the events that shaped the Union we live in today, his
face is so animated and full of life. I struggle to pay attention to his words
as he talks about the Great Migration that followed the end of the Second Civil
War instead of staring at those full, kissable lips.
“But what I really want to do,” he continues, “is
mix my love of history and literature. I want to write about the people who
founded the Union. I mean, it must have been so exciting to live at that time.
When all they saw around them was utter devastation, who first realized that
migrating to the coasts would mean the difference between life and death? We
know it happened, we know the name of the scientist who developed desalination
technology to turn ocean water into drinking water, but how were the lives of
the migrants affected? What was it like to be one of the founders who drew up
the Union Formation Documents?”
I get caught up in his enthusiasm and find myself
smiling and thinking he sounds so much more mature than the rest of the boys
“What?” he asks, a spark of amusement in his
beautiful slate eyes.
I shrug. “You should see your face right now. It’s
obvious how you feel about your chosen field.”
He tilts his head slightly. “Well, what’s yours? I’m
sure you feel the same way about it.”
I look at my toes and wiggle them self-consciously.
“I don’t actually have one. I haven’t declared yet.” I look back up at him,
unsure what he’ll think of that.
“That’s probably not as unusual as you think. A lot of
kids our age take the summer off to figure it out.”
“I know,” I say with an exaggerated sigh. “But I’ll
probably end up working for my stepdad, Joe. He wants me to work for him. Heck,
he expects it.”
He shrugs his shoulders slightly “He’s really
successful. I know kids at school who would kill to work for him.”
I’m pretty sure his girlfriend’s one of them. She
was a child model for M Clothing, Joe’s company, until Joe fired her after she
began tormenting me. Yeah, I guess, I’m just not one of them.” I pause and
debate saying more, feeling like I’ve already said too much.
“You should see your face right now,” he
says. “You look…I don’t know, but not happy. You should do what you love, Evan.
Find out what that is and don’t settle for anything less.”
I realize that I really like the way he says my
name. It makes little swirly happy feelings in my stomach. I shake my head and
remind myself who I’m talking to. Barklyn starts pulling at his leash. He must
smell something out of range. I reach down and unhook him so he can go
I pat him and say, “Go get it, Barklyn.” He takes
off, followed by Bella. After a few short sniffs of each others’ behinds, they
seem like best friends.
Bryce smiles and raises his eyebrows. “Barklyn?”
I blush. It really is a stupid name. “Yeah. My mom
named him. She combined Brooklyn the borough from Old New York with bark
because, well…he’s a dog…” I trail off. “She likes combining stuff to come up
with unusual names, sort of like mine.”
“She named you after Evansville, Indiana?”
I’ve never even heard of that place before, but I
still can’t help laughing. “I like that, but no. She named me after my
grandmother, Eve, and my grandfather, Nathan.”
“Well, I like it,” he says. “It’s unusual and
unique, like you.”
I arch an eyebrow. Is he flirting with me? I’m
suddenly uncomfortable with this conversation. It’s much safer to dream about
Bryce from a distance. But in reality, he has a girlfriend and she hates me. If
she finds out her boyfriend is flirting with me, I’m dead.
I whistle for Barklyn, put his leash back on, and
say, “Well, I really should be getting back.”
Bryce throws me a casual wave and says, “Maybe I’ll
see you and Barklyn here again sometime.”
I turn and walk back to the steps, but can’t resist a
quick look back. I try to make it super casual, like I’m trying to get my hair
out of my face. He’s watching me with a smile. When he sees me turn, he waves
again and calls out, “See you tomorrow, Evansville.”