Posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014
To drum up interest in my post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure novel Anomaly – think Hunger Games and Divergent, but very different — I’m posting some samples. I posted the Prologue yesterday, so you should read that first. Enjoy!
“Leah, one’s coming!”
Radar’s voice is loud but not panicked as she grabs me by the wrist. I don’t have to ask what’s coming. I already know. Radar’s tone can mean only one thing—an Anomaly is about to appear, somewhere nearby. She’s already pulled her oversized pink-framed sunglasses from her head.
“Where?” I ask, automatically reaching for the handle of the machete strapped to my back. I swing my head from side to side even though I know I won’t see anything yet. Anomalies can be deadly even if nothing dangerous comes through—the physical forces accompanying the opening of a portal can rip a body or a building apart. More times than not, however, something dangerous does come with it—usually something very dangerous. It’s doubtful I’ll have to deal with it, but I keep my grip on my blade nonetheless. Though I’ve practiced with the machete for countless hours, I’ve never used it for real yet. Still, the feel of the leather handle in my palm is at least somewhat reassuring.
“Over there,” Radar replies, pointing to a coffee shop/restaurant across the street.
Radar’s given name is Kristin, but almost nobody except her parents calls her that. She’s been my best friend almost from the day she was born, which was just one day after me. The outdoor patio of the place she’s watching is crowded, even though there’s been no real coffee available to the general public for at least a decade. Instead, patrons are sipping satz-coff with their snacks. Brewed from old palm fronds and laced with artificial caffeine, the coffee substitute—short for ersatz coffee—is the drink of choice for caffeine junkies despite its bitter taste.
Radar takes off her fluorescent orange ball cap—the only hat of that color allowed in the entire District of San Diego—and begins waving it wildly over her head. Freed from the cap, her long black hair begins blowing in the breeze. Whether the wind is coming from the nearby ocean or is a sign of the approaching Anomaly I don’t know and I don’t care.
“Get out, everyone!” she shouts. “Anomaly!”
Every person in the District over the age of four knows that when they see an orange hat waving, it’s time to get a move on, pronto. Radar’s Power is that she can see Anomalies before they occur. That’s where her nickname comes from—the magical power she has to detect Anomalies. Some of the older folks—Befores, we youngsters call them—say there was a character named Radar on a popular television show who could hear helicopters approaching before anyone else, but we Afters don’t know anything about that. Heck, we’ve never even seen television, only pictures of what it used to look like. Radar’s Power is also why she’s got the only bright orange cap in the District, so that when people see it waving they know it’s the real thing. I sometimes joke with her that she should carry a stick to hold her cap up high so more people can see. She’s only five-three—nearly half a head shorter than me. Now is not a time for joking, though.
Not everyone can hear her, but at least some of the people have seen the waving cap and are rushing toward the gate. Cries of “Anomaly” are starting to echo through the air. More than a few bared sword blades now gleam in the morning sunlight. Every citizen receives an hour of weapons training every day—blades and handguns, mostly—but the real dirty work is almost always done by the military. I hope that’s going to be the case today.
There’s no telling how long we have. Radar’s Power is not exact. Sometimes she gets almost ten minutes of warning time, sometimes only a minute. I push Radar toward the street.
“Go get them out,” I say. “I’ll find a patrol.” Without waiting for a reply, I begin running up the street, grabbing the whistle hanging around my neck and blowing it as I run. I know Radar will be fine. She always gets a second warning right before the Anomaly happens and will have time to get away.
Patrols are numerous and constant, but the District is large. I just hope there’s one near enough to hear my whistle and get back to the corner on time. It’s a crime to sound a whistle for any reason other than to summon a patrol to an emergency, so when they hear it, they’ll come rushing. I yank my soiled green and yellow cap from my head, making my short, red-streaked dark blond hair visible. Plenty of soldiers will recognize me as Colonel Gallway’s daughter. More importantly, they’ll know I’m Radar’s best friend. Every soldier in the district knows who Radar is. As long as one member of whatever patrol I find recognizes me, precious seconds will be saved by not having to explain who I am.
I run two blocks east before I finally hear an answering whistle. It’s coming from the north, so I turn left. A couple hundred feet ahead, I spot the familiar camouflage uniforms of a patrol. They are double-timing it toward me, so I stop and wait, trying to catch my breath. It can’t have taken me more than a minute or so to run the two blocks, so hopefully we still have time.
When the soldiers are almost upon me, I turn and fall into step beside the patrol leader. He’s a man I know, Sergeant. Anderson.
“Radar sensed an Anomaly,” I say, still breathing hard. “Two blocks east, by Café Palms.”
“Gotcha,” Anderson grunts.
The soldiers increase their pace, leaving me to trail behind. I run after them, glad for their speed, since every second counts. Seventeen-year-old girls just do not run as fast as veteran Marines, but I do my best.
I arrive back by the café just a few seconds after them. The dozen Marines have already fanned out, directed by Radar to surround the now empty patio garden, their weapons pointed inward. Every patrol includes two men with flamethrowers—the Marines have learned from experience that automatic rifles are not always effective against what may come out of an Anomaly. Sergeant Anderson has placed a flamethrower on each side of the garden. I see him talking on his ancient walkie-talkie, reporting The Incident. Reinforcements will be ready if he needs them. The device he is holding to his ear is huge, nearly a foot long and bulky. I’ve seen cell phones, how sleek and tiny they were. We Befores talk about how everyone used to own one and of the almost miraculous things you could do with them. No more, though. The electromagnetic radiation they produce is a magnet for Anomalies, and so the cells have been outlawed. Only the military owns them anymore, and they use them only for brief, long-distance communications. My dad says most of the cell towers no longer work anyhow.
I move next to Radar. We’re standing across the street from the soldiers, part of a small crowd of anxious people, most of whom were sitting on that very patio just a few moments ago.
With its green plants, pink and red bougainvillea blossoms and white trellis, the garden seems much too lovely to be the source of any danger, but I’ve never known Radar to be wrong. Her dark eyes are glistening as she stares toward the patio. I follow her gaze. Not for the first time, I wonder what she is seeing. She’s tried to explain it, but whenever she tries to describe it, her mind seems to go blank and she can’t remember. But as soon as she sees another one, she knows immediately what it is. I guess Powers often work like that. I wouldn’t really know—I don’t have a Power, though by all rights, I should have one.
Suddenly, the air in the garden seems to bend and shimmer, like heat waves rising from an asphalt surface on a hot day. These aren’t heat waves though. For one thing, the temperature is very pleasant—mid-sixties, I’d guess—and more importantly, the lines are horizontal, not vertical. A barely audible high-pitched whine accompanies the disturbance in the air. The whine and the strange bending of the air are the only signs anyone other than Radar gets that an Anomaly is unfolding. If you’re unfortunate enough to be caught in it, it’s too late. No one is quite sure what happens to people trapped in an Anomaly, but we do know they’re never seen again.
Once again, my hand finds the grip of my machete, just in case. Out of the corner of my eye I notice that Radar has grabbed the hilt of her sword.
I’ve witnessed enough Anomalies to know what’s coming next, but my breath still catches when the plants and furniture begin to slowly crumble, ripped apart by the Anomaly’s powerful vibrations. A black circle appears in the middle, expanding rapidly until it’s taller than a man. The crowd grows silent. This is the moment of truth. Will something rush out from the portal or will it just vanish?
Black shapes leap from the darkness, moving with almost impossible quickness. The Marines are well-trained, though, and almost as soon as the creatures appear rifle fire echoes through the air and the two flamethrowers erupt with a loud whoosh. Two streams of sizzling yellow flame envelop the entire patio. Just before the creatures vanish in the flames, I recognize some of them for what they are—vampires. Thank goodness for the flamethrowers—automatic rifles are virtually useless against the creatures, unless you’re lucky enough to blast one’s head completely off from its neck. Even though it’s mid-morning and the sun is shining, at least a few of the vampires probably would have made it to the cover of shade before the sunlight burned them. A shiver runs up my spine as I wonder once again what kind of nightmare world lies on the other side of the portals.
Finally, the flamethrowers grow silent. The Marines move carefully toward the wreckage of the patio, making sure nothing dangerous is left. Only a few black sticks poke up from the charred rubble. I can smell the burnt wood and garden from across the street. I don’t like to think about what else is mixed up in that smoky odor, but I’m pretty sure nothing dangerous has survived the fire.
Fortunately, Anomalies are not all that frequent anymore—usually only one a month or so inside the District’s fences. Except in December, that is. For some reason, as the anniversary of The Incident draws near, Anomalies appear more often. Radar doesn’t get much sleep in December.
How often Anomalies occur outside the solar-powered electric fence and light towers that surround the District is anybody’s guess. But there are more than a few deadly creatures roaming the Outside—and not all of them came through a portal. Fortunately, fire and light are useful weapons against most of them—hence the light towers that encircle the District. The creatures’ aversion to bright light makes our scientists wonder if their world is unnaturally dark.
Our scientists also theorize that Anomalies may have occurred naturally in the distant past, though rarely. They think the creatures that entered our world back then formed the basis of the myths and legends that still fill humankind’s nightmares, which is why so many of the monsters that come through now are familiar to us. Tales of vampires, werewolves, dragons and trolls, to name just a few, may have been inspired by real-life creatures who came through one of those naturally occurring portals long ago.
The crowd watches the soldiers for a few moments before slowly dispersing. The patio is now just another of the many pockets of ruin in the District. Some are burned like this one, others are just crumbled messes. No one ever rebuilds where an Anomaly has occurred. There’s no reason to. San Diego has more than enough places to house and support the dwindling population.
A few people take the time to pat Radar on the shoulder and thank her as they leave.
“Thank the lord for the Miracles,” a woman murmurs.
She’s not talking about what just happened when she says Miracles. She’s talking about people—very special people. Radar is a Miracle. So am I. There are seven of us in the District. The name Miracle has nothing to do with Powers, though every Miracle but me has one. The name was given long before any Powers evidenced themselves. It was bestowed upon us at birth. Indeed, our births were the Miracle.
We live in a world of dichotomies. There are the Befores and the Afters, there’s Inside and Outside, and most scarily, Here and There. There is no dichotomy for the Miracles, though. We are singular, unique.
There were dichotomies in the world before The Incident, as the terrible event in San Francisco has come to be called, but they were more general: good and evil, night and day, hot and cold. They all still exist, of course—especially good and evil—but more specific pairings have emerged as well. The Befores are everyone born before December 21, 2021—the day of The Incident. Naturally, the Afters were born later—much later. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Inside means within the District’s boundaries, where although life can be perilous, it’s a bucolic paradise compared to the dangers that lurk Outside. Outside is the world beyond the barriers, where life is usually short, and death—or worse—can be horrific and painful. Outside is not somewhere you ever want to be.
When I was younger, I used to fantasize about venturing out beyond the barrier in search of adventure, but my dad quickly disabused me of those notions with just a few stories of his trips Outside as a young Marine. There are other Districts besides ours, and thus other Insides, but fewer and fewer every year. Dad says some of it is probably just loss of communication as certain technologies fail, but others have undoubtedly been wiped out. Here and There are simple. Here is our world; There is whatever lies on the other side of the portals. Based on the things that come through those openings, I’m pretty sure that There is an even more dangerous place than Outside.
But back to us Miracles. For a full ten years after The Incident, no children were born. That’s right—none, zero, zilch. No babies born anywhere in the world, as far as anyone can tell. A small number of women became pregnant each year, but every birth was stillborn. No one knows why. Then in one week, beginning on the tenth anniversary of The Incident, seven children were born here in San Diego. To this day, no one has any idea why it happened at that time, and why in San Diego. Most people had given up hope and thought the human race was headed to extinction. The fervently religious believed it was the Apocalypse, slower and more drawn out than expected, but they nevertheless awaited the Rapture.
And then, out of nowhere, I was born healthy and alive in the wee hours of the morning of December 21, 2031. The next day, Radar arrived. And then came Lights, the first male child. Plush, Rerun and Doc followed, with Sneak bringing up the rear. All of them were born before New Years Day. Suddenly, it seemed the human race might not be doomed after all. That’s why we’re called Miracles. We brought hope where previously none had existed.
Each ensuing year, more and more children have been born. Not just in San Diego, but in the other Districts as well. This year, nearly a thousand babies have arrived just in our District. None but the seven of us born in those last days of 2031 have a Power, but people don’t care about that. No one knows why things suddenly changed. They’re just happy to hear the sounds of children again, despite the decaying technologies and the dangers of the Anomalies. And nobody underestimates those dangers, believe me.
Here’s the link to Anomaly on Amazon