Monday, December 09, 2019

#MysteryMonday #TheTrain

Title: The Train
Author: Connor Harding
Genre: Action and Adventure, Science Fiction
Book Heat Level: 1


A veteran of the wasteland tells his tale to a colony child in hopes that, one day, it will inspire him to explore the world himself.

BLURB: The Train

Within the rigidly defined scrap-metal confines of the Boston survivor colony, nine-year-old scavenger Ezekiel finds himself face to face with a mysterious refugee. Ez is intrigued with the stranger, who offers him knowledge about the baron wastes outside the city. After further investigation, Ezekiel learns that the man’s name is Jack, a part of the first convoy to successfully cross the United States since the calamity smothered the world in an invisible cloak of poison. 

Jack retells his stories of the end times in all of their seemingly hopeless grandeur. Through them, Ezekiel learns what it means to be a survivor, and in turn, what it means to be human. Yet even with all the understanding of the outside world on his fingertips, the child wonder must still make the ultimate decision; to live in stable, content, survivable conditions in the colony, or follow the little-known path of the stranger into a land long left untouched.

EXCERPT: The Train

I took a deep breath and took a firm hold of the straw to the left. Slowly sliding it out inch by inch, I grimaced. Every moment, I thought that the straw would come to an early end, and I would become the lab rat. I was already sopping wet, Ez. One little dunk in the river might finally snap those final straws of sanity I had in the whole haystack. Luckily for me, the straw never cut short, in either case. I gave a great sigh of relief. Adahy had a nervous laughter radiating from him, but he managed to keep his cool.
“Well, I guess that’s just my luck, isn’t it?”
Adahy was a rather thin man, only about one hundred and fifty pounds total, not including gear. His steps were naturally light and his strides were long. He floated step by step until he was halfway through his walk. The bridge swung slightly lower there, and his steps became even lighter. Everyone in the crowd held their breath as Adahy finally made his escape from the low swooping center and found his way to the other side. The act drew applause from the waiting crowd. It was like some kind of staple circus act to them. Wiping the rainwater from his forehead, Adahy turned and beckoned the rest of the FCS to join him. Gladly, we obliged. My friends began to perform the death defying act themselves, one by one. The bridge seemed to do a good job of remaining steady, but still, something was bothering me about that swooping center.
Todd, Jacques, and Jed all tiptoed their way delicately across. As Jed took the last step onto the solid iron block on the other side, I took my first step onto one of the slippery planks. The floor beneath me felt weak, but it had carried Todd, who was heavier than me, so I figured here was nothing to fear. Each step along the glossy dark surface gave me more and more confidence, and soon enough I found myself taking firm steps at my full stride. I kept rolling until I reached the low hanging swoop, the winding serpent of oak and fiber. Shifting my weight on a specific board shook me pretty good, considering the crack I heard. Noise like that was never a good sign. I had to stop moving completely and wait it out, but judging from the increase in pitch of the creaking, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t working. Stuck at the center of the bridge, I could only think to grab hold of the thick rope handrails and hope. I heard the crowd of spectators begin to gasp, and nervous clamoring soon drifted on the breeze.
I looked down cautiously at my mud-soaked boots, which for the moment, remained on solid ground. As I maintained my pose on my uneasy post, the cracking finally grew silent, and you could feel the palpable tension in the air dissipate. I didn’t want to breathe. My mind was telling me to stay where I was, but my nervous heart was telling me to rush forward. Feeling the desperate need to finish this hellish walk, I finally lifted my left foot. It was a poor decision.
I felt an absolute break in the wood under my feet, like an earthquake was occurring right underneath my shoe soles. From the cliff top where most of the Center sat, I heard a chorus of screams and shouting. They shrieked and yelled and beckoned for me to run. They didn’t need to tell me. I took off like a flash of light across the midway. The bridge shook and swayed and crumbled, progressively collapsing as I made my escape from the swooping low point. The handrails snapped and fell limp amongst the maelstrom of falling support beams, and balancing upon the broken path became an exercise in futility. I broke out into a full sprint toward the other side, but my ankle slowed my pace to that of a fast jog. One extremely loud crack busted half of the planks, and with it, the bridge fell. About three quarters of the way across the platform, I lost whatever I was standing on and felt myself plunge into the rushing white-water torrent below me.
I smacked the water like a smooth stone, and sank deep beneath the current of putrid brown water. I hit the sediment on the bottom of the river and tumbled like a ragdoll. It was a struggle to determine which direction was up and what was down. My backpack, which was still tightly strapped around my shoulders, caught hold of a sharp rock during the tumble. I was yanked back from my own momentum and sat, ensnared by the current. The next few seconds took years to pass. My lungs began to burn from the deprivation of oxygen, so I struggled and thrashed to untangle myself. Eventually, the movement worked out, and I felt a gentle jerk. I turned back to see that there was another gash in the fabric of my pack. A few items tumbled out and became victims of the current. They were washed away in an instant. The momentum of the water started carrying me again.
Running out of strength and air to work with, I forced myself to swim up. As I approached the surface, I felt myself choking on the river water. Bouncing off the sediment of the riverbank, I breached the rushing foam and muddy brine that covered the surface. Coughing uncontrollably and spitting out large quantities of vile liquid, I fought to keep my head within reach of daylight. The mighty riptide tore me from side to side like I was being towed along by a vehicle. Whenever I could find an opportunity or calm moment, I would swim closer to the shoreline and scan the cliffs for a search party. However, whenever I looked upon the hillsides and the lifeless plains, there wasn’t a soul to be found. A few minutes passed in the merciless grip, and I had barely made any progress making it back to solid ground. I decided if I was going to do something to save myself, it would have to be right then. Managing to use the current to my advantage, I swam along the sudsy gallons of racing water until I finally came within arm’s reach of the shoreline.
Still moving at a break-neck pace, I threw my arm onto the earth and grabbed onto a patch of dead reeds. After pulling myself closer to dry land, I dragged my other arm out of the depths and clawed my fingers into the dirt. After minutes of effort, I crawled out of the rapids onto the earthy terrain and squirmed back to higher ground. My lungs were filled with the infected waters of the river, so I did my best to cough up and spit out as much of the toxic liquid as I could before collapsing onto my back. There I remained, motionless as a rock. My damaged pack slung weakly at my side, I forced myself to sit up against a boulder. I already felt the faint remnants of the poison drifting inside me, parasites floating in the recesses of my bloodstream. There was a gentle numbness that grew in my core. With somewhat blank eyes I stared down at the river which had taken me, and I thought to myself. How in the hell did I manage to make it through something like that?

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