Published: August 1st, 2020
Publisher: Poison Pen Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction, Dystiopian Fiction
Beth wrapped one arm around Clare’s shoulder as they moved back towards the minibus. Clare frowned, trying to understand what her sister had said. “The hollows?”
“Yeah. I parked here because it’s the closest haven to the city. The light keeps the hollow ones at bay. But they’ll only stay on the outskirts for so long before the hunger gets the best of them.”
Clare squinted at their surroundings and took them in properly for the first time. The parking lot stretched around them in all directions, empty except for a handful of overturned shopping trolleys. The lights above them flooded the area for a hundred feet in each direction. But, if she stared at the shadows on the edges of the asphalt, where the light was thinner, she thought she saw bulb-like eyes glowing in the bushes.
The shopping centre stood not far behind them. Single-story, designed in a long boomerang shape, she guessed it would house at least eighty stores. She’d thought the windows and doors were dark, but as she looked again, she realised they’d been boarded up. Through the planks and sheet metal, she thought she saw spots of light. “Beth… are there people in there?”
“No.” They were at the bus’s door, and Beth pushed the handle to open it. With the windows covered, barely any light reached inside the vehicle, and Clare had to blink as her eyes adjusted.
The minibus had probably been used for tours at one point. Six rows of seats, made of mottled blue and grey fabric, ran either side of the aisle. Metal baskets suspended above them were full of luggage. It wasn’t exactly luxurious, but it was modern and clean.
Dorran still stood in the aisle, one hand braced on a chair for support, shivering as his clothes dripped onto the floor. His expression was unreadable, which Clare had learned was a defence mechanism when he felt uneasy.
“Hey,” she called, injecting some brightness into her voice. “We’re all good. Beth, do you have towels by any chance?”
“In the basket to your right.” Beth dropped into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. Lights flickered to life above them and the door slid closed, muffling the rain.
Clare found a black plastic bag full of towels in the storage compartment Beth had indicated to. She pulled two out, checking they were clean, and passed one to Dorran. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing back at the door as she squeezed water out of her hair. “Uh, Beth was just saying that there’s someone in the shopping mall back there. And I’m really hoping she’ll tell me more about that.”
Beth sat crossways in her seat, one arm leaned on the dash, facing Clare as she peeled off her gloves. More fresh, barely-sealed cuts marred her hands. “I stopped here before travelling into the city. They call it a safe haven. There are a few dozen havens just like it dotted around the country. Survivors who have found a place to hole up, somewhere with resources and adequate protection. Shopping malls are popular. Especially the more modern ones that have implemented anti-terrorist precautions. There are larger safe havens in the country. Some that boast actual democracies, though I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“They live here?” Clare wiped water out of her eyes. “How many?”
“About twenty in that centre. They advertise their presence; I heard about them from a traveller on the road. It’s the closest shelter you can get to the city centre. They run the lights constantly to keep hollows away and welcome travellers… as long as you have something to trade.”
“What do they trade for?”
“Things they have a finite supply of. Food, water, fuel. In return, they’ll let you spend the night there and you can take any non-necessities from the other stores. I traded four litres of fuel for as many clothes as I could carry.” She pulled a face. “Starting to regret it, to be honest. Fuel will be in short supply in the coming months.”
Clare leaned close to the door, trying to glimpse the centre through the rain. She caught sight of movement near one of the loading docks. It was impossible to tell whether it was human or hollow. “And you don’t want to stay there again tonight?”
“No. They’re a bit too zealous for my tastes. A lot of surviving bands are. They set up their own rules, their own hierarchy, their own little kingdoms. I know the cliché is survival in numbers, but in this kind of environment, I think we’ll be safer off just the two of us.”
“Three of us,” Clare said. “Don’t forget Dorran.”
“Hm.” Beth’s eyes narrowed as she glanced at their silent companion. He ran the towel through his hair, tousling it, but kept his eyes on the floor.
She’s just wary because he’s a stranger. She was always over-protective like that. She needs some time to get used to him.
But the cautious part of her mind warned that this new Beth was different. The days of fretting over curious boys was over. This Beth was focussed on survival.
“What have you been doing since we last spoke?” she asked Beth. “I want to know everything. How did you get out of the bunker? Where have you been? And your scars—”
“Later, maybe.” Beth rubbed her neck, shaking droplets of water off her chin, as she levelled a cold gaze at Dorran. “So, you’ve been keeping my sister company these last few weeks, huh?”
He blinked, but didn’t meet her eyes. “Ah—yes.”
“Well, I guess I owe you some thanks for that.”
Good. Good. Clare glanced between then, hopeful.
“And I want to give you something to show my gratitude,” Beth continued. “You’re probably ready to get some agency back, right? Name a location. I’ll drop you off there and set you up with good supplies.”
“Hey,” Clare snapped. “We agreed he was staying.”
“We agreed he could leave if he chose to.” Beth didn’t take her eyes off Dorran. “Look, you’ve travelled a long way, and you’re obviously tired. Clare and I might be on the road for a while before we settle down. Pick somewhere to stay and I’ll give you supplies to last. What do you say?”
“Let him answer.”
Dorran allowed the towel to fall around his shoulders. His dark, deep-set eyes barely flickered, and Clare wondered if Beth could pick up on the quiet panic that was setting into him. His voice remained steady, though, even as he struggled to phrase himself diplomatically. “That is a kind offer. But I would be grateful for the opportunity to accompany you further. I hope I can continue to assist yourself and Clare.”
Beth’s lips twitched down. “I’ll let you take some of our fuel. It’s worth more than gold these days.”
“Stop it.” Clare stepped forward, planting herself between Dorran and Beth. “He’s not going anywhere. We’re a team.”
Beth huffed. She didn’t look happy, but she rolled her shoulders in something like a reluctant shrug. “All right. Fine. You said he’s tired, right? He can sleep in the back of the bus. There’s a bed set up there. But get some dry clothes on first. They’re stored in the racks above your heads.” Beth swivelled to face the dash and put the bus into gear. The engine rumbled as she eased them back towards the street. “We’re far enough from the city that we don’t have to rush, but we can’t afford to sit here all day, either. The hollows get antsy around nightfall and I want to be in the country by then. So you better figure out how to sleep while I drive.” “That’s fine,” Dorran said.
“Clare, get changed, then sit up front with me. I’ll need you for navigation.”
“Okay.” Clare, relieved that Beth had let the argument drop, turned towards the racks and began looking through them. They held not just clothes, but cartons of fuel, water, and cardboard boxes full of long-life food, as well as a rack of weapons suspended near the bus’s rear. She pulled stacks of clothes down as she found them. Most of the outfits were small sizes that would fit the sisters. She had to dig to find clothes large enough for Dorran.
Beth had been sensible about the outfits she’d brought, though; there were extra-thick, insulated shirts and jackets, along with rain-proof overcoats and sturdy leather footwear. Most still had their pricetags attached, which identified them as coming from a high-end hiking store.
“Try these,” Clare murmured, passing shirts and pants to Dorran. She snapped the tags off clothes for herself and sat in one of the seats to change. Her hair was still damp but there wasn’t much she could do for it, so she tied it into a messy bun as she approached Beth at the bus’s front.
“You’re looking better.” Beth remained facing the road, but her eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror to watch her two companions. “We can’t afford to waste fuel to heat the bus, but there are blankets in the basket under your seat.”
Clare pulled the fleece bundle out, then settled into the chair beside the driver’s console. It had been set back a little to make room for the door, but kept her close to Beth and allowed an unobstructed view of the twisting road ahead. She glanced behind. The row of seats at the back had been converted to a bed, stacked high with pillows and blankets. Dorran sat on its edge, and gave her a small smile. He looked better wearing proper thermal clothes and with his hair brushed back, but the greyness hadn’t left his face. Clare motioned for him to relax. He settled back in his seat, legs crossed ahead of himself, but didn’t seem ready to sleep.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Darcy is the USA Today Bestselling author of Hunted, The Haunting of Ashburn House, Craven Manor, and more than a dozen horror and suspense titles.She lives on the Central Coast of Australia with her family, cats, and a garden full of herbs and vegetables. Darcy loves forests, especially old-growth forests where the trees dwarf anyone who steps between them. Wherever she lives, she tries to have a mountain range close by.
BUY THE BOOK: