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USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author S.M. Schmitz

Sci-fi Romances and Mythic Fantasies with a little bit of heart and a whole lot of snark

Excerpt from The Scavengers

April 4, 2016

My post-apocalyptic novella, The Scavengers, is available exclusively for those who join my mailing list. You can claim your free copy here.

The Scavengers isn't your typical post-apocalyptic story. It doesn't feature zombies, although there are strange and dangerous creatures. My focus in writing the novella is on the children featured in the novella who grow into adolescence in a world without adults and rules, in a world that they have to try to make sense of when there is little left to guide them or even offer them the assurance of survival. 

All of my novels explore psychological themes and The Scavengers is no exception. If you enjoy this excerpt, please claim your free copy and follow along with me as I continue to write novels that combine speculative fiction with history, mythology, and psychology.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

I was eleven years old when I met her. She sat huddled beneath the ruins of what I assumed used to be a skyscraper, but I didn’t have any memories of skyscrapers, only the word in my mind. It had been so long since I’d come across another living person, I wasn’t even sure she was real at first, and I thought maybe I was only hallucinating. Or maybe she was a mirage in the heat of the late afternoon - like the mirages of water I often came across where patches of black pavement still existed. At least, I thought there used to be roads here.

Her short legs were pulled to her chest and her head was buried in her arms. Her blonde hair fell over her shoulders, and her bare arms were covered in the ash that coated everything around us. I approached her slowly in case she was only a mirage - I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it was inevitable. It’s impossible to know that kind of loneliness unless a person, a child no less, has survived for years believing he is the last person on Earth.

I startled her when I approached her and her head snapped up, her eyes wide with fear and I stopped walking. I thought I should say something, anything to reassure her I only wanted to see if she was living and breathing and human and I wasn’t alone. My brain and my mouth failed me, and I had the horrible suspicion she would either disappear or run away.

She did neither.

She started to cry.

“I’m hurt,” she sobbed.

I inhaled quickly and the hot air burned my lungs. The mirages of water had never spoken to me.

“What… what hurts?” I asked her. My voice sounded so small. For the first time in years, I felt like the child I still was.

She stretched her legs out and pointed to her foot. I risked getting closer and although she watched me with wary eyes, she never told me to stay away from her. I knelt beside her and gently picked up her foot. Dried blood mixed with dirt had matted along the sole. I couldn’t see what had injured her, but without shoes, her feet could have been burned by the hot ground or she could have stepped on the sharp debris that carpeted the Earth now.

“I live not too far from here,” I told her. “I can help you back to my home and clean this up.”

Her light blue eyes studied me then she smiled.

“Are you a real boy?” she asked.

I’m not sure what else I would have been.

I nodded anyway. “My name is Nic, and I think I’m eleven.”

“Me, too,” she gasped. “Except my name isn’t Nic. It’s Celia.”

I thought Celia was the most beautiful name I’d ever heard, but I didn’t tell her that. I helped her stand and told her to keep her weight on me so she didn’t have to use her injured foot.

“We’ll stay off the concrete since you don’t have any shoes,” I told her. “Maybe tomorrow, I can find you some.”

She smiled at me again and shook her head. “I’ve been looking. There’s nothing left.”

“But you must be new here or I would have met you before.”

Celia nodded. “I don’t know where I am now. I used to live in Nashville. Am I far from Nashville?”

I had no idea, but I wanted her to think I had answers. I wanted her to trust me and agree to stay with me.

“Pretty far,” I said. “I don’t know what this city used to be called but I’ve stayed here because I can find things.”

Celia stopped hopping along the dried, crunchy yellow grass and looked at me.

“Food?” she asked.

“Yes, people food.” I looked at the horizon and the setting sun then at her foot. “Can I carry you? The sun may set before we can get back to my home.”

Celia watched the horizon and despite the heat, goose bumps broke out along her arms. She nodded again and wrapped her arms around my neck, and I lifted her from the ground. She was surprisingly light, but maybe all girls were. How would I know?

I walked faster now so we could quickly reach one of the few buildings in this destroyed city that had rooms in it that had somehow remained intact and could still lock from the inside. I had to put her down to open the door and held it open for her. As soon as she was inside, I closed it behind us and locked the door.

There were no windows, no other doors, no entry or escape except for that one door. It was both a blessing and a curse.

I spread a clean towel on the floor and asked Celia to sit down and put her foot over it. She watched me as I pulled a brown bottle from a box and I cast her an apologetic glance then averted my eyes.

“It’s going to burn,” I warned her. “And you can’t scream…”

“I know,” she assured me. “I’ll be quiet.”

I knelt beside her again and poured some of the liquid inside the brown bottle onto a corner of the towel. I couldn’t read the label. I only had vague memories of my mother using a similar bottle to clean my own scrapes as a much younger child. I took a deep breath then wiped gently at Celia’s foot.

She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together firmly but she didn’t scream or make a sound.

I had already decided I liked Celia quite a lot.

As the dirt and blood cleaned away from her foot, I was able to see what had caused the injury in the first place. I stopped wiping and looked up at her.

“How long have you been walking like this?”

She shrugged and opened her eyes. “Days.”

“Do you know what you stepped on? When it started hurting?”

Her light blue eyes were fixed on mine. “I got away from them. They didn’t follow me. I’ve been alive for days, haven’t I?”

I glanced at her foot again, blistered and raw, then back up at her face, streaked with sweat and dirt.

“I’m not going to make you leave, Celia. Is that what you’re worried about?”

Her eyes filled with tears again and she nodded.

“I don’t want you to leave,” I insisted. “Even if they did follow you.”

“They didn’t,” she reiterated. “I’d be dead by now if they had.”

I acknowledged that was true then lifted her foot into my lap. I found a new roll of bandages and wrapped it and Celia kept her eyes on me as she pressed her lips tightly together again. When I was finished, I put the brown bottle and the bandages back in my box and pulled out an entirely different box, a worn box with a pale blue and white cover.

Celia’s eyes lit up as I sat next to her and opened the package of crackers to share with her.

She tilted her head as she tried to read the side of it.

“What is that word?” she asked.

I still didn’t want to admit I didn’t know everything. I looked at the word and concentrated on it for a few seconds then handed the package to her.

“Saltennis,” I told her smartly.

She ate one and looked thoughtful. “I think I remember saltennis crackers.”

“Me, too.”

If we were right about our age, then we had only been seven when the world ended.

And if we were right about our age, then we had spent the past four years trying to survive in a world that was no longer our own.

 

Copyright © 2016, by S.M. Schmitz. All Rights Reserved.

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