Born Page 1

Author: Tara Brown

Series: Born #1

Genres: Science Fiction , Romance

Chapter One

They say that the world is built for two, but in the silence of the old cellar two feels like a long lost dream. It's an ice cream cone on a boardwalk with the sun above and the sea below. It's the wind rolling around you gently, trying to persuade in all the directions at once and mixing sand over your feet as your toes dig in. It's a perfect place none of us tries to remember.

In any mind left functioning the world was built for pain. Perhaps once there had been a place where love and companionship was something to push your life toward.

This isn't that world anymore.

To me that world had never existed anyway. The world has always been a selfish place where love is fleeting and people are fickle. Once upon a time, true love accidentally happened to the fortunate. They polluted and corrupted it, and like everything else it got sick.

I've seen it. I've seen it and in the end when it's taken away the people who protested or cried the loudest, were the ones who had taken it for granted the most.

I look around the cellar, in four days I have barely moved. It's my rule and now because of it I can leave easier knowing I'm safe. I always end a shopping trip with a quiet few days in a cellar or basement.

I wasn't born to this. I've had to learn how to move around quietly, how to sit still.

I know what I need to do to live. I have lain amongst the dead. I have run through the woods in the dark, feeling my eyesight clear like a wild animal and embrace the darkness.

I creep out into the beam of dust lingering in the air, sparkling from the sunlight that found its way down two stories into a dark cellar. The beam of light almost makes me smile. I admire the light's determination. I shake my head to bring my thoughts back around and take my first step toward the stairs.

The explosions never destroyed this home in any way. The stairs are in one piece, which has become a bit of a novelty. The old farmhouse is too far from any major center to have even been aware of the problems, at least in the beginning.

The blood smears on the white siding outside prove that sickness has touched every inch of this world.

The hard wood creaks under my first step. I hold my breath and hope the creak went unheard. I take a breath and the second step slowly, allowing my body weight onto it softly. I hesitate taking the third, giving the sounds space and distance. My heart is beating like it might attempt to get free from my constricted chest. I wait a second longer, it's another rule. Never leave when you feel it's safe, always wait one more second.

I put my feet to the far sides of the stairs, where the nails attach the boards to the frame. Shallow breaths make sounds in the new world, in the borderlands anyway. No electricity, no cars, no phones, no buzz. The world sits quiet, as if sighing and taking a long inhale after what seemed like forever with mankind and the noise pollution. I am at peace when I am home, but here in the open world I am one of them. One of what is left. What scrambles to survive, most of the time separate of anyone else.

I look through the cellar door and try to keep my anxious heartbeat low and my breath quiet. My body needs to make some noises, but others can be controlled.

The house is simple. Farmhouses are the best houses. They always sit a long way off the road, not that roads matter.

They always have canning and pickling that will outlast any human. They always have safety supplies and extras of everything. Farmers lived the longest, just like my father always said they would.

Two trips a year is rarely enough, but I know if I travel anymore than that I will be caught.

I walk into the country kitchen and am amazed at how pristine it still is. Everything is still in its place, just as it was the first time I came here. Now though, layers of dust have found their way into the home, along with the bits of weeds that grow in though the cracks. With no busy little granny to buzz around dusting and tidying it, everything shows its years of abandonment. Vines grow up the sides of the house, like all the houses. As always I stand against the doorframe and put my hand at the top of my head as a measurement. I turn and look at how much higher it is than the mark I once foolishly put there.

I look away from the mark and push away the memories of the little girl. I walk low to the ground toward the backdoor.

I can't help but laugh inside at how I still felt safer leaving through the backdoor, even though there is no front or back. There are only doors. They don't go anywhere anymore, because there is no direction.

Nothing goes anywhere.

I position the heavy pack on my back carefully. It contains jars full of heart and soul and survival. Each jar is like a kiss from the old lady who canned and pickled her own farm fresh vegetables. I assume there are no preservatives, no added salt and no colorings. There aren't any labels to contradict it, for all I know she was using MSG in everything. I smile at the letters MSG, they meant something to me once.

That was before.

I fight back memories of nice old ladies and the world before. I have been to many worlds in my life, and being nineteen feels more like fifty most days.

I harden my heart and feel my instincts sharpen, as the hate surges through me. I take a deep breath and creak the door open, as if the wind has opened it. I close it again and open it. It looks like the wind coming off the brown dry fields is playing with the door.

My animal eyes focus on the dirt yard. Nothing moves, beyond the dust playing in the light. I should be waiting for night to travel but I have stayed too long this time. I need to get back. Things only live so long alone. I know this well. My garden has died many times before.

The old barn door swings in the soft breeze, making it creak slightly as the long brown grass sways and the dusty driveway pebbles scuttle along. Everything moves in sync with the wind.

I had to learn how to spot this.

I pull the door open and cringe. I know this is always the worst part of the walk home. I hate leaving this house.

I feel my eyes squint shut, as the intense light of the sun nearly blinds me. My pack feels like a ton of bricks but I take my first steps, desperate for it to be over with already. I don’t jostle the pack too much. I don’t want to break any jars. I have learned that pickle juice is hard to get out and backpacks are even harder to find.

Walking across the gravel and dirt driveway to the field is the worst. It's wide open to the yard. I look around, walking with my shotgun in my hand. I practice regularly at home with my rifle and silencer, but on the road I always bring the shotgun.

It's my lucky gun. The cold thick metal of it makes me feel strong, even though I know what strength is.

Strength is not pulling the trigger. At this point I have yet to prove my strength to myself. I always take the cowards path. Just like my dad told me to.

My boots crunch along. I walk softly but some noises are unavoidable. The noise will last until I reach the huge wheat fields. Then I will be a whisper in the wheat.

I enter not looking back.

When I reach the field I know the rule.

My legs groan under the first steps. My arches ache at the push in the beginning, but after the first quarter mile I start to warm up and my legs enjoy running.

My back is the biggest issue, what with the pack being so much heavier than I have ever trained with. I grip the shoulder straps tight till my arms can’t stand it for another second. Even then I push it until I reach the forest.

I run deep into the woods, always the same side never the same path but always the same destination. The branches whip past me, as the edge of the forest is always the thickest where the light penetrates the deepest. As the forest clears I see him. He's smiling like always. He's calm. He doesn’t run and jump. He waits to ensure I have brought nothing with me. He’s seen them before. He knows how bad it can be. Together we have seen the people get swarmed and taken, usually women.

“Leo.” I whisper out of breath.

Instead of the warm greeting we both want, I turn around and hold my shotgun. I walk backwards as Leo saunters over to watch the forest. We sit behind a tree and wait. After a few minutes I put the pack down and climb one of the huge trees. The thick branches are rough against my hands. They soften up over the spring when I don't have to chop wood. I sit on a branch and look through my binoculars from the viewpoint.

I can see the entire field of brown hay from here. I have a weak moment and let myself imagine living in the farmhouse one day and harvesting the hay.

I feel my eyes strain. I try to find even a single strand of the long grass moving in a way that would signify I have been followed. I look at the farmhouse sitting still and alone. I hope it will sit that way until my next visit. I wait before I pull the binoculars from my face and let the breeze sway me on my perch.

I wish for a second that I could fly away into the white clouds that look the way they always have. It's like they don't know the world has ended and they don't need to make shapes for us anymore. There is no us. I look past the farmhouse and watch as everything moves, just as it should. No one has followed me. I climb down, tired and eager for my own bed.

When my feet touch the ground again I look at Leo, whose gentle yellow eyes confirm my findings. We are alone. I drop to my knees and greet him as he bounds toward me. The large timber wolf licks my face and lifts his massive paw up to hug me. I hugged him so often when he was a baby, one day he hugged back. He's done it ever since.

He nuzzles me softly and nips at my arms. I rub his huge soft ears and stand. I pat him gently on his huge grey head.

"Ready?" I ask.

I pick up the heavy pack and adjust to it being on my back again. The walk home will take the entire day, if I can manage to keep a solid pace. Leo starts the walk home by heading past the old broken oak tree. Our meeting place.

Chapter Two

I sit by the fire zoning out in the flames, as Leo sits and presses against me. Suddenly his ears perk up. My aching feet twinge, begging me not to follow through with my instincts and stand. I watch Leo. His hackles rise. He makes no sound. I believe it to be a survival instinct that he has picked up from me. He never announces himself with a growl like a dog. Instead he hides in the shadow, waiting for his prey to make a move. He creeps to the door of the old cabin. I pick up the rifle with the scope and silencer I stole from a military base. I creep along low, just as Leo does.

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