Under Wicked Sky_Book 2, page 1
Under Wicked Sky
S. G. Seabourne
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No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Copyright © 2017 by S. G. Seabourne
Note: This is part 2 of 4.
Under Wicked Sky has been a labor of love for… going on five years now. After living in my head and on several hard drives, I’ve decided to share it with the world.
This story will be released in a serial format, with four planned parts.
I hope you enjoy reading Under Wicked Sky even a fraction of the amount I’ve enjoyed writing it. :)
No one, not even the new kids, could manage more than a fast walk back up the long driveway to the house.
Every face around me was lined with exhaustion. Ben leaned heavily against my side. He’d refused to stay behind in the house when Terry and I went to see what had been making all the noise by the gate.
Dead tired or not, we had to get under cover fast. The distant griffin calls picked up in volume and sharpness as the sky became brighter. It sounded like they were egging each other on. I shuddered.
Terry had suggested we shut the gate again, with the beat-up Hummer parked outside to block anyone from driving in. But it wasn't like that was going to stop a flying animal.
Someone had planted tall, ornamental bushes which lined the long winding driveway—The type that rich people used to make their yards look like that maze from The Shining. The bushes provided cover, but I still kept an eye out as all of us trooped back to the house.
I'd found a big hoodie and wore it to hide the cut behind my shoulder, but it stung whenever I shifted the wrong way. The russet red feathers were still there—a soft, downy line instead of crusty scabs, though I didn't think they'd grown longer during the night.
At least I hadn't woken up with a beak.
I hadn't told anyone, yet. Ben had enough to worry about, and it was too weird, too... intimate to show Terry.
Ahead, one of the new girls, Lilly, was telling Terry about their trip here. I guess this was their house, and they were related to Terry. They had a similar dusky skin tone and straight dark hair. Lilly was a couple years younger than me, slender and pretty. Dylan was about my age, a little overweight, with sloping shoulders and a heavy jaw.
He's either really brave or not too bright, I thought, turning back to look at the dead, bloodied griffin by the gate.
Merlot, a freckly redhead, clutched a baby in her arms like a lifeline. Her blue eyes were haunted, but whose weren’t after yesterday?
I'd half-expected things would magically return to normal in the morning. Like, all the people who had changed would... revert back to human. Somehow.
Instead, we had a growing band of survivors. All of us teenagers or younger.
"How old are you, Terry?" I asked as the house came into view.
Terry had the rifle slung over his shoulder. He looked back at me with an easy grin. "Going to be seventeen in a couple months. Why?"
"She's wondering if you're going to go griffin." Lilly rolled her eyes. "We all discussed that, back at Stateline. Merlot saw a girl our age mutate—"
"Jennifer didn't mutate," Merlot murmured. "It looked like she was having an asthma attack." She winced. "At first. Her breathing was all gurgled.”
"Whatever," Lilly said. "I think it has to do with virginity."
Terry barked out a sharp laugh, and then quickly glanced to the trees. We were halfway to the house, still dangerously in the open. Luckily, nothing moved in the branches. "What, like in the horror movies? You get laid and then you die?" He shook his head. “Then, I would've turned into one."
My cheeks heated, but I'd picked up on what else Lilly had said. "You guys drove through Stateline?"
"Did you see anyone?" Ben piped up. "Our mom works at a casino there.”
Dylan met my eyes and then looked away.
My heart sank. "How bad was it?"
His voice was soft for such a big guy. "There were griffins everywhere, and the casinos were on fire. I’m sorry."
That orange glow Terry and I had seen from the top of the ridge...
I looked at Ben, who stared down at his shoes. I wasn't sure what to say to him. Mom couldn't be... gone. She just couldn't be.
"Cheer up, little man," Terry said to Ben as we reached the top of the driveway. He opened the front door and waved us in. "I'm sure there are lots of people who got out of there just fine."
"If there were, we didn't see any."
"Lilly, shut up," Terry said.
Ben clutched my hand tightly, his head bowed. Probably hiding tears. I wanted to cry as well, but too much had happened in the last twenty-four hours. I squeezed his hand back and felt empty inside.
Moving my arm made my shoulder twinge again. What if I turned into a griffin next? Who would take care of my brother?
The muscles in my legs were sore from walking all night long, and the news of the casinos had washed through me like a wave, taking the last of my energy along with it. I wanted to curl up in a ball and be alone for a while.
The house was large—even more so in the daylight—but comfy space to lay down was limited. No one wanted to sleep in the master bedroom, in respect to Lilly and Dylan's dad. Terry was already using the guest room. So, the couch went to Merlot and the baby, and Ben slumped his way back to the loveseat. I grabbed a spare blanket and stretched out on the carpet next to him. It was thick and soft. Not like that twenty-year-old stuff that covered the floor of my apartment.
Outside, the griffins called to each other in terrible disharmony.
They did that as the sun was setting, too. I wonder if they're going to do that every morning, I thought. Someone should stay up and keep watch...
That was my last thought before I fell asleep.
I woke several hours later to the sound of the baby crying.
Lilly sat cross-legged nearby, in front of one of the largest TVs I'd ever seen. As I stirred, she glanced at me from the corner of her eye.
"Merlot's trying to feed the baby, but it's being a brat." Lilly held a complicated remote control in both hands. "I told everyone it was a bad idea to bring it along. You know, you're wearing Dylan's hoodie?"
I blinked and sat up, curling the blanket around my shoulders. The line of feathers itched, but I didn’t reach back and scratch it. Somehow, I thought Lilly would notice and remember. "I found it laying around, and I was cold." Outside, the window was bright in afternoon, highlighted by several lights streaming in from the granite and stainless steel kitchen. "Did the electricity come back on?"
"No. I turned on the emergency generator."
“Is that a good idea?”
“Why not?” Lilly shrugged. “The griffins have got to be all over the news, right?”
I remained silent as Lilly switched through channel after channel. Clearly, their family had one of those premium packages which let them have a couple hundred stations. Most of the channels were either snow or a rerun of a syndicated show. No emergency broadcasts.
Lilly finally hit on a new station and stopped.
The scene was an empty desk. One of the overhead boom mics had be
"Where is this channel filmed out of?" Lilly asked.
I shook my head.
Terry's voice broke in from behind us. "That one? New York, I think." He came around the couch and plopped down, rubbing at his eyes. His cousin, Dylan, was close behind. Both boys had a bad case of bed head. It was kinda cute.
Ben stirred from his nest of blankets on the loveseat. I joined him, and wrapped my good arm around him to bring him closer.
"It looks like..." I began, then stopped. My thoughts were reflected on everyone else's faces, and I couldn't make myself be the one to say it. The griffin mutations happened so fast, no one had time to shut off the cameras or switch to commercial. "When Terry and I hiked here, we went across the ridge that should've let us see to Nevada, but the lights were out. If whatever has happened here, also happened across the country in New York..."
"It's probably all over," Lilly said, flatly.
Then this really is the end of the world. I hadn't wanted to admit it, but I'd been counting on a rescue. Sure, it would take a few days, but somewhere in the back of my mind I had expected help to come. Then this would be one of those stories I would tell my friends at school.
Where were you when the griffins attacked? I crashed at a hot boy’s house, and my mom was so glad that me and Ben were alive she wasn't even angry about the car.
"What do we do?" I asked.
Terry reached over, gently took the remote from Lilly's hands, and turned off the TV. "Survive."
"How? Without food or water—"
"We have food," Lilly said. "At least for a little while. And we have a whole freakin' lake about fifty feet from the house."
"Ew, you can't drink lake water," Ben said.
Dylan's tan complexion had gone a few shades paler. He looked just as freaked out as I was. "We have some canned food and some meat and stuff in the freezer, but it's not going to last forever."
"He’s right. What happens in the winter when we’re surrounded by six-foot snowdrifts?" I asked.
"If we even make it to winter," Ben said. "The griffins will get us before then."
I checked myself. This conversation was getting dark, fast. "Don't talk like that," I snapped.
Ben looked away.
Despite that, I couldn't help wondering what I would be in six months. What if my feathers kept growing?
"Then we'll raid the neighbors houses for food, too. We'll figure it out." Terry stood up and looked at us all. "We've got hours of power on the generator. We should fill all the bathtubs with tap-water, so we have a clean supply." He turned to Lilly. "Gather together flashlights, batteries, and candles—"
"No candles," Dylan said firmly. Then he blushed as everyone looked at him. "All the griffins were going crazy around the burning casinos. I think... I think it's a good idea if we don't have any lights on after dark, just to be safe."
"We used flashlights last night," I said.
"Then maybe you got lucky, or most of the griffins were still buzzing around the fires. Sooner or later, all those buildings around there will burn down. And food—" Dylan visibly swallowed, "—food will become scarce. They’ll come looking for more. I know I'm guessing—"
"It's probably not a good idea to have a big neon sign pointing out we're here. I got it." Terry reached over to tousle his cousin's hair as if Dylan were a little kid. "Speaking of food, we’re turning off the TV and hooking the generator up to the freezer in the basement. Otherwise, the meat's not going to keep."
Meat? My stomach pinched with a sharp pang of hunger.
"I can hook it up," Dylan offered.
"I'll come, too," I said.
I expected a tiny freezer, like the one on top of my mother's refrigerator. Instead, Dylan led me to the basement level of the house, where a large, white deep freezer sat in the corner.
"Wow," I said, descending the stairs and trying not to ogle. The basement looked like it stretched the entire length of the house. Fully carpeted, it had an electric fireplace, and pool and foosball tables. "Is this what they call a man cave?"
Dylan shrugged. "It’s supposed to be the game room, but no one ever uses it."
I slid my finger through a thin film of dust covering the green felt of the pool table. "Too busy riding around on the stable of jet skis you got in the garage?"
A small, fleeting smile crossed Dylan's face. He shrugged again. "No time. My father had Lilly signed up for a whole bunch of after school activities, and I usually had too much homework."
I bet they went to that snooty private school nearby. I hoisted myself up on the edge of the pool table. "Well, I guess none of us have to worry about homework now."
I wanted to take back the words the second they were out. I didn't know why I tried to joke about it—a grip of sorrow made my breath hitch. No homework. No school. No more normal life ever again...
Dylan winced. "Guess not." Turning from me, he opened up the big deep freezer.
I was such an ass. I had to salvage this. "I know your sister doesn't believe this whole thing has to do with age, but I think there’s a good chance. That means kids like us are in charge now. Me, you, and Terry are the oldest. We’re kind of the adults. It's funny," I swung my foot back and forth for a moment. "Well, not funny-funny, but really strange. I loved Lord of The Flies in English class, but I never wanted to live through it."
Dylan glanced over his shoulder. "I hated that book. I never got over what happened to Piggy. Here, could you hold the lid up? There's a power switch on an inside panel."
I hopped off the table and walked over. The freezer was fully loaded with neat, squarish packages of white butcher paper, all labeled in an elegant hand with descriptions like, rump roast, thin ribs, and flank cut.
The sudden thought of barbecue was so vivid I could almost smell the meat cooking. Rich and smoky, with the perfect amount of give when I sank my teeth into the first bite.
A touch on my arm brought me blinking, back. Dylan stood inches away, brown eyes concerned. "Clarissa?" he asked in a tone that suggested it hadn’t been the first time he’d called my name. "Are you okay?"
"I..." My gaze was drawn again to the packages. I could open one of these right now and cook something up, myself. It wouldn’t be hard. There was plenty to go around...
As if from a distance I heard Dylan say, "Hey, um, what's wrong with your shoulder?"
Then his hand pressed against my left shoulder blade, where the cut was hidden under the thick hoodie. Instantly, the stinging pain, which had been constant in the background of my awareness, faded away.
I flinched. "Don't touch me!" Twisting around, I shoved him away.
Dylan was a few inches taller than me, and at least fifty pounds heavier. My shove lifted him off the ground and sent him flying backward to crash onto the pool table.
Terry told me that I needed to show confidence around girls. They liked self-assurance. But no matter how hard I try, I always became weird and awkward around pretty girls.
I wanted to smack my own forehead when I’d blurted that I hated Lord of the Flies because of what happened to Piggy. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was because I saw myself in that character.
At first, I thought Clarissa had checked out of the conversation. Her green eyes glazed over as she stared into the deep freezer. The harsh florescent bulb highlighted a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.
No, she wasn't just bored at my lame attempt at conversation. She stared fixedly at the bundles of meat as if hypnotized.
"Clarissa?" I hesitantly reached out to shake her shoulder.
A tingling pulse of something skittered across the tips of my fingers. I drew my hand back, surprised. Clarissa hadn't seemed to notice.
I reached to her again. The weirdness felt stronger just below her left shoulder blade. It pulled my hand in, like two opposite ends of magnetic poles. It felt... dark.
Disharmony, I thou
"Hey, um, what's wrong with your shoulder?" I asked, and then like a total and complete idiot, laid my hand over the spot.
It was like being struck by lightning. No, it was as if I were the lightning, striking into her.
Clarissa flinched and twisted so she stood solidly between me and the freezer. Her pupils were contracted to a vertical bar. Inhuman.
"Don't touch me!" she snarled and shoved me. Hard.
I flew backward, arms pinwheeling, and landed flat on my back atop the pool table. My breath whooshed out of my lungs.
When I inhaled, the air tasted of salt.
I stood atop a sandy bluff. The roar of the surf was loud just beyond yellow-gray dunes. A cold, brisk wind whipped my dark hair around.
Kneeling, I furrowed the cool sand with my fingertips. Out to sea, the Pacific ocean was steel gray-blue. The waves whipped to white frothy peaks as they rolled onto the surf. The sky above was overcast with fog, but free of winged shapes. There wasn't a griffin to be seen.
I knew this place. This was my uncle's beach property in Big Sur.
But... I couldn't be here. I was supposed to be hundreds of miles away in South Lake Tahoe. Unless I'd, what, been transported? Lost time, like in those Alien Encounter documentaries?
I pinched myself, just in case. I wasn't instantly transported back, and I didn't wake up.
The wind picked up, throwing stinging modes of sand against my face. When I walked to the lee of the dune, my sneakers left indentations in the soft sand. It was like I was really here. But I couldn’t be. Right?
A high, childish laugh echoed off the sands. I turned in place.
Two figures were just visible in the misty air by the shoreline. One man, older and with a walking cane, and a child about six-years-old or so. The child laughed again as he scampered to a rocky tide pool.