Welcome to Life After War Wednesday!
This is the first chapter of Book 10. There are too many pages to put them all on here, so I've posted a small sample. You'll have to download the PDF to discover our Dearly Departed.
Waving at you,
“We will have the witch!”
Many of Mikel’s men cheered. The rest were dead or screaming for help.
Inside the mountain, screams began to fade into groans and tears…and then silence.
“Why is it so quiet now?” Tracy asked tearfully as she and Charlie stayed beneath the cushion of the clothes.
“The smoke,” he muttered, feet digging them downward. He was still trying to reach the bottom. This ledge had broken off and slid, but he didn’t know how far or if they had landed flat. For all he knew, they were now dangling sideways.
“We have to help them!” Tracy cried, but she didn’t resist when he pulled her lower.
Around them, the laundry moved.
Natoli stayed on Tracy’s right as the clever teenager took them through the maze of laundry and stone. His men surrounded the couple, as he’d instructed them to do before they’d rejoined Safe Haven under the ground. Marc had told Natoli of his fears for the future, of the deaths and lives that had been promised. Natoli had vowed to protect Marc’s heart so that the warrior could fight for all people. Now, Natoli was fulfilling his vow.
Charlie was glad they weren’t alone. He was in the lead for the first time and it was terrifying.
Charlie stopped as his foot hit something hard, hands fumbling in the darkness for the light on his belt. He tried not to think about everything that might be on top of them or how hard it was to breathe down here. They had survived the quake. That had been his only goal when he’d brought them to the laundry area. Now, he had to keep them alive in the aftermath.
Around them, other people were coming to the same realizations. Through the broken stone and shifting darkness, battered survivors began to emerge.
Adrian groaned as weight finally shifted off his shoulder. The pain in that arm was bad enough to convince him that he was alive.
“I heard someone! Keep working!”
Adrian kept his eyes closed as more debris was cleared from his body. He hurt everywhere.
“It’s Adrian! Grab that end. Lift on three. Ready?”
Adrian screamed as the weight increased and then it was gone. He screamed again as he was dragged free by his arms.
“Someone’s under him! Keep digging!”
Adrian was left alone as the men went back to the debris pile. He stayed still, listening to coughs and shouts, to tears and groans.
There’s a fire! Angela thundered in his mind. Get up!
Adrian struggled to a sitting position, arm useless except in the flaring, ugly pain that came each time he tried to move it.
Dislocated, Angela told him. You can’t climb like that. Damn!
Adrian forced his hurting body onto legs that shook, scanning their new, dangerous environment. There!
He stumbled over rocks and wood, lurching toward the entrance to the tunnel where he’d first been camped.
This is gonna hurt, he warned, teeth clenching. Go away.
He felt Angela withdraw as he propelled himself forward to knock the shoulder back into its socket with another harsh scream.
“What is he doing?” Theo demanded.
“Fixing himself,” Greg answered grimly. He tossed another large chunk of stone aside. “Keep digging. I see dark hair. I think this is Marc!”
The digging resumed with more energy as Adrian fumbled for the light on his belt. He shined it upward with his good arm, blinking at the waves of falling dust. The sight was so awful that Adrian needed the throbbing shoulder and every cut and bruise to prove that this was really happening. Safe Haven had been destroyed.
They’ll all be dead if you don’t get that fire out! Angela shouted in his mind.
Startled, Adrian staggered backward and fell over, groaning.
Give me a minute!
We don’t have it, she answered gravely. The smoke has already reached the top floor. Everyone up there is dying.
Adrian managed to get back on his feet, but his flashlight had rolled too close to a crevice for him reach without his balance. He staggered toward the ladder instead, blinking in dull comprehension. The ladder was there. Bodies were hanging from it, piled below it from their falls. He turned his head and puked.
Breathe. Breathe. Angela shoved deep into his mind, to where their connection was glowing brightly. You can do this. I believe in you. I always have.
Adrian wiped his mouth on his gritty sleeve and queasily began to climb the ladder. His painful movements quickly became a way to stay alert as he fought bodies for space on the ladder while trying not to inhale the smoke wafting downward.
As he reached the level above, Adrian yanked up his shirt, wishing he had time to stop and wet his bandana. Then he remembered that he had been getting ready for bed and didn’t have either of those things. All he had was his jeans, boots, jacket, and belts-tool and gun. Those last two he even slept with and good thing, he praised himself, taking out his spare flashlight. After this, he was down to the headlamp. He didn’t want to try using it yet. The buttons were small and his hands were still shaking. He might drop it and that would be worse than the dim illumination from his small flashlight.
Far above, Adrian saw a shadow illuminated by an orange glow. The man hefted himself onto the level with the fire and vanished. Good, Adrian thought, realizing Angela was likely telling others of the fire and directing them too.
“Right behind you!” Greg called as if to prove the thought, coming up the ladder.
Theo and Debra were taking care of Marc, but so far, there were no other survivors from the bottom level. Angela was telling him about live people trapped by a mess fire and Greg was determined to save everyone that he could.
“Adrian!” Kyle shouted from his right. “Can you tie off this rope?”
Adrian missed the rope that Kyle threw, but it caught on wooden debris, allowing him to fumble for the end of it. As he tied it to the sturdiest thing he could find—a heavy-duty hitch that had been used to tie up their larger animals for milking and slaughter—fresh screams sounded from above them.
“Going up!” Adrian shouted, wincing violently at the pain in his head. His hand came away bloody, but there wasn’t time to worry over it. He went back to the climb as Kyle anchored the rope to the other end of the lab and began inching Jennifer across the gap. There was a very narrow ledge, but no room to even look down. They would have to feel their way across. The rope would keep them from falling.
“I found two!” Greg called to Adrian, holding up two dusty fire extinguishers after he pulled himself onto the level.
Adrian took one and put it inside the back of his tucked in shirt so he had both hands to use for climbing.
Greg did the same and followed. Both men were aware of heavy coughing, but the lack of words worried them more.
“Someone got a light on,” Greg commented, sweating so much his back was soaked.
“It’s not a light,” Adrian answered grimly. The climb was clearing the fog from his head and sending terror into his heart. There were bodies on every floor he’d reached so far. How many had they lost?