Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hope is a dangerous thing - Ash and Ruin series by Shauna Granger

"I shake my head, keeping my mouth shut. He has to stop. He’s making so much noise, and with the fire outside, he’ll attract anyone within a mile of us. And the Pestas, who come out at night. “Shut up!” I yell at him, scooting closer to the door to slam my fist against it.
“Please,” he says, his voice softer, “you can’t, you can’t leave me out here.”"


There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive.

That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies.

The world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home.

But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible.

And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing.

The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

Hope is a dangerous thing, but powerful. Hope keeps you going. Hope can keep you alive.

But hope can shatter your world.

Kat and Dylan have found a home, but the monsters are still out there. The pox and plague still ravage the world. They have hope of finding a vaccine, but their encampment isn't equipped to develop it.

Dylan is still too weak from the pox to leave the encampment, so Kat must decide between staying by his side and protecting her last remaining family member as he leaves to find supplies. Separated for the first time since they came together, Kat and Dylan will have to fight their own battles to save what is left of their bloody world.

Kat will have to hold on to hope that she has anything left to save and someone to come home to. If she can survive.


World of Ash 

Swallowing useless words, I cram the box of matches into my pocket and turn to walk back to the house. It was stupid of me to come out here with this guy, and I hate myself for putting myself in danger. Not to mention the supplies I left at the house. What if someone had followed them? Idiot. I want to run, but the exertion of carrying a dead body so far has taken a lot out of me.

Just as I see the gate of the property forming out of the darkness, I hear a voice call out behind me. My stomach lurches, and unable to help myself, I glance over my shoulder to see the boy hurrying to catch up. Blue growls, stopping in his tracks. He barks three times in quick succession, warning him off. The boy has the good sense to pause, holding his hands up in surrender.

“C’mon, Blue,” I say, touching his head before I turn back for the house. This time, I do run. I run in spite of the pain in my side and the pounding in my head that lets me know I haven’t eaten nearly enough. His footsteps spur me on.

“Hey! Please wait!” he calls. His voice sounds scared and a little desperate, not at all threatening, but I can’t let it get to me. I don’t know him or what he’s capable of. My mother’s warning not to trust anyone in this new world echoes in my mind. The house looms ahead of me, a white and grey mass in the distance. I remember, belatedly, that the front door is still locked and barred from the inside. I veer to the left to run around to the back of the house.

Blue keeps up easily, even skirting around the corner of the house ahead of me, barking excitedly to get me to hurry up. My feet feel as if they’re encased in cement, and I can’t lift them fast enough. The muscles in my legs are seizing, and I’m terrified I’m going to get a cramp and fall. The terror of what he might do if he catches me pushes me to run faster, like a hand shoving me forward. I skid around the side of the house, almost falling, but my hand on the ground keeps me upright. I just manage to snatch up my sickle from where I’d left it earlier.

I burst forward, hurling myself at the back door. I strike it with my shoulder and a shock of pain crashes into me. I stumble inside and fling the door shut just as I see the boy coming around the house, his eyes wide and scared. I throw the first lock and slam the hasp lock simultaneously. As I turn the deadbolt, I hear him reach the door, grabbing the doorknob and shaking it.

“Please, please open the door!” he calls, his voice muffled.

My lungs are on fire, and each breath I manage to suck down burns. I collapse as my chest heaves and my stomach threatens to give up what little food I’d managed to eat today. I pull my mask off, letting it hang loose around my neck, to make it easier to breathe. Blue barks at the door, the sharp noise cutting into my pounding head. I squeeze my eyes shut as I cover my ears.

“Shush, Blue,” I hiss, patting his head to calm him. The boy keeps pounding on the door until I’m sure his hand must be throbbing in pain.

“Please, you can’t leave me out here by myself,” he says. I think I hear his voice catch, as if he might start crying.

I shake my head, keeping my mouth shut. He has to stop. He’s making so much noise, and with the fire outside, he’ll attract anyone within a mile of us. And the Pestas, who come out at night. “Shut up!” I yell at him, scooting closer to the door to slam my fist against it.

“Please,” he says, his voice softer, “you can’t, you can’t leave me out here.”

Time of Ruin

With a shaking hand, I pull my water bottle from the netted pocket and take a few sips, reluctantly controlling myself from gulping down half of it. Once my mouth is pleasantly wet, I hold the bottle out to Blue and let him take a few sips. I’m happy the mouth is wide so I don’t need to spill any out for him.

The last thing I want to do is to dig through my pack and get out Blue’s bowls and kibble, so I pull out a can of beef stew, my last can of the blessed protein-and-carb packed stuff, and pull the tab to open it. “We’ll share, okay?”

Blue sits on his haunches, back perfectly straight, as he watches me. I know it’s a leftover trick from his first family, but it makes me smile.

“Me first,” I say and point at the ground.

With a short whine, Blue lays on the ground, resting his chin on his paws as he watches me tilt the can to my mouth. Eating only half of the stew isn’t as hard as I thought it would be; my stomach is so tight with worry over leaving Dylan, over the trail of smoke in the distance, and my need to find transportation that I’m not as hungry as I should be. I have to choke down the last bite of mealy potato before I hold the can out for Blue. He has no such difficulty eating the other half of the stew, and in minutes, he’s licking the inside of the can clean.

“Pig,” I tease as I toss the can away. Blue ignores me and lays down to clean his paws.

I let my head fall back against my pack. My eyelids are heavy, and it’s increasingly more difficult to keep my eyes open. I click my tongue for Blue, and he jumps to his feet in an instant. I chuckle and snap my fingers for him to come to my side. With his warm body tucked in close to me, I lay one hand on his back and let sleep pull me under.

I don’t know how much time passes before I’m awoken by a sound that I know neither I nor Blue made. My eyes snap open, and my whole body goes instinctively still. I hold my breath so that I can hear better. Blue shifts under my hand. He picks up his head, his ears perfect triangles as he listens for the unfamiliar noise. I grip the loose skin at his neck and make a tiny noise to keep him quiet.

Somewhere a twig snaps, louder than any shot fired.

Not for the first time, I miss the farmhouse where I found Blue, with its intact walls and locks on every door. I bite the inside of my cheek, wondering if I can get to the edge of the wall and away from here before whoever is walking up the steps comes around the corner.

A dim yellow light creeps across the floor underneath the dresser we’re hiding behind. My heart is choking me, lodged high in my throat, and all I can hear is the beat of my pulse and the rush of my blood.

“Yeah, this is good,” a man’s voice rings out, striking me like a whip.
I’ve missed my chance to run.

Age of Blood 

“They’re getting pretty loud,” he says, looking over his shoulder.

The voices that brought me out of my reverie are carrying over the hillside, and I realize they aren’t behind us. They’re off to the side, up the hill.

“Weird,” I say, cocking my head to listen better.

Those aren’t seeking voices—those are voices raised in panic. Blue boofs, his whole body practically vibrating as he stares toward the voices, his ears lifted to listen.

“What do you think?” Dylan asks.

“Oh shit,” I whisper.

My hands move faster than my mind, instinctively strapping my thigh holster into place in seconds, then I’m on my feet and running. Dylan is calling out behind me, but Blue is at my side, running ahead of me in another heartbeat. I pull my pistol out of the holster, my thumb finding the safety without me looking. My feet carve into the grass, propelling me faster and faster. With my other hand, I’m pulling my bandana up over my face, covering my mouth and nose. I’ve been inoculated, but I won’t take any chances.

My lungs burn as my breathing becomes shallow, but then I crest the top of the hill and see the source of the screaming. Two boys I’ve walked the perimeter with on plenty of shifts, Edgar and Jeff, are at the fence and screaming.

Edgar’s shoulder is to the fence as I pound toward them, my gun trained on the dark form behind the fence, too close to Edgar. Her rattling breath crawls up my spine, louder in my ears than the boys’ screaming. Her hood billows and collapses in the breeze, and I almost see her face, almost see her milky green eyes. Her fingers reach, knobby and bone thin, the skin sickly and plastic looking.

Edgar screams again, his eyes wide and full of tears. He rips his body away from the fence, stumbling over his own feet, and almost catches the barrel of his rifle on the ground. The fence rattles, reminding me how flimsy it is, how far apart the support poles are. When I look, the Pesta is gripping the chain link, her black nails almost piercing her hands as she clutches the fence.

A cloud of green gas fills the air in front of her face. The sound of her breath is a death rattle. It fills my ears and drowns out the boys’ screams. Blue is jumping and barking but keeping his distance, the noxious gas enough to keep him back.

Panic claws and crawls in my stomach, twisting and reaching. Edgar has dropped his weapon to grab his shirt, pulling it off his head and twisting in every direction to check his body. Jeff screams at him, but I can’t make out his words over the sound of the Pesta and Blue barking. Jeff still has his rifle in his hands, but it isn’t trained on the monster in front of us.

Distantly I think I hear Dylan’s voice, the sound of my name being called, but I don’t answer him. He’s still recovering. He shouldn’t be hiking up this stupid hill to see what these stupid boys are doing—or aren’t doing.

“Kill it!” I scream, my voice ripping from my throat. My voice rends the air, shutting the boys up and making Blue fall to all four paws to look at me, his mouth open in a forgotten bark. “Kill it! Kill it now!”

I feel my gun in my hand, but Jeff is between the Pesta and me. She has cleverly kept herself out of my line of sight, and with Jeff swinging that massive rifle around, I have to keep Blue and me out of his way. But my voice seems to have reached him and pulled him out of his panic. Jeff spins around, lifting the rifle. The cloud of green gas is bigger, reaching for him, so he steps back and pulls the trigger at the same time. The shot is resounding and deafening so close.

My whole body flinches, but my finger isn’t on the trigger, so we’re safe from me at least. Dylan’s voice is louder. I know he’s making his way up the hill, and I could kick myself for not telling him to go back to the encampment for help instead of taxing himself by following me. Blue whines at my feet, and I realize I’ve grabbed his collar with my empty hand, keeping him at my side. I won’t—can’t—let him go yet.

Edgar is dry heaving, his hands braced on his knees, bent double as his stomach tries to give up whatever is inside, which isn’t much. The sounds crawl into my ears and twist my stomach, threatening to make me sick.

“Edgar, answer me,” Jeff screams. How his throat isn’t raw yet, I don’t know.

My gaze travels past Jeff to the crumpled mass on the ground behind the fence. Her black cloak pools around her emaciated body so I can’t see her face—I can’t be sure she’s dead. She looks dead, but they always look dead. I let go of Blue, and thankfully, he runs to meet Dylan as he makes to the top of the hill, pausing to catch his breath when he sees me alive and well.

“Edgar, did she?” Jeff asks, taking a cautious step toward his friend. He’s put some distance between him and the fence, so I can move behind him.

The toe of my boot touches the chain link, and it rattles, shifting with the tiniest of nudges. This fence is complete bullshit—a false sense of security that can and will come down with enough force.

The hem of the black cloak ruffles, but I can’t tell if it was the breeze that moved it or the breathing of the monster hidden in the folds. I can just make out the tips of her black, claw-like nails peeking out of the sleeve, stark against the green clover. My mouth goes dry, and I lift my gun. It’s awkward, but I slip the barrel through the diamond-shaped hole and take aim at where I think the head should be. The report of the shot stops Jeff’s screaming for a moment. The black fabric shreds, and her skull explodes in a mass of green and grey matter, leaving a gaping hole that oozes black and red.

About the author:
Like so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. Five years ago, Shauna started work on her Elemental Series. She released the first installment, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. She is currently hard at work on a new Urban Fantasy series, staring a spunky witch with a smush-faced cat named Artemis.


Danielle merkle said...

Great excerpt, thanks for the giveaway!

Juana said...

I enjoyed the excerpt, and would love to read this story.

Jan Lee said...

I don't think I've ever read anything like this before :) That can always be a good thing!

Unknown said...

This sounds like a very different, but interesting read for me. I love the variety I find here. Thanks for sharing!

johnthuku0 said...

Very interesting excerpt. Sounds like a great read.

Arf2-D2 said...

Wow. What a freaky premise. Sounds like an exciting story though.

Dan Denman said...

I like the summary. Kat sounds like a good character.

Anonymous said...

love the cover! thanks for the chance!

Betul E. said...

Adding to my TBR list! Love the sound of this book!

Unknown said...

sounds like a great book! Thanks for the giveaway.

rounder9834 @yahoo.com

Dawn said...

I enjoy reading books that have mystery and paranormal. I added it to my must reads.