The ScavengersGen Griffin / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction
AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
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AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
Copyright © 2014 by Gen Griffin
All rights reserved.
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Also By Gen Griffin
The Possum Creek Series
Lord Have Mercy (Prequel Novella)
Hot Southern Mess
Hot Southern Nights
Pretty Is As Pretty Does
Give Me Some Sugar
After The Apocalypse
Church of Chaos
After The Apocalypse: The Complete Series Box Set
To Stephen, I love you always.
To Kahylan, follow your dreams and write for yourself.
Special Thanks To:
To Brenda and Karen, for being amazing, supportive and always having my back.
Ateshi Shellorne and Jon Bruner, for their support.
“Oh great. It’s you. I thought you’d given up on trying to sneak into our parties. You know you don’t belong here.” The brown haired girl who guarded the entry to Cell Block B hadn’t changed much in the last 6 months. The tips of her stringy curls were pink now instead of black. Her blueberry printed t-shirt was as tight as a second skin. It clung to every ripple on her skinny stomach and showed every rib, as was the fashion lately. She held out her hand expectantly.
It took me several seconds longer than it should have to realize that she wanted to see the little scrap of blue paper Drake had pressed into my hand as we’d left the assembly. I stuck my left hand into my bag, almost hoping I’d lost the sweaty little piece of paper.
“Ugh.” The girl sighed with obvious irritation as she watched me dig. “Why don’t you spare us both the embarrassment and just go back to Block E. I know you don’t have an invite.”
I was incredibly tempted just to walk away. Losing the invite would give me an excuse to turn around, go back to my own bed and crawl under the covers for the next three days. Except that, as of yesterday evening, I didn’t have my own bed anymore. I shuddered and pulled the invite free of the purse lint. I pressed it into the girl’s outstretched hand and smiled at her, not kindly. “Actually, I do have an invite.”
The girl raised a heavily plucked eyebrow at me as she took it. “Who’d you beg this off of?” She dangled the invite in the air as if it were a particularly disgusting bug that needed inspection.
“No one. Drake Bledsoe gave it to me.” I wasn’t trying to brag. I just couldn’t see any point in standing around at the entrance to the party while the door guard debated whether or not I was truly cool enough to be let inside.
“Drake invited you?” The girl did a double take. She looked me up and down. I could feel disapproval, maybe even disgust, radiating off of her as she took in my chaotic, frizzy curls and the frayed hem of my favorite, and only, party dress. The blue taffeta skirt had been heavily beaded twenty or thirty years ago. Now half of the beads were missing. Most had fallen off as the glue that held them on had aged. Some had torn off when the dress had snagged on one object or another. Missing beads or not, the dress was still the nicest piece of clothing I owned. Unfortunately, it was shabby and borderline ugly compared to the dresses that the girls who lived in Block B owned. I should probably have been ashamed, but I was too exhausted to be embarrassed.
Instead I nodded and shrugged at the girl. “Why would I lie?”
She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something and then thought better of it. “I think you’re telling stories-,” she started as a burly guy in a tight black shirt joined her at the door.
“You having problems Danni?” He asked. He had short, close cropped orange hair and flat, black eyes. He stared down at me for a minute as Danni held up my invite. His look wasn’t nearly as unfriendly as I had been expecting.
“She says Drake invited her,” Danni the door guard told the newcomer. The disbelief was clear in her voice.
“Of course he did,” the new guy replied. He smiled down at me. He had a lot of teeth. Far too many for his mouth. “You don’t know who she is?”
“Um, no. Should I?” Danni stared at him with obvious distaste.
“Get out of the way, Danni.” The guy put one arm across her midriff and pulled her to the side of the door. He gestured for me to walk past her. “This is the girl who stood up in the middle of the assembly today and called the Powers That Be ‘bloody fucking liars’.” He grinned at me.
“What?!” Danni gaped at me and then looked back up at him. “I heard about that but I thought Noah was screwing with me. She’s that girl?”
“I am,” I admitted with barely a nod.
“Well, that changes everything.” Danni smiled at me and held out her arm. “Come on in. Let me show you around.”
“I’ll be fine on my own,” I said as I walked past her into the crowded, sweaty blue-tinted chaos of my very first Block B party.
The wall-to-floor projection screen that covered the back wall of the large community room I’d just walked into was the largest I'd ever seen. A movie I recognized, Grease, was playing on the screen while music wailed from a heavy duty speaker system that had been set up a few feet away from where the screen ended. The band that was occupying the makeshift stage – a collection of cafeteria tables that had been shoved together for the occasion- was doing more screaming and wailing than singing. The drummer was pounding out heavy, tribal beats that echoed hard against the cement block walls. The light bulbs on the ceiling had been painted blue, creating a twisted, dim light that made me feel like my head was being held under water.
People were tripping all over one another as they danced to the thick, heavy music. This was one of the largest rooms in the Cube but the crowd was so large that there was barely enough space for me to walk without bumping into people. Glitter covered the floor. It was blowing out of fans that had been set up on the edges of the room to try to alleviate the suffocating heat. The fans weren’t doing much for the heat but I could see sparkles flickering off my own nose as I walked past one.
I fought the urge to bolt right back out the door I’d just come through. This was nothing like the modest, polite parties Blocks E and D held twice a year. Parties where everyone stood around, sipped watered down punch and chatted about what their neighbors had been doing last night. Of course, no one was fighting to get invitations to the Block E parties. I took a deep breath and choked on the glitter in the air. Glitter, if you have ever wondered, tastes terrible.
Someone laughed beside me. I turned to see a guy with pink hair wearing a sequined tank top. He was shaking his hips at me and then thrusting. He grabbed my arm and began to pull me further into the throbbing, pulsing crowd. I started to pull away from him. I wasn’t used to being grabbed by anyone, let alone by strange men. He frowned at me with pink painted lips and gestured to the crowd. He tried to speak but the beating of the drums drowned out his words. He held one hand out to me again. I cast a glance back towards the door I’d entered through and was stunned to realize that the crowd had overtaken it. I wasn’t going to be able to leave now, even if I wanted to. I looked back down at the strange boy’s hand and then I put my own palm in his. What did I really have to lose by dancing with this stranger?
Especially considering that I’d already lost everything in my life that mattered.
I closed my eyes and focused on losing myself to the beat of the drums. I didn’t want to think about my life right now. I didn’t want to think about Julie and the ridiculous lobster costume she’d worn the last time we’d tried to gain entrance to a Block B party. I didn’t want to remember her fire engine red hair or the loosely knotted scarves she’d fashioned into a bikini. Julie, running barefoot through the halls and howling with laughter after we’d been caught trying to sneak into Block B through the kitchen. Julie had only had a handful of goals in life. One of them had been to get into a Block B party. Another had been to get Drake Bledsoe to notice she was alive.
I’d accidentally accomplished both in a single day. Turns out, all a girl had to do to catch Drake’s eye was lose her mind during the assembly session that followed the monthly public meeting of the Powers That Be.
I hadn’t meant to cause a scene. Truly, I hadn’t. My intention had been to simply get up to the podium and request assistance in locating my missing parents. I hadn’t lost my temper until Bud Moon, chairman of the Powers That Be, had told me that my parents elected to leave the Cube without me. He'd told me he felt sorry for me because Mom and Dad had abandoned me, but that there was nothing he cared to do about it.
I opened my eyes and shook my head, trying to focus on the dancing mass of humanity in front of me. I’d come to this party so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the night lying in bed remembering that Bud Moon was a heartless liar and I’d said as much. With over 4,000 people watching.
The beat of the music slowed slightly. The pink-haired boy disappeared from in front of me. He was replaced with a brown-eyed girl wearing a dress made of plastic wrap. She put her hands on my hips and waltzed me through the crowd, crashing into half the other couples who were attempting to do the same thing. A boy in a blue jacket cut in between us, taking the brown-eyed girl away from me. For a moment I was alone in the center of the throbbing crowd of dancers and then a man I recognized took hold of my arm.
Conner Vaughn was a legend in the Cube. At 27, he was the oldest member of the Scavengers. He was also the most frightening. Well over 6 feet tall, Conner was easily 300 pounds of solid, hairy muscle. Tonight, he was wearing a pair of black leather pants with no shirt. A knife studded weapons belt wrapped across one shoulder and down towards his stomach. Thick gold chains were looped around his neck. His bleached-white beard was so long that it brushed the top of my forehead when he pulled me into him with a savage grin.
“Hello, little one.” Conner sneered down at me. “You’re not so special, you know.”
“I never said I was.” I forced myself to meet his fire-kissed brown eyes. Conner Vaughn was the kind of guy you crossed the room to avoid. He had a reputation for having his way with girls from the other Blocks. Heat rolled off his skin and the aroma of his body odor threatened to knock me to my knees.
“Drake wants you,” Conner informed me. He began to tow me back through the crowd, heading towards the back of the room.
Fighting would have been futile, so I let him drag me across the dance floor. People literally tripped over themselves in an effort to get out of Conner's way. One of my flat silken shoes twisted and came halfway off my foot. I tried to stop to fix it and Conner nearly yanked me off my feet. His grip bit down into my upper arm. “Let me fix my shoe,” I told him.
He grunted but paused momentarily so that I could slip the fabric shell back over my heel. We were only twenty feet or so from the exclusive fenced off area at the back of the room. I could see Drake Bledsoe, Captain of the Scavengers and god with a little 'g', stretched out across a couch with his bare feet propped on a thin girl's back as if she were an ottoman. A short blonde girl was rubbing his toes while another held his drink up as if she were a human cup-holder. Drake Bledsoe and his loyal worshipers. Funny how much I would have given to be one of those worshipers six months ago. Funny how I didn't care now. I straightened my shoulders and tugged my arm loose of Conner's grip. “I'm going to him willingly. You don't have to drag me like I'm an insolent toddler.”
“You're a stupid little girl,” Conner said as he leered down over me. “If you had any sense, you would run away now.”
“I wouldn't be here if I were smart,” I said as I sucked in my breath.
Conner lowered his head until we were very nearly eye level. I didn't flinch despite the horrible, fetid aroma of his breath. Not much could make me flinch after 6 years working in the hospital wing of the Cube. Conner let out a low laugh. “You will get yourself killed.”
“At least I'll have died for a reason,” I replied. I took a step back from him and began walking towards the gate that separated the gods from the rest of us mere mortals. The green-haired kid guarding the gate started to hold up his hand and stop me, but then he caught sight of Conner and stepped out of our way. Two seconds later I was in the heart of Block B. The Scavengers den. The chain fence that separated this part of the room from the rest of the party was topped with razor wire. There were countless knives and blades tethered to the gaps in the chain. The weapons weren't decorative.
I didn't even hesitate as I walked into the chaos. I didn't allow myself to stop and stare at the lushly carpeted floor or the half-naked girls dancing on massive wooden spools in the corners of the room. I didn't allow myself the luxury of comparing their sleek clothing with my fluffy old dress. Running away had never been so tempting and yet I knew I would never do it. Instead, I walked over to where Drake was sitting and elbowed cup holder girl out of my way.
Drake grinned up at me. “Hello Beautiful. I was wondering how long it would take you to find your way to me.”
“He was almost too beautiful for my eyes to process. Thick dark blonde hair that fell in delicate waves despite a short haircut. Skin the color of coffee with too much creamer in it, stretched out over thick muscle. Golden eyes rimmed with thick black lashes. He shot me a wide grin and held one hand out to me.
I put my palm in his, relishing the warmth of his calloused skin against mine. “You said you wanted to talk to me?”
“I said I wanted you,” Drake clarified. He stood up, brushing away his followers as if they were nothing more than moths that were drawn to his light. He was significantly taller than I was. My head only came up to his shoulder.
“I said I wasn't for sale,” I reminded him.
“Never said I was buying,” Drake countered. “You impressed me today in the assembly.”
“My parents didn't flee the Cube,” I said flatly. “They wouldn't have run away. They wouldn't have left me behind if they had.”
“I can't do anything about your parents, Pilar. The Powers That Be have already given you an official judgment on your parents-.”
“The Powers That Be are wrong.” I interrupted him. My voice was more forceful than I had meant it to be.
Drake pressed one finger against my lips. The pressure he applied wasn't exactly gentle. “Hush Pilar. I'm about to make you an offer that I won't make twice. Are you listening to me?”
I nodded. His skin tasted strange against my lips.
“I want you to become a Scavenger.”
I opened my mouth and then closed it again. A lump appeared instantly in my throat but I swallowed it. “I've heard the waiting list is three years long.”
“The waiting list is three years long for people who want to be Scavengers. It's a little different when I'm the one doing the wanting. We're leaving the Cube for our next hunt in two days. I want you with us.”
“You're asking me to join the Scavengers.” My hands started to shake and my knees quivered. Being asked to join the Scavengers was unheard of. “I don't have any training,” I whispered.
“I'll teach you everything,” Drake replied.
“When do we leave?” I asked.