Savage - First 5,000 words

The first 5000 words of my novel, Savage. Overpopulation is destroying the world as we know it - there's widespread poverty, pollution and chaos. When the government decide to have a new start and create a superior human race. But girls like Raven will not be a part of it. Now, she's having to fight for her life, for her brother's, for her friends. With a new race of superhumans hunting them down, can they survive out on their own?

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1. Chapter 1 & 2

 

Chapter One

It’s a year today since Mum jumped from twenty-one stories up. When I close my eyes, I still see her falling. I see myself leaning over the balcony, grasping at thin air as though I can catch her before she hit the ground. That’s why I try to keep my eyes open. I don’t want to think about it. 

         Jonah’s still asleep, curled up in the hollow in the wall. He’s not particularly well hidden, with only a translucent curtain covering his sleeping body. If we get a surprise check, we’ll all be killed. My brother wasn’t meant to be born – one child per family. That’s the rule. No one has an immediate family bigger than three. Even us, since Mum died.

         I don’t have a way to tell the time – not until I get into the square and look at the clock. I know I’m up late, though. Sunlight’s streaming through the crack in our shabby cloth curtain. It’ll be harder to navigate the market at this time of day – it’ll be packed.  But today of all days, I can afford to cut myself some slack. Besides. I’ve got nothing better to do.

         I hurtle down the stairs, feeling dizzy as I spiral round and round. The front door to the block of flats hangs off its hinges – someone broke in last week, and no one’s bothered to put the door back in place. There’s no point – there’s nothing in here to take. If anything, the person probably just wanted somewhere to shelter from the rain. We all protect what little possessions we have, but no one would ever deny someone a square of tile above their head.

         It’s bright outside today – I can see the rays of sun peeking over the high-rise buildings, even if I can’t feel them much. There are couple of kids tossing about a ball made of rags in the crowded street. The rags fly over the heads of strangers, and the children giggle. I fumble in my pocket for a penny and toss it to them. They scrabble for it like a pack of dogs. It won’t buy them anything; they’d have to collect hundreds just to buy a loaf of bread and some butter. But maybe they can toss it for entertainment.

          I lose myself in the crush of people. I keep tight hold of the money and ration cards in my pocket. There’s plenty of thieves around. I should know. I’ve done my fair share of stealing. But not today. I don’t have the energy to even try.            

I reach the market square where all of the stalls are set up. I follow the flow of the crowd, shuffling past stalls offering the luxury items I can’t afford. Then we hit the food carts – the butchers, the grocers, and the bakers van. I swallow a lump in my throat. Before Ma got the job singing uptown, she worked for the bakery.

It’s the way it always has been; leaning to the left on its one wheel, the tin exterior rusted from the rain. A few years ago, I would have walked past and seen Mum inside, kneading gritty brown dough with flour smudged across her face. She’d always smile at me on my way to the market. Sometimes her boss would let me ‘sample’ the bread, and I wouldn’t spend the morning hungry. This morning, he doesn’t even look me in the eye when I pass him my ration card and coins for my weekly loaf. He doesn’t owe me anything anymore. Maybe he doesn’t even remember me.

The town’s still busy – the clock looming over the marketplace says half nine. I’m not as late as I thought, but the marketplace is still more crowded than usual. The air is thick with suffocating smoke snaking from the tops of buildings and from the few cars that splutter and spit oil as they weave through the busy streets. It clings to my lungs, making me cough. Around me, other’s splutter too, hacking tar-like liquid into spoiled handkerchiefs. It makes me feel sick, and suddenly, I just want to hurry on home. I use the last of my money to buy some vegetables for a broth, wishing I could take more home for Jonah and I. But that’s all I can get with the money Pa gave to me. It’ll have to do.

I’m weary by the time I get back to our building, though I’ve barely been awake an hour. I’ve always tried to stay healthy – back when I knew Logan, he’d teach me to box and we would go running near his home where the streets were clearer. But now I just don’t have the energy. There’s nothing less appealing than a run when you’ve barely eaten all week.

         Jonah’s awake when I get home. His skin, though once dark like mine, is yellowed from lack of sun. He’s can’t go outside – not if he wants to live. Not if he wants his family to live. It’s a raw deal, but he doesn’t know the half of it. He’s never had to risk himself to get food. He’ll never understand why I come home out of breath, having run from someone who caught me with a hand in their pocket. Fortunately, I’m quick. I know how to survive. Unlike him. Jonah wouldn’t last a day. Especially not with his body riddled with rickets and his bones so weak. I worry if he tries to walk far, they’d snap. But I guess he has nowhere to go anyway.

         He’s drawing on the wall of his alcove with charcoal. He doesn’t have a lot of world experience, so he doesn’t have much to draw. But he’s good. Once, maybe he could have gone to art school. But we don’t have use for that kind of thing anymore. We’re more preoccupied with feeding ourselves. Only the richest in society bother with something so meaningless. Families like the Goldings have beautiful things on every inch of wall. It’s a fashion statement. But pretty colours on a canvas don’t feed your family. And even if things changed now, and Jonah had the chance to go to school, the cramps in his hands get too bad. Lately, he hasn’t been able to hold his charcoal stick for longer than ten minutes before they hurt too much to continue.

         “Where’s Pa?” I ask, setting my bag on the table and unloading the bread and vegetables.

         “He went to the market.”

         I roll my eyes when Jonah’s not looking. He doesn’t mean the market I just visited. He means the black market, located in the basement of an apartment building three blocks over. I’m not entirely sure where it is – I have no desire to know. Pa’s probably squandering his week’s earnings on alcohol. And he wonders why we barely have enough food to line our stomachs. I’d work if I could, but I’m useless. I don’t have a trade. I used to do well at school, but it wasn’t hard to pass the basic tests they set us. Maybe if I could have afforded to continue in education, I could have done better by my family. Money’s everything, really. If you’ve got it, you can afford to get the latest drugs. You can get TMS, and get so smart you end up with a scholarship to university. That way, you can get a job in medicine, or at least snatch up a job in Pink Light city. If you’ve got a little less money, you might be able to afford the pills that keep you up for hours, and allow you to work for longer without sleeping, meaning you’re an asset to any employer. Even a terrible job is better than no job. If I was offered the chance to do manual labour, or stamp ration cards day after day, I would. But I can’t. If you haven’t got money, this is what you get. I could get paid to take part in drug trials, but from what I’ve heard, those drugs are sometimes a fate worse than death. Even I’m not that desperate.     

I hear the door open. I turn and see Pa stagger through the door. He removes a bottle from beneath his threadbare jacket and takes a swig, grunting. He doesn’t look at either Jonah or I as he settles himself on his mattress, closing his eyes.

Jonah’s face is hopeful as he crawls out of his alcove towards Pa. He shakes his arm and Pa opens his bloodshot eyes.

“Pa, did you see what I drew today?”

Pa sits up, but he doesn’t look at Jonah’s charcoal sketches. He takes another sip from his bottle before sighing back into the mattress. I snatch the bottle from his hand. His body jerks, as though I just slapped him.

“Pa. How about you try and sober up and take a look at your son’s drawing?”

He’s not listening. He’s just staring at the bottle clasped in my sweaty palms. When I hear the high pitched wail on the speaker outside, Pa turns towards it, and I let myself breathe out. The siren is signalling a television broadcast. Since we don’t have a TV, I shove the window open as wide as it will go and clamber onto the window sill, my legs dangling over the streets, next to the buckets we use to collect rainwater. From here, I can see the corner of the huge screen that’s suspended above the market place for special broadcasts. Many people fill out into the square to hear the broadcast, but from here, I can already see the Prime Minister, Alastiar Fairfax. His meaty chin hovers in the corner of the screen for a moment before he shifts out of my view. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that he’s got a lot of meat on him considering our country has a food crisis. Static echoes across the square from his microphone and Pa joins me on the window sill, his face blank.

“We have come to a decision today as a government that we believe will be beneficial to our people. This is a time in which difficult decisions must be made, to ensure our survival as a race. We’ve watched the rest of the world cut down more and more of their populations, in ways that we have always deemed inhumane. And now, it’s time to consider whether they were right.”

My chest tightens as the Prime Minister clears his throat, shifting again.

“We have been in self-destruct mode for hundreds of years. We’ve watched our planet slowly being destroyed. Destroyed by our actions. We never did heed the warnings we were given. Now, we live on a planet where trees are a rare sight. Where the number of people outnumbers the amount of food we can produce. Where we have to fight and scrounge just to get scraps.”

“Some more than others,” I mutter. Pa’s mouth twitches a little.

“We need to change. We’ve evolved over the years, but we are not fit for this world we’ve created. We need to speed up the process. We need to become better. Stronger. Smarter.” The prime minister pauses. Everyone in the square is holding their breath.

“We must adapt to survive. Our new programme will ensure we do.”

I can’t help thinking back to the government’s last ‘programme’ – the strain of flu they released into the air, killing off hundreds of thousands of people. It was the biggest epidemic in the history of our country. It led to the Prime Minister, Agatha Redknapp, being hung outside parliament by mobs of protestors: they made the noose out of her tie.

“We have been researching into a drug that will make us better – allow us to reach our full potential. The X drug enhances the most ordinary of us. At a price, these drugs help you reach your optimum. But if these drugs are to be beneficial, if we are to be better as a whole, and not just as individuals, we must first…cut back.

And there it is.

“We must reduce our numbers further. Everyone must take a survey to see if they are applicable for the new drugs. Those who are not, or cannot afford the fees for the pills will no longer have access to ration cards. We are offering free euthanasia to the first ten thousand citizens who willingly offer to give their lives so others may live-”

I swing my legs back into the flat, my face heating up as I slip back inside.

“Jonah, we’re leaving.”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know, Jonah. We’ll go somewhere else. Get to Pink Light City. Or make a boat, sail across the sea.”

“You don’t know how to do that. Raven-”

“Well I guess I’ll just have to learn then. We can adapt. That’s what they want, right? For us to adapt? Pa?”

Pa is still sat on the window sill, the Prime Minister’s words flooding around his ears. I take a tentative step towards him, but he shifts position, and I stop, déjà vu rushing over me. I’ve been here before. Pa looks at me over his shoulder. I watch him swallow, a lump bobbing in his throat. His hands grip the window ledge. Then he pushes himself away and disappears over the ledge.

I don’t run to try and catch him. I’ve played this scenario before, and I know how it ends. I just close my eyes and try not to hear the cries as his body hits the ground.

 

 

Chapter Two

Jonah’s in shock. I’ve tried feeding him some of the soup I made, but he refuses to part his lips. He’s just staring ahead of him, eyes glazed over. I try to eat some soup myself, but for once, I’m not hungry. I abandon my soup and pull Jonah close to me, tugging a blanket over our knees.

Some time passes, I don’t know how much. Jonah falls asleep against my shoulder. Out in the streets, I can hear commotion. Probably people protesting. People like me – people who can’t afford a loaf of bread some days, let alone fancy drugs. People like me, who will lose everything, including our lives. People like me who aren’t ready to die, but aren’t being given a choice.

I know there’s somewhere Jonah and I can go. Logan told me he’d take care of us if ever we needed it. But I can’t go begging to him. Not now. I’ve not seen him since Ma killed herself. It wasn’t his fault. But it was his father’s. I can’t go to him for charity. Not even to save myself. Not even to save Jonah.

No. I’m going to have to figure something out myself. I shift Jonah off my shoulder and jump to my feet. I need to pack for us. It only takes me a moment to realise it won’t take long. Our two cupboards are bare aside from our loaf of bread and several gnarled carrots. The soup I made is sat cold on the counter – I’ll pack it up and take it in our flask. Then there’s only our tin bowls and spoons, one sharp knife and our blankets. Everything else we own we wear on our backs.

And all of a sudden, I’m glad Pa’s dead. If he were here now, I’d want to kill him. His selfishness has left us with nothing. He drank all of his money away, oblivious to our suffering because of it. Now, we don’t even own a penny. He didn’t care about us. Maybe he did once. But since Ma died, he’s been lost to us. I clench my fists, trying to stay calm, and remind myself we’re better off without him.

I wrap all of our supplies up in my blanket and fashion it into a sack I can sling over my back. The knife I leave out, tucking it onto my belt. Then I shake Jonah. He turns over, his body practically creaking with the effort. I try for a smile.

“We have to go now, Jonah. We’re not staying here.”

“I can’t go outside,” Jonah protests. “Someone will see me.”

“Things have changed. We’re all in danger, do you understand? Everyone without a job or skill or money is worthless, and we have none of those things. We have no choice. We have to go. Come on.”

Jonah’s eyes widen, but he nods, hoisting himself to his knees. It’s only as he struggles to stand that I notice how bad his legs have become. Below his knees, his legs jut out at odd angles, like snapped matchsticks. He winces as he tries to move, and I know right off he won’t be able to walk far. But he tries anyway, taking my hand and waddling to the door. I take one last look at our small, rotting home; the bare wooden walls, Jonah’s alcove, our black crusted stove. And then I close the door so I don’t have to see it’s squalor any more. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise – at least we can get out of here.

The feeling doesn’t stick. Jonah has never walked down stairs before, and with his warped legs, it’s no easy feat. After a few steps I wrap him in his blanket and scoop him into my arms. Then with great difficulty, I keep going.

My arms ache by the time we’ve made it down half the stairs, but I don’t stop. Jonah stares around him in awe. Sometimes I forget he’s never seen anything outside of our room. His fascination keeps me going. Now I can show him the world. Not that there’s much to see.

The sun is setting outside, and people are still protesting in the square. Packed in tight, they claw at the masses of police officers who try to tame them, screaming obscenities and threats. I set Jonah down on his feet and take his hand as he stares around him. I grab his chin and direct his gaze on me.

“Pay attention for a moment. Whatever you do, don’t get lost. Hold my hand at all times. If you can’t walk, tell me, I’ll carry you. Okay? We have to get far away from the square, it’ll be dangerous there. Do you hear me?”

Jonah nods, cringing into himself. I hug him to me.

“I didn’t mean to scare you. Everything will be okay…”

He doesn’t believe me. I can tell. But we don’t have time to worry about that. If it’s possible, the crowd is getting louder and rowdier. I can see things being thrown at the police, raucous laughter following each direct hit.

And that’s when the gun fires.

People scream, the whole crowd seeming to jump back a metre. And then people begin to run towards us. A stampede of people thousands strong.

“Go!” I say to Jonah, starting to run. Jonah’s forced to run with me, his arm almost dislocating as I drag him forwards. He stumbles and tries to keep up, but it’s clear he won’t be able to. We stagger a little further before I pick him up again and carry on running.

People are catching up to us, some shoving past just to get ahead. More gun shots fire and I instinctively duck, sending both Jonah and I hurtling to the ground. I twist to stop Jonah being squashed by me and my back hits the tarmac. The wind’s knocked out of me, but I can see feet thundering around us. I have to keep us moving. I scramble to my feet, breathless, and carry on running.

There’s nowhere to go. People are pouring out into side streets and out ahead, but the crowds are still thick. I snap my head back and forth, looking for somewhere to find safety. The gun fire is distant now, a mere popping in my ears, but people are still running. I can’t keep going much longer – not while carrying Jonah. I make a snap decision and veer right into the next row of flats.

There’s less people out here and the streets are clearer, but with more people coming, we can’t afford to stop. I put Jonah down and take his hand again, hoping we can keep up a fairly fast pace. He’s slower than me, but he does his best, his eyes darting around us in fear.

And that’s when the lights go out.

I hear screams of panic as every streetlamp, every light in every window flickers out. We’re thrown into complete darkness.

Jonah’s fingernails dig into my hand and I skid to a stop, pulling him to me protectively. I try to make my eyes adjust, but there’s nothing to adjust to. This dark is all consuming. Somewhere high above us, the moon gives off the only light left, but even that is hidden by the buildings.

Someone who hasn’t had the sense to stop running slams into me, and I struggle to stay on my feet. As people adjust to the darkness, they begin to fall silent. Because people are beginning to realise that any noise, any movement, is going to draw attention. Attention that could get us killed.

I can hear Jonah breathing. I gently cover his mouth to muffle the sound, planning our next move. We could go inside, but that could easily get us killed. With everyone so on edge, I’m sure people living in the buildings would have no issue with beating us down. We could keep running, but we’re blind. But we can’t stay where we are. Eventually, someone will find us. Or morning will come, and we’ll be exposed.

There are no good options.

          I stroke the fuzz of Jonah’s hair, trying to breathe quietly. I can’t cry now. I can’t. I try desperately to see, to see anything at all, but there’s nothing. Only darkness. I fumble around me for a doorway, and pull Jonah into it with me, sitting on the cold, hard steps. All we can do is wait, and hope for a miracle.

          With his face buried in my chest, Jonah falls asleep. I wish desperately that I had someone who would hold me and let me sleep. But I stay awake, staring into darkness. Listening. Hoping for some kind of a sign of life. Several times, I hear the shuffle of slow footsteps passing us and hold my breath, but tucked away in the doorway, no one even knows we’re here.

          Time passes, and the sky begins to lighten a little, but still I don’t have a plan. This day could hold anything for us. Maybe government officials will roam the streets, shooting anyone who looks at them wrong. Or maybe things will be more gradual. Less chaotic. Maybe a set of surveys will be mailed to our empty room. Asking questions about family income and qualifications. And if I was there, I’d fill it in, presenting my inadequacy. And then someone would come to the conclusion that I’m unfit for the X drug, come to the house and kill off the final dregs of my family. I’ve been wondering for hours if I can cheat the survey somehow. Or maybe I can beg for Jonah’s life. He’s only a child. But a sickly child at that. What use does the world have for a boy who can’t even walk without help? I could tell them he makes me smile. I could tell them he’s the sweetest kid. That if they’d only fix him, he’d create beautiful art and make people laugh all night long. That he’s good. And they’d answer me with a bullet to his brain.

          I hear the rumble of a vehicle coming down the road and my heart seizes, jumping into my throat. I back further into the doorway’s alcove, dragging Jonah with me. My hand fumbles for my knife. Headlights fill the centre of the street as a bus comes into view. Fortunately, Jonah and I are still in shadow. No one’s spotted us yet. I take the opportunity to scan the street for signs of life, but there’s none that I can see.

          The bus stops, and moments later someone gets out and wiggles a torch around the street. They’re clearly looking for something. Whether it’s people, I don’t know. I don’t know their motives either, which is worrying. But I don’t want to take any chances. We’re staying put.

          Jonah chooses this moment to wake up and I clamp my hand over his mouth once again. He has the sense to trust my judgement and remains still. I can feel hot tears running over my hand as the person from the bus carries on searching.

          The flashlight begins to flicker near us. It jitters up and down the walls and I hold my breath as the light skims over our heads. When the light continues along the wall, I feel as though I can breathe again. We haven’t been spotted.

          Clearly seeing nothing of interest, the figure begins to retreat to the bus. Suddenly, Jonah lets out a whimper and I freeze once more. The figure turns towards the noise. Within seconds, they’re stood right in front of us with their flashlight staring full beam into our faces.

 

 

 

 

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