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Authors: Peter Liney

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In Constant Fear

BOOK: In Constant Fear
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IN CONSTANT FEAR

Jo Fletcher Books

An Imprint of Quercus

New York • London

Copyright © 2015 Peter Liney

Cover design and illustration by Ghost

First published in the United States by Quercus in 2015

All rights reserved. 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 permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of the same without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use or anthology should send inquiries to
[email protected]
.

e-ISBN: 978-1-62365-958-5

Distributed in the United States and Canada by

Hachette Book Group

1290 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10104

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

www.quercus.com

On the brightest of days, you'll find the darkest of shadows

CHAPTER ONE

I didn't know what it was. Really, I had no idea. It wasn't a howl and it wasn't a scream, it was something in between, but whatever was making it—and I guess it was some kinda animal—it sure was in a bad way. For a moment I just stood there, every fiber of my body locked, my breath hanging out in midair, hugging my precious little bundle that bit closer to me.

I'd heard it first a few days earlier—around about the same time, in the early hours—just the one animal, and much further away, over toward the mountain, but now there were two or more, and a whole lot closer, maybe only on the far side of the woods.

God, but that was one helluva disturbing sound. Worse than torture, that made you think that, like it or not, you were
part
of it—it couldn't just be dismissed as particular to another species. It was a universal pain, and I'd bet there wasn't one living creature in the valley that wasn't holding its breath or feeling sick to the stomach the same way I was.

It did go through my head to go over there, or at least get that bit closer—maybe someone had set traps or something? A herd of deer had wandered in, steel jaws snapping shut all around, and now
they howled and screamed as they tried to wrench their limbs free, ready to tear their bodies apart in their blind urge for freedom? But I didn't dare risk it, not with who I had with me.

A pizza moon with an extra large bite out of it continued its slow descent toward the mountaintops, ghostlike and abandoned, the occasional dark cloud passing before it, creating monochrome and darkness. I waited 'til the howling had died down, 'til whatever it was fell exhausted—maybe even dead?—then resumed my slow pacing of the farmyard, knowing I'd soon be in a whole lotta trouble if I didn't.

It was over a year since we'd escaped from the City: a year of relentlessly being pursued, always having to move on, looking over our shoulders even in our sleep—and you wanna know something?—the best year of my life.

I guess that's one of the things about life: we might think we do, but the truth is, we got no idea what's waiting for us—no matter how much we might plan or how far we think we can see ahead. That's just a projection, a
possibility,
us trying to make order out of chaos. We got no idea what might be waiting for us around the next bend—in fact, I hate to tell ya this, but we might not even make it around that next bend. Take me, for example: if you'd told me a couple of years back when I was imprisoned on that stinking, merciless Island how my life would change, where I'd be now, I probably would've laughed in your face. In fact, I was such a bad-tempered sonofabitch, I might've laid you out cold for trying to make fun of me. But here I am, at an age where a lot of folk might think it's time to start taking things easy, and guess what? . . . I'm a
father
.

It's true! From this wrinkled old body has sprung the most unbelievably tender of new life.

I have a son. His name is Thomas, and I love him every bit as much as I love his mother, but in a different way, which was why I was walking him around the yard at three in the morning, 'cuz although he wanted to inform everyone he was exactly seven months old that very day, I had a fair idea no one else was interested.

I owed it all to Lena, of course. She'd given me back my life—in fact, she'd returned it to me a thousand times better than it ever was
before. All those years of being one of society's unwanted, no longer the “Big Guy” but just a ragged, bitter old hulk scratching out the most pathetic of existences on that Island . . . I'd given up. Then she came along: this remarkable blind young woman hiding in the old subway tunnels, and with her came hope, a reason not just to go on but to fight against the vicious scum who ran that place—if you can call terrorizing the old and abusing the young “running” a place—'til finally, with the aid of our own little techno genius, Jimmy, and one or two other equally unlikely allies, we managed to destroy that hell that held us and escape to a better life.

The only problem with that was, it
wasn't
better, it was a whole lot worse. When we finally left the Island and got ashore, the night of the big exodus, the City was burning from one end to the other. The streets were a battlefield: rioting, looting, people killing each other for no good reason. What was more, the fires spread and with the whole city ringed by flame, there was no way out. We had to find somewhere to hide, somewhere safe not only from fires and mobs but also from Infinity; those in control, who made the Wastelords look like nothing scarier than kids who pulled the wings off butterflies. And at their head—a whole new development of the human species, and one who, though female, I'd freely admit, frightened me more than anyone else had in my life.

If you'll forgive the presumption of a guy who took sixty-four years to become a father, a little tip for those of you planning on having a kid: it's a real convenience if one of you's an insomniac. I've always had periods when I couldn't sleep—a couple of months on, a couple of months off, just one of those things, I guess. It can drive you crazy—I mean, literally, you get some pretty dark characters come calling for you in the middle of the night. But now I had someone to keep me company: this little bundle I was always carrying around with me. Mind you, his choice of conversation wasn't exactly wide-ranging, being pretty well limited to what went in and what came out. To be fair, when he wasn't hollering, he made a damn fine listener; just lying there, staring up at me with those drunken blue eyes as if he was in shock that someone like me could be his father.

Can I say that again? I've always hated those people who go on and on about kids and parenthood like it's the greatest thing ever, but you know, I
am
the boy's father, and dumb old big guy or not, I did help make him . . . not that you need to be that intelligent to produce children, as you may have noticed.

We never actually discussed it, but gradually Lena and me fell into this routine where she mostly took care of him in the day and I did what I could at night: answering that shrill call, assessing his needs and passing him over if all else failed so that greedy little mouth of his could start snuffling out mother's milk on draft. The only problem with that was, it didn't take him long to work out that I was always there, at his beck and call right throughout the night, and he really played on it.

Like that night: I knew there was nothing wrong with him—he'd been changed, fed, winded, whatever and just wanted a bit of company. Still, it had given me the excuse to take him outside, to pretend I didn't wanna disturb the others, when actually, I was feeling that bit disturbed myself.

We'd been squatting on the farm for five months or so by then, and apart from the occasional unwanted visitor, the many crazies roaming around, we'd slowly begun to relax, to pray that maybe Infinity had given up on finding us. To be honest, it was more of a smallholding than a farm. There were any number of them abandoned out there: family concerns whose proud owners would rather walk away than sell up to the creeping conglomerates.

The irony of those smallholdings was that they'd had people busily working on them, while the giant spreads where the big boys'd got their own way and everything was flattened up to the horizon, were computer-operated, “ghost farms,” watched over by satellites and with everything done by machine: planting, watering, harvesting—so all the company had to do was to come out and pick up the packed crates.

'Course, everything got messed up when some of the commercial and communication satellites were brought down with the punishment ones. They tried bringing workers out here, reverting to
good old-fashioned people-power, but the fires, the remoteness, no way to enforce protection—or discipline—thanks to the absence of punishment satellites, meant there weren't too many prepared to give it a shot.

Our place had belonged to a family, that was clear 'cuz of the stuff left behind—not just bats and balls and bikes, things like that, but pencil marks on the kitchen wall showing how the kids were growing—and for some reason it made me feel that bit more warmly disposed toward it.

Mind you, the first time we laid eyes on the place, it looked pretty sorry for itself: two small fields, once laid to wheat, all dried up and flattened like a pair of straw tablemats, vegetables rotting in the ground or run to seed, worm-riddled fruit fermenting under the trees. We salvaged every last ounce we could, and were grateful for it, but it was clear that if we were gonna stay there, we had to plant more.

Without any kind of vehicle or livestock, we had no choice but to restore the old plow Jimmy'd found in the lean-to at the back of the barn and drag it across the fields by hand. We took it in turns, working in teams of four, me trying to insist on doing more than my share and keeping going 'til my old legs felt like a couple of condemned tower blocks.

What really did surprise me was how much the kids took to it out there—it was as if they were growing along with everything else. Gordie was starting to look like a proper young man, and actually, with the sun on him, plenty of exercise, his hair that bit longer, not a bad-looking one at that. Gigi didn't change that much, just grew a bit taller, a bit more substantial—she let her old clothes out rather than come up with anything new, maybe so she could keep her “style,” that odd, multi-layered look; she even kept the same seagull feathers in her hair. But Hanna—well, she was the one who really blossomed. She'd completely lost that slightly startled look she used to have about her, as if every oncoming moment of her life was a potential threat, and with all that tall measured grace and tumbling dark hair, I tell ya, was becoming quite a beauty. She gained in confidence, no
longer keeping her ballet just for when she was alone but dancing all over, especially out in the fields—she didn't care if you stood and watched her or not.

As for the more senior members of the gang, well, our new situation had done Jimmy and Delilah a power of good: they were more content, more in harmony, than I ever could've imagined back when I first met them on the Island. Not only were they finally free, they weren't tripping over each other anymore either. The little guy spent most of his time out in the barn (or should I say, “his workshop”), playing around with an impressive stockpile of assorted technology, powered by the old solar panel tree he cleaned up and restored; while Lile sat out on the porch, quietly smiling to herself and counting and then recounting all her belated blessings.

As for Lena and me, well, I guess I don't have to tell you how well things'd worked out for us. I'd thought we were happy before, but now, with Thomas, I knew I'd got more—way more—than anyone had a right to. It's true we had our problems when we first left the City. That day we escaped and stood there looking down from the hills and she told me she'd gone blind again—I can't tell you how bad I felt. I wanted to turn around then and there and go right back, find Doctor Evan Simon and get him to operate on her again, but with Infinity chasing after us—well, it wasn't exactly an option. Over and over I told her that as soon as it was safe we'd go back and get them fixed, until eventually she started getting that bit impatient with me, going all silent or changing the subject, and I realized it was best to shut up, though that didn't mean I wasn't still thinking about it.

When we first settled on the farm I came up with all sorts of ideas to make her life easier: some worked out, others didn't. I found these rolls of wire in the barn and used them to map out the surrounding area. I hammered in posts and hung lines with identifying markers on each one, so the wire leading to the woods had twigs attached; the one to the barn had steel washers, and to the road, small rocks—and so on. I mean, she would've mapped everything out in her head soon enough—she's always had this unnatural gift for it—but I wanted to
give her a head start. 'Course, she didn't need them for long, but I left them there just in case.

But great as it was not just to have our own place but to be out in the country, smelling fresh air for the first time in more years than I could recall, it was having Thomas that really transformed us from being a couple to a family, and that's a helluva leap, believe me.

Almost as if I couldn't go another second without seeing him, without having proof of his existence, I paused in my slow, jigging circuit of the farmyard and looked down into the folds of the little guy's favorite blanket—the blue and white checked one that, even at his age, he was reluctant to be parted from. I was greeted by that same dazed expression that hinted at a terrible mistake: surely his father should've been the next guy in line, or the one after that? The banker or the businessman, the one with all the money and comfort in the world, not this wheezy old big guy squatting on someone else's abandoned property?

It's kinda odd to build your life around something that barely fits into the palm of your hand—well, my hand anyway. Though I guess that's why you do it: 'cuz he or she is so vulnerable they need your constant protection. Sometimes it'd frighten the hell outta me that in this insane and brutal world we'd voluntarily created our own weakness, an Achilles heel which could so easily destroy us, then again, we wouldn't've had it any other way.

I was about to return into the house and try to settle him back down when that terrible howling started up again, and much closer this time, almost sounding like it was on
this
side of the woods—like whatever it was had been silently stealing over in my direction.

What the hell?
It wasn't like anything I'd ever heard before. Not so much threatening in itself, but more like I could feel their pain, how terrified they were.

I stood there for a moment, debating whether to take Thomas inside and grab a flashlight, when I heard the door of the farmhouse close behind me.

BOOK: In Constant Fear
9.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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