Authors: Taylor Brooke
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Teen & Young Adult, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban
The Isolation Series, Book One
By Taylor Brooke
Copyright © 2015 by Taylor Brooke.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: January 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To my parents, thank you for nurturing my creativity and embracing my peculiarities, for teaching me to jump if I want to fly and being there to catch me if I fall.
To Matt, my best friend and brother, thank you for believing in what this book could be, for taking the time to read it first, and for encouraging me to believe in it too.
Table of Contents
Flames chewed on a pile of logs in the middle of a large fire pit. Five faces sat around it, huddled together for warmth. Brooklyn always sat closest, palms outstretched and glowing against the flames. Somehow, the idea of burning wood made things feel more temporary—even if every night it reminded her of making s’mores on the beach back home and how the air tasted like salt in San Diego.
Home seemed so distant now.
The grounds had an array of fire pits scattered between the housing cabins that coaxed the fifteen inhabitants of ISO Recovery Camp Number Eleven to spread out amongst themselves and unwind.
“Hey, is your hand okay?” Gabriel’s soft voice purred up at her.
Brooklyn turned her gaze to Gabriel, who was lying in her lap. Her eyes reminded Brooklyn of something out of a comic book. They were green like jungle canopies, sharp and defined by dark lashes and thick brows. The day the tall blonde had been dropped off at the camp had been the first day Brooklyn hadn’t felt alone. That day, a year and seven months ago, she’d found it a little easier to be brave.
“It’s fine,” Brooklyn answered. She lifted one shoulder into a shrug. “I just tweaked it when we were training.”
The plush of Gabriel’s bottom lip was shadowed by a small scar on the right side of her smile. It was hardly noticeable, a tiny defect on a face that could grace the cover of magazines. Maybe in another life, Brooklyn thought.
Black combat boots shifted on the other side of the circle. Dawson, a boy with a hard jawline, tilted his head to the side. He wore bitterness like some kind of badge and lifted his chin to peer over the fire at Gabriel. “You’re too strong for your own good, girly.”
Gabriel grinned. “Well, wouldn’t you know? I had you tapped out in under a minute yesterday, didn’t I Dawson?”
His lips twitched upright. Smiling suited him.
“You did…” He held his hands against his chest in mock surrender. “Maybe you should take it easy on us.”
Two others sat beside them on either side; one was a boy with black tunnels set snugly in the stretched lobes of his ears and a stud buried in the middle of his tongue. His smile was wide and contagious, set neatly on a narrow face with high cheek bones. His name was Julian; he had been the first to introduce himself to Brooklyn when she had arrived.
It was easy to remember. He had had the sun in his eyes, and the first thing he had said to her was “I don’t know where the hell we are, but apparently we’re not gonna die.” He laughed through his words, showed her around, and didn’t pretend to have any answers. His uncertainty was refreshing.
Brooklyn swayed when the last of their small pack nudged his head against her shoulder.
“You should let me wrap it up for you in case it’s sprained,” Porter said.
“I’m fine,” Brooklyn stressed.
Porter leered at her over the black rimmed glasses that rested on the tip of his nose. “Suit yourself,” he muttered playfully, reaching under his beanie to scratch the back of his head.
The stars were abundant and utterly uncomplicated against the black sheet of night. They glowed, shining bright and commanding attention. The sky, vast and constant, seemed so much more alive compared to back home. Brooklyn rolled her lips together, her gaze settled on the constellations resting low behind the trees that lined the outskirts of the camp and curved over the peak of a distant mountain. If there was one thing the occupants of Cabin A could all agree on, it was the beauty of this place.
The shrill squeal of a whistle coaxed them to their feet and into their cabin, a rural excuse for a home away from home. It reminded Brooklyn of the science camp she had been shipped off to during sixth grade. Three sets of bunks made up their living quarters. To the right through a doorway was an adjoined bathroom. To the left was a closet filled with boots and coats. The scratch of cheap sheets and a heavy comforter kept the cold at bay.
They said goodnight to each other in hushed whispers that accompanied the click of each lamp on their nightstands. Brooklyn fell asleep to the sound of the bed squeaking above her under the weight of Gabriel’s hips and the hum of Julian’s soft snores from across the room.
When she closed her eyes, she hoped for peacefulness. For nothing.
But the same memories played like an old reel of film when Brooklyn slept.
It happened on the day of Winter Formal. Senior year.
“Honey, I really think you should go with the black shoes.” Her mother, a woman with dark chestnut hair and loving eyes, pushed a bobby pin into the tight bun on the top of Brooklyn’s head.
“Aw, Mom, you don’t like the red?” Brooklyn whined and kicked her foot up over her leg to show the glittered firetruck red pumps wrapped around her ankles.
Her mother’s hands brushed down the sides of her neck and rested on her shoulders. “They’re a little flashy—that’s all—but…” She paused, adjusting the dainty silver chain around Brooklyn’s neck. “Let’s get a good look at you.”
Brooklyn gazed in the mirror and felt the rush of that evening pass by. Her mother telling her how beautiful she was echoed like something long forgotten being washed ashore on an unfamiliar beach. Her father’s smile when he had pleaded for one last photograph was a stain on the inside of her eyelids. One hand on the window, she looked over her shoulder after climbing into the car with the rest of her friends. She glanced back as the view of her parents standing in the driveway shrank in the distance.
They were on their way to dinner. Brooklyn’s hands swayed above her head as she sang along to a song on the radio. The music couldn’t muffle the sound that cut her short.
The scream was ear-splitting, something she never thought she would be subjected to hearing. A terrifying, shrill, broken sound. The kind that rattled the nerve endings on the back of her neck and made goose-bumps rise over her forearms. Brooklyn held her breath.
Someone said, “what was that?” and no one knew how to answer.
The girl sitting next to Brooklyn told them to keep driving. Told them to ignore it.
Another horrible wail. A scream for help. The sound of something heavy hitting the ground.
“Pull over,” Brooklyn breathed, sitting up to look at the driver. Her hands shook. “Pull over!” The tires screeched when they stopped along the sidewalk.
The driver, a boy with shaggy brown hair, reached for her arm when she hopped out of the black Jeep.
What happened after that was blurry. Jagged. The sounds melted into a soundtrack. Her friends, their voices a constant loop overlapping the click of her heels against the concrete, of her lungs expanding around a gasp.
The woman screaming for help was on the ground. What stood over her was something Brooklyn still didn’t completely understand. It was long and lean with dark hair that hung in a matted mess to its elbows, wearing all black with no shoes. It was a woman, she thought, whose hands visibly shook, eyes bulging from its skull. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.
“Are you okay?” Brooklyn asked.
The creature twitched, jaw snapping shut, teeth chattering together. Long fingers stretched out, knuckles clenching and popping.
Liquid ran out of its nose, dark and thick. Brooklyn thought it was blood, but she couldn’t get any closer.
The sound that thing made when it hunched over and opened its mouth was something Brooklyn would never forget. A guttural howl. A desperate, high-pitched, angry scream that sounded as insane and rabid as the look in the wide protrusion of its eyes.
Brooklyn ran. She ran as fast as she could into the neighborhood at the opposite end of the street. She swatted at the tears that sprung past her eyes. Footsteps behind her beat hard against the asphalt.
A house with a dark copper door had their garage open. She didn’t hesitate to run inside, hoping her feet could carry her fast enough.
It was hard to make decisions, to think clearly. Emotions spiraled around her. Everything she’d been taught, every emergency drill in school, all of it hurled toward her like an oncoming train. One moment, she was reaching for her phone to call for help—the next, she was dialing her mom’s cell. She tripped, skidded against the tile, found herself in a stranger’s kitchen, and sank down behind the marble island in front of the sink. One of her hands shuffled through the drawers to her left and right until she found something sharp and cold. It was a serrated knife used for cutting bread.
The sound of her heartbeat was the only thing she could focus on. She held a trembling hand over her mouth to muffle her breathing.
She heard the press of feet against the ground on the other side of the breakfast bar and labored breathing that sounded like it was being funneled through liquid, soupy and drowned. She swore she could even hear teeth being smashed together. She could hear it hum. She could hear it laugh.
“Babbling brook, babbling brook, babbling brook,” it stuttered loudly, tongue crisp against the words, spat and hissed like something vile.
Brooklyn wanted to cover her ears. She wanted to close her eyes.
The creature turned quickly on its heels, a pot clattered against the floor. Brooklyn yelped a nervous hiccup and panicked. She thrashed against the sudden grip of sweat-slicked hands around her ankles and black, crusted fingernails scraping her skin.
Brooklyn thought she’d been mistaken, but up close, it still resembled a woman. Same bone structure. Pale skin. Flared nostrils. A wide open mouth revealing rows of blunt human teeth. But something oozed out of the corner of its eye, black like tar, and it stained the sunken space between its cheek and jaw. It dripped from its nose, painted the inside of cracked lips, and bled from its gums. The veins on its neck and shoulders were like splintered charcoal spider webs, bruised and broken shadows pressed under its skin.
Its teeth snapped together, jaw clenching and unclenching as it reached forward with one hand, gangly arm flailing and prominent bones cracking as it twisted around, possessed, unreal…sick.
Brooklyn didn’t comprehend her reaction, but something inside her was convinced it was her only option. Fight or flight. Live or die. Kill or be killed. She didn’t know what drove her to do it, but Brooklyn gripped the handle of the knife and shoved the blade through the creature’s mandible into the roof of its mouth. A disgusting crunch was heard, followed by the slick slide of metal slicing through skin. Bile filled the back of Brooklyn’s throat.
Coagulated blood and black secretion stained the low neck of her strapless cream dress. Her phone was smashed, the glass front shattered on the tile floor. She shoved the heavy body of whatever that thing was off of herself.
Brooklyn tried to stand, but her knees buckled. She crawled away, kicking back against the limp body slumped in the corner of the kitchen while her satin dress slid against the ground.
It hurt, the tight constriction of her chest trying to gather each breath in. She was confused, battling shock and fear. She wanted to lift herself up and run, to carry herself back home so she could dive under the protection of her father’s arms and her mother’s reassurance.
It repeated itself, the same memory from start to finish.
While the sound of shouting droned numbly in her ears from the doorway of the garage, Brooklyn could still hear the song that was playing in her friend’s car, her mother’s voice as she fiddled with the necklace that was now in shambles on the kitchen floor, and her father’s gentle “be careful” as he slid the baby pink lily corsage onto her wrist.
Hands wrapped in blue rubber gripped her shoulders. Brooklyn felt her legs buck and kick.
Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.
The words never left her lips, but they bounced off the walls of her mind in different octaves.
“Have you been hurt? What is your name? There has been an emergency isolation operation set in place. We are taking you somewhere safe. What is your name?”
“Don’t touch me!” Brooklyn gasped.
Wide eyes stared down at her. Calloused palms held her shoulders against the bed.
“It’s me.” Porter swallowed uncomfortably. His hands drifted away as he craned his neck, shying from the small blade pressed against the middle of his throat. “You were dreaming. It’s all right. It’s me.”
Brooklyn’s heart raced. Her fingers trembled around the handle of the small pocket knife.
Porter’s eyes were gentle and soft in the darkness. He carefully reached up, touching the inside of her wrist. “Come on, put that down. You’re okay.”
The nightmares came and went. They had happened every night for the first few months and still snuck up on her when she closed her eyes. Once a week at least. Sometimes twice.
“I’m sorry,” Brooklyn croaked as her fingers went slack. She allowed Porter to take the knife and set it down on the nightstand. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t apologize,” he said, voice just above a whisper. “Just go back to sleep. I’m right here.” He pointed to the lower bunk a few feet away. “Open your eyes if you’re scared, and throw something at me. I’ll come right over.”