Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
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Author’s note:

 

Hello, Reader!

 

It’s good to see you again! I’m excited to release a new book and allow an audience to see what I’ve been working on for the past few months! There are some things about this novel that I want to clear up before we get to the fun stuff. In this section, I will give some technical info, some “thank-you’s”, I will clear up a grammatical issue, and I will talk about the Academy books. If these things do not interest you, I encourage you to skip to the first chapter:

             
First off, I solely hold the copyright to this work.

             
Secondly, I want to thank two wonderful beta-readers who have put in a tremendous amount of work and expertise to help me polish this novel, namely, Tom C and Beth Morrill. Both Beth and Tom saw that I am lacking in the proofreading department and offered their time and expertise to help me out. I can’t say “thank you” enough to them.

             
Thirdly, I want to address a quirky grammatical issue before we go any further into the book. I know that this is a lame thing to address, but I feel it is necessary; this is an issue that will come up many different times in this book and the next two novels. This novel’s main character’s nickname is “Baggs.” After doing a bit of research, I found that it is correct to represent this name in the possessive form as both
Baggs’
with an apostrophe following the “s” and as
Baggs’s,
according to
The Elements of Style
by Strunk and White. Strunk and White suggest writing the possessive form of
Baggs
as
Baggs’s.
I found this name charming, if a little clunky. I hope that you come to find the possessive form of this name charming too, as you begin to read about Baggs and his adventures in the peculiar world of New Rome.

             
Fourthly, I wanted to write for a moment about The Academy. As some of you are already aware, I plan on The Academy being a four book series. As many of you are also aware, on the day that this book is published, I will have only published the first two Academy books. I want to note that I will finish the Academy, unless some unforeseen catastrophe happens. I promise. I love The Academy books both for the world in which they take place and for the fact that those books granted me the very special opportunity to have a shot at a career as an author. It is because of this love for the books that I have taken a break to write something new. On April 1, 2014, when I published The Academy Book 2, I had been working on those two books for two years straight. The Five Mountains, the Moat, Town, and Asa Palmer were on my mind every day as I wrote. The Academy is an extensively outlined series; before I wrote the first chapter of Book 1, I knew how the series would end. The total emersion into the world, I think, served to give the series a sense of fullness—of realness. But, at the same time, I was getting burned out on the series. As I thought about the Academy day after day, the nooks and crannies in that odd place began to lose some of their mystery—a thing that drew me to spend so much time on the story in the first place. So, in an attempt to make the world that Asa Palmer lives in come alive to me again, I decided to take a step back and write something new. Though I can’t give a solid release date for the third Academy book, I can say that I will be done writing the Baggers Trilogy in early 2015, and at that time I will go back to working on The Academy: Book 3. I understand that the wait can be tough, but I assure you that my hiatus from the Academy series will result in me coming back to the series fresh and excited about the story. I’ll work my hardest to make book 3 better than the first two. Also, I hope that you’ll find the Baggers Trilogy to be, at the least, a good consolation while you wait for the third Academy book and, at the most, better than the Academy books.

             
Lastly, I hope that you enjoy Outlive. Look for Book 2 of The Baggers Trilogy, The Servile Wars, to be available for pre-order (if not available for purchase) on Amazon before the end of 2014. Become my fan on Goodreads to receive updates when I release a new book.

 

Chad

 

 

Chad Leito

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

The Baggers Trilogy:

Outlive (Book 1)

 

By Chad Leito

 

 

Part 1

 

 

1

 

              Baggs’s heart was hammering in his chest, though he tried to not show it.
If this doesn’t go right, we’re going to starve, just like the McKesson family that used to live down the hall,
he thought
.
His mouth and throat were sandpaper dry as old, half-senile Mr. Krass examined the cast on his arm.

Tessa looked uncertainly at her husband as Mr. Krass lit a cigarette in their livin
g room, flicking a match alight and drawing it up to the end of a loose cigarette with shaky, yellow fingers. Baggs, whose actual name was James Baggers, shrugged in response to his wife’s expression. Mr. Krass puffed and the smell of smoke began to disperse through the room.

Tessa and Baggs didn’t usually allow smoking in their apartmen
t; you had to be willfully ignorant not to know that second-hand smoke was bad for children. Baggs and Tessa loved their two daughters, and wanted to shield them from the ill effects of cigarette smoke, even though Baggs puffed on as many free cigarettes as the government would supply.

             
Baggs’s tin box of government-supplied cigarettes was currently sitting in his front left pocket and producing a crisp outline on his denim pants. The tin box was six years old, and had a picture of the emperor on it, which had faded considerably with time spent in that pocket.

             
Tessa shrugged back at Baggs, and they shared a secret smile that the old man couldn’t see. Baggs could almost hear what she would say in his head. “Just let him smoke; if you gripe about it, he’s apt to stand up and not come back. He’s a kook, but we need him.”

             
Mr. Krass’s cracked lips held the cigarette as he ran his rough fingers over the cast, which he had made six weeks earlier out of washrags and rubber cement to cover Baggs’s healing arm. Baggs wondered what the old man was thinking. The cast itself was ugly, malformed, and far from uniform.
That’s what you get when you can’t afford a doctor
, he thought.

             
Baggs was a pianist, or had been before the accident. He planned to play for money again after the cast was cut off, but he had a creeping suspicion that something was wrong. The cast limited his mobility to almost nothing, but still, he was convinced that his broken wrist hadn’t been set right and that when the cast was removed he would find his fingers in a partial state of paralysis.

             
And if I can’t play, we’re going to starve. If he takes the cast off, and I can’t move my fingers, I won’t cry. I can’t cry like that in front of my daughters.

             
Drop it! Don’t think about it!
he thought, trying to calm himself down. His daughters and wife were watching.

             
I won’t cry. I will not cry.

His entire family had known the McKesson family before they starved. Baggs could remember Maggie’s protest: “
Daddy, can’t we help them? Can’t we help them, daddy? I’ll give half my dinner.”
It had been hard to tell her no. You can’t help everyone, and the Baggers were on the brink of starving themselves.

Though Baggs and Tessa tried to shield their daughters from the difficult reality of their poverty, Baggs suspected that the girls were mostly aware of what was going on.
Even Olive, at six years old, could understand the danger they would be in if daddy couldn’t play piano anymore. It wasn’t like he would be able to find another job. Jobs weren’t available to people like him.

Baggs was using a great deal of energy trying to
control his face in a cheery, carefree expression as the old man ran his hands over the cast again and again. He looked down at the pink fingertips protruding from the end of the cast and felt horror clawing at his throat.

             
Mr. Krass lived in an apartment two floors below, and used to be a school nurse. Given his experience, Mr. Krass served as a primary care physician for the inhabitants of the apartment building, which had no real name but was called Apartment Building 5160. Nearly all of the families who lived in such housing could not afford a real doctor, and so they had to settle with Mr. Krass.

             
Mr. Krass grunted as he examined Baggs’s cast with one eye closed against the smoke that tendrilled up from the end of the cheap cigarette. Looking at the patches of thin, white hair on the old man’s chin made Baggs stir.
I’m trusting this man to save my hand, and he isn’t even conscientious enough to shave his entire face.

             
Slightly red in the cheeks, Tessa carried in a coffee mug full of water and set it in front of the old man, who had spilled some ashes onto the fold out card table between himself and his patient.

             
Trying to remain calm, Baggs tried to think of something other than the incompetency of the man with whom he was practically trusting his life. Mr. Krass flicked ash into the mug, and Baggs forced himself to think of the rations of cigarettes that the government issued, as a way of distracting himself.

             
I won’t think of us starving. I won’t think of the McKessons, or of the way they were shot down after trying to steal the food out of that fast food dispenser. I won’t think of that. I won’t think of watching Maggie’s ribs rise and fall this morning while she slept. I won’t think of how sickly she looks. I won’t think about the jaundiced color her face has taken on. I will think of the rationed cigarettes.

             
Each month, the government sent every citizen ten free cigarettes as a sort of investment. The idea was that people couldn’t smoke only ten a month—that was just enough to keep a person helplessly addicted, but not enough to quench the desire. It was assumed that people would then begin to subsidize their stash of free cigarettes by buying extras from the emperor. But Baggs had found a way to cheat the system. When Tessa became poor fifteen years ago, she had stopped smoking. She said that she couldn’t adhere to the ten-a-month rule; her will power wasn’t strong enough. “And we can’t afford to buy more, and we damned sure can’t afford the supplemental oxygen I’ll need when my lungs start giving out at age sixty.” And so, each month Baggs had his own supply and Tessa’s supply, which added up to twenty cigarettes per month.

I could use a cigarette right now. Although Tessa would throw a fit later
at me for smoking in our apartment, even though Krass is puffing away over there. What is he doing?
Baggs thought, looking at the old man. It appeared as though Mr. Krass had fallen asleep, his blue, milky eyes locked onto the cast he made after Baggs broke his arm.

Baggs recalled the incident that led to all of this as though it had happened that morning, instead of almost two months ago. He had been playing “pony” with Olive out on the street in front of their apartment complex. Cars rarely drove through London anymore, and what had once been a vibrant, busy road was now cracked and unkempt with weeds growing sporadically up through the pavement; some were as tall as Baggs.

Baggs was a big man. Money had been tight recently, so he only weighed two hundred pounds at the time he and Olive had been playing ‘pony’ in the street. Two hundred pounds was skinny for him, almost emaciated; he weighed two hundred pounds when he went to bed hungry most nights. He truly was ‘big boned,’ and as he liked to joke, “I’m big nosed, big lipped, big footed, and big everything else, too.”

His daughters liked to climb and jump on him, giggling with delight.
He was their trampoline, their bounce house, and in the case of Olive’s favorite game, their pony.

On
Olive’s birthday, and he had sat beside her on the cracked pavement as she ate a single scoop of vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. She wanted cake, too, but he had told her no. Maggie was back in the apartment pouting because Tessa and Baggs had told her that she couldn’t have a scoop of ice cream; it wasn’t her birthday. It gave Baggs a heavy lump in his throat when he thought of precious Maggie, wanting to eat a sweet more than once a year, or to think of Olive, wanting
both
cake and ice cream just this once. But they simply could not afford it.

While Olive ate away at her cone, she offered her daddy a bite. “No, sweetie. I don’t want any. It’s yours,” he told her. He knew that she wanted it much more than he did.

When she had finished her cone and licked her fingers until they were only moderately sticky, she requested that daddy let her ride the pony back to their apartment. This meant that she wanted Baggs to wear her like a backpack, with her arms around his neck and her legs around his torso while he galloped up the street, braying and bucking like a horse. Baggs always kept his hands locked protectively over her wrists so that she didn’t fall while she rode on his back. People gave the giant who acted like a horse and the giggling redheaded girl on his back sideways glances, but Baggs didn’t mind.

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