YA Dystopian / Post Apocalyptic Thriller
Date Published: July 2015
Arena has left the nation’s administration with a dead president and a weakened military, and while the tragic memories continue to scar her, the government struggles to regroup without its leader. For the people who still remain in hiding, it’s evident the country is all but lost, and with Russian operatives taking over, the nation’s hope of recovering is grim.
After months in hiding, Arena and her brother, Gabriel, fight to survive the aftermath while they trudge through unkindly terrain across the country to rejoin their friends, but what they soon discover may staunch their journey. The government’s failed attempt to rebirth a broken nation has caused civil unrest like no other.
After reuniting with their friends, Arena’s decision to stay changes when she discovers the secrets of a refugee camp behind a clandestine group of rebels, known as the Southern Resistance. With an opportunity to escape to a permanent safe haven, Arena risks her life to lead the new fellowship. But the darkest days are upon them, and with a new war brewing, Arena’s path will take a dark turn as her survival is in jeopardy.
Into The Darkness captures the cruel truth behind our darkest secrets which may often cause us to question our faith. In this graphic second installment of the LAST LIGHT FALLING series, J.E. Plemons continues the grim story of Arena Power’s fate, testing her faith while she and her brother search for an answer to their survival in a brooding world filled with chaos.
In the midst of tragic suffering, we all have fallen by death in one way or another, but because of His suffering, we are given hope and a gift of eternal life. I’m still hopeful for those who still remain in this wicked world, regardless of the unleashed hell that awaits us all.
The light draws dim, and Gabe and I are forced to set camp as the sun sets behind the horizon. We find a small spot beyond a brushy field where a clump of trees stands out in the middle of nowhere. The trees are packed fairly tightly, but there is very little underbrush where we can start a fire without burning everything in sight.
“How many more days you think?” Gabe asks as he clears the ground. I brush the sweat from my eyes and gaze wearily to the east. I’m afraid Carrington won’t be the same as we left it.
“Hard to say,” I simply answer. Fact is I haven’t the slightest clue. Nothing from this landscape looks familiar to home. I lay my pack on the cool soil and rest my swords peacefully against a gnarled tree trunk.
“You hungry?” I ask.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” he caustically answers. The sun quickly sets well behind the trees, leaving the horizon to glow.
“Why don’t you get a fire started and I’ll fetch us some-thing to eat.”
While Gabe dresses the ground with kindling, I venture west, anxious to hunt. Night hunting is not my forte. With-out ample light, there’s no telling what’s lurking in the high grass that surrounds us. Although the land here offers abundant species of game birds, I fear the coyotes and bobcats
will scare them away. I kneel down in the brush and wait for something appetizing to cross my path.
It’s been long since Gabe and I have had a decent meal we haven’t had to kill ourselves—not since before all this shit happened. Myra, our foster mom, was the chef of the household. Her roasted duck, a staple on special occasions, would have your taste buds hypnotized for days. And not many people know how to cook duck properly, but she sure did. Though she is dead along with my real mom, not a day goes by without some memory of her.
It’s been twenty minutes now and not a single creature has stirred. I’ve impatiently waited too long to stay here. I trek further out toward a small thicket of live oak trees about a half-mile to the west.
About halfway to the coppice a small hare hops past my boots. I lunge to grab it, but catch a handful of dirt instead. I can’t see a damn thing out here in this nest of weeds. My only hope is to nab something in that cluster of trees up ahead. I wade through the thick brush until the sound of heavy breathing halts my pace. I rest still and for a moment the labored wheezing stops. The sounds in the dark can be misleading, but this certainly doesn’t sound friendly. The tall grass suddenly rustles, but I can’t tell in what direction it’s coming from. Whatever it is, it seems to be scurrying frantically all around. I know it’s not a coyote, because he wouldn’t be moving this much; he would cowardly wait until I made the first move. A small tree limb snaps on the ground to my left about fifteen paces. I quickly bend down and hide within the scratchy underwood. I slowly draw one of my weathered arrows and carefully place it in the string of my bow, waiting for this animal to show itself. The rustling stops and the deep croaking sound of a bullfrog echoes in the distance. That is a pleasing sound, because I know there must be water nearby and I desperately could use a drink. No frog in its right mind would hop around in this barren land without water.
It’s been too long for whatever is hiding out there not to move. Just then, my stomach decides to harmonize with that old bullfrog, growling with starvation. I’m so hungry right now, I’d eat a hot dog from a gas station, but I’m not leaving this spot until I find out what’s hiding out there.
I slowly stand up and walk toward where the raspy panting first started. The rustling in the grass continues when two pheasants fly out in front of me, trying to flee. I must have stepped near their guarded nest. A devilish squeal pierces the air, and two glowing eyes stare at me. In an instant, the tall grass begins to move toward me like a wave in the ocean. I raise my bow and pull the string back, but the arrow nock splits and falls from my hands. I quickly turn and run, hoping I won’t be mauled by what-ever is chasing me. The grass gets thicker and thicker, slowing me down, and that monstrous squeal pierces my ears.
I dart through the weeds as they slash against my thighs like stinging whips. The persisting beast moans with a hellish roar, closing in on my pace, until I finally exit the brushy pasture into a small clearing. There’s not a safe enough distance between this creature and me to look back. It’s fast whatever it is.
I alter my course toward an old oak tree in hopes I will climb far enough up its gnarled limbs for safe harbor. My sides ache from the exhausted running, and the muscle in my lower left calf gives in as I stumble hard to the ground beneath the old tree.
I quickly roll over, pull my dagger from its sheath, and unexpectedly recognize the beast’s twisted tusks driving rapidly toward me. The moonlight shines through the clouded skies and reveals an infuriated feral hog ready to tear into my flesh with vengeance. If I falter, or lose my grip on my knife, I will be at the mercy of its sharp, bristling tusks. The savage pig bows back its hairy ears and leaps, its jowls open wide exposing its razor-sharp teeth. I swing my arm forward and thrust the end of my blade into the back-side of his thick, hairy-coated neck. The hog violently flops about, squealing, not going down without a fight. I stab him again and again until the shrieking finally stops.
I lie there on the ground panting, the two-hundred-pound dead, bloody boar resting on my legs. I’m too tired to move, but the stench emitting from this fowl beast persuades me to do otherwise. Not what I was expecting to find for food, but it’s all we have, and unless a nice pheasant or squirrel decides to pleasantly drop in my lap surrendering to be eaten, it’s pork for dinner.
I push the hairy hog off my legs and pull out my knife. Before I slice into its belly, a small wooden cross near the tree catches my eye. It leans to the side, sitting atop a pile of rocks. It reminds me too much of my uncle Finnegan’s burial that I can’t seem to peel my eyes from it.
Six months have passed since Gabe and I left Finnegan’s grave, and yet I still haven’t forgiven myself for his careless death. If he hadn’t shielded me from the soldier’s bullet at the training facility, I would be the one lying in that grave right now. But my raging hatred for General Iakov caused more pain and misery to our fellowship, and it got Finnegan killed. Though Iakov has fallen with his sol-diers in the facility, leaving a heavy stain on this new administration, it has broken a part of me I can’t get back.
I feel less convinced of the path God has led me on with every step I take in this dark depraved place. If it is my des-tiny to help wipe evil from this world, it’s tearing me apart, because I can feel the fragility in my faith growing now. While I wish I could go back and change things, my fate has brought me here. . . hunting in the dark for survival.
I quickly cut into the hog before the meat spoils and the blood taints our meal. There is just too much to carry back to camp, so I cut and skin what I can for the night and leave the stinky carcass for the vultures. The smell is just too repulsive to continue butchering this nasty beast, anyway. It’s beyond the depths of foul. I tie up what meat I can carry with me and wander toward the small coppice where that bullfrog was bellowing. I’m sure to find water somewhere nearby.
The exposed roots twisting along the ground like a snake suggest an underground spring feeding these lonely trees. There stands a soaring cypress tree hovering over the bank of a small running creek that effortlessly meanders with twists and turns. I follow the brook until I reach the end where it pours into a clear spring. My weary eyes widen, and my dry, parched mouth salivates over this aquatic nectar.
I dunk the canteens into the cold spring water in a less-stagnate area away from the growing moss and algae. I’m so thirsty, I couldn’t care less what’s floating in this sweet, quenching pool of goodness. As long as I don’t have to see what I’m drinking, I’m just fine. Bottoms up, I say.
The unbearable frigid temperatures of winter have finally subdued and surrendered to the fresh blooming beginnings of spring, just like this water. Unfortunately, summer has found a way to creep in, because these long hot days have been murderous. It’s nearing May, I think, but I can’t be for sure. I lost track of time long ago.
For six long miserable months, our weary legs have ambled through snowy drifts of white expanding as far as the eye can see. We have traveled through lifeless towns, abandoned farms, and fields of emptiness, but traveling by foot is our only way now. The roads are no longer safe. Our nation has changed into an ever-growing evil, and those who see it for what it really is have become a liability under harsh scrutiny.
The hundreds of miles we’ve traveled from the East Coast have worn us thin, but I feel our journey to reunite with our friends is not too far away. Texas is the only thing on my mind, and I won’t be discouraged by another day of swollen feet. We haven’t come this far just to give up.
There’s a glowing ember in the distance and I realize just how far away I am from Gabe’s warm fire. The air is starting to get a little chilly and I shiver. I make my way back to camp and find Gabe asleep on the ground in a fetal position. The egregious smell of pork smoking above the fire should wake his stomach up. Gabe has already built a spit-fire high enough above the flames to cook our meal. He’s a Boy Scout after my own heart.
I’m too hungry to wait for this meat slab to hang over the fire the next eight hours. I slice off small manageable pieces to cook, skewer them on a couple of sticks, and lay them on a rock next to the fire. I wrap the rest of meat around the long piece of hickory Gabe had used for a walking stick, and secure it with some left over wire from my pack. I carefully rest the meat above the fire to slow-cook overnight. Hell, maybe the stench will evaporate from the pores, leaving us with some nice tenderloin for breakfast.
I sit next to the crackling fire and dangle the small pieces on the wooden skewers right above the flames. The rendering fat drips from the pork causing the fire to flare up. The sizzling of the fat and crackling of the tissue begins to rouse Gabe, but I don’t think it’s the sound that has awakened him.
“Holy mother of God, what’s that smell, Arena?” Gabe says with his nosed pinched. It’s quite an uninviting smell, but I’ve been smelling and breathing it in for a while, so I guess I have gotten used to it.
“It’s our dinner,” I say.
“You’re kidding me. What are you feeding me, the inside of a pig’s ass?”
Not quite, but damn near close, I think, trying hard not to smile. Okay, I admit the smell is objectionable, but this is all I have to offer.
“Unless you have anything better to proposition, this is our meal. I suggest you take it and fill that empty stomach of yours.”
This salty meat may taste gamey, but when you are as hungry as we are, you’ll eat just about anything, and my stomach can’t wait until the morning to find something bet-ter. Sure I would like to have a nice juicy steak and baked potato, but this will just have to do. We both hold our noses from breathing in the smell of this wretched swine. I stomach what I can and try to dilute the taste with the fresh spring water.
Gabe eagerly falls back to sleep. I try to stay awake as long as I can to keep watch for any unwanted wild creature that may wander uninvited to our malodorous campsite. I’m pretty sure we have unintentionally attracted every wild beast for miles with the smoky scent of ass.
I watch Gabe sleep comfortably below the canvased trees while my stomach churns. The world seems so lonely. Gabe is all I have left right now, and I don’t think I could bear the thought of losing him too. There were times in my life when I detested my twin brother, but I never stopped loving him, and right now, I need him more than ever.
The harsh conditions we’ve experience in the last six months has forced us to both grow up, but none more than Gabe. He’s become a man before my eyes. His dirty blond hair drapes dingily below his ears and eyes. He’s still the same brother at heart, but he’s grown into something much different. Behind those skinny limbs and that frail body he used to carry, breathes courage now. We can never go back to what we were—time and history have changed, and so have we.
I want to believe there is purpose in all of this, but I’m not sure anymore what I’m supposed to do. I feel lost with-out Finnegan by my side. He was the only family Gabe and I had left, and now he too is gone. But his bravery will never be forgotten, and because it was his choice to follow my divine path, we’ve weakened a dying nation at its heart. My enemy may be dead, but my nightmares are still much alive.
I realize there is a reason for every event that happens to us, but I’m still having a difficult time accepting it. I may never fully understand my part in this world, but I will continue until I can no more. Many people left on this earth will accept their fate as meaningless acts of randomness. I believe now there is more to this world than just chaos and ruin. We were born with a plan, a purpose, and a choice. I choose to believe Finnegan saved my life to extend my fate, and I’m eternally grateful, but I wish not to endure any more hum-bling experiences through death.
Instead of sleeping on the padded dirt next to the fire, I nestle in between the roots of an old oak tree. I prop myself up against rough ridges of splitting bark and stretch out my legs. I grab Jacob’s necklace around my neck and stare down at the worn silver cross like I do every night. I rub the edges with my fingers as if it were a nervous tick. I’m afraid I will never let go. The only boy I truly loved is gone, but his death will remain very alive in my nightmares. I fight to stay awake, but my body isn’t willing to compromise. Sleep wins the battle.
About the Author
Jay Plemons’ life is nothing short of ordinary. From an aspiring chef, carpenter, educator, musician, husband, and father, nothing ever seems too busy when adding yet another hat into the mix as a fiction novelist. With a degree in music business, and a minor in English from Middle Tennessee State University, the aspirations to continue his journey in the arts, has followed Jay to write the Last Light Falling series, which has not only touched on some of his personal experiences, but has also helped him further explore the heightened convictions of faith.
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A genre I enjoy.