Unreal Book 1: Unreal
The Community sounds too good to be true. The journey to this new world doesn’t feel like they are heading to paradise.
Unreal snippet –
March 27, 2131
Quin folded her arms. Her heart pounded as she leaned sideways, inching closer to the boy next to her. She kept her gaze trained intently on Ms. Ulia—their new Primary teacher for the year—and pretended to be engrossed in the projection she was gesturing at in the middle of the classroom. Finally, her arm brushed his sleeve and she stuck out her hand, jabbing the pointed end of her stylus into his ribs.
“Ow!” Darius hollered as he jumped out of his seat and knocked over his tablet.
“Darius!” Ms. Ulia scolded with a hand on her hip.
He rubbed his side and glowered at Quin, but he didn’t rat her out. This was the game they’d played since they’d started school two years ago, and Quin knew he’d have better ideas for revenge than tattling. At seven years old, she already had a mile-long list of the ways she was planning to get his goat.
“I’m sorry,” Darius apologized. “Lost my balance.”
Ms. Ulia shook her head as Quin looked down and pretended to adjust her mask to cover her amusement.
“As I was saying,” Ms. Ulia continued pointedly. “You’ve all heard about the Campi eruption of 2090 and today…” Her eyes lit up as if she’d suddenly forgotten all about her annoyance seconds before. “I’m going to show it to you.”
Quin’s eyes widened as the projection expanded, zooming in on a lush green hillside that rose into the air like a low tower.
“Thanks a lot,” Darius muttered as he leaned toward her. “I almost got in trouble.”
Quin smirked. “No, you didn’t.” She put a finger to her lips and pointed at the picture in front of them. Darius reluctantly slumped into his seat and propped his head up with an elbow on his desk.
A pocket deep in the earth changed shape. It swelled and glowed, looking angrier by the second while birds swooped peacefully in the sky above the lush landscape. Then the ground shook. Wisps of smoke curled from the conical top of the mountain, and Quin held her breath.
She knew about the eruption. Mother had talked about it since she was little. It was why the world was gray—why they always had to wear masks. But seeing it in person…
Quin gasped as the video sped up. Smoke billowed from the hillside as the fiery red blob grew and pulsed underground. Her heart pounded as she watched the hillside rip apart and the red earth explode, spewing flames and darkness across the sky. Quin clutched the edge of her desk and wondered what happened to the birds.
Ms. Ulia’s expression and tone turned somber. “Since this day, we’ve been fighting to survive. All of you are survivors of the greatest disaster this Earth has ever seen.” She smiled comfortingly as she scanned the small, terrified faces sitting in a circle around her. Then she turned off the projection, straightened, and adjusted her shirt. “What do you think survivors are supposed to do? Quin?”
As soon as Ms. Ulia called her name, Quin stiffened in her seat. “Stay alive?” A few of her classmates snickered.
“Staying alive is great, but don’t you think it would be wonderful if they could make life better?”
Quin nodded but didn’t fully know what that meant.
“Did you know that survivors like you and me have figured out a way to do that?” Ms. Ulia beamed, and her obvious excitement was contagious. “They’ve found a way to see things how they used to be. All the colors—all the beauty in the world before Campi. Don’t you think that’s lovely?”
Quin frowned and glanced at Darius. What was Ms. Ulia talking about? She tried to send the question into his brain, but it didn’t work. He shrugged and turned back to the teacher.
“We have a special visitor today,” Ms. Ulia continued. “From the newly formed Paradise Three Community that launched on February first. Did I get the date right?” She gestured at the door as a tall man dressed in the prettiest blue jacket Quin had ever seen walked into the classroom.
“Yes.” His light laugh preceded him as he walked toward her.
Ms. Ulia’s cheeks flushed. “Well, our new friend is going to tell us all about the programs they’re offering for families who wish to enjoy a more beautiful world. Can you all be on your best behavior?”
The other children agreed. Ms. Ulia looked at Quin and Darius and raised an eyebrow. Quin swallowed hard and pursed her lips, then nodded resolutely.
Her mother’s voice had never sounded quite like this before. It was panicked. Desperate. Quin dropped the tattered doll she’d been playing with on the floor in her room and ran into the hall, searching. She’d gotten home from school a few minutes ago and still hadn’t wrapped her head around the things she’d heard.
“In here,” her mother hissed, flying around the corner and snapping her hand around Quin’s thin arm. “Come when I call next time.”
“I did, I—”
“Shhhh!” Her mother gave her cheek a light warning slap, taking Quin’s breath away and knocking her mask slightly askew. She adjusted it without another word. Her gaze darted around her mother’s bedroom, trying to make sense of what she’d been pulled into.
Her mother flew around the room in a frenzy. Her long, lank strawberry-blonde hair fell across her face. Quin wanted to reach up and brush it out of the way—maybe pull it into a ponytail like her mother did for her on school days.
“We’re leaving.” Her mother finally answered as she shoved a handful of worn clothes into a bag and yanked on the zipper. “You have two minutes to gather anything you can fit in here.” She threw a small backpack on the floor at Quin’s feet. “Two minutes,” she repeated tersely, and Quin hastily grabbed the bag before running back to her room.
Quin’s stomach grumbled as she lurched behind her mother, barely able to keep her feet under her at the pace her mother pulled her forward. Her arm ached, and the skin had rubbed raw after being held tightly for nearly twenty minutes in an unforgiving grip. She’d done as her mother asked—filled her backpack with anything she liked in her room.
She wished she’d thought to grab something to eat, though. Quin had been so scared that it hadn’t crossed her mind. She’d been hungry before and knew the worst would pass quickly. Their family had gone days without food, and after the first few hours, her body always seemed to forget. She was sure her father would have something for them when he got home tonight.
Why was her mother in such a hurry? And why wouldn’t she let go of her arm?
“Ow,” she whined as tears rolled down her cheeks. Her mother only held on tighter, and Quin bit her tongue as she stepped on a rock and stumbled. The taste of hot iron filled her mouth, and she swallowed, nearly choking as the blood mixed with tears in the back of her throat.
They trudged behind the school building, and Quin looked at the red brick with longing. Everything the man had said today about there being a place where people could see the world as it used to be—green trees, flowers, blue sky—sounded perfect.
He’d called it the Community, but the word made her stomach queasy. She remembered one night when her mother had used that word. They’d been having a nice dinner, and her father had slammed a hand on the table so hard it made her fork jump. We don’t talk about the Communities here, he’d ordered. She’d never heard that word again. Not until today.
Her mother’s grip loosened, and blood rushed into Quin’s fingertips. She drew a deep breath as their pace became more manageable for her short legs. A glance ahead showed they were going to the manor house at the far edge of town—where they had to go each month for town meetings. Was that what this was all about? Another meeting? Then why had Mother asked her to bring her things?
As they walked closer, Quin’s eyes widened when she noticed a boxy silver vehicle parked on the road next to the building. She took in the size of it—the wheels stood taller than she did, and it looked as long as their house.
A small group of people stood in a clump on the road with bags like hers. Her heart started to pound. Her mother wasn’t pulling her toward the front of the building where they normally entered.
Then she saw the man from school.
He stepped out of the vehicle and motioned for everyone to get in. Were they going on a ride? Seeing more of what he was talking about in class? She tugged on her mother’s sleeve, but the line moved fast, and soon they were sitting with the others.
Quin sat stiffly, sidling up to her mother as she situated their bags under their seats. Something rumbled under the floor, but before she could figure out what was happening, the manor house slipped away outside the window.
Quin’s eyes fluttered open as the vehicle pulled to a stop. She lifted her head from her mother’s lap and looked through the glass in front of her. It was dark now. They’d have to hurry home, or Father would be wondering where they were. She leaned over, reached for her bag, and hugged it to her chest. Whatever Mother had needed to do today, it was almost over. She didn’t like being away from home so long, especially when they had to be smooshed onto an uncomfortable bench with people she didn’t know.
Lights turned on in the vehicle, and the man with the blue jacket walked down the aisle and smiled at them. She was mesmerized by the color. Even in the dim interior, she was sure it was brighter than any clothing she’d ever seen. The man held a hand in the air and swirled his finger back and forth, tapping the nothingness like he was painting a picture. Quin tried to imagine what the dots and swooshes would look like in the same brilliant blue he wore.
“Welcome to Paradise Three Community,” he said cheerily, ignoring the sagging shoulders and weary faces that filled the vehicle to the brim. Community. The word made her chest tighten, and her mouth felt dry.
“You’ve made the right choice,” the man continued. “Please bear with us as we get each of you checked in and prepared for your initial scan—”
“We already gave our information to the people at home,” the woman in front of them called out, her voice trembling.
The man nodded. “I know, and we have that, so don’t worry. But as I’m sure you can understand, we’ll need to obtain some very detailed physical information before your implantation and integration into our Community. I know some of you may feel nervous about this process…”
The man’s voice droned on, but Quin couldn’t understand what he was saying. None of this made sense. Why couldn’t they get off and go home? She felt weak and cold after not eating anything all day. She began to shiver.
“Mother,” she whispered nervously. Her mother’s eyes flitted down toward her briefly but then lifted again to the man talking at the front of the vehicle. “Mother, I want to go home.” Her voice came out in a croak, and she wasn’t sure if her words had made it to her mother’s ears. She pursed her lips to try again, but suddenly, people were standing around her, shuffling on the bench as they collected their things.
“Let’s go,” her mother said, picking up her bag and scooting Quin forward off the bench. “They have food here,” she said, and Quin’s words died in her throat. “Good food,” her mother continued, grinning encouragingly.
Food did sound nice. If they had that, maybe Father wouldn’t be upset if they were late. She could take some home to him, too.
“How long do we have to stay?” Quin asked as they filed into the central aisle between the benches. Her mother didn’t answer but placed her hand on Quin’s shoulder, guiding her forward through the mass of people.
As they stepped out onto the ground, Quin’s eyes widened. They were walking into a building just like the manor house, but different somehow. Wider and fatter. Tall pillars stood in the distance, shining bright circles of light into the night sky.
They followed the line of people through the doors and into a large room where there were more people in blue coats. This looked nothing like home, and Quin’s heart began to sink.
“How long do we have to stay here?” she asked, her lip quivering as she turned to look up at her mother’s face.
“It will be better here.” Her mother smiled and patted her shoulder.
“I want to go home,” she said, her breath coming in short bursts. She wanted to see Father and Darius and—
“Hush, Quin. This is Paradise.” Her mother pushed her to face forward, the smile disappearing from her lips.
Quin’s whole body began to shake until she couldn’t hold it in any longer. A howl burst out of her, and she dropped to the floor. “I want to go home!”
You would think that the ride to paradise wouldn’t be so terrifying. What darkness is awaiting these new arrivals? Find out on August 30th when Unreal Book 1: Unreal is released. Until then head over to Amazon and pre-order today.