Monday, 11 March 2019

It's Live!!!!

The Reverse of Everything is HERE!


One day can change everything.
One day the world is a delicate balance.
The next day the balance is tipped.
And there is no bringing it back.
When everyone over a certain age dies, a group of young adults make a perilous journey across the US, in hopes of finding something beautiful or amazing.
Something to cherish as their last memory.
Because maybe they’re dying too.
And in the end, all we want is something to be grateful for.

And maybe for someone to remember us when we’re gone.



From the author of The Born Trilogy, The Last City of Men, and The Blood Trail Chronicles comes a story of friendship and love, even as the world is ending.
This is a standalone novel


Buy here!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Born Trilogy, The Alt Ending

HUGE SPOILERS


Look away if you haven't read The Born Series



The Alternate Ending






Chapter Sixteen


I look back at them and wink. I like the winking thing. It makes me feel like I know something I definitely don’t.
I walk from the woods, past the broken branches I did last time, and cross the broken highway where the bloodstains are still splattered on the cracked road.
I don’t like being without my weapons, but I don’t imagine the rules of the towns have changed much. What has changed is the blue-eyed guy next to me this time.
Jake looks nervous and smiles. "So we just walk in? They won't shoot us?"
I look up at him and smirk. "That’s how it works usually. They want the trade so they don’t normally kill the customers."
He doesn’t look like it eases him at all.
We cross the road and I hear it; it still makes my stomach turn to stone.
The screams of the men who rip and tear fill the air. I see them running for us, hoping to rob us of whatever we have and rape me, of course.
Jake turns to run but I grab his hand. As the first ones get close, I see the bullets hit.
They drop mid-run.
I put my hands into the air so the guards see that it isn’t me. Jake copies me, looking anxious and ready to run. The last couple thieves stop when they see the ten dead men on the pavement.
I glance at Jake. "This is easier with Mitch."
He swallows. "Was it like this last time?"
I nod. My eyes sparkle. "It was worse."
I can see him understand what I did for him as he shakes his head but has nothing to say.
We cross into the gates. The guard flashes me a grin. "Smart girl."
I give him a grin. "That wasn’t me. Maybe it was God."
He snorts. "Welcome to the trading post."
Merchants don’t rush at me like last time. They watch me from the lean-tos and shanties. I walk to the one where the old lady was. She sees me and scowls. I smile. "Surprised to see me alive?"
She mutters, "And yet, you came back." She sees Jake behind me and instantly her face splits into a grin. "But this time you brought me something I would be willing to trade for."
I look back at Jake. He gives me a clueless look. I smirk. "Yeah, he's not for sale."
She shrugs. "Too bad. We would pay by the pound for something that beautiful and that size."
Jake frowns. "What?"
I laugh. "I need needles and if you have any of the antibiotics left, I need that too."
A slow smile creeps along her old face. "Well, someone went and destroyed all the farms and labs so the antibiotics are all gone."
My hand lashes out fast, grabbing her throat and lifting her to her toes. "I have things to trade."
She gags and sputters but breaks out into a laugh. I toss her back into the stacks of trash bags. "I know where your son is."
Her eyes widen. "LIAR!"
I shake my head. "I know where he is."
She scrambles up. "How—how do you know where he is?"
I remain stoic.
"I can get you needles but the antibiotics are gone. Everything is gone. The power hasn’t been on here in a while, but I can get you the needles. Where is he?"
She grabs for me, but I shove her back. "He's dead. I killed them all. You want to know who ended the power and the farms? It was me. I murdered every doctor I saw."
She screams and leaps for me, but I drop her skinny body to the ground and hold her there. "I did it especially for you. You and the other people of this shit hole, who traded the girls to the farms and camps." I get off of her. She is trembling and twitching, but still manages to pull a knife from under her dress. She leaps at me but Jake grabs her arm and bends it to stab the knife into her chest. He freezes and steps back.
She gags and opens her mouth to scream but she can't; he must have stabbed into her lung. Blood fills her mouth and she drops to the ground.
He's about to freak out. I point his face at mine. "Thank you."
He stops, realizing he saved me. His eyes dart back to the dying woman. I shake my head. "Trust me, she earned this fate."
He swallows and nods. "Okay." He doesn’t believe me, but he never sat in the woods, terrified and listening to the screaming girls begging for death over the farms and being loaded into the trucks. I did.
Her body stops making sounds. I step over her and start to rifle through her cabinets. I open a drawer and a moth flies out. I wave it away and see the needles with plastic wrap on them still.
I sigh. "Found them."
Jake points at the now-dead woman. "What about her? They're going to know we killed her. The guards will kill us."
I smirk at him. "I know another way out. Come on." I drag her body to the back of the so-called store and bury her in the bags of garbage.
I stuff the needles in my sack and walk out into the street. The noise of the town is louder than before. People are bustling about and the merchants are shouting about their goods. I walk to the inn, keeping my head down.
The lady with the nice teeth smiles up from behind the bar, but doesn’t really look at me. "No purchase, no room."
"I came to tell you that my virtue is no longer at risk."
Her eyes lift and her face breaks into a huge grin. "You're still alive."
I smile back. "Not for long. I just killed that old lady who betrayed me last time."
She winces. "Oh, that was a bad move. You came here right afterwards?" I nod. She shakes her head. "Thanks, kid." She gives Jake a sly smile. "Now tell me that was the person you were buying antibiotics for."
I nod. "It was."
Her eyes roam his whole body slowly. "That was worth it then."
I glance back at Jake and smile. His face is bright red, but his eyes are still processing the fact that he murdered a woman. I know some of the spark that makes him shiny and fun is going to die out. For him, killing her was like rubbing the magic dust off of a butterfly; he won't ever fly as high as before.
"We need the tunnel, just in case."
She winks. "What have you got for me?"
I smile. "Freedom."
Her gaze narrows. "What?"
I nod. "I killed Michael and burned the city to the ground, and we have created a small village where people are free and equal. I am offering you a place to live there."
Her eyes shine. She looks like she might turn me down, but she ducks behind the counter and comes up with a sack. She hurries around the counter. "I knew saving you would be a good idea."
She points to the stairs. "Hurry up."
I run up the stairs and enter the bedroom I slept in last time. She follows and closes the door. Jake looks lost, but as she opens the closet, his jaw drops.
I nudge him. "Her husband was a government man."
He nods. "Wow."
She puts a hand out. "I'm Stella, by the way."
I laugh. "Emma—and this is Jake."
She licks her red lips. "Well Jake, you are a tall drink of water, aren’t you?"
His cheeks are burning. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
She nods. "I bet you do." I lead the way down the stairs into the tunnel and she closes everything up. I run, dragging my hand along the wall until I see the circle of light again. I climb the small ladder and push the hatch slowly. Nothing moves as I open it fully and climb out into the fading light of the sun.
Jake comes out next and reaches down into the hole to help Stella. She smiles and looks different in the real light of the outside world.
I run towards where I know Mitch is sitting.
Star steps out from behind the tree where I stashed my weapons last time. "What is this?"
I nod. "Stella. She's one we want on our side." I point. "Stella, this is Star, my sister." Mitch jumps out of the tree, making Stella smile again. She puts a hand out to him. "Stella."
Mitch grins. "Mitch."
She gives me a smirk. "You run with the most handsome men, Emma."
I laugh and Mitch's cheeks turn scarlet. I point at the trail. "We've got a long ride home. A man is dying from that blood-poisoning type of sickness."
“Is he someone special to you?”
I look down, “He is.”
Stella bites her lip, thinking about something for a minute, Then she nods, “Give me a minute.” She turns and runs back into the forest towards the exit. Jake gives me a look, “You trust her?”
I nod.
He looks worried. Star shakes her head, “Emma doesn’t trust anyone; if she trusts her, then I do too. We wait.”
Mitch doesn’t look like he agrees but he doesn’t argue. We stand there, waiting and scared. I can hear things that bother me in the town, like last time. I will walk away from them, like I always do.
He is more important than anything.
We stand in silence, facing away from each other, watching and waiting for her. A noise in the bushes instantly arms us, well except for Jake, but I’m not even sure he heard it. He’s humming and dancing a little. Star elbows him in the back. He turns around, seeing us pointing our weapons into the bush and lowers his shotgun.
A breathless and flushed Stella comes barreling towards us. I see a dark figure behind her. I pull an arrow, hitting his eye when I release. He drops. I kill the next two men without even blinking. Mitch whispers, “You got them?”
I nod, as she gets closer, “Was it just three, Stella?”
She wheezes, probably from too many years in the towns. “We have to hurry. We have hours before this doesn’t work anymore.” She holds a white container with a red cross painted on it messily, almost like blood smeared across it. We mount and ride hard and fast.
She rides with me, gasping as we enter the dusty field. "This is your village?"
I nod. She beams. "It's perfect."
I smile back at her. "It is. It was a lot of work." I kick the horse, crying out. He senses the end of journey and pushes his legs harder.
Nick meets us in the driveway. His eyes tell me to get off my horse fast. I jump down, pulling the sack of needles from the saddlebag.
"Is he okay?"
He shakes his head. "No. We need to hurry. Did you find antibiotics?"
I shake my head. "I just found needles. The power going out and the farms being shut down ended the antibiotics. But Stella has something."
His eyes narrow when he looks at her and the white box. He grabs the sack, the white box, and Stella’s hand and runs inside the house. I follow him, ignoring everything else in the world.
Will is lying on the bed with Leo. His skin is flushed and sweaty, like Jake's was. I know Jake is behind me. I can feel the heat of his massive body there. I lean back into him as Nick gets the syringe out and sticks it into his own arm. He pulls the blood back into the needle until it fills. He pulls it out and presses a piece of cloth against it. He pulls down the sheet on Will's body and pushes the needle into the scar tissue on Will's chest and injects the blood.
"Give me your arm."
I put it out, and he does the same to me and injects it too. Nick does my other arm and then his.
Stella opens the white box slowly. Inside are two tiny needles filled with pink liquid; I don’t know what they are. Nick looks scared when he pulls them out, taps them, and injects Will. Stella looks sickened as she watches it with me. I’m scared to ask what was in the vials.
Nick starts putting blood into Will again. He shakes his head, “I swore I would never do this again.”
I look at Stella, “What was that?”
Her eyes soften, “That was what made the Gen babies special. It makes them more.”
My mouth goes dry. I look back at Jake. He sighs, “Great, like Will wasn’t already an asshole. Now he’ll be a comic book asshole.”
When Nick finishes putting the fourth needle of our blood into Will, he sits and stares.
"Will it work?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "I don’t know. I know in theory it should, but I don’t know. Michael was a nut. He had it work on minor infections, like slivers. Our blood type is the kind we can give to anyone." He looks down and back at me. "Unless he's a negative, then he's screwed. We're O positive."
Jake shakes his head. "Me, Will, and Anna are all A positive. Dad told us that before he died. Same as our mom."
Nick nods. "Then this is the best chance he has. This, and the serum from the city." He doesn’t sound convinced. He sounds scared and defeated. I back up to the wall and slide down it. Jake sits next to me. We sit there, staring at Will and waiting for it to work.
Eventually, they all leave and I sit alone. Even Leo doesn’t want to watch it happen.
I climb up onto the bed and curl around him.
The heat from his body is intense and not lessening. I drip water into his mouth. He coughs and opens one eye. His lips crack when he tries to smile.
I don’t smile back. I can't. I can see it. The blood isn’t working. Michael was a crazy bastard and believing him was foolish.
"Em, stop looking so hateful. You want that to be the last thing I see?"
I lean into his chest. "Don’t leave me. Please. I need you." I close my eyes and sob silently. I don’t want my tears to be the last thing he sees either. I don’t want there to be a last anything.
His hand weakly strokes my head. It isn’t the same hand, or the same man, or the same love. It's all more. I know how far I can go into despair and darkness, and his death is one of the things that might push me there. I don't want to go back to being the person I was. I like the me that belongs with these people.
As if reading my mind, he whispers, "Stop it. I made it back to you once, Em. I'll always be here. Not even death, can keep me away."
I cry harder. I want to beg him not to leave me, but I can't speak. Nothing is working but my tears.
I hug him to me and pray to God that he leaves him here for me to love.
He grips my hand to him. "Look at me."
I lift my tear-stained face and shake my head.
He attempts a weak smile, but it gets lost in the pain and the fear I can see in his eyes. "Promise me, no matter what, you will stay with them and make an effort to not be crazy."
I snort and wipe my face. After a minute, I nod. "I won’t ever leave them."
I see tears forming in his eyes as he struggles for the raspy words. "Keep Anna safe—and Jake."
"I swear I will."
He nods. "I know you will. My family is your family." He closes his eyes but mutters, "I love you, Emma."
My heart breaks because I can hear the goodbye in his voice. I close my eyes too and rest my head on his chest. I don’t know how long I lie there, before I realize his chest doesn’t rise and fall anymore. The coarse sound of his breathing is gone.
I cry harder than I thought I could, gripping him in case he comes back again.
But then something happens. He coughs once and sits straight up. He looks up at the ceiling in the room and opens his mouth. A sound, I swear I have never heard before, leaves his lips. He screams as if he is trying to reach God with it. The sweat and the heat are still coming off of him, but the scream tells me whatever we put in him is fixing him.
I’m scared we might have made him something he might not want to be.
He screams until he can’t and even makes a weird sound when he inhales. When he stops, he turns and looks at me. He blinks, confused or maybe just brain dead from the fever.
He licks his chapped lips, “Em. The light came and then it rushed away so fast.”
I am trembling with fear and joy. I want to hug him but it scares me. It scares me, wondering what price we have paid for him to live.
Jake is there suddenly, with Leo. Leo’s hackles go up instantly. He growls and lowers his head. He doesn’t know Will anymore.
Jake smiles, “I guess the devil didn’t want you, Bro.”
Will looks at Jake, like it’s taking him a minute to figure it all out. He smiles after a minute, “I guess not.”
Jake sits on the bed, “You look like hell.”
Will nods, “I feel it. I feel like I’ve been dragged behind a pickup truck on a gravel road. What the hell happened?”
Leo comes to me, sniffing me and watching Will. His body is doubled in size and he’s not letting up on the dislike.
Will frowns, “What’s up with him?”
I swallow hard and turn to the doorway, “NICK!”
He comes running, his face looks stunned. He frowns, “It’s real, right? This is happening? I’m not dreaming, right?”
I nod, “You explain?”
He nods. I look back at Will, “I’ll be back.” I get up and leave, Leo in tow. Jake stays, probably interested in how it all works. I leave the house in search of one thing.
Anna gives me a look when I get outside. I nod, “He’s alright.”
She starts to sob into her hands. It brings tears to my eyes. Anna and Sarah hug each other, weeping. I continue walking. I need to find my own answers.
I get to the log house where she’s staying and knock. She answers in an apron and covered in flour. “Did he live?”
I nod. She looks like she might almost regret it, regret saving him. She nods, “Okay, good.”
“What was that, exactly, and how did you come to have it?”
She sighs and opens the door more. “I’m making bread. Come on in.” She goes back to her bread, and I sit on the log chair. Leo sits at the fire, relaxing. She scowls, “A wolf in the house?”
He raises his head. I scowl, “He doesn’t know he’s a wolf.”
She rolls her eyes, “Fine. You want the story? Here it is. My husband wasn’t just CIA. He was a scientist for the CIA. He made me swear that whatever happened—if I ever got sick, like really sick, I should take that from its case and inject myself. He said if the sicknesses got worse, or the infection got worse, I should inject myself. The cave under the stairs was a type that no nuclear blast, radiation, EMP, or anything could get to it. The cave is some kind of protective rock. I hid down there in the beginning, when the bombs went off. The little silver case that the vials were in—they were protected by a light. The light was inside of the case and it ran on a battery that is still going now. I can’t take them out of the case or they won’t be good after an unknown amount of time. I know it’s hours, that’s all I know.”
I sat there looking at her, “What did he say the vials would do to you?”
She sighed, “Make me invincible. Make me more. Like the babies.”
“Where is your husband now?”
“He died, near the beginning.”
I look down, wondering not only what it will do to Will, but also what we will do to each other. I can’t face him just yet, so when I leave the cabin, I turn for the woods. I climb over the fallen logs and stumps until I am far enough away. I sit and process.
He’s alive. He’s alive and he’s like me. Not that he wasn’t already like me.
Leo comes and curls around me. He wraps his paws around my shoulders. I didn’t even know I had a cry in there until his paws circle me. Then it lets loose. All the fear and the worry and the anger is washed away, washed into the fur of my oldest friend. He holds me and I cry for the things that might have happened.
He knows me better than anyone, even me.
When I’m done, I go back to him. I meet Nick in the hallway. He looks upset, “We’ll watch him, okay?”
I nod, “How bad could it get?”
He winces, “The ones I’ve seen—the adults injected with it have rage issues and basically are the worst versions of themselves.”
I swallow hard, “What if they were already a pretty bad version of themselves?”
He laughs bitterly, “Everyone stays at arm’s length until we see the result. Don’t let him know we are doing it. Paranoia is probably already going to be an issue for him.”
I nod and walk past him to the room.
Leo gives me a frightened look. I have to admit that isn’t making me relax. I wish Leo wasn’t scared of him. Jake pats his hands, “Just keep counting backwards from ten. Trust me, it works.”
Will rolls his eyes. He smiles when he sees me, “Hey.”
I look at Jake, “Why don’t you see if Leo wants to go for a stroll to the stream.”
He gets up and pats his leg. Leo follows him from the room, looking back at me. I nod, “Go on.”
Will looks hurt, “Why does Leo hate me again?”
I sit on the bed, on the edge, “He’s worried. You smell different to him. He doesn’t like different.”
He stares at my lips, “What about you?”
I shake my head, “I don’t like different either.”
He looks scared, “Em, you know I’m already a monster. Can you deal with a little more of me?”
I nod and crawl up to him, curling into him. I wrinkle my nose, “Leo is probably hating you ‘cause you stink. What the hell is that?”
He laughs, “I don’t know. I was sick. Jeeze, you’re hard on a guy’s self esteem.”
I laugh. He doesn’t seem worse, he seems a little better even. I kiss his cheek and get up, dragging him from the bed, “Okay, wow. That is nasty. I don’t care how sick you are, that has to end.” He stumbles along behind me in his underwear. I pull him through the house to the washing area. He gives me a funny look, “I don’t feel so good. I don’t think I should be up and walking about.”
I look at him; he is thinner and tired looking. He looks like a shell of the man he once was. He doesn’t look like a monster to me.
I smile, “Wait right here. I’ll be back in a minute, ok?”
I run around the back to Sarah and Anna, “Can you strip the bed Will was in and burn the damned sheets if they don’t come clean?”
They wrinkle their noses. I go to the washhouse water and grab a huge bucket of water, the lye soap, and a rag. I carry it to the back of the house where the summer showers are. He is standing there shivering. I pull the sheet across, trapping us inside of the curtained area.
I lift his shirt off, seeing the scars and the scrapes and the hallowed areas that used to have muscle. I pull his underwear down, still not looking below his chiseled waistline and hipbones. No matter how many years or lifetimes we have been together, I don’t think I can look. I dunk the rag in the steaming bucket and drag the soap along it. He sucks his breath when I start washing. I smile, “You remember when you did this for me?”
He nods, “You were such a mess.”
I grin up at him, “Welcome to my world. You think you had a temper before? You are gonna have to work real hard to control this one.”
His icy-blue eyes sparkle, “Em, you ever think that maybe I already am like you, just a little?”
I scowl, “What?”
He nods, “It’s why I was able to live through getting shot and everything else. It’s why my temper is already bad. When I was in the breeder farms, they were taking us young and healthy males and injecting us. It made making the babies strong that much easier. That isn’t the first time I’ve had that serum.”
My jaw drops, “But you almost died of the infection.”
He shrugs, “Guess it’s not perfect. But I am stronger than most men and faster and harder to kill. I’ve always been more like you than you knew.”
My eyes are flooded with tears, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He nods, “Look how you’ve treated me all day. I came back from the dead for you and you left the room without even a hug or a kiss or a ‘Screw you, Will’. You don’t trust me.”
I swallow hard as I scrub him down, “I don’t trust me, how could ever trust you?”
He laughs, “That’s my girl.” He wraps his arms around me, squishing me into him.
A week later, he is looking like my Will again. I keep his secret about being modified. I would want him to keep mine. People don’t need to know we aren’t normal.
I’m sitting at the creek with Leo, watching the water run by us. Leo’s ears perk up. He turns abruptly. I smile when I see Will coming across the field. He looks so handsome in the mist on the field. The air is cool and we can see our breath.
He smiles and my stomach sinks. I don’t think I’ll ever be done with him, used to him, or free from the butterflies he makes me feel. I don’t think I’ll ever be free of him in any way. He does something I never expected. He drops to his knees when he gets to me. He presses something into my hand. I look down at the ring he placed there. It's a diamond ring with a silver-colored band.
"Not like you have any choice in the matter, ‘cause you’re mine already. But be mine this way too. You have my heart and my soul, and you make me crazy in ways I can’t even explain without using my hands. But I love you, Em. I have loved you from the minute I saw you. I don’t know why. I want to believe it’s like the old poets and romantics believe and that when I met you, my soul met its other half. Make me whole, Em."
Tears fall from my eyes, landing on the diamond. His arm wraps around my body, but I don’t move. I stare down at it, “Yes.”
“Can I put it on your finger?”
I close my hand around the diamond ring and wonder when and where he got it from. "I just want to hold it for a second, to make sure it’s real. When did you get it?"
He whispers, "Traded my guitar for it.”
I shake my head. "Why would you do a dumbass thing like that? I like you singing with that guitar more than I like this ring."
He cocks an eyebrow and I see the look. It makes a nervous smile smear across my face. He scowls, "You are the least romantic girl in the whole world. The world is gone, dead and blown up, and I manage to find a ring and you don’t want it?” He starts shouting, “What the hell kind of girl does that?”
I laugh in his face, “A crazy girl. Why else would I be with you?”
He looks savage but he starts laughing too, “God dammit, Em. Put the damned ring on your damned finger.”
I open my hand, “You friggin’ do it.”
He snatches it, shoves it on my finger, and kisses me hard. I melt into it, pushing him back onto the cold grass. I smother him in kisses, muttering into his lips, “I want that guitar back.”
He laughs in my mouth, and we do something in the field that people shouldn’t do. It’s wrong but we don’t care.






Chapter Seventeen


Two years later

I look at the rock pile and smile. "Meg, I used to think there was two kinds of love. One kind of love that burns so hot that it burns out before you get a chance to enjoy it. The other love is one that lifts you and makes you better than you were before. Now I think they are two sides of the same coin. My Granny used to say that and I never got it, not until now. Now I see what she meant." I grin and shake my head. "I know you always said Will was the right person for me, I have to agree. You knew me better than anyone. You were right. We got married a few months ago, and I don’t feel any different. It feels weird being a wife to someone, I have to say, that was a surprise. But personally, I still look like me and feel like me. I wish you were here, that’s the only thing. I miss you, Sister."
I look down at the diamond ring on my left hand as I brush the leaves off of the pile. The warmth of the spring sun is intense, as it always is.
I cross my legs when I sit back down and ball a dried leave up. "So Anna and Nick; I bet you woulda seen that one coming. I never did, but you always saw more than me. The wedding tree has had four weddings under it now. Not sure if you were watching or not, but it was nice, and it made the village brighten up for a few weeks. We’ve created a celebration for weddings, feasts, dances, and fun. We have fun. Who knew we could?" I look up into the sun and sigh. "I have to go, but I'll be back in a little while." Leo gets up with me and stretches. I run my hands through his fur and smile. "You're getting too old for these trips."
He gives me his annoyed look and saunters over to where Will, Jake, and Mitch are talking and pointing. I can see Leo’s hips are getting old. I am not sure what I'll do when he gets too old to be Leo anymore. I don’t want to think about that.
Jake smiles when he sees me. "How's Meg?"
I shrug. "I think she gets lonely. I wish we could move her and the rose bush to our house."
Will shakes his head. "I like that she's here; I always think Bernie is too." His eyes are icy and emotional. The next day we are getting ready to go to the retreat because summer is coming. Mitch is going to stay at the mansion to discuss the possibility of the use of Bernie’s house as a market. It’s all Star has been thinking about, unsure if it’s the right choice for her brother’s land. It’s why we are at the mansion. That—and to chat with Meg.
Mitch shrugs. "If we let them put a trade market here, we will have more access to fruit. I think it's crazy not to do it."
Star walks from the back of the property, past all the charred rubble. It's her decision and we all know it. Bernie’s house is her house.
Star loops her arm into Mitch's. "Fine, but the rose bush and the grave are untouchable, and not negotiable."
Mitch smiles and kisses the side of her face. "I'll let them know. I'll meet you guys at the retreat?"
I glance up at Will. He nods. "Yup. We just have to pick up Sarah and we're heading there."
I nod and climb onto my horse. Leo stretches. Will bends down, picking him up, and laying him across the saddle of my horse. “Hang on to him.” I nod but Leo gives me an uncertain look. I stroke his muzzle, “It’s okay, boy. Maybe just part of the ride, huh?” I can see that he’s too old to argue.
Jake looks worried, “How old do wolves get?”
I shake my head. “He’s old by wolf years.” I rub behind his ears, “But he’s still young to me.” I nudge the horse and we start. Leo’s eyes stay on mine; he doesn’t stray and look around. He looks at me. He trusts me, to an extent, this is that extent. When we get half way, he’s done. I halt the horse and Will gets him off of the saddle.
I feel a sickening worry inside of me but I push it away. I’m not ready to face life without him.
I get on my horse and look down at Leo. He pants with his sloppy wolf face and licks me. He paws me a little and whines when he looks towards the village. I smile and nod, “Let’s go home.”
He jumps up, playful and ready to run again. He whines and then starts towards home.
We ride slower for Leo, taking a little longer than normal. When we exit the forest, I smile. The village has grown in the two years we have been here. The log houses have taken over the old, dusty grass field and the forest has been cleared to make room for more houses. The white farmhouse is dirty, but it's home to the cook pit ladies, Anna, and Nick. Stella, Sarah, and Jake live in one of the cabins. Will and I decided to make our own log house, we live there.
Sarah comes running up. She and Leo have their usual reunion. He lies down, looking tired. She gives me a look. "You have to make him stay. He can't do those big runs anymore."
I smile at the angry little face. "Try telling him that."
She makes a noise and walks off with him. Jake laughs. "I think the teen years are about to hit."
I scowl at him. "She's twelve."
He shrugs. "Anna got evil at twelve."
Will scoffs, “I’m glad I missed a lot of the ‘bad Anna’ years.”
I roll my eyes. "She was probably just tired of taking care of you two idiots."
Will hops off his horse and drags me off of mine. "Oh really?" He throws me over his shoulder and carries me into the huge animal pen we've built for the cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. He tosses me into the haystack and jumps into the hay with me.
"Wanna roll in the hay?"
I shake my head. "No. It's prickly."
He pokes me in the arm. "You are getting softer. The Emma I met two years ago would have rolled in the hay until it was soft as silk."
I snort. The hay pokes into my back, but I ignore it and glance over at him. "You ready to hike up?"
He laughs and gets up. I take his hand when he offers it and stand up. We walk over to where Sarah is giving Leo water.
"Ready?"
She smiles. "I can't wait. First swim of the season."
Anna comes out of the farmhouse with her belly sticking out by a mile. I shake my head. "You look fatter than you did three days ago."
She flips me the bird. Nick comes out after her. His eyes are filled with worry. He's looked like that since she stopped getting her period again.
"The summer heat better wait for me to give birth, not even kidding,” she snarls.
Nick points. "We're heading over to the river for her to soak her feet again. The swelling is getting bad."
I look down and snicker at the tree stumps she has for ankles. She points, "You just wait. You'll have a baby one day, and I'll make fun of your tree trunks too."
My face burns, but I shake my head. "I don’t think so." I don’t bring up the fact I never get my period and that the thing they did to me made me sick inside. I don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to see the pity in their eyes. I already see my own, that’s enough.
Her eyes dart at Will. "We'll see."
Sarah runs and gets Stella so we can leave. She comes looking so much better than she used to, not so soft and yet shifty eyed. She doesn’t look like townsfolk anymore.
We walk as a group to the river. The flow is higher with the snowmelt so Anna and Nick stay in the area that is roped off with logs.
"Have fun swimming," she says with a sad face.
Nick growls at her. "We aren’t talking about this again. When the baby is born and healthy, we can talk about going to the retreat."
Anna sticks her tongue out at him. He's not like Bernie. He's like Will—a lot. He doesn’t take any shit off of her, which isn’t a bad thing. Jake loves him and the way he tells Anna like it is. He and Will are like best friends—Nick saving his life must have helped that.
No one but Anna was happy she got pregnant again, least of all, Nick. He and I both worry about what the baby will be. Things like us, Star, and Will have never reproduced before.
I wave to her. "Be safe, rest, and listen to Nick."
Nick winks at me. "You can say it all you want. She hears what she wants to."
Jake laughs and Anna swats Nick in the arm. He wraps himself around her, kissing her neck and whispering things to her. We leave them there, in love and happy. I wish I were more like her; I always have, but it's worse now. She is comfortable with her love for Bernie and Nick. She keeps them separate in her heart, but equally important.
When we get to the meeting tree, I stop in front and run my fingers along the bark. It is the place this all started for me, the place my life actually began.
Sarah comes and holds my hand and she nudges me. I smile down on her, “You excited about the retreat?” She smiles, “Maybe you and Will can have a baby like Anna.”
I shake my head, “I don’t think so. I had a problem once and things haven’t really been the same since.”
“Then adopt a baby.” She rolls her eyes. "For a smart girl, you are so dumb sometimes."
I make a face, “I already did adopt and she is more than I can handle some days.”
She sticks her tongue out, “You love me.”
I laugh and wrap my arm around her, “I do. Now get marching, slacker.”
"Whatever."
Great, the evil-teen years are coming.
We get pretty far ahead of Jake, but I don’t worry as much about him. He doesn’t walk quietly, but he has learned to kill things. Will is way ahead with Stella, who it turns out is like a mountain goat.
I run my fingers through Leo's fur and grip my bow. Sarah grips hers too. She has become almost as good of a shot as some of the men. I think she'll be better at it than them in a couple years.
When I see the first guard on the platform, I wave. He waves back.
We crest the hill and see the people from the other camps and villages.
It's like a reunion every summer.
People wave and greet me with hugs and kindness. They ask about Anna, and Nick who like Star, has won them all over with his ability to be charming. They don’t treat me the same way; there is still something in their eyes, but marrying Will has earned me a place.
It doesn’t change the fact I am still awkward. Too many people around me makes me feel funny. They glance at my guns and my bow. I am one of the few allowed to bring weapons into the camps and villages, thanks to Star and her bright ideas. I fidget and think about Granny as we cross to the tents.
Abundance of food, smiles, and sunshine makes the retreat more fun. Will looks at me, always checking on me, as we cross the tent city. I love the sparkle I see in his eyes. It’s mischief and desire. I like it.
People I recognize wave at me, women I saved hug me, and the ones who still think I'm the devil's mistress glare at me. For whatever reason, those people make me the most comfortable. Shit is wrong with me.
I walk through and head for the trail to the swimming hole. Sarah runs, stripping her clothes off.
Jake catches up, breathing heavily. He scowls when he sees Sarah stripping her outer shirt off, and looks like he's about to say something, but I laugh. "I told her she has to wear a shirt and shorts this year."
He sighs. "Thanks. Last year was awkward as ass."
Leo keeps up with Sarah. They dive into the water together. They still swim fairly similarly. Stella jumps in and moans, “Oh, this is the life. I don’t care if I ever have a hot bath in a real tub again, this is the life.”
I pull off my tee shirt, shorts, my gun holsters, knife in my boots, and quiver and bow. Jake looks at the pile and shakes his head. I scowl and jump in, in my underwear and tank top.
The water is cold; I gasp and try to catch my breath. It's the cleanest I've felt all year. I splash around, enjoying the cool of the water when my body adjusts. I look over at Jake, seeing the large, lumpy scar on his leg. When I dumped the boiling water on it, I ruined it. It was a mistake but what did I know? I knew I didn’t want him to die. That was it. I liked him and the way his blue eyes met mine. I liked the way he smiled and the way he lit my heart up and melted the ice, even against my will.
He dives in and swims underwater to where I am. It makes me nervous. He always pulls me under when we swim; I hate it.
Instead, he surfaces close to my face and spits water at me. Sarah laughs. I leap at him, dunking him under the water for a change.
He laughs and pulls me under.
Sarah starts to shiver. She nods at me. "I'm going to find Nan and get something to eat."
Jake points at her. "You stay with the cook hags. You do not walk around until we get up there.
She rolls her eyes and swims away. I look at Leo. "Stay with Sarah."
He almost rolls his eyes too and splashes after her. He jumps out, shaking his body and covering our clothes in water. Jake sighs. "That wolf is a vindictive bastard."
I nod. "Yeah."
Stella laughs, “I’ll go make sure she’s fine.”
I smile, “Thanks, Stella.”
She winks, “You know I love her.”
Her comment hurts me, not for the reason I expect. Stella lost her child, in the beginning. Her daughter died. She doesn’t talk about it. In fact, she outright lies about it, but I don’t blame her. When she finally did tell me, it was because she wanted Sarah to live with her. She wanted to be her mother. I knew Sarah and I would always be more like sisters, like Meg. I never would be a mom. She was a young girl, she needed that. I come out of my thoughts and ask her the thing I’ve been wondering all day, “Hey, Stella, that thing you used on Will, could it be used on animals?”
She shakes her head, “Makes them wild, like rabies.” She climbs out and I push the thought away.
Jake gives me a weird look, “Leo would never want to live that way.”
I nod, “I know. I just hate watching him get old.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Let’s just love him for as long as we have him.”
I lay back to float, looking up at the clouds.
I feel Jake float over near to me.
"Tell me something you remember from before."
"One time, when I was about ten or eleven, my mom and dad took us to this restaurant. It was really fancy and expensive. Mom got a promotion and we were celebrating it. I had to go to the bathroom; I had spilled some of the sauce from my steak on my pants. Dad laughed but Mom was mad. I went to clean up and there was a guy in there. He had on a suit and a nervous look. He was pacing. He freaked me out a little bit. He pulled a box out of his suit pocket and sighed, looking at this huge diamond ring. He saw me looking and held it so I could see too. He asked me if I thought it was nice. I said yeah, but I didn’t really know if it was or not. He took a deep breath and nodded his head and said, “Wish me luck, kid.” So I said “good luck,” and he walked out. When I finished washing my pants off and drying them under the hand dryer, I got out into the restaurant and he was on his knee. A pretty lady was crying and nodding. The whole restaurant starting clapping as he slid the ring on her finger. He and the lady hugged and kissed, and my mom cried a little bit. She and Dad leaned in and kissed too." He laughs. "I remember thinking that was exactly how I would ask my wife to marry me."
I smile and look over at him. He’s crying, it breaks my heart. He shakes his head, “Sometimes I just get so tired of this life, Em. Is it wrong? Is it wrong that we have so much and sometimes I think, it’s just not enough. I want life again. I want the things I have never been able to have.”
I feel the tears trying to come out of my eyes. I sniffle and shake my head, “I wish it too.”
He looks at me, “I wish you were mine sometimes too, but I know how much you love him. I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to you being my sister.”
I nod.
He looks back up at the clouds and we float in silence. The reflection of the fluffy white clouds makes it look like we are part of it. We are floating in the sky, amid the angels.
I hear the water splash and look over at Will swimming towards us. He grins, “You two look like you’re having a heart to heart.”
Jake splashes him, “Plotting your surprise birthday.” He winks at me, “I’m gonna go get something to eat.”
He leaves us there.
Will wraps himself around me and kisses the tip of my nose, “What did we do to deserve each other?”
I laugh, “Horrid amounts of bad shit. No one else would want us.” I can’t do serious right now. Leo is getting old, Jake still loves me, and if I’m honest, there is always going to be a spark in my heart for him, and I’m scared one day Will is gonna want a baby.
He runs a hand down my face. I look down at the water, “I can’t have babies.”
He kisses the side of my face, pressing his warmth against me, “I know, baby. I knew that a long time ago.”
I clench my jaw, “You don’t mind that?”
He shakes his head, “I love you. I love you for everything you are not.”
I start to cry but he kisses my tears away, and I am grateful I have him. He is the only person who sees the things I am not as a good thing.






Epilogue


Ten years ago, I made a choice to save a girl, and she ended up saving me in the end.
Ten years ago, I killed the man who took everything from me. The man who killed my real dad.
Ten years ago, I realized my mother was a good person.
Ten years ago, I fell in love with a man I hated as much as I loved. A man as damaged as me. I like to think we healed each other as much as we hurt each other.
Ten years ago, I married that man.
Today, as I look down on him sleeping next to me, I can't help but think how perfect we are for each other. He loves me for the things I am not. He loves me because of them.
"Auntie Em!"
I roll over as the twins attack.
"Uncle Will!"
He moans and tries to pull his pillow over his face. "Uncle Will needs sleep."
I laugh and hug Meg to me. She squeals and curls into my body. She bats her blue-green eyes that look remarkably like mine. She peers at me through her lashes. "What did you get me for my birthday?"
I roll my eyes. "It can't be your birthday already."
Bernard frowns. "It is, Aunty Em."
Will winks at me but gives them a puzzled look. "How many is it this year?"
Bernard rolls his blue-green eyes. "Seven. We told you this yesterday, and Momma says you have to get up. We can't have cake without you."
I rub his brown hair that looks like his uncle’s. "Bernie, why don’t you and Meg go look in the drawer over there?" I point at the dresser Jake made for us. It's a little crooked, but we like it that way. He has really found his calling with making furniture. He and his wife, Allie. She’s smart like Nick and works as a doctor in our little towns. They met at a wedding celebration. I love seeing him in love and knowing it’s for the right reasons.
The twins hop off and run for the drawer. Meg squeals in delight as she pulls the bow and quiver from the drawer. She looks back. "Really?"
I nod. "Go see Sarah. She’ll help you make arrows and teach you to shoot it, and tell you the rules."
She gushes. "I hope I'm as good of a hunter as she is—well, one day."
Bernard doesn’t look as excited about the matching bows and quivers. Will laughs and points at the second drawer. "Check that one out."
He opens it and freezes. His jaw drops and when he looks at us it makes me smile harder. "Robin Hood?" He lifts the book out of the drawer and holds it to his chest. Meg makes a face and runs out of the house, no doubt in search of Sarah. Bernard cracks the book open and walks out of the house, dragging the bow behind him.
"It's weird they are exactly like their namesakes."
I laugh. "I know. Meg is a savage, and Bernie is a bookworm." I give him a dirty look, "At least Will is nothing like you."
He rolls his eyes. "Poor girl, who saddles a four-year-old with the name Will? What were Allie and Jake thinking?" He wraps himself around me. "I wonder what Star and Mitch got the twins? Can't be as cool as our gift."
I sigh. "We rode a long ways to find that book. I’ll be pissed if their gift is awesome. I suck at this stuff."
He kisses my nose, “No one cares that you never get the right gift. Everyone is scared of you, so you could give them dirt and they’d be grateful.”
Before I can kick his ass, Anna comes in the house. "Get up. Jeeze. You're worse than the teenagers."
Will growls, "We were on watch last night, Anna."
She snorts. "Did you know Star gave them their own sheriff badges? Will is out there trying to steal Bernie's. Jake is laughing his head off, Will is a savage kid. He and Allie really have their hands full with that one. I can't believe you gave them a weapon, and she gave them badges to make those weapons lawful."
I look at Will and wince. "Oh, that’s cooler than our gift."
He points. "Only to Meg."
Anna sighs. "You going to the trade market tomorrow?"
I nod. "Yeah. I need to see him."
She nods. "I'm coming." She gives Will a sweet look and bats her eyelashes. "Can you stay here and help Nick with the twins?"
He smiles. "Yeah. I can help Sarah teach Meg not to shoot other people."
As a village we celebrate their birthday, the first babies born here. We laugh, joke and eat. It's a night filled with dancing and singing.
We have learned to make joy and live every day.
Nothing is perfect, but it's better.
Outlaws are gunned down by the sheriffs Star and Mitch run. Criminals are punished harshly. Trade markets no longer trade people. Brothels are the new way of keeping women down, but Star burns them when she finds them. She has learned to use her anger and hatred in a good way. Sometimes I ride with her to release my inner demons.
Nothing is ever going to be perfect. I still haven’t found all the people Marshall was with, the bad people who kill kids like me. When I stumble upon them, I kill them, but I know there are more. There always will be bad people. The kids Michael made have blended. We don’t see packs of them like we did in the city. Society has either killed them or accepted them, depending on where they ended up and their behavior.
Anna and I ride into the trade market the next day. The smell of fruit is everywhere. The warm summer months make the trade market the best place to come. There is fruit, baking, and roasting everywhere. We ride past the market though, heading for the place that was never part of the deal for the land.
I get off my horse and tie him to a post. Anna and I walk to the two rock piles under the rose bush that seems so large now, I hardly recognize it. Anna picks the leaves and sticks off of the headstone that was placed here with Bernie's name on it.
I drop in front of the one I buried him under two summers ago. He had to have been the oldest-lived wolf ever.
I place the stone from my pocket on the pile and just let the tears come.
"I miss you, buddy."
He died old, fat, and happy. He died sleeping next to a warm dish of food. If anyone deserved that death, it was him.
I look up at the sky and smile. "You all hug each other for me."
Anna and I still cry every time we come. Sarah refuses to come. She won't see him in the ground. Someone once told me to find another timber wolf for a pet. They didn’t understand he was never my pet. He was my family. He was the warmth in the dark and the person I needed to not be alone.
No one but Anna, Sarah, and Jake can understand the value of Leo. Even Will doesn’t get what Leo was to me. He and Leo never truly saw eye to eye. But to me, he was family.
Anna grips my hand and I try to smile. "I wish he could have lived forever."
Anna nods and sniffles. "Me too."
I look down at the spot on my skin, where I had the smithy burn his name into my arm, and rub the scar. Sarah has one to match.
I look at Anna and know Leo led them to me. I like to think that he knew one day he would be gone and I would be alone. He found a family for me. He chose them, and I don’t think anyone could have chosen better.
Through the thick and thin, and the good and the bad, no one but Leo could have found me a better place to fit in or better people.
No one knew me the way Leo did.
I believe in God because of the two people in front of me—Meg and Leo, angels in disguise.
There are a thousand things I could have changed and made different than they are now, but then maybe I wouldn’t have the life I do. Every day there is more. More love, more happiness, and more gratitude, for every day I wake up free.
They say that the world was built for two. I used to doubt that and think that two was a long lost dream. I used to believe we didn’t deserve the happiness of the perfect place we all remembered.
But that world wasn’t ever real; it never existed. It was a daydream and a memory we made up. We didn’t want the change, but in some ways we needed it.
Some things were easier before, but almost everything is better now.
Nothing is instant; evil and hatred take time. It isn’t as easy as using the Internet to make hate or commit crimes from a speeding car with a gun out the window. Everything takes time and effort. The good and the bad.
I see now that true love isn’t fickle; it's what we put into it. If we work hard at loving someone, then no one can corrupt the love we have.
I see everything differently than before, and I have Leo to thank for that.
I wasn’t born into this world. I had to learn how to survive and live with the other people in it. But like Jake always says, I was raised by wolves, so I had to expect it was going to be hard to learn how to fit in.
Looking back on it all, I can't think of a better way to be raised than by a wolf, and I can't think of a better wolf to raise a savage little girl all on his own.
I lift the rock I found, with the pretty crystals in it, to my lips and kiss it. The warmth of the stone against my lips is a comfort. I place it back down on the pile and hold my hand there. "I love you both."
I get up and walk away, holding the hand of my sister, grateful for my ‘us.’ Because it's us and them, it always was.





The End.


I hope the alternate end is what you were looking for.