Young Adult Fiction Writer

Sneak Peek of Year Zero Book Two (no I’m not telling you the title yet)


Chapter Zero



Harlan Grundy spills from the car onto the cold, hard ground. He looks at the sputtering heap and sees steam rising into the frigid night air from the crumpled hood which rests against a tree. ‘It figures,’ he thinks and with little left to do he tries for one of his signature braying laughs. What comes out is a broken, staccato cackle. The laughter sends a shiver of pain throughout his body, making him gasp and swear. Harlan didn’t mind the swearing, he often preferred it, even when he wasn’t in pain. And he was used to pain. But this pain was different—hot and sharp. He tries to brace himself for it, unsuccessfully. A string of profanities tear from his throat and explode from his lips. When it’s finally ebbed away, he lets out an exhausted sigh of relief.

“A little further, you wuss,” he chastises himself. When he’s finally ready, he drags his uncooperative body across the ground (fuuuuuuuuuuuu–). Inch by inch, groaning in pain, he moves towards his goal, a rock at the crest of the hill. His heart is pounding in his ears, vision blurs with each shove of his arms. When he finally reaches his goal, he summons what little strength he has left to haul himself into a sitting position. His clothes are soaked in sweat, and he heaves himself against the damp moss covered stone, feeling its chill against his back. Harlan ignores the chill. He has more pressing problems right now. Problems like the burning pain emanating from the weeping bullet holes in his chest and shoulder. His weakness tells him he doesn’t have long to wait.

Maybe if he’s lucky, someone will find him before he bleeds out on this lonely hill. ‘Hopefully, it’s not Stephanie,’ he thinks. He doesn’t want her to see him like this. But would it be so bad if she came?  Maybe she’ll see what she always suspected is true. That before he’d met her, met the other’s (especially Julia) his existence was meaningless, and he’d had enough of misery, of cruelty. Enough to make him sick of living. Enough to make him try to make up for its insignificance by living too fast. Besides, he’d like the chance to say goodbye. Too many people have already gone without a goodbye. People better than him. A lot of them are from ‘the way back’ as he liked to call it; That time, all those years ago, when he was a Son of Liberty. But when he was being honest with himself, like now, he considered most of his life the way back.

Of all the people he’d crossed paths with in his life, Stephanie was the one who understood him best. The one who’d stayed by his side through every miserable thing since that horrible day at the wall. The day he found his meaning. His cause. One worth taking three bullets for. This too was a part of the way back.

He had always been better with strangers than family. But she deserved to know there is another side to Harlan Grundy. No, not is. Was. Everything is past tense for him now. Maybe if she came, he wouldn’t mind bleeding out on this lonely hillside. Maybe she’d tell him it was going to be okay, and he could pretend he believed her. Maybe she’d tell him she understood what it meant to be Harlan Grundy. Maybe, she’d forgive him for never giving back half as much as he took from her. Maybe, he’d tell her it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, but because he didn’t know how. Because he had a promise to keep.

“Maybe, you should stop thinking about this shit,” he says aloud and turns his attention to his wounds. He still can’t believe that bastard got the drop on him. But there was too much smoke, too much chaos, and too much adrenaline for him to be as vigilant as usual when on a mission. He’d like to pay that asshat back in spades for the wounds, but even revenge doesn’t matter much now. His part in all of this is certainly done, even if he’s not ready to go. Not yet anyway. Because of Stephanie. And especially because of his adopted little sister, Julia. No, he’s not ready to think about her just yet.

He always knew this was how he’d die. Well, not exactly this. He never dreamed there’d be people to miss him when he was gone. Or people he’d miss. But the bleeding out alone part, that he always knew. He simply didn’t know there’d come a day when it would bother him. And he knew what it was making the going so difficult. Julia. He’d left so much unsaid. And now there was no time to say it all, but if.. if.

If he could just see Julia one last time, to tell her that it was all for her. To tell her that he lov—

Harlan’s brow furrowed as he considered the thought, as it’s a fantastically un-Harlan thing to think.

“You’re getting soft,” a voice says from behind him, and he spins his head to find Joey Cryer, looking no older than sixteen, sitting on the rock behind him.

“You’re dead,” Harlan says.

A devilish smirk etches its way across Joey’s face. “I know. I think I look amazing, though.”

Harlan asks the obvious question. “Why are you here?”

“You tell me, you’re the one seeing things. Probably going to pass out soon. Then it’s good night, sister.”

Harlan mumbles something about wishing Joey was still around for Julia.

Joey lets out a vigorous laugh. “See I told you. You are getting soft.”

“It’s probably the kid’s fault,” Harlan replies. But he doesn’t think about it too long. Julia is the one person he wishes most he’d said goodbye to, but the circumstances didn’t afford him much of an opportunity to do so. Harlan tries to stop thinking about Julia. The sole purpose that can serve is to make his going even more difficult. He fails.

“Where is Julia? If you weren’t hallucinating me, I’d love to see her again.” Joey says. Harlan doesn’t answer. Instead, he turns his thoughts back to his plan. He was certain he thought of everything. But then it went south. Real fast.

Carefully, he reaches down to the walkie-talkie on his hip, his fingers trembling against the plastic. Maybe he can reach someone, anyone on it, and then he won’t have to die alone on this hill. As he looks, he notices there’s a goddamned hole through the thing. He laughs and tosses it away. At least it had the courtesy to take a bullet for him.

Harlan feels an icy gust of wind fan out and leaves swirl around him. The wind carries with it the pungent scent of smoke. He feels his vision clouding and his stomach churning, and knows fake Joey is right, he won’t be conscious much longer. Everything around him is beginning to melt into an indistinguishable blur, but then the unmistakable face of Fake Joey shouting something at him fills his vision, and he’s back in the really real world.

“What?” Harlan slurs.

“I said, Hey, Grundy. You should get a look at this; you know before you go,” Joey says pointing down the hill.

Harlan remembers that’s why he’d dragged his raggedy ass here. To get a look. He brings his head up and takes a good long look. He sees the Shining City in the distance, burning bright like a candle flame, like the blood on a shark’s teeth, against the dark night sky. It took him weeks, maybe months, to set all this up. And it was worth everything, even being shot, just to see that bitch go up in flames. He decides the pain is worth it and lets his patented laugh rip.

The smell of the smoke and the dancing flames bring him back. Back to another time, years ago, when he watched another town burn from the safety of the surrounding hills. It was his town. Symes, New Hampshire. He knew then as now that watching Symes burn should have made him feel something, but it didn’t. It never felt like home. Besides, he was so happy to be away from there. To be with Julia, his adopted little sister, and with the others that would become his found family. ‘Full circle, Harlan’ he thinks.


You can buy the first book here

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