Wayward Star is a story is set in a dystopian future where friends and family must take risks against mysterious oppressors in order to survive. The characters’ ultimate pursuit of freedom will resonate with people of all ages from all corners of the earth. This thrilling story is full of action and drama worthy of blockbuster status.
Chapter 1 – Star
She looked out her bedroom room and slid the screen to the side, wincing at the unavoidable sound it made as it shifted in the groove keeping it in place. She did this once and listened for any evidence that she alarmed her sleeping mother and stepfather to a state of wakefulness, but she heard nothing from their bedroom across the hall. She didn’t really expect they’d be easy to wake given the difficult hours of farm work they’d put in these last few days in order to meet their quota. But the threat of failing quota and going missing had that effect. It seemed everyone was sleeping lighter these days.
She shifted the screen again and winced, then listened, then waited for her heart to calm. Again, nothing from behind her closed bedroom door indicating they were on to her.
This torture wasn’t worth it, she thought. She may as well get caught and get it over with. The alternative was just getting back into bed and forgetting about the whole thing, but the scarecrow nightmares would probably return. Lately it was her missing father she was seeing erected grotesquely at the edge of the forbidden zone. His face was drawn and his eyes sunk into his head and she could barely recognize his withered face but she recognized his clothes and wept at the image of them filled with nothing but his bones.
She closed her eyes tightly until the image cleared, trying to think of something else to occupy her thoughts. Eventually her terror subsided, and the first sounds of evening insects from outside reached her in her bedroom and she took hold of new thoughts. Adam came to mind.
Although her father wouldn’t approve of her meeting a boy at night like this, she knew he’d like that Adam treated her just as he used to before he went missing. Like a leader.
The next time she slid the screen she went for it, pushing it the rest of the way it needed to go for her to be able to climb out. She ground her teeth and told herself the perceived loudness was all in her head and she wasn’t waking the sleeping world. But all of a sudden the insects stopped their noises and she was shaking the entire earth somehow.
The bedroom floor rumbled beneath her and she could hear the glasses in the kitchen clink and chime together. It took her a moment but she soon realized it was just another tremor. She felt silly imagining she could have caused this and waited a few more seconds for the last of the vibrations to fade out. At least it wasn’t a full on earth quake, she thought. Now that would have really foiled her plans.
Then she heard someone stir from inside her mother’s bedroom.
As quiet as she could, she draped the curtain across the window opening and froze, waiting.
When her stepfather didn’t come charging into her room yelling to see what she was up to she let out her breath slowly and slipped behind the curtain. These tremors were so frequent that her parents had both unconsciously grew accustomed to them. She would never get used to them, however. The sense that what you think should be the most stable thing in your life – the earth beneath your feet, isn’t so stable after all was a bit unnerving.
As she stood between the curtain and the window with her bedroom behind her she looked out onto the open moonlit field. Standing like this made her feel like her parents were indeed in the background and not part of the world beyond her. The world she so desperately yearned to explore.
There were others who explored it, why couldn’t she?
Her own fear rang out the answer to her.
Because they never came back.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the evening air and filled her lungs with the scents of tree bark and pollen released from the forest that crested the hill beyond the expanse of her farmland. There was near perfect silence.
She listened for the call.
At first she couldn’t hear it, but when her heart calmed the familiar sound soon resonated in her ears.
The call was the quiet chirping of crickets which told her it was safe outside. She listened to the frequency and pitch carefully, just to make sure. When she was satisfied that this was indeed the correct cricket song she hoisted a knee onto the window sill and propped herself up so she straddled the window between her world and the world outside.
Don’t worry, I’m coming.
Her bare foot felt warm in the evening breeze and soon she swung her other leg around and sat perched on the ledge looking out, thinking it wasn’t too late to forget about this and get back to bed.
She couldn’t go back though. The emptiness in her stomach made it hard for her to sleep. Even though her parents gave her their own rations, she still suffered from hunger. At first she refused their food, but her parents told her it was important that she stay strong.
It was the same for every family. All the adults in town were getting too gaunt and weak, and barely had enough energy to maintain their quotas, yet still they all gave their food to their children. She heard stories from the other kids at school about how their parents were starving and how the Detectors came from week to week to measure and count and weigh and take the quotas of food and drink and supplies and left them with almost nothing.
At first the Detector in charge of her home terrified her. He was young and muscular and pale white with red eyes and black hair. He never smiled. At first he showed up every other month or so in his uniform signifying exactly what she didn’t know but she knew she feared the black pipe he kept as a weapon. But over time her father broke through and taught her not to be scared and the Detector even shared his name with them which was uncommon according to all the other kids at school. Once she made a mistake and called him by his name and she was promptly given a stern look told never to call him Taves again.
Sometimes she suspected Taves overlooked the quota and let her family have a little more than their share. But still, it wasn’t enough to ebb the hunger she felt in the middle of the night.
She imagined the pale Taves standing guard somewhere at the edge of the forest and wondered if he’d really bash her head with that pipe and string her up like a scarecrow.
Just go back to bed before its too late, her voice told her. But no. She had a way which allowed her to explore. In fact, until today, she was convinced she was the only one who had the insights to get past the watchful eyes of the Detectors. That was until Adam claimed he had a way as well.
She remembered the surprised look on his face when she handed him the bread in class. He opened the napkin and looked at her in shock.
‘If they find me with this…’
‘Just eat it now,’ she said. ‘You’re looking too thin these days.’
He smiled at her and shoved it in his mouth. After struggling to swallow it, he leaned close to her.
‘I know you’ve been exploring,’ he said. ‘I’ve been exploring too. Meet me tonight. If there’s another earthquake it’ll probably be safe. Meet me at the edge of the forest somewhere you know it’s safe. I’ll give you a sign,’ he smirked. ‘Look for a light to dash across the sky. If it hasn’t appeared by eleven, I’m not coming and you should go home.’
She was so shocked at the fact that he knew she broke curfew that she didn’t even know how to respond to his invite.
‘Just say okay,’ he whispered as they walked out of their high school science class. At the time, she wasn’t sure why she said okay. But now, she knew she had to. Especially as she sat on the window ledge thinking of what may be beyond the borders of her village. What if there were other villages out there like hers? What if there were other families, other explorers? Could her father be out there somewhere, hiding in the safety of another village waiting for her?
Her months of exploration didn’t give her any answers to these questions, but she was excited to learn Adam was exploring too. Perhaps she would get some answers if she kept her secret appointment with him.
She arched her back over the ledge and dropped and rolled onto the soft grass below her. Her hip stung slightly from contact with the ground but she was more concerned with a mud or grass stain that would be questioned later. She stood and brushed off her nightshirt and checked her sweat pants. Not enough evidence to give her away. She took one last look over her shoulder and knew that even if her parents discovered her now there was nothing they could do to stop her that wouldn’t alert the Detectors to her defiance of the rules, and there was no way they’d risk that.
She presumed she was being watched and that this would be her last foray into the fields beyond her boundary. Although this thought terrified her, it also gave her a sense of abandon which she displayed in the way she walked gracefully from her home to the garden fence. She thought about how she was scared about being seen in her own back yard. If she had to live the rest of her life this way, she knew she’d have to surrender to her instincts to fight and suffer the consequences at some point in time. It may as well be now.
She walked past the sleeping cows. There were so many of them. Everyone in the town of Abundance produced a quota governed by the Detectors, and it was always more than enough to feed the township. She wondered where it all went after collection. They weren’t allowed to know. Nobody asked. The Detectors just showed up in their large reeking vehicles that spewed smoke and noxious vapor and took it all away.
Nobody in Abundance had these vehicles except the Detectors. Nobody knew where they came from, but everyone presumed they came from the red mountains since they carried the mud color in their wheels and undercarriage.
Once from the barn she saw a Detector vehicle that was different from all others. This one was jet black, shiny, and had no specs of red anywhere on it. It was smaller, lower to the ground than the others. When it pulled up to her home she hid and watched as a pale white man with stark black hair stepped out of the vehicle. He brushed his jacket off as if the fresh country air was an affront to him, then asked to meet her father to inquire about the lack of livestock. She shuddered when she pictured his white bony fingers pushing up his sunglasses. From her vantage point she saw the colors of his eyes just before his rims slid back to the base of his nose. They were blood red. This one also had something in his eyes that was much more sinister then Taves. This one had hate.
Star shook off the memory. Now wasn’t the time to frighten herself. Not when she was headed to the forest that sat at the foot of the red mountain.
She crept past the pen full of sheep and again, she marveled at how many there were. Maintaining the recent quota had been more than a challenge, but her mom and stepdad were doing well despite the increase. But then again, anyone would. Fear is a good motivator.
Her biological father had already learned the lesson the hard way three years ago. She never forget hearing him arguing with her mom late one night, exhausted at the effect the new increase had on him.
‘Why even bother?’ he asked. ‘I can’t live like this.’
‘They’ll take you. No one knows what’ll happen to you, but you’ll be gone.’
‘I’ve been gone for a long time now. I’m going to fight this.’
‘And what about your daughter? You know that she’ll follow in your footsteps. Do you really want that for her?’
‘No matter what happens, she’ll know I did this for her. Because I love her.’
That was the last thing she remembered of her father. When she woke the next day the man with the bony white fingers was outside in his shiny black car and all her mother said when she came back in the house was that her father was gone, just like all the others who failed to meet the requirements.
Star squeezed tears from the corners of her eyes and then took another deep breath of the evening air as it cooled her cheeks. She flattened herself against the wooden planks that held the sleeping animals in their place and gathered her courage. She then pried herself from her spot and ventured out to the open space until she stood facing the field leading to the forest with the fence rail flush across her hips.
She leaned her upper body forward until her chin and chest crossed over the top of the rail. By doing so she officially broke both curfew and zone laws.
She listened to the call of the insects and heeded what the night was telling her. She knew from their call that there were Detectors close by.
Star closed her eyes and translated the different frequencies the crickets made into a visual grid. There were two Detectors approximately two miles apart guarding the edge of the forest. One to the right of her and another to the left.
She formulated her plan. The Detectors wouldn’t be able to see her if she made her way directly between them. It was risky but they probably figured nobody would risk being caught in the open space, even though they were blind to it. She found the spot in the fence where the sounds told her it was safe and made her way over to it.
She planted her hands on top of the rail and in one swift motion she quickly hoisted herself up, kicked her legs around and over it and emerged onto the other side as an intruder – that is, according to their laws.
The ball of her foot pressed into the soft grass and she followed by placing her arch and toes cautiously into the spongy surface before taking another step. She took care not to break the seal of green separating her feet from the soil beneath it. Deep red earth stains on her heels would be a telltale sign of not only a curfew break, but an incursion into a forbidden zone.
Looking back she knew there was enough distance between her and her home to break into a run without being spotted from a window. She did a quick mental navigation of the path taking her between the two Detectors and then made for the protective darkness of the forest tree line.
Her bare feet planted each of her long strides one in front of the other and her light blonde hair flowed behind her and even though she felt exposed in the open field she knew racing to the cover of either edge was just what the Detectors would expect. That’s why they weren’t in the most vulnerable of places. That’s why she was safe. The trees stood like innocent giants unaware of the deep blackness behind them. She’d never come this far and the darkness frightened her at first but the thought of taking cover alone and unseen was something that comforted her now. The closer she got, the safer she felt.
Once she reached the edge of the forest she placed her palm against the rough bark of a tree and fathomed at how its rough edges and wrinkled skin had grown and had a history well beyond her lifetime. She used its history now to brace herself and standing there she listened above the noise of her own heavy breathing for the sounds of the crickets. However, nature was no match for the panting and drumming of her own heartbeat in her ears.
After a few moments her physical orchestra brought its composition to a close and she could once again hear the insects rubbing their wings against the combs that lined their sides. The chirping still signified the gentle cadence of safety, which meant neither of the two Detectors was on their way over. All she had to do now was wait within the cover of darkness. She looked up to the sky and found clusters of light poking out from between the thick foliage of the trees.
Minutes passed as she waited for the strange signal Adam said he’d give her, and she half smiled, half gaped in disbelief when she finally saw it. A shooting star cutting the constellation Pyxis from the north appeared above her.
Something triggered the crickets to suddenly change to a more aggressive song and Star looked deep inside the forest for the male they challenged. When she heard the distinct noise of twigs snapping she crouched down for cover and prayed it was Adam.