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Excerpt… Still Going! ;D
Chapter 3 of Nobody’s Daughter. Think we’ll end with this.
Uneasy darkness swarmed over me, a whirl of flickering half-images and flashing lights. Then, dimly, I heard someone call my name.
“Satoshi?” I groaned. Tried to move. To think. But my body felt stiff and sore. Hard and unyielding as the ground beneath my cheek.
No. Not ground. Stone, maybe? At least it was cold. I tried to sink deeper into that coolness to still the pounding in my head.
A pounding that only increased when I heard my name being called again. Then someone nudged my shoulder, setting off monochromatic whiz-bangs of pain behind my eyes. Those miniature fireworks intensified when I rolled over on my back.
“Renata, please wake up.”
It didn’t sound like Satoshi. “Juno?” For a moment, the name sounded foreign to my ears. Thick and blurred around the edges. My mouth felt like someone had stuffed it with a wad of rough cloth.
“It’s Aya. Come on! Wake up! You have to wake up!”
This time, the voice was closer; its owner’s sour breath gusting over my cheeks. When she said it again, her name seeped into my consciousness, desperate and insistent. Moaning, face shielded with one hand, I struggled to a sitting position and opened my eyes.
I sat on the floor in what appeared to be a windowless room. Light glared from above, creating long shafts that patterned the tiled floor in tight pools. I could see three from where I sat. In the thick, vaguely astringent-smelling air, the light beams looked like ghostly columns.
Aya knelt at the edge of one of those pools beside me. Her long hair hung in matted strings, some so sticky with blood they appeared black instead of brown. Gashes riddled her hooded sweatshirt, and a livid patchwork of cuts and bruises covered her face and arms.
“It’s Tobi,” she sputtered. “He’s over there.” She winced, nodding at another hot spot in the murk. A body lay inside it. From where we sat, all I could see was the back of him and part of a protruding hand, fingers loosely curled.
Then I saw the blood. So much blood! Too much. More than a single person could lose and still live. A pool spread out from his prone form, gleaming dully as it congealed. Shielding my eyes with one hand, I peered through the murky gloom but couldn’t tell if he was still breathing or not.
“He won’t wake up!” she moaned.
A dim memory clicked into place as the walls threw her voice back at us. Night. Hunting. We’d been together, but…
The next thought ebbed away on a wave of nausea. I gulped down bile, then said, “Where’s Satoshi?”
“I don’t know where he is. Or Juno. We’re the only ones here.” Aya rubbed her arms, shuddering. “Wherever here is.”
My head jackknifed up, setting off another round of unwanted fireworks. “How’d we get here? Do you remember anything?”
“I remember being outside the Ruins, then… nothing. Sorry.” She shrugged. “What is this place, Renata?”
The Ruins, right! There’d been an explosion. I turned, scattering glass shards as my hands scrabbled in the dim-lit space for my naginata—thankfully, it was still there, although the knives on my leg sheath weren’t—then paused to take in the rest of the room.
Bare grey walls curved as they stretched into shadow, forming a dome over our heads. Streaks covered the lower portions of the walls, creating an eerie ombre effect that lightened as it neared the floor, which angled down slightly to the drain at its center.
When I saw that drain but not a showerhead in sight, a single thought snapped into place, echoing through my brain like a gong strike. Satoshi told stories about places like this one all the time. Grim stories, each peppered with shreds of whatever conspiracy theory captured his fancy at the time.
“It could be a detention center,” I said, then tried not to wince when she gasped.
Which also meant we were in one of the holodomes, stuck in a chamber usually reserved for shōkōhin—criminals and enemies of the regime. Detention: a misleading term for a hole they threw you in to either leave you to rot or torture you to within an inch of your life. Or both. There were seven holodomes, but (again, according to Satoshi), not all had detention centers. The one in our prefecture didn’t, and neither did the one near Nagasaki.
And, while what we’d done was technically a crime, I could think of way worse ones than breaking curfew. After all, Doctor Mazawa, military head honcho over all holodomes, was the one who’d endorsed the damned kufugaki bounty in the first place! Creating a grisly cottage industry with his edict for my clan, the Hakodate, and anyone else who lived outside the vaunted domes.
My head snapped back to Aya, setting off more throbbing. At least it was duller and without so many fireworks this time. “Hey, do you still have your crossbow?”
“I’m not sure…” She turned away, running her hands over the floor. “Crap. It’s not here.”
“It still might be. Keep looking.” Being allowed weapons didn’t exactly jibe with the whole detainment process. Not if Satoshi’s stories were true. “You go that way.”
Using the naginata for support, I struggled up, thoroughly intending to get down to business, but had to stand there like a jackass, swaying slightly until the head rush passed. What had been in that damned blast, anyway?
Aya, having made better headway, was nearing a narrow shaft of light across from the spot where Tobi lay. Her next hesitant step produced a faint click. I heard a grating sound, then her knee buckled. Aya staggered, arms flailing, and then she fell forward, shrieking.
“The floor, Renata! One of the tiles! It moved!”
Continued on Wattpad.
Chapter 2 of Nobody’s Daughter.
My head snapped to the alarm in her voice, intestines already tightening in protest. Why did she always use my surname, treating me as if I was some crewmember on her ship? More importantly, what had her so spooked? I couldn’t see or smell a thing.
Kufugaki had a distinctive stench, the ones nearing the end-stage of the disease, especially. You couldn’t miss it. Imagine a dead mouse in a sealed bottle, baked in direct sunlight until its little body liquified. Now, shake up that bottle. Uncork it, take a deep whiff of meaty-sweet rodent slurry, and try to keep your stomach from turning itself inside out.
“What?” I hissed back, annoyed as much by her authoritarian tone as herelecting herself the leader of tonight’s hair-brained hunt. So, you saw some kufugaki earlier. Big deal, I wanted to say. Stay in the bunker with the kids and let the professionals deal with it!
And I did consider myself a professional. I’d been killing kufugaki with Satoshi ever since I was ten and on my own for the last four years. I was good at my job, too. Damned good. A natural, according to Satoshi. Death defined me, he said.
In a way, I guess it did. Death was my past, present, and probable future. The bounties from those kills—contributions to scientific research—kept us fed and clothed. Kept us going for another week, another month, another year. Which made tonight’s outing all the more infuriating. What the hell did a Shinu, a member of a sky clan whose feet rarely touched solid ground, know about stalking kufugaki?
When Juno didn’t answer right away, I said it again, this time extending the word into three syllables, “What?”
“Satoshi and I are going to canvas around the back.” A light grey sleeve bobbed in the murk. “You three take the front.”
So, they’d elected me the babysitter? Oh, hell no! “I think it’d be better if Tobi went with you guys,” I began. “That way, Aya and I can—”
“No one asked for your opinion, Renata,” Satoshi interrupted, his voice muffled by a thick black gaiter. “Juno is in charge tonight; we agreed. Just do what she says, alright?”
My stomach roiled, and I tasted bile at the back of my throat. In charge? Juno didn’t know the territory. Didn’t know squat, except for a maybe-location she’d glimpsed from a hovercraft this afternoon! What has she done to you? I wanted to scream. If he wasn’t so pussy-whipped, he would’ve realized just how wrong this was—this hunt, the two thirteen-year-olds she’d talked into tagging along, sweetening the pot with gifts for them—all of it!
“Yeah, sure.” Whatever. Too late to argue now. I waited until the shadows swallowed them, then turned to my charges. “Well, you heard him. Let’s go.”
“Do you think they’re still up there?” Tobi asked, a breathless eagerness infusing his tone. “My uncle said they don’t move around much at night.”
They didn’t as a rule, but wild boars and brown bears did. Thanks to nokuru, both species had made a comeback, extending their ranges from the mountains deep into the lowlands. Their nocturnal foraging and absolute fearlessness were another reason for the imposed curfew. Out here, kufugaki weren’t the only things that could kill you.
“Probably,” I sighed.If something else didn’t find us first.
Soon, the wind petered out, leaving nothing but an eerie, predatory stillness. It was never a good sign when even the bugs were holding their breath. But the ground, riddled with tufts of dried grass and obscured by patches of mist, wasn’t as slippery here. I eased forward, determined to reach the more level ground near the entrance. When my next step produced a brittle crunch, I drew back, wincing. Glass. Shit! In the silence, it sounded as loud as a gunshot.
I waited, one ear cocked forward for any telltale sounds: feral grunts, snorts, the scrape of hooves, claws, or the shuffle of footsteps.
Up ahead, Aya froze a few meters short of a listing carport, the sagging remains of the old hospital entrance. As she raised her crossbow, making a small animal-like sound in her throat, I could feel the fear radiating off her in waves and see her arms trembling. A gift from Juno, the miniature version of the automatic weapon, too heavy for her slight frame, would be too cumbersome in a clinch. If rushed, she’d be toast in a heartbeat.
Grip already tightening on my naginata, I took up a position at her left flank. While signaling Tobi to get a move on, I studied the shadowy vault. Mist hovered in thready wisps at the hospital entrance. The remains of its sign dangled by a frayed cable, creating a grating sound that set my teeth on edge.
Tobi, a doughy thirteen-year-old with an overgrown crew cut, joined us, panting. “Did you guys see something?” He palmed the sweat from his face and wiped it on his pants.
Have you ever stared into darkness so impenetrable it could have been a slab of stone, yet knew something was inside it, ready to pounce? More tickle than cold, the sensation starts at the back of your skull, then slides down and around. When it finds the spot where your lowest ribs curve from your sternum, it blossoms in the space like a terrible flower, and then all you feel is hollow.
Naginata raised, spike angled outward, I nodded. “Okay, all together. Slowly. Don’t shoot until we—”
Something metallic thudded inside the building, the sound reverberating as if it had occurred far down one of the empty corridors. Then a woman screamed.
“I’m coming, Juno!”
Tobi, still fumbling with his night-vision goggles, charged across the grass. Before I could tell him to stop, Aya vaulted after him, crossbow cradled against her chest.
Satoshi never would’ve let Juno enter an abandoned building. Hell, he never went in them himself! Something was wrong. Really wrong. I sprinted after the pair, catching up just as shadows swallowed Tobi’s form.
Aya, not quite as foolhardy, skidded to a stop just outside the shattered double doors, spraying glass and bits of metal. “Tobi! Tobi,” she called after him, both of us listening as his pounding footsteps retreated deeper down the main hallway.
“We have to go after him.” She started inside.
“No,” I hissed, yanking her back by an arm. “I’ll do it.”
“Why?” she asked in a whimper.
Because hollow; that was why.
“This might be a trap to lure us inside. Remember, some kufugaki can still speak.” I hit the recessed button on the naginata’s shaft, making it retract into a baton-sized weapon that was sickle-bladed at one end and spiked at the other. Easier to wield in a confined space. “Give me three minutes,” I said to Aya. “If I’m not back, just go. Get out of here. Okay?”
“But Juno and—”
A meaty thud, followed by scuffling sounds, interrupted her.
“I mean it. If I don’t come out, go back, and wait for them at the bunker. In the meantime, try not to shoot me, okay?” One hand reached for the spelunking light on my cap. The sounds were coming closer now. If nothing else, its halogen beam might blind one of the mutants long enough for me to escape.
“Run! Run!” Arms flailing, features twisted in fear, Tobi barreled out of the building. “It’s a—”
A loud hiss drowned him out, right before an explosion split the night. Blinding light and clouds of noxious smoke engulfed us.
Nobody’s Daughter (Wattys 2022 Winner – Science Fiction), reached 1K reads! To celebrate, I’m going to post the first few chapters over the next few days. If you like what you read, it’s still free on Wattpad.
One minute, seventeen-year-old Renata's breaking curfew. The next, she's regaining consciousness in a strange place with no idea how she got there or why-only that she'll have to fight her way out if she wants to survive... And that's just the START of her problems!
Hokkaido, Japan. June 2049.
“Get back here!”
“Sorry.” Aya glanced back at me, looking sheepish. “I thought I saw something. Over there.” She nodded at the abandoned storefront’s soot-stained façade and splintered door.
“All the more reason to stay off the street.”
As ideas went, breaking curfew to hunt kufugaki was one of the stupidest ideas ever. Why’d I let Satoshi talk me into doing this? Breaking curfew was breaking the law, although that didn’t bother me as much as having to work in a damned group. I preferred to hunt alone. I was better on my own and he knew it. If he hadn’t been such a pushover, we’d all be in our respective bunkers right now, safe and sound. But no, his new girlfriend said she’d seen a pack of kufugaki near the Ruins on her fly-over. Five at least. Too many for me to kill on my own, so she said.
“What’s going on back there, Renata?” Satoshi hissed.
“False alarm,” I replied, urging our noobs back to the shadows. If there’d been anything in that building, we’d have been attacked by now.
“Well, get a move on! We need to stay together.”
If Juno was right about the headcount, it meant a bounty for each of us—provided the diseased, marrow-sucking mutants didn’t jump us, or a sky patrol didn’t snuff us out first. Though our neighbors knew about the hunt, and the Ruins were only a stone’s throw from the village bunkers, it didn’t matter. Around here, people didn’t ask questions after dark. Kill without question: that was the only rule.
To make matters worse, this wasn’t the first time Juno had said jump, and he’d complied. Gone along without question, hesitation, or even a moment’s contemplation—which, if you knew my older brother, wasn’t like him at all. Paranoid and obsessed with conspiracy theories, when he wasn’t hunting or hacking the regime’s communication systems: that was the Satoshi I knew. Before she showed up, yes was not his knee-jerk response to every proposition.
What have you done with my brother? I wanted to ask, mystified how one woman—older than Satoshi, horse-faced, thick-thighed, and with an even thicker swath of white in her long black braid—could turn a grown man into her personal lap dog. Were all Shinu women so adept at feminine wiles or had she been studying kodoku on the side, extracting poison to turn him into her personal slave?
I made a mental note to sweep the bunker for signs of dark magic when we returned—vials and insect carcasses—then immediately felt ashamed for harboring such unkind thoughts. After all, Juno was the niece of one of our oldest friends. All things considered; I suppose he could’ve done worse. Still, whenever we were together, something about Juno made my stomach knot.
Heads low and with weapons at the ready, we skirted pools of water and patches of moonlight, preferring to skulk in the shadows than to cast one. Most of us had chosen clothes to match the color of the night to better blend with our surroundings. We made our way slowly, creeping past the crumbling husks of shuttered houses and fire-gutted shops, staying close to the retaining wall that ran along one side of the deserted street.
For the sake of the noobs, they had elected me rear guard, but pulling them away from potential danger was quickly becoming a full-time job. Curiosity always got the better of these two, beckoning them to investigate the dark voids behind broken windows, doorless entries, or the interiors of supposedly deserted vehicles.
Keep to the shadows. Stay off the street. I’d lost count of how many times I’d had to repeat the same damned thing! Simple enough information, you’d think it would’ve sunken in by now. Though I’d just turned seventeen and was only a few years older than the two of them, I’d never had the luxury of being such a scatterbrain at their age!
When the retaining wall ended in a heap of moss-covered stones near an intersection, we paused. The Ruins—the remains of an old medical complex abandoned during the nokuru pandemics—weren’t very far from here. As the moon peeked through the clouds, I could see the dejected outline of its crumbling silhouette. What nature hadn’t battered with earthquakes and torrential rains; neglect had stepped in to finish. Places like this were perfect nesting sites for kufugaki.
Nokuru, the disease responsible for the kufugaki, had been raging across Japan almost as long as I’d been alive. No one knew where the virus had come from, though it seemed everyone had their own theory. Some sounded logical enough: an accidental mutation, the byproduct of pollution, or biological warfare from preceding decades. Others, conspiracy theories, each more outlandish than the next, spread like wildfire, consuming anything in their path that even remotely resembled common sense.
According to the latest and most outrageous one of those, the virus had originated in a lab in New Edo, the nation’s largest holodome, an enormous enclave that sprawled over the site of former Tokyo like a bloated terrarium. Speculation about it ran the gamut from its use as a weapon to force civil obedience, to a population control measure, to an outright bid for world dominance.
With no cure and as yet, not even a vaccine, public opinion had had plenty of time to spiral out of control. The virus mutated so fast that researchers couldn’t pin it down. Mapping its genome should have been simple enough, but nokuru mutated with a sinister singularity of intention, always transforming into a more rapid-acting variant of itself. For nearly two decades, its mode of transmission hadn’t changed, nor had its symptoms. They just came on faster, and the outcome was always the same.
Wherever Satoshi started in on his latest theory, the product of his too-frequent online discussions with like-minded doomsday junkies, I just sighed and rolled my eyes. With nokuru, all you could hope to do was survive. Kill the kufugaki before they took a chunk out of you or suffer a fate worse than death. Once the virus took hold, everything decayed, slipping away until there was nothing left of you but a jittery bag of bones, slush for brains, and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Nokuru was a death sentence. But sometimes, death was better than living with the consequences.
Clouds obscured the moon, plunging us into momentary darkness. I pressed myself against the wall while waiting for his signal. The stones felt cool against my sweaty back, and the moss had a spicy, slightly musty scent. No sky patrollers dogged our progress: we’d been lucky so far.
My gaze flicked to the spot where Tobi and Aya huddled together. Please, just keep it together, I prayed. Don’t move or speak or do anything stupid.
“Okay, the coast is clear,” Satoshi, who’d been surveying the converging streets, whispered. “Let’s go!”
The Ruins sat just outside of our village atop a small knoll whose gradual rise was just gradual enough to give us a hard time. Parched earth, made slick by recent rain, made it difficult to gain purchase. Too many clouds blotted out the moon, casting too many shadows among heaps of rubble overgrown with saplings and thick vines, and too many damned leaves rustled in a breeze that seemed constantly at our backs. At this rate, the kufugaki would smell us coming long before we got there.
“Darkfell, look sharp!”
Wattpad Interview: Nobody’s Daughter
Wattpad Friends & Family chose my Watty Award-winning Sci-Fi novel as their Book of the Month and interviewed me. If you’re interested, here’s the link.
Currently, per our agreement, Nobody’s Daughter is available only on Wattpad. It’s free to register on the platform and the story’s free to read.
Japan… The Future…
One minute, seventeen-year-old Renata’s breaking curfew with her brother and his friends…
The next, she’s regaining consciousness in a strange place with no idea how she got there or why—only that she’ll have to fight her way out if she wants to survive…
And that’s just the start of her problems!
The Absolute Very LAST eBook Promo of 2022
When a request at a funeral turns her stomach, Lexi Collins thinks she’s finished with a rival ghost-hunting group.
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Will she survive her visit to the Foyle Foundation?
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Watch a trailer below.
Renata made it all the way to the finish line! Nobody’s Daughter is a Wattys 2022 Science Fiction Winner!
It’s also still FREE to read on Wattpad, so if you’re curious, please check it out!
To celebrate, I made a new cover:
Nobody’s Daughter, my dystopian adventure/thriller, made the Wattys 2022 Shortlist!
This is the third time I’ve entered the contest and the second time my work’s been shortlisted. The last time this happened was in 2018. So thrilled and grateful for the recognition!
If a coming-of-age set in dystopian Japan with a strong female lead is your thing, check it out! You can read it for FREE on Wattpad.
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