Curling a lip at the rapidly disappearing boat, I struck out for shore. Water sloshed against my legs and drenched the bottom half of my coat, bitingly cold even though the chill didn’t affect me. Waves smacked against my arms, and the ground under my feet kept shifting as I marched doggedly toward Eden.
I was relieved when my boots finally hit solid ground. Ice and pebbles crunched under my feet as I walked up the shore with Zeke, joining Kanin and Jackal at the edge. Beyond the embankment, a dark line of trees shimmered with distant lights twinkling erratically through the branches. Aside from the churning of waves on the beach and our footsteps in the snow, everything was silent and still, as if the island itself was holding its breath.
Kanin’s eyes, dark and solemn, bored into Zeke as we drew close. “Where would Sarren be?” he asked, and even his quiet voice sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness. Zeke paused, staring into the trees, his eyes narrowed in thought.
“The lab,” he said after a moment. “The place where the scientists were working on a cure. That’s where he’ll be. I’m sure of it.”
“Well, then,” Jackal said, with a very slow, evil smile that glinted with fangs, “if the psychopath is expecting us, we shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
Sarren, I thought, as the anger, the rage I thought I’d forgotten, surged up with a vengeance. Everything that led to this moment—Kanin’s torture, the New Covington plague, Zeke’s death and Turning—all pointed to the madman who waited at the end of the road. This is it; we finally made it to Eden. Looking at Zeke, Kanin and Jackal, my small, strange, indisputable family, I clenched my fists. I won’t let him win.
One way or another, it ends tonight. We won’t get another shot.
Kanin turned to Zeke again. “This is your island, Ezekiel,”
he said. “Your territory. I expect you know where to go.”
Zeke nodded. “This way,” he murmured, leading us up the bank. “There’s a road ahead that will take us to the city.
We’ll have to go through Eden proper to get to the lab, but there’s a lot of open space between us and the city. We could be fighting rabids the whole way there.”
Let them come, I thought, following Zeke up the rise. We’re in Eden. We final y made it. Do you hear that, Sarren? I’m here.
I’m coming for you.
Slipping into the trees, we found a narrow strip of pavement that snaked away into the darkness, and we headed deeper into Eden toward the madman at the end of the road.
It was quiet, far too quiet, on the small paved road that cut through the fields, passing distant houses that sat empty and dark at the edge of the lots. Past the beach where we’d come in, the trees thinned out, becoming large open pastures beneath undisturbed blankets of snow. The few homes I saw, though they were neat and tidy, not falling to ruin under years of neglect and decay, didn’t account for the large number of people at the checkpoint.
“I thought Eden was a city,” I whispered to Zeke, “It is,” Zeke replied in an equally low voice. We hadn’t seen any pale, skeletal forms lurking in the shadows or distant buildings, but we knew they were out there, somewhere.
“We’re on the outskirts of Eden proper right now. Most of the surrounding areas they use for farmland, as much as they can spare. The city itself is farther in.”
I gazed out over a snowy field, empty now due to winter, I guessed, and remembered my own days as a Fringer, starving and scavenging to survive. Even the registered citizens of New Covington were barely given enough supplies to live, unless you made it into the Inner City, of course. How did Eden provide enough food for her people? From what I’d seen at the checkpoint, there had to be a few thousand survivors.
“These aren’t the only farms,” Zeke explained when I finally asked him. “Only a small percentage of food comes from Eden itself. There are three smaller islands—we passed them on the way here—that are solely for growing crops and raising livestock. A handful of farmers and ranchers live there year-round and ferry supplies to Eden every couple weeks.”
He gazed into the field, watching the wind swirl ice eddies through the pasture. “I was only here a few months,” he admitted, “but from what I learned, the people here take care of each other, so no one really goes hungry for long, even in the lean times.”
“Huh,” I remarked, wondering what that must be like: never going hungry. Never having to worry where your next scrap of food would come from, if you could scrape enough together to stay alive another day. And even more shocking, the people here helped each other, looked out for one another, instead of hoarding their supplies or scheming ways to get more from those who had them. I’d never experienced that.
Everyone in my world, before Zeke anyway, looked out only for themselves. “Sounds like they have a pretty good life here.”
“They did,” Zeke muttered. “Until now.”
The road continued farther into Eden, and we soon left the fields and farms behind. Houses and buildings became more prominent, simple but sturdy homes that faintly resembled the rows and rows of urban dwellings in the abandoned cities. Only these were whole and unbroken, with well-tended yards, walls that weren’t crumbling, and roofs that hadn’t fallen in. The houses were packed together, people literally living on top of each other in two- and three-story dwellings. Still, it was a much nicer place than anywhere I’d seen before. It was crowded, sure, but it was better than the shoddy, ramshackle settlements I’d seen outside the vampire cities, buildings thrown together with whatever happened to be lying around. These homes had been carefully built and carefully maintained, like the real towns had been before the plague. Not a hastily constructed settlement that would vanish in a few years.
Though the utter silence and emptiness made it even more eerie. Like this place was supposed to be bustling, full of people and noise and life, and it wasn’t. The world outside had been abandoned for decades, and it showed in every collapsed building, every rusted-out car, weed-choked highway, or rooftop split with trees. Everything was dark, broken, empty of life, and had been for a long, long time.
But here, there were subtle hints of a life before. A blue bicycle, leaning against a fence post, old and faded but still in working condition. A car parked on the edge of the road, doors open, dried blood spattering the front seat. A doll lay in the middle of the sidewalk, as if it had been dropped and its owner had either left it there or been hurried away. A few buildings were still lit from the inside, spilling soft orange light through the windows.