Book 1 in Joshua's Tree series
Young Adult Sci-Fi Fantasy
When a skateboarding accident hurls 17-year-old Joshua Tyler into a dismal future overrun by flesh-eating mutants, he taps into the strength and courage hidden within him and manages to stay alive, only to discover his horrifying relationship to the scientific genius who brought all life on Earth to the brink of annihilation.
Aided by Nadia, a beautiful warrior student who believes he may be the prophesized savior sent to rescue her people, Josh learns to fight for survival. Terrified by the constant threat of a violent death, Josh wants nothing more than to get back to his own life. But the longer he survives in this strange place, the more he learns about its creation. Charged with the job of assassinating the enemy’s leader, Josh begins to uncover his connection to the army of cannibalistic monsters—a nightmarish truth that could prevent him from ever finding his way home.
Nadia crawled through the bush, approaching the cliff’s edge. It was hard to push through the thick undergrowth without cutting her way, but she managed to head south and get downwind of the sweepers. She remembered her grandfather, who happened to be her camouflaging instructor, shooting her with blunt arrows every time he spotted her during training. It hurt like Ra’s rage and took months of hiding in the grass of the plain and the leaves in the forest before she made it to the instructor’s stand without being seen, and passed the course. She hated her grandfather by the end of it, but Nadia wanted to thank him now. She slipped through the thick vines and mossy tree trunks like a ghost.
At the bottom of the hill, the eye-watering smell of sweepers was thick in the stagnant air. Nadia’s muscles tingled and her senses heightened in response. These moments were what every warrior lived for. Being close to death, the sweepers’ or her own, always made Nadia feel more alive.
There was another odor, a musky scent that made her even hungrier for a fight. Her nose promised the larger and more intelligent sweepers, the kind that captured Josh before, were with the pawns. She fought off the urge to charge, bring her sword to the necks of her enemy and avenge her people. Emotions have no place out here, she reminded herself. Reconnaissance only for now—there would be plenty of bloodshed later.
Nadia crept forward, coming to the perimeter of an area where the undergrowth was trampled. The sweepers clawed feet made sucking sounds as they rushed around in the sticky mire. They carried large bundles and followed orders grunted out by five super sweepers, who wielded whips for encouragement. In the center of the camp was a black tent the size of her roundhouse in the summer village.
Surprising. Nadia never knew the sweepers ever built anything or even exhibited an interest in shelters. Her stomach twisted when she realized the dark cloth used to create the tent was the stitched-together hides of dead sweepers.
It was hard not to feel a little bad for the stupid creatures. Not only were they starving most of the time, they lived in constant fear of being eaten by their own, or being used for building material. They seemed oblivious, marching by the structure that should remind them how worthless their lives were to their superiors. A line of the beasts exited the jungle to her left and continued to the opposite side of the large tent, so she couldn’t see where they went.
Nadia slipped back into the jungle and crawled on her stomach around the right side of the camp. She risked being spotted by the predators, choosing the best angle to see what they were doing. Creeping back up to the edge of the clearing, every muscle in her body flexed, like a cat stalking her prey. She peered out to survey the task in which the unusually organized sweepers were engaged.
Now she viewed the opposite side of the tent. Two super sweepers, with their shiny black armor and five-foot-long swords, guarded the entrance. The line of smaller beasts walked down into a large hole in the ground, about ten feet in front of the guards. They hauled large bundles, some as big as themselves and others taking two to carry.
The gruesome shelter’s flap hung open, though its dark interior seemed empty. But something evil lurked inside. She could feel it sucking at the light and warmth; at very her soul. The forest seemed to become darker, and Nadia felt trapped. Doomed. Like she’d never see Ra’s rays again.
Nothing more could be learned here and the stench of sweepers made her ill. Although she hated to admit it, Nadia wanted to get away. She was supposed to be tough and fearless. But a strange hopelessness seeped into her, oozing up from the damp soil into Nadia’s belly. It spread through her body, making her hate life and herself. Definitely time to go. Nadia inched back from the clearing, but then the super sweepers at either side of the tent’s mouth turned to face each other at attention. She froze and stared into the dark opening, trying not to wish she’d left earlier.
A creature shorter than Josh, wearing a robe made of the oily hides of sweepers just like the shelter, stepped out of the shadows. The robe looked empty hanging loose beneath the creature’s oversized head like its body was little more than a skeleton. The guards saluted by crossing their black swords above the creature. It seemed to be the opposite of Ra, absorbing light and exuding cold. The evil being floated forward and gazed down into the hole in the ground. Nadia felt the warmth being sucked out of her, as if she was bleeding to death. She remained perfectly still, resisting the urge to jump up and run. The creature’s heavy robe concealed everything, and Nadia couldn’t see any part of its body or face. When it moved, it did not have a natural walking bob, it glided smoothly as if on wheels, or sliding on ice.
Hungry darkness peered out of the opening in the creature’s hood, assessing the activity of its subordinates. It turned to one of the larger sweepers directing traffic, communicating something that caused the armored beast to bow slightly, and then turn and grunt at the line entering the cave. For extra emphasis, he cracked his whip at the closest pawn, which squealed and moved along quicker. Nadia remembered how the super sweeper had spoken to her in the canyon. She wondered why she couldn’t understand them now. These sweepers were more organized, acting much smarter than she thought they could be. It made them all the more dangerous.
The robed figure drifted away from the hole and pivoted to re-enter the tent. Nadia slowly exhaled. Then it paused and stood still, like it forgot something. It spun around. The dark hood’s opening faced Nadia—seeming to look directly at her.