Readers of the first book in the series already know about Carly's love and affinity for animals. In this excerpt, a new critter gets added to the menagerie.
Pete ran over to the chain beside the door and yanked, pulling down hard with all of his body weight. The door lifted and revealed the wagon, pulled by Shadowfax, with Stan and Justin walking alongside. Pearl was in the driver’s seat and Veronica was seated beside her, staring down at her hands in her lap. Carly gaped at the creature tied to the back of the wagon.
“A cow?” She ran over to Justin, giving him a swift hard hug of greeting. “Where did you find it?”
“I didn’t. Veronica did,” Justin said, nodding toward the little girl. “I knew someone was following us, so I hopped off the wagon when we went around a curve and doubled back. I found Veronica walking along, leading this thing with a dog leash.”
“It was all I could find,” Veronica said in a small voice. “I was going to bring it back for you, Carly.” Stacy ran over and yanked Veronica down from the wagon into a tight hug.
“Thanks.” Carly blinked. It was a big, heavy beast, a shiny red-brown in color, with stumpy horns curving from above its ears, the dog leash clipped around them. She bent down to peek beneath and saw it was male. It stared at her with that Zen bovine placidity, and Carly gave its head a tentative pat. It butted its nose against her arm and licked her with a gritty, slimy tongue. She withheld a grimace with effort.
“It likes you already,” Veronica said before she remembered that she was in trouble and ducked her head back down.
Stacy gave her a little shake. “You scared the life out of me! Why did you do that?”
Veronica’s answer was lost in the murmurs of the crowd of townspeople surrounding them, edging closer, eyes shining with eagerness. Almost everyone was here, save for Grady, who was probably still on his perimeter check.
“When will we butcher it?” Jason asked. “If we do it tomorrow, I can help.”
A few more people offered their assistance, and Carly realized that was the source of their excitement. They were already smelling the roast beef.
“No, no . . . we can’t butcher it.”
“What?” Pete stared at her, dumbfounded, incredulous. “For heaven’s sake, Mrs. Daniels, why not?”
“Because if there’s one cow, it stands to reason there’s more.”
“Bull,” said Justin.
“It’s not bull!” Carly shot back. “I think it’s perfectly logical that—”
Justin laughed. “No, honey, I meant he’s not a cow. He’s a bull.”
“Oh, technicalities.” Carly waved a hand. “My point still stands. I mean, if there’s one, then there’s another one out there, right? And if we find a female, we could breed them and have our own herd of cattle. Killing him now would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Jason sighed. “Except he won’t lay golden eggs. He won’t do anything useful at all. He’ll just consume feed until we find a girl cow.”
“Just cow,” Justin said, a grin stretching across his face. He was enjoying this, drat the man. “The term ‘girl cow’ is redundant.”
Jason stared at him. “Uh, yeah. Whatever. The point is—”
“Cows—bulls—can eat just grass,” Carly said. She tiptoed to peer over the heads of the crowd, searching for confirmation. “Isn’t that right, Miz Marson?”
Miz Marson wove her way to the front of the group. “Yep, unless you’re trying to fatten ’em fast.”
“So he can just graze and be fine, and not consume anything of ours.”
“Where you aimin’ to graze him, Mrs. Daniels?” Pete asked. “We’ve turned most of the open land on the island to farming, ’cept for that little pasture for your horses.”
He was right. Carly felt like a deflated balloon.
Pete removed his hat and scratched his head. “I say we vote on it.”
Justin leaned down to whisper in Carly’s ear. “Still want democracy?”
She felt like smacking him.
“We don’t need to vote. Veronica can decide, since she’s the one who found it.”
Veronica’s eyes widened in alarm to find herself the subject of everyone’s attention. “I, uh . . . I gave the cow to Carly. It’s hers now.”
Carly lifted her chin. “If it’s mine, I think you know my decision on it.”
There were groans from the group. Pete shook his head. Jason looked over to Justin in appeal, but Justin was watching the tumult like a good television show, his grin never wavering.
Carly decided some compromise was in order. “We can keep him for a while, at least. If he becomes too much bother, or we can’t keep him fed, we’ll reconsider the issue, okay?”
Pete took off his battered Red Sox cap again and ran a hand through his hair. “Mrs. Daniels, I want you to consider something, okay? How many more horses have you seen? Have you seen any other dogs to mate with Sam if we wanted to raise pups?”
“Sam’s a wolf, and wolves were extinct in this area, even Before,” Carly said, with great dignity.
Pete sighed. “That ain’t the point, ma’am. The point is we haven’t seen any other critters of the canine persuasion, so your theory there must be a cow out there somewhere to mate with this bull might not be as sound as you think.”
Carly took a deep breath. “The fact we keep finding these animals proves there’s more out there. We just haven’t searched for them. They could be hiding from humans when we pass by, but if we were looking for them . . . give me one year. If I haven’t found a cow in one year, then we’ll go ahead and butcher the bull.”
“A year?” There were groans and calls of, “Come on, Carly!”
“Look, you haven’t had any results with the chickens, and we’ve been waiting—”
“Mr. Daniels, can’t you talk some sense into her?”
Justin’s grin vanished. “Carly has made her decision.” He stared around at the crowd until they dropped their gaze.
“Fuckin’ bull is hamburgers,” Kross muttered.
Justin climbed back up into the wagon and took the reins. “Just so you know—though I don’t think any of you would be so low—if any unfortunate accidents should befall this bull, I’ll burn the carcass.”
There were shocked looks exchanged, but not for the reason Justin had mentioned. “Jesus, Justin, that seems a little extreme.”
“I mean it,” Justin said. “I won’t stand for that kind of underhanded shit. So if anyone hurts that bull, thinking we’ll put it down and then butcher it, you’re in for disappointment.”
He clucked to Shadowfax and she started forward. The group moved aside so the wagon could pass, staring after the bull as though watching a platter of hamburgers pass by.
And Hamburgers was the name that stuck. Carly gave the bull a more dignified name, but Hamburgers was what everyone called him.
After surviving the Infection and a perilous journey through the wasteland that was once the United States, Carly and Justin have found a safe home in the isolated town of Colby.
Even so, balancing the duties of survival and a growing family isn’t easy. As they emerge as leaders, they face difficult questions about justice in a lawless land, basic human rights, and freedom in a world where strength defines worth. More than ever, they have to rely on one another for strength and support during the darkest of times.
The Crisis is far from over. Their fences won’t keep the world out forever, and a new threat is emerging—a gang of predators who see the town as easy pickings. When danger looms over Colby, Carly must decide how far she’ll go to protect those she loves.
It’s a journey down the long and broken road through The Land of the Shadow.
Lissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete's foot...though only in her head. Real life isn't so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.
She is the author of three other novels, Ghostwriter, The End of All Things, and Under These Restless Skies.