This week, I'm sharing some excerpts from my latest novel, The Land of the Shadow, the sequel to The End of All Things.
Justin arrived just a few minutes later, his dark eyes sharp as obsidian with that lethal gleam. Mindy joined them, since Stacy wanted to go with Michael. Justin examined Carly’s throat right after Mindy did. Carly insisted she was fine, just a little sore, but she knew he wouldn’t believe it until he checked it himself. After he was finished, he didn’t look reassured. He looked pissed off.
“Justin, please don’t hurt Michael. He’s just a little boy.”
“A little boy who tried to kill my wife. Carly, if that gun had been loaded—”
“He didn’t know what he was doing.”
“What I mean is that fear overtook his reason. We don’t know what kind of trauma he’s been through. Where is he, anyway?”
Mindy was the one who answered. “Mark’s keeping him under house arrest at his place. He’s not saying much, but he is still verbal. He refuses to talk about what happened with you or why he reacted like that.”
“Don’t push him. He could retreat back into silence.” Carly laid a hand on Justin’s arm.
Justin rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re pretty generous in your concern for someone who tried to kill you.”
Carly plucked at the blanket. “It’s not his fault. I know that. What are we going to do with him? How do we punish a child for doing something he couldn’t help? He’s just a kid—”
“Carly, he’s not . . . normal.”
Carly rubbed her temples. “None of us are. Every one of us who lived through this is fucked up. We’ve all gone through trauma, and it’s going to come out one way or the other. We’ve been numb. We’ve been stoic. We’ve done what we have to do to survive, and we’ve buried it down, deep inside. None of us have dealt with it. We can’t. There’s only so much a human can take at one time. No matter how deep we bury it, it still clings to our minds, still takes up part of our mind’s power, so none of us can say we make fully rational decisions. We’re all walking wounded, all of us carrying these scars, and none of us able to heal. Not now. Not yet. Maybe never.”
With every word, her voice grew raspier, but Carly couldn’t stop. She had to finish it, to get out the words that were burning in her mind. “We live in this little bubble we’ve created. That I’ve created. I was attracted to this place that seemed untouched by the hellfire that burned through our world. But we brought the hellfire with us. I was determined to rebuild it, but what I was doing was pretending, Justin. Building a place where we could all pretend that ‘normal’ still existed. Like kids in a tree house. You knew that.”
Justin took her hand. “I wanted it to work for you, Carly.”
She took a deep breath and a sip of water from the glass on the nightstand to soothe her aching throat. “For me?”
He gave a small smile. “I never much cared for ‘normal.’ ”
Carly traced the pattern on the bedcover with her finger. “I wanted Dagny to know about the Crisis as something that happened to us, something that was part of our history, but not something that was part of her experience. I didn’t want to pass the trauma on to her generation. And I thought her children would learn about it in school in the distant, academic sense of history. Because their world would be safe and normal again. Maybe not outside the Walls, but in here, it would be America again. In here would be schools and shops and church on Sundays. In here, we would be safe to pretend.”
Mindy poured Carly another glass of water. “It wasn’t all pretend, Carly. We’ve built a solid community. But it’s not America in here. It’s Colby. America doesn’t exist anymore, but Colby does.”
Carly gave Mindy a small smile. “Thank you. But right now, it feels like a blanket fort.”
Justin shook his head. “No, Mindy’s right, honey. It’s something more than that. We’ve got good people here committed to good ideals. That makes for a strong community. It could be the start of something much bigger, if people want it.”
Mindy shook her head. “That’s the key, isn’t it? If people want it. How many people did we decide wouldn’t fit here? How many people does Marcus have? I don’t think they want America, or Colby, for that matter. They don’t want to build anything. They want to take. It feels like we’ve descended into madness.”
Justin gave her a small smile. “There were always people who just wanted to take, even before the Crisis stripped away our veneer of civilization.”
Carly’s throat was aching again but not because of injury. She blinked her stinging eyes hard. “It wasn’t a veneer. It was something I believed in.”
“You still can.” Justin tucked a strand of her caramel-colored hair behind her ear. “It’s not impossible to be a moral person. Your definitions might just need updating.”
“No, updating. Shifting to acknowledge the change in your circumstances. And that’s sometimes going to create tough questions. What we need to ask ourselves is whether Michael is a threat to our community.”
“I’m not sure,” Carly said. “I suppose we’ll just have to watch him and see if it was a momentary . . . breakdown, or if he’s unable to control his behavior.”
“And if he is unable to control himself?” Justin met her eyes, and Carly had to look away.
“We’ll make that decision then, okay? It’s too much for me right now. Because I know anything that happens to Michael is going to have to involve Stacy. If we . . . threw him out, Stacy would insist on going with him. She wouldn’t leave a child alone in the wilderness. And we can’t lose our doctor.”
Justin nodded. “We have to think along practical lines first and foremost. First is the safety of our community, but there is a price we have to pay for it.”
There was always a price. Carly just didn’t know if it was a price that was going to be too much for them to pay.
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.