World On Fire
Stone World Saga: Book Two
Zac Stone and his family survived the apocalypse eight years ago but were stranded on Oahu when the military pulled out. Now, the military is back, but they aren’t on a rescue mission: they’ve come to finish the job. In order to survive the coming massacre, Zac and his family have to make the hard decision to abandon their home and hide in Honolulu, the most dangerous part of the island as zombies roam unchecked through the streets. And unfortunately, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.
Waimea Beach, Oahu
April 4, 2016
Jason stood on the center of Waimea’s famous jumping rock and clenched his fingers tight around his crossed forearms. Eryn teetered on the edge, her short hair and flowery swim dress both fluttering in the wind. Her arms were out as if to embrace the sky, her head thrown back to welcome the scent and feel of the ocean hovering in the air. She only had the chance to visit the ocean once before they left Tacoma back in December, but the cold, pungent air of the Puget Sound in mid-October had nothing on the warm, heady scent of the open, Hawaiian ocean mid-spring.
Eryn had gone a bit crazy since being let out of her stark white room, and even more so since they arrived in Hawaii. Sneaking out at all hours of the night to walk on the beach or prodding Jason into taking her for mid-night rides around the island on his moped. Together, they had gone on every hike listed on the Hike Oahu website, even the forbidden ones, climbed every tree she could put her hands on, and spent hours and hours just laying half-submerged in the surf as the tide rose in around them because she never learned how to swim.
Today’s crazy stunt was cliff jumping, which should definitely come after swimming lessons, but when Jason mentioned that before leaving the house, Eryn just shrugged.
“It’s on my list,” she’d said, grinning. “Besides, what’s life without a little risk?”
So, pushover that he was, Jason acquiesced to his twin’s absurd request to drive her up to north shore so she could jump off a rock.
“Mom’s going to kill you when she finds out about this.”
Eryn dropped her arms to look over her shoulder with a cheeky grin. He couldn’t see her well in the near pitch-darkness of nautical twilight, but he knew she could see him. He’d adjusted his posture and expression to appear deliberately relaxed and apathetic because he knew how defensive she would get if she realized just how close he was to grabbing her arm and dragging her back down to the beach for the long drive home.
This is not a good idea.
Already fifteen years old, Eryn looked closer to twelve, if not younger. She’d gained some height, but her limbs were gangly and her figure boyish from years of a strictly controlled diet supplemented by nightly nutrients administered intravenously. The two years she’d spent in the hospital and, later, hospice had only made her more skeletal and sickly looking, and while she’d certainly filled out and put on some muscle following her release, five months was no where near long enough to recover from a life-time of malnutrition.
“If Mom didn’t kill me for hiking Stairway to Heaven in the dark, she’s not going to kill me for jumping off a rock. Ground me for sure, but not kill me."
“Speaking of,” Jason said, cocking his head and squinting through the dark. “Aren’t you grounded now?”
“Yup!” Eryn giggled and clapped as her black-on-black silhouette undulated with happy dancing. She did that a lot now, moving around for no reason. Not that Jason could blame her.
Eryn had spent her whole life locked up in her bedroom for the sake of her health, unable to have any toys that might collect and hold dust or mold like stuffed animals or soft-bodied baby dolls. Most of her entertainment came from laying in bed watching documentaries or learning a new language so she could read world literature in its original print. She didn’t have friends and rarely saw her siblings because her immune system couldn’t handle even the slightest exposure to germs. Aside from her too regular visits to the doctor, Jason could count on one finger how many times she’d been out of the house before she was released from the hospice, and that was only because she snuck away.
“You jumping with me or what?” Eryn asked, pulling Jason from his spiraling thoughts. He snorted.
“With you? No. After you? Probably.” He smirked at her, something she could now see despite the darkness while Jason could barely make out his hand in front of his face. So much had changed in her these last several months, but he had no idea why. One day, Mom and Dad were ushering Jason and his brothers into the hospice to say a final goodbye, and the next, Eryn was home and happy and healthier than she had ever been.
“Someone has to pull your half-drowned corpse out of the water,” he said it as a joke to disguise the tingling of fear. In the years Eryn had been sick, Jason had purged himself of most hurtful emotions, but fear still got to him from time to time. Mostly when dealing with Eryn.
Eryn stuck out her tongue—something Jason only knew because she made a lot of noise about doing it—and said, “You’re such a spoil sport, Jay. Live a little!”
Jason’s smirk fell to a frown before he could stop it. He tone turned dull and disinterested to hide the resurgence of memories. Of living a lot when his sister could only live a very, very little.
“I think you’re living enough for the both of us,” he said, boxing up those thoughts with a forced smile. “Get your jump out of the way so we can go home. We have school today, in case you forgot.”
“Of course, I didn’t! I get to go to school!”
Most teenagers wouldn’t be excited for that, but Eryn hadn’t been to a real school a single day in her life. After coming back from the hospice, she brought up the idea of attending high school with Mom and Dad, but they decided it would be best for her to stay home schooled until after the move.
“That way you can start with everyone else instead of arriving in the middle of the year,” Mom had said, and Eryn grudgingly agreed.
When Eryn found out that Akamai’ala Academy, a private school in Kaneohe, was on a year-round schedule that began in April, she’d begged to be enrolled so she wouldn’t have to wait until September. Unable to deny their beloved only daughter anything, Mom and Dad agreed. And since they didn’t want Eryn to be on her own, Jason was enrolled as well.
“And don’t rush me!” Eryn scolded. “There’s an art to this.”
Jason arched an eyebrow, a smirk once again tugging at the corner of his mouth. “There’s an art to jumping off a rock?”
The sky was lightening now, enough that Jason could almost make out Eryn’s scowling features as she shook a finger at him.
“There’s an art to jumping off this rock. It’s famous, you know.”
“So you’ve said.”
There was a moment’s pause before Eryn sighed and sat down on the rock’s jagged edge. Jason winced at the disappointment and hurt radiating off of her. Had be been too harsh? He didn’t want to discourage her from adventuring, but he didn’t want her to get hurt by doing something she wasn’t ready for either.
She just wouldn’t slow down! If she took a moment to just step back and look at all the angles of the crazy things she wanted to do, then it wouldn’t be so bad. But she just never stopped to think. It’s like she was trying not only to make up for the time she’d lost but to cram as much as humanly possible into the time she had now, just in case she didn’t have it later.
Oh. That thought slammed Jason in the face like a sledge hammer. I’m an idiot.
Because yes; that was exactly what Eryn was doing.
Dropping his crossed arms, Jason stepped up to the edge of the rock and eased himself down beside her on the ledge. They sat without speaking as, all around, the ocean hissed its gentle lullaby of sleepy sighs. The tingle of salt lingered on Jason’s tongue and he took in a deep breath of clean, ocean air.
These were the moments he wanted for Eryn. The quiet moments when she took the time to appreciate the life she had instead of always running from one thing to the next to the next to the next. But he realized now that he’d been ahead of her, developmentally. Right now, Eryn was still afraid that all of this was temporary. That whatever had happened to save her from a life of dying would eventually fade away and leave her right back where she was only months ago.
Could he really fault her for that?
Jason lifted his arm and tucked it firmly around Eryn’s waist, pulling her to his side so he could rest his chin on her hair. “Did I kill the magic?”
Eryn shifted a bit to glance up at him, but he kept his eyes firmly locked on the horizon. The barest blush of indigo was rising up from the darker-than-black line that marked the division between ocean and sky.
“Just a little.”
The silence returned, but it was comfortable this time. Most of her life, Eryn had to deal with everyone acting like they could read her mind; always deciding what she wanted or needed before she could want or need it. But she’d told him once that he was the only one who could really read her, which made perfect sense, because Eryn was the only one who could read him too. Even when he was trying his hardest to hide how he really felt.
Back before she was hospitalized, they would sit together for hours, talking back and forth in complete silence. Always locked in her room, Eryn said those quiet conversations were the only times she felt she had any control over her life. Outside of her room, sitting on Oahu’s famous jumping rock, the call back to the time before she was healthy seemed to comfort Eryn rather than terrify her.
Maybe she would get sick again someday, and maybe she wouldn’t be able to do everything she wanted before that happened, but she would always have this.
Snuggling deeper into his side, Eryn hummed softly in gratitude. “Thanks, Jay.”
“No problem, sis.”
The oozing fingers of indigo light bleeding into the midnight black indicated the start of nautical twilight. They would need to leave soon or they would be late for the first day of school.
“You’re still going to jump, aren’t you?” Jason asked it resignedly but with an undercurrent of amusement.
“Yup,” Eryn said, unapologetic. “Can’t expect me to slow down all at once, right? Besides.” She climbed to her feet and winked. “We’re already here.”
Eryn launched backward off the rock in a beautiful, picture perfect dive that almost ripped Jason’s heart right out of his chest. His knee-jerk reaction was to jump after her because she’d move to quickly for him to snag out of the air, but he held back. She hit the water like a pro, and Jason memorized the place she’d landed. He stared at the dark, turbulent water and waited for her to resurface.
Is she trying to freak me out?
Because it’s working.
Jumping to his feet, Jason dove head-first off the rock.