Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Emily McKay’s Carter and Lily from The Farm.
Life was different in the Before: before vampires began devouring humans in a swarm across America; before the surviving young people were rounded up and quarantined. These days, we know what those quarantines are—holding pens where human blood is turned into more food for the undead monsters, known as Ticks. Surrounded by electrical fences, most kids try to survive the Farms by turning on each other…
And when trust is a thing of the past, escape is nearly impossible.
Lily and her twin sister Mel have a plan. Though Mel can barely communicate, her autism helps her notice things no one else notices—like the portion of electrical fence that gets turned off every night. Getting across won’t be easy, but as Lily gathers what they need to escape, a familiar face appears out of nowhere, offering to help…
Carter was a schoolmate of Lily’s in the Before. Managing to evade capture until now, he has valuable knowledge of the outside world. But like everyone on the Farm, Carter has his own agenda, and he knows that behind the Ticks is an even more dangerous threat to the human race…
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a copy of The Farm, along with a Vampire Apocalypse Survival Kit.
“I can’t believe you want me to take you Christmas shopping,” Carter grumbled from his spot in the driver’s seat of the pick up.
Sitting in the cab next to him, I stared out the front window, across the barren and deserted parking lot at the empty expanse of strip mall stores. This strip mall, all these stores, they’d been abandoned ever since the Before. Ever since a virus swept across the United States, transforming hundreds of thousands of people into genetically mutated monsters that craved human blood.
Carter and I were part of a small rebel group of humans—mostly teenagers who had escaped from Farms. What we lacked in resources we made up for in zeal, determination and knowledge. But it was the “what we lacked” that we were after today. Our group of rebels survived by searching abandoned towns for food and resources. Fifteen of us had come out today. Four groups of three to search local houses, plus Carter and I to stay with the truck until the teams reported back.
I hated just sitting here in the truck, waiting. Carter had been taping out a beat on the steering wheel for past thirty minutes. He hated waiting, too, but there was nothing to do until the teams reported back.
I elbowed him, smiling mischievously. “Come on, it’s not Christmas shopping. Think of it as spreading good cheer and raising spirits.” An abandoned Bath & Body Works sat directly across from us. I could tell it hadn’t been looted, because the plate glass windows facing the parking lot were intact. “We’ve got, what? Another hour or so before we can expect anyone to report back. What could be the harm?”
I grabbed the tote bags from the floorboard and climbed out of the truck without waiting to hear Carter’s answer. He’d follow. He didn’t have it in him to let me walk around out here unprotected.
Outside the cab, the icy air stung my lungs with every inhalation. Despite that, the overhead sky was a brilliant, blue. The sun reflecting off the layer of pristine snow nearly blinded me. The wind whipped around the side of the building, howling in a way oddly reminiscent of the Ticks. I shivered, even as I shoved aside my natural revulsion. If a pack of Ticks caught us out here, we’d be dead in minutes. But no one had seen signs of Ticks in this area for at least a month. The snow was smooth, untouched by feet—human or Tick. Beside it was the middle of the afternoon. Ticks were nocturnal. This time of day, you’d have to walk right into a nest of them with an alarm clock blaring.
I hunched my shoulders against the wind, shoving my hands deep into my pockets and crossed the snowy parking lot and stopped in front of the Bath & Body Works window. Huge faux snow flakes dotted the window, framing the display of snowman soap dispensers, gingerbread candles and candy cane lotions.
Carter’s boots crunched in the snow as he walked up behind me. I bounced a little in the cold, trying to stay warm as I jiggled the door handle.
“Hmm, it looks locked,” I said coyly. “We’ll never get in.”
Carter snorted. “You’re playing it like that? Appealing to my ego? Not very subtle.”
“Oh, I was actually going for effective, not subtle.” I smiled up at him. “Did it work?”
He didn’t answer, but he was already pulling his lock picks out of his pocket.
As he worked I asked, “I know you searched all the other stores in the strip mall. Why didn’t you ever hit this store before?”
Carter shrugged. “It’s just lotion and stuff, right? And it’s all scented. The last thing we need is more ways for the Ticks to track us.”
Good point. “But it’s not just lotion.”
Carter stood and pulled the door open. As he stepped inside he said, “Let me check for signs of Ticks—”
“It’s cold out there. Besides, you know there aren’t Ticks in here. Ticks are big and clumsy.” Unless they were running or fighting. Then they were graceful and deadly. “A single Tick couldn’t walk through this store without knocking half the crap off the shelves. If Ticks nested here, there’d be evidence everywhere.”
Carter looked down at me with an exasperated expression. He knew I was right. “So what lotion do you want?”
“It’s not just lotion,” I said again, picking up a candle. “It’s shampoo and conditioner! It’s soaps that smell good and hair that’s soft.” Yeah, I knew Carter wouldn’t get that, but all the other girls who lived at base camp would. This wasn’t just conditioner. It was the joy of being clean again. Of not smelling like dirt. It was hope in a bottle.
I picked up a bright pink bath poof and dragged it up my arm. God, how I missed being clean.
I glanced over to see Carter holding a glass jar candle, weighing it in his hand. He looked up, a mischievous grin on his face. “They sell candles.”
“Yeah.” Duh. I picked up a box from the display. “And matches.”
I tossed it to him and he caught it, a look of wonder on his face. “Candles and matches.”
I could see why he was impressed. Our electricity at base camp was spotty at best. “And hand sanitizer,” I added. “I told you that you should have brought me out on a food raid sooner.”
I pushed a tote bag into his hands. “You get the candles. I’ll get the shampoo and conditioner.”
“Do we really need—”
“Yes. We really need the shampoo and conditioner. Geez. Boys,” I teased.
Carter and I were going back for our third trip when the radio at his side buzzed to life.
“Hey, Carter, we have trouble,” came a voice from the other end.
It was a guy’s voice, but I wasn’t positive which guy. Maybe Eddie Mercado. Maybe one of the other guys. People all sounded the same on these radios.
“What’s up?” Carter said, stopping just outside the truck. All of his attention tuned into the noises coming from the other end of the radio.
“We found a Tick.”
My heart seemed to stop waiting for the answer.
“Yeah. Just one.”
“The basement of the house we were searching. Jacks and I were on the second floor. Merc was afraid it was going to corner us.”
Okay. So not Merc. Who was this then on the radio? Jacks and Stu had on the retrieval team with Merc. So this must be Stu.
“He decided to try to lead it away,” Stu was saying. “He took off on a bike.”
“On a bike?” Carter’s voice rose in annoyance.
“Yeah. He’d found this bike in the garage and moved it out front to see if there was room for it in the truck. So he got the Tick’s attention and took off. The Tick went off chasing him. That thing was damn fast. I don’t know.” Stu’s voice creaked as he’d said it.
Didn’t take a genius to figure that out. Stu hadn’t seen a lot of action out in the world. I didn’t even know if he’d seen a Tick face to face before now. Sure, we all knew what they were capable of. They had the musculature of an ape and the speed of a gazelle. Even on a bike, Merc didn’t have much of a chance unless we caught up to him before the Tick did.
“We’re on our way,” Carter said.
I was already climbing into the cab of the truck. Carter tore out of the parking lot, the back end of the truck fishtailed on the ice, despite the chains on the tires. Only a top cyclist could go forty miles an hour for long distances and that was only slightly faster than a Tick could run. If Merc didn’t tire out before the Tick, if he stayed ahead of it long for us to get there, maybe we could save him. If we could get there in time and if we could kill the Tick quickly.
If we didn’t kill the Tick, then we had a whole ‘nother batch of problems. Then we had three other teams of people who didn’t know there was a Tick on the loose.
Carter glanced over at me. “Find out from Stu what direction Merc was headed. Then let the other teams know what’s going down.”
I was on it already, by the time I’d told the last teams to sit tight until we came for them, the adrenaline pumping through my veins was making me edgy. Even though Carter was booking it as fast as he dared on the ice, it wouldn’t be fast enough.
“They’re on Rosedale Avenue,” I told Carter, even though I was pretty sure he remembered where we dropped off Merc’s team. “Straight ahead about a mile and then take a left.”
Carter took one hand off the steering wheel long enough to nudge the shotgun in my direction. “You’re the one who’ll have to take it out.”
“No way. I’m not a good enough shot. Not standing still, forget in a car.” I shook my head and pushed the gun back to him.
“Then change seats with me. You drive.”
“What, you’re going pull over? We don’t have time for that.” I was way ahead of him. I knelt on the bench seat and dug around in the back until I found my bow and quiver of precious arrows. “I’ll do this my way.”
Carter leveled a steady look at me. “You think you can hit it?”
Despite my confidence, as Carter turned onto Rosedale, I panicked. Up ahead, I saw the hulking form of a Tick sprinting down the road. Ticks ran like gorillas, on their feet and their knuckles. They didn’t run so much as gallop. It might have been funny if it hadn’t been so creepy and terrifying.
Worse still, the Tick was closing in on Merc. I could see him clearly his bicycle wobbling as he pushed the bike to its limits and his. I didn’t know how much more Merc had in him, but Ticks didn’t suffer from fatigue. Pain just didn’t hit them the way it did us. It was why they seemed so impossible to kill. They didn’t feel pain. It didn’t stop them. A shotgun blast could take a huge chunk out of their back, and they’d keep going until their body collapsed around them. In short, shooting a Tick wouldn’t stop them from ripping your heart right out of your chest.
I rolled down the window on my side of the cab and stuck my head and upper body out of the window. I sat on the rim of the window and fed my bow through. I pulled the arrow and cocked it, but hesitated. We were still a hundred yards away. At least. Maybe more. There was no way I’d make the shot from here. Not straight through the heart. Not the killing shot I needed if I was going to save Merc’s life.
“Damn it!” I cursed as I slid back into the cab. “I need…”
I trailed off, looking for anything in the interior of the cab. I grabbed the last two totes Carter and I had carried out and dumped their contents out looking for inspiration.
“I’ll get you within range.”
But even as we watched, the Tick pushed off the ground to run a few steps on its feet and reached out a massive paw, swiping at Merc’s bike.
I didn’t have time to make the perfect shot and I didn’t want to risk using the shotgun. I needed something to distract the Tick and I needed it fast.
I scanned the contents of the floorboard, thinking fast. Finally I grabbed the bright pink poof and threaded it on to the pointy end of the arrow. Then I grabbed one of the bottles of hand sanitizers. I ripped the cap off with my teeth before squirting the alcohol laden hand sanitizer onto the poof. I drenched the thing, using enough that the fumes burned my nose and the extra dripped off. I didn’t dare do the next part in the cab of the truck. I grabbed the matches before going back out the window.
The matchbox was one of the those chunky decorative deals. I was able to wedge it under my chin while I held the bow and arrow in one hand and lit the match with the other. Once I was sure I had it. I dropped the box letting it roll down my chest and back into the cab. The tricky part was lighting the poof on fire. To be more precise, it lit quickly, keeping the fire away from me was the hard part. Lining up the shot, past the flaming poof on the end of my arrow. That was even harder. When I pulled the arrow back, the flames licked at my fingers, but I held steady, waiting until I had it. Then I let it loose.
It was almost beautiful watching the ball of fire fly through the air. It pierced the Tick’s back. We were closing in on him, but I still couldn’t tell if it went through his heart. I’m guessing not, because he stumbled, rearing back, but he didn’t go down. The alcohol and nylon burned fast and hot. The melting nylon dripped down his back. He reared around, howling in pain. Ahead of him, Merc kept peddling. My distraction worked. Merc was pulling ahead.
I slid back into the cab long enough to retrieve another arrow. Then I was back out the window, aiming for the Tick even though my chances of hitting him were even lower now that he was flailing around in the street. Tick had an incredibly high tolerance for pain, but fire scared the shit of them.
I didn’t let loose the arrow until we were right on top of him. I got a lucky shot when he spun toward the truck. I hit him right through the chest. If I missed his heart, I was damn close.
A moment later, we pulled up beside Merc’s bike. Carter had to honk the horn before Merc slowed down and dropped his feet to the ground. He glanced back over his shoulder at the Tick writhing in the street. Merc’s eyes were wide with fear and sweat poured from his face. I’d never seen Merc panicked before. He was as tough as they came, but this, clearly, had rattled him.
None of us wanted to wait around to see whether or not I’d delivered the kill shot. Merc grabed the bike and tossed it in the back of the truck. I slung open the door and moved over to give Merc room to slid in. Carter was pulling off before Merc even had the door shut.
For several heartbeats, we all just sat there in stunned silence as Carter turned the truck back to got pick up the other teams.
After a moment, Carter chuckled. “You know, Merc, if you wanted a bike for Christmas, it would have been a lot easier to just ask Santa.”
Meet Emily McKay!
Emily McKay loves to read, shop and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes luscious desserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets. Though she’s never been much of a joiner, she somehow managed to join multiple group blogs. (A pathological need to be a part of any group that wants her? Best not to analyze this too deeply.) So you can visit her at the Jaunty Quills, Harlequin Desire Authors, or Peanutbutter on the Keyboard. She also co-writes young adult rom-coms as Ivy Adams. The Farm is her first YA paranormal and is out now.
Want to purchase Emily’s novels?
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Thank you Emily for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Emily is giving away a copy of The Farm, along with a Vampire Apocalypse Survival Kit. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: Besides shampoo and conditioner, what else is a must for any vampire apocalypse survival kit that that isn’t’ immediately thought of? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered. (US only)
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.