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Graham's Resolution - Book 4 - The Malefic Nation

Graham's Resolution - Book 4 - The Malefic Nation

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"I stand here, staring at the vial in my hand. It glimmers in the light, a small glint of hope amidst the darkness that surrounds me. But at what cost?

The cure I developed, the one that will save countless lives, requires a sacrifice. It requires me to give up a part of myself, a part that I'm not sure I'm willing to lose.

I've always been driven by my passion for science, for finding a way to make the world a better place. But as I hold the vial, I can't help but wonder if I've gone too far. If I've become just like them..."

Sample: The Malefic Nation


“Up and at ’em, Bang,” Graham whispered to the sleepy boy from his pallet on the floor. Bang’s eyes fluttered in the low light that seeped through the sheet-covered window. Sheriff, who’d slept at the foot of Macy’s bed at the cabin, did so here as well; but now he rested on the rotting wood floor next to her feet.

Graham didn’t trust that anyone in the room was actually asleep. In the last few days they had all existed only on the margin of sleep, rarely dipping over to the other side because of utter fear and the shock of recent events. 

No, the sleepers had heard every word. They’d been through this routine: they were only biding their time, waiting for those who’d awakened to leave the room so that they might approach the edge of slumber once again.

As Bang stirred, Graham tugged on his boots and turned his attention to his other side, where Tala rested. He tucked his end of the cover around her back to keep the warmth in. Cool morning air crept through the cracks in the flooring. This was a blessing in the heat of midday, but a shivering curse at sunrise. Graham bent down and brushed his lips against Tala’s bare shoulder, then pulled the blanket higher. He’d worried that she’d get sick from the mold in this chilly, rain-soaked old house, but that no longer mattered; they were leaving today. Now he worried where they would sleep tonight.

Graham looped his belt around the waist of his jeans while Bang sat up and rubbed his eyes, smashing his fists into them in a circular motion. Sheriff arose as well and lowered his front end, stretching his back, and shaking his tail out. “Come on, let’s go,” Graham whispered again. To which of them he spoke didn’t matter; they would both follow him out of the quiet room, Bang silent as a phantom, Sheriff with the clacking of his nails along the weathered floor.

“Good morning, Graham,” Olivia said as she bent over the propane stove. “It’s instant coffee for now on; make yourself a cup.” She motioned with her hand toward the far end of the makeshift table where she’d set up a thermos, the kind that had a pump you pushed until coffee poured out in a welcome river. But hot water came rushing out instead; it looked nothing like the dark, rich coffee that Graham expected. 

Olivia watched his confused state; clearly he’d never made instant coffee before, probably never had to. “Mix in a heaping spoonful of the coffee crystals,” she said as Graham stood transfixed.

The heat began to radiate through his cup, alerting the pain sensors in his hand enough to want to set it down. If the alarm were in the form of brewed coffee, he’d ignore the threat of a first-degree burn, no matter how hot it was, because the prospect of coffee negated first-degree burns. But boiling water did not, so Graham set the cup down. Olivia stared at him as he picked up the canister of coffee crystal. “Just one heaping teaspoon,” she repeated, and Graham wasn’t sure if it was a rationing thing or if she was trying to anticipate how this new procedure would digress into a disruption of their typical morning routine since they were obviously out of the real stuff. In any event, he didn’t appreciate being the guinea pig. He scooped out a spoonful and stirred it into the water. It turned the clear hot water into brown hot water with a smell only vaguely reminiscent of coffee. 

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” Olivia said. Graham had a slight impulse to punch her, and he realized that this was not like him. He hoped, for her sake, that there was actually caffeine in this pale brown fluid. 

“You can add sweetener, but we’re out of creamer, I’m afraid,” she reminded him.

Graham raised the cup to his face, just to smell the aroma at first. “I think I’ll take it black,” he said, then took a sip. It came back to him: he’d had instant coffee before; he only remembered it when the bitter tang hit him. And then, as if it were only yesterday, he saw the young brunette woman approaching him in a grocery store with one of those convenient built-in Starbucks carts with the cup holders attached, where you could pay five dollars for a mocha to sip as you combed the store’s aisles for a box of K-Cups that would cost you fifty cents each. She’d appeared out of nowhere in the signature green apron, carrying a tray of tiny caffeine jolts. She offered him a swig from two cups only big enough for munchkins and asked him if he could tell which one was Pike Place and which one was the new Viva coffee. Not one to turn down free coffee, Graham had tasted both and immediately knew which one was the new roast. It had a slightly bitter taste—not bad bitter, not bitter like the fluid burning his right hand at the moment, but not particularly pleasant.

Graham took another swig as he followed Bang and Sheriff out to the front porch, tipping his cup in thanks to Olivia. He swallowed the bitter brew and flashed back to the look on the brunette’s face when he had announced the losing Starbuck’s candidate; she turned in disappointment, maybe even taking offense, and approached the next potential taster. Was he supposed to say the Viva wasn’t bad? In truth, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t as good as the Pike Place. 

Graham stared at the chestnut imposter in his hand. What I wouldn’t give for some of that Viva about now. Still, the thought didn’t keep him from downing the remainder in the cup he was holding. “Ugh, time to quit,” he said. “Nothing’s worth this.”

Crumpling the empty cup, he surveyed the day before him. From the rickety porch he could see that fog had settled in. Foggy weather tended to make everyone a little edgy. Bang had already released the chickens from the crates and scattered feed on the ground. While Bang gathered kindling, Sheriff sat at attention, mesmerized by the birds. Graham had no doubt he’d make a meal of them if he ever became hungry enough, and the fact that he seemed to protect them from Elsa and Frank, the Belgian shepherds, amazed him. But the other dogs had learned from Sheriff that these particular birds were part of their pack, and others often marveled at the dogs lazing about as chickens foraged between them. 

Elsa and Frank were bigger than Sheriff, but he had quickly managed to become the alpha. At times Graham wasn’t sure if the dogs regarded themselves as pets or guards of these strange people they now found themselves with. Either was fine with him; the dogs had done their fair share of protecting, and it was no secret that their human counterparts could use any help they could get.

“Hey Graham,” Sam said, stepping up onto the far side of the old porch with Addy alongside him.

“Good morning. You ready to head out today?” Graham’s hands had been scalding only minutes ago, but now he rubbed them together to fend off the chill.

“You bet. This fog is a good cover for us—well, for both sides, I guess.” Sam’s mouth turned into a slight frown.

Addy eyed Bang gathering kindling and turned to her father. The man nodded at her, but as a warning he made a sign, pointing two fingers to his eyes and then waving them in a circle, finishing with a point in her direction: Don’t leave my sight. Addy scampered off with a wide grin on her face, and Bang looked up when she approached him, holding out her arms to indicate that she would share the load. At one time, they couldn’t get these two anywhere near each other, but now they couldn’t keep them apart. Wherever Bang was Addy would be, and vice versa. 

“Who’s still asleep?” Sam asked. 

Sam’s impatience was contagious, and it made Graham feel guilty. He knew they were leaving to head north this morning, but now he, too, wanted to get going; no one ever trusted fog. It was blind faith: you had to believe something was there or it wasn’t, and as a math man, Graham trusted neither.

“Tala and the twins. I think Rick and Mark too. I’m not sure, there’s several more. Dalton, Clarisse, Lucy, and McCann are on watch.” A smell of fake maple syrup wafted on the cool morning air, and voices emanated from inside. 

“No one really sleeps anymore,” Sam said. “They’ll be up soon. I think I’ll grab some coffee. Be right back. Watch Addy for me a sec?” 

“Will do.”

Graham thought to warn Sam about the coffee, but gave up; java seemed like a pretty low priority in the grand scheme of things. Instead, he turned to the children stacking the kindling they’d managed to find. “This enough, Graham?” Bang asked, standing next to a teetering pile of sticks.

“That’ll do, buddy. You two come get cleaned up and get breakfast after you round up the hens.” He watched as the two kids cleverly sprinkled feed into the wire crates, tricking the chickens to enter. A few were wise to this hoax by now, and the kids were left with finding a way to herd them in.

Graham scanned the perimeter out front. The visibility would be an issue driving out; the fog would either help them or haunt them, but they would find out soon enough.

The radio unit inside the cabin clicked twice, meaning all was well from the watch positions. Sam returned with his cup of faux joe. “Instant,” he said, raising the cup in front of him and taking another sip of the steamy liquid. “But better than nothin’.”

“Yeah,” Graham agreed. At this point, he thought a second bitter cup might actually be necessary. The fog was making him apprehensive, and anything that might increase his awareness held appeal, no matter the bitter taste.

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