From the author of Choose Me or Lose Me.
After the Wolf Wars, the werewolves and humans agreed to an uneasy truce and divided the world among themselves. Werewolves took the forests and plains, and humans took the cities and towns. Humanity was further segregated into Workers and Elites. Now, food is scarce and the Workers are starving, which is how twelve-year-old Worker Ellie winds up hungry and stranded in werewolf territory. Are werewolves really the fearsome beasts she’s been warned about, or have the Elites been hiding the truth?
Age Rating: 18+
Book One: Beyond The Border
I sat on the overturned tree trunk, staring into the distance. The sun was low in the sky, not quite set, giving everything a beautiful glow.
“What the hell are you doing, Ell?”
I looked up to see my big brother, Jackson, standing over me.
“You’re awfully close to the border...you know the rules,” he scolded.
I rolled my eyes and stared out towards the horizon.
“Don’t even think about it, Ell. They’ll punish you for even thinking about it, and you’ll be on half rations for a month,” Jackson warned.
I rolled my eyes, “half of nothing is still nothing.”
Jackson nudged my shoulder.
“Here, I know you’re hungry,” he smirked.
I looked at his hand. My mouth opened wide in shock. It was some sort of processed food. We never ate that, hell, I’d never even seen anything like it before.
“Wh...What is it? Where did you get it?” I hissed, as I looked at the wrapper in his hand.
He broke it in half and handed me one half, eating the other half himself.
“It’s called Choc-o-late,” he sounded the word, “and if you don’t know, you can’t get into trouble.”
I quickly started to eat it, savoring the sweet taste. It was so good!
I chuckled, “and you tell me off just because I’m looking over the border.”
Jackson shook his head.
“That’s different. If the guards find you, they’ll shoot you on sight.
“If they find you...” he pointed towards the horizon, “well, Christ knows what’ll happen to you...if the rumors are true,” he concluded.
I shook my head and pursed my lips.
“They have more food than they know what to do with, and we...we have none. Their animals eat better than us.”
I forced back the tears that were threatening to fall. Thankful that Jackson didn’t see my distress.
Jackson chuckled. “They're animals, Ell.”
I rolled my eyes as I chewed the last of the snack. My stomach still felt empty, but the chocolate bar had helped.
Jackson put his hand on my shoulder.
“C’mon, let's get back before we’re missed. You need to get some sleep, get those silly ideas out of your head.”
I stood up and allowed my brother to shepherd me back to the work camp.
We would be up at dawn, dismantling what was left of the town nearest the border. Then the bulldozers would come in. After that, we’d pick out the rocks before they tried to plow and plant it.
It wasn’t proper farmland. It was the remains of an old town, too close to the border to be inhabited. Besides, food was scarce.
If there was a chance that they could grow any food, it had to be taken.
It had been like this all my life, and most of my parents' lives. After the war, the humans got the cities and towns. The werewolves got the forests and plains.
You only had to look over the border to see grazing cattle, orchards of fruit, fields full of crops.
Towns were all very well, but you couldn’t grow food there. The only spaces were the man-made parks. They had already been used for growing food. There just wasn’t enough.
The only reason my brother and I survived when our parents died was because of the work camps.
You worked twelve hours, you got one meal. If you could call it a meal. Vegetable stew which was more water than vegetables, and a bed.
If you got caught stealing food, it was an instant death sentence. Crossing the border was the same. If the werewolves didn’t kill you, the guards would.
Life for humans was a living hell. It had to be worth the risk, to cross the border, steal some food, and bring it back.
If we didn’t find a way to get more food, the human race would die of starvation.
We got a few suspicious looks from the guards as we headed back into camp. We just kept our heads down. Once we were back in the blockhouse where the beds were, we headed to our bunks.
Mostly families slept together. If you were on your own, you got lumped with either the males or the females. Depending on your gender. I guess my brother and I were lucky, we had each other.
I laid down on the bunk, and Jackson sat on the edge of the bed. He always did that, until I fell asleep.
“Do you think they know we’re virtually starving to death?” I whispered.
Jackson frowned, “Who?”
I hesitated, before I lowered my voice, “The werewolves.”
Jackson shook his head and scowled.
“Just leave it, Ellie. You shouldn’t even be talking about ’em.”
I sighed and closed my eyes.
I knew Jackson only had my best interests at heart, but I was damned if I was going to starve to death, or die of some disease because my body wasn’t strong enough to fight it off.
Sleep eventually came, but it didn’t last long. The gnawing pains in my stomach due to lack of food woke me.
Everyone else was still sleeping, except for Jackson, who to my surprise wasn’t in his bunk.
I thought of the chocolate bar we had shared earlier. Was he stealing food? How could he be so reckless? Then my thoughts turned to the border. If I was going to do this, it would have to be now.
Jackson would understand. There were fewer guards posted at night. I could slip across the border and slip back. Find a hiding place for the food. Then my brother and I could share it.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I was desperate. Everyone was. We were literally starving to death. I doubted everyone was, but we were the lowest in the human race.
The lower-level manual workers. We were disposable.
I swung my legs over the bed and quickly pulled my long dark hair into a ponytail. Then I grabbed a small backpack from under the bed before creeping out of the blockhouse.
My clothes were dark, so I was able to hide in the shadows. I was thankful for my hair color, as it blended in the dark. Only the moon lighting the way.
I had been planning this for a while. I knew exactly where the guards would be. They always took the same route, checking the perimeter and the border.
I watched as the guard walked to the other end of the camp and headed towards the border.
I stayed in the shadows until the border guard headed to his next checkpoint.
Luckily the border wasn’t fenced. It was just a row of painted boulders. Everyone knew not to cross the line. Tonight, however, I was going to ignore the rules. Tonight I was going to find some food.
Getting over the border was easier than I had expected. The guards were probably not expecting anyone to try and cross.
After all, most of the people in the blockhouse were kids, who’d had it drummed into them from an early age.
The rules, the punishments, but most of all that the werewolves were monsters who feasted on the flesh of babies.
All of us were orphans. Parents had been killed by the fever, or from starvation. Some had been killed by the guards, just for trying to steal some extra food for their children.
Ours had perished with the fever. This had been my life for four years. Worked until I almost dropped from exhaustion. Jackson was older than me, and stronger.
This was his last year here, then I would be alone. Jackson would be shipped off for guard training, unless he went AWOL. I wondered if his nightly disappearances had something to do with that.
He didn’t realize I knew he left at night, but I did. I just didn’t know where he went.
The ground on the other side of the borderline was similar to ours, hard clay that was hard to dig into. I guessed it was mixed with concrete.
Once you were about one hundred yards in, the hard clay turned loamy, then you could see plants breaking through. Weeds mostly, but then it turned to lush grass.
I bent down and ran my fingers across it. I’d never felt grass before. I’d seen pictures when I was little, but not felt it, or smelt it. It had a scent all of its own.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself. My father always used to lecture us, when he was alive. ‘The grass is always greener on the other side,’ he would say.
Meaning that we should be grateful for what we had. Truth was, the grass was nonexistent where we came from.
I headed further into the werewolf territory. Keeping low, and as quiet as I could be.
Jackson didn’t realize, but I had seen these so-called monsters. The last building we had cleared, I had found a book and a pair of binoculars.
I’d shoved the binoculars in my jacket and was looking at the book. The guards didn’t find the binoculars, but I got beaten later that day for taking an unscheduled break.
It had only been five minutes, but rules were rules. If they’d found the binoculars, it would have been much worse.
I’d used them a few days later, after work. The guards were at a different checkpoint, but it was still light.
That’s when I saw them. They were working in the fields. They didn’t look any different from us, except they were taller, more muscular.
Why were we supposed to hate them? Were they really any different from us?
It was then I decided I would cross. They had plenty of food, we had none. They didn’t look like monsters, at least not from a distance.
There was no sign of them now, of course. Any sane individual, werewolf or human, would be in bed at this time of night.
I headed further into their territory, then I saw it in the distance: a building. It looked like a barn. It was quite close to a pen which contained animals.
I quickly looked around; there was no sign of anyone, so I headed towards the building.
I had been right in my assumption: it was a barn. I slid open the door, allowing the moonlight to filter inside.
I almost let out a whoop. I had hit the jackpot. There were bags of fruit and vegetables, also a box with what looked like stale bread. I grabbed an apple and bit into it.
I’d never eaten an apple before, but I’d seen a picture. The inside was brown and soft in places. It tasted good.
I grabbed handfuls and put them in my backpack, between finishing the apple that I had started. Then I grabbed some of the stale bread. It was hard, not soft like it should be, but it wasn’t moldy.
I ate some. It wasn’t as nice as the apple, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
The vegetables looked like carrots. Some were small, others misshapen. I bit into one. Nothing wrong with that. I put a few in my backpack, which was now full to the brim.
Hitching it on my back, I grabbed another apple and piece of bread, and headed for the door.
That’s when I heard it: a howl, followed by another.
I ran, my heart about to explode out of my chest. I headed back towards the border.