Not every day the world collapses.
Not many people can say they helped rebuild.
Not many survived, but for those who did, we need something or someone to help us stand strong and tall. Sometimes even wounds can serve that purpose by healing much more than injuries.
During the annual Don’t Read in the Closet (DRitC) event hosted by the M/M Romance group on Goodreads, readers choose a picture and write a prompt for an author to write a complete story from. We authors select a prompt, and out of more than 200 I found the perfect one, resulting in my dystopian short, Wounded Beacon.
“I can’t wait to get into the [main character’s] head and feel his cares and worries and fears.” ~ Cari
The quote above are words from the prompter of this story, the sentence that set the goal for protagonist Luke before I began plotting his tale. I knew upon reading that sentence, that the story I write needed to delve deep into the psyche of the characters, and take center stage to the end of the world events, action, the sexuality of the main characters, or their intimacy itself. Although those elements are there—especially the romance, minus the sex—Wounded Beacon is a look at how traumatic events shape people.
Available today as a free read on Goodreads M/M Romance group thread (you must sign up for free to become a member of the M/M Romance group to read) and available as a FREE download to the general public as PDF, EPUB, and Mobi files at the M/M Romance Group website on or around June 15th 2014.
Read the first chapter below. Enjoy!
Two silhouetted men embrace in a passionate kiss laced with a bit of sweetness and sadness, inside a dimly-lit room near a closed window where the branches of a tree are visible. One man seems to be determined, near desperate, and the other seems to be coming to terms with or accepting a situation.
Copyright ©2014 by Leslie Lee Sanders
Genre: science fiction
Tags: dystopian, post-apocalyptic, sweet/no sex, dark, prison/captivity, debilitating injury, hurt/comfort, fighting
Content Warnings: None
Word Count: 16,117
Instinct warned me not to open my eyes. Musk entered my nostrils, and a low hum of static electricity made the hairs on my arms react. He was there, just on the other side of my opened door. Watching me, sizing me up, debating if and when to strike. I suppressed a shudder and lay motionless on the corn husk cot, reminding myself to breathe normally. Still, adrenaline surged through my veins, preparing my mind and body to fight.
A chill crept down my spine and goose pimples pricked the exposed flesh on my arms as the dampness on my forehead evaporated. My eyes moved rapidly behind the lids and my fingers twitched. Would I be forced to use my blade? A vivid image of my hand swiping underneath my side and gripping the handle of the sharpened steel entered my mind. I could have my weapon in hand before he’d step foot past the threshold and entered my room.
A small scoff emanated from the doorway and my ears perked, attention averted back to him.
A low and husky voice called from the courtyard a short distance away. It was my onlooker’s buddy, calling his name. “Santos?” Seconds later, footsteps on gravel faded as Santos retreated.
My eyes snapped open.
In my periphery, I managed to make out no immediate threat. Even though my eyes had been closed, there was no mistaking Santos had been there just seconds ago. Instinct assured me, as well as the evidence he left behind.
Just outside my doorway, in the loose gravel, my dull, steel blade glinted in the moonlight.
My hand snaked under me to be sure it was mine and not a similar knife, and nothing but dried husks were beneath me.
Groans and whimpers came from the center grounds where the prisoners were housed. Their only crime was speaking out or attempting to prevent Santos and his friend from terrorizing the community. Now their nights were spent sleeping on rugged gravel without the warmth of shelter, blankets, or a respectable meal. And for a couple of them, they’d been there for over a week.
The thought of their cruel suffering caused fire to rumble in the pit of my gut. I got up and swiped the blade from the ground, aware of the threat it signified.
Do I wait for his return or screw it all and leave now?
Minutes passed and I had two choices. I could sleep with one eye open, night after night, or leave the camp now, alive. Pain shot through my jaw, and I realized I was grinding my teeth.
Anger decided for me.
Stepping foot over the threshold, blade at my side, I crept by each darkened room. I inhaled rank air that smelled of body odor and held it in. Snores echoed throughout some of the cramped open chambers, silence throughout the others. My lungs ached, reminding me to exhale. I did so consciously and as quietly as possible. Moonlight hit the structure in a way that cast shadows which concealed me from view. I slipped behind a wooden column, one that supported the complex I had helped build with my bare hands, and I waited in the shadows to listen.
The whimpering and chattering teeth of men came from the courtyard prison. These tough men had lived through hell, but exposure to freezing temperatures in the camp had them believing they would die, and eventually, when the torment had taken its toll, they wished for death’s peace. The prison was in the center of camp mere yards away from the column where I stood. The prison housed three men who were huddled together, arms tucked inside their soiled shirts. Wasn’t it enough that they were caged and kept away from their families and their freedom? Leaving them to starve and freeze was beyond cruel.
And yet, their poor handling was partially my fault.
Santos was nowhere in sight, but his burly buddy paced near the bolted lock of the prison gate. The metal blade of his makeshift knife was as long as a thighbone and could intimidate any brave warrior.
Quickly and carefully, I moved to the side of the rounded prison, and rested against the thick eight-foot tall wooden stakes that served as a barricade, keeping the prisoners inside and keeping me out. One of the men inside shifted and our gazes met. A loud gasp fell from his parted lips. Under the moonlit sky, it was hard to make out any detailed features, but a sense of familiarity hit me. I remembered his face, but there was something else about him I couldn’t recall. His body language triggered faint memories that ran a bit deeper than the brief acquaintances I had with the other villagers. My forefinger went up to my lips and the man nodded. His sign was slight but clear.
The countdown in my mind started at five, and when zero hit, I swooped behind the large man guarding the lock and covered his mouth with my hand. I brought my blade up and pressed the sharpened tip to his throat.
“Drop it,” I said through clenched teeth, and his weapon fell to the floor. He mumbled beneath my hand, but I squeezed tighter and pressed the blade firmer against his bearded flesh. “Shut up and open the cage.” With my lips near his earlobe, I kept my voice low. I managed to twist around, turning him to the lock.
He dug in his pants pocket. The jingle of keys caught the prisoners’ attention, and the familiar one stood. Not sure of his intention, I shook my head as a warning. He ignored me and moved forward, glancing over his shoulder a few times as he came.
“Let me help,” he whispered and reached through the thick wooden bars. It took a second for me to comprehend what he was trying to do until he grabbed the keys.
I glanced around the darkened lot as my mind tried to throw a quick plan together. What would I do with this guy once the door was open and I no longer needed him? Let him go? Knock him out? Killing was not on my list, never had been, and, hopefully, never would be.
I looked to the abundant trees that lined the camp. The growth surrounded our home and, at times, acted as an obstacle from whatever lay far beyond, like a prison wall.
The jingling of the keys would arouse the suspicion of Santos and anyone else wanting to stop me.
“You gotta move,” I urged, making eye contact with the prisoner. He nodded, but continued to fumble with the keys.
“Fucking Luke.” The calm voice came from my left, near the room where I had been. My sights set on the silhouette of the man, but there was no mistaking the rasp. “What’d you think you’re doing, man?” Santos’s hands were casually tucked inside his pants pockets and he nudged a pile of loose gravel with his foot. The silvery, jagged scar on his cheek reflected the light of the full moon.
“Don’t,” I warned. “Don’t move, Santos, or I’ll cut him.” Why couldn’t I have been this gritty at the first sign that he and his friend were taking over? If I had, maybe things wouldn’t have resorted to this.
He took a couple of steps, narrowing the space between us.
“You’re not gonna kill nobody, Luke,” Santos mocked. “You don’t got it in you. If you did, you would’ve killed those fuckers that killed that little lassie.” His sneer sent heated rage rising from my chest and into my throat. I imagined the stocky, wild-haired man in my arms and my blade slicing into his leathery neck.
“I’m leaving, and they’re getting the hell out of this goddamned cage before I go.” I glanced to my helper and his busy hands. The threat to my life and the struggling man in my arms upped my impatience. “Open the goddamned lock.”
He paused and the jingling stopped. He cocked his head as a pained look flashed across his face. Did my irritated tone surprise him? He continued to twist the key in the lock until it popped. As soon as the door swung open, the other two prisoners rushed out. Santos leapt toward me, but my helper stopped him in his tracks by lifting the large blade from the ground and pointing the corroded tip toward Santos.
“We’re leaving.” My helper’s voice was confident and nonthreatening, but the way he handled the hefty blade got the message across.
“Adios,” Santos said, the thick vein in his neck pulsed. “Just don’t let me find you. I’ll chop your feet off the next time I see you.”
My helper looked back and forth as if debating, then took the blade and ran toward the dense forest, following the others. I pushed the man in my arms toward Santos, hard enough that he tumbled at Santos’ feet.
Slowly, I backed away, surprised that they didn’t move. Santos calmly scratched his thick beard while his friend sat near his feet, their eyes on me as I disappeared into the shadows of the forest.
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