This is an odd day for me.
When I wrote the first words of what would become my debut novel, Life, A.D., I clicked on the little calendar that hangs out on my taskbar, looked ahead a couple of years, and chose April 13th, 2013. And here it is.
I don’t remember exactly why I zeroed in on this particular date, but it must have been a combination of factors.
For one, spring is underway, in its early, tantalizing state with the promise of warm days to come. It’s a time of renewal and rebirth, a vivid backdrop for what I had planned.
Another factor must have been its close proximity to the end of the school year. For graduating seniors, it’s a time when everything is finally coming together. Adulthood lies just ahead; college, independence, the future you’ve been planning—it’s all there on the near horizon.
For my protagonist, Dez Donnelly, today is the day that changes everything.
It’s the day she dies.
I recently visited the remote stretch of road, not far from my house, where the scene has always played out in my mind. I stopped the car, got out, and took some photos. I crouched down on the shoulder of the road and put my hand to the ground, letting the cold seep into my fingers. And I thought of Dez.
It was quiet, remote, and lonely. There was not another car or person to be seen. But for the birds in the trees, I was completely alone, just as she was while life slipped from her grasp. I thought about how those final moments must have been for her. In my mind I was torn between thoughts of she isn’t even a real person, and sorrow.
That same day, still a bit shaken by this odd experience, I sent the photo to my publisher with the title RIP Dez. She replied quickly, expressing how sad it made her. We were both surprised by our reaction to the photo, and to my experience.
It’s funny how this young woman, a creation of my imagination, could take up residence in our hearts like she has.
So today I think of her, as I never really had before. This semi-randomly chosen date has arrived, and Dez has an incredible journey ahead of her.
My publisher, Month9Books, has given their kind permission for me to share this exclusive sneak-peek of my debut novel, Life, A.D., coming December 2013.
The world around me is fuzzy.
I’m lying on the ground, and my face is wet. I blink. Drawing in a shot of frigid air, I shudder at the sensation of a million needles in my throat. Pain sets fire to my leg, and shoots up my spine. My left arm is numb, useless. And my right arm is—gone? Mangled?
I don’t know.
Don’t panic. The fear grows and festers, running toxic through my bloodstream like a virus.
My breath comes in short, desperate gasps, which grow strained with each inhalation. The drumbeat rhythm of my heart pounds against my chest, sending mini-shockwaves to my fingers and toes.
A gentle breeze kisses my cheek, turning my thoughts to Aaron.
I jerk my head off the ground. A scream escapes my lips as burning pain engulfs my every molecule. I fight to move. My unresponsive limbs refuse to help me shift position.
I need help.
Thoughts drift through my mind, pulling me in a thousand directions. Panic steals my concentration and threatens to drag me away. I cry out, fighting against hopelessness. My own distant echo bouncing back at me is the only reply.
Blackness creeps into the edges of my vision, sending my labored breathing into overdrive.
I’m going to die here.
“Somebody, please…” I gag on blood and saliva. My voice is unrecognizable, deep and gurgling.
Where am I?
I lift my head again, fighting against the pain and panic in a frantic effort to get my bearings. I’m lying on the side of the road by a forest. Only the tiniest of buds peek from the trees and shrubs, and after staring at them for a bit, I swear I can see them shiver. I, too, tremble, cold and shaken.
A chickadee sings out its springtime call from a nearby tree, whistling “sweet weather,” and waiting for a reply. A crunch of snow from the nearby forest signals a passing animal, its footfalls soft, cautious.
Frost is still rooted in the ground, and the sky refuses to allow sunshine through the thick layer of haze above. There is a freshness to the air. Renewal, is it? That must be what people mean when they say “it smells like spring.”
The deserted stretch of highway offers little hope; the animals and forest the only witnesses as life slips from my grasp.
No one is coming.
The black advances. My vision retreats. I’m getting colder, the numbness spreading down my body from my arms.
The sound of my ringtone snaps me back to reality. Where’s my phone? My teeth clench in agony. I manage to turn my head.
How did I get here?
The phone is well out of reach—ten feet or so away, ringing despite being under the crumpled remains of the overturned car. What’s left of my mangled right arm flops into view. My mind retreats, resisting the image—twisted, bloodied, the flesh ripped from the visible bones of my forearm.
My outstretched fingers refuse to budge, even to escape the slow-motion pool of red creeping toward them.
My ragged breathing accelerates, my heart races, and I do something I’ve never done before: I pray.
The sound of a distant whistle breaks through my raspy, disjointed plea for mercy, for life.