A/N: Hello, awesome readers! Explanation about the origins of this story at the end of the chapter. This is an AH Dystopian that may deal with unpleasant and dark matters. This intro chapter is very short; most chapters will be longer.
No infringement intended, la, la, la. My bank account assures me I own nothing.
Huge thanks to my prereaders, Keye, Sandy, and Aleea, for their valuable feedback and friendship. Mucho thanks to Claudia from Phantasy Graphic Design for the f-awesome banner. I don't know how she plucks the images right out of my head, but her talent astounds me. Last but never least, my super-awesome beta, SassySue (chayasara), who is as talented with reshaping the written word as Claudia is with the graphics. Mwah!
In a moment, life changes. Between the lines of life lie fuses waiting to be lit, leading to explosions with the potential to carve out crevices or craters. Sometimes the new landscape is welcome, and sometimes it's so far from okay—and yet we manage to go on.
Ghosts flood my mind, dipping and swirling. Mike's hulking body collapsed to the floor; Mamie's wrinkled, tanned skin thin as onion paper as she languished in her bed; Katie slumped over at the kitchen table, metal piercings a harsh glint against her alabaster skin; Dover with his tangled coat, dried out tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. All of them blistering hot—hotter than any being could survive. My police chief father went back into the fray again and again. One day he didn't return.
Coolness blankets my skin, intruding on my thoughts. A damp shiver works its way over me like a snake, writhing and biting into my flesh. I still hear Dover's last pathetic pants even though the dream faded. I roll, feeling grit and sharp edges dig into my cheek.
The panting grows louder, stopping only for a soft whine then continuing.
"Dover?" My vocal cords grate like sandpaper.
Something soft and dry nudges at my face, and then a warm, wet tongue licks from the base of my jaw to my temple, catching and lifting an eyelid in the process. I squint against the sudden brightness, expecting steel-gray fur and finding wiry black and tan instead. The two large paws planted next to my head belong to a large dog. Maybe a Shepherd mix. Not Dover. Dover is gone.
From my side-lying position, the world is a strange mix of craggy brown and cinder, set against smooth blue and fluffy white. I lift my head, and the world spins for a few seconds.
The dog barks and whines again, biting at my sleeve.
A short distance away are ruins. Their debris is strewn across the top of the cliff—a chunk of it pokes me in the hip—but whatever occurred here happened long ago. I find this comforting.
I don't remember how I arrived here, or even know where here is, but the air is clean and tangy with the brine of the sea.
The dog barks sharply, crawls with her belly low to the ground until she reaches my camouflage rucksack and sniffs it. I can count her ribs, and skin sags around her haunches.
"Are you hungry, girl? I might have something to share." I lean forward and snag a strap, dragging the bag toward me. Unzipping a side pocket, I pull out a Slim-Jim, peel the plastic wrapper back, and break the stick in half, holding it out. "Here you go."
Her ears stand up, and her tail swishes back and forth. She watches me with mistrust in her eyes though it's obvious how much she wants the food.
"Come on, girl. If you want it, you have to meet me halfway."
She tilts her head and whines, approaching slowly.
"Did someone scare you out here? I won't hurt you." My stomach rumbles, so I slide the plastic off the other half and pop it into my mouth. "Yummy!"
She decides to take a chance and nips the jerky gently from my hand, chewing slowly as if savoring it. As emaciated as she is, I expected her to snarf it down.
"Where are we, girl? Are there any people around here?" I rise to my feet and walk off the stiffness that has set in. From this vantage point, I can see towns and villages below. It all looks so peaceful and quaint, unspoiled—except for the absence of smoke curling into the air, movement of any kind, animals or people.
There are no vehicles clogging the streets, no signs the townspeople tried to run. It looks pristine and perfect and abandoned. Back home, there was no getting away from the evidence. After a while, it was impossible to traverse the cars blocking the roads or ignore the stench of death.
The destruction of the human race ripped across the world, leaving few unscathed. The worst part was the dogs. Human viruses don't usually affect animals, but this one did, leaving hundreds of beloved family pets dead. Most people retreated to their beds to die, but many of the affected animals went ballistic, running through the streets until they dropped dead.
"So, you wanna be pals? You must be immune, too." I hold out my hand, and she licks it. "You need a name. How about Grace? You took that Slim-Jim so gently even though you must be starving. What's next for us, Grace? What happened to all the people down there?"
I've lost count of the days. It's been a few weeks since I've seen any others. I keep moving, foraging for food . . . looking for answers.
A/N: So, what's this? A new story from that chick who has a bunch of unfinished stories? A Measure of Grace is an experiment for me. I'm a participating author on an original fiction blog that posts stories based on picture prompts. I just completed a novel-length serial original fiction and have started another. I've decided to write a Twi version of this new Dystopian to share with fellow Twi-hards. Since I'm committed to posting on the blog every two weeks, a chapter of A Measure of Grace will post every two weeks. The chapters will be shorter than my usual—somewhere between 1K and 3K—but there won't be lapses in posting like with some of my other fics. Why am I doing this? No preaching here, but I don't believe in publishing-for-profit on stories that have already been posted on the Internet for free; this includes original fiction. I love fanfic and regret how little time I have to put into my ongoing fics, so this is my partial solution.
Chapter two will be posted next week. Then we will be on the biweekly schedule. Thanks so much for reading!
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