Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Publication date: June 29th 2015
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
As far as Riley McCullough is concerned, her best friend getting ‘dragged’ off to Puerto Vallarta for the first two weeks of summer vacation was the end of the world―at least until the bombs fell.
Life in suburban New Jersey with her mother has been comfortable, not to mention boring, to an introverted fourteen year old. As if her friend’s surprise trip wasn’t bad enough, her expectations for the ‘best summer ever’ disintegrate when she gets sent across the country to stay with a father she hasn’t seen in six years. Adjusting to a tiny, desert town where everyone stares at them like they don’t belong proves difficult, and leaves her feeling more isolated than ever. To make matters worse, her secretive father won’t tell the truth about why he left―or what he’s hiding.
Her luck takes an unexpected turn for the better when she meets a boy who shares her interest in video games and contempt for small town boredom. In him, she finds a kindred spirit who might just make the middle of nowhere tolerable.
Happiness is short lived; fleeing nuclear Armageddon, she takes shelter with her dad in an underground bunker he’d spent years preparing. After fourteen days without sun, Riley must overcome the sorrow of losing everything to save the one person she cares about most.
A few button taps put her in the same virtual space as her friend. DoomBear14 appeared on the line below her friend’s username: IH8Toobers.
“You need to de-cute your tag, Rile. You look like a squeaker.”
Riley grinned. “I like makin’ the old men rage quit when they get killed by someone with a silly name.”
“You’re such a bitch, Rile.”
“I know.” Riley examined her fingernails. “Piss them off, and they can’t play for shit.”
A flurry of other names filled in both sides of the roster, and soon the lobby screen switched to a level-loading image.
“Ugh, I hate Panama. Nothing but goddamn campers,” grumbled Amber.
“Crap, we got squeakers,” said a man.
Riley forced her voice up into a preteen range. “Hi everyone! This is my first time. I just got this game for my birthday. Can someone tell me how do I shoot?”
Voice chat erupted with the expected laughs, taunts, and ‘aww, leave her/him alone’ requests.
Fifteen minutes later, the opposing team realized Riley was the Irish word for ‘Troll.’ After twenty-two kills and four deaths, the entire other team called her a cheater. She giggled every time she got the drop on ‘DeltaForce187,’ and after the seventh un-answered kill, an incoherent roar came over the voice chat and he logged out.
“Victory for team Bear,” squeaked Riley.
Another two rounds came and went. Despite it being more of the same, it never got old. The simple tactic of sticking with Amber and working as a team protected them from the lone wolves, but every now and then, they’d land in a match with a competition squad and get soundly smashed―though twice she held her own enough to be extended an invite.
Until they heard she was fourteen.
A patina of camo-clad bodies, Eastern European backdrops, and bullets faded to an automatic routine.
“I still can’t believe you’re going to Puerto Vallarta for two weeks.”
“Yeah, it sucks,” said Amber.
“Wait, what?” asked a boy that sounded about their age. “In what world does that suck?”
Amber sighed. “There’s nothing to do there.”
“You could work on your summer reading,” said Riley.
“Go to hell.” Amber cracked up laughing.
“Jesus Christ, is this friggin’ high school? Come on, play the goddamn game.”
“Aww, someone’s got their old man diapers on too tight,” said Amber in a sing-song tone before lowering her voice to mock a man. “This is the virtual military, hut hut. Serious faces, please.” Riley laughed, biting her lower lip as she snuck up on a sniper hiding in a stack of sewer piping. The player, a deep-voiced man, launched into a diatribe of obscenities after she knife killed him. She was pretty sure his anger stemmed mostly from the girlish squeal he let off as she scared the crap out of him.
“I found the knife button.” The cursing got worse when Riley giggled like a five-year-old.
She made her way down off the elevated position to the next best sniper roost on the map, the roof of a big warehouse. The spot was empty, but she hid behind a stack of what looked like concrete bags.
Four death announcements flashed by.
“I found the grenade launcher,” said Amber.
An expected series of complaints about the ‘noob-tube’ followed.
“Hah,” said a boy. “‘I hate toobers’ just killed people with a tube.”
“It’s called irony,” said Amber.
A minute later, Riley twitched when a digital soldier went by. The same sniper she knifed minutes before ran to the edge of the roof and flopped down in a prone position. She crept out, planted a C4 charge between his boots, and backed away to her hiding place.
“How does the semtex work?” asked Riley, again making her voice sound like a little kid’s.
The sniper’s virtual body went flying like Superman to the middle of the map.
“Oh, I get it.” She giggled.
For another twenty minutes, the girls tormented that particular sniper until the round ended and the game dumped them back to the e-lobby.
Amber’s voice came over a private chat. “Hey Rile, it’s been like two whole hours, and your mom hasn’t bothered you once. It’s a miracle.”
“Yeah, it’s nice.” Riley dropped the controller and moved around to sit up, stretching and rubbing her sore elbows. “I think she’s getting sick.”
“Oh, that sucks. She drunk again?”
“She doesn’t get drunk drunk, just has enough to turn into the nag-o-tron 3000.” Riley glanced past the door, at the dark hallway. The murmur from the TV now sounded like some late-night show. According to the clock, it was 12:11 a.m. and Mom was still up. “Amb, I got a bad feeling. I’ll be right back.”
“Your mom is like the terminator, ‘cept without like the killing and stuff. She’ll kick it.” Amber yawned. “So what are you gonna do for two weeks?”
“I dunno.” Riley couldn’t look away from the hall. Something felt wrong. “Wanna bail on the trip and stay here?”
“I would ask but… the vacation is supposed to be like a surprise present for me. Be kinda crappy to do that, even if they are my parents.”
“Yeah… Uh, one sec. I wanna check on her.”
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- deliberate), and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of reality, life, and what happens after it.
He is also fond of cats.