Shaun Jeffrey: Dead World

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Shaun Jeffrey Dead World
  • Название:
    Dead World
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    Deshca Press
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    Ужасы и Мистика / на английском языке
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Dead World: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Long after a pandemic swept the world, society has crumbled. A remnant of human civilization ekes out an existence in a closed community called Sanctuary. To control their population, the ruling brethren use a lottery, the winners of which join the new gods that reside beyond the walls. But when her daughter is chosen, Anna Charles discovers the lottery is fixed by despotic church leader, Roman Quail. Now in a frantic bid to save her family, she flees into the hostile environment outside Sanctuary where only the strongest survive, and where all their gods are dead. Literally. (Novella approximately 23,000 words long)

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Anna glanced nervously towards the door. “Roman, please. We can’t do this anymore. What we’re doing is not right. And… and sooner or later, someone is going to notice. If we’re caught—”

Roman’s grin widened. “No one would dare speak out against me.” He ran his hand back up her arm.

Anna flinched, his touch leaving goose bumps in its wake.

“Besides, it’s not like you haven’t been enjoying yourself.”

Anna bit her lip and ducked her head to hide the blush that coloured her cheeks. She tried to pull away, but Roman grabbed her arm tightly.

“I could always let your husband know what’s been going on.”

“You wouldn’t dare. Please, Roman. Listen to me. I made a mistake. I never should have allowed you to…” She paused then lifted her face to look at him. “This is wrong. I betrayed my husband, betrayed my vows. Please. Think about what you have to lose here. It’s not worth it.”

Roman laughed and reached for her face but she turned her head aside.

“There are plenty of other women to choose from.”

“I don’t want other women. I want you, Anna.”

“Well I’m sorry, but you can’t have me.”

Before Roman could answer, a cleric dressed in a similar red robe rushed into the room. Anna saw him glance at Roman, his gaze snapped to Roman’s grip on her arm and a knowing expression crept across his face.

Roman released his grip.

“Pardon my intrusion, Father Quail, but it’s been a month since Marion Vickers gave birth and as both mother and child are doing well it’s time to perform the ceremony.”

Anna took the opportunity to take her leave. “If you’ll excuse me.” She sensed Roman’s gaze burrowing into her back before she heard him say: “Make the lottery announcement. Out with the old, in with the new.”

Anna hurried back to her room. Isaiah was still seated where she had left him, nose deep in a book. The problem wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband; just that they’d grown apart. She remembered with fondness what he had been like when they had been courting. He doted on her in those days and was always giving her gifts, usually something he had made himself. Then he started to ignore her in favour of his books and along came Roman. The temptation had been too great. Here was someone who appreciated her as a woman again, not just as a wife and mother. Here was someone who wanted to seduce her, to make love to her. Someone to make her feel special.

She knew it wasn’t right but had lived with the guilt, a small price to pay to feel loved again.

“I went to visit your mother today.”

Isaiah peered over the top of his book.

“She’s doing it again, Isaiah. Saying crazy things.” Anna bit her lip and looked away for a moment, and then refocused her attention on her husband. “I’m worried about her. What if someone should overhear her sometime? What would happen to her?”

Isaiah waved a hand, as if dismissing his wife’s worries. “Nothing’s going to happen to her. She’s one of the Elders; nobody would dare, you know that. Besides, no one would take her seriously. She’s old, Anna. Her mind is going.”

Anna relaxed a little. She nodded and smiled, but then her expression grew sombre.“Still, I’m sad to see her like that. You should go visit with her more often. I’m sure she’d enjoy seeing you.”

Isaiah returned his gaze to his book. He nodded absently. “Yes, yes.”

Anna’s smile melted. She opened her mouth as if about to say something more, but she closed it again and shook her head. Isaiah didn’t make loving him an easy task.

“There’s going to be a lottery later,” she said.

“That’s nice. But I still have a lot to do here, Anna. I’ll meet you and the children outside.”

Anna exhaled slowly and then left the room without another word.

A large crowd of people were gathered in the yard. Enforcers, armed with various weapons, manned the sentry posts that looked out from Sanctuary. People were laughing and joking, adding to the festive atmosphere, while hawkers wandered among the crowd, selling their wares.

Anna stood with her three children. Next to her, Lucy twisted her long fair hair between her fingers. The dimples in her daughter’s cheeks grew more pronounced as she scowled at her youngest brother, Ben, while he kicked dust towards her.

“Ben, if you don’t stop, I’m going to make you eat that.”

“Just try it.” He skipped nimbly away, small clouds of dust erupting beneath his feet.

“Mum, tell him.”

“Ben, do as your sister says.”

Ben grinned. “I’m only playing.”

Anna’s eldest child, Zeke, stood a little apart, staring up at the enforcers. She was well aware he intended to join them once he was old enough. He was tall and gangly like his father, whereas although younger, Ben was possessed of slightly more brawn.

She gazed across the yard towards the platform where several church brethren stood in silence, arms interlinked beneath the long sleeves of their red cloaks, cowls pulled up to hide their faces within shadow. She never failed to think they appeared sinister.

She caught sight of movement and glimpsed Isaiah weaving his way through the crowd. He waved. Anna was about to wave back until she saw the book tucked underneath his arm.

A moment later one of the brethren pounded a large staff on the platform. The sound reverberated around the yard and the crowd fell silent. Anna watched as Roman climbed the steps to the platform. He walked solemnly towards a large barrel that took centre stage. Then he turned and scanned the crowd. As his gaze rested on Anna, a faint smile reached the corners of his lips. Anna scowled and dismissed him with a withering glare that melted the grin. She felt a little guilty, but she had to nip their relationship in the bud, and responding to him in any way, other than with aloofness, might be interpreted as having feelings of a more romantic nature. Not that she would call what they’d had romantic, at least not for her. Their dalliance had been more of a physical relationship. Carnal rather than loving, allowing her to get the closeness that she craved.

“Dad.” Ben smiled as Isaiah approached.

“Did I miss anything?”

“Nah. They’re just starting.”

On the stage, Roman motioned one of his brethren and the man stepped forwards, grabbed a handle on the side of the barrel and started to turn it.

“Brothers and sisters, it’s time to welcome the newest resident into Sanctuary.” Roman motioned to a young woman at the edge of the stage, cuddling a baby swaddled in a plain blanket.

The crowd started a low chant that slowly grew in volume as more people joined in: “In with the new, out with the old.”

Anna stared at her friends and neighbours as they took up the chant. Beside her, Isaiah, Lucy, and Ben seemed caught up in the moment, shouting for all they were worth. Anna glanced at Zeke, who, besides herself, was one of the only other people not joining in the chant.

Roman lifted his hands and the chant ceased.

“As is the way, we must now make room in our home. In with the new, out with the old.”

The brethren stopped turning the barrel and Roman stepped across, lifted a hatch in the side of the drum, and took out a piece of folded paper. He looked up, found Anna within the crowd and held her gaze until it became uncomfortable and she turned away.

When she glanced back, Roman was unfolding the piece of paper. He frowned. “There seems to be a mistake.”

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