Check out this new YA dystopian series: The Breeders.
“When the Breeders come for ya, there ain’t no escape. They strap ya to a bed and all ya hear is the thud of your heart and the cries of your friends as they wheel ya down to hell. Then the doctors come. You squeeze your eyes shut and pray you can forget. But ya never do.”
Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world’s last free girls. When Riley was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything possible to keep her from their clutches– moving from one desolate farm after another to escape the Breeders’ long reach. The Breeders control everything- the local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in this lawless society. And they’re hunting Riley.
When the local Sheriff abducts the adult members of her family and hands her mother over to the Breeders, Riley and her eight-year-old brother, Ethan, hiding in a shelter, are left to starve. Then Clay arrives, the handsome gunslinger who seems determined to help to make up for past sins. The problem is Clay thinks Riley is a bender– a genderless mutation, neither male nor female. As Riley’s affection for Clay grows she wonders can she trust Clay with her secret and risk her freedom?
The three embark on a journey across the scarred remains of New Mexico– escaping the Riders who use human sacrifice to appease their Good Mother, various men scrambling for luck, and a deranged lone survivor of a plague. When Riley is forced into the Breeder’s hospital, she learns the horrible fate of her mother—a fate she’ll share unless she can find a way out.
When the dust cloud appears, we know they are coming.
My mama and I spy the cloud churning up the road at the same time. Her potato peeler clatters to the porch floor, sending goose flesh over my arms. I stare at the cloud kicked up by dozens of approaching tires and then back to my mother. There’s no mistaking it. The fear is written on her face.
She grips my shoulder, hand already shaking. “Get in the cellar.” Her face tightens. “Now.”
Her rocking chair scrapes against the porch floorboards. She yanks open the screen door and runs into the house, yelling for my brother.
I stand up, my own hands trembling now. The advance of the dust cloud has me riveted, like an animal caught in headlights. It’s what we’ve drilled for, prepared for, whispered about at night. And now they’re coming.
My mama’s frantic screams pierce my thoughts. “Riley, the storm cellar! Hurry!”
I shake myself out of my stupor and force my jellied legs to move. Running into the house, I spy my stepfather, Arn, at the pitted kitchen table. He slips round after round into his hunting rifle, his calloused fingers fumbling for more in the box that holds too few. He drops one. It hits on the floor and rolls under the table.
“Gawddammit!” he swears. His leathery forehead wrinkles as he searches frantically.
I run over, grab it and hand it to him. The bullet feels cold against my hot palm.
His eyes latch onto mine and a sadness creeps over his face. This frightens me more than anything. He grabs our pistol off the table and thrusts it forward. “You’ll need this.” His eyes say one gun won’t be enough.
The revolver is heavy and solid in my trembling hand. I curl my fingers over the wooden grip, worn smooth with use. I let my index finger stray to the trigger, place my other hand under the grip like he taught me and aim at the dust cloud. I look up at him, unable to ask what I need to know.
In this moment Arn looks old. His sun-beaten face is carved by wrinkles and his forehead is dotted with sweat. The patched overalls sag on his too-thin body. Before this he was out milking the cow or mucking out the barn, mundane, boring tasks that I wish he could go back to now. Arn grabs both my shoulders and fixes me with frightened blue eyes. “You ‘member what I taught you?”
“Is it the Breeders? It is, isn’t it?” My voice breaks with the terror that’s sticking to my insides and knotting my stomach. Arn says nothing. He doesn’t have to. His face tells me everything I need to know.
“I can fight.” The gun trembles, but I lock my elbows and grit my teeth. I want this chance to face the people who’ve been hunting us our whole lives.
Arn shakes his head, the lines around his mouth deepening. “Soon’s they see you, they’d kill the men and take the women. Get in the cellar. I’ll handle this.” His weathered hand squeezes mine. It’s the most affection he’s shown me in months. I savor the roughness of his palm. Then, quick as it came, he drops my hand and goes back to slipping bullets into his rifle, his eyes marking the approach of our enemies.
From behind me: “Riley?!” My mama is near hysterics.
“Coming!” I sprint through the old farmhouse, the boards moaning beneath my feet. I skid to a stop at our bedroom and scan it for my brother. Both beds lay empty. Ethan’s boots lie on their sides under his bed. His comic book is forgotten on the floor. He’d never leave it there on a normal day. But this isn’t a normal day. Angry motors growl closer. How soon before they get here? Minutes? Seconds?
I burst through the back door. The storm cellar sits fifteen paces from the house, dug deep in the ground. When we moved in six months ago, my mama showed us the cellar that, when shut, folds neatly into the dusty landscape. We’ve taken pains to camouflage the doors, but will it be enough?
The cellar doors yawn wide, revealing the dark earthen hole. My mama crouches at the cellar’s mouth, her hand-sewn cotton dress gathering around her knees. My little brother, Ethan, descends the ladder. His hand clutches her scarred one for a moment before he disappears into shadow. He’s gone. An urge to sob washes over me. I bite it back and run over.
My mama turns, searching for me. From this angle she is breathtaking in her loveliness. Her shoulder-length black hair shines in the hazy sunlight, and her left cheek is supple and pink. She’s a beauty queen, a ten as Auntie says. It’s the other side of her face that marks the horrors she’s seen. Red angry burn scars travel her neck and face. Her skin bunches and grooves like a pitted dirt road. Her left ear is only a ragged, red hole. Yet, I rarely notice her burned face. This is the way she’s looked as long as I can remember.
I step to the edge of the cellar and peer at my brother. From the bottom of the hole, his eyes are wide as a jackrabbit’s caught in my snare. His lower lip trembles. He looks five instead of eight. “It’s okay,” I lie.
My mother grips my shoulder and presses down. “Get in.” Her voice is a choked whisper. She glances back at the dust plume. The gray cloud hangs huge, blocking out the horizon, a tornado set to tear our world apart.
I take a step back and narrow my eyes. “You first.”
“I have to get Bell.” She looks towards the upstairs window.
I grip her arm. “No! They won’t take Auntie. She’s too old.”
My mama pulls me to her chest in a brief hug. Then she scrambles out of my clutches. I claw for her dress, but she’s gone. “Don’t go!”
“I love you!” she yells over her shoulder, her voice full of tears. The back door thwacks as she disappears inside it.
“Come back!” I yell, but it’s too late.
I stare at the door, wondering if I’ll ever see her again.