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FYI--This story is dark, a little romantic, and part of a novel titled, Edge of Mercy.

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I designed the cover myself with a couple stock pics and Gimp (free download). I think it's eye-catching, but I'm still learning the program, so there could be updated versions.

Excerpt of MERCY

I breached the trapdoor of the tower and clambered through. Thomas's heavy, scarred boots rested at the edge. He loomed over me. At twenty, he was only two years older but well over six-feet, and I was average—for a female. In so many other communities, it would pass unnoticed.

"Charlie?" I trained my gaze on Thomas and felt the heat of his stare. Often he watched me, and questions lingered behind his intelligent eyes. Did he know or suspect the truth?

"Have they put her outside the wall?"

"The old woman?"

I nodded.


I rushed to the window. They were almost to the gate. Lifting my gaze, I stared at the sun sinking behind the horizon. In the distance, I could already hear shrill cries of the creatures waiting on the other side, screaming in anticipation.

A dark fear invaded my mind, and my teeth ground together painfully. Fear of the inhumanity, of the cold cruelty of their actions overcame me, but mostly I felt the dread that my most guarded secret would be revealed. My fate would be the same as hers.

Shadows darted in the treetops outside the wall. I knew what waited for her on the other side. I'd seen them up close, fell for the seemingly innocent face and dagger teeth once, and my mother paid with her life. Now, I would watch it happen again. My stomach churned with the thought.
"No choice, Charlie."

Hot tears slid down my cheeks. "Why?" I marveled at the evenness of my voice. I wanted to drop to my knees and wail at the unfairness of it all. Just yesterday, she had stumbled out of the forest, and I had brought her into the community. I told her she’d be safe.

"We don't question the Council." 

Six months had passed since my sister and I showed up to this fortified community in the middle of The Dead Forest. I arrived in men’s clothing. My mother insisted, and I didn’t ask why. Curiosity killed. I'd learned to swallow my questions.

I clenched my hands into fists, cutting into the skin with my nails. The tight crowd reached the inner fence. They clearly weren’t backing down.

Throwing a backpack at her feet, the guards shoved her through the open gate. She turned, said something I couldn't comprehend. The gate clanged shut.

"Look at her, Thomas. Throwing a helpless old woman to the monsters? How can they live with themselves?"

Energy sparked in the air, and I watched feebly as a sharp line of spikes moved toward her, and the second gate opened. Through the inner fence, she shuffled backwards, passing rows of barbed wire along her path, but her gaze shifted back and forth between the spikes and the inevitable death on the other side of the gate. The thought occurred to me speared might be a better death than ripped apart, and I willed her to throw herself on the sharp points.

"Charlie," he paused so long, I finally turned my sorrowful gaze toward him, "females...something about them attracts the Draghoul. Doctor Graham says it's a natural chemical--a pheromone. We sent our women and girls to the other side of the wall, knowing most, if not all, would die. Why would the council spare a purposeless woman, a woman who would be bait for more of those creatures?"

I hung my head and let the sobs take over. I might as well throw off the bulky jacket and saggy pants. The council would find out soon enough, and I would be sent to the other side. But what about Star, my six-month old sister? The council already knew her gender. There was no way to hide it when so many cared for her daily.

"Star?" My throat felt tight.

"Hope for the future. Her purpose will be to bear children for them one day, and they’ll keep her underground where the monsters won’t detect her." His voice laced with bitterness, I felt his distaste.

Sourness filled my own mouth. I would face a hoard of bloodthirsty Draghoul before I let them use Star like that.

Oh God! Reality sunk in. I shuddered uncontrollably and wrapped my arms around my mid-section. My fate wouldn't be the old woman's. I was of childbearing age. If they ever discovered my secret, it would be worse.

The sound of Thomas's boots echoed on the wooden platform as he approached me. His hands gripped my arms, and as if reading my mind, he whispered, "No one will find out, Charlie. That won't happen to Star...or to you."

Our gazes locked, and he loosened his grip to swipe a fresh tear from my cheek. He knew. The air between us thickened as time slowed down. For that single, heavy moment, my unrelenting anxiety eased. Another soul knew my secret, and though I was probably a fool, I wasn’t afraid. The thought strengthened me instead. I no longer felt so completely alone.

A loud, screeching grind interrupted, and I blinked back to reality. The outer wall rolled open slowly. The old woman would be shredded. The voracious screams of the Draghoul lifted into the dusky evening. I had to do something.

"How good are you with that rifle, Thomas?" The metal glinted in the fading sunlight.

"Don't even ask. They'll have her before the first shot."

"Not them...her."

He was silent a moment. Then the cold metal noise of the bolt snapping back resonated. He raised it and slid the muzzle through a hole in the tower wall. He sighted down the barrel as the loud churning wall stopped with a thud, and the woman began to wail and plead in earnest. Several clawed shadows inched toward her, and she threw her arms in front of her face, as if they could protect her from the inevitable.

I covered my ears. Thomas pursed his lips and squeezed the trigger. The shot was deafening, but as I looked at the lifeless body on the ground below, I stroked Thomas's arm and whispered my thanks. In this horrible, new world, it was mercy.

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