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  • Writer's pictureSteph Shuff

New World Edges

This novel excerpt appears in the 11th Issue of the Embark Literary Journal. The full text of that published work can be found here or at the following link:


The world decayed faster than they said it would. First there was the warming air, the rising sea, the storms, the fires. Droughts, famines, floods. The earth, worn out and overused, rose up against its abusers, a death-rattle rebellion. Acid rain poured down from black skies. Hurricanes battered tired coastlines. Earthquakes toppled cities and swallowed them whole into the ground, returning steel and concrete and glass back into the depths from which they came. California burned. The Southeast became an ocean floor. The tallest buildings in New York City could be seen above the white caps that lapped at glassless windows fifty stories high.

Then came the wars. Not the kind of wars waged by empires, heroic and distant, but the kind waged by hungry dogs. We were fighting over the scraps of a dying earth, but men love war, and the suffering that we create for ourselves is somehow more palatable than the suffering over which we have no control. We dropped bombs. We burned what little was left of an earth we had already destroyed. And then we celebrated over the ruins, claiming victory. But for whom?

Disease dealt the final blow. Or was it the very thing that saved us? Some say the plague spread because of the rising temperatures, the poisoned water, the toxic air. I think it was deeper than that. Mother Nature is cruel, but she can also be fair. I think she sent disease through the world to stop the suffering, to save the planet, and leave the soil of the earth fallow for a while, so that new life could grow again. After the plague spread like wildfire, entire cities became mass graves. No one was spared.

Well, almost no one.

I was just a girl when the plague began. I didn’t get sick like the others did. Instead the plague passed over me as the world died around me. I suffered from a different kind of sickness, one that spared my life but killed me all the same. The sickness of despair took hold. I watched as everyone around me collapsed. It didn’t matter that I had begged for their deaths—anything to release me from the hell I had suffered at the hands of cruel and hungry men. But to watch them die after I willed it was a cruel kind of justice—freeing me from one torment and imprisoning me in another. My captors had been brutal, and they were all dead. Mouths agape, frozen in coughing fits. Eyes open, their faces pleading for the relief of death long after death had already found them. Skin sallow and cold. I don’t know where our souls go when we die, but our bodies stay here, frozen in our final moment, decaying monuments to the seconds we lived just before we died.

A week after people started getting sick, I was the only person left. I walked like a ghost among their bodies, piled all around me, these little monuments to death. I was fourteen at the time. I was free, and I was alone.

Read the complete six-chapter excerpt in the Embark Literary Journal, here:

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