Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sneak peek at The Last Girl by Joe Hart


Good looking cover isn't it? Read on for an excerpt from The Last Girl by Joe Hart

 
The lecture hall is on the same floor as the cafeteria and is equally large.

It is centered in the building so that it has no windows to distract from the lessons. The footsteps of the women echo as they file in, the space meant for so many more bodies. The emptiness of it holds a disappointing air as if the room itself is disgusted with their lack of numbers.

The Clerics take seats near the door while the women cross the room to where a makeshift partition has been set up. The sound-deadening boards that make up the walls of their cubicle stretch nearly to the fifteen-foot ceilings. Inside the space is still enough room for at least fifty desks, but only six wait for them near the very front. Zoey pauses as she rounds the corner, unable to keep her eyes from traveling to the place where Terra’s desk has sat for as long as she can remember. Now there is only a stark void, four abrasions on the floor the only sign that anything has ever rested there.

Zoey takes her seat directly in front of the empty spot, all the while trying to ignore the absence at her back that is like a chill wind.

Miss Gwen is at her desk, as usual. She smiles at them all as they file past like this is the first day she’s ever met them. She is a pretty woman, perhaps in her late forties, with dirty blonde hair and a short forehead above hazel eyes tucked behind dark-rimmed glasses. Her cheeks are round and always red, as if she has either been outside in brisk weather or just heard some bit of inflammatory gossip. Zoey knows it is neither.

When they are all seated, Miss Gwen continues to smile at them for another moment before standing and rounding her long, old desk that looks to be from another era when everything wasn’t made of plastic or concrete. She wears her usual dress, the same color as their own clothes. It reaches down below her knees, stopping above her flat-soled shoes. The smile on the instructor’s face is as artificial as the plants that adorn the hallways in some places.

“Good morning,” Miss Gwen says.

“Good morning, Miss Gwen,” the women reply in unison, except for Meeka. She hasn’t said good morning to the instructor in two weeks.

Lily makes an excited sound from the back row where she’s been placed, and Miss Gwen’s smile falters. There is a tinge of disdain in her eyes as Lily quiets, so quick that Zoey’s not sure if any of the
others even notice.

“How are we this morning?” the instructor asks.

“Very well, thank you,” they intone again. Miss Gwen beams.

“We will all rise now and recite the creed.”

There is a shuffling of feet, and all the women stand. The instructor returns to the side of her desk, picking up a narrow, wooden pointer and jabbing it at a brass plaque affixed to the wall.

They begin to recite the words, none of them needing to read what is etched into the brass and inlaid with black paint.

“We are of the greater good. We live for the chance to rebuild the world that is no longer. We are one in our knowledge and stand steady before the challenges that face us. We give thanks for our shelter and for the guidance of the Director. We will not stray from the path.”

Miss Gwen smiles at them and taps the separate list of words below the creed, each line numbered and set in bold, capital print. They begin to speak again.

“The greater good is more important than any one life. We obey the Director and his edicts. We do not disobey the Clerics or the guards, for their words are the Director’s. We will not make a decision lightly, for everything we do affects everyone else. If we break a rule, the woman closest to us will receive the same punishment as the offender. For we are never alone. All of the commune that is left of the world depends upon us.”

“Very good. Your voices are so beautiful together. You may sit,” Miss Gwen says. They all slide into their chairs. Zoey notices Meeka looking at her, but when she turns to meet her gaze she sees that Meeka’s eyes rest not on her, but the vacant space where Terra’s desk used to be. Meeka looks back to the front of the lecture hall. After a moment Zoey follows suit.

“Now, before we continue,” Miss Gwen says. “I’m sure you’re all aware that this is a very special
day for one of us. As you know, it is Terra’s twenty-first birthday today and she will be inducted into the Program this afternoon. This is momentous because it’s been over a year now since Halie left us for the safe zone with her parents.” Miss Gwen clasps her hands before her and shivers. “Soon all of us will be there with them and as sad as it will be to leave our home here, it will be an unparalleled occasion! I hope you’ve all reflected on how to say goodbye to Terra in your own way this afternoon and take comfort in knowing that soon it will be your turn to travel with the Director as well.” She gazes at them all, hesitating for a brief moment on Meeka’s stony profile before nodding. “Now, if we can all open our texts to chapter twenty-two, page one hundred three.”

There is a rattle and thump as the desks open and each woman pulls out the single textbook inside. The books are hardcovers and glossy black. The silver letters N, O, and A in the center shine as Zoey lips to the correct page. “Now. Who would like to read first?” Miss Gwen says, as if it is the greatest honor she can think of. Lily’s hand rises immediately, and she breathes heavily through her nose. Zoey watches a look of disgust ripple across Miss Gwen’s pretty features before she shifts her attention to Penny, who raises her hand nonchalantly, her bobbed, greasy hair swinging above her narrow shoulders.

“I will, Miss Gwen,” Penny says.

“Excellent, Penny. You may begin.”

Lily lowers her hand, blinking, and begins to run her fingers over the text of the page as if she is reading through them. Zoey stares at Miss Gwen’s frozen smile and has the insatiable urge to run forward and drive the older woman into the wall hard enough to break her back, crack her skull—anything to wipe that incessant grin of her face.

“The Dearth,” Penny reads from the chapter heading. “Late in the year two thousand sixteen, a noticeable drop in female births became apparent across the globe. At first it was by only several percent but soon after, in mid–two thousand seventeen, the rate dropped to well below half of the previous year’s. By fall of the year two thousand eighteen, despite an unprecedented, scientific undertaking by the National Obstetric Alliance, female births were recorded at less than one in one hundred million.

“During this time, a rebel force consisting of several militant groups rose up against the United States government as well as the National Obstetric Alliance and waged open war on those that were trying to find a cure for the Dearth, see chapter forty-three for more information on the rebellion. For five years a civil war unlike any the world had seen before raged until an astonishing discovery was made. NOA scientists pinpointed the source of the Dearth as a singular virus that attacks embryonic nucleotides within pairings of X chromosomes, thus halting the births of females. This same virus then mutated and became deadly to all who encountered it. The greatest nation, and soon the world, became plague-ridden and fell into complete and utter chaos.”

Penny’s words drone on in a dreary tone that starts the inkling of a headache in the back of Zoey’s skull. She gazes down at the neat paragraphs within the textbook, the pages beginning to wear at their edges from being turned. This is how she learned to read, how they all learned to read. It is from the text in the front of the book that they learned English, math, and science, while the second, much larger portion holds the knowledge of what was and is outside the walls. How many times have they finished the entire book, only to start once again the next day?

Because what else is there to learn here? What other purpose but to wait and believe in the day when they will be inducted and leave forever?

Zoey rubs the back of her neck, blocking out Penny’s voice in favor of reliving Edmond’s daring escape from his cell. Even after reading Monte

Cristo more times than she can remember, it is still magical each time she opens to the first page. She closes her eyes and is there with him on the sea, moments away from finding the treasure, moments away from becoming something new, something powerful and full of vengeance.

“Zoey!”

Zoey comes awake, only then realizing she was dreaming. Miss Gwen is several steps away, glaring, mouth turned sour at the corners.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“You were sleeping,” Miss Gwen says, spitting out the words as if they were curses.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t . . .”

“Didn’t what?”

“I . . .” Zoey’s throat is closing up under the instructor’s relentless gaze.

Rita snickers. Penny grins. “I didn’t sleep well last night because I was so excited for the ceremony today.” The lie rolls of her tongue like water.

Miss Gwen straightens, some anger draining from her eyes as her mouth evens. “Well, I suppose I can understand that, what with your induction coming very soon as well.” She gives what Zoey guesses is the closest thing to a sympathetic expression she’s capable of before nodding to the open textbook on Zoey’s desk. “Regardless, it’s your turn to read. At the bottom of page one hundred six, second-to-last paragraph.”

Zoey clears her throat and reads.

The rest of the morning passes with the monotony of lecture. They take turns reading, and Miss Gwen asks them her questions that have been answered again and again.

Why do we obey the rules?

Because they keep us safe.

Why must we remain here inside the walls?

Because beyond them is ruin.

How can we rebuild the world?

By being part of the greater good.

Excerpted from THE LAST GIRL © Copyright 2016 by Joe Hart. Reprinted with permission by Thomas & Mercer. All rights reserved.

About The Last Girl
A mysterious worldwide epidemic reduces the birthrate of female infants from 50 percent to less than 1 percent. Medical science and governments around the world scramble in an effort to solve the problem, but twenty-five years later there is no cure, and an entire generation grows up with a population of fewer than a thousand women.

Zoey and some of the surviving young women are housed in a scientific research compound dedicated to determining the cause. For two decades, she’s been isolated from her family, treated as a test subject, and locked away—told only that the virus has wiped out the rest of the world’s population.

Captivity is the only life Zoey has ever known, and escaping her heavily armed captors is no easy task, but she’s determined to leave before she is subjected to the next round of tests…a program that no other woman has ever returned from. Even if she’s successful, Zoey has no idea what she’ll encounter in the strange new world beyond the facility’s walls. Winning her freedom will take brutality she never imagined she possessed, as well as all her strength and cunning—but Zoey is ready for war.

About the Author
Joe Hart was born and raised in northern Minnesota. Having dedicated himself to writing horror and thriller fiction since the tender age of nine, he is now the author of eight novels that include The River Is DarkLineage, and EverFallThe Last Girl is the first installment in the highly anticipated Dominion Trilogy and once again showcases Hart’s knack for creating breathtaking futuristic thrillers.

When not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, exploring the great outdoors, and watching movies with his family. For more information on his upcoming novels and access to his blog, visit www.joehartbooks.com.

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