Into the Air
by A.K. Downing
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy
Release Date: August 2017
When Mia Bryn escapes her underground compound and travels into the air, she never imagines her world will explode. Separated from her father and attacked by creatures she never knew existed, Mia flees into the forest. Within hours, she finds an abandoned girl, discovers a link to her missing mother, and meets beautiful, golden-eyed Archer. But why is an ordinary girl from a compound being hunted? And how can Mia survive in a world she knows nothing about?
EXCERPT #1: Chapter 7 – Heirloom
As the sun set, it took with it the hope of a meal. Long shadows draped across the ground and my level of anxiety increased. All around us nocturnal life awakened, but I locked my jaw and marched forward, stumbling over ground that so desperately want to slow me down.
And then the woods turned completely dark. Too dark to travel further. I stopped and leaned against a tree. The bark clawed at my shoulder and an owl called from overhead. I wiped sweat from my brow and listened to my stomach growling. No food left. Water was gone. I realized if I allowed myself, if I gave myself permission, I could easily crumble apart like the leaves beneath my feet. I knew I had to hold myself together. I had made a promise to keep Ezra safe. As important a promise as I’d ever made.
“We need to stop, Ezra,” I whispered.
“How about there?” Ezra pointed to a dense group of bushes.
I was exhausted, goose-bumped, the weight of my pack made me list to one side. I nodded. It was as good a place as any. I ushered Ezra under the branches and followed her into the darkness. The ground was damp. Something rustled a few feet away and I jumped. We sat hunched under the branches together, staring at the leaves. I dug out the last bit of dried ration in my pack and offered it to Ezra. It was only a mouthful, gone in seconds, with no water to wash it down. But I could imagine how it tasted. How it felt to have a morsel filling the hollowness.
Instead, I fed off my worry which sat sour and thick in my stomach. I had never felt so incapable. In the compound, I was self-sufficient. I gathered our rations. I cleaned our clothes. I held a job at the garden and finished my assignments on time. Here…well, there was no control. In fact, I had no idea how to find water, how to gather food. Cowering under this shrub, I felt like a fish stranded on shore – completely out of my element, gasping for air – and I knew if I hadn’t been able to scrounge a morsel to eat today, what would day two look like? Day five?
EXCERPT #2: Chapter 8 – Converge
“We’re not going anywhere with you,” I spat. I purposefully made my tone caustic and much to my dismay, Archer bent down in front of me until his very serious face was only inches from mine.
“You don’t have much choice in the matter, Miss…”
“You don’t have much choice in the matter, Mia,” he said softly, keying in on my name. He tilted his head to one side before he continued. “I’m sure you’ve noticed the woods are full of things that go bump in the night and whoever is tracking you, because you are being tracked, will most likely find you before the day ends. I’d say traveling with us is your only option for staying alive. Now if you choose not to travel with us, I wish you luck with the drones that will surely capture and most likely kill you within minutes.” He backed away and regarded me coolly. “So, what will it be?”
“One minute Archer,” Ben barked.
I scanned the woods, but didn’t see anything. The guards had pulled their bows taught. Every arrow was pointed directly over my head. The youngest one, Troy, glanced at me as if I was senseless…as if I were an exotic animal that didn’t understand the dangers of this land. And then I heard it. An eerie hum. It drifted like an omen through the trees. Instinctively, I knew something dangerous was approaching. Ezra gaped at me, her eyes growing wider by the second. Without a doubt, she had heard this sound before and knew to be afraid, but I still couldn’t move.
“I did not leave my compound to be dictated to.”
The tiniest of smiles tipped his lips. “Ah, it’s choice you want.”
I glared at him. The smug bastard.
“Then here’s a choice: live or die.” Archer stated it as a fact, holding his hand out to me. His voice was calm – unbearably so.
“What?” I gasped.
“Live or die. It’s a choice. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
It really wasn’t a choice, and he knew it. But what really irked me was he didn’t seem to care. If I chose to stay on the ground, he would just leave me in the woods without a second thought. The buzzing grew louder and yet, even as the other men backed away, Archer did not move. In fact, his smirk grew wider.
EXCERPT #3: Chapter 17 – Found
I stepped over a fallen tree and peeked at him out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure I was ready to tell him about my mother. I shifted my newly washed clothes to my other hand, to buy some time. “I’m afraid I haven’t told you the entire truth,” I confessed.
He glanced at me, but didn’t seem surprised.
“This necklace. Well…it was actually my mother’s.”
“Does it have a special meaning?”
“Other than it was hers?” I veered off toward my pack and hung my wet clothes on a branch. It seemed inevitable that I would tell him what I knew, but was now the right time?
He was waiting a few feet away, his perfect face glowing silver in the moonlight. He was watching dark clouds race past the moon. Stars appeared and disappeared – constellations that he probably knew – and I silently wondered if he would point them out to me some day.
“My mother was taken from my compound – my original compound – when I was ten,” I confessed.
“After a few years, my father and I gave up on the idea that we would ever see her again.” I paused and rubbed my foot into the dirt. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.”
He remained quiet, spurring me to continue. “My older sister Iris was killed the same night. It’s all pretty fuzzy.”
“Did you ever find out who took your mother?”
“No. If Marshal knows, he never told me.” I glanced at his face. It was expressionless, as if he wasn’t completely listening to me. I felt a slight heat rise to my cheeks.
“The oddest part is the necklace was only given to me a few days ago…” I continued.
The words were barely out of my mouth when suddenly he pushed me against a tree. His hand was over my mouth before I could make a sound. I was pinned by his chest and just as I started to struggle, his mouth was at my ear. “Someone is here. Don’t move.”
His eyes lingered on mine, relaying the importance of what he was telling me. I could tell he was suddenly, incredibly angry.
He released me, motioned for me to crouch at the base of the tree, and handed me his knife. “Don’t hesitate to use this,” he whispered. “If I whistle, run as fast as you can along the stream. Don’t stop, Mia.
Not for anyone but one of us.”
He slunk off into the woods and quickly vanished from sight.
It was then that I heard the voices. Foreign. Coarse. Demanding. I heard Ben’s soft reply. Then Finn. He was laughing, most likely trying to dissolve the tension – tension that I could feel from where I sat frozen to the ground. I peeked through the brush straining to see the men who stood only a few yards away.
They were positioned a few feet apart. Troy was to their right, Herc to their left and Ben and Finn were directly in front of them. Ezra stood securely between Ben and Finn as the fire glowed orange in the darkness. The men’s eyes shifted restlessly over the guards – my guards – and I inched closer to the tree somehow understanding that the men meant to do us harm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A.K. Downing's young-adult novel, Into the Air, is a 2017 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows the adventure of teenager Mia Bryn as she leaves the safety of her underground compound and tries to survive in a world no one has inhabited for more than a hundred years.
Growing up in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, Aimee spent her summers exploring the fields, woods, and orchards of her grandparents' farm. She was inspired by prepper shows and survivalist websites to create a story that weaves together the best aspects of young adult fiction – adventure, teenage angst, and a hint of romance.
Aimee studied graphic design at Kent State University and currently works as a Creative Director. She enjoys history and camping and feels there is no better way to see the world than from the top of a horse.