Let me tell you part of my story:
He’s walking beside me through a fiberglass forest of snowy grass, where ripples of sunlight crisscross the forest floor in gem-like pools and white boughs sway overhead like sleepy children. Semitransparent leaves above us sieve the sunbeams that glimmer over his midnight hair while the feathers edging his metallic wings wink and gleam. Glossy sun-patterns form fractured light crystals on his cheeks, turning his skin luminous around his scarred eye.
As we stroll, the faux vegetation crushed underfoot sets off earthy, herbal scents reminiscent of sage and pine and strawberries.
It sounds like a dream, right?
But our world is anything but a dream.
Wake up now.
Lunar squints into the light-hazed distance. “Why do you think they told us the fiberglass forests aren’t working if they are? They must be, or that butterfly wouldn’t have been here.”
“Maybe they aren’t working,” I say, “and the butterfly was just one of the last surviving remnants. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s pretend everything’s perfect. That they are working and the Coalition is a munificent papa keeping this secret from his kids just for now, as a surprise, and within a few years we’ll have all our extinct animals back…”
Grinning, Lunar shakes his hair out of his dark eyes, all of him amazing in the glimmering air. “Since when have you been a dreamer?”
“Since I woke up with a dream in my bed. How’s that for cheesy?”
He’s no longer paying any attention to the trees rustling in the fantasy realm around us; he’s looking at me now, in such a stark way my nerves buzz just under my skin, more alive than ever before.
He’s just scheming; it’s not real.
Then comes more movement out of my peripheral vision.
I shove Lunar back and whip toward—
A brown rabbit.
Balancing on its hind legs beside a droopy fern, its nose twitching, pale pink ears flicking as if pestered by an invisible fly. It sniffs the air experimentally, scouting out our scent, front paws curled demurely in front of its white-flecked chest.
“It’s frickin’ Thumper,” Lunar states the obvious.
“Okay.” Shaking my head, I snatch out my phone and reconfigure it to notify me of even small life forms so I don’t devolve into a jumpy, paranoid maniac. A butterfly I can accept, but this?
Sure, stray dogs and cats survive in the city, and pets live in the oxygen-rich environments of people’s private homes, but in the wild, everything’s died out. Or so they’ve told us.
I stuff the phone back in my pocket. “Looks like the fiberglass forests did work, after all, only they’ve been telling us they didn’t.”
“You think it’s a drone?”
“We’ll find out.” I crunch over the grass toward the rabbit and it drops to all fours, ears flicked back, body tensing.
Its fur seems to ripple in the striations of sun and shadow.
“Whoa.” Slowing, I hold out an arm to brake Lunar, too, who’s right behind me.
I crouch down a meter or so in front of it, wishing I had some sugar cubes or something—or whatever rabbits eat. Real grass, maybe. Seeds. Whatever they put in this place that’s edible and is supposed to keep them alive.
It hops nearer, nose aquiver under liquid brown eyes. The flaps of its ears go alert and inquisitive, no longer flattened. Its posture seems curious…
Great. I’ve downgraded to interpreting the body language of a rabbit.
Unconcerned by now, it rises up on its hind legs and cups its paws around its mouth, its whiskers twitching away and head bobbing as it grooms itself.
“It’s cleaning its mouth for lunch,” I whisper.
“Vamp rabbit?” Lunar whispers back where he stands behind me, his hand hovering so near my wing feathers I feel that trace of touch near my heart. “Should we run?”
I bite my lip on a laugh and reach out… and run my hand over the creature’s silken pelt, its body warmed from midafternoon heat. The fur glides soft as velvet under my fingers, although the skin beneath it feels slippery and bumpy.
I motion to Lunar. “Come on, come touch it.”
He drops to his knees and sits on his heels in the dappled sunlight, light patterns shifting on his cheeks with the swaying boughs, his metallic wings filtering sunbeams through their silver vanes.
In one neat maneuver, the rabbit clambers on his lap and snuggles in the dip between his thighs.
“The freak?” Lunar stares down at it, his eyes shielded by his eyelashes, but then he begins petting it, and I can’t tear my gaze away from his hand stroking the rabbit’s fur.
It nudges its nose over his black pants, then commences gnawing the material.
Lunar chuckles. “Hate to break it to you, honey-bunny,” he chucks it gently under the chin, “but synthetic material is hardly quality sustenance. Especially not the stuff we ChemLab rats have to wear. It’s treated with crap to make it resilient against acid spills, you know, and against other accidents we shouldn’t be stupid enough to make. I don’t want my first rabbit to conk out because it nibbled my threads.”
I attempt to smother my snicker and fail spectacularly.
Lunar glances up.
I flap my hand at him. “No, no, don’t stop tutting on my account. I’m enjoying big bad Lunar Adurian relegated to a blubbering coo by a teeny weeny wittle bunny wabbit.”
He pauses mid-pet, eyes narrowed. “I am not a blubbering coo.”
“Inside, you are, all blubber and coo. Unless you can justify why you’re so gentle with ‘honey-bunny’ when you’re CEO of Antagonistic Incorporated with the rest of the world.”
“It’s not human.”
I snicker again, then lean forward and touch the rabbit myself. Lunar removes his hand but I sense his gaze on me as an uncontrollable coo overtakes my own lips.
I just can’t believe that under my palm weaves the bone and muscle of a creature we believed no longer existed—at least, not outside frozen cryonic chambers. But now a frantic, living heart beats inside this quivering body, and I’m touching it, the first live bunny anyone’s seen in years—that I know of, at least. It’s been merrily hopping around here outside, waiting for someone like Lunar and me to appear so it could clamber into his lap and nuzzle up under our stroking.
“Yeah?” I scratch the rabbit between its flicking ears. “Look, he likes that!”
“She likes that, you mean.”
“How would you know it’s a she?”
“Any dude animal would know better than to climb on my lap.”
“But honey-bunnies don’t know better?”
“Cascade,” he says again.
I look up at him then, and his countenance is open as it was when I was injected with the truth serum and…
I go utterly still, my hand dropping from the rabbit’s coat. “What is it?”
He reaches for me and sifts his hand through the hair at the nape of my neck, a slow gathering around his fist. Grass blades prickle softly on either side of my legs and brush over my knees. Sunlight drips through the trees in ribbons as I bask in their pools of warmth.
There’s a raw look on Lunar’s parted lips, in his scarred eyes.
His body leans into mine, and his mouth takes my first kiss in sunlight. Our breaths interlace on our tongues in the lush scents of blossoms, ferns, and wood fanning around us. A breeze brushes tendrils of my hair over my forehead and cheeks while his hand finds my pulse, his knuckles grazing my skin. The giddy scents of pine and ripe berries lace with his breath, his mouth. The air is like an exotic blossom heavy with nectar on my skin, and with Lunar’s soft touch on my throat, the world melds into a potent abundance of color and brilliance. The forest whispers with our passion, flecks of sunlight sparkling through our languid, lowered lashes.
My fingers plunge into soil and hook there as if I can hold myself to the earth, but the dirt and pebbles crumble as moist as velvet cake through my fingertips.
Then the rabbit leaps off his lap and he lets me go, though our foreheads stay resting against one another, his lips inches from mine…
I’m afraid to breathe, everything a fragile bubble. I’m afraid as his breath skims my cheek, as his lips graze over mine, of what I’m feeling inside—and that he feels nothing.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to anyone out there reading and enjoying my blog and the stories I post. This is an excerpt from my book Incandesce. I still intend to help save the world someday if my books ever take off selling 🙂
For another excerpt from Incandesce [beginning “There’s a city under Haven. Steel skeletons of buildings soar there in jagged spikes: the ruins of a magnificent underground metropolis…”], click here.
For a fuller description of the book, check here.
To get all of Cascade’s story on your favorite retailer, go here!
Sign up to my newsletter here if you’re interested…