Afterworld is a speculative young adult novel, complete at approximately 70,000 words. It is set in post-climate change Florida. Its protagonist, Louise “Lou” Foster lives in Area Seven, a former evacuation zone north of Tampa. I’m really excited about this novel and am currently seeking representation for it.
I found her body in the backyard. There was no blood, no sign of struggle. I knew with absolute certainty that she hadn’t been sick. I would never have missed the symptoms of ice flu. My dad and brother’s wet hacking had been unmistakable; I’d tried and tried to forget it. I squatted back on my heels, a tunnel opening up in my vision. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. Emily Dickinson,” I panted, looking down at the dirt and using the line of poetry to push the redness of the blood that had oozed out of my brother’s ears at the end to the deepest corner of my memories.
Wilson whined from the porch, but I held up my hand in the hold command. He sat next to the steps with his ears cocked toward me. Clenching my hands until they stopped shaking, I whispered, “It’s not ice flu,” and stood up slowly and then took the eight steps to Dr. Norman’s body. Ice flu would mean the Area Seven board could quarantine this whole place, even burn it to the ground. “It can’t be ice flu.” I bent down beside her and shook her slightly by her shoulders. I placed three fingers on her neck. No pulse.
She was definitely dead, but it didn’t look like she’d been there for long. Probably she’d started working at dusk when our workday began and sleeping time ended in the nocturnal town of Seven. Even with the sun behind the trees and on its way below the horizon, it would have still been a steamy ninety-five degrees at least. It looked like she’d been moving a heavy potted lime tree from the greenhouse. She’d told me last night she was going to try planting it in the yard. She’d been working on some hybrid citrus trees to see if they could withstand higher temperatures. She should have waited until I got there to help her, and I rubbed the heels of my hands in my eyes, angry at her stubbornness.
Just two weeks ago I saw an old lady at Market, probably in her seventies, so not even as old as Dr. Norman, who was loading fertilizer and fell down dead. She’d dropped as if somewhere within her a switch had been flipped, and a thought of Dr. Norman falling to the dirt and just…stopping…barged into my mind and pulsed. She was so busy and active that I forgot that she was old enough to die simply because her body was done with the business of living. The heat and humidity were roughest on the older people.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” I repeated before standing up and putting my hands on my hips. I had a lot to do before sunrise, and I needed to figure out how to get it done. Burying her wasn’t an option; I knew better than to try it. That was just one of the things Dr. Norman had taught me. Expending that kind of energy, even in the middle of the night, was something to be carefully considered. Every exertion had to be counted, weighed, and measured in the After.
Also, there were the policies to consider. All deaths had to be reported and catalogued. Certain deaths had to end a certain way. If I took care of the body, I’d have a better claim to the house. I’d spent the last four years learning how to take care of the temperamental septic system, the solar panels, and the cisterns. And then there was the greenhouse. It never occurred to me that Dr. Norman had been training me to manage without her, but it made sense now that my gruff, no-nonsense mentor knew we’d wind up here sooner or later. She’d trusted me with everything she built, and no one was going to take it all away from me.