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Read a sample from BITE by K. S. Merbeth

KILL. EAT. REPEAT. Bite is a post-apocalyptic action adventure for fans of Mad Max, Fallout and Borderlands: in a dangerous wasteland, Kid accepts a ride in the wrong jeep, accidentally joining a bloodthirsty raider crew . . .

I

Show Your Teeth

‘Need a ride?’

His grin looks more like an animal baring its teeth. His teeth are yellowed and chipped, with gaps between showing where others have been knocked out. There’s something starkly predatory about him, which is the first reason I shouldn’t say yes.

The second is I’m small, alone, and unarmed. Any of those could be a death sentence in a place like this.

And there we have the third reason: By ‘a place like this,’ I mean a torn-up, full-of-potholes road running through the middle of nowhere. It’s the only thing marking the landscape for miles. There’s nothing but empty desert and the ruins of old cities in every direction. Nuclear war can do that to a place, I guess. But the point is, there’s no one around to hear if I scream. Plus, even if someone did hear, chances are they wouldn’t give a shit.

The fourth reason is the creepy lady in the passenger seat, who has blue hair and an assault rifle in her lap.

The fifth reason is the red-stained sacks of something-or-other sitting in the backseat.

The sixth reason is . . . ah, hell. Need I go on?

I scratch my nose, sniff, and spit. The rumble of the jeep is the only sound in the stagnant air.

It’s obvious that getting in this jeep is a terrible idea. A sixteen-year-old girl like me could provide a hell of a lot of entertainment for someone with a sick enough mind. I must look like easy prey, with my ragged clothes and skinny body. So naturally, my answer is—

‘Sure, why not?’

When it comes down to it, I’ve been walking for days. The soles of my boots are collecting holes. The sand burns my feet during the day, and the world is dark and frightening at night. The sun has left my skin raw and peeling, and when it sets it sucks all the warmth away. I’m down to one can of food and less than two days’ worth of water – not enough to make it back to town even if I wanted to go. Lord knows how far I’d have to travel to find more.

This jeep and its driver are smelly, creepy, and very possibly dangerous, but they’re my only ticket out of here.

The stranger shows his teeth again. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of goggles too big for his face.

‘Hop in then, kid.’

I clamber into the backseat next to the reeking mystery bags, nearly tumbling onto them before I manage to squeeze myself into the tight space between the bags and the door. I place my backpack on my lap, my arms curling around it protectively. It doesn’t hold much, just my canteen, one can of food, and a blanket my papa gave me, but it’s all I have. I lean back with a sigh as the jeep starts moving. Sayonara, middle of nowhere! I might end up dead and dismembered in a ditch, but it’d be better than wandering aimlessly through this hellhole of a desert.

We pick up speed quickly, and I have to pull down on my beanie to stop it from flying off my head. A few strands of mousy hair poke out from underneath it, and I try to push them under again, but it’s no use. I settle for holding the beanie with one hand and resting the other on the side of the jeep. The rank smell of the bags is getting stronger and stronger, making my eyes water. I blink it away and try to ignore it.

My attention shifts to the lady in the front seat, who still strikes me as pretty creepy. She was still and silent the whole time they waited for my answer, but now she turns around. It’s impossible not to stare at her hair. It’s very long, nearly waist-length, and oddly straight and sleek. I really don’t understand how someone could have hair so perfect-looking, or how and why her hair is colored electric blue. The color is incredibly vivid in the dust- colored world around us.

She has dark eyes that reveal an Asian heritage, and small lips painted a vibrant red. She’s pretty, with a noticeably ladylike figure despite the wasteland garb covering her quite modestly. Her red lips are mouthing something, but I can’t make out any words with the wind whipping around me.

I squint my eyes, tilt my head to the side, and give her a vacant stare. She stares back at me for a moment before turning around.

She doesn’t try to talk to me again, and neither does the feral man. Apparently they don’t care enough to ask where I intend to go. I’m just along for the ride, and that’s fine by me. Wherever I’m going has to be better than where I’ve been.

If I had any common sense at all I’d probably want to stay on edge. But, at this point, I’m already in the jeep. Either they want to kill me or they don’t, and I won’t get much of a choice in it either way. So I decide to nap. What can I say? It’s been a long couple of days.

* * *

I wake up with my face pressed against the lumpy garbage bags, and wow do they smell. The scent is invading my nostrils, pillaging my throat, and violating my poor brain. I gag and recoil, pressing against the side of the car and frantically wiping my face with a hand that is probably even dirtier. I don’t know what the hell is in there, but I don’t want it on or near my face.

Once I determine I’m safe from any obscene- smelling substances, I realize the jeep is no longer moving, and my backpack is no longer on my lap. The man and young woman are standing a few yards away from the still vehicle, having a quiet conversation. Neither of them is paying attention to me.

I adjust my beanie and climb out of the car, stretching out my bony limbs one at a time. My back cracks and both of the strangers’ heads jerk toward me.

‘Err,’ I say. The woman still has her assault rifle, and it’s now pointed in my direction. I raise my hands and smile nervously. ‘My bad.’

She relaxes when she sees it’s just me, and the man displays that grin of his again. I notice my backpack in the dirt at his feet. In his hand is what I assume to be my last can of food. Unsurprisingly, it’s beans. Despite how sick I am of goddamn beans, my stomach rumbles. But his other hand holds a really big knife that he must have used to pry the can open, so I decide not to comment.

‘So you’re awake,’ the man says through a mouthful of food. He swallows, sighs with unabashed satisfaction, and continues. ‘We were about to wake you up, but you looked pretty happy in there. You were drooling a little on the goods.’

I wipe my mouth and feel my cheeks grow hot. He laughs, a hearty and surprisingly genuine sound. He bends down to grab my backpack off the ground and tosses it over to me. I can’t resist the urge to take a peek inside, just to make sure nothing else is missing. Once I’m certain that my canteen and my papa’s blanket are still inside, I sling the bag over one shoulder and smile at him.

‘We found a little town,’ he says, jerking his thumb behind him. ‘Decided it was as good a place as any to stop.’

‘Oh, yeah, great,’ I say sincerely. ‘That works just fine. Thanks for the ride, mister.’

He laughs again, this time for no good reason I can decipher.

‘Right, kid,’ he says. ‘Mind helping us carry this?’

I glance at the gross bags in the back of the jeep. The thought of lugging them around is far from pleasant. I don’t know what’s in them, and honestly I don’t want to know. But he did give me a ride, so . . .

‘Sure.’

‘Good!’ He grins again. ‘Don’t drop ’em or anything, we’re selling this shit.’

I nod and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. Right, I can handle that. Probably.

The blue-haired Asian lady has been looking at me intently this whole time, and it’s starting to make me uncomfortable. She has a weird blankness about her. Not a hint of emotion ever crosses her face, and she has an incredibly unnerving stare. It’s like looking into the eyes of a corpse. I try to ignore her, but looking at the guy with the savage grin isn’t much better. At least the woman combs her hair. The man’s is in long brown dreadlocks, and obviously hasn’t been groomed in an awfully long time.

The two of them move over to the jeep and start unloading. They pack my arms full first, and I scrunch my nose and try not to inhale too deeply. Once we all have as much as we can carry, we head toward the town.

Or, rather, toward the pathetic collection of shambling buildings we call towns around here. Like most, it’s built over the ruins of an old city, and made mostly of crumbling walls and scrap metal. People have patched up half-destroyed shells of rooms with blankets and plywood and whatever else they can find. From the looks of it, no more than a couple dozen townies live here. They peek out of doorways and windows as we pass through the outer limits of town. I see mostly men, a handful of women, and not a single child, which is not surprising. The end of the world didn’t exactly encourage people to go making babies left and right, and half of the ones that do get born won’t make it past their first year.

I’ve only ever seen pictures of the great old cities, but it’s enough to make me appreciate the sadness of what they’ve become. I thought the town I left was small and run- down, but now I know the people back there had it pretty good. These people are dirty, thin, wrapped in rags.

Hollow eyes in hungry faces turn to watch us, but they don’t seem overly alarmed. Apparently this place is used to strangers, which is a bit odd. Most of these little towns can go months without seeing a new face. Three strangers arriving would’ve been a big old affair where I came from, and not a friendly one at that.

We walk for a few minutes, moving into what seems to be the heart of the town, an open space between some of the more well-kept buildings. The man dumps the bags he’s carrying on the ground, and the woman and I follow suit. They produce wet thumps and small clouds of dust as they hit. I gratefully suck in fresh air while the other two survey the area. I’m not really sure what my plan is at this point, but these two seem to have some kind of goal, so I figure it can’t hurt to stick with them for now.

‘Where are they?’ the woman asks. Her voice is nearly a whisper, and as flat and emotionless as her face.

‘Not here,’ the man says, ‘which can’t mean anything good.’

I eye them, but bite back my question as a townie approaches. He’s a tall, wiry, dark- skinned man with a commanding presence and suspicious eyes. He folds his arms over his chest and spits a gob of yellowish saliva that narrowly misses my boot.

The dreadlocked man beside me shoves his hands into the pockets of his ratty jeans, assumes a relaxed posture, and grins.

‘Name’s Wolf,’ he says. ‘We’ve got some goods here. You have anything worth trading for? Gasoline, maybe?’

The townie says nothing. He looks at us, scrutinizes the bags, and looks at us again.

‘Might,’ he says finally. ‘What’ve you got?’ He nudges a bag with one shoe.

Again comes that cruel display of teeth.

‘Meat,’ Wolf says, overemphasizing the word.

The other man’s eyebrows rise.

‘Ain’t seen that in a while,’ he says. ‘What’s it from?’

‘Couple o’ wild hogs.’

‘Hogs,’ the townie repeats. He stares at the bags, his jaw working as if he’s chewing on the information. ‘Lot of meat for a couple hogs.’

‘Fat ones,’ Wolf says dryly. ‘Look, you gonna trade or not?’

The man pauses.

‘Let me think,’ he says. He seems to be carefully weighing each word. ‘I’ll have to look at our stocks. Why don’t you lot stay overnight? We’ll talk in the mornin’.’

‘Meat won’t stay good forever,’ Wolf says. It’s hard to read his expression behind the goggles.

‘Meat probably ain’t good now,’ the townie says, spitting again. I have to hop to the side to avoid this one. ‘One more night won’t hurt.’

‘Fine,’ Wolf says. He turns and jerks his head toward the woman. ‘Dolly, you’ll sleep with the jeep.’

‘We ain’t thieves,’ the man says.

‘’Course not,’ Wolf agrees enthusiastically, but shoots Dolly a meaningful look. ‘Anyway, we should at least get our goods out of the sun.’ The townie nods, saying nothing, and Wolf turns to me. ‘How ’bout helping us with these bags again?’

Something tells me I should leave right now and pretend I never had anything to do with a strange couple of travelers called Wolf and Dolly. Something tells me a man with a smile like his can only bring trouble. Maybe that something is what normal people call common sense.

But Papa always said I don’t have a whole lot of that.

‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Why not?’

About the Author

Debut author K. S. Merbeth is obsessed with SFF, food, video games and her cat, and resides in Tuscon, Arizona.