Hey there, welcome back to You Young Adult Nostalgic. Tonight I’d like to share a bit more from my latest work, The Swarm and the Flyer.
For those who haven’t yet heard or read, The Swarm and the Flyer is book one in my postapocalyptic diptych. Huh, say what now?!
Diptych! You know, two halves of the same story! At least, that’s the word I stumbled across in figuring out whether or not to call my two-part novel a series. Check out more about the diptych below:
Author Dan Simmons often writes what he calls diptychs, stories published in two halves, like two opposing leaves folded into one tale, such as his Ilium–Olympos diptych. Unlike duology but like dilogy and trilogy, diptych is an authentic Greek word.
However, rather than meaning two different words as a putative duology would appear to indicate, diptych means a “two-folded thing”, analogous to a triptych meaning a “three-folded thing”. So a diptych is one piece folded into two halves.
These are not merely two novels occurring in the same world setting; they are two integral halves of the same thing. They might perhaps be called a series in that Ilium is the first half of the singular story concluded in Olympos.
– From “A series of three is a ‘trilogy,’ a series of two is _________?
So please, if you’re remotely interested in post-apocalyptic tales with strong gay leads, then I’d love to hear your thoughts on my work. As always, may your read be a journey worth taking.
For a few sweet seconds, I feel unchained as I straddle my bike and ride. Both of our bikes sing in harmony, the spokes whistling through the wind. Josiah and I reach the corner of Timber Ridge and Fox Hollow not a minute later, the gradual dip in the road flattening out. Thunder slows to a trot. Just a few more houses down…
Then it’s there: the green and white semi cab, completely intact and without so much as a flat tire or cracked windshield. I thank our lucky stars and pick up my cadence, Thunder and Josiah right beside me. Josiah is already following our game plan and takes Thunder’s leash from my hand in one fluid motion. When I see that Thunder’s switched sides so that he’s following Josiah, I pull up to the grill of the semi and dismount.
I hop up onto the side step and tug at the door handle. No dice. “Dammit.”
“Check for a key box,” Josiah whispers, nodding to the underside of the cab before he leans his bike across mine. I bob my head and start running my hand slowly around the base of the cab. I take my time, making sure to not cut myself on any metal edges: without a first aid kit, getting a cut could mean an infection. Swelling. A lost limb. Death.
I have no luck on the driver’s side, and sure as hell don’t know where else to feel other than around the fuel tank and wheel wells. My heart does jumping jacks in my chest when the leaves overhead rustle ever so slightly.
Then my fingers touch a tiny plastic box under the passenger’s step. I pop open the magnetic box and smile down at the spare key. “We’re in business.”
As I hold the key up and let it shine against the glaring moon, my eyes focus on the door handle on the passenger’s side. “You’d better not be unlocked,” I mutter, stepping up and giving the handle a tug. The door doesn’t budge. I snicker before inserting the key and pop the door open.
I only have to look at the top of the front windshield to get that relief that I’d hoped for. The CB radio rests flush in its built-in mount. I set my revolver in one of the cup holders, my nostrils flaring against the stale smell of cigarette smoke and something even more bitter — motor oil, maybe. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Josiah hopping up and down on the driver’s side. I have to snort and giggle.
“I gotcha.” I roll my eyes before lunging over the driver’s seat and pushing the door open. Behind Josiah, Thunder paces and yanks at his leash, which Josiah tied around the nearest tree trunk.
“Hey, so this big truck has an antenna on the back of the cab.” Josiah jerks his thumb back, his eyes alight with excitement. “I’ll work on unscrewing it while you check the radio out. Sound good?”
“Perfect, thanks Josiah.” I salute to him, which he responds to with a quick grin before passing me my toolbox. Then I remember our plan and call out, “Hold off for a sec. Gonna see if we can get through to anyone first.”
“Okay, now to figure you out,” I mutter to the radio, gliding my hand over the mic and the buttons. COBRA 29 LTD CHROME. Fancy sounding name. I sure as hell don’t know how to tune the damn thing, but I’d better start trying to figure out the buttons and dials.
I carefully unhook the mic before flicking the power on. Nothing. Then I remember the key and jam it into the ignition. The power kicks on as amber lights flood out from the center console. “Thank you,” I murmur, then open my toolbox and slip the screwdriver out.
Thunder barks twice in quick succession, which I can hear clear as day through the open door. “Shh, shh, quiet, boy.” I crane my neck with the mini MagLite in my mouth, casting the light over the shallow sleeper space in the back. The stick shift jabs into my side, and I let out a winded “Oof.” On my second pass with my flashlight, I spot a crinkled Lays bag and reach for it. The sound of tiny bits of chips is sweet relief, and I toss the bag outside to Thunder, who goes to town and tears into it.
Once the center console reaches its full glow, I carefully lift the mic receiver off its hook. I hold down the side button, close my eyes, and listen. Nothing but static. I clinch the “RF Gain” knob and open my dry mouth. “Check 1-2. Check 1-2.” Talkback is good as my voice echos back. Please, please. “Check 1-2. This is Rayland Mark Calderón. I’m a survivor. Josiah Knect is with me. We’re at-” I cut myself off and let go of the button. There’s no telling who might be on the other end. Survivors. Looters. Someone worse. “We’re survivors in Denton. Is anyone out there?”
More warbled noises spill out of the mic. I watch the needle on the SWR meter dip just above the “1” mark before rolling back to the far right. Seconds pass by. When I hear nothing, I study the front panel of the radio and note the four screws at each corner. Might as well start unscrewing.
I crank the DYNAMIKE knob all the way to the right before I raise my screwdriver to the first screw. I repeat my message into the mic, my tongue weighed down like I just took a spoonful of honey. “We need help. Please, anybody.”
In the side rear-view I can see Josiah hanging from the side, studying the long antenna on the back of the cab. He catches me looking at him in the rearview and purses his lips in pained defeat. “If my dad were here, he’d probably know how to work the radio,” Josiah calls. “He’s good at tinkering with electronics.
If my dad were here, he wouldn’t be able to help us. I squeeze my eyes shut, anger rushing into my veins. I hold back from telling Josiah to keep it down. He knows how this works.
“This is…fficer Cassandra Owens. Do you read me, Rayland?”
I jump so high that my head bangs against the roof of the cab. “Holy sh- Yes, yes I read you, Officer!” I jam the screwdriver in and begin twisting screw number two.
There is a gust of wind so strong that the semi cab creaks. In the rearview, Josiah goes rigid as he raises his eyes to the treeline to my right. Though the voice inside my heads screams at me to not look, I turn and stare out the passenger window. The line of pitch black trees across the street is swaying back and forth.
We woke them up.
“We need to move!” The tension in Josiah’s voice slices through the cab. He grabs the antenna and continues unscrewing it. I swear and release the PTT button, listening to the jumbled static rise and fall. The third screw comes out and falls to the floorboard.
Then her voice comes through again. “…We’re…ere, Ray… I’m with my partner, Officer MarQui Ric…”
“I copy! Copy!” I almost scream into the mic before tucking it in the crook of my neck. I yank the final screw out, then fumble with the different colored wires behind the CB radio, finding the point at which they are held together with butt connectors. Which ones? Shit! I twist and twist, the wind picking up as leaves dance across the hood.
“We can meet you!” My voice is loud and clear. “Where are you?”
“I read you…land. Officer Richards and I are… -olding out at th- Argyle fire sta-”
The driver’s side door is thrown open before Josiah sticks his head in. “I know where that is! And holy God, you found someone!”
But can we trust her? “We have to go!” I blurt into the mic, then twist and yank at the fourth and final wire, the plastic butt connector refusing to give. “Officer Owens, Josiah and I will make it out to the fire station tomorrow night.” Then I pause. “We’re armed…Josiah and I have to be careful.”
“Do whatever you need to do,” Officer Owens says, fierce determination in her voice. “Officer Richards and I will be here. Over.”
I drop my screwdriver as soon as the last screw falls to the floorboard. The first traces of the deep purple haze start to rise up over the two-story house across the street. Thunder is barking like crazy now, choking himself as he yanks against his leash. One. More. Wire.
Josiah is tugging at my sleeves. The plastic housing and radio come free the second the cab lights die out. When Josiah tugs at my shirt, I can feel the last wire give. In a flash, I process what’s waiting for me outside the passenger window: the silver glint of the Swarm, like bits of metal swirling in their nebulous bodies. And the red gleam…those eyes.
Josiah and I topple backwards onto the grass. My head strikes something hard — the edge of the sidewalk, maybe. My brain’s a match that’s just been struck, and I clutch at the burning spot and stare up through the branches. When I shut my eyes, I’m high again. Stoned on weed and stumbling away from the Tri House with Rich, Brandon in the middle of the night, just to clear my head. God, that hit from the blunt had run me over like a train. I couldn’t stop coughing.
Take it easy, man. Rich’s grin had glinted in the dark right before we fell on our backs in a stranger’s front lawn. It’ll pass.
“Rayland, come on!” Josiah is on his feet and tugging at my arm. I have it. I have the CB radio cradled against my chest. Thunder’s barking is paltry compared to the roar of the Swarm. Josiah yanks one live radio from his waistband, then another before chucking them over the semi. I shove the CB into my bag while Josiah unties Thunder. Then we run, snatch our bikes, and fly onto our seats. I pray for a smooth road. I pray that Thunder will run faster than he’s ever run in his six dog years of existence.
I pray for the chance to stop running. To let the Swarm sweep me off my bike and end me right there. Wouldn’t that be easier…
Instead, I pedal harder, the CB radio now rubbing through my drawstring as it slams over and over again against my spine. The static flows from the remaining radio across our waists. Now my eardrums are tingling for real, even when the grating of the Swarm starts to fade. Fox Hollow Road melds into Timberidge, and I skid and nearly topple off my bike. Then I right myself as Josiah shoots ahead of me.
Neither one of us look back. Not once.