Hollow Edge

They Hunt Us

They Imprison Us

They Exile Us

More than a century after an asteroid hits Earth, the survivors live in the Hollows, a self-sustaining city far below the Earth’s frozen surface. While some live a lavish lifestyle, others are forced into servitude by the ruling Commission and its oppressive soldiers, the Authority. Shy and anxious by nature, Charlie Edge does her best to keep a low profile and keep her powers hidden. But how do you hide when your dead father was an infamous rebel leader?

Yet when an outrageous stranger confronts the Authority and messages her to protect something, she does. Now she is exposed and the Commissioner’s wife has vowed to destroy her and her friends. Charlie’s risk sets them on a dangerous path, one which embroils them in a complex web of deception and forces them into a course of action that threatens to rip their entire world apart. Not knowing who to trust, Charlie must summon all her strength to fight back before time runs out in the only safe place anyone has ever known.

Chapter 1

APRIL 22, 2167

Sparks flew around my head while the monotonous popping and hissing of the welder drowned out everything else surrounding me. Lost in my thoughts, the acidy smell of burning metal fusing together flooded my nose, becoming all I could taste. The vaporizing steel invaded my lungs, my pores, every cell of my body. I couldn’t wait until I could scrub the day away. Even then, after the regulation four-minute lukewarm—though forceful—spray of the shower, there was always some residue left behind.

“Useless,” I muttered as a large drop of water gathered then dropped from the pipe mere inches away from the spot I had just fixed. Welding in the water plant was an endless job. The galvanized steel pipes sprung leak after leak as the bunker’s infrastructure was old and worn. The welding torch in my right hand felt like a part of me, a metal extension of my body that I used twelve hours a day, six days a week. I loosened my grip, then stretched each finger individually to relieve the pain and stiffness.

Why couldn’t I be ambidextrous?

Bundles of pipes and cables in various shapes and sizes ran along the sides and top of the walls. Once painted in brilliant colors, the years faded them until they became the same shade of dull. Knocking twice on the cold rock wall, I gave thanks the Hollows was still sustainable since the alternative was unthinkable. The lights flickered. Was there a problem with the generators? The underground whispers claim the diesel-filled lake is almost dry.

“Charlie. Hey, Charlie!”

My concentration broke and I released the trigger of the welding torch when I heard my name called. I cocked my ear toward the sound until I heard it again. Flipping up the visor on my helmet, I spun around, catching a glimpse of Callahan striding towards me. His footsteps in the cavernous room were muffled by the sound of the welder.

I raised a hand in an uncertain greeting, and he waved back uneasily. Glancing around, I checked to see if anyone from the Authority lingered nearby. My heart pounded so hard it threatened to burst from my ribcage. My hands became slick with sweat inside the thick leather gloves that were two sizes too big.

What would possess Callahan to visit me while I worked? If they discovered us on an unsanctioned break, there would be consequences, severe ones. Thunder—thank goodness, there was no one in sight. Various scenarios played in my mind as he walked towards me. What had happened that he has shown up here? Why would he take such a risk? I checked my tag—forty-five minutes before the final horn. Not that long. I shuffled my feet wondering if I should risk talking to Callahan or ask him to wait until the final horn sounded?

Against my better judgment, I turned off the welding torch, slipped off my gloves, and removed my helmet. My hair spilled out halfway down my back. Hurrying to throw it up in a ponytail, I pulled on the hat stuffed in my back pocket. I poked up all the loose strands into my cap, so my hair wasn’t visible. I couldn’t chance the paint wearing off.

“Whatcha doing here?” I swung down from the scaffolding, unsure whether to smile or frown. A visit with Callahan would usually put me in a better mood, but my stomach was queasy at the thought of someone noticing and reporting us.

“How did you find me?” Callahan mouthed the word “blind spot”. He pointed towards a black security camera anchored to the arched cement wall, motioning for me to bend down. The feeble lighting reflected off the camera lens, creating moving patterns on the opposite wall. Its mechanical whirling and clicking noises reverberated in the room. We would only have a few seconds until the camera swung back our way.

I dropped into a crouch, creeping towards the blind spot where those watching couldn’t see. Cameras observed us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Those of us from the eastern part of the bunker, the laborers , or Subs as the Elites called us for subordinates, learned how to stay out of sight as much as possible. It had taken years to discover and map all the blind spots in the Hollows.

Big fat drops of water plopped down on our heads from the leaking water pipes. The overhead fluorescent light barely reached the edges of the corridors, enabling us to get lost in the dimness. I felt the cold rough rock wall against my back. A shiver ran through me as I thought of all the spiders and creepy crawlies that could easily touch my skin and get in my hair. A pitfall of living underground. I detested bugs.

“How’s the welding going?”

Callahan wasn’t acting like himself. He seemed fidgety. Restless, like he was about to jump out of his skin. His eyes darted from side to side, his head twisted over his shoulder, as if he waited for something to hop into the shadows with us.

“Still holding together so far,” I replied with a half shrug. Experience taught me he was working up to telling me something else. Something I would not like.

“Good, that’s good, right? Because we’ve been down here a long time, longer than we should have been?”

“Yup, they built this place for thirty days, not 118 years.” I sighed as I checked the time, 5:15 pm. The workday would soon end.

I wasn’t in the mood to rehash the history of the bunker with this senseless small talk. I monitored the camera. It swung back this way, but we should be safe here for now. “Is that what you came over here for, to discuss things we both already know? Why are you here? I need to get back to work. This can wait until the end of shift.” I pointed to my tag.

His demeanor changed, as if by the flip of a switch. I watched as the pinched expression left his face. His head tilted to the side, and a ridiculous grin spanned from ear to ear. He rubbed his hands together then before I could react, splayed out his fingers, and ran them down my face, something he did from an early age when he discovered how much I hated being touched. Most times, I never reacted quick enough to move out of the way. If you told Callahan not to jump, it would be the first thing he did.

Callahan wore his sanitation uniform: black boots, gray baggy coveralls, covered with a bright orange vest. My uniform was green for maintenance, but otherwise the same. Callahan’s clothing did nothing to take away the fact he was gorgeous, with jet-black hair, big brown eyes, light- brown skin and chiseled features. His short strands stood straight up, spiked like an old punk rocker, a type of music he tried to make popular again. On anyone else, his hairstyle would look ridiculous, but somehow it seemed perfect on him.

My security tag beeped. I slipped it from the holder on my left arm to read the message. I noticed Callahan’s tag missing.

“An alert?” he asked.

“Just a reminder about tomorrow’s assembly.”

“As if we could forget with all the daily alerts and notifications they send.”

“Hey, where’s your security tag?” I fumbled around the sleeve of my uniform until I returned the thin black metal tag covered in plastic to its proper place. My fingers ran over the smooth cover, clutching it closer.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” He gave me a flippant wave of his hand, then flashed another mischievous smile. He pulled his tag out from the inside pocket of his uniform, reattaching it to its proper place on his left arm. “I wouldn’t get caught without it . . . know better than that, right?”

“If you say so. You are breaking Code 7A-1421 not being in your proper work area just being here.”

Callahan glanced at the camera. “Never mind that. Guess, what? You’ll never believe what I’ve found. Like never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever!” Callahan pulled something out of his back pocket then stood with his hands behind his back. “Guess!”

“What are you? Twelve?”

“Just guess!” Callahan shifted his weight back and forth, unable to stay still.

His enthusiasm felt contagious. Despite my nervousness, I found a smile on my face without realizing how it got there. I was horrible at guessing games, but it meant a lot to him, so I tried. At each guess, he shook his head no. His eyes glinted. What had he found to make him react this way? I hadn’t seen him this excited in a long time. Searching my brain for something, anything, I came up blank. I raised my arms in surrender. “Gees, I don’t know.”

Callahan dropped his hands to his sides. An apple floated out from behind his back, hovering just below his shoulders in front of his chest “Surprise!” Callahan made every simple act into a performance—although this time, an actual apple, made it worthy.

My jaw dropped. An apple, not just a picture of one. Rumors from the underground whispers boasted that apples grew in the restricted section of the food plant, but I never hoped to see one in my lifetime.

Callahan’s twin sister, Gibson, and our friend, Reese, both worked in the food plant. They had never seen an apple either, probably because they couldn’t access the restricted area. We chalked their existence up to a myth or an urban legend. But they actually existed. The shiny red color drew me towards it like a magnet. I couldn’t look away. My hands trembled as I reached forward to touch it; but then I froze. Shrinking back, I dropped my hands interlacing them behind my back.

My head swung to check the camera even though I knew it couldn’t have caught Callahan’s performance. The other camera, though, must have recorded I wasn’t working, that I was not standing where I was supposed to be. Interlinked with the computer system, someone would have added a note to my file.

“Jumping jeepers, Callahan Malone, are you crazy?” I swallowed down a gulp. “What are you doing with that, you’ll get us both sent to the vault? Don’t you know how long you could get locked up just for touching one of those?”

“Overreact much? Can you believe my good luck? I still can’t.” Callahan’s eyebrow raised slightly. “Anyway, they wouldn’t send me to the vault for a tiny infraction like this, right?”

“You sound so sure.” I wanted to shake him. How could he be this reckless? My head whirled; another headache was forming. I rubbed my temples to ease the pain. “You know if you break any of the commission’s codes what will happen… getting caught with contraband breaks Code 3A-2933. Not to mention using your abilities… in public. You need to stop doing stupid stuff or you will get both of us killed.”

“I’m careful. The TCC won’t catch me. Besides, they’d never blame you as you’ve never been in trouble before.”

I looked around and whispered, “You’d better not get caught calling the commission that name.”

“What are you saying?” he pretended innocence, then grimaced, “TCC stands for ‘Totally Corrupt Commission’ and that’s what they are, right?”

“Don’t repeat it.” I swatted his arm. “I have to get back to work.”

“Charlie, listen… I know what you are thinking, but I didn’t use my powers to get the apple; I swear I didn’t. I found it… honest.” He crossed his hand over his chest.

“Well, you are using your powers now, aren’t you? Holy Attila… hang on to the apple with your hand.” My words rushed out faster than normal. “Callahan, you know better than to use your telekinesis. What if they caught you, and with the apple on top of that? Then it wouldn’t just be the vault, would it? Do you want to get exiled?”

The vault meant incarceration, but exile was a sure death sentence. Nothing could survive outside of the bunker, in the frozen wasteland.

Callahan snatched the apple out of the air and spun it around on his index finger. “What’s with you lately? You are even grumpier than usual.”

“You—that’s what!” I wiped my sweaty hands on my pant leg. “You are stressing me out right now. I don’t want to get caught up in this. Why are we even friends? You live your life on the edge, and I know—I’m a boring rule follower. It’s so… crazy. I can’t breathe, I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack.”

“Overreact much?” He raised an eyebrow.

I stared at the ceiling, trying to avoid the apple’s allure. Steel netting covered the rocks overhead, anchored by over 115,000 rock bolts to keep pieces of rock from falling. Workers had hammered the bolts chaotically into the granite, so it looked like a crazy rock-climbing wall. Sometimes I imagined pictures in the design, shapes like stars and animals.

Callahan laughed at me throughout my tirade while polishing the apple on the sleeve of his coveralls. He’d seen me spin out-of-control plenty of times; it wasn’t anything new.

“Um well… because you have enough fear for both of us, scaredy-cat,” Callahan teased. His smile made him appear younger than his seventeen years. Callahan made big loops with his finger beside his head, like I was crazy.

I made a funny face at him, but Callahan’s cheery mood immediately made me feel better.

Callahan sometimes had an endearing habit of saying “right” after every sentence. As if he needed confirmation on everything he said.

“Whatever.” I couldn’t stop my lips from quirking upwards. “Rules make life easier. I don’t know why I’ve always liked them, but I do. I think it’s because it makes everything black and white, right or wrong, truth or lie. I liked absolutes better than maybes.”

“Do you want the first bite?” Callahan motioned to hand me the apple. Callahan embodied generosity: always willing to share what little he had. He didn’t have a selfish bone in his body. Others would have saved the apple for themselves and savored it in private, but not him.

I wanted to grab the apple from his hand and discover what it felt like, smelled like. The apple shone so red and glossy—my eyes had never experienced that color before. I couldn’t even imagine how it would taste. My mouth watered at the thought.

“I’ll pass,” I answered after a long deliberation with myself. No matter how much I wanted to taste the apple, I knew I would never let myself try it. It wasn’t a risk I would take.

Callahan taunted me with a twisted half-smile. He ran his hand through his spiked hair before he took his first bite, his face lighting up with delight. He barely swallowed the first bite when he took another. Did it taste as good as it looked? My mouth salivated and I tore my eyes away from him. “Charlie, you have to live a little, take a chance, right?” He focused on the apple, mumbling and drooling as he took a bite. “When will you ever get an opportunity to try an apple again?”

He wasn’t wrong. I might never get the opportunity again, but I just couldn’t do it. Fear kept me from taking a bite. Fear stopped me from doing most everything. The thought of the consequences kept me in line. They were too severe; I took a big enough chance just sitting here while he ate the apple. It was out of character for me to do something this risky.

“Yeah…, no.” I rubbed my temples as my headache pulsed. The initial low throb developed into a raging pain. The headaches began a few years ago, one every month or two, but lately, they were more frequent and intense.

“Headache again?”

I nodded. “If you didn’t use your abilities, how did you get the…?” I motioned toward the apple, still too afraid to say the word.

“It fell off a cart coming back from the food plant.” Callahan lit up as he explained. “It rolled into the corner without the Authority noticing. I snatched it, tossing it in with the trash because they never look in there when I’m cleaning. I couldn’t believe my good luck.”

Hiding contraband in with the trash became one method of moving things around from place to place without the Authority noticing.

“Hmm, sometimes, I guess you’re lucky you have the worst job in the Hollows.”

“Cause my job picking up everyone else’s garbage is a dream, right?” He adjusted the collar on his uniform as if he were wearing a three-piece suit. “I’ll trade you, sanitation for maintenance. You can get stuck with all the dirty jobs nobody else wants to do.”

“Yuck, no thank you.” My nose wrinkled at the thought.

“Are you positive? Not even to see the control center?” he nudged his shoulder against mine.

“Big deal. You’ve only gotten to see it once, it’s not like it’s an everyday event.”

“That’s still one more time than you saw it, right?” he continued in a singsong voice. “You could see more of the Hollows. I have access to move around almost everywhere.”

“Not the West End. Plus, it’s against the code 2A-9831 to access places you don’t have clearance for.”

“No, not the West End. Not yet, anyway.” Callahan lowered his head. A wistful look appeared on his face. “Charlie, don’t you ever wish you were an Elite? Imagine. You could eat amazing things like this all the time.”

“Do you think they do? Or are they rationed like once a year?”

The juice from the apple trickled down his chin, washing the filth of the day from his face. I had to look away. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Plus,” I added, “what would be the point of wishing? You know things never change around here. Life is never so bad that it can’t be worse.”

“Damn Charlie, same old story, every time. Why are you so negative?” He glared at me, his jaw clenched, and a vein throbbed in his neck. “Life’s not so bad… you’re still alive, aren’t you? Tomorrow is another day; you never know what could happen. Look at me: yesterday I had never even seen an apple and today I have tasted one. Life can change from moment to moment.”

“I . . .” His tumultuous mood swings drove me crazy. “Expect nothing and nothing will disappoint you. You’ll never get hurt.”

“Unbelievable! You never look on the positive side of things.” There was nothing left of the apple. He put the remnants in his pocket and licked his fingers before wiping his hands on his uniform. He dragged his hands through his hair as we stood in silence. His spikes bounced right back up.

After a few seconds, I reached over and tapped his arm. “I’m sorry, I wish I could be more like you, but… I don’t know how. I’m emotionally backward.”

“Um, maybe you choose pessimism, so you are never disappointed when you expected something good to happen and it doesn’t, right?

“Whoa, that’s deep. When did you get so poetic?” I tried to cajole him back to a better mood. He wouldn’t stay mad at me for long; he never did. He always burned hot but cooled off quickly. How could he stay mad when he found an apple? Jumping jeepers, that might be the best thing that has ever happened to him.

I slide down the wall to sit on the rough concrete floor and Callahan plopped down beside me. “Did you ever wonder why the walls, floors, everything is gray; there is not a single drop of color in this place?” I asked. “Everything is so drab. Why can’t we use color?”

“Nope,” Callahan answered. “Never thought about it.”

“Well, don’t you think it would be better to see painted murals or pictures on the walls instead of stone and cement? Someone with artistic talent must live in the bunker. Maybe there could even be a modern-day Picasso or Monet.”

“Who?”

“Don’t you remember anything from our time at Voco?” I admonished him for forgetting. “Picasso and Monet, painters in the old world that painted famous pictures that hung in museums… I think there is a portrait hung in the assembly hall. The one with the bridge and water lilies—.”

“They don’t even give us enough to eat what makes you think they would give us paint for the walls… the TCC would never allow that.”

I bumped his shoulder with mine. “I am fully convinced you never graduated from Voco.”

“Guilty.” A shadow passed behind his eyes.

I nodded. I shouldn’t have brought up Voco. I knew Callahan hated talking about school. It had become a sore spot with him because of his dyslexia. The teachers didn’t have extra time to spend with him, so he fell behind. We all tried to help him, but we didn’t know how.

We sat together without speaking, content with the lack of words. Why weren’t more people fluent in silence? I checked the location of the camera, estimating I had about ninety seconds before it would swing back around. I needed to get back to my post. The computer would have logged every minute it stood deserted.

Before I could leave, I felt my heartbeat pick up and I dropped down beside Callahan again. I sensed we weren’t alone.

About the author

Frankie Cameron is a Canadian writer born into a family of musicians. An odd duck, she remembers explaining movies to her parents at an incredibly young age. She decided to take up writing after years of ruining the plot twists of TV shows for her daughter. It was also a way to put her overactive imagination to good use.

Frankie Cameron

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More about the book

Sparks flew around my head while the monotonous popping and hissing of the welder drowned out everything else surrounding me. Lost in my thoughts, the acidy smell of burning metal fusing together flooded my nose, becoming all I could taste. The vaporizing steel invaded my lungs, my pores, every cell of my body. I couldn’t wait until I could scrub the day away. Even then, after the regulation four-minute lukewarm—though forceful—spray of the shower, there was always some residue left behind.

“Useless,” I muttered as a large drop of water gathered then dropped from the pipe mere inches away from the spot I had just fixed.

 

Chapters

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Amazon Reviews:

“…an incredible story, I marvel at the scope of your imagination.” 

“Refreshing new take on a dystopian world where character development and storyline are captivating from the very beginning. So many emotions are brought on throughout Charlie’s adventures. The story is well written from finish to end keeping you on the edge the entire time. Highly recommend getting this book.”

“I enjoyed following Charlie Edge through her adventures. I loved the twist and turns as I read through the pages that captured my attention and wanting to read more.”

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