Christine Nielson Haggerty grew up in rural Utah with three brothers, a sister, several chickens, a goat, and an outhouse. She always loved the escape of fantasy and the art of writing, and her passion for life is to craft stories of strength and survival.
As a former high school language arts teacher and a black belt in karate, Christine has found a niche in combining those skills to help authors write effective fight scenes.
An award-winning young adult author, she writes the dystopian The Plague Legacy series and the dark fantasy fairytale novella series The Grimm Chronicles.
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Ben leaned back again and shifted his eyes to Cam. “Name?”
“No, no,” Ben shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Here we do it right. Just ‘cause we’re slaves don’t mean we don’t have manners.” He sniffed and held out his hand.
Cam took it. The old man’s skin was as dry and thin as paper.
Smiling, Ben pumped Cam’s arm. “Mister Benjamin Tanner. And you are?”
“Well met, Mis-ter Cam-er-on Lan-dry,” he drew out each syllable. “Welcome to my fine establishment. The smell of manure is exceptional here, ripened to perfection. We live with horses and detest housecleaning. You understand, I’m sure?”
Not sure what else to do, Cam nodded. “Nice to meet you, Benjamin Tanner.”
“Please,” Ben released Cam’s hand, still speaking as if he were someone else, “do sit.” He pulled an overturned bucket away from the wall.
Cam sat on it, shifting his butt around until he was as comfortable as he figured he’d get. “What about the dog?”
“Kitty?” Ben took on a new accent. “Nine lives, this one.” He stooped and scratched the dog’s tall ears. “She had ‘er throat smashed by a Regulator, she did. A mighty ‘eart without a bark,” Ben grinned.
Offering the old man a tight smile, Cam reached out his hand and bit his lip while Kitty sniffed his fingers. After a moment, she nudged her nose under his hand. “My friend was attacked by dogs on the trip here. The bite wounds got infected,” Cam’s throat tightened.
Ben’s bushy white eyebrow shot up. “He died, eh?”
Cam nodded, the memory stealing his voice.
“You said you were hungry?” the old man’s voice returned to his normal pitch and he took another drink from the bottle.
“Starving,” Cam’s stomach rumbled, the fish from Styx’s warehouse long gone.
“Well, I ain’t got any food,” he held out the bottle, “but I got my own special brew.”
“No, thanks,” Cam looked at the door, his thoughts on Myla and Jax.
“Waiting for someone?” Ben walked past Cam to the door and opened it. He looked outside, then banged it shut, the liquid in his bottle sloshing from the vibration. “Nobody there, rookie.”
“My friend is a mutant. She came here with me.” Cam watched as Ben busied himself at the iron stove. Kitty jumped onto the cot and watched, her ears pricked high.
Heat blasted into the room when Ben popped the doors, raising the temperature from hot to sweltering. Sweat ran down Cam’s back and soaked into the waistband of his shorts. Flinching in sympathy when a couple of sparks landed on Ben’s bare thigh, Cam’s throat tightened as Ben rammed a branding iron into the flames.
The man stumbled as he stood, and Cam caught him before Old Ben fell against the stove. The old man was as light as a child, as weightless as his paper-thin skin. Settling Ben on his feet, Cam sat back on the bucket. “What did Charyn mean when she told you that Valiant will expect to see me here in the morning?”
“If you’re gone, I get whipped.”
“Whip you?” Cam was surprised. “Why?”
Ben shrugged. “Basic crowd control. Most people are willing to risk their own punishment for something they want, but they won’t risk hurting someone else. Slavery 101.” He pointed at Cam. “Consider that the beginning of your education in Salvation. Next course is all about pain.” Ben played with the end of the branding iron.
Cam felt the blood drain from his sweating face. “What if I don’t care if they hurt you?”
“Oh, you’ll care,” Ben smiled, showing off a row of crooked yellow teeth. “I’m pretty fabulous.”