The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave #2) - Rick Yancey
THERE WOULD BE no harvest.
The spring rains woke the dormant tillers, and bright green shoots sprang from the moist earth and rose like sleepers stretching after a long nap. As spring gave way to summer, the bright green stalks darkened, became tan, turned golden brown. The days grew long and hot. Thick towers of swirling black clouds brought rain, and the brown stems glistened in the perpetual twilight that dwelled beneath the canopy. The wheat rose and the ripening heads bent in the prairie wind, a rippling curtain, an endless, undulating sea that stretched to the horizon.
At harvesttime, there was no farmer to pluck a head from the stalk, rub the head between his callused hands, and blow the chaff from the grain. There was no reaper to chew the kernels or feel the delicate skin crack between his teeth. The farmer had died of the plague, and the remnants of his family had fled to the nearest town, where they, too, succumbed, adding their numbers to the billions who perished in the 3rd Wave. The old house built by the farmer’s grandfather was now a deserted island surrounded by an infinite sea of brown. The days grew short and the nights turned cool, and the wheat crackled in the dry wind.
The wheat had survived the hail and lightning of the summer storms, but luck could not deliver it from the cold. By the time the refugees took shelter in the old house, the wheat was dead, killed by the hard fist of a deep frost.
Five men and two women, strangers to one another on the eve of that final growing season, now bound by the unspoken promise that the least of them was greater than the sum of all of them.
The men rotated watches on the porch. During the day the cloudless sky was a polished, brilliant blue and the sun riding low on the horizon painted the dull brown of the wheat a shimmering gold. The nights did not come gently but seemed to slam down angrily upon the Earth, and starlight transformed the golden brown of the wheat to the color of polished silver.
The mechanized world had died. Earthquakes and tsunamis had obliterated the coasts. Plague had consumed billions.
And the men on the porch watched the wheat and wondered what might come next.
Early one afternoon, the man on watch saw the dead sea of grain parting and knew someone was coming, crashing through the wheat toward the old farmhouse. He called to the others inside, and one of the women came out and stood with him on the porch, and together they watched the tall stalks disappearing into the sea of brown as if the Earth itself were sucking them under. Whoever—or whatever—it was could not be seen above the surface of the wheat. The man stepped off the porch. He leveled his rifle at the wheat. He waited in the yard and the woman waited on the porch and the rest waited inside the house, pressing their faces against the windows, and no one spoke. They waited for the curtain of wheat to part.
When it did, a child emerged, and the stillness of the waiting was broken. The woman ran from the porch and shoved the barrel of the rifle down. He’s just a baby. Would you shoot a child? And the man’s face was twisted with indecision and the rage of everything ever taken for granted betrayed. How do we know? he demanded of the woman. How can we be sure of anything anymore? The child stumbled from the wheat and fell. The woman ran to him and scooped him up, pressing the boy’s filthy face against her breast, and the man with the gun stepped in front of her. He’s freezing. We have to get him inside. And the man felt a great pressure inside his chest. He was squeezed between what the world had been and what the world had become, who he was before and who he was now, and the cost of all the unspoken promises weighing on his heart. He’s just a baby. Would you shoot a child? The woman walked past him, up the steps, onto the porch, into the house, and the man bowed his head as if in prayer, then lifted his head as if in supplication. He waited a few minutes to see if anyone else emerged from the wheat, for it seemed incredible to him that a toddler might survive this long, alone and defenseless,