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Peacock Swamp: Book 1 | The Nine
In 2064, The Nine are preparing to assemble. This board of individuals is President Madame LaFonte’s solution to an ailing nation in search of medical care. While it seemed ideal at first, the folks of the borough are quickly discovering it isn’t quite what it seems. The lucky ones are issued a red gown and another chance at life. That’s the happy ending. However, not everyone gets a red gown. The others have to make their own second chance at life–if they’ve got the heart to do what it takes.
When the superstitions of the swamplands run just as deep as the mud, every little bit of luck helps. They named her Vitalia, a name that means life. But her name was the only advantage that she had. In need of a heart transplant, Vita leaves Peacock Swamp behind to stand before The Nine. With her family by her side, they run into the dangers that government healthcare has created: an underground medical clinic that services the rejected citizens…for a price.
Her whole life has been a struggle. Why should her death be any different?
If Brine could see the dwellers of the borough walking by as they sat on the porch, he would see that no one was staring at them. No one paid any notice to the man with the black sockets for eyes and the girl with the violet lips who held his hand. No one did double takes. There was no whispering, or giggling, or joke telling. They were not freaks. They were the norm. Dwellers of the borough made due without eyes and tongues, or sometimes even a hand or foot. The Ruggeros would be out roaming as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, snatching unsuspecting dwellers and whisking them away to their chop shop. The shop was rumor to be lined with glass vessels and flagons; each filled with that night’s take of eyes, skin, fingers…anything the Ruggeros could sell for a few silver pippas to the many black market doctors still operating under the light of the moon. They opted for parts they could take quick, a slice and grab, without any real surgical expertise required. There was an exception however named Lorn. He was second in command to Dane, and as the son of a once famous surgeon, Lorn had mastered the craft of surgical removal and transplanting of organs. Successfully mastered in Ruggero terms meant that he had at least performed it successfully more times than not. The not still happened, but when he was successful he could pull in a small fortune with the sale of a liver, lung, or the most desirable, a fresh heart.
Brine never talked about how it happened. Marmie in her anger often accused him of getting drunk and selling them to pay off a hefty gambling debt, but Vita knew better. It was the gold flecks. They beckoned to the Ruggeros. She figured Dane and his gang got top dollar for them, perhaps with one of the many cosmetic surgeons that makes trips into the borough to stock up on fresh goods a few times a year. But Brine didn’t discuss it. “They’re gone,” he would say. “And they aren’t growing back.”
Vita held Brine’s hand in hers as they felt the evening breeze on their skin. The splash of turtles that lived to see another day echoed through the swamps, and the smacking of shutters being pulled tight created a symphony of snaps in the night. “You’re not feeling too well tonight, are you Pup,’ he asked, more of a statement than a question. He rubbed her hand and shook his head in sadness.
“I’ve felt better,” Vita answered. “My belly burns, all the way through my chest. It feels…tight.” She twisted in her chair and rubbed her free hand over her stomach. Still nothing soothed it completely. “I spent a lot of time at the swamp these last few days, probably took in some rancid water.”
Brine bowed his head into his chest and sighed heavily. Vita knew that look, when he turned into himself silently. He was afraid, petrified for the little girl that every witch doctor and back ally surgeon in the borough had said for years was dying. That her heart was weak, pumping poisonous blood into her veins and slowly but surely eating her from the inside out. But in her pain she soothed him, hushing him like a baby. “Shhh…I’m just fine Dad. I need a little rest is all.” As they sat in silence the sun dipped along the line of the horizon and Brine could feel the warmth suddenly leave his skin. Vita’s eyes wandered to a small fluttering at her feet where a tiny white moth was flickering wildly. “A cabbage moth,” she whispered. She smiled at the way it fluttered at her toes, tickling the tips of them and feeling like a million tiny feathers. She stretched out her hand, and leaned forward to see if it would settle on her finger.
As she bent over, a sudden knot bunched tightly in Vita’s side. Her mouth became damp and she began to heave, convulsing forward into violent waves. Vita began to hurl the last of the stew still churning in her stomach over the porch. She gasped for air as the heaving continued, while Brine fell to his knees to find her. When his arms finally found her cool body she was face down, her nose buried hard into the concrete. He felt around her face to feel her breath on his fingertips. He hollered to Marmie for her help, because even without sight, he still knew that the warm wetness slipping between his fingers was blood.
Katie Femia took a leap of faith several years ago and left her career as an elementary school teacher to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. She now enjoys the day-to-day musings of writing for a variety of blogs and websites as a regular contributor. She covers topics such as home finance, DIY projects, money saving strategies, and everything in between. While a number of manuscripts still slumber in a kitchen drawer, Peacock Swamp | Book One: The Nine is her first published novel. She lives in South Bend, Indiana with her husband and three children, where they enjoy the typical Hoosier summers of chasing fireflies in their bare feet. When she isn’t writing, Katie can be found making over vintage furniture pieces and scouring local thrift spots.
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