On June 2, 2018, The Colorado Center for the Book awarded the Colorado Book Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy to L. D. Colter for her debut novel, A Borrowed Hell. The Colorado Center for the Book is an affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book. A program department of Colorado Humanities, its mission is to encourage a love of reading and books among people of all “ages through diverse cultural activities
“He’s here,” a woman said.
July opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw were buildings jutting high into the foggy sky, forming a tall, jagged skyline that matched nothing on the San Diego coastline. He sat with his back against a rough, brick wall. Across the street rose the unmistakable pyramid shape of the Transamerica building in San Francisco’s financial district. July’s mind struggled with the incongruity. He should be five hundred miles to the south, squashed like a bug under a three-thousand pound Prius. The last thing he’d seen before opening his eyes here had been a close-up of the car in mid-roll.
Maybe he was dead. The thought was too uncomfortable to contemplate.
A man squatted next to him. Smudges of dirt stood out in grey-brown streaks against his dark skin. He wore faded green fatigues — the jungle kind that had preceded the desert kind — and an olive green T-shirt covered with dirt and holes. His hair lay flat against his head in small, tight plaits, and a single, bone-colored bead decorated the end of each braid.
“Hey there,” he said. His smile was genuine, wide, and natural. It was the smile of someone at ease with himself and his surroundings. July found it reassuring in this place where nothing else was.
“How did I get here?”
The man shrugged. July looked to the woman standing behind the man. She shrugged.
Woman may have been a stretch; she looked more a girl, ultra-thin and waifish. Her worn blue jeans sported gaudy sequins at the frayed hems, and her long T-shirt emphasized her skinny legs. Dish-water blonde hair hung lank on either side of her face. Her eyes held a hunted look.
“I don’t understand,” July said.
“Then best to just move on,” the man said, standing and stretching. “Come on.”
He and the young woman turned from July and began walking. July pushed to his feet, still finding no pain or injuries. He looked the other direction, down the length of the empty business district. Empty. The wrongness he had been feeling crystallized. Not only was he in the wrong city, but the city itself was wrong. Other than the two people walking away from him, there was not a car or a person in sight.
The pair receded at a steady pace. Panic prodded July to jog after them. He wanted to believe this was a dream but couldn’t, everything here felt too visceral. The man and the young woman walked side-by-side taking up the center of the sidewalk; July caught up to them and walked behind.
The silence of the city hung heavy around him, the slap of shoes on concrete loud in the unnatural quiet. It brought to mind old Twilight Zone episodes of people thrown into muted, artificial environments, but everything around him confirmed the reality of his surroundings. He could feel the breeze ebb and gust against his skin, heard the rustle of a candy wrapper crunch underfoot. He saw low clouds drifting above, and smelled warm brick, paved road, and the odor of the two unwashed people in front of him.
“Where is everybody?”
The young woman looked back at him without answering. The man answered without looking back. “They’re around.”
A dozen questions formed in July’s mind but none of them made sense. He let the silence take him. Chinatown lay empty and quiet only a couple of blocks to his left and Telegraph Hill just ahead. The Embarcadero must be to the right. They were walking through perhaps the most quintessential square mile in the city; places that would normally be some of his favorite to visit. They climbed steadily for twenty minutes or so until they reached Pioneer Park, where a tall, whitewashed cylinder dominated the grassy knoll. A sign near the parking lot announced it was Coit Tower. It looked like a lighthouse had gotten lost and wandered into the park for a rest. He found it as eerie as the rest of the deserted city.
Due to a varied work background, Liz has harnessed, hitched, and worked draft horses, and has worked in medicine, canoe expeditioning, and as a roller-skating waitress. She also knows more about concrete than you might suspect. Liz has multiple short story publications to her credit spanning a wide range of science fiction and fantasy sub-genres. Her novels written under the name L. D. Colter explore contemporary fantasy and dark/weird/magic realism, and ones written as L. Deni Colter venture into the epic fantasy realms she grew up reading and loving. Her debut novel “A Borrowed Hell” is the 2018 Colorado Book Award winner for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and her epic fantasy “The Halfblood War” is due soon from WordFire Press.
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