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The Wheel

Nightfall, Book One

Cynthia Hickey

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Copyright © 2021 Cynthia Hickey

Published by: Winged Publications




This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.


No part of this book may be copied or distributed without the author’s consent.

All rights reserved.


In less than an hour my fate would depend on a spinning wheel. One yank, and my fate sealed.

Anticipation, and an element of fear, trickled through my veins. I peered at my five-foot-two frame and smoothed the skirt of my patched, but clean, yellow dress. My best one, the one with sprigs of blue flowers across the fabric. Not my favorite article of clothing. It made me look younger than my eighteen years.

I couldn’t help but hope for a position in a fine house on top of the hill in our community of Soriah where cold didn’t seep through holes in the walls and food always graced the table. A job where my private space was more than a cot separated from the rest of the house by a thin blanket hanging from hooks in the ceiling. Crawling through dank leaves in the forest looking for edible plants had long since lost its appeal.

“Crynn Dayholt!” My mother’s cry came from the other side of the moth-eaten blanket making up the wall of my bedroom. “You cannot be late today of all days. It’s a criminal offense.”

Taking a deep breath, I stepped from behind the blanket and sat down to a breakfast of hard biscuits soaking in broth leftover from dinner the night before. “What job do you think I’ll get?”

Mam sat across from her. “Maid would be nice, even an assistant in the bakery, working for those rich folks, but you’d have long hours and little free time. You might get a job in one of the factories. It’s backbreaking but the hours aren’t as long.” She leaned her elbows on the table and lowered her voice. A flicker of fear crossed her face. “I’ve heard there are jobs unimaginable on that board, Crynn. Terrible ones. Pray the wheel doesn’t land on one of those. Better to be poor than dead.”

The biscuit stuck in my throat. I grabbed for the glass of water next to my battered metal bowl and took a gulp. I, too, had heard rumors of the wheel landing on something, then the applicant disappearing without a trace. What would my disabled mother do if that should happen to me? The small amount of sewing she did whenever she could get her hands on material wouldn’t be enough. The rich women on the hill didn’t pay much for their tailoring.

I reached across the table. “No matter what, I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

She nodded. “I will be, even if you’re lost. Lorna’s son disappeared. Remember Fawke Newton? His wheel landed on a black square, and he was rushed off right after the feast. Anyway, his mother receives money every month. Not a lot, but enough to live on. She’s doing better than we are on my disability, but misses her only son very much.”

While I wanted to help better my Mams life, I didn’t want to do so at the expense of mine. Outside, one long blare of a siren signaled the time for all eighteen-year-olds to gather at the community hall. I took a deep shuddering breath and pushed to my feet.

Mam grabbed her crutch and forced a smile. “Don’t wait for me, dear. You’ll be late if you do and that will get you in trouble.”

“I love you.” I wrapped my arms around her frail body. “I’ll see you at the feast.”

“God willing.”

Her words hovered like a dark shroud over my head. There was nothing exciting about turning the age of an adult. Not in a world made of darkness because of humanity’s greed.

Oh, I’d heard tales of a land filled with sunshine and flowers, clean smells and fresh water. Far different from the dark, cold world I’d grown up in. Any light came from fires lit at regular intervals along our cracked streets to keep from freezing. I grabbed a tattered shawl from a hook by the door, wrapped it around my shoulders, and stepped into the frigidness of a summer morning.

“Good day to determine your future, aye Crynn?” A tall lanky boy named Borke slowed his steps to match mine. “I’m hoping to work in the metal factory. With all the destroyed buildings in the lower city, finding work supplies will be a cinch.”

“Aren’t there…things that live in the cities?” I’d heard stories told to children to make them behave. Tales of creatures that thrived in the dark. “That would be dangerous.”

“Those are fairy tales, Crynn.” He scowled. “I bet you’ll be a maid in a fancy house. They like the pretty girls to work there. Or,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “maybe you’ll be an entertainer. I’ll be your best customer.”

“You shut your mouth right now.” I pulled my shawl tighter and shuddered. Entertaining the male species was not something I wanted to consider. Surely the secret powers that be had to be men in order to establish such a career meant only for females.

“Identification, please.” A man dressed all in black stood outside the community hall.

I stepped forward and let him scan my pupil. He opened the door and announced my name.

An elderly woman in gray ushered me to a back room away from the tantalizing aromas of roast meat and … was that vegetables? My mouth watered. Only on your eighteenth birthday did you

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