"Cass must choose between the two men in her life while saving the people she loves from certain death."
Reviewed by Kathyrn Little
Posted December 4, 2011
HORIZON is the 3rd book in the Aftertime series and very
much looked-forward to by the fans of Sophie Littlefield.
Cass Dollar, the main character, has managed to survive
mindless cannibals, near loss of life for both her and her
daughter, and constant set-backs. When an enigmatic
traveler tells of a possible way to travel north and escape
the hordes of Beaters-who are growing smarter-Cass and many
others follow him. Will Cass and her daughter make it to
the safer areas?
There are currently two men in Cass's life. the first, Dor,
captivates her. He has been hardened by constant loss, but
is protective of Cass. The other, Smoke, has quite a few
skeletons in his closet but he has proven a great deal to
Cass. Cass will have to choose between them in this third
HORIZON contains constant action. The reader will never be
bored as they are taken on a journey where there are
mindless cannibals attacking left and right, romance buds
where there is near barren ground, and the constant worry
about the children and survivors. The author details the
events so perfectly the reader could almost picture
themselves in this action packed dystopian. The ending is
surprising and exciting. HORIZON is a wonderful read from
start to finish.
Learn more about Horizon
A woman in a post-apocalyptic world teeming with zombies
faces tough choices and her own demons.
ExcerptAll those shades of red—candy apple and cinnamon and
carnelian and rust and vermilion and dozens
more—people arriving for the party stopped and stared
at the paper hearts twirling lazily overhead on their
strings. No one had seen anything like it since Before. No
one expected to see anything like it again Aftertime.
Except, maybe, for Cass, who dreamed lush banks of
scarlet gaillardia, Mister Lincoln roses heavy on
glossy-leafed branches, delicate swaying spires of
firecracker penstemon. Cass Dollar hoarded hope with
characteristic parsimony when she was awake, but since
coming to New Eden her dreams were audacious, greedy,
lusting for color and scent and life.
Even here, in this stretch of what had once been Central
California valley farmland—rarely touched by frost,
the sun warming one’s face in March and burning in
April—even here it was possible to long for spring in
February. In her winter garden, homely rows of black-twig
seedlings and lumpy rhizomes protruded from the dirt. There
was little that was lovely save the pale green throats of
kaysev sprouts dotting the fields beyond, skimming the
entire southern end of the island with verdant life beyond
the few dormant acres in which Cass toiled. At the end of
each day she had dirt under her nails, pebbles in her shoes,
the sweet-rot smell of compost clinging to her skin, and
nothing to show for it yet in the fields.
Cass was not the only one who was tired of winter. In
fact, the social committee’s first idea had been a cabin
fever dance, until someone suggested the more upbeat
Valentine’s Day theme. There was romance to be found in New
Eden, for some—different than Before, of course. Some
kinds of human attraction thrived in an atmosphere of strife
and danger. Others waned. Cass couldn’t be bothered to care.
It wasn’t the first time she’d ignored the social
committee’s call for volunteers, though it wasn’t like she
was swamped with work. The pruning was done. She’d sprayed
the citrus with dormant oil she’d hand-pressed from kaysev
beans, and she covered the thorny branches whenever
nighttime temperatures dipped. A second round of lettuces
and cabbages and parsnips were planted. Beyond weeding and
the eternal blueleaf patrol, there would be little else to
do until warmer weather launched the growing season into
full swing. So Cass would have had plenty of time to join
the other women in turning the public building into a party
room, fashioning decorations from bits gathered all around
the islands. She’d declined to help as they set aside
ingredients for special dishes and tested out cocktails made
with kaysev alcohol, its gingery taste overpowering anything
else they tried to mix it with. The committee had even
talked the raiding parties into bringing home scrap wood for
the last two weeks, enough for a bonfire to burn until the
Cass watched them as she walked home across the narrow
bamboo bridge from Garden Island, stretching her tired limbs
and working the kinks out of her neck, sore from the
backbreaking work of checking the kaysev for blueleaf every
afternoon. The sun was still high enough to offer some
warmth, so they’d thrown open the skylights and French doors
to let it in on their party. Once, the building had been the
weekend getaway of some tech baron with lowbrow taste, a man
who preferred booze cruises and wakeboarding to wine tasting
in Napa. Most of the residents of the banks along the farm
channels opted for trailers and prefab buildings and listing
shacks, so the house stood out for both its size and the
quality of its construction. Well before Cass had arrived in
New Eden, all the non-load-bearing walls had been removed,
opening it up; there were foosball and pool tables, bar
stools, leather furniture, a community center of sorts. A
clubhouse surrounded by the little town that had sprung up
on three contiguous islands wedged in the center of a
waterway that had been nameless and unremarkable Before.
It was supposed to be called Pison River now, after one
of the four lost rivers that carried water away from Eden in
the Bible. But the Methodist minister who had named the
river had died in a cirrhotic coma after coughing up black
clotted blood. He had the disease long before coming to New
Eden, but everyone had taken to calling it the Poison River
Cass slipped just inside, curious about the party
preparations despite herself. There was Collette Portescue,
with her signature apron and a colorful scarf in her hair.
Collette was inexhaustibly cheery, a born organizer, a
Sacramento socialite who’d found her true calling only after
she lost everything.
"Cass! Cass, there you are." The woman’s cultivated voice
called to her now, unmistakable in the high registers over
the murmurs of the other volunteers and a handful of early
guests. Even though she’d agreed to this, Cass’s gut
tightened as Collette put a drink cup down and rushed toward
her on—Cass’s eyes widened with
astonishment—teetering red satin high heels. Beneath
the wrinkled linen of her embroidered apron, Collette wore a
tight red jersey dress. Cass glanced around at the others;
some of them had made an effort, with hair washed and tied
back, even an occasional slash of lipstick or jingling
silver bracelet—but February was still February and
most people wore layers to stay warm, none of it new and
none of it truly clean. It was a testament to Collette’s
fierce commitment to New Eden’s social life that she stood
before Cass with her arms bare and her hair in home-job pin
Her smile was as splendid as ever—that kind of
dental work probably came with an apocalypse-proof
guarantee—and her kindness was genuine, only kindness
felt like a blade to Cass’s heart and forced her to turn
away, pretending to cough.
"Oh, precious, you haven’t got that bug that’s going
around, have you?" There was a faint note of the South in
Collette’s voice, a hint of the Miss Georgia crown she’d
worn four decades ago. The early eighties would have been
the perfect era for her—big hair, big parties, big
spending. Austerity never seemed like a greater affront than
it did where Collette was concerned.
"No ma’am, just—dust, maybe."
Collette nodded. "Tildy and Karen have been up on ladders
all afternoon, probably knocked some loose. I should have
had them take rags up there with them! But honey, come with
me now, let me show you what I need...."
Collette dragged her through the milling little crowd of
Edenites who held drinks in plastic cups and chatted over
the sounds of Luddy Barkava and his friends warming up in
the corner. On long tables at the back wall of the public
building, where the wealthy entrepreneur had once installed
a pair of four-thousand-dollar dishwashers, were the makings
of the centerpieces, such as they were: four mismatched
vases and bowls and piles of plants that Cass had cut from
the winter-blooming garden near the island’s shore. There
were coral fronds of grevillea, creamy pink-tinged
helleborus already dropping petals, tight clusters of tiny
skimmia berries. Cass sighed. These were the only flowering
plants she’d been able to grow this winter. The helleborus
seed had been raided from a garden shed; the others plants
were returners, species that had disappeared during the
biological attacks and the Siege, and only now were starting
to show up again.
These plants were never meant for floral arrangements;
they were merely the hardiest, the sturdiest, the first to
come back Aftertime, fodder for birds and insects, early
drafts in the earth’s bid for return. They were not
especially lovely, and it would take skill to make them
And Cass was no florist.
She touched a cluster of glossy oval skimmia leaves. "I
"Trust me, anything you do will be an improvement. June
found you some stuff. Ribbon and...I don’t know, it’s all
right there. Gotta run. You’ll do a marvelous job!"
Collette was off to organize the volunteer bartenders, to
untangle paper hearts whose strings had gotten twisted, to
admonish Luddy and his little band to play only cheerful
songs. Luddy had been in a thrashcore band of local renown
on the San Francisco scene; now he spent his days building
elaborate skateboard ramps along the island’s only paved
stretch of road. It was a testament to Collette’s charisma
that in her wake the band started in on a jittery minor-key
version of "Wonderful Tonight."
And Cass got to her task as well, starting with the berry
stalks in the center of the vases and bowls and filling in
with the more delicate flowers and leaves. She was winding
lengths of wired organza ribbon through the
stems—where June found such a luxury, Cass had no
idea, but you never knew what the raiders would bring back
from the mainland—when she sensed him behind her and
she closed her eyes and let it come, the fading of the other
sounds in the room, the heating of the air between them.
"Collette put you to work too, huh?" His voice, low and
gravelly, traced its familiar liquid path along her nerves.
He was standing too close. But Dor was always too close.
Cass pushed a hand through her hair, grown in the last few
months well past her shoulders and released, for the
occasion, from her usual ponytail, before turning to face him.
His expression was faintly mocking. In the sunset glow
diffusing through the tall windows of the public building,
his face was tawny and sun-browned from his work outside,
just like her own. The scar that bisected one eyebrow had
faded considerably since she first met Dor six months
earlier, but a new one puckered a crease along his skull
that disappeared into his silver-flecked black hair. Cass
had been there when the bullet barely missed killing him.
Here in New Eden, under the ministrations of Zihna and
Sun-hi, it had taken him only a few days to recover enough
to insist on leaving his sickbed.
Of course, he had other reasons to want to leave the
little hospital, reasons neither of them forgot for even a day.
Watching her watching him, Dor leaned even closer,
inclining his head so that his too-long hair fell across the
top scar, obscuring it. Cass doubted he was even aware of
this habit, which had nothing to do with vanity. Like so
many men Aftertime, Dor didn’t like to talk about himself,
about who he had been and where he came from. Though
insisting its way to the surface, the scar was in the past.
She was in the past as well, for that matter.
Except neither of them could quite seem to remember that.
"Where’s Valerie?" Cass asked, ignoring his question. She
would have expected the woman to be here already, with her
embroidery scissors and pins in her mouth, doing last-minute
repairs for all the women who’d managed to pull together
something special for the party. Most days, she did mending
and alterations in her small apartment—just two rooms,
the back half of a flat-bottom pleasure boat grounded and
rebuilt by the two gay men who shared the front—but
for the parties given by the social committee, she came
early and sewed on loose buttons and took in seams and
tacked up hems. Valerie loved to help, to feel needed. She
had a pretty spilled-glass voice and a ready smile.
She was a very nice woman.
Dor grimaced. "She’s not feeling well."
Again. Cass nodded carefully. Valerie’s stomach pains
came and went, the sort of thing one managed Before with
medication and special diets, but that one just endured
Truly, it would have been so much easier, so much less
complicated if she was here right now, in one of her
old-fashioned A-line skirts and Pendleton jacket, a velvet
headband smoothing back her glossy dark hair. Sammi said
Valerie looked like a geek and Cass supposed it was true,
but she was pretty in a fragile way and if she were here she
would be with Dor and there would be no danger from the
thing that loomed between them.
"I’m sorry," Cass muttered, meaning it. "What have you
been doing all day?"
Dor shrugged in the general direction of the back of the
building. "There’s some rotted siding along the
back—Earl and Steve brought back some lumber and we’ve
been replacing it. Trying to get finished before it rains."
"Figure of speech—they took down an old house along
Vaux Road, we’ve been cannibalizing it for parts."
"You smell like you’ve worked two days straight."
"I was going to take a shower...before this thing starts."
"I think it’s already starting." Luddy’s band, rehearsing
their party sets, had segued into "Lola" and the
conversation swelled as people finished their first round
and went back for refills. Cass wouldn’t be joining them.
"You gonna be here later?"
Cass shrugged, staring into Dor’s eyes. They were a shade
of navy blue that could easily be mistaken for brown. When
he was angry they turned nearly black. Very occasionally,
they were luminous colors of the sea. "I don’t know...I’m
tired. Ingrid’s had Ruthie all day, I need to go check on
her. I might just turn in early."
Dor nodded. "Probably best."
A group of laughing citizens rolled a table covered with
pies into the center of the room and a good-natured shout
went up from the crowd. Everyone knew they’d been hunting
all day yesterday for jackrabbits and voles for meat pies.
So the three hawthorn berry pies were a surprise. Cass knew
all about them, though, for she had been the one tending the
shrubs hidden on the far end of Garden Island down a path
that only she and her blueleaf scouts ever used, or
sometimes the kids when they wanted to watch the Beaters.
After an autumn harvest the shrubs had surprised her by
reblooming. She could not say why or how that had happened,
other than the fact that kaysev did odd things to the earth.
When it first appeared, people worried that kaysev would
strip the soil of its nutrients in a single growing cycle.
The opposite seemed true. There were other cover
crops—rye, for one, planted to give overworked soil a
break and renew minerals—but Cass had never seen one
behave like kaysev.
The hawthorn bushes’ second bloom was scant, and after
Cass picked enough for the pies, the small berries were
nearly all gone. The few that remained weren’t enough even
for pancakes. Cass would give them to Ruthie and Twyla when
they were ripe, and they would get the sweet juice all over
their faces. A treat, something to enjoy as they waited out
Winter was tough on children, the cold days and early
nightfalls. They had no television. No electronic games. No
radios. Not even lamps, except for special occasions.
Children got bored and then they got restless.
Cass could sympathize. She got restless too.
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