Title: The Stronghold
Author: Sebastian Bendix
Genre: Young Adult/ Survival Stories/ Action Adventure/ Dystopian
In the remote survivalist compound of Fort Thunder, 18-year-old Bowie Neville is a rising star. Groomed to be the new leader of the community’s heavily-armed militia, Bowie is the envy of his peers, unparalleled in the art of war and set to marry the Fort’s prettiest girl. But when a private jet crashes in the nearby wilderness, leaving a beautiful young woman, Alexis, as its sole survivor, Bowie brings her into the stronghold, throwing his life and the lives of those around him into turmoil. As tensions in the closed-minded community fray, Bowie falls victim to a plot hatched by Papa Byrne – his former mentor and the leader of the Fort’s militia. Soon Bowie and Alexis find themselves on the run, hunted by the very people he was born to protect. The stronghold’s once favorite son is about to have his eyes opened to the larger world – if he can live long enough to see it.
Complete at 100,000 words, The Stronghold is a taut actioner that will appeal to fans of military, espionage, and post-apocalyptic thrillers while striking the same resonant chord as works like Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War and The Hunger Games. But if you think that this is just another piece of YA dystopian fiction… think again. The Stronghold is a tale that draws from today’s headlines, presenting a chilling possible future that is only days – or even moments – away.
I run, but not because I am being chased. I run because I want to. My legs are powerful and ache to be put to the test, so I test them. My clothes—olive fatigues patched with stressed leather—make the running easy. I slip through the forest, quiet as a cat. Not that I would know a cat if I heard one.
The cats are all dead, either from plague or from being hunted for food during the famines. They’ve been extinct further back than I can remember. But I know they were quiet.
Rafe thinks he will catch me, but he’s been wrong about that too many times to count. It’s not that Rafe is slow or that he’s not capable. It’s that he is arrogant and thinks he deserves to be captain, and he assumes that’s all it takes to earn it. And maybe he would be captain were it not for me. But I am better than him—I have always been better than him, and he knows it. As long as I am alive and able, I will be captain, so it isn’t paranoia when I say that Rafe would like to see me injured or dead.
I hear movement in the forest behind me. The ground is dry, the way it gets before the winter, thirsty for the snow. The snap of brittle pine branches makes for a noisy pursuit. Any root that could trip me, any slick rock I could slip on, I avoid. I even try not to step on the crunchy needle beds, for our ears are attuned to the sound. But Rafe isn’t thinking about these things.
He’s thinking he has to be fast if he’s to catch me, and catching me is all he will need to win. That’s Rafe’s fatal flaw—everything is a contest to him; it’s not about survival. To me it’s not a contest. To me it’s life and death.
I come to a clearing and stop. There are trees here with low-hanging branches that look alive and sturdy. Easy to climb. I could keep running, for several klicks at least, but this place is perfect. Sooner or later the chase has to end, and I’d rather it be on my terms, not Rafe’s. So I go to the nearest tree, which happens to be the sturdiest. I only need to test the branch for a millisecond before I can tell it will handle my weight. Then I grab hold and swing my legs up, scissoring the branch to leverage myself into the tree.
Beyond that the branches are closer together and the climbing is easy. I climb as quiet as I run.
By the time Rafe enters the clearing, I am at least seven meters above him. Directly above him at a dead drop, by my assessment.
I can tell by the way Rafe freezes that he senses I am near. But he doesn’t look up. Rafe has what my father calls “tunnel vision” in that he gets so focused on what he is after that he doesn’t look for clues, doesn’t read the signs. Not that I left any signs.
I stand stock-still on the branch, Rafe’s head no bigger than a doll’s beneath the toe of my laced leather boot. If I spit, it would land in the part of his oily black hair, which he wears tight and spiky because he thinks it makes him look like a badass. My hair is lighter, “sandy blond” my mother calls it, and I wear it shaggy and loose. I guess it doesn’t make me look like as much of a military badass as Rafe, but the girls like it, and besides, I have not lost a single exercise yet because of my hair. And I don’t intend to start losing today.
Rafe continues to stand alert and unmoving, and I begin to fear that he may break from his usual pattern and look up. If he looks up, I will be trapped in the tree, and he can claim victory. To lose in such a humiliating fashion will result in endless ridicule—not just from the cadets but from the Old Guard as well and even Papa Byrne. Rafe will certainly never shut up about it. That’s just one of the many ways he and I differ. He likes to brag endlessly, and I don’t. It’s not that I don’t think highly of myself. I do. I just don’t run off at the mouth about it every chance I get. My father taught me that. My father and I don’t agree on everything—in fact, we don’t agree on a lot of things—but we agree on that. We let our actions speak for themselves.
But none of this matters because I am not going to let Rafe win.
I reach down to my thigh for a special leather sheath that has been stitched into my well-worn fatigues. I don’t need to look, because I know it’s there, and sure enough I feel the cool, smooth kiss of the wood. I can’t help but smile. I slip the boomerang out of the sheath, feeling the weight of it in my hand. A gift from Papa Byrne. He’s not my actual father, but I often wish that he was. He is the man I want to become, a good soldier and great leader. Papa Byrne sees himself in me and believes that I will one day take his place at the head of our militia. I want nothing more than to prove him right.
He told me the boomerang is a weapon from Australia. I do not think Australia exists anymore, at least not as a nation, and even if it did, I would not go there. I don’t intend to go anywhere outside of Deacon’s Bluff. The bluff is my home, and I will fight for it and maybe even die for it one day. Papa Byrne says it’s only a matter of time. That is why I train, every day, preparing for the inevitable war to come.
What makes this book a must-read and/or what inspired you to write this story:
An entertaining, action story that serves as a cautionary tale — touching upon important and timely issues.
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Sebastian Bendix is a Los Angeles based writer and musician, as well as host of horror film series, Friday Night Frights. He attended school at Emerson College for creative writing and spent his formative years in Boston playing in popular local band The Ghost of Tony Gold. Upon moving to LA he transitioned back to writing, contributing articles for the entertainment site CHUD.com and the print publication Mean Magazine. Stepping into the world of horror fiction, Bendix has found success both online and in print with numerous stories published in genre imprints and noted podcast The Wicked Library. Bendix self-published his first horror/fantasy novel The Patchwork Girl in 2013, and his second novel, The Stronghold, is a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that has been published and is available as an eBook and in print. Also an avid film lover, Bendix has a sci fi/horror script that has been optioned and is in development.
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