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In a dark and broken world, one young woman is a ray of hope.



In 2019 the United States was hit with The Darkening, an apocalyptic terrorist attack that killed millions, including the president and most leaders. The country was thrown into turmoil, poverty, and literal darkness, where electricity is a thing of the past.

Cassiopeia Serrell was born into this harsh reality of a world without power, government or even the security of knowing where each meal will come from. With only her wise old Nana Rose to guide her through life in their New Jersey squatter’s settlement of Salerno, they struggle to survive, desperate to keep hope alive, despite the threat of the tyrannical Magistrate who lords over them.

Beyond the walls of Salerno, a pocket of ultra-rich patriots are on a mission to return the United States to its former place in the world before the Darkening. A time that few even remember, since the terrorist strikes decimated the country, leaving it to be ruled by gangs and criminals. As the patriots begin their search for the one who will reunite America, they realize that while they have resources, money and power, they lack the key ingredient—a leader that all will follow.





“You got an inn or something here?”

The guard pointed straight ahead. “Down Main Street and take a left at Merchant’s Row.”

Chet found the inn and also found that people were more than happy to give him information in return for a dime or a quarter.

After asking a few innocuous questions, he chatted up a barkeeper about an opportunity he had for a young woman who could prove herself worthy. A smile crossed the face of the barkeeper. “You know, we got ourselves one of those. A young lady who works all the time, all kinds of jobs. She’ll try anything. Works right next door at the inn. We call her the Maid—the Maid of Salerno. I could send for her if you like.”

Chet rubbed his eyes, showing his exhaustion.

Reading that, the barkeep pushed a bit harder. “She’s a bit of a looker, if that matters.”

Chet returned the smile. “Yeah, OK. Send for her. I’ll finish my meal and be waiting for her here.”

Twelve minutes later, Chet watched as a young black woman entered the room. The barkeep pointed to Chet and the woman approached his table.

“You got some kind of work?” she asked.

“I might. Sit down and let’s talk. I’m Chet Westphall.” He extended his hand.

Cassie shook it, took a seat opposite him, and stared back.

“You want a bit of this stuff? The barkeep calls it homie. They haven’t got nothing else.”

Cassie shook her head.

Chet started in. “So they say you work next door at the inn. What do you do?”

“I just clean up. No big deal. Clean the rooms, do laundry. Stuff like that.”

“Is it true they call you the Maid of Salerno?”

Cassie laughed. “Some do. I think it’s sort of a joke, ’cuz, you know, I work a lot of different jobs.”

“Why do you do that?”

“Gotta live. Gotta contribute. I used to live with my nana and she couldn’t work anymore so it was all on me. Now I live with another family and they need more coin coming in too. I just do what I can.”

“What do you wish you could do?”

“Jeez, mister, what do you want? You sure got a lot of questions.”

Chet pulled out a flyer that Mr. Wright had made for him. It helped to make the offer appear more real, more legitimate. He unfolded it and handed it to her.

“Can you read?”

A bit insulted by the question, Cassie gave him a wry smile and replied, “Probably better than you.”

Chet laughed and watched her.

She read a few of the lines. “Great opportunity! Good pay! A chance to make a difference.” There was an impressive picture of the large compound under that and then more paragraphs with more generalities. “Doesn’t really say much. What’s the job?”

“Does it matter? My employer has a lot of different people working for him and many different jobs. They want to find people who are smart and capable, and then they mold a job for you.”

“Don’t sound like any job I ever heard of.”

Chet was getting a bit steamed. “Look, it’s for real and it’s a great opportunity. When I’ve presented this to other women, they are all over it. A good job, working in a place like in the picture, good pay, three full meals every day. What’s not to like? If you’re not interested, just say so. Everybody else was ready to do anything it took to get the chance.”

Cassie mulled it over. “Looks like I’m not like everybody else. My nana used to tell me, ‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’ She didn’t raise me to be no fool. And how come you aren’t talking about any men you looking for? Is it only women?”

“No,” Chet protested. “Both men and women are needed, but there are lots of scouts out there and, um, some of them are looking for men to hire. They told us in advance what to look for so they don’t get too many men or too many women,” he lied gracefully, fully recognizing the reason for the question.

Cassie sat still, thinking. “How much does it pay?”

Not knowing how to answer that, Chet lied again. “I hear they’re talking about as much as a hundred dollars a month.”

“What a bunch of phooey. Nobody’s got that kind of money. Now I know you’re full of it. How about I go now and you find somebody else to lie to?”

“OK, wait. I don’t know for sure how much they pay but it would be way more than anything you’re making now. You hungry?”

Cassie said nothing but her eyes focused longingly at the bread and beef the man was eating.

Looking at the barkeeper now, Chet called out, “Barkeep, how about an order for the young lady. Same thing.” He pointed to his food.
Then, looking at Cassie, he said, “What’s your name? And how old are you anyway? You look kinda young.”

“Cassie and none of your business. I swear, I’ve never been asked so many questions in my life.”

“Look, Cassie, this is an interview. It’s what is done in cities when they are hiring someone for a job that pays a lot. Now are you—”

The barkeeper delivered a plate to Cassie with pulled beef, bread, and a tomato ready to eat. Cassie hadn’t had this much food in a month. She tried to eat slowly with some degree of decorum, but her hunger overtook her and she wolfed it down.

They sat and talked for another twenty minutes. The man was pushy but Cassie thought he was interesting so she kept the conversation going.
Cassie finished her free meal and used a cloth to wipe her hands. The conversation paused for a few minutes. It appeared that the man had run out of questions.

“How do I know you aren’t just trying to get me alone with you in that big car of yours?”

“Cassie, look, I get why you’d ask that. I’m not playing that game. I’m a scout, a recruiter. I’ve got a rich client who wants the very best people to work for him, and he said to find someone who’s eighteen to thirty years old, smart, tall, and capable. You sort of fill the bill. It’s a good chance. You’d go to New York and work there, and if you didn’t like it, you could always go home. What do you think?”

“Why would I have to be tall?”

“I don’t know that. Probably has something to do with the kind of work they want you to do. But you’re smart and capable and tall and, well, you’re old enough, right?”

“I’m old enough,” Cassie lied.

“So what do you think?”

“What about those other women you interviewed. Don’t none of them look good to you?”

Chet took a swig of the homie and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “A couple seemed pretty good. That is, until I met you. A few of them had kids and didn’t want to leave. A few weren’t smart enough to ask all the questions you’ve been asking. Many more were so anxious to get the job, they would have agreed to anything.”

Cassie considered that and asked, “You expecting me to lay down with you just to get this job?”

Chet immediately shook his head. “No. In fact, if you did, I wouldn’t pick you. See, I get a payment when I return with a good worker, and if you turn out to do really well, I get a big bonus. My goal is to find the best person who fits the bill. I’m thinkin’ you’re it. What do you say?”

“I say that somewhere in this conversation, you started sounding like you are telling the truth. It didn’t sound that way to me to begin with. I guess I believe you now. Don’t mean that I want this job but it does mean I gotta think about it.”

Chet shook his head. “Not much time for thinking, Cassie. I’m leaving early in the morning. I tell you what—I gotta go buy some gas from a depot tomorrow so I can make the trip home. It’s close by. I’ll get the gas and come back here around nine. You talk it over with your nana and make your decision. If you’re packed and ready to go, I’ll pick you up and take you to New York tomorrow. If not, I’ll head back and pick up my second choice. Fair enough?”

“My nana died a while ago. I make my own decisions.”

Chet frowned. “I’m sorry. You sleep on it and decide. I’ll be back for you and, well, I’m offering it to you so it’s your decision.”

Cassie searched his eyes, looking for a last clue that he was telling the truth. She wasn’t sure she saw it.

“I’ll think on it. And…Mr. Westphall, thank you for the meal, and the offer.” With that, she rose from the table, gave a wave to the owner of the bar, and left.

Chet watched her until she had gone outside and said to himself, “She’s the One.”