Indie Book Spotlight: A Girl Called Ari, by P. J. Sky
In a distant future… A world divided... A walled city in a devastated wasteland… a struggle for power becomes a struggle to survive… with friends like these, who needs enemies?
For Starla, a struggle for power becomes a struggle for survival when she finds herself on the wrong side of the wall. Fleeing her abductors and lost in the wasteland, she faces starvation, warring factions, bloodthirsty creatures, and the endless burning sun.
And then there’s Ari… who is she really? And can she really trust this girl from the wasteland to lead her back to the city gates?
One thing’s for sure, Starla’s once privileged life will never be the same…
“It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a book that fits so well into the dystopian genre” – Witty & Sarcastic Book Club
“You MUST MUST MUST read the book. Oh, and watch out for crocodiles!” – Taryn, Dragons Codex
“The absolute strength of the book is the ongoing dynamic and developing relationship between the two which always feels natural and believable” – Bookends & Bagends
Ari Quinn spent her days digging salt from the bed of a long dead sea. Under the baking sun, she toiled on the salt flats, filling two rusty buckets with the dirty brown rock salt she dug up with her bare hands. Once full, she affixed them to a metal yolk and carried them over her shoulders, up the bank to where the quartermaster sat in his wheelchair in his little tent in the shade. She placed each bucket on his scales, and duly he added a mark by her name. Then she added their contents to the great mounds of salt that would, in due course, be packed onto camels and sent to the city. Then Ari took her buckets and yolk and went back down to the salt flats and did it all again. She did this every day. It was hard but steady work, and it let her keep to herself. It was better than searching for opals in the old mine shafts which was dangerous. Or, relocating to the ore mines and whatever fate that held. She’d never known anyone to return from the ore mines; either it was far better than here, or else it was far worse. And it was certainly better than the coal mines. At this memory, Ari shuddered, shutting out the months in those long, dark tunnels. It was a memory she never wanted to return to.
It was especially hot that day and Ari’s throat was parched. The tang of salt and red dust hung on her lips. Briefly, she stopped filling the buckets. She got out her canteen and took a few swallows of the metallic tasting water. She coughed a little and with her palm, she wiped beads of sweat from her shaven head, feeling the tiny bristles. A welcome breeze slipped across the plain, but otherwise there was no shelter here.
In the haze, not too far away, a scrawny Angu woman, her dark skin baked hard to a leathery shell, was working the ground with a pickaxe. Bent over, her back hunched, the woman used the tool to lever up wedges of the salty crust.
Maybe, wondered Ari, I should get a pickaxe.
Pickaxes were hard to come by though, she’d have to use a lot of half-moon coins.
Would it really be easier? How long would it take to earn the coins back?
She looked at her own dry and calloused hands, powdered white with the salt. To buy a pickaxe would be making a plan. It would be committing to this place forever. That’s what’s wrong with buying a pickaxe. First you buy a pickaxe, then you buy a shovel, then you’re wheeling a cart down here. It’s become a plan. But, there is no future here. Here is existing.
You could go to the ore mines, she thought.
But no, that’s worse. Then you’re signing up to slave drivers. This was hard yak all right, but that was worse. Better to die here, digging up salt with your bare hands, than go there. At least here you’re free. But free to do what? To go back to the city? It was impossible. Outsiders weren’t allowed, and that was what she was now.
Then why not give in and go to the mines? Better yet, why not buy a pickaxe?
She looked at the Angu woman again.
If I don’t leave this place, that’s me in ten years. Just as much a slave as I would be in the mines. So you have to make some plan Ari, or you’re gonna die here. You’re gonna die in a place you were never even supposed to be.
But that’s all in the past, she told herself. Ain’t no sense thinking like that now.
But this place’ll kill you Ari. You think that woman’s gonna last many more seasons? She can’t stand straight now. I bet the ore mines wouldn’t even take her, and nor would anyone else.
Sighing, she got back on her knees and continued to shovel salt into her buckets.
Later, with the big red sun eating into the horizon, Ari emptied her final buckets onto the salt mounds. People were still filling and stitching sacks and heaping them up ready for the camel trains in the morning. At the quartermaster’s table, the quartermaster counted the marks next to her name. He nodded to himself. Across one side of his face, the heavy scar looked pinker than yesterday.
“Alright,” he said. “Two dollars today.”
“What?” said Ari. “Come on Wheels, I moved more salt than yesterday.”
The quartermaster looked up at her and gave her a sympathetic smile. “Sorry Ari, today’s two dollars.”
Ari rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
She held out her salt covered palm and the quartermaster fumbled in the bag on his desk and took out four half-moon coins, each a dull metallic grey. Dented and chewed, they’d changed hands many times. Ari slipped the precious coins into her trouser pocket.
“Be seein’ ya,” said the quartermaster.
Ari nodded. “Whatever.”
She sulked away, head down. She knew it wasn’t the quartermaster’s fault. He was all right, one of the good ones. But last year she was making three dollars a day.
There you go making plans again Ari, dreaming of more than your lot. Thinking what you might do with three dollars a day. Earn enough for a camel maybe, or a donkey. But then, where’re you gonna go? You gonna go back to the city? Become one of those bottom feeders begging at the gates. They don’t open the wall to no one. You could leave Cooper though. Go someplace else. But, she reminded herself, dreaming is dangerous. First you start at dreaming, then you start at hoping. Before you know it, you’re praying to the Maker and you’re one step away from total despair.
Ari wasn’t one for praying, in this life she looked out for herself. There had to be somewhere better than here though.
About the Author
P. J. Sky is a writer of short stories and novels, mostly in the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre, for YA and adult readers. Born and raised in the UK, P. J. Sky wrote from a young age. Their first novel, A Girl Called Ari, was released in 2020 and won the Drunken Druid Book of the Year 2020. The sequel, Ari Goes To War, was released in April 2021, and the third and final book in the trilogy, Ari Between Worlds, will be released in May 2022.
In addition, in 2020, P. J. Sky also won the Mink: City of Dreams flash-fiction grand prize with their story, Strawberry Ice-Dream.