Tue
Oct 10 2017 10:00am

Gregg Hurwitz Excerpt: Last Chance

Gregg Hurwitz

Last ChanceThe Rain brothers fight for the survival of humanity in Last Chance, the thrilling sequel to New York Times bestselling author Gregg Hurwitz's YA debut, The Rains (available October 17, 2017).

The New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X, Gregg Hurwitz, returns to Creek's Cause to follow the Rains brothers as they fight an alien threat that has transformed everyone over the age of 18 into ferocious, zombie-like beings, in this thrilling sequel to The Rains.

Battling an enemy not of this earth, Chance and Patrick become humanity’s only hope for salvation.

ENTRY 1

I wake up in the perfect darkness of Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue-Anne’s ranch house, and there’s a split second where everything is fine. I’m six years old, and life is good. And then I remember.

My parents are dead.

The reality crushes in on me. My throat closes, and for a few minutes I struggle to breathe in the inky black of the guest room. It’s not that I’m about to cry—I’ve done plenty of that already. It’s that I can’t seem to find any air.

It was their anniversary last week, and they’d gone to Stark Peak to celebrate. They’d been drinking, probably too much. Depending on which version you heard, Dad ran either a yellow or a red, and a muni bus nearly broke their Chrysler in half.

It had to be a closed-casket funeral.

I finally figure out how to breathe again, and I roll over on the couch and look down at my big brother sleeping on the floor beside me.

People talk about sibling rivalry, but you should know right away that Patrick is awesome. And not in the dumb slang way, like when people talk about new pop songs and high scores on Call of Duty. I mean, like what the word actually means. He’s big for his age, but it’s not just that. Patrick is the kind of tough they don’t make in real life. He’s never lost a fight. I’ve never seen him cry, not even at the funeral. He can herd cattle already and ride a horse like the horse is part of him. He wears a black cowboy hat, and it doesn’t look like he’s playing dress-up; it looks like he’s a friggin’ eight-year-old cowboy.

He’s asleep, but barely. He’s really lying there to watch over me because he knows that while I’m tough like kids around here have to be, I’m a long ways from awesome like him, and when you’re awesome like him, you protect your kid brother.

I think of a brown box on the kitchen table downstairs.

The one with the STARK PEAK POLICE DEPARTMENT stamp on it.

I slide off the couch as quietly as I can and step over Patrick’s body. He stirs but doesn’t wake up. Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue-Anne have ordered twin beds for us, due to arrive any day now. They’re gonna turn their guest room into our bedroom. I know I should be grateful, but instead it just makes me feel all gray and bleary inside.

Once those beds show up, that means it’s final.

I sneak out of the room and creep down the hall. It’s an old ranch house, and the floorboards creak, so it’s slow going. I take the stairs even slower.

The brown box waits, centered on the table like a pot roast.

The cop who dropped it off today said it holds Mom and Dad’s “personals,” whatever that means. We’d agreed to leave it be until morning. I’m not supposed to be here.

But I need to see.

My heartbeat thrums in my ears. I lift the lid, half expecting something to jump out at me. A smell rises. Lilac perfume—the smell of Mom. And something worse, an iron tang that reminds me of the way the air hangs heavy around the Braaten slaughterhouse. I take a moment to think about that one and try to keep my heart from clawing out of my chest.

The box is mostly empty. Just a few items are nestled in the bottom.

Dad’s Timex.

I pick it up. The face is cracked, the time frozen at 10:47.

The minute my life changed forever.

My lips are quivering, and I think about how Patrick’s lips would never quiver, not in a million years.

I set the watch down. Thanks, Dad, for drinking that extra martini. I hope it was worth it.

Something black in the corner of the box catches my eye.

It’s soft to the touch. I lift it to the dim light.

It’s Mom’s fancy clutch purse.

The outside is stiff and stained, reeking of lilac from when her perfume bottle cracked open. I think about the force of a muni bus hitting a perfume bottle. And then I think about it hitting other stuff.

I gather my courage and unsnap the purse. I tilt it to look inside.

A trickle pours out, like tiny diamonds. No—glass. At first I think they’re shards from the perfume bottle, but there are too many of them. As they brush my fingers, I feel that they’re not sharp, not sharp at all, and I realize that they’re pebbled glass from the shattered windshield.

They tumble onto a spot of moonlight at my feet, and I see that they’re tinted crimson.

Somehow this brings it all home. I am a six-year-old kid without a mom or a dad. This is who I am now.

I am alone here in the kitchen, holding the last relics of my parents. I am alone in the world. Even inside myself I am alone, a tiny spotlit figure in a giant dark warehouse.

My face twists. My cheeks are wet. My shoulders shudder.

I don’t realize I’m crying until I hear Patrick’s feet thumping the stairs behind me, and then I’m turning around, and he’s hugging me, and I hear his voice in my ear. “I got it from here, little brother.” My face presses into his arm, and I cry and cry and think I’ll never stop, and he knows not to say anything else.

I feel like I’m coming apart, my insides gone jagged, shattered into as many pieces as there are bits of glass at my feet. It’s not just the worst I’ve ever felt.

It’s the worst anyone has ever felt.

Until nine years later, when it would feel like a Sunday stroll through town square.

*   *   *

Light seeped in around the edges of darkness, like morning peeking around curtains. But there were no curtains.

Rings of fire ignited my wrists. My ankles screamed. Were they tied? A crunching sound scraped my eardrums at intervals.

The woods came into focus.

Only problem was, they were upside down.

Blinking, I sourced the crunching sounds. Sleek black boots walking in concert, packing down dead leaves.

Drones.

Alien life-forms wrapped head to toe in flexible black armor. Their suits were human-shaped, as seamless as if they’d been poured on. You couldn’t see anything beneath them. Each one was as airtight as an astronaut suit, right down to the polished helmet. Which made sense, since the things that inhabited the suits—the Harvesters—seemed to exist in gas form.

Fighting through my fear, I tried to find my bearings.

I was suspended from a sturdy branch, carried through the woods like a field-dressed deer dangling from a sapling. My shoulders throbbed like you wouldn’t believe. I craned my aching neck and peered up at the nearest Drone. All I saw was my own pale face reflected back from the dark-tinted face mask.

I was big for my age, decently strong from years of baling hay and chopping wood and all manner of ranch chores. But I didn’t feel big now.

The tips of pine trees swayed against a clear blue sky. As we headed upslope, I noted the position of the sun. Slowly, it dawned on me just how screwed I was. The Drones were taking me back to the Hatch site.

The Hatch site at the old cannery, where all the kids and teenagers from Creek’s Cause and the neighboring towns had been taken. Everyone under the age of eighteen had been rounded up. Caged. Strapped to a conveyor belt. Their bellies used as pods to incubate some new life-form. They floated now on slabs of sheet metal, their eyes rolled back to white, their bodies stretched beyond recognition as something alien grew inside them. That’s where I was headed.

What I would have given to be back in that kitchen crying over my dead parents.

 

Copyright © 2017 Gregg Hurwitz.

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Gregg Hurwitz is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including the #1 international bestseller Orphan X. His books have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been translated into twenty-eight languages.

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