- Published: 4 May 2021
- ISBN: 9780143775423
- Imprint: Penguin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 272
- RRP: $19.99
My head is an over-ripe watermelon, about to burst. My eyes are stinging, and my skin burns.
My limbs are heavy, as though someone poured molten lead into my veins. I can't turn my head, can't speak, can't see beyond this white-white-white.
I'm dead, just like all the other kids this epidemic has taken away.
Hell is a bright light searing your retinae. Heaven is a myth. I close my eyes. Wait for the reckoning.
Violet. The name is a bubble inside my brain, perfectly rounded, but ready to burst as soon as I try to touch it. I've been here before, many times over recent hours-days-weeks. Stupid me, I can't stop reaching for that bubble, though.
Clinging onto life is a reflex, even when all else seems futile. My lungs are inflating, deflating. My heart beats a foreign rhythm.
Violet. Blink once if you can hear me.
How can I blink when I can barely open my eyes? But I do, so slowly I can almost hear my eyelids creaking. My virus-addled brain tries to make sense of the images before me. A pointy nose, black-framed glasses, a receding hairline. Who does this Picasso face belong to, and what is that beeping, and who is moaning? Not the Picasso face, not me . . . I don't think.
'Violet,' the voice repeats, and it's as if someone has raised a pair of binoculars to my eyes.
The world rushes in. It's almost too much. But I reach for that bubble, step back into the light.
Blink. Once, just once. The doctor smiles.
'Welcome back, Violet Black.'
He thought I was going to die too.
I know that for a fact.
Fact: Measles is a highly contagious disease that is easily spread by salivary or mucous droplets when coughing, sneezing or talking.
Fact: Measles can cause serious complications, from ear infections and pnuemonia to the most life-threatening, encephalitis.
Fact: Encephalitis is swelling of the brain. It can kill you. Trust me, I know.
Fact: There is a highly effective vaccine for measles.
Fact: In the late 2010s, a fall in vaccination rates led to a measles epidemic. Many years later, a new, deadlier strain of measles began to circulate – M-fever.
Fact: There is no effective vaccine for M-fever. Yet.
Fact: Ten percent of all those infected with M-fever will develop encephalitis. Ninety-five percent of those with encephalitis will die.
Fact: Against the odds, I have survived. Don't ask me how, or why. I guess I was lucky.
Today is the first of September, the first day of spring, and it's been sixty four days since I last saw Sophie Abercrombie.
A prime number is divisible only by itself and by one. If I were a prime number, I’d want to be a five.
Chapter 1: Rebecca *Please note* that this extract contains adult themes and is suitable for readers aged 16+.
They see the fish on their first day, laid bare on the tideline. The seagulls have nearly picked the bones clean already.
There was no peace, even in the loo. Rory’s pager and phone were going simultaneously.
Josie's start is unexpected. She lies afloat and asleep in a tank of nutrient broth, when one billion volts split the sky.
Fourteen-year-old Vicki sat up in bed, her heart racing.