Good morning everyone! As part of the official blog tour, I have an excerpt for you from Lily Herne’s new novel, The Army of the Lost. Make sure to read right to the end to find out how you can win the entire series. Enjoy!
‘Where are you taking me?’
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked the driver this question. I’m not expecting an answer, which is just as well, as I don’t get one. He stares straight ahead, barely seems to be breathing. He’s as bald as an egg, his scalp pitted with old lesions. His right ear is nothing but a hole framed by shiny scar tissue.
He swings the golf cart into another tunnel that stinks of human waste and mould. This one is as dark as the last, and as we hum along, the headlights bob over faded graffiti sprayed on the brick walls. I catch the words: ‘i luv u zombimama’ and ‘danger gevaar oh shit’. Most of the tunnels are ancient, their curved brick walls stained and mossy; others look as if they’ve been recently constructed, their sides bolstered with wooden and metal struts. Every so often, One Ear’s forced to manoeuvre the cart around small rockfalls and piles of crumbled brick. Part of me hopes the ceiling will fall in on us; at least then I won’t have to face whatever they’ve got planned for me.
A blip of condensation drops onto my scalp and dribbles down my cheek. There’s no way I can wipe it off: I’m trussed up like a goat, my wrists bound behind my back with cable ties that bite into my skin, my ankles similarly shackled. I’ve barely slept since the crash, and it would be so easy just to give up, let them do whatever they’ve got planned for me without putting up any resistance. The tendrils lurking in my veins have done their job and the wound in my thigh is healing, but the rest of me throbs as if I’m one big bruise – a dull pain that’s radiating from deep within my chest. Besides, even if I did have the energy to lash out at One Ear, there’s a pistol holstered at his hip. I may heal unnaturally fast and Hester may have taught me to handle myself in a fight, but I’m not a superhero. I’m not bulletproof.
‘Please tell me where we’re going.’ It hurts to beg, but it’s even worse not speaking. Because if I’m not fighting or shouting or struggling to get free, then all I’ve got are my thoughts, and now the disbelief and shock has worn off, they’re becoming dangerous.
It’s the images of Saint and Ember that are the most malignant. At least I know Ash and Ginger are alive, although I’m not sure ‘alive’ really describes what Ginger is now. The guy who was once able to put a positive spin on a zombie apocalypse has been reduced to a mumbling, humourless wreck. As we stood on that stage, being auctioned off like cattle or sheep, he barely seemed to be aware of what was happening. And what of Ember? Is she even alive? Lucien and his crew made sure we were restrained separately in the bus that brought us from the crash site to this hellhole, and the last time I saw her she was unconscious, lying prone on the back seat, her lips taking on a greyish hue.
And Saint . . . I’d allowed Lucien to drag me away from her after she opened her eyes. She wasn’t on the bus. They’d left her behind on the tarmac as if she was nothing more than a bag of garbage, along with Bambi, Ginger’s adopted hyena cub. Why hadn’t I fought harder for her? Why had I allowed myself to be carted away? I know I was anaesthetised with shock but that’s no excuse. Because she would have fought for me. And this is the worst thought of all.
A blast of cold air chills my face and I realise my cheeks are soaked with tears.
One Ear twists his head in my direction and sighs. ‘I’m taking you to Mr Coom.’
So he’s not made of stone, after all. ‘Who the hell is Mr Coom?’ I was too busy fighting to take note of everyone around me, but I do remember a whale of a man being hoisted above the crowd. ‘Please tell me he’s not that fat pig wearing a dress.’ One Ear grunts. ‘You don’t want anyone to hear you saying things like that, girl. He’s the most powerful person in the city.’
‘I thought Jova was the most powerful person in Johannesburg?’ As well as the most snake-like. I can’t believe he used to be best friends with Ash, along with Lucien, our betrayer deluxe. What a threesome. Maybe they deserve each other – I don’t recall Ash doing a whole lot to help Saint, either. ‘What does this Coom want with me?’
‘Just do as you’re told, girl,’ One Ear says. ‘You’ll be okay.’ ‘That’s not an answer.’
One Ear shrugs. I need to keep him talking – it keeps the sorrow monster at bay. ‘Why doesn’t Coom live back in that craphole with everyone else?’
‘He’s got his own place.’ ‘Where?’
‘You’ll see.’ Another non-answer. Not that it matters anyway – I don’t have a clue about this city’s layout. From the little I’ve seen of it, Johannesburg isn’t anywhere near as devastated as Cape Town, and the survivors we’ve encountered so far are holed up in a shopping mall of all places. A mall that was once high-end, judging by the open piazza, huge statues and the ornate architecture of the buildings surrounding it. The old Ginger – the Ginger before the crash – wouldn’t have been able to resist cracking jokes about this. How ironic, the Mall Rats captured by survivors who live like rats in a mall. Ha ha. Hilarious.
‘And what about my friends? Ash, Ginger and Ember?
Where have they been taken?’
He snorts. ‘Ash, Ginger and Ember? What sort of names are those?’
‘Look, girl. I don’t know about your friends. But if they’re like you they’ll be fine.’
‘A Leftie,’ he says, with a trace of bitterness. It strikes me to check if he’s a southpaw. Doesn’t look like it – his gun is slung on his right-hand side. I open my mouth to put him right, explain that the reason I’m immune to Rotter attack has nothing to do with being left-handed, but my old reluctance to blurt out my secret kicks in. Only . . . it’s no longer a secret, is it? Ash must have seen the silvery tendrils knitting up the wound in my leg and the gash below his shoulder. He didn’t see what I saw: Saint waking up after the accident, her brown eyes flooding with a flat sickening darkness, but he’s not stupid, he must have put two and two together. He must know what we are by now.
‘Listen. I’m really scared.’ I put on my best little-girl-lost voice. ‘There’s no chance you can just let me go, is there?’
‘Why would I do that?’
‘Because you’re a good person. Because it’s the right thing to do.’ The tears are starting again. The little-girl-lost act is becoming real. ‘One of my friends is badly hurt, I need to help her. I’ve never done anything to you. Please.’
‘It’s not going to happen.’
Anaemic light drifts out of a tunnel on our left. One Ear turns into it, swings the wheel hard over and the cart’s engine whines as he powers it up a narrow tarmac slope. I’m hit with the stench of dust and diesel fumes; we’ve entered what looks like the basement floor of a huge gloomy parking lot. The light is poor, but I can make out the hulks of several huge vehicles lurking in the shadows. We putter up another couple of sloping roadways, and One Ear draws to a stop in front of a metal door. The light is better in here, and a familiar moaning sound echoes in the distance – Rotters.
One Ear turns to look at me. His eyes are expressionless. ‘I am going to cut you free now. Are you going to give me any trouble?’
‘Would you shoot me if I did?’ ‘Yes.’
I believe him. ‘Then I won’t.’ At least, not yet.
One Ear pulls a bowie knife out of his boot and slices through the rope binding my wrists to the back of the seat, but doesn’t remove the cable ties keeping my arms shackled behind my back. His right hand resting on the butt of the gun, he leans down and frees my ankles. He stands back and gestures for me to step out of the cart. We stare at each other in silent assessment. I’m way shorter than him, but he doesn’t relax his body language, clearly doesn’t assume that just because I’m a girl and half his weight that I’m harmless. He’s not stupid, which is good for him, bad for me.
For your chance to win a set of Lily Herne books, just fill in the Rafflecopter form below until 21 April, 2014. The competition is open to UK residents only and one winner will be selected at random on the 21st. Good luck!