Today, we have an excerpt from Gregg Hurwitz‘s first YA novel, The Rains. I’m a fan of Hurwitz’s work — most recenrlt, I really enjoyed the first in his Evan Smoak series, Orphan X, and also his run on Detective Comics (which was a couple years ago, now). Published by Tor Teen, here’s the synopsis for The Rains:
In one terrifying night, the peaceful community of Creek’s Cause turns into a war zone. No one under the age of eighteen is safe. Chance Rain and his older brother, Patrick, have already fended off multiple attacks from infected adults by the time they arrive at the school where other young survivors are hiding.
Most of the kids they know have been dragged away by once-trusted adults who are now ferocious, inhuman beings. The parasite that transformed them takes hold after people turn eighteen — and Patrick’s birthday is only a few days away.
Determined to save Patrick’s life and the lives of the remaining kids, the brothers embark on a mission to uncover the truth about the parasites — and what they find is horrifying. Battling an enemy not of this earth, Chance and Patrick become humanity’s only hope for salvation.
Now, on to the excerpt…
The document you are reading does not — cannot — exist. If you’re reading this, your life is at risk. Or I should say, your life is at even greater risk than it was already. I’m sorry to burden you with this. I don’t wish you the kind of harm that came to me and the others from Creek’s Cause. This is what I’ve managed to piece together since it all began. I wrote it down knowing that words are more powerful than bullets— and certainly more dangerous. All is probably lost already. But maybe, just maybe, these pages will give you a chance. I hope you’re up to it.
We stood there on the roof of the general store with the woods to our backs, looking down at our town. Rocky lowered his head and cried hoarsely, doing his best to hold it in. The dogs whinnied like horses, brushing up against our legs.
The horizon glowed with the faintest tinge of dawn. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe it had taken us all night to reach town. But on the other, it felt like the night had lasted a lifetime. Fog shrouded the road running east, out to our place and the water tower. A bull of a man emerged from the wisps, leaning forward, shoulders straining beneath a red flannel shirt. It took a moment for me to recognize Afa Similai, a Tongan farmhand who sometimes helped McCafferty during harvests. His eyes were gone, and his thick black dreads swayed from side to side, making the light tunneling through his head flicker. He strained, his hands behind his back, pulling something.
As he trudged forward, the object he was hauling melted from the fog behind him. A bright yellow pallet jack.
Our bright yellow pallet jack. The very one I’d used earlier to night to move the bales of hay in the barn.
As the pallet jack rolled forward, I saw that the back was loaded up with fifteen or so crates. Uncle Jim’s dog crates, the ones we used to kennel the ridgebacks.
My dry lips moved — I was about to ask what the hell they wanted dog crates for — but then I remembered that steamer trunk in Alex’s bedroom. The one she’d been locked inside.
They needed cages to hold the kids.
Afa continued across the square into the church. The front courtyard was littered with trunks and cages of many sizes, all of them big enough to hold a child.
Patrick’s and Alex’s expressions made clear that they’d seen it, too. Instinctively, I reached out for JoJo’s hand, and she clutched my fingers, hard. Rocky grabbed the union of our hands as well. He’d been pretty tough all night, but he was still only ten.
I realized that I had a responsibility now to help protect them, just as Patrick had always protected me. Down below, the Hosts continued their busy-bee work, converting Creek’s Cause into a prison camp.
“I guess there’s our answer,” Patrick whispered, sweeping a hand to indicate the town. “The spores transform the adults, but kids aren’t affected.”
I couldn’t find my voice to respond. I kept hoping that I’d blink and it would all go back to normal.
The Host on the telephone pole descended, lumbered a quarter mile past the square, and began to walk those expanding spirals we were now familiar with. On the road the abandoned jackhammers rattled against the asphalt. It took a moment for me to pick up the Durant brothers at the farthest reach of town, spread out from each other, heads lowered, making their ninety-degree turns. It seemed that every time a man finished a task, he went to a new starting point to walk his pattern. I looked across the landscape, dotted with men as far as the eye could see, all of them moving in similar fashion. For all we knew, they continued beyond in the darkness, their bizarre footwork covering the whole county.
Patrick finally broke us out of our spell. “We better pull back,” he whispered. “Before any of them notice us.”
But I wasn’t watching him. My eyes were on Zeus, who was facing the other way, his big head oriented on the woods behind us. His upper lip wrinkled back from his fangs, his growl so low I could feel it in my bones. Cassius turned next, and then all seven dogs were focused on the tree line, heads lowered, teeth bared.
We watched, breathless. A faint sound carried to us, like the murmur of distant bees. It took a moment for me to place it.
A twig snapped. A branch bobbed, the pine needles rustling. And then a wall of Hosts became visible between the trunks, moving toward us.
Principal Delarusso, still dressed from the PTA meeting in her crisp skirt suit and string of pearls. Coach Hanson in her Adidas sweats, the ever- present whistle swaying on its lanyard. Mrs. Wolfgram from geometry honors, oversize glasses guarding the blank holes where her eyes used to be. And many more than my gaze could fix on.
I looked at the dogs. “Release,” I said.
Zeus lunged first, grabbing Coach’s arm and torquing her to the ground. Cassius barked as the others charged in.
“Give me your gun,” Patrick said. “The shotgun’s no good from here.”
I slapped Sheriff Blanton’s revolver into his hand. He fired it at Coach. The hammer clicked down dry. No bullets.
I’d been in such a hurry back at Alex’s house, I hadn’t thought to look.
Patrick stared at the revolver and then tossed it back at me. I holstered it and swept up JoJo. We backed up, the gravel pop- ping beneath our shoes. The dogs contained the teachers for the moment, but more kept pouring through the tree line, outnumbering them. Many were dressed from the meeting. Others wore pajamas. Some had no clothes on at all.
We took another step back, but we were out of room, our heels at the lip of the roof. Wolfgram kicked Cassius, and he yelped, skidding into my shins, almost knocking me over the edge. He popped up onto his legs again, snarling.
The teachers were on the roof now, coming at us.
I spun, looking out across town square. Every last Host below had halted, each one’s focus drawn to the commotion. Countless hollow stares fixed on the skirmish atop the general store. It is difficult to describe the terror I felt standing there exposed on the rooftop before the whole town, burning under the heat of all those empty gazes.
We turned back toward the advancing teachers. They lurched forward, tangling with the dogs. Zeus’s jaws locked on Principal Delarusso’s leg. He sawed his weight back and forth, head shaking, teeth shearing. Atticus and Tanner had gotten ahold of the school librarian, ripping his pajama bottoms right off. Patrick pumped the shotgun and raised it, but there was no point. There were too many of them. And any shotgun blast would kill at least some of our ridgies, too.
“Guys,” Alex said. “We don’t run for it now, we’re gonna find ourselves crated up and carted off.”
She dropped to her butt, then swung herself off the edge of the roof, falling to the sidewalk. She landed hard, yanked down by the heavy bag around her shoulders. The hockey stick clattered to the pavement.
A jangle of bells announced the opening of the door beneath our feet. Don Weiss stepped out from the general store onto the sidewalk behind Alex. He was still wearing his shop apron. As she started pulling herself up, he reached for her.
Patrick shouted down, “Alex! Behind you!”
Alex snatched up her hockey stick, pivoted, and swung it hard up into Don’s face. The head of the stick caught him just beneath the jaw. Even from up above, we could hear the crack of bone before his head snapped around and he went airborne.
Weiss crashed to the sidewalk and lay there, his limbs twitching, his jaw unhinged.
Alex spun the hockey stick in her hands, then slotted it through her gear bag over one shoulder, like a samurai sheathing his sword. She held up her arms. “Drop JoJo to me.”
I took in the melee between dogs and teachers, the front line drawing ever closer. Patrick struck Principal Delarusso in the face with the butt of the shotgun. Rocky weaved back and forth as Mrs. Wolfgram tried to grab him. We were down to seconds.
Letting the baling hooks clatter to the rooftop, I went down on my knees, took JoJo’s sweaty hands, and lowered her over the edge. She dangled, her tearstained face looking up at me. “Don’t drop me,” she said.
I dropped her.
Mrs. Wolfgram had Rocky by the dark locks of his hair. I wrenched him free, kicking her in the gut with all my might. She flew back, and I grabbed Rocky’s arm and yanked him off the edge. I held his hand as he twisted to and fro in the air, until he shouted, “I got it!” and I let go.
He landed on his feet.
Patrick was waist-deep in the fight. Swinging, elbowing, and jabbing with the shotgun butt. “Patrick!” I yelled. “Let’s go!”
Coach broke through Princess and Tanner and dove, hitting me with a football tackle. She knocked me toward the edge. I skidded painfully across the gravel. There was no time to stop — I was going over.
At the last minute, one of my flailing hands caught the handle of a baling hook. As I flew off the building, the hook scrabbled along the rooftop, then caught in the gutter. Hanging on with one hand, I swung way out from the roof, the hook bending the gutter but somehow miraculously holding. Below I caught a whirling view of Don Weiss rising up from the pavement and beelining for Alex and JoJo. His twitching head was angled wrong on his neck.
I lunged for the other hook still up on the roof. It was too far to reach, but my fingers snagged the nylon loop attached to the handle. Spinning wildly, I managed to drag the second hook with me, and it flew by my face, nicking my cheek just as the gutter gave way under my weight. My momentum carried me beneath the overhang, and I fell back, cartwheeling my arms. My heels jarred the sidewalk, and then my shoulder blades and tailbone hammered the ground. I lay there looking up, waiting for the wall of pain to hit.
Before it could, I saw my brother take flight, an apparition streaking overhead, graceful as a big cat. He broke his fall with his feet, tumbled over one shoulder, and came up in a shooting position, blasting a shell through Don Weiss’s face as he closed in on Alex. Patrick’s cowboy hat never even shifted on his head.
Forcing myself up, I gave a whistle through my fingers. A moment later Cassius scrambled around the hillside by the edge of the store, tumbling over himself, skidding out across loose dirt. He took up at my side. I yelled for the other dogs, but they didn’t come. Far up on the hill, I caught streaks of low movement between the tree trunks, the other ridgebacks scattering. They were disoriented and couldn’t find us. Between the severe shadows thrown by the streetlights, I could make out Zeus’s loping run into the forest. I shouted again, but they kept on, the others following him until they vanished. Though I was relieved they were safe, I felt something in my chest give way. I wanted all my dogs with me. Blood dripped from my cheek, hot and sticky.
Beside me I heard Alex clear her throat, a faint noise that sounded a lot like fear. When I turned in line with her and the others, I found myself staring at countless eyeless faces all across the square. The Hosts ramped into motion, heading toward us from every direction.
“Oh, no,” JoJo said, scaling my legs, climbing into my arms. “Oh, no.”
Gene Durant trudged back over to the rattling jackhammer, picked it up, and sank it through the craggy hole in the road that he and his brother had created earlier. A pulse flickered across the streetlights, and then everything went dark.
The power — out.
Now we could discern only shadowy figures with holes for eyes. They were all around us.
Patrick moved first, breaking for the alley behind Bob n’ Bit Hardware, where the Hosts seemed to be sparsest. “Follow me!” he shouted.
The hardware shop still blazed with the light of the forge. As we neared, the Widow Latrell sprang out, but Patrick turned and kicked her, his boot pistoning into her frail chest. She flew back into the forge. Sparks exploded up, clinging to the other Hosts around the fire, their arms loaded with guns from the wheelbarrow. Latrell’s limbs rowed mechanically, trying to pull her free even as the orange flame engulfed her. JoJo buried her face in my shoulder, and we kept running, but not before I saw fire bubble the flesh of Latrell’s neck.
Carrying JoJo slowed me down. I fell farther behind the others. We cut up the alley, and Alex screamed and pointed overhead. I looked up. A woman took flight from the rooftop of the One Cup Cafe, her arms spread like a bat’s wings. I weaved at the last second and heard her hit the ground behind us. Rocky was breathing hard, half wheezes, half sobs. Cassius trotted at my side, but even at his size he was more puppy than dog. He managed a few snarls but couldn’t provide the kind of muscle Zeus or Tanner would have.
Patrick cleared a path for us through the tight alley, smashing Hosts with the butt of the shotgun, preserving ammo. Feet pounded across the rooftops on either side of us, Hosts stalking our movement overhead.
One leapt and struck Alex on the way down. She spilled, losing her grip on her hockey stick. The Host rose, looming over her. Even from behind I could tell that it was Mrs. Wolfgram. She held a length of rope coiled around both clawlike hands. I could see straight through the back of her head.
Mrs. Wolfgram pounced.
Before she could land, she was knocked violently to the side, hammering into a brick wall and crumpling to the ground. Patrick stood over Alex now, gripping the shotgun like a baseball bat.
He held out his hand for her.
Alex reached up and cupped her fingers around Patrick’s, and he lifted her to her feet as though she were weightless. Her momentum carried her forward into him so that both hands pressed to his chest, and then their faces were close and she was looking at him with her lips slightly parted.
Over by the wall, Mrs. Wolfgram jerked herself to her feet, her limbs broken and angled in all the wrong directions. Pat- rick swung the shotgun up past Alex and said, “Cover your ears.”
Her hands rose to the sides of her head. The barrel flared. Mrs. Wolfgram smacked back against the brick wall, a chalk outline gone vertical, then slid wetly to the ground and lay still.
Alex had kept her eyes on Patrick’s the entire time. I couldn’t blame her. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
The footfalls on the roofs overhead quickened. Shallow breaths reverberated down at us off the walls. We huddled a moment, our eyes flashing around, reading the shadows.
“We gotta get to the square,” Patrick said.
“But there are so many there,” Rocky said. “At least we can see them. We’re gonna cut right through the center and head for the high school.”
“The school,” I said. “Why the—”
Dark forms flashed off the roofs, striking the ground behind us, bouncing low on their haunches, then rising.
Exploding out of the alley, I felt vulnerable all over again. The rising sun cast the square in an otherworldly light, every- thing washed in sepia tones like in an old photo graph. Hosts everywhere paused from their work, then started for us.
We charted a path across the middle of the square, hurdling benches. I set JoJo down so I could use the baling hooks when I needed them. I swiped at Hosts as they neared. They were fast, pushing their muscles to their limits. Principal Delarusso pulled even with me, sprinting faster than a fifty-year-old body should allow, that string of pearls bouncing around her neck. A run in her stocking snaked up from her shin, widening as it rose, her protruding kneecap somehow obscene. She hurled herself at me, hitting me high before I could get a hook up to protect myself. The blow sent us into a rolling tumble. I glimpsed Patrick and the others ahead, their legs vanishing through the closing ranks of Hosts.
I was caught.
Delarusso flung me over, one bony knee poking me in the chest, tensed hands pinning my arms to either side. Her strength was incredible, and I had a fleeting thought of those possessed ants, their mandibles clamping with enough new-found strength to hold their entire bodies up in the air. Delarusso’s head pulled down over mine, and I found myself looking clear up through her eyes to the lightening sky above.
A streak flew overhead and wiped her from view. I rolled to my feet to see Alex finishing her follow- through, her torso twisted with the strength of her swing. She whipped the hockey stick in a full circle, staggering several Hosts back on their heels, then yelled, “Chance — c’mon!”
She cleared a route and I forged after her. We broke through the pack. Then we were dodging stragglers, knocking them over, cutting hard to fake others out. Hosts poured from the church. Most of the adults from the county had congregated there. I couldn’t even imagine what was happening inside.
Up ahead with the kids, Patrick waved at us from the Piggly Wiggly. He stood on the front mat of the supermarket’s automated doors, but they weren’t opening, not after Gene Durant cut the power. Cassius’s fur stood up, even beyond the ridge, and he was barking furiously. Patrick stepped back, lifted the shotgun, and fired at the glass doors. The big panes wobbled and scarred, but the pellets weren’t enough to break through.
I recalled Jack Kaner bragging about the new heavy- duty clear Lexan doors he’d installed after the F2 tornado ripped through last July, shattering the old ones. Bullet-resistant doors.
We ran toward Patrick as he slotted another shell into the shotgun. A few spiral-walkers kept on pacing their patterns in the big parking lot, not looking up to notice as we ran past. We reached Patrick, panting hard, and he said, “Don’t turn around.”
So of course I did.
An army of Hosts descended on us, already at the perimeter of the parking lot. More poured around either side of the building from the back, blocking off any exit path.
JoJo smashed Bunny to the hollow of her throat and squeezed her eyes shut.
Patrick said, “Get behind me.”
He stepped to the front of our little vanguard, but I’d heard the resignation in his voice. It was gonna end here like this.
As the horde closed in on us, we held our ground — because we had nothing else to do.
Gregg Hurwitz’s The Rains is out now, published by Tor Teen in North America (it is also available in the UK). For more on the author’s novels and writing, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.