Read Breath Online

Authors: Jackie Morse Kessler

Tags: #Contemporary, #Suspense, #Action Adventure

Breath

BOOK: Breath
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Prologue: Now

Part One
THE MÖBIUS STRIP

Xander

Death

Xander

Death

Xander

Death

Xander

Death

Part Two
THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Death

Xander

Famine

Xander

Pestilence

Xander

War

Death

Xander

Part Three
BITTERNESS

Death

Xander

Death

Xander

Death

Xander

Part Four
INTERVENTION

War

Pestilence

Famine

Part Five
THE BOY WITH THE CHOCOLATE

Xander

Death

Xander

Death

Xander

The Atwoods

Death

Xander

Xander

Death

Xander

Part Six
INTERLUDE

Bill

Missy

Bill

Missy

Bill

Missy

Tammy

Death

Part Seven
CREATION

Xander

The Atwoods

Author’s Note

Read More from the Riders of the Apocalypse Series

About the Author

Copyright © 2013 by Jackie Morse Kessler

 

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

 

Graphia and the Graphia logo are registered trademarks of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

 

www.hmhbooks.com

 

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Kessler, Jackie Morse.

Breath / Jackie Morse Kessler.

p.cm—(Riders of the Apocalypse; 4)

Summary: “In the fourth and final volume of the Riders of Apocalypse series, high school senior Xander Atwood has a secret. Death, the Pale Rider, has lost his way. What happens when the two meet will change the fate of the world”—Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-0-547-97043-1

[1. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.K4835Br 2013

[Fic]—dc23

2012023509

 

eISBN 978-0-544-03563-8
v1.0413

 

 

If you’ve ever had your trust broken so badly
You asked yourself, “What’s the point?”
Then this book is for you.

Acknowledgments

So many people made this book possible, in so many different ways, and I’m grateful to all of them.

To Julie Tibbott and the entire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt team: Thank you for your vision and your support.

To Sammy Yuen: Your work never ceases to amaze me—thank you for the wonderful covers.

To Miriam Kriss: Best literary agent ever! Thank you for your ongoing enthusiasm, advice, and encouragement. (And, you know, for selling my stuff!)

To Shalaena, the grand-prize winner of the
Loss
contest: I hope you like how I used the name you chose.

To Kevin Hearne: Thanks for being so awesome and letting me write Perry’s final scene. Nothing like a little bit of meta to kick things off!

To Matt Krain: Years ago, you gave me permission to use one of the best lines I’d ever heard. I finally found the right place for that line. Thank you so much!

To the awesome people at my dojang: You’re all fantastic! Here’s to Team Not Dead Yet (and Team Not Yet Not Dead Yet). And a special hat-tip to Kimber and Chuck Coler, who gave me permission to use a terrific line. Thank you!

To Ty Drago: For more reasons than I could ever name, thank you, thank you, thank you.

To Renee Barr: For Girls’ Day Out and so much more, you’re the best. Thank you—twenty-five years of thank you! (My God!)

To Ryan and Mason: You’re the most phenomenal Tax Deductions in the world!

To Brett: Always, forever. It’s all good, love—and that’s because of you. (Cue sappy music!)

And to all of the readers who have written and shared so much: Thank you for everything. You’re amazing, each and every one of you. Now go thee out unto the world—rock on!

Prologue: Now

Xander Atwood hated heights. Always had. Ever since he was a kid and chickened out of jumping off the high diving board at the community pool ​— ​much to the irritation of the kids behind him, who had to make way as he climbed down the ladder, shamefaced ​— ​Xander staunchly preferred for the ground to be within easy reach. Going to the top floor of buildings was fine, as long as it wasn’t in one of those funky glass-walled elevators. Driving over bridges gave him fits. Airplanes were right out. Let others soar with the eagles; Xander was perfectly content with an ant’s-eye view.

So the fact that he was leaning over the balcony railing of his parents’ apartment building, thirty floors above the street, was a very big deal.

“So,” he said. “Want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” replied Death.

Part One
THE MÖBIUS STRIP

Möbius strip: a one-sided surface that is constructed from a rectangle by holding one end fixed, rotating the opposite end through 180 degrees, and joining it to the first end.

—Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

 

A sound, like the screech of tires—or maybe the boom of a door slamming shut. Impact, then echoes of contact, then nothing.

And then, a beep.

And another.

And again, until the beeping became an insistent shrill.

And then . . .

Xander

Xander Atwood woke with a start. He inhaled quickly, as if he’d forgotten that he’d been holding his breath, and he swatted his alarm clock until he hit the Off button. The shrilling beep stopped midshriek. An echo lingered, weighing the air with frantic urgency, but it quickly faded until all Xander heard was the soft, electric hum of the clock. He exhaled slowly, then grinned. Today was the big day.

He was finally going to ask Riley out.

Xander hopped out of bed and ducked into the shower. As he shampooed, he went over the plan: During fifth period, when they were both in the library for study hall, he’d casually mention that he was going to grab some pizza after school, and maybe Riley would like to join him. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a date, but it was a start.

All Xander had to do was not vomit all over his sneakers, then he’d be set.

No problem. He’d be fine. Calm. Cool. Not at all freaked out from the thought of talking to Riley Jones.

His belly flipped.

Maybe he shouldn’t eat breakfast, just in case.

Five minutes later, he was grabbing his clothing. Definitely the royal blue T-shirt, the one that made the blue in his eyes pop. He’d heard Riley mention in passing that there’s nothing better than gorgeous eyes, so Xander wanted to play that up. His friend Ted would bust a gut if he knew that Xander was obsessing over what to wear, but hey, Ted wasn’t the one who was going to be asking Riley out for pizza.

Which Xander would absolutely not be too nervous to eat.

He got dressed, then looked in the mirror and frowned at the fresh crop of pimples on his brow. Thank God for long hair. Xander busted out the gel and spent ten minutes working on his hair until he got it to that perfect style, the one that looked like he spent no time on his hair and also managed to hide the zits.

He could practically hear Ted’s guffaws as he told Xander that he was being such a girl. Of course Ted would say that; he never worried about anything. Ted was strictly a play-it-by-ear sort of guy, whereas Xander liked to plan his spontaneity. Could he help it if he had a thing for details?

Xander glanced at the clock. He had about five minutes before he had to leave, twenty if he didn’t want to stop at Dawson’s for coffee before school. More than enough time for him to practice his smile.

Yikes—way too much tooth.

He tried again. Now he looked like he was constipated.

Third time was the charm. Smiling his winning smile, he launched into his Asking-Riley-Out-But-Not-Really question. After a few tries, he thought he nailed the inflection, making it sound like he was interested but not too interested. He figured Riley would answer in one of four ways.

 

Scenario 1: All Goes Well

XANDER:
Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY:
Sure! Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?

 

Scenario 2: Delayed Gratification

XANDER
: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY
: Thanks, wish I could, but I can’t today. I’ve got track.

XANDER
: Maybe another time.

RILEY
: That would be great. Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?

 

Scenario 3: Could Be Worse Somehow

XANDER
: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY
: No.

 

Scenario 4: Kill Me Now

XANDER
: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

RILEY
: . . . Sorry, do I know you?

 

He thought those possibilities covered the bases. Even though part of him was terrified that Riley would opt for either scenario 3 or 4—thus the potential for puking—the rest of him focused on having a 50 percent chance of either scenario 1 or 2 coming to pass. Fifty-fifty: That was a flip of a coin.

He spotted his pile of change on his nightstand, and he plucked a bright penny from the top of the heap.

“Heads,” he said, then tossed the coin high. He caught it, slapped it onto the back of his hand, and took a look.

Heads.

He flipped it again. Heads.

Once more for good luck—and again, it was heads.

Grinning like a fool, Xander pocketed the coin. Yeah, today was the day. His lucky day. He felt it.

He stuffed his backpack for the day’s classload: his evil math textbook, massive enough to be a doorstopper; his equally massive but less evil philosophy textbook; his sketchbook, along with his set of pencils and two erasers; his overstuffed, overworked looseleaf binder. Finally, he plucked a novel off his nightstand—Gaiman and Pratchett’s
Good Omens,
which he was rereading for the gazillionth time—and jammed it into his backpack. He grabbed his wallet and his phone, made sure he had his keys, and then he quietly headed down the hall. Xander took pains to walk softly, because he didn’t want to wake his mom; she hadn’t been sleeping well since her very pregnant belly had started entering a room before the rest of her. He didn’t worry about waking his dad; that man slept like the dead. Then Xander was out the door and on his way.

The entire time he walked to Dawson’s Pizza, he played and replayed the possible scenarios of him (kinda sorta not really) asking Riley out. By the time he got to the pizzeria—open for breakfast starting at the crack of dawn—he was feeling thoroughly nauseated. What if Riley laughed at him? Or worse: What if Riley pitied him?

What if the answer wasn’t just No, but Hell No?

BOOK: Breath
10.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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