Authors: Andrew Taylor
First published in the UK in 2012 by Usborne Publishing Ltd., Usborne House,
83-85 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8RT, England.
Text copyright © Andrew Taylor, 2012
The right of Andrew Taylor to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Cover artwork by Elisabetta Barbazza and Eamon O’Donoghue.
Skull image © Don Farrall / Getty Images
The name Usborne and the devices
are Trade Marks of Usborne Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or used in any way except as allowed under
the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or loaned or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement
of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to
actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Epub ISBN 9781409548652
Kindle ISBN 9781409548669
Batch no. 00845/2
It’s no fun being dead.
The cold steel of the mortuary table against your naked skin… A black, plastic sheet draped over your body from head to foot… Your arms and legs immovable as iron
Is this it? Is this all there is?
But then the sound of people moving around the table… Metal objects clattering around in a tray… Trolley wheels on a tiled floor… Someone vigorously washing his
hands… Muffled voices…
You take a breath. A terrible mistake has been made.
You’re not dead.
You try to call out, but your lips won’t form the words. Your tongue feels thick and useless, like a piece of raw meat in your mouth. You desperately try to raise your hand, but your
limbs just aren’t answering your brain’s command.
Without warning the sheet is whipped to one side, leaving you exposed on the table. A brilliant light is shining in your face but you can’t turn away. Can’t even blink. Your eyes
swim with tears, slowly becoming accustomed to the glare. In your peripheral vision you see sterile, white walls and a lamp angled down, a scene reminiscent of every medical drama you’ve ever
seen on TV. On a metal trolley to your left, instruments are laid out in a neat row: scalpels, clamps, curved suture needles, a drill…
You try to scream, but can’t.
So, how are you liking it here so far?
a man’s voice says as two figures approach the table. They are both dressed in surgical scrubs. The taller of the two wears a
green cap from which grey hairs protrude. The other man is completely bald. Their lower faces are obscured by masks.
the bald-headed one replies.
Different to Hope General, that’s for sure.
(You want to cry out: Help! Help me! I’m alive!)
The grey-haired surgeon chuckles.
In a good way, I hope.
(Please! Help me!)
bald-head replies hurriedly.
This is the cutting edge. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of.
He turns his attention to
the instrument trolley.
Are you going to use the laser scalpel?
(Listen to me! Can’t you see my eyes are open?)
Call me old-fashioned, but give me the electric saw any day.
You direct all your willpower towards making your lips form a word. And your body finally begins to obey…
The effort required to form a single syllable is superhuman, but you can’t give up. You mustn’t give up.
says the bald-headed doctor, looking round in surprise.
This kid’s awake! Should I give him more sedative?
grey-hair replies. He picks up something that looks like a power tool from the trolley: a handheld instrument with a circular cutting blade on the top. He
presses a button on the side and the serrated edge begins to spin at high speed.
You want to leap from the table and run screaming for help… This can’t be happening…
But there’s no escape…
Puh-leeeez… l’ll be g-g-g…
Grey-hair leans in, blocking out the light of the theatre lamp. The buzzing motor of the electric saw fills your ears.
The surgeon smiles down at you.
Yes. Yes, you will.
The blade of the power tool approaches. There is a squeal as it makes contact.
And then incredible pain…
And then darkness.
The gas station had a sad look to it: rusting pumps, a faded sign and peeling paint around the shopfront. At the grimy shop window, a white-haired attendant with a beard that
touched his shirt front peered out, as a Toyota Land Cruiser piled high with packing boxes pulled up by the diesel pump.
“Would you look at those prices,” said Jennifer Ward, a dark-haired woman in her mid-forties who was sitting at the wheel of the car, checking out the cost per litre chalked up on a
board by the door. “Welcome to the country, kiddo.”
In the passenger seat, Henry Ward sighed. “Mom, I’m fourteen.”
Jennifer looked at her son and gave him an expression of mock hurt. “
Well, excuse me!
Despite himself, Henry laughed. That had been dad’s line whenever he said something out of turn.
“Do me a favour and fill her up, huh?” Jennifer gave him a fifty from her pocket. “And get me a Diet Coke?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Henry opened the passenger door into the searing September afternoon, a late summer heatwave. The air con in the rented Toyota had made him forget it was thirty-five degrees outside. He looked
back at his mom through the window and pulled an agonized face. She waved at him to get on with it. Henry moved to the back of the car, flipped open the gas cap and then grabbed the diesel nozzle
from its cradle. The thick plastic handle was almost too hot to hold, even though it had been in the shade. As Henry slotted it into the gas tank, the bell of the shop door jangled.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the attendant snapped, hobbling across the forecourt as fast as his legs would carry him.
Henry froze. There was anger in the old man’s voice.
he thought, looking down at the pump in his hand. He had it inserted properly. When he pressed the trigger he could feel
the gas beginning to flow. Perhaps the old geezer just didn’t like how he looked. For his age, Henry was tall and over the last year had broadened out as a result of being on the swim team at
school. Recently he’d noticed people beginning to look at him differently, especially old people when he was out and about – like they were sizing him up as some kind of a threat. Was
“You see a
sign anywhere?” said the old man, peevishly snatching the pump from his hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Henry and took a couple of steps back.
“How much do you want?”