In a desert town of 346 people, sickness travels fast and monsters travel faster. Meandra must get her family out before becoming both. A prequel novel to SICK.
Young Adult horror
||Arizona, United States
||4 publishers interested
Once Meandra's boyfriend Joseph returns to their tiny hometown of Hopeless, Arizona, and her father gets back from his current geology expedition, she's telling Dad she's leaving. For good. With Joseph. Her little sister Sophie is welcome to come, too, because life in Hopeless is ... well, the name says it all.
Except something's gone wrong overnight. Folks have been turning up sick in droves to the town's sole doctor, or else not turning up anywhere at all. Violence is breaking out all over the place, and the few cops around can't contain it.
Then the biting begins. Once-friendly neighbors turn into ravenous monsters intent on feasting on any uninfected person they can reach. It's as if they're seeking to ingest organs functioning as part of healthy immune systems to curb their obvious wracking pain and utter insanity. Of course, most folks like their organs inside their bodies where they belong...
Meandra's plan to escape Hopeless takes on a more literal meaning than she could have ever imagined as she, Joseph, and Sophie race to find a way out of town before becoming its latest victims. With luck, they can get to Phoenix healthy and well in order to send help back.
But if this strange, bloodthirsty sickness ever got out of town and took hold in the nation's fifth largest city--
Author Tom Leveen brings you this prequel novel to SICK, his award-winning YA horror novel set in a Phoenix high school.
Tom's novels have been very successful in classrooms with reluctant readers. SICK, the forerunner to HOPELESS, in particular has opened up many readers to books who otherwise have been dismissive of novel-length works. HOPELESS will appeal not only to the many fans of the original novel, but also to teachers of students in junior high and high school -- and of course, horror or zombie fans.
Tom Leveen is the author of several young adult and horror novels, including PARTY; ZERO; and MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL with Random House Children's Books; SICK, with Abrams/Amulet; RANDOM; SHACKLED; HELLWORLD; and as a contributor to VIOLENT ENDS with Simon Pulse; and coming up, MERCY RULE with Sky Pony. ZERO was an ALA Best Book, and SICK won both the Westchester Fiction Award and Grand Canyon Reader Award.
A frequent guest speaker, panelist, and teacher, Tom has presented at a wide array of educational and cultural conferences and conventions, including: Phoenix ComiCon, Romance Writers of America, SCBWI, Arizona State University, Arizona Reading Association, NCTE, the Tucson Festival of Books, LA Teen Book Fest, and more.
I currently maintain a blog, email list, and presences on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which is where I do most of my fan interaction. I have had success with Facebook ads as well as boosting posts, and will do so during the course of this campaign as well. Prior to making this proposal, I conducted surveys of my fans and friends to see if this is the type of project they would support, and the response was positive. Since this is a prequel to a known and successful property, I will also be personally contacting each blogger and reviewer who was favorable to the original novel and asking for their help and support as well. SICK has many die-hard fans, so I believe they will be enthusiastic supporters of HOPELESS.
Meandra dropped into her father’s office chair and reached for the radio mic, wondering for the very first time that maybe, when she and Joseph explained their plans, Sophie wouldn’t fight against it. Maybe she’d want to come along. Then what?
She shelved the thought, to return to later.
“Hi Daddy,” Meandra said into the mic.
“Hey-there, Pumpkin,” Orville Collins said back, his voice masked with hissing interference. “How are things at the homestead?”
“You make it sound like we live on a ranch, for crying out loud.”
“We do live on a ranch!” The smile was as evident in Orville's voice as it would be on his face.
“We don’t raise animals or crops, that’s a ranch.”
“But it’s a ranch-style property, Me-ann.”
How could Mom have left him? Meandra thought suddenly. Nevermind two kids, how could Mom turn her back on a guy who just had so much damn fun with his life? Half his interactions with the girls were some form of teasing like this. Despite being a professional geologist, with many of the attendant idiosyncrasies that mindset entailed, Dr. Collins was and remained the type of father who also played with dolls when his daughters wanted to, and didn’t hesitate to introduce them to Legos. Or Transformers, his personal favorite.
Maybe Mom was just too uptight, Meandra thought. And it doesn’t matter, anyway. I need to stop thinking about her.
“You’re driving me crazy, Doctor C,” Meandra said.
Dad laughed into the radio. “Aw, it’s fun to pretend, ain’t it?”
Ain’t it? His forced hick drawl, the faux cowboy act . . . he loved speaking that way to get a rise out of her.
“Sure thing, Dad,” Meandra said, and rubbed her eyes. They still burned from the cold winter wind.
“How’s my little Sunflower?”
“She’s fine.” Meandra raised her voice. “But she’s getting fat!”
“Shut up!” Sophie screamed from the kitchen.
“Too many cupcakes, Dad!” Meandra yelled.
She heard a cupboard door slam. “Uh! I swear!” Sophie shouted, and Meandra listened, delighted, as Sophie stomped into the living room and turned on the TV. Loud.
Pleased with herself, Meandra said into the microphone, “She’s all right. We’re doing fine. I made spaghetti earlier.”
“Ooo!” Orville said. “That sounds great. Better than what I had tonight. Don’t ask.”
“Yeah, I make powerful good vittles, pard’ner.”
“Meany,” her father teased.
Meandra grinned and impulsively checked the time again. Joseph would be back on the road. Three short, long hours away. “When will you be home tomorrow?”
“Before dark,” Orville replied. Later than she’d thought. “I’m working my way down Chestnut Ridge and I—”
The radio died.
Meandra waited. Counted off twenty seconds on the tacky American Indian-themed clock mounted on the south wall.
“Daddy?” she said into the mic.
No response. Meandra tried again. Nothing. She spent several minutes playing with the radio knobs with no success; they both knew how to operate the radio, but Sophie had a knack for it Meandra did not. She hung the mic back in its cradle and closed her eyes. His battery had probably died again. Meandra didn’t know how long Sophie had been talking to him, but she was a pretty mouthy girl, and Meandra had lost track of time while on the roof. They’d spoken to him every night for the past week while he’d been away, and there was a fifty-fifty chance he’d forgotten his solar charger again.
Hell with it, Meandra thought. She got up and marched into the kitchen for an ice cream sandwich.
“Radio’s dead,” Meandra said, dropping onto the couch beside her sister.
“Did you tell him I said goodnight?” Sophie asked. A rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on, much too loud.
“Of course,” Meandra said, reaching for the remote and turning down the volume. A cupcake wrapper crackled on the coffee table beside it. “He said he’ll back before dark tomorrow.”
“Cool. That’s plenty of time for you to get pregnant.”
Meandra pounced, digging into the sensitive areas of Sophie’s ribs. Sophie squealed and Meandra switched her attack to the knees, tickling Soph until tears streamed.
“What was that? Sorry, I didn’t hear you? Stop? Stop what? I can’t hear what you said, Sophie, what?”
Once sufficiently punished, Meandra let her up, and they watched the show together. When it ended, Soph was passed out, snuggled into one arm of the couch, mouth ajar. Meandra smiled and brushed a long, stray brown hair from off her sister’s face. They’d always been close, but once the former Mrs. Collins packed up and moved to Prague with a co-worker, the bond had grown stronger. Their four-year age difference wasn’t huge by some standards, but Meandra still found herself thinking of Soph in more maternal than sororal terms.
She opted for a quick shower, leaving the TV on. Turning it off would only wake Sophie up. With a little luck, she might stay asleep on the couch till early morning.
Wouldn’t that be convenient, Meandra thought, and her smile took a sultry, mischievous turn.
Or, she reckoned as she paced quietly toward the bathroom, what she hoped was sultry. Joseph made her feel sexy enough when they were together, but often she doubted her ability to be any kind of vixen for him. She never voiced these worries to him, fearful the mere mention would be enough to make him turn and run. On the other hand, Joseph had never been anything but kind to her and with her.
If he was going to go, Meandra told herself, he wouldn’t be driving himself back from Los Angeles in damn near the middle of the night to see you. See you, and pick you up.
That made her feel better.
She glanced at the clock in her dad’s study as she passed by its open door, hoping more time had passed than she knew was possible. Nope. Still two hours to go. Maybe a little less if she was lucky—
A burst of static blared from the radio. Meandra stopped, and turned back toward the sound. Silence, then another burst of static. Meandra walked back into the study and lifted the mic.
“Daddy? Daddy, can you hear me?”
“Dad, what’s going on?”
Her father’s scream vibrated the radio unit on his desk. Meandra jumped back, startled. She pressed the microphone button to transmit.
“Daddy, what are you talking about? What’s wrong?”
Orville’s voice came back in mid-sentence, as if he’d kept talking into his mic. “—your sister and go, now! Get to Phoenix! Hurry! Oh sweet lor—!”
Silence again. No static, nothing. The central heater kicked on, washing her with warm, stale air, but Meandra felt only cold. Her father was not a practical joker—hadn’t been before, anyway.
Fighting a frozen, hard knot of worry in her belly, Meandra tried the radio again for several minutes, but got no response. Either Orville had turned the unit off or—
—or he was unable to respond.
Bear? Meandra thought as she set the microphone down on the desk. Her hand trembled mildly.
No, not a bear; Orville had never reported seeing any bears, and they weren’t likely anyway in this spare, rocky desert. They’d be up north, in Flagstaff maybe. And wouldn’t it be too cold for a bear to be wandering around? She wasn’t a hundred percent sure about that.
Criminals of some kind? Escaped convicts, or Coyotes coming up from Mexico? Maybe . . . but her dad’s tone suggested fear on a primal level, not one of men with guns. Maybe there was no real difference, but a man could be talked to. Reasoned with. Whatever scared him wasn’t that. She couldn’t shake the feeling his fear was something beyond bipedal men.
Mountain lion? Cougar?
Meandra’s mind raced through a variety of scenarios, but none made sense. If it was at least an hour’s full-tilt, off-road drive from the base of the mountain to their home, what sort of threat would make him tell her to drive to Phoenix? And at this time of night? Not to mention leaving him behind. He hadn’t said to call the police or send someone up to help him.
Something had frightened him badly enough that his first response was to get the girls out of town entirely.
Meandra licked her lips, and found her entire mouth had dried as arid as the Sonoran desert dirt.