The latest dystopian novel that demands your attention releases on April 17, 2012. Alex Adams’ debut novel, White Horse, is the first in a trilogy that explores the end of the world.
White Horse's protagonist, Zoe Marshall, is seeking the father of her unborn child in a post-apocalyptic landscape that will be familiar to lovers of The Road, Oryx and Crake, Blood Red Road, and The Hunger Games – though make no mistake, despite the low price, White Horse is not a YA novel.
Zoe’s story unfolds through a series of expositions that alternate between flashbacks of her past and her current reality. This structure makes Adams story more special because it highlights tension, as well as works in terms of highlighting character growth.
We’re pleased to share an excerpt of this novel that will give prospective readers a teaser; one long enough to show the structure of the storytelling. What you’re about to read comes from Part One of the novel, and gives us a hint of Zoe’s new world.
When I wake, the world is still gone. Only fragments remain. Pieces of places and people who were once whole. On the other side of the window, the landscape is a violent green, the kind you used to see on a flat-screen television in a watering hole disguised as a restaurant. Too green. Dense gray clouds banished the sun weeks ago, forcing her to watch us die through a warped, wet lens.
There are stories told among pockets of survivors that rains have come to the Sahara, that green now sprinkles the endless brown, that the British Isles are drowning. Nature is rebuilding with her own set of plans. Man has no say.
It’s a month until my thirty-first birthday. I am eighteen months older than I was when the disease struck. Twelve months older than when war first pummeled the globe. Somewhere in between then and now, geology went crazy and drove the weather to schizophrenia. No surprise when you look at why we were fighting. Nineteen months have passed since I first saw the jar.
I’m in a farmhouse on what used to be a farm somewhere in what used to be Italy. This is not the country where gleeful tourists toss coins into the Trevi Fountain, nor do people flock to the Holy See anymore. Oh, at first they rushed in like sickle cells forced through a vein, thick, clotted masses aboard trains and planes, toting their life savings, willing to give it all to the church for a shot at salvation. Now their corpses litter the streets of Vatican City and spill into Rome. They no longer ease their hands into La Bocca della Verità and hold their breath while they whisper a pretty lie they’ve convinced themselves is real: that a cure-all is coming any day now; that a band of scientists hidden away in some mountaintop have a vaccine that can rebuild us; that God is moments away from sending in His troops on some holy lifesaving mission; that we will be saved.
Raised voices trickle through the walls, reminding me that while I’m alone in the world, I’m not alone here.
“It’s the salt.”
“It’s not the f***ing salt.”
There’s the dull thud of a fist striking wood.
“I’m telling you, it’s the salt.”
I do a mental tally of my belongings as the voices battle: backpack, boots, waterproof coat, a toy monkey, and inside a plastic sleeve: a useless passport and a letter I’m too chicken to read. This is all I have here in this ramshackle room. Its squalor is from before the end, I’ve decided. Poor housekeeping; not enough money for maintenance. “If it’s not the salt, what is it?”
“High-fructose corn syrup,” the other voice says, with the superior tone of one convinced he’s right. Maybe he is. Who knows anymore?
“Ha. That doesn’t explain Africa. They don’t eat sweets in Timbuktu. That’s why they’re all potbelly skinny.”
“Salt, corn syrup, what does it matter?” I ask the walls, but they’re short on answers.
There’s movement behind me. I turn to see Lisa No‑last-name filling the doorway, although there is less of her to fill it than there was a week ago when I arrived. She’s younger than me by ten years. English, from one of those towns that ends in -shire. The daughter of one of the men in the next room, the niece of the other.
“It doesn’t matter what caused the disease. Not now.” She looks at me through feverish eyes; it’s a trick: Lisa has been blind since birth. “Does it?”
My time is running out; I have a ferry to catch if I’m to make it to Greece.
I crouch, hoist my backpack onto my shoulders. They’re thinner now, too. In the dusty mirror on the wall, the bones slice through my thin T‑shirt.
“Not really,” I tell her. When the first tear rolls down her cheek, I give her what I have left, which amounts to a hug and a gentle stroke of her brittle hair.
I never knew my steel bones until the jar.
The godforsaken jar.
My apartment is a modern-day fortress. Locks, chains, and inside a code I have three chances to get right, otherwise the cavalry charges in, demanding to know if I am who I say I am. All of this is set into a flimsy wooden frame.
Eleven hours cleaning floors and toilets and emptying trash in hermetic space. Eleven hours exchanging one-sided small talk with mice. Now my eyes burn from the day, and I long to pluck them from their sockets and rinse them clean.
When the door swings open, I know. At first I think it’s the red answering machine light winking at me from the kitchen. But no, it’s more. The air is alien like something wandered freely in this space during my absence, touching what’s mine without leaving a mark.
Golden light floods the living room almost as soon as my fingers touch the switch. My eyes blink until they summon ample lubricative tears to provide a buffer. My pupils contract just like they’re supposed to, and finally I can walk into the light without tripping.
They say it’s not paranoia if someone is really out to get you. There is no prickle on the back of my neck telling me to watch out behind me, but I’m right about the air: it has been parted in my absence and something placed inside.
Not the kind that holds sour dill pickles that crunch between your teeth and fill your head with echoes. This looks like a museum piece, pottery, older than this city—so says the grime ground into its pores. And that ancient thing fills my apartment with the feel of things long buried.
I could examine the jar, lift it from the floor and move it away from here. But some things, once touched, can never be untouched. I am a product of every B movie I’ve ever seen, every superstition I’ve ever heard, every tale old wives have told.
I should examine the jar, but my fingers refuse to move, protecting me from the what-if. They reach for the phone instead.
The super picks up on the eighth ring. When I ask if he let someone into my place, his mind goes on walkabout. An eternity passes. During that time I imagine him clawing at his balls, out of habit more than anything else, while he performs a mental tally of the beer still left in the fridge.
“No,” he says, eventually. “Something get stolen?”
“What’s the problem, then?”
I hang up. Count to ten. When I turn the jar is still there, centered perfectly in my living room between the couch and television.
The security company is next on my list. No, they tell me. We’ve got no record of anyone entering apartment thirteen-oh-four.
“What about five minutes ago?”
Silence. Then: “We’ve got that. Do you need us to send someone out?”
The police give me more of the same. Nobody breaks in and leaves things. It must be a gift from a secret admirer. Or maybe I’m crazy; they’re not above suggesting that, but they use polite, hollow words designed to make me feel okay about hanging up the phone.
Then I remember the answering machine’s blinking light. When I press Playback, my mother’s voice booms from the speaker.
“Zoe? Zoe? Are you there?” There’s a pause; then: “No, honey, it’s the machine.” Another pause. “What—I am leaving a message. What do you mean, ‘Talk louder’?” There’s playful slapping in the background as she shoos my father away. “Your sister called. She said there’s someone she wants you to meet.” Her voice drops to a whisper that’s anything but discreet. “I think it’s a man. Anyway, I just thought you could call her. Come over for dinner Saturday and you can tell me all about him. Just us girls.” Another pause. “Oh, and you of course. You’re almost a girl,” she tells Dad. I can picture him laughing good-naturedly in the background. “Sweetie, call me. I’d try your cell phone, but you know me: ever hopeful that you’re on a date.”
Normally, I feel a small flash of anger in my chest when she calls to match make. But today . . .
I wish my mom were here. Because that jar isn’t mine.
Someone has been in my space.
Special thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for sharing this excerpt.