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Books by James Patterson
for Readers of All Ages
Witch & Wizard (with Gabrielle Charbonnet)
The Maximum Ride Novels
The Angel Experiment
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
The Final Warning
The Daniel X Novels
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X (with Michael Ledwidge)
Watch the Skies (with Ned Rust)
Demons and Druids (with Adam Sadler)
Daniel X: Alien Hunter (graphic novel; with Leopoldo Gout)
Maximum Ride: The Manga 1 (with NaRae Lee)
Maximum Ride: The Manga 2 (with NaRae Lee)
For previews of upcoming books by James Patterson and more information about the author, visit www.jamespatterson.com.
BLOOD AND SUCKERS
I JUMPED DOWN from the tree and dusted myself off. You think playing soccer is dirty?
Try being the ball.
A couple of minutes later, the five of us were strolling down an English country road that was cuter than a postcard. Our pickup soccer match had been a good distraction, but now it was almost eight and night was starting to fall.
"Well, let's hoof it, guys," I suggested. "In a couple of hours we can find somewhere safe to camp out."
"A couple of hours?" Dana complained. "Can't you materialize a car for us or something? Teleport us?"
"Too tired," I replied. "Takes a lot of focus. Which I don't have much of after you guys kicked the bejeezus out of me."
A light from behind made us turn around. A large vehicle was approaching and appeared to be slowing down. My friends moved back toward the shadows, ready to disappear if need be.
Fortunately, they didn't have to. As the vehicle pulled up alongside me, I saw that it was a beat-up van, probably large enough to hold ten or eleven. A tiny woman with short gray hair was behind the wheel, wearing a tweed suit that was at least two sizes too big for her.
She rolled down her window and peered with careworn eyes into the darkness behind me. I thought she would ask directions, but instead she asked, "Are you lost, dearies?" I liked the nice smile lines around her mouth. I liked her spacious van even more.
I put on my best harmless-backpacking-tourist face. "I'm afraid we're stranded, ma'am. We're trying to get to London." To catch some aliens—Number 3 on The List of Alien Outlaws on Terra Firma, to be exact.
"Oh, Americans… !" She smiled. "Well, I'm heading that way. Hop aboard."
IT DIDN'T TAKE MUCH to convince us. We gratefully piled in. Willy and Emma in the back, Dana and me in the middle row, and Joe sprawled out in the passenger seat next to the driver.
We drove in silence for about ten minutes or so. Joe had nodded off, and Willy and Emma, who are brother and sister, were chatting in hushed, lazy voices behind me.
I had almost dozed off when Dana moved her head in close, almost right against my ear.
"Have you noticed anything odd, Daniel?" she whispered.
"What?" I whispered back.
"The driver's seat—it's on the left side."
"So? That's where it's supposed to be."
"Not so. We're in England, remember? They drive on the other side."
That was a little unusual, I thought to myself. Why would the van be American?
And there was something else, something that had been gnawing at me since we got in. Something about what the driver was wearing. Tweed is a rough grayish green material made of wool. It's most often used for the jackets of college professors, pipe-smoking stamp collectors, and—now I remembered—hunters.
And how did I now guess that the little old lady was not a professor or stamp collector? Call me crazy, but it didn't fit with the profile of those folks to be driving a vehicle that had—I noticed with horror—what appeared to be dried bloodstains all over the backseat.
I tried to lean forward to get a better view into the front seat. That's when I realized I couldn't move a muscle. I couldn't even blink.
"So you've noticed, dearie." The driver's voice seemed to get deeper and rattle in her throat. Then an inhuman rasp twisted its way out. "I'm a hunter. JUST. LIKE. YOU. And I do believe I've caught dinner!"
JOE SNAPPED his head up. Or tried to, I should say. "Dinner? Who said something about dinner?" The guy had an appetite bigger than the British Isles.
"The person who's about to devour you," Emma said through gritted teeth.
"Hey! I can't move, guys," he reported. "Even my mouth feels like it's starting to freeze up."
"Thank God," muttered Dana, but I could hear the fear in her voice.
"Silence!" shouted the driver. It seemed all wrong: that grating, metallic voice coming out of that kindly-looking grandmother's face.
But it wasn't my imagination. In the next instant a gray, pulsating tentacle descended from the ceiling and wrapped itself around my mouth. It felt sticky, warm, and alive. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a dozen more tentacles gagging my friends. Dana's eyes were flooded with fear and confusion.
Not to be able to explain what was happening—to her, most of all—was excruciating. The problem was, I couldn't move, I couldn't create anything, I couldn't transform. I couldn't even talk, to tell my friends to break out, to run away.
If I could have activated my powers, there might have been any number of ways I could have gotten us out of this—by making my friends disappear, for instance. (I'll have to explain that trick to you later.)
Since I didn't hear another word from my friends, it looked like they were fully incapacitated at this point, too.
I tried to assess our very sticky situation. As my eyes scanned the walls of the van I could see them moving, pulsing, breathing. And the ceiling—it was a forest of waving tentacles.
Now I understood why we couldn't move our bodies. Strong tendrils that were no thicker than rubber bands had shot out from the van's seats and enveloped our arms and legs more effectively than steel manacles could.
The tentacles reminded me of the sea anemones I used to see in the tide pools on the Oregon coast. Unsuspecting fish who swam too close would be grabbed, stunned by the neurotoxins in the anemones' tentacles, and slowly digested.
That's what this van was, I realized suddenly. A giant anemone.
And then came another totally creepy thought: The driver wasn't actually driving. She was part of the alien, one of its organs. She was the bait.
SHE—IT, I should say—saw my look of understanding and horror.
"By now you've noticed my tentacles are full of neurotoxins." It cackled nastily. "Just be thankful that you'll all be dead before you're digested. I'm told that the process is excruciating."
The old woman's body began to transform now, melting away into her seat. Meanwhile, a bulbous tentacle tightened around my mouth, and the interior of the van seemed to be shrinking.
I blinked, desperately trying to clear my mind and find a quick solution. Being squashed into mush and then digested? Not how I was planning to leave the earth.
Up in the front of the van, Joe's head was shuddering as he struggled against paralysis. Behind me I could hear Willy gurgling and Emma humming in a useless attempt to speak—or scream. And Dana… well, one of her hands had solidified around mine in a death grip of fear.
Hundreds of mouths had opened up in the walls around us and began to speak in unison, like a nightmare in surround sound.
"Alien Hunter," the mouths addressed me, "this is for my beloved brother. It's too bad he couldn't be here to see it. Do you remember Number 40? You disintegrated him in Dallas, Texas!"
Of course I remembered! In fact, the oily-smooth interior of the van reminded me all too much of being inside the stomach of Number 40 before he—well… that's another story, and I couldn't focus on past victories right now.
The roof was pressing down hard against our heads now. The walls and ceiling constricted like a giant heart beating.
"Nice eating you…" The beast's final message trailed off in a sickening gurgle. "I'm Number 43, by the way. My brother's name was Jasper."
"May he rest in pieces!" I wanted to quip.
Another powerful contraction came. The walls closed in even tighter, pushing me and Dana together. It was something I might have enjoyed, if we weren't both about to become meat-and-bone Jell-O pudding.
The despair was overwhelming. It was as if all the terror my friends were feeling was being transmitted back to me times ten. I had never gotten them into a situation this bad before, one that I was powerless to get them out of.
The walls were closing in, bending me double. The tentacle around my throat was twisting too tight for me even to swallow. Everything was getting dim, and quiet, and distant.
It's over, I thought. My eyes were finally squeezed shut and I thought I might suddenly burst like an overripe zit.
And then behind the pain and the fear I heard words way in the back of my mind.
"You still have time… you can take out Number 43. At least I think so."
I recognized the voice immediately. It was my father.
My dead father.
EXCUSE ME while I digress. I was only three when my parents were killed, murdered by one of the most evil alien creatures ever to have set foot on Earth—The Prayer by name—who just happens to be Number 1 on The List. Even in those three short years, though, my parents had managed to fill my brain with all kinds of interesting and useful information, which surfaces from time to time—anything from a fantastic recipe for barbecue sauce (the secret's in the sugar) to, say, the speed you need to travel to escape Earth's gravity (around 25,000 mph). It's usually really simple stuff like that—but sometimes it's the bit of knowledge that could save your skin.
Right now I really, really hoped my dead father was about to offer survival tips instead of cooking tips.
"Dad… what? I'm kind of tied up right now," I answered him in my thoughts.
I could still feel the greasy tentacle choking me, feel the wall and ceiling pressing against me, but at least they weren't getting tighter. I wasn't gasping for breath either. Miraculously, I was able to open my eyes.
One at a time.
If I had been able to move the rest of my body I would have reeled in shock. Staring right into my eyes was Dana, her mouth twisted into a circle of horror. But here's the really strange thing: she was totally motionless.
I tried to speak, struggled to touch Dana, but my body, my head, my face, were immobilized. Not just paralyzed, but completely frozen.
That's when I realized something that was easily as fascinating as a meeting with the Dalai Lama. Not only wasn't I suffocating, but I wasn't breathing. Then it hit me.
Time had stopped.
My father's voice rang out again in my skull, stronger this time. "Very good, Daniel. I knew you hadn't forgotten. Even though you were only two when I taught you how to dive below the surface of the flow of time. Well, I'll see you later, champ."
Wait! I thought. What do I do now? But my dad's voice was gone.
I had no idea how I'd made time freeze, but my father's words had stirred something—a distant memory. Rotating stars, spinning planets.
I remembered Dad hanging a mobile over my crib. A model of Earth's solar system—spinning, slowing, stopping. And then it started to spin in the opposite direction—in reverse. It was all coming back to me, the knowledge slowly trickling in like an Internet download.
Imagine that your brain is a spotlight that casts a sharp focus on whatever you're looking at, or thinking about, or feeling. I had to defocus, widen that beam until it shone on everything. It's even harder than it sounds, and I was out of practice.
Usually when I use my powers, I have to concentrate, but this time it was just the opposite. First I relaxed, let my mind go limp—not an easy feat when the girl you care about most is going to die right before your eyes.
Hold on, Dana.
I felt my brain detach itself from all my sensations right down to the taste of sweat in my mouth. And that's when I saw Dana's left eyelid flicker. Her expression was changing, becoming less terrified, but not in a way I'd ever seen a face change before.
I was turning back time.
AS DANA'S FEATURES lost their deer-in-the-headlights look, the walls that had been crushing us pulled back into their original shape. The tentacles withdrew from our necks, the poison from our bodies. The sensation in my ears was unexpected, like the twisted sounds of music playing backward. I could actually feel the vibrations of the van's motor, as well as my friends' and the little old homicidal lady's voices coming out of my ears.
Then everything started to speed up.
Joe's snores were returning, traveling back into his mouth. I felt Dana's breath near my ear and considered pausing things there—you know, just for a second—but as the thought hit me, the moment was gone, and we were all traveling backward out of the van.
Before I knew it we were standing in the road watching it drive away in reverse. Now I had to refocus my mind, to restart time flowing forward again.
I was fully prepared for a mental battle, but as soon as I stopped relaxing my thoughts, I felt a jolt, like an elevator stopping too fast in the middle of a thousand-story building. When I turned around I saw Willy, Joe, Dana, and Emma staring at me expectantly from the shadows at the side of the road. They seemed oblivious to the fact that we'd nearly been the alien equivalent of goulash.
I couldn't believe it. I'd actually gone back in time. On my first try!
"Is everything all right, Daniel?" asked Dana. "You look a little pale."
"Yeah, you look a little disoriented, you know, like you just saw an alien," Joe quipped. He wiggled his fingers beside his head and started singing the theme from The Twilight Zone in a high-pitched falsetto.
"Give him a break, Joe," said Emma. "It's still not too late for us to ditch you here. I hear Whaddon is famous for its delicious pork pies. You'll be in pig heaven."
"Hey, I think somebody's coming," Willy announced, pointing at a set of headlights.
And there it was: the vehicle of death. From here on out, things would be easier without having to worry about my friends—or explaining how I knew exactly what was going to happen next.
I CUPPED my hands out in front of me and concentrated. I'm no chemistry major, but I've read some textbooks. A few hundred, actually. I quickly visualized the chemical compound I wanted. Two parts nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen, and one part carbon. A dash of dioctyl sebacate, a bit of polyisobutylene. There.
In my hands, I held a fist-sized lump of explosive.
Even my friends looked a little concerned.
"Uh, Danny Boy? What are you doing there, buddy?" asked Willy.
"I'll tell you guys later. Trust me, it'll be a real blast."
"Huh?" said Willy.
"Daniel—" Dana tried to protest as I made all four of them disappear. (I'll have to explain that trick to you later.) It was all I could do not to conjure up a bazooka and simply wait for the van to get within range.
As soon as the explosive was secure, I walked back to where we'd been standing before. The van slowed, and the window rolled down.
"Here I am! Come and get me!" I taunted in my most maniacal voice. "Dinner's ready!" I hooted as I tore down the road toward the tree.
The old hag must have floored it because the vehicle lurched forward and roared toward me. And right toward my trap.
Using my lightning-fast reflexes, I was able to slip out of the way right before the van smashed into the tree.
And then I half leapt, half fell backward, just out of range of the expanding fireball.
For a moment, vivid geysers of oranges, reds, and yellows hung in the air—and at the center was the van, burning, vaporizing into atoms. There was a grating, scraping sound under the roar of the shock wave—the alien screaming. And then there was only smoke, and silence, like in a cemetery at three in the morning.
Leaves and ash rained down through the haze. All that was left of the tree was a charred stump a foot or two high. Of the van, nada. Well, almost nada. A hubcap rolled toward me, dissolving into a puddle of mush before it reached my feet.
Thanks, Dad, I thought to myself. You saved my life. And we got Number 43.
AFTER the carpooling disaster, we got smart and took the train to London. I know it sounds anticlimactic, but when we finally arrived there, the big city looked pretty much how I expected.
Of course, before I left the States I'd speed-read through about twenty travel guides as well as a couple of history textbooks, plus the complete works of Shakespeare for good measure. Frankly, at this point I probably knew more about London than the prime minister or, certainly, the mayor.
But it was thrilling to see in person all the things I'd only read about, like the Tower of London (not technically a tower, but, even better, it's more like a castle). Let me debunk a few other common misconceptions for you. Big Ben—actually the name of the clock's bell, not the clock itself. Hyde Park—London's version of Central Park (or, actually, vice versa)—is not named after Dr. Jekyll's alter ego. Piccadilly Circus—not nearly as fun as it sounds. Turns out it's just a big intersection. Which was where all five of us were currently cruising around on a double-decker bus.
Emma was kneeling on the seat behind me. "The driver says we'll be at Oxford Circus in a couple of minutes."
"And you've pretty much missed all of the sights since your nose is still buried in that laptop," Dana noted.
"So who's next on our hit list?" Willy asked.
"Not a Lapillajade, I hope," Emma commented, referring to the most intelligent species in the universe. "They're pretty tricky."
"Absolutely not. Most of them are good guys," I said. In fact, Lapillajades are often disguised on Earth as astronomers and scientists, including dudes like Copernicus, Galileo, and Sir Isaac Newton. Humankind would pretty much be in the Dark Ages without them.
I looked back down at the open laptop I had balanced on my knees. If you didn't stare too closely, you might think it was the newest, slimmest iBook. It wasn't much thicker than a sheet of paper, but its technology housed information on every known extraterrestrial outlaw on the planet. Just for the heck of it, I'd even run a search on the van-emone and found out its real name: Ziquechyx Philbin. With a name like that, no wonder the beastie was so angry.
But the reason I'd come to London in the first place was to hunt a sinister alien force who was the polar opposite of a Lapillajade. Primitive, fierce, uncontrollable—and with no intellect whatsoever. And he was the number three most-wanted alien on Earth.
Name: Phosphorius Beta
- On Sale
- Jul 26, 2010
- Hachette Audio