Read an Excerpt
Man vs. Beast
Andy Pierce’s bed felt fantastic. His duvet was wrapped around his chin, his muscles felt relaxed, and his warm pillow fitted snugly under his head. But the gash of sunlight leaking between the curtains was tormenting him.
The fourteen-year-old didn’t have the heart to crane his head up and look at the bedside clock, but he knew he had to get up. In less than an hour he’d have his elbows propped on a desk and a tie around his neck for the waking nightmare that was Monday morning: English, French, and drama. Today would be even worse than usual because Andy was going to get nailed for not doing his Macbeth homework.
He pictured the dirty look he’d get from Mr. Walker as his bedroom door swung into the room.
“I called you three times already,” Andy’s mum shouted, as she bounded across the carpet towards the window.
Christine Pierce looked like a sour-faced angel: dressed for work in a white polo shirt, white trousers, and white canvas trainers.
“There’s toast on the table downstairs. Stone cold now, I expect.”
The room exploded with light as Christine swished the curtains apart, then whipped away the duvet covering her eldest son.
“Mummmm,” Andy moaned, as he shielded his eyes with one hand and put the other over his privates.
“Oh, give over.” Christine grinned, giving her son a friendly slap on the ankle. “You’ve got nothing down there I haven’t seen a thousand times before.” Her expression turned to revulsion as she caught a whiff of the duvet hanging over her arm. “When exactly did you last change these sheets?”
Andy shrugged as he rolled onto his bum and grabbed a pair of clean boxers he’d set out the night before.
“I dunno . . . Last week, I think.”
“Pull the other one. Those pillowcases are yellow and I don’t even want to think about the smell.”
“It’s not that bad.”
Andy watched his mum’s lips thin out as he yanked a school shirtsleeve up his arm. Thin lips meant he had to be careful: She was on the verge of going thermonuclear.
“When I get home from work this evening, I expect to see that disgusting bed linen washed and hanging on the rotary line out the back. And you can do your brother’s while you’re at it.”
“What?” Andy gasped. “Why have I got to do Stuart’s bed?”
Andy recoiled as his mother jammed her pointing finger under his nose. “You claim you’re old enough to stroll in from the cinema with your mates at a quarter past eleven. In my book, that makes you old enough to start taking more responsibility around this house. This isn’t a hotel, and I’m your mother, not your cleaning lady.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Andy said sullenly.
Christine glanced at her watch and sounded more friendly as she backed away. “I’ve got to run. You know, it would make my life easier if I got a little bit more cooperation out of you.”
Andy had heard this guilt trip before and wasn’t buying it. “Where’s my lunch money?” he asked, as he kicked both feet in the air and hitched black school trousers up his legs.
“There’s bus fare on the kitchen worktop. Ham, tomato, and mustard sandwich in the fridge.”
“Can’t I get chip money?”
“Don’t start on that one again. You know I haven’t got thirty quid a week for you and Stuart to spend on junk food.”
Andy tutted. “Everyone goes round the chippy. Sandwiches are totally embarrassing.”
“Go whine to your father. His wife’s driving round in a new Focus, while I’m maxed out on three credit cards.”
This guilt trip worked better. Andy had grown to realize that his dad was a total scumbag. His mum had to put in a ton of overtime just to keep their heads above water.
“I should be home by seven,” Christine said, leaning forwards and kissing her son on the cheek. “And I’m not joking about changing those beds, you hear me?”
Leaving a smudge of lipstick on her son’s face, she backed out of the room and set off downstairs. The teenager was half a minute behind, threading his belt into his trousers as he walked.
Stuart was in the kitchen and irritated his big brother by being perky and neat as usual. The eleven-year-old had his hair combed, blazer and tie on, and Bugs Bunny blaring out of the portable TV. As Andy grabbed a triangle of cold toast, the two boys exchanged grunts.
“Mum’s stressed out,” Stuart said sourly. “Why you gotta keep winding her up all the time?”
Andy wasn’t proud of the way he got into rows with his mum, but he didn’t mean it. It just kept happening, part of being a teenager or something. Whatever his true feelings, Andy wasn’t going to give his little brother the satisfaction of a straight answer.
“Why don’t you mind your own?”
Stuart sucked air through his teeth. “You’re so selfish.”
“Don’t start, you two,” Christine shouted from the hallway. She had a bag over her shoulder now and the car keys in her hand, all set to leave. “You’ve got ten minutes or you’ll both be late for school. Don’t forget to turn the deadlock in the front door as you leave.”
Andy gave his mum a nod. “Later, Mum, have a good day at work.”
“Not much chance of that,” she answered gloomily.
Andy waited for the front door to close before scowling back at his brother. “You’re asking for a punch with that smart mouth.”
Before Stuart could think up a comeback that was nasty enough to sting but not so nasty it earned him a dead arm, a scream erupted out on the driveway.
It could only be their mum and it wasn’t an I’ve seen a spider scream or the way she’d screamed at their father when they were getting divorced. It came from deep inside, like she was in a lot of pain.
The two lads bolted out of their seats at the dining table and raced down the hallway towards the front door.
A balaclava-clad man smashed Christine’s car windscreen with a mallet as Andy burst out onto the driveway. Christine writhed in the gravel, screaming and spitting. Her face and hands glistened with red paint that had been thrown in her face.
The man popped two more windows along the side of the car, but Andy fixed on his accomplice, a stocky dude looming over his mother. He wore camouflage trousers, a black balaclava, and looked ominously like he was about to stick the boot in. Andy didn’t even have shoes on, but couldn’t stand there while someone laid into his mum.
“You’re dead,” Andy screamed as he charged forward.
He was stocky, but the teenager wasn’t up to fighting a grown man. The masked dude wrapped an arm around Andy’s neck and planted a gloved fist hard into his face.
“I’m not the killer here,” the dude snarled, as Andy’s nose exploded in pain.
Andy toppled backwards into a hedge, before a giant boot sank into his belly, pushing him deep into the tangled branches. As Andy wiped a bloody nose on his white sleeve, the balaclava-clad men jogged off towards a battered Citroёn parked across the end of the driveway.
The little getaway car lurched as Andy experienced the most desperate feeling of his life. It wasn’t just the pain in his nose, or worrying about his mum, but a feeling of total inadequacy: He’d let the thugs who’d attacked her get away and hadn’t been able to stop them because he was only a kid. As Andy untangled himself from the branches and staggered onto his feet, he could hear her moaning.
“I can’t see,” Christine sobbed.
Stuart stood on the doorstep, chalk white and rigid.
“Don’t just stand there, moron,” Andy yelled as he stumbled towards his mother. “Get inside, call a bloody ambulance.”
As Stuart came to his senses and raced for the phone, Andy noticed that a hangman’s noose had been spray-painted onto the garage door and a message written alongside it:
QUIT YOUR JOB AT THE ANIMAL LAB.
NEXT TIME YOU DIE.
BY ORDER—THE ANIMAL FREEDOM MILITIA.