Donna Pierce might hear voices, but that doesn't mean she's crazy. Probably.
The voices do serve their purpose, though—whenever Donna hears them, she knows she's in danger. So when they start yelling at the top of their proverbial lungs, it's no surprise she and her best friend, Deke, end up narrowly escaping a zombie horde. Alone without their families, they take refuge at their high school with the super-helpful nerds, the bossy head cheerleader, and—best of all?—Liam, hottie extraordinaire and Donna's long-time crush. When Liam is around, it's easy to forget about the moaning zombies, her dad's plight to reach them, and how weird Deke is suddenly acting toward her.
But as the teens' numbers dwindle and their escape plans fall apart, Donna has to listen to the secrets those voices in her head have been hiding. It seems not all the zombies are shuffling idiots, and the half-undead aren't really down with kids like Donna…
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About the Author
Alison Kemper grew up in South Florida, the only girl on a street with eleven boys. She spent her childhood paddling a canoe through neighborhood canals and looking for adventure. She usually found it. Sometimes the police were involved. And large dogs. And one time, a very territorial snake. Now that she's grown up, she lives in North Carolina and writes books. The books often include girls having adventures. With boys. Cute boys. And cute dogs, too. But no cute snakes. Never cute snakes.
Donna of the Dead is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Donna of the Dead
By Alison Kemper, Kerri-Leigh Grady
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Alison Kemper
All rights reserved.
A breeze kicks up, carrying with it a hint of seawater and diesel exhaust. I flip open my ancient cell phone and punch in the same fricking number I've been dialing all morning.
"Donna, your phone bill's gonna be huge."
"I don't care," I say, only halfway glancing at the boy in the deck chair beside mine.
"If you make a call from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it's considered roaming," Deke reminds me.
"Your dad's going to flip out."
I continue punching buttons. "Whatever."
"How many times have you text —"
I snap my phone shut and meet the boy's teasing stare. "Deke, could you lay off a minute? Please? Go get us Cokes. Or burritos. Or find some other way to make yourself useful."
"I could rub suntan lotion on you."
I tilt my sunglasses down the bridge of my nose and shoot him a look. The irises of my eyes are pale silver — almost iridescent. Over the many years of our friendship, Deke's made no secret of the fact they completely creep him out.
"Okay, okay," he says, holding up his hands. "No glaring with the freak show eyes. I'll get Cokes."
Deke swivels his long legs out of the chair, and I watch as he weaves his way through the crowded Sun Deck, his dark, spiky hair towering above the other cruise ship passengers.
I'd love to say I'm not usually this rude to him, but that'd be a lie. Deke's lived across the street from me for sixteen years — all my life — and he's spent most of those sixteen years trying to annoy me to death. Normally, I don't let it bug me. But today is different.
The voices have been loud today.
Better be sure. Better be sure.
They keep chanting the same words over and over. Annoying, but unstoppable.
Be sure of what? I ask silently.
It's bad enough hearing voices in my head — I'd at least like to know what they're warning me about. I hope my best friend Phoebe's not in trouble. I'd feel better if she'd call back. Or text me. It's been two days since we've talked, which is, like, a record for us. Yesterday, somebody answered her phone and made a bunch of muffled sounds. I'd hung up, figuring the connection was bad 'cause I'm so far out at sea. But now, her voice mail picks up every time. Definitely weird.
Is she mad I'm skipping school? It's Thanksgiving week, so I'm only missing two days, plus Dad's had this trip planned for ages. Doesn't seem like the kind of thing Phoebe'd suddenly get pissed about.
Deke is back, standing over me, holding a Coke. A little spills on my beach towel as the ship lurches slightly. I make a face and flick the drops off my chair, aiming in Deke's direction.
He grins, easily blocking the shot. "Wind's picking up," he says, settling back into his seat and scanning the horizon.
"Yeah. Supposed to be bad weather tonight."
My eyes skim the uppermost deck, where the ship's smokestack blazes white in the sun. Off the starboard side, a slice of faraway sky turns pewter where a storm is trying to form. I barely notice the waves. I've spent waaaaay too much of my life on ships to get seasick.
"Let's hope all these people go easy on the buffet." Deke nods toward some fat tourists in the hot tub. "I don't feel like navigating piles of puke for the rest of the trip."
Deke's proud of the fact he no longer gets seasick. Last year, when his grandma and my dad started dating (ick!), Deke spent most of our sea days with his head stuck in the toilet. I'm about to remind him of this embarrassing fact when a crowd by the outdoor bar distracts me.
An enormous flat screen hangs over the rows of liquor bottles. Passengers gawk open- mouthed at the TV, pointing and talking. From here, all I can make out is the network's caption "HAPPENING NOW" and a bunch of people twitching or having seizures or something.
I frown at the TV. "What's going on?"
Deke's already stretched out on his towel. He glances lethargically in the direction of the bar.
"It's that new flu," he says in a bored voice.
Oh. Talk about a snooze-fest. We had swine flu a few years ago and bird flu before that. MRSA, SARS — there's always some new virus that's "HAPPENING NOW." Everyone panics like we're on the verge of a modern plague or something, and then it ends up being just another regular flu season.
I crumple a towel and force it under my head like a pillow. No matter what I do, I can't get comfortable today. "This is a flu thing, right?" I ask Deke. "It's not food-related, like the spinach or toothpaste scares a few years back?"
"Toothpaste is not a food."
This is your typical Deke kind of answer. Further proof he's the most irritating person on the planet.
"You know what I'm asking."
"It's definitely a virus, Donna, not bacteria," he explains in a patronizing tone.
Deke understands this stuff — the difference between bacteria and viruses. I'm not a science nerd, so I have no clue what he's talking about.
Of course, I'd never admit this to Deke.
Slightly aggravated, I pick at my sparkly purple nail polish. The chlorine in the pool always screws up my manicure. I stare at the ocean waves where the storm is making some progress. The ship rocks steadily.
My gaze shifts back to the TV, and the voices startle me.
Better be sure, better be sure, they chorus in an obnoxious whisper.
I sigh. Be sure of what?
That you listen closely.
That I listen closely? To what?
Again, no answer. Very helpful. The weirdo voices are totally getting on my nerves today. Maybe even more than Deke.
I shade my eyes, trying to block the bright Caribbean sunlight. The TV broadcasts images of hospital beds in some foreign country. A tight shot shows a man strapped to his bunk, thrashing against restraints. His skin is the color of rotten cheese. The words "LOSS OF MOTOR CONTROL" scroll across the screen.
"Ugh," I blurt out, "that dude looks bad."
Deke doesn't even open his eyes. "Yeah, I heard this new virus makes you crazy."
"Ew. Like mad cow?"
"You mean Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease."
I roll my eyes. "You're such a geek, Deke. And a freak, Deke." I halfway sing the familiar taunt.
"And you're still saying the same rhymes you used in second grade, so you're not much cooler," he sing-songs back at me.
To be fair, Deke isn't that much of a geek anymore. Or at least he doesn't look like one on the outside. He started playing baseball last spring, during our freshman year, and it did wonders for his body. Now he actually has some definition in his chest and arms, instead of looking like an eight-year-old girl. Don't get me wrong — underneath the jock exterior, he's wicked smart. And he does flaunt it sometimes.
Well okay, maybe all the time.
But it's not his IQ that makes him such a fricking nerd, it's that you can't talk to him for more than, like, two minutes without him harping on science-fiction fantasy stuff — vampires, elves, aliens, all that boring crap. One time, I'd finally worked up the nerve to talk to Liam, the hottest guy in our journalism class, and Deke cut into the conversation to tell us about a hobbit convention. So embarrassing.
"Hey, are we going to the semi-formal together like last year?" Deke's been asking me this same question, every day, for the past two weeks. He turns on his side to study me, propping himself on one elbow. His long frame stretches the length of the deck chair, his dark hair and tan skin contrasting against the ultra-white towel.
"I haven't decided yet." I pick at my nail polish some more.
"Well, you'll have to let me know soon, or I'll make other arrangements."
"Yeah, right," I snort. "What other arrangements are you gonna make?"
Deke doesn't answer. Instead, he lets out a long, low whistle.
A blond girl struts past our deck chairs. She's older — eighteen or nineteen. Her silky hair falls straight down her back, almost reaching her teeny-weeny-bikini-clad butt. Her high-heeled wedges are the exact shade of red as her bathing suit — like she's ready for the swimsuit portion of a beauty pageant. All that's missing is the stupid sash. I picture myself trying to prance around the deck in four-inch heels. Even with my good sense of sea-balance, the first big wave would land me headfirst in the burrito bar.
I wish I'd been born with blond hair and a fab figure instead of my copper-orange curls, strange eyes, and not-so-voluptuous body. I stare down at my chest. I'm wearing one of those "miracle" bathing suits, but the only miracle is that I'm still flat-chested in it. I fiddle with the straps, as if adjusting them will make a difference. Maybe if I had some cleavage, I could get a boyfriend.
Hmph. Maybe if I wasn't constantly hanging out with Deke I could get a boyfriend.
As soon as I think the word "boyfriend," a face pops in my head. Liam's face. I hate to admit it, but Liam is the reason I won't give Deke a straight answer about the dance. I have my dress. It's red, strapless, and super cute. I have enough money for the dance ticket. I just don't have a date yet because I'm hoping, for some crazy reason, that Liam will ask me. But he won't. He'll ask one of those girls who hang out at his locker. Pretty girls. Popular girls. Girls with cleavage.
Suddenly, I'm sooooo tired of watching the blonde in her perfect bikini, and the guys falling over themselves to sit next to her.
"Ready to go back to the cabin?" I ask Deke, trying to keep the huffiness out of my voice.
Like every other male in the vicinity, he's watching the blonde apply tanning oil to her long legs. "Um, no. I'll catch up with you later."
I'm halfway to the elevator before I realize I'm stomping.
Up until a few years ago, Dad let me bring Phoebe on all these cruises. We'd run along the endless corridors trying to get lost on the enormous ships. Or make ourselves sick at the dessert buffet. One time, we even managed to sneak into the adults-only comedy show. Now that was an educational experience.
But everything changed when my dad (who's a little on the old side) started dating Deke's grandma. Don't get me wrong, I adore Muriel, and she's like a second mom to me, but suddenly — as if I didn't already spend enough time with Deke — I was forced to take vacations with him, too. Yay for me.
I jab the button for the atrium elevator. The glassed-in box is cool and inviting after the white-hot sundeck. It glides noiselessly through the heart of the ship, endless floors sliding past in a blur of golden light.
"Level Ten, Fiesta Deck." A smooth male voice sounds through the elevator speakers.
"Yeah," I growl to myself as the door opens. "Fiesta Deck. It's a real party down here. Just me and the senior citizens."
But my cabin is empty. So's the adjoining room Deke shares with his grandmother. Dad's probably on the bridge talking to the crew about the retrofit, and Muriel must've walked her sensible shoes down to the Lido Deck for a game of bingo. That's okay. It's nice to have the place to myself. Quiet helps me tune in the voices. I grab a Coke from the mini-fridge and head out to our private balcony. One of the perks of being the dry dock owner's kid — I always get awesome cabins on recently repaired ships.
Better be sure. Better be sure.
Okay, okay, I'm listening. Chill, voices. You know I always do what you say.
I slide into a deck chair and close my eyes. My mind focuses on the warmth of the wind, the whoosh of the ship as it slices through the water. I force myself to forget about Deke and the blonde and the dance. After I've cleared my head, I catch random snatches of words, but nothing distinct. Sometimes it helps to sing along with the voices. I know that sounds crazy, but I figure I'm a nutjob for hearing this stuff in the first place. Might as well play along with the inner demons.
"Better be sure," I sing aloud. "Better be sure."
I make up a tune and hum it a few times. I hope no one's on the adjoining balconies, since I have a totally awful singing voice. Then I start the song from the beginning. Immediately, I know I'm on to something. My imaginary friends chime in at exactly the right part.
"Better be sure, better be sure, I listen closely," we chorus. I stop abruptly, but the voices continue without me.
That you listen to Deke.
That I listen to Deke? I flop my head back on the chair in frustration.
Oh, great. That is so not what I wanted to hear.CHAPTER 2
Bleh. I must've fallen asleep on the balcony. The ocean's grown choppy, and fog blankets the ship. A chilly drizzle has seeped through my robe. It's still light out, but I can tell I've spent the entire afternoon in this deck chair. Not a smart idea. When I stand, my spine threatens to snap like a twig. The TV blares from inside our cabin. I open the door, expecting my dad, but instead, Deke's on my bed with the TV remote in his hand.
"Good morning," he sings out. "Or should I say good evening?"
"Get out of my bed," I snarl. I only want to lie down and stretch my twisted spine.
"Jeeeez, don't gripe at me. I didn't tell you to sleep on the balcony for four hours." Deke switches to Dad's bed, and I flop down on my own bunk. It's warm where Deke's been sitting. I'm still in my damp swimsuit and robe. My mouth tastes like a rotten potato has gone there to decompose.
"I asked room service to bring you a snack," Deke says.
I open one eye. "You did?"
"Yes, I did. With coffee. So stop being grumpy and thank me for being good to you."
I turn my head, spotting the covered tray on the coffee table. I can already guess what's under the plastic warming cover. Burritos! I leap out of bed and pounce on the food, feeling a tad guilty. Deke gets on my nerves sometimes, but honestly, he knows me so well.
"Thank you, Deke. You are very good to me."
"I know," he smirks. "Can I get back in your bed now?"
"Don't push it, perv."
There's a huge silver pot of coffee. I pour a cup and crawl back under the warm covers with my plate of burritos.
The door between our adjoining cabins is open. Muriel moves around her room, taking clothes out of drawers and closets. This seems weird to me.
"Is Muriel packing?" I ask, my mouth full of food.
Deke scrunches his face to one side, but keeps his dark eyes glued to the TV. "Um, yes."
"Why? We still have two more islands to visit before we head back to Fort Lauderdale."
Deke clicks off the TV, swinging around to face me. "Donna," he says carefully, "I've got to tell you something, but I need you to stay calm, okay?"
A knot tightens around my stomach. I knew it. The voices were right. Something bad has happened.
I spring off the bed, almost taking the burritos with me. "Is Muriel all right?"
"Yes," Deke stands. "She's fine. Donna —"
"Where's my dad? Is he okay?"
Deke reaches over to steady the room service tray teetering dangerously on the edge of my bunk. "He's fine, too. Still on the bridge. Donna —"
"They had a fight, didn't they? And you and Muriel are leav —"
"Jeez, Donna! Shut up for a second so I can explain."
He lets out an exasperated sigh and puts his hands on my shoulders. I immediately shake them off. Lately, Deke takes advantage of any opportunity to touch me. It's casual, but you know, still weird.
"It's nothing affecting us personally," he continues, "so let's both just relax, okay?"
My voices start up again, screeching, reminding me of their warnings.
Better be sure, better be sure!
As if I'd forget.
Deke takes a breath. "Someone on this ship is infected with that virus."
"Virus? Like the one on TV?" I gape at Deke. "No way."
"Yeah. The captain told your dad."
I don't believe it. Deke's gotta be joking. He's always pulling this kind of stuff on me. But there's no hint of teasing behind his somber expression.
"The sick guy's quarantined to his cabin, and the ship's doctor is keeping an eye on him, so there's nothing to worry about."
Deke says this super fast, like he's guessing I'll interrupt him with a gazillion frantic questions. Which is exactly what I do.
"Are we going home? Is anyone else infected? Are they spraying the ship with bleach?"
Excerpted from Donna of the Dead by Alison Kemper, Kerri-Leigh Grady. Copyright © 2014 Alison Kemper. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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