Nico Storm and his father, Willem, drive a truck filled with essential supplies through a desolate land. A devastating virus has swept over the planet, and they are among its few survivors. Nico―although he is still only a boy―is gifted with superb marksmanship and a cool head, while Willem is a thinker and a leader with a vision for a new community of survivors that they will rebuild from the ruins. And so Amanzi is founded, drawing Storm’s “homeless and tempest-tost,” including Sofia Bergman, the most beautiful girl Nico has ever seen.
As the community grows, so do the challenges they face―not just from the attacks of biker brigands, but also from within. In this new world, Nico undergoes an extraordinary rite of passage, testing his loyalty to the limits until he faces the greatest rupture of all―the murder of the person he loves most. Propulsively readable, Fever is a gripping epic of humanity striving for a noble vision against its basest impulses.
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I want to tell you about my father's murder.
I want to tell you who killed him, and why. This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see.
I have waited for a long time to write about this: I believe one needs wisdom and insight for such a task. I think one has first to get the anger – in fact, all the emotions – under control.
I am forty-seven years old today. The age my father was when he died, in the Year of the Lion. Perhaps that offers enough distance from the events of the time, though I don't know if I will ever develop the necessary wisdom and insight, but I worry that I will begin to forget many of the crucial events, experiences, people. I can't postpone this any longer.
So, here it is. My memoir, my murder story. And my exposé, so everyone will know the truth.
The Year of the DogCHAPTER 2
The moments we remember most clearly are those of fear, loss and humiliation.
It was 20 March in the Year of the Dog. I was thirteen years old.
The day passed just as the previous day had done, and the one before that, to the dull drone of the big Volvo FH12 diesel engine, and the muffled rumbling of sixteen wheels on the long, enclosed trailer behind it. Outside, a predictable, forgettable landscape slid by. I recall the artificial coolness of the air conditioner in the cab of the 'horse'. The truck still had that fresh, new smell. A school textbook lay open on my lap, but my thoughts were wandering.
My father slowed the truck. I looked up, and out. I read the white lettering against the black background of the road sign: WELCOME TO KOFFIEFONTEIN!
'Koffiefontein,' I repeated out loud, charmed by the name and the image it evoked in my childlike imagination – a warm, aromatic fountain of simmering, dark coffee.
We drove slowly into town. In the near dusk of the late afternoon it seemed ghostly, bereft of life, like all the others. Weeds on the pavements, lawns thickly overgrown behind their fences. On the horizon, far behind the squat buildings of the wide main street, lightning crisscrossed in spectacular displays on a backdrop of fantastical cloud formations. The entire western rim was blooded a strange, disturbing crimson.
My father pointed. 'Cu-mu-lo-nim-bus,' he said, each syllable measured. 'That's what you call those clouds. It comes from the Latin. Cumulus means "pile". And nimbus is "rain". That's what gives us thunderstorms.'
'Cu-mu-lo-nim-bus.' I had a go at the word.
He nodded, deftly turned the big truck in at the filling station, and parked. He flipped the switch he had installed himself, to turn on the lights down the side of the long, enclosed trailer. Instantly the fuel pumps cast long shadows, like human figures. The engine off, we climbed down.
We were so used to our surroundings being safe.
The late summer heat beat up from the tarred forecourt, insect shrilling filled the air. And another sound, a deeper carpet of noise.
'What's that noise, Papa?'
'Frogs. The Riet River is just over there.'
We walked back along the side of the trailer. It was white, with three big green letters that looked as though they had been blown askew in a gale: RFA. They were spelled out on the back of the trailer – Road Freight Africa. We'd found it at a truck stop just outside Potchefstroom, with the Volvo horse attached, nearly brand new, full tank and all. Now we walked, father and son, side by side. His hair was long, blond and unkempt; mine was just as wild, but brown. I was thirteen, in that no-man's-land between boy and teenager, and for the moment comfortable there.
A bat swooped low over my head, through the pool of light.
'How does a bat catch its prey?' my father asked.
'What kind of animal is a bat?'
'A mammal, not a bird.'
He ruffled my hair affectionately. 'Good.'
I liked his approval.
We began to go through the familiar ritual we had performed at least once a day for weeks on end now: my father carried the small Honda generator and electric pump to the fuel station's refilling manhole covers in their colour-coded rows. Then he fetched the big adjustable spanner to lift up the black manhole cover. My job was to roll out the long garden hose. It was connected to the electric pump, and I had to push the other end into the mouth of the Volvo's diesel tank, and hold it there.
Refuelling in a world without electricity, or traffic.
I played my part, and stood there feeling bored, reading the letters on the white wall of the fuel station. Myburgh Electric. Myburgh Tyres. I thought I must ask my father about that, because I knew that 'burg' meant 'a fort' – he'd explained that to me when we drove through places like Trompsburg and Reddersburg – but this was an unusual spelling, and not the name of this town.
Suddenly the hum of insects ceased.
Something drew my attention, behind my father, down the street. I called to him, in surprise at the unexpected sign of life, and a bit frightened by the furtive nature of the movement. My father hunkered down, pushing the pump pipe into the hole. He looked up at me, following the direction of my gaze, and saw the spectres in the deepening dusk.
'Get inside,' he shouted. He stood up, holding the heavy wrench, and ran towards the cab.
I was frozen. The shame of it would eat at me for months, that inexplicable stupidity. I stood motionless, my eyes fixed on the shifting shadows as they coalesced into solid shapes.
Dogs. Supple, quick.
'Nico,' my father shouted, with a terrible urgency. He stopped in his tracks, to try to fend the determined dogs away from his child.
The desperation in my father's voice sent a shockwave through my body, releasing my fear. And shooting the first dart of self-recrimination. I sobbed, and ran along the length of the trailer. Through the mist of tears I saw the first dog float into the pool of light, leap at my father's throat, jaws agape, long sharp fangs bared. The big spanner swung, a fleeting shadow of that motion. I heard the dull thud as it hit the creature's head, its curtailed yelp. At the step of the truck, I grabbed the silver railing, panic propelling me up into the cab. A dog lunged at me, as I dragged the door shut. The beast leapt up, high, almost to the open window, claws scrabbling on the metal door, yellow fangs gleaming in the light of the lorry. I screamed. The dog fell back. My father was down there. Five, six curs, creeping, crouching, circling him. And more darting into the pool of light, lean, relentless.
After that, everything happened so fast, yet it was also as if time stood still. I remember the finest detail. The despair on my father's face when the dogs cut him off from the truck, just three metres away. The whirring sound as he swung and swung the massive adjustable wrench. The electrically charged air, the smell of ozone, the stink of the dogs. They dodged backwards to evade the momentum of the deadly spanner, always too agile, just out of reach. But they stayed between him and the truck door, snarling, snapping.
'Get the pistol, Nico. Shoot.' Not an order. A terrified plea, as if in that moment my father saw his death and its consequences: his son, lone survivor, stranded, doomed.
His face contorted in agony as a dog attacked him from behind, sinking its fangs deep into his shoulder. That shook me from my trance. I reached for the Beretta in the compartment on the wide instrument panel, struggling to press the safety catch off with my thumb, as my father had taught me, over and over. Another dog bit into his defending arm, and hung there. Now I had both hands on the weapon. Two fingers to pull the trigger's first, stiff double action, the shot into the air, wildly, the blast deafening in the interior of the cab, so that my ears rang, all sound muted. Cordite stung my nostrils. The animals froze for a second. My father hit out with the wrench and the dog on his arm sank down. He took a step towards the door. The pack moved, and sprang. I aimed at the flank of one. Fired. The dog fell sideways. I fired again and again. The animals made high, barely audible yelps of pain, and the others began to drop back, for the first time.
Now my father was at the door, he pulled it open, jumped in, a dog hanging on his leg as he lashed out at it. It fell. With blood on his arms, blood down his back, he shoved me off the passenger seat, and slammed the door shut.
I saw my father's face, the loathing, determination, fear, revulsion, rage. I felt him grab the pistol from my hands. He ejected the magazine, pushed in a fresh one. He held the pistol out of the window and fired again and again and again. Each shot was merely a dull report in my ringing ears, the cartridges scattered silently against the windscreen, the instrument panel, the steering wheel, and dropped to the floor beside me, everywhere. I looked up at my father's tattered shirt, and the deep wounds in his back, the same crimson as the clouds.
The pistol emptied, still Pa kept pulling the trigger. Smoke filled the cab.
It was 20 March in the Year of the Dog.
Eleven months after the Fever.
* * *
My father slumped forward, with the pistol on his lap. He sat as still as death. I could not see if his eyes were closed.
Gradually the sounds outside returned, washing over us in gentle waves.
The frogs, the early evening crickets. Far in the west, the blood-red horizon dimmed to black, and still he sat.
Someone sobbed quietly. It took a while for me to realise: it was me. I didn't want to let this happen now, it felt inappropriate. Ungrateful, in a way. But I had no control over it; the sobs came harder, more urgently. At last my father reacted, turned to me, put the pistol down on the dashboard, wrapped his arms around me. My whole body began to shake, my heart hammering in my ears. I smelled the blood and sweat on my father and I clung to him.
My ear to his chest, I heard his heart beating incredibly fast.
'There, there,' he said. I didn't hear the words, just felt the vibrations. There. There, there, there.
He held me tighter, till gradually I calmed down.
'You're my hero, Nico,' he said. 'You did well, you hear?'
At last I got the word out, the word that had stuck inside, for so long. 'Mamma.'
And when it reached my ears, the mortification burned through me.
'Oh, God,' said my father, and hugged me tighter. Then he turned off the lights down the side of the truck.
My father's name is Willem Storm.
In the light of a hissing gas lamp I cleaned the wounds on his back. My hands trembled. The antiseptic must have burned like fire in the long red gashes in his skin, but he didn't make a sound, didn't say a word. It scared me, strengthened my fear that I had failed him.
Later he opened two tins of Enterprise Spaghetti and Meatballs. We ate in silence. I stared at the blue and red tin, and wondered what was wrong with PORK. Because there was a yellow star on the tin, with fat red letters that said: NO PORK.
'I didn't think that would happen so fast,' said my father at last.
'The dogs,' he said, and made a vague gesture with the spoon in his hand.
And then he went silent again.CHAPTER 3
In the morning Pa dragged the dog carcasses to the back of the filling station, and set them on fire.
We refuelled the lorry. Pa was quiet. Nothing felt right. The fear was like a shadow creeping along behind me.
We drove off, without breakfast. Pa said, 'We're going to eat at a special place.' He tried to make it sound like an occasion, but I was old enough to hear that his cheerfulness was forced. His wounds must have been very painful. 'Okay, Pa,' I said eagerly, as though I shared his excitement.
He drank water from a full one-litre plastic bottle. It wasn't long before he had emptied it.
An hour later we stopped at the special place. I forgot about the feeling of doom that had been with us the whole morning. I cried out like a child half my age, in total wonderment. It was so amazingly beautiful, so unusual and so loud – a bridge, a dam wall and a tremendous thundering. To the left lay the dam, perfectly calm, a huge outstretched expanse of water. To the right was the deep gorge of a river, veiled by the mist of water vapour, rising like smoke from the torrents roaring down the sluices.
Pa stopped the lorry in the middle of the massive concrete dam wall. He opened both windows. The sound of the mass of falling water filled the cab. It made the whole truck vibrate.
Pa had to raise his voice, as he pointed at the mirror of water: 'This is the Vanderkloof Dam.' Then he looked at the deep canyon: 'And that is the Orange River.'
'Jissie.' Yesterday forgotten, I was totally enchanted.
'I think they left the sluices open. After the Fever. Just as well.'
I stared in amazement. Until I realised that Pa had said the words 'the Fever' in a strange way. Not like he always did. Quietly, quickly and reluctantly, as though he didn't want to draw attention to it. I looked at him, but he avoided my eyes. 'Come, let's make coffee,' he said briskly.
We kept a gas stove and a big moka espresso pot under the bed, behind the seats. Along with a pack of biltong, sweets and rusks – the dry biscuits we dunked with our coffee. I clambered to the back, and got the process of brewing under way.
Usually we got out to eat, when we were on the road. But now Pa remained in his seat. He was being careful, after the dogs.
I passed him the rusks. He took only one. I ate three rusks, suddenly ravenous.
The moka pot sputtered. The aroma of coffee filled the cab.
I poured Pa's first, he drank it black and bitter. I liked mine with two spoons of sugar, and Cremora.
He turned to face me and I waited for him to say 'While we can.' He said that every morning, when we drank our coffee. He raised the mug high, as you do when you say 'cheers' and smiled crookedly. Because some time in the future the coffee supply would run out, and before it ran out it would grow stale, not taste as good, and that day was approaching. That's what Pa had explained to me, the first time he said 'While we can.'
This morning he didn't say it.
I noticed his hand was shaking. Then I saw the perspiration on his forehead, how red his face was. And his eyes, dull and out of focus.
Suddenly his silences, and everything, made sense. The shock of it, the fear, made the tears well up.
'It's not the Fever,' he said. 'You hear me?' The fear was no longer just a shadow, it was all of me.
'Nico, listen,' said my father, his voice just as desperate as yesterday evening, with the dogs. It made me swallow back my sobs for a second.
He put the coffee mug down on the dashboard, and hugged me. I felt the heat burning him up. 'It's not the Fever. It's the dogs. It's just an infection from their bites, it's bacterial. I have to take antibiotics, and lots of water, and I must get rest. You hear?'
'You've got the Fever, Papa. I can tell.'
'I promise you, I've got a different kind of fever, on my word of honour. You've also had a temperature, from flu or a cold, from teething when you were little, there're many kinds, this isn't the one that everyone ... The dogs weren't getting fed by people. They were eating carrion, or rotten meat, and then they bit me, and those bacteria are in my bloodstream now. That's where this fever comes from. I'm just going to be sick for a short while. I promise, Nico, I promise you. We've got the right medicine, I'm going to take it now.'
We drove up between the hills, into Vanderkloof town. It was an odd little place, a narrow higgledy-piggledy settlement next to the dam, sprawling high up into the koppies. Pa was looking for something. He found it deep in the deserted town, as silent as the grave. A modest house, paint peeling from the woodwork, a big steel security gate in front of the door, and burglar bars on the windows. Opposite it there was the only parking space on the street for our lorry.
Pa stopped. He got out, taking a pistol and a hunting rifle. I had to wait in the Volvo while he went to look in the house. I sat watching the front door. I was afraid he would never come back. What would I do then?
Everything was different now, after yesterday, after the dogs. And now, with Pa's fever.
But he came back. As he approached the truck, I could see he was unsteady on his feet.
'This place is good enough,' he said. 'Come, bring your books.' I put them in my rucksack, and climbed down. Pa walked slowly now, and he did everything gingerly and carefully, unlocking the back of the big trailer, pulling the ladder down. The contents of the trailer told the story of our life. It was an ever growing inventory, neatly packed and tied; we knew where every item was. Nearest the door were the boxes of tinned food and rice and flour and pasta, powdered milk, coffee, Cremora, hundreds of bottles of water. Then, in no specific order: books, handpicked like the food wherever it was safe to browse. Do-it-yourself books about repairs and personal recovery and veld survival and The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Guns: A Green Light Shooting Book from which we had both learned to shoot. Story books and school books and recipe books and how-to-slaughter-an-ox and how-to-treat-snake-bite books. There were rifles, pistols, ammunition, hunting knives and slaughtering knives and kitchen knives, our equipment to pump fuel, and water purification filters. Medicine, bandages, ointments, sunscreen. A small tent, camp chairs, inflatable mattresses, camp beds, two folding tables, two large umbrellas, never used, still in their plastic Makro packaging. Three petrol power generators, ten fifty-litre jerry cans. Toiletries: more toothpaste than we could use in our lifetime, shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes. Washing powder, bleach. Laptop computers, printers. Cutlery, crockery, hand tools, power tools ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fever"
Copyright © 2016 Deon Meyer.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Also by Deon Meyer,
The Year of the Dog,
The Year of the Jackal,
The Year of the Pig,
The Year of the Lion,