In the first book in a terrifying post-apocalyptic duology, it's in the rain...and just one drop will kill you
.27 is a number Ruby hates. It's a number that marks the percentage of the population that has survived. It's a number that means she's one of the "lucky" few still standing. And it's a number that says her father is probably dead.
Against all odds, Ruby has survived the catastrophic onset of the killer rain. Two weeks after the radio started broadcasting the warning, "It's in the rain. It's fatal and there's no cure," the drinkable water is running out. Ruby's left with two options: persevere on her own, or embark on a treacherous journey across the country to find her father-if he's even still alive.
Don't miss the breathless conclusion to the H2O duology, THE STORM.
About the Author
Virginia Bergin is the author of H2O, which The Horn Book Magazine called "Inspiring." She lives in Bristol (UK). Visit her online at virginiabergin.com and on Twitter @VeeBergin.
Read an Excerpt
By Virginia Bergin
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Virginia Bergin
All rights reserved.
There's really no point going on about how things used to be. For one, I can't stand to think about it — even though I do, a lot, and it makes me want to throw up with sadness. For two, it kind of doesn't matter, does it? It's over. And for three, I'm not writing this because of how things used to be — I'm writing this because of what happened. So I'll start right there. This is what happened:
I was sitting in a hot tub in my underwear kissing Caspar McCloud.
Ha! That also sounds like a great beginning, maybe from some kind of kiss-fest romance, or maybe Caspar would turn out to be a sexy vampire. But the truth is — and this is the one thing I will do, for sure. I will try to tell the truth, even if it hurts me to say it, even if it shocks you to hear it (and I doubt it will, because if you're reading this you've probably had about a gazillion shocks already) — the truth is, it wouldn't be right to pretend that kissing in a hot tub was the kind of thing I usually did on a Saturday night, because it wasn't.
It soooooooooooooooooooooo wasn't. Don't get me wrong: I'd kissed boys before (two); I'd been to parties before (like, since I was five years old or something). I'd even sat in that hot tub in my underwear before (with Lee — that's Lee as in Leonie, my best friend). But that night, that party ... it was the best, the most amazing — scarily amazing — time I had ever had in my life up until that point. (Not difficult.)
That night — that one, glorious, hot Saturday night — I was becoming a new me, one who was going to have a boyfriend named Caspar and do stuff like kiss in hot tubs at wild parties all the time. Yes, from the nagging jaws of the THEY, I was about to snatch complete, amazing greatness and total brilliance. And a boyfriend.
What can I say? It happened. It really happened! Zak, who lived in this massively cool, rambling old farmhouse, and whose parents were so laid-back you could basically do whatever you liked, pulled the speakers outside the barn where we — that's me and all my lovely friends (exception to be named shortly) — had been hanging out drinking LETHAL cider punch, and a bunch of us stripped down — to our underwear — and climbed into their hot tub.
We sort of danced where we sat, doing so-slick-yeah-check-it mini arm moves. It was totally hilarious, but it was also totally cramped ... until people started getting out again, moaning that the hot tub was too hot.
It was like some dreadful slow-motion countdown. With every person that got out, the water in that tub got stiller and stiller. I kept wishing it was one of those Jacuzzi tubs with bubbles, but it wasn't; unless you kept trailing your hands around on the surface, you could see everything. So I sat there, casually fanning my hands around ... because across that pool of steaming water sat Caspar Swoon McCloud.
And in between us sat Saskia, who wasn't fanning her hands about at all.
I do want to say that, even before that night, I wasn't really sure how much I actually liked Saskia. Not that I really knew her; she'd just started hanging out with us lately — even more lately than Caspar, who'd transferred to our school from the artsy hippie school, and was cool and wild and was in a band, and I'd once told Simon and my mom I was babysitting with Lee so I could go see Caspar's band play at a bar. And it was there, while Caspar was onstage at The George, doing his guitar thing, that he'd looked up and looked at me, and I'd looked at him and —
KA-CASPAR-BOOM! (PART ONE)
I realized I was in love with Caspar McCloud.
And this is too much information, isn't it? This is exactly what I said I wouldn't do, which is go on about how things were. I can't stand it. I'll shut up.
Back in the hot tub, Lee came to my rescue — or tried to. She came up and asked Saskia where the gin had gone (I told you that punch was lethal), and Saskia said she didn't know, and Lee said she thought she'd seen her with it, and Saskia said she hadn't had it, and Lee said maybe she could just come and help her look for it, and Saskia, who SO knew all along what Lee was trying to do, sighed this enormous bored sigh and stood up and climbed out of the tub with her chest practically in Caspar's face and then turned to me and said:
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Then there really was nothing but a steaming hot tub of water between me and Caspar McCloud.
I was so shy. I nearly died of shyness. Also, I was slightly worried that I was going to cook to death or perish from an exploding bladder because I really, really needed to pee. I tried not to think about that, and it wasn't difficult because I was in a state of pre-kiss terror. For sure, any second now, there was going to be a kiss. There HAD to be a kiss.
"Hey, Rubybaby," said Caspar.
That's what he called me: Rubybaby. From the lips of anyone other than a divine being, it would have sounded cringe making and vomit worthy. From the lips of Caspar McCloud, it was utterly thrilling, as if an electric-lipped angel was kissing your soul. You know: hot and crackly.
"Hey, Caspar," I said, crackling.
"Why don't you swim on over here and keep me company?" he said.
I fixed him with this sultry model's stare (deadpan but pouty) that I'd been practicing at home. "Well, why don't you swim on over here?" I said.
It was the pre-kiss terror that made me say that. Basically I would have swum the Atlantic to get to him. Genius, Ruby. All I'd done was prolong the agony.
Slowly and sexily, we both scooted toward each other. Actually, I'm not sure if you can scoot slowly and sexily, but that's what it felt like. Also, it felt like it took an eternity, when really it was probably about ten seconds or something.
I looked into his eyes. Then I had to look away because it was just too, too intense. I could see all my friends, dancing and messing around like idiots, and behind them, this gorgeous red sunset blazing in the sky.
If I'd looked the other way, I would have seen something else. I would have seen clouds gobbling up the night. Maybe I would even have seen the clouds reflected in Caspar's eyes, but when I got a grip enough to stare into them again, I wasn't there to admire the view.
BOMF! I practically head-butted him as my lips mashed into his. His lips sort of opened a little, and I kind of pushed my tongue into his mouth. I thought that was what you were supposed to do, to show how passionate you felt or something. Like I said, I'd kissed boys before, and that's what we had done. It had been fairly disgusting. Kissing Caspar like that wasn't disgusting; it was scary, and it felt all wrong. Until ... I dunno. It just changed. One minute it was tongue- on-tongue combat, the next minute ...
If this was my blockbuster movie, we would pause here. It would be worth a whole scene all by itself, that kiss. We would linger on it for as long as possible. That kiss. Those kisses. Where does one kiss end and another begin? We just kind of melted into one another. I know that's the kind of stupid thing they say in cheesy romances, but we did. That's what happened! One minute I was my own clumsy me-being, freaking out, and I could feel this divine Caspar-being (was he freaking out too?), this Caspar-being's tongue, and the next minute ... I dunno ... it was total —
KA-CASPAR-BOOM! (PART TWO)
We didn't hear the yelling.
Fingers dug into my arm. My lips disconnected from Caspar's. I turned and —
"GET OUT!" Zak's dad shouted into my face, hauling me from the tub.
And that is when it all began.CHAPTER 2
Like most people in the country, Zak's parents had gone to a barbecue that night. That's the thing about Britain, isn't it? First glimmer of sunshine, first sign of heat and everyone goes nuts, puts on their shorts, and has a barbecue. Doesn't matter if it looks like rain; we go out and we stay out until the first drop falls. No — it's worse than that: it actually has to start pouring before people give up and go inside. You add to that a holiday weekend — a whole extra day for sunburned people to lie around wishing they hadn't drunk ten zillion cans of beer and/or that they had cooked the hot dogs properly on the grill — and you get ... well, you get what happened, don't you?
Zak's parents weren't supposed to be coming home, so it was obvious right away that something was wrong because they were back, but it was even more obvious that something was wrong because they were freaking out. Normally, they wouldn't have cared at all about whatever it was we were doing. That was what was so cool about Zak's. OK, he had the hot tub and the barn and woods and fields and everything to hang out in, but the really cool thing was that his parents were completely chill. They smoked joints in front of us — hey, they even gave Zak weed! That's how chill they were.
Tonight, they were not relaxed. They basically went all Simon on us. They herded us all into the kitchen. The only thing that was un-Simon was that Zak's dad, Barnaby, kept swearing.
OK, so this is going to be the only other rule about this story: I will try to be honest; I will try to tell everything as it was, but I will not swear. My mom hated me swearing — the word God included, despite the fact that (1) she said it herself all the time (but denied it) and (2) as far as I can tell, everyone else on the planet says it all the time too. "There's no need for swearing," she'd tell me. Even with the whole world in the grip of a death-fest mega-crisis, she'd say, "Ruby, there is absolutely no need to swear."
Actually, there is a huge need for it in this story, and a lot of swearing did happen, but out of respect for my mom, I will not write those words. If, like me, you curse all the time anyway, you can go ahead and add your own swear words, but I hope you'll understand why I can't.
I'll write something beautiful instead. I'll write "[??]." For my mom.
"Oh [??]! Oh [??]! Oh [??]!" Barnaby kept going.
(The thing is, Zak's parents were always into some pagan-y religious thing or another, so it's possible that Barnaby really was calling on some specific god and wasn't just generally ranting.)
He locked the kitchen door.
"You're frightening them," said Zak's mom, Sarah, but Barnaby wasn't listening. He closed every window in the kitchen, and when he'd finished doing that, he started closing all the other windows.
You could hear him, banging around all over the house.
We weren't frightened at all. It was a little weird, but the hardest thing was not to get the giggles — although in my case I had nothing to laugh about, now there wasn't even any water to cover me. I did my best with dish towels. All our stuff, everyone's stuff, was in the barn.
"Mom, what's going on?" said Zak.
"We're not really sure," said Sarah. "Someone Barnaby knows called him and — "
Thump, thump, thump — bang! — thump, thump, thump, went Barnaby upstairs.
"Mom?" said Zak.
Bang! Thump, thump, thump. Barnaby came back down the stairs.
"You'd better ask your dad," said Sarah.
See now, that was kind of weird, wasn't it? Zak didn't normally call his mom "Mom"; Sarah didn't normally call Barnaby "your dad." If I didn't know Zak was practically immune to a whole lot of stuff that really bothered other people — like being embarrassed by your parents — I would have thought he was freaking out too. But his parents did crazy stuff all the time, and everyone knew they did, and usually no one laughed about it much because everyone understood what Zak had to deal with ... and also because Sarah and Barnaby were so kind to us.
This latest crazy thing, whatever it was, it was just bad timing, party-wise.
"Turn the radio on," Barnaby told Zak.
"Dad?" said Zak, but he turned it on anyway.
They didn't have a TV. Zak's parents didn't even have a digital radio; they had the old-fashioned crackly kind. Guess what was on?
Gardeners' Question Time.
They were discussing the best methods of tackling blight on roses.
Someone lost it and giggled. The giggling, it spread.
"This isn't right," said Barnaby quietly. "It should be the news."
I laughed too; it was impossible not to crack up with Mrs. Fotheringay-Flytrap describing the spots on her Rambling Rector rose ... but you want to know something weird? While I certainly wouldn't in a million years have thought, Oh no! This must mean the world as we know it is about to end, I kind of knew it wasn't right too. I didn't know what was supposed to be on, but I knew Gardeners' Question Time shouldn't have been. My mom LOVED that program and listened to it every Sunday — every Sunday. Not on a Saturday night. Never on a Saturday night. Not exactly scary, though, was it?
"Go and put your clothes on!" Sarah snapped at us.
I shivered. Caspar hugged me close. Leonie grabbed my hand.
Sarah never snapped at us.
"They're in the barn," said Saskia — in a really horrible way, like Sarah was stupid.
"Take ours, then," said Sarah. "Take whatever you want. Just get dressed."
Someone muttered something and headed for the kitchen door.
"Don't go outside," said Barnaby. Loudly, angrily. "You do NOT go outside."
We shuffled out of the room, the whole herd of us. On the stairs, someone cracked up, and we all had to make a mad dash for Zak's parents' bedroom so we could laugh our heads off in private, without hurting their feelings.
"What the [??] is up with your parents, man?" said Caspar.
"Got me, dude," said Zak. But he didn't sound OK; he still didn't sound OK. "C'mon," he said to Ronnie — my techie-est friend — and they went off to Zak's room.
The rest of us, we played dress-up with Zak's parents' clothes. It was so funny we forgot all the weirdness. Caspar pulled on a kaftan.
"Ohhm!" he said, doing this prayer thing with his hands.
I laughed so hard I almost —
"I need to pee," I remembered.
Lee followed me to the bathroom. I went first. I had to — I was bursting. Then Lee went while I surveyed myself in the mirror: [??]. So much for the model look. The big, baggy hippie dress was the least of it. My lips, which felt puffy-bruised and tingling from the kissing, looked kind of normal, but I had mascara zombie eyes, and where I'd had bright red lipstick on earlier, it looked like it had sort of smeared itself all over my chin; even my nose had gone Rudolf. No hope Sarah would have makeup remover, so I wet a piece of toilet paper, dabbed it in the soap, and wiped at my chin.
It wasn't really lipstick at all; it was my first ever full-blown kissing rash, and it stung. It really stung.
Nothing I could do about it, so I quickly scrubbed at the mascara disaster. Their soap — which wasn't like the soap we had at home but some organic, lentil-based, gray-green thing — was useless. It didn't even foam up, so that was it, then: I was half black-eyed zombie, half human cherry. Mortifying. Seriously mortifying.
"C'mon, get out!" shouted Caspar through the bathroom door. "Molly wants to puke!"
Great. I had to face him knowing what the face I was facing him with looked like. We opened the door, and Molly burst in, about to be sick. Under normal friendship circumstances, it would have been our duty to stay with her — but, honestly, just listening to her made my own stomach start to heave. It was bad enough looking like a mutant in front of Caspar — I definitely did not want him to witness me spewing my guts out, so I grabbed Lee's hand, and we went back downstairs.
We passed Zak's room on the way, where he and Ronnie were bickering for control of the computer. ("Why's it so slow?! Just click there," Zak was saying, trying to grab hold of the mouse. "Just click on it!")
In the kitchen, the radio people had moved on to discussing plants for dry, shady borders — which is a serious problem, apparently, and was not nearly as funny as the earlier part of the broadcast. Barnaby looked as if he was in a trance, staring out the kitchen window at ... OK, so now the party had been totally spoiled; it was raining. None of us had noticed. Why would we? We'd been too busy laughing our heads off.
"I think you all need to sober up," said Sarah, handing out glass after glass of water. "Leonie, can you please put the kettle on?"
"YesSarahYes," Lee slurred, glugging her water.
Barnaby grabbed his cell phone and started jabbing at it, trying different numbers.
Excerpted from H2O by Virginia Bergin. Copyright © 2014 Virginia Bergin. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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