An excerpt fromVanishing Hour

Matthew whispered to Ruby, “I’m sorry,” as the man lowered his gun and flashed them a humongous smile—which was odd, considering he’d just chased them down at gunpoint and all.

 

“Sorry about the shots,” the man said. “Just wanted to talk to you folks!”

 

He was wearing a pair of orange hospital scrubs, except they were smeared with something. Vomit? Blood? Matthew didn’t want to know. Over the top, the man sported a fancy black blazer—which looked very out of place, especially considering his hair: tangled as a tumbleweed and peppered with bits of ...leaves? His teeth were piss yellow and pointed, as if someone had filed them into daggers.

 

Despite all of this, the man kept smiling as though he was the most ordinary fella in the world, just stop-ping to make small chat. “So, I’m Jud. This here is my crew.”

 

A few others cowered behind him: an old woman with sagging eyes and a boy whose features were flat and stretched. Behind them, a middle-aged man and a girl in a wheelchair were just catching up.

 

“What’s your name, sir?” Jud asked, staring at Matthew with drifty eyes.

His throat went pasty. He couldn’t seem to find any words.

 

“Hello?” Jud pretended to knock on a door. “Any-one home?”

 

Ruby stepped forward, even though her stomach tumbled like a dryer full of marbles. She glanced back at Matthew, who was looking straight at the ground, arms crossed, swaying a little. The volume on his head-phones was turned up to the max.

 

“His name is Matthew,” she said.

 

“I see. Well, what’s up with him?” Jud asked.

 

“Just been a long day. We’d like to go home.”

 

He inched closer. “Whoa, not so fast, girl. You hav-en’t even heard what I have to say yet. In fact, it’s your lucky day! We happen to be recruiting.”

 

“Recruiting?” She glanced at the people behind him. They were all looking away.

 

“Yeah, me and Sam here.” He tapped the gun. “We’re going to save humanity. Like I said, it’s your lucky day.”

 

Ruby stared at the large, shiny rifle. “Did you just say your gun’s name is Sam?”

 

“Sure did. So whaddya think? Would you like to be saved?”

 

His eyes bulged. Ruby shivered.

 

“Thanks, but we’re not interested. We just want to go home, if you don’t mind.”

 

The man’s smile disappeared. “Well yeah, I do mind, actually. I probably should have mentioned this earlier: recruitment isn’t optional.” The faces behind him turned a ghastly shade of white. Every single pair of eyes was glued to the concrete. Ruby’s cheeks prickled with coldness. This wasn’t a “crew.” This was a crazy man and his captives: a bunch of sick people with no other choice but to follow.

 

She reached back and grabbed Matthew’s hand.

 

“It’s okay,” he whispered. “It’s going to be okay.”

 

“Huh? What was that?” Jud asked, pointing the gun at Matthew.

 

“Nothing,” Ruby said, pulling Matthew in closer. “We’ll come with you. Just please, put that thing down!”

 

His face twisted into a crooked grin. “You mean ... you want to join us?”

 

“Umm, you said we didn’t have a choice.”

 

“I said . . .” He cleared his throat. “That we have a wonderful opportunity for you, and you’d be ill-ad-vised not to take it.”

 

Was she missing something? He wasn’t making any sense. She stared into his eyes and shivered. His pupils were practically specks. “Actually, that’s not what you said. But if that’s what you mean, then we’d like to go home.”

 

Suddenly, the gun was inches from her face.

 

“Sam says no!”

 

Her heart stopped, but before she had time to reg-ister anything else, Matthew slapped the gun away and scowled. A hiss came from his throat, a bit like a cat, and then his entire face puckered.

 

“Don’t touch her!” he snapped.

 

She gripped onto Matthew’s arm and shut her eyes, prepared for the worst. But Jud didn’t seem upset. Instead, he let out a slow clap.

 

“Bravo! You’ve got spunk, old man. Congratulations, you’re hired. Welcome to the team! Now, if you touch Sam again, I’ll shoot you in the head.” He slung Sam across his back. “You two can follow me—or don’t. But like I said. Shooting. Head. You know. Let’s try and keep this all amicable, shall we?”

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