Authors: Chris Wooding
Tags: #Young Adult
We got the Pale on his way to school.
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Kyle. The way he said it, it wasn’t a question. It was a threat.
The Pale kid looked around for help. There was nobody. We were on a wooded lane, hidden by trees on both sides. The lane was a short-cut between the school and the Graveyard. That was what they called the place where the Pales lived. The Graveyard. Most people thought they should stay there.
The Pale was a weedy little thing, about our age. He had that sick look that all the Pales did. His skin was so white, you could see blue veins underneath. His hair was white, too. And he had those strange eyes. His irises weren’t blue or green or brown. They were white, too.
See why we call them Pales?
“Please,” he moaned. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“What are you doing out of the Graveyard, Pale?” Kyle asked him. Kyle was a big kid. Much bigger than the Pale. Bigger than me, too.
The Pale started to back away. “I was going to school.”
“Hear that, Jed?” Kyle asked me.
“Yeah,” I said. “Wrong answer, Pale. School is for normal kids like us. It’s not for Pales.” “But my dad says I have to go to school,” the Pale said.
dad says you shouldn’t,” I replied. “He says it should be against the law. And he’s a lawyer, so he should know.”
Kyle grinned at me. Then in a flash, he went for the Pale kid and grabbed him by the arm. The kid did his best to get away, but Kyle was too strong. He pulled him over and pushed him down to the ground.
“This is what happens to Pales that stray out of the Graveyard,” he said, and he started to punch the kid.
The Pale began to sob and beg. “Please! Don’t!”
God. What a wimp. Pales make me sick.
So I started to punch and kick him too. He just lay there with his arms over his head. He didn’t try to fight back. Just cried and squealed.
Pales. None of them have any guts.
“Hold him down, Jed,” said Kyle. I grabbed the kid’s arms and pinned him to the floor. His skin felt cold. His nose was running with snot and his eyes were tight shut. He was wailing really loud. I wanted to hit him just to shut him up.
Then I saw Kyle pick up a tree branch that had fallen on the path. It was heavy, like a club. He came back, and stood next to me. He was panting. There was a nasty look in his eye.
Kyle patted the club. “Let’s teach him a
“Hey!” I said, alarmed. “We just want to rough him up a bit. We don’t want to kill him!”
“I’m going to make sure he never comes to school again,” said Kyle. “Just hold him there for a minute.” But there was something in his voice that scared me.
Kyle raised his club. He aimed for the Pale’s head.
I couldn’t believe he was really going to do it. He was joking, right? He just wanted to scare the Pale.
Just at that second the Pale wriggled out of my grip, like a slimy little eel. Maybe I wasn’t holding him tight enough. Or maybe I didn’t want to hold him anymore. Not with Kyle about to smash his head in.
“Get him!” Kyle shouted, but the Pale was fast. He scampered away up the lane, faster than we could follow.
Kyle turned on me, furious. “You let him go!”
I dusted myself down. “He’s learned his lesson,” I said. “He won’t be back.”
Kyle snorted. “He’d better not be.”
Kyle stalked off up the lane towards school. I followed after him. He wouldn’t be mad at me for long. We were best friends, after all. It was just that he really, really hated Pales.
You couldn’t blame him, though. Dead kids shouldn’t be allowed to go to school.
It all started when they invented the Lazarus Serum.
A drug that can bring you back to life. But don’t get your hopes up that you can use it to bring back your dead grandpa or anything. They have to give it to you right after you die. And it only works if you haven’t been hurt too badly. If you’ve had your head chopped off, you’re dead, and that’s that.
There are some side effects. The drug turns your hair and skin white. It gives you those spooky eyes, too. No one’s sure why. But at least it makes Pales easy to spot.
Once you’ve had the serum, your heart stops beating. You don’t need to breathe anymore. You’re dead. Only the serum lets you keep on going. Like a vampire or a zombie. And you stop getting older, too. Nobody’s sure, but they say Pales can live forever.
Sounds pretty good, right?
The thing is, the drug only works on some people. You need to have the right blood type. Only one person in ten can come back as a Pale. The rest just have to die.
That makes a lot of people jealous. Why should Pales get a second chance when they don’t?
The other thing is, it’s selfish to live forever. I mean, there’s not enough room on the planet for everyone as it is. There’s not enough energy or food. So it’s not fair to take more than your share. You die, time’s up. That’s how it should be.
Plus, there’s a lot of religious people who don’t like Pales. They think that God decides when you die, and so Pales are cheating. That gets them mad.
So it might sound like a good idea to come back as a Pale. But it’s not. Because half the world hates you.
It was lunch break on the day Kyle tried to kill the Pale.
We always met up at the same spot in the yard at lunch. Me, Kyle, the twins and Sadie. Sadie was my girlfriend. Everyone knew she was the hottest girl in school. And she was with me.
I was first to arrive. There were some younger kids there, but I told them to get lost. Kyle turned up a minute later. He was in a good mood again. He’d forgotten all about what happened that morning.
But I remembered. He’d been about to bash in that Pale kid’s head with a branch. I’d never seen him like that before.
“You were only messing around, right?” I asked him. “You weren’t really going to kill him?”
“Nah,” said Kyle. “I was just giving him a scare.”
I wasn’t sure if I believed him.
The twins turned up next. Nate and Ash. They were pushing each other and joking. I’d known the twins since I was five. We all used to hang out in elementary school. We’d been friends pretty much all our lives.
Sadie came last. My Sadie. She ran up, threw her arms around me, and gave me a kiss. Whenever we met, she always acted like she hadn’t seen me for ages.
“Get a room, for God’s sake,” said one of the twins with a grin. I wasn’t sure which one it was. I could never tell them apart.
Sadie stuck her tongue out at him. “Deal with it.”
It felt really good to have Sadie in my arms. When I held her, I could forget all about the boring lessons I’d sat through. Math. God.
Me and Sadie had been together two years now. I hoped we’d be together forever. I would never admit it to my friends, but I really cared about her. And she cared about me. I could tell.
We were all messing around and talking when Mr. Grayson came over. He was a miserable old man. Every school has one teacher everyone hates. Mr. Grayson was ours.
“Alright, Mr. G?” said Kyle. He liked to be cocky.
Mr. Grayson didn’t rise to it. He fixed us all with a cold glare. “Have any of you seen David Bloom at school today, by any chance?”
“Never heard of him,” I said.
“Don’t be stupid, Jed,” said Mr. Grayson. “He’s one of your classmates.”
“Is he a Pale?” Kyle asked.
Mr. Grayson gave him a hard stare. “You know very well not to use that word, Kyle,” he said. “If you mean ‘is he one of the Returned?’ then yes. He is.”
You see, you weren’t supposed to call Pales Pales. For some reason, people thought it was an insult. You were supposed to call them the Returned. Because they’d Returned from the dead – get it? But everyone called them Pales anyway.
“David Bloom didn’t come to school today,” Mr. Grayson went on. “His father doesn’t know where he is. He’s very worried.” He looked at me and Kyle. “I don’t suppose you two had anything to do with this, did you?”
Now I knew who Grayson was talking about. He meant the kid we’d beaten up on the way to school. I was in some classes with him, but I never knew his name. He was just a Pale.
“David Bloom,” Kyle said. “Don’t know him, Mr. Grayson. He sounds like a pansy to me.”
Everyone cracked up at that. Except Mr. Grayson, of course. He snorted in disgust and walked away.
“I heard what happened to that kid,” said
Sadie, after Mr. Grayson was gone. “They were a rich family, once, with a huge house. But there was a gas leak in the kitchen. Everyone died from the fumes. They brought back David and his dad, but not his mom. She didn’t have the right blood type.”
“He’s rich? No kidding?” Kyle asked. I could tell he was thinking of stealing the Pale kid’s lunch money.
“Not anymore,” said Sadie. “The lawyers took everything. In the end they had to go and live in the Graveyard with the rest of the Pales.”
“Bet it was your dad that took the money!” one of the twins said to me.
“Bet it was,” I said. I was so proud.
There were a lot of lawyers like my dad. Afterlife lawyers, they were called. Their job was to take everything they could from the Pales. You see, the law said a Pale was dead even though they were still walking around. They didn’t have any rights. That meant their relatives could take all their stuff. A good lawyer could take everything a Pale owned from them. And my dad was a
Even if a Pale managed to keep hold of their stuff, they soon ended up poor. Not many people wanted to give a Pale a job. No one wanted to do business with them. Sooner or later, they all went to the Graveyard, where they belonged.
I lifted my head and saw a group of Pales on the other side of the schoolyard. They stood in a cluster, keeping their heads down. The Pales at school all hung out together. It was creepy.
“Don’t they make your skin crawl?” asked Sadie. She shivered and pressed herself up close to me. “The way they sneak around in gangs like that?”
One of the twins gave her a nudge. “That might be you, one day,” he said with an evil grin. “After all, you’ve got the right blood type, haven’t you? So has Jed. You’ve been tested like all of us.”
He was right. Everyone got tested to see if the Lazarus Serum would work on them. Me and Sadie had the right blood type. The other three didn’t. I wondered if that was the reason Kyle hated Pales so much.
Sadie made a face. “Eww! No! I would never want to come back as one of them.”
“What about you?” Kyle asked me. “What if you had to make a choice?” He was staring at me hard.
“Me? A Pale?” I said. “I’d rather die.”
I was walking with Sadie after school when my dad pulled up in his car. It was a shiny new BMW.
“Need a lift?” he asked.
“No, thanks,” I said. “We’re going to see a movie. I’ll be back home later.”
“Sounds good,” he said with a smile. “Hi, Sadie. How’s everything?”
“Everything’s great,” she said. She held my hand and looked at me.
“Oh, Jed, I forgot,” said my dad. “I got us those tickets for the game on Saturday. Box seats, of course. Best in the stadium.”
“Nice one, Dad,” I said. “You’re the best!”
My dad winked. “You just have to know the right people,” he said. “See you later.” And he drove off.