Authors: Emily McKay
“A gripping dystopian tale that pits humans against humans in the race for survival in a remarkable and haunting world. McKay has spun a web of vampires, love, sacrifice, and survival readers won’t want to escape. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next installment!”
New York Times
bestselling author of
“A story of sisters and love, of perseverance and courage . . . and one helluva vampire apocalypse.
is a gritty, white-knuckle ride that grabbed me and didn’t let go. Emily McKay’s world is fresh, fraught, and super scary.”
—Veronica Wolff, national bestselling author of
“Wow! What an intense read. Emily McKay has written the kind of book you can’t put down.”
— C. C. Hunter,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Taken at Dusk
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2012 by Emily McKay.
All rights reserved.
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Berkley trade paperback edition / December 2012
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The farm / by Emily McKay.
1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Twin sisters—Fiction. I. Title.
For Abby and Austin, the young adults in my life. I love being your aunt. Thanks for making it so much fun!
And, as always, for Greg, Adi, and Henry.
It would be impossible to acknowledge everyone who helps make a story idea into the book it becomes, but since this is my first time writing acknowledgments, I’m going to try.
First off, thank you to my agent, the fabulous and wise Jessica Faust. Thank you for reading about six completely different drafts of this story. Thank you for refusing to send it out before it was ready and thank you for continuing to believe I had the talent to tell this story. Without you this book would never have been possible. Working with you is so much fun. I can’t imagine a better agent or friend.
Thank you to Donald Maass. Your Writing the Breakout Novel intensive workshop transformed me as a writer and renewed my faith in my own talent. Thanks to Lorin for organizing the workshop, and to all the great writers I met there: Lisa, Jocelyn, Maggie, Erin, Jo, and all the rest.
Thank you to all my fabulous writing friends. Robyn DeHart, if it wasn’t for you, I’d have given up writing years ago and would probably now be working at the Gap. Tracy Deebs, without your brainstorming, Mel never would have gotten out of the van and this book would have no climax. Shellee Roberts, without you, there would be no chemistry between Carter and Lily (thank you!). Sherry Thomas, just hanging out with you reminds me to ratchet up the conflict. Penny, thanks for making sure I got Mel right. And, last, but certainly not least, thanks to Skyler White, Karen MacInerney, and Jax Garren. Without your fine-tuning, this book would have been a white-hot mess.
Thank you to all the talented people at Berkley who helped turn this manuscript into an actual book. I was awed by your work at every step of the way. Michelle Vega, your editorial insight was outstanding. I can’t thank you enough for loving Lily and Mel like I do and helping me to tell their story. Thank you, Pam Barricklow, for your fine attention to detail and for finding the perfect copy editor for
. Thank you, Sheila Moody, for being that copy editor. Rosanne Romanello, I know your part in this process is just beginning, but I already love you for all you’ve done. And, finally, thank you to the art department for gracing me with the most beautiful cover I’ve ever seen!
Some days, you just want to let the bad guys win. My mom, the pro bono lawyer, used to say that to me sometimes, back in the Before. That’s how you know you’re doing the right thing—it’s so hard you want to give up.
I really hoped she was right, because today was one of those days. Of course, my mom lived in a world where the monsters were greed, ambition, and questionable ethics. That all ended when the Ticks swarmed across the Southwest, eating every human in their path. My sister, Mel, and I live in a whole different world and the monsters here are less . . . metaphorical. And even if I sometimes wanted to give up, I knew I wouldn’t, because my twin, Mel, depended on me.
Praying for the patience to deal with her, I said, “We’ve been over this. You can’t come with me today.” I reached for her hand, but she snatched it away. Okay, not a day for touching.
She stood so close to me, I couldn’t shut the door to the storage closet where we’d lived for the past six months. “Stay here.”
Mel didn’t back up. She stood there, clenching her Slinky, shifting it from one hand to the other and back again, so it made that irritating
sound. She never went anywhere without the damn thing, but she only jiggled it like this when she was nervous.
Since we’d arrived on the Farm, Mel had followed me everywhere. Mel hadn’t always been like this. Yeah, she had all the normal autism spectrum stuff: delayed speech, social impairment, and self-stimulating behaviors. But after years of therapy she’d functioned pretty highly. The stress of living on the Farm had changed all that.
In the past six months, we hadn’t been apart even for a few minutes. But for what I had to do today, she had to stay behind in our room. She and I lived in an eight-by-twelve storage closet, tucked in the corner of one of the lab rooms in the science building. Every time I tried to leave, Mel was right on my heels.
Lily’s little lamb,
Mom had always called her.
I pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket. There was never a signal, but I plugged it in every night and kept it charged because it was the only way to know what time it was without listening for the chimes. Three fifty-two. I had five, six minutes tops to get down to Stoner Joe’s if I wanted to talk to him alone.
Extending a single finger like a hook, I waved it past Mel’s face. “Look at me, Mel.”
Mel kept her gaze locked on the shelf beside the door where our backpacks sat, crammed full of the food and clothes we’d need if we did escape from the Farm. The pink pack sat on top of a stack of chemistry textbooks. Everything we needed was ready to go at a moment’s notice, everything except the stuff we didn’t have yet. Things that I could live without, but Mel couldn’t. And if I didn’t leave the room now to go trade for them, we’d have to wait one more week and then it might be too late.
I tried again, waving my hooked finger in front of her eyes like the occupational therapist had taught me do so many years ago. “Look at me, Mel.”
Mel twitched, shifting her gaze from the backpacks to a box of lab supplies wedged onto the shelf of microscopes.
I knew it bugged her, having all this crap in our room, but it was important. If a Collab happened to come by for an inspection, I wanted our room messy enough that he’d give up in disgust rather than search all our belongings.
Again I waved my hand. “Look at me, Mel.”
Mom would have told me to be patient. But Mom wasn’t here and I was out of time. I reached out and gave her fingers a quick rap. “Damn it, Mel. This is important. Red rover.”
Mel’s gaze snapped to mine.
Guess I should have led with that. The phrase “Red rover, red rover” was our code for the plan to escape the Farm and cross the Red River. That was one of the benefits of having a sister who spoke almost entirely in nursery rhymes. Most of the time, I hated that living on the Farm had made her regress to how she’d been as a child, but at least it meant we could discuss our escape plans anywhere and no one would know what “red rover” meant.
“When I leave, I want you to wedge the chair under the knob. That way you’ll be safe.” I swallowed, praying I wasn’t about to make a promise I couldn’t keep. “I won’t be gone long.”
Mel just stood there mumbling her senseless distress.
“When I come back, I’ll tap out ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on the door. Don’t open the door until then.”
Mel’s gaze had shifted again. Maybe I should have kept trying, but if she didn’t know the plan now, we were probably screwed anyway. Even though I didn’t really expect an answer, I asked one last time, “Do you understand?”
Mel bobbed her head, but I knew it wasn’t really an agreement. “Red rover, red rover, let Lil-lee come over.”
“Yes,” I muttered. “That’s the idea.”
I patted the pocket of my hoodie to make sure the slim box of pills was tucked inside. Then I let myself out the door. This time, Mel didn’t follow. A second later, I heard the sound of the chair being scraped across the floor and wedged under the knob.
Okay, step one: leave Mel safely hidden while I go out to trade. Check.
Step two: walk across campus, keep my head down, blend. As long as I didn’t give any of the Collabs a reason to stop me, no one would know what I had in my pocket. Not that Collabs needed an excuse to harass a Green. The Collabs were all guys who’d been high school bullies back in the Before. Surprise, surprise: all the jerks who picked on geeks like me were also willing to betray their own species by collaborating with the Dean. On the bright side, Collabs weren’t known for their keen intelligence and observational skills, so hopefully none of them would notice when I
line up in front of the dining hall with the rest of the Greens, but instead went into Stoner Joe’s to trade.
The room Mel and I lived in was on the seventh floor, and walking down six flights of stairs gave me plenty of time to think about what I was about to do.
This time of day, all the Greens with the A schedule would be in the dining hall eating. All the Greens with the B schedule—like Mel and I—would be lining up for third meal. I should be able to talk to Joe alone. If someone was there, well, then I’d just hang out until everyone else left. I wouldn’t think about Mel by herself in our room. I wouldn’t think about the clock ticking away the remaining minutes of mealtime. If Mel and I had to miss third meal, it wasn’t
big a deal. Technically, Greens could miss one meal a week.
And I certainly wouldn’t think about the contents of my pocket. About those pills that would get me sent to the Dean’s office. That was a trip you didn’t come back from. Some people just disappeared up there, but if the Dean wanted to make an example of you, you were dragged out at dusk and tied to stakes just beyond the electric fences that surrounded the Farm. The screams seemed to echo for days afterward.
The Dean liked to remind us that those fences were there to keep the Ticks out as much as to keep us in.
As I left the building, the bitter February wind bit through the fleece of my jacket. I glanced around for any Collabs who might be nearby. Their bright blue uniforms made them easy to spot. They would have looked so cheerful if it hadn’t been for the tranq guns slung over their shoulders. A couple of them loitered over by the admin building.
Back in the Before, the Farm had been a prestigious private liberal arts college. For more than a hundred years, the college had sat nestled against the banks of the Red River, just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border, home to pampered students. The admin building dominated the east side of the campus. Whatever its purpose had been back in the Before, now . . . now, it just creeped me out. The real monster might be on the other side of the fence, but sometimes, horrible noises came from the admin building and the shadows at the windows seemed to move with inhuman speed.
At the opposite end of campus was the dining hall, with its sleek modern architecture and massive, floor-to-ceiling windows. Between the two buildings stretched the open green space of the quad, a smattering of dorms and academic buildings lining the quad’s edges. Our science building was one of them.
Four times a day, all the Greens shuffled out from their various hiding places and ambled over to the dining hall, where we were scanned, prodded, and fed. Yeah, we were treated like cows, except cows lived in the blissful oblivion of
knowing their future. We Greens couldn’t escape the reminders of what was to come. Not when Collabs took weekly “donations” at the mobile blood bank. Calling it that was their way of making it seem voluntary. It wasn’t. And every time we donated blood, they tested it to see how “clean” it was, whether or not it would make good food for the Ticks or if it had too many of the hormones the Ticks seemed to crave. On the Farm, we weren’t raising food; we were the food.
When I was kid, my dad used to love showing me these cheesy sci-fi movies—my cultural education, he called it. His favorite was
, this one where everyone finds out the perfect food is made out of people. For weeks after, we ran around yelling, “Soylent Green is people!” I thought it was so funny. It wasn’t funny anymore.
Still, donating wasn’t so bad, once you got used to feeling weak all the time. It kept us docile. It allowed us to pretend there wasn’t something much worse waiting for us when we turned eighteen.
I tried not to think of that as I made my way across campus. If you wanted to go anywhere on campus without attracting attention, just before or just after meals was the time to do it.
As always, Breeders lounged around the edges of the quad, smugly serene, some of them displaying bellies already round and fertile. They didn’t have to worry about eighteenth birthdays. Of course, the ones who were pregnant had other things to worry about.
The Greens all kept their heads down, shuffling across the quad like cattle, and I moved quickly to join them. There was safety in numbers—or the illusion of it—and a little extra warmth, too.
Normally I kept my head down, too, and stayed as close to the center of the pack as possible. However, I was distracted, running through the plan in my mind, and when I glanced up, I was at the edge of the crowd with a clear view between one of the dorms and the education building. Most days, we all did everything we could to avoid looking out beyond the fences. Now I wished like hell I’d been paying better attention, because when I looked up, I saw four Greens tethered to a streetlight on the other side of the fence. They were still alive. They’d been tranqed, but I could see the terror trying to fight through the haze.
This wasn’t the first time the Dean had ordered Greens staked out at dusk as punishment. But I’d never seen them. Not like that. Even though there must have been fifty feet between me and those Greens, I felt like I was standing face-to-face with them.
And I remembered all too vividly the incident that had gotten them there. It was yesterday at second meal. The three guys had ganged up on the girl. I remembered her panicked cries. “I’m not a breeder!” she kept saying. She hadn’t done anything except try to defend herself. But she was out there, chained to the light post just like the guys were.
young. So vulnerable. She had long dark hair, just like Mel and I. All doped up like she was, her expression was distant and dreamy, like Mel’s was sometimes. That could
Mel out there. If I wasn’t with her, all the time, that
be Mel out there.
In that moment, my pace slowed. The crowd flowed past me like the water of the nearby Red River rushing around a rock. The stream of people jostled against me before someone bumped into me hard enough that I broke free of my imagination and stumbled forward a step or two before tumbling down on one knee.
The packet of pills fell out of my pocket as I landed. The pain ricocheting up my leg was nothing compared to my panic as the blue plastic box tumbled to the ground. It landed beside my hand, but before I could grab it, a flip-flop-clad foot kicked it beyond my reach. I saw it disappear into the scuffle of feet. The most valuable thing we owned: gone.
I scrambled rabbitlike after the blue box, launching myself forward to catch it before someone else kicked it beyond my reach. When I saw it a few feet way, I threw myself toward it, but a hand reached down and snatched it off the ground mere seconds before I could grab it.
My heart leapt into my throat, panic making me breathless, even as I felt someone helping me to my feet.
“These must be yours.”
I didn’t even glance at the guy holding the pills out to me. I wrenched them from his hand, quickly flipping the box over to make sure it was unharmed, even though it had only been out of my possession for a minute. “Thanks,” I muttered, hoping he would just walk away.
“Must be pretty important to you,” he said, even as I saw him turning to walk away out of the corner of my eye. “You should keep track of your stuff.”
I shoved my hand deep into my pocket, still clenching the pills. Relief made me light-headed. Or maybe the Collab who had taken my weekly donation had just taken too much off the top. They did that sometimes, if your blood was particularly “clean” that day. Lately they’d been doing it more often. My head spun when I jerked it up to look for the guy who’d handed the pills back to me. He was impossible to miss, the gray of his hoodie standing out in a sea of scarlet sweatshirts. Among the thousands of Greens making their way to third meal, only a few weren’t wearing the colors of the college that the Farm had once been. Mindlessly my eyes followed his progress toward the dining hall.
Why had he handed the pills back to me? Had he not recognized them? Maybe a guy wouldn’t have. Thank God.
I clenched my hand around the rigid plastic tightly enough for the edges to bite into the skin of my palm. But I had it. Thank God, I still had the box. When I looked again, the guy in the gray sweatshirt was gone, disappeared into the crowd of Greens.