Piers Torday The Dark Wild (The Last Wild)

ISBN 13: 9780147509666

The Dark Wild (The Last Wild)

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9780147509666: The Dark Wild (The Last Wild)

The sequel to The Last Wild, which The New York Post calls “A whimsical yet thoughtful tale that brings to mind the smarts and silliness of Roald Dahl and Norton Juster.”

Twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes thought he had discovered the last wild animals in the land. He thought his adventure was over. He was wrong.  Below the sparkling city of Premium, deep underground, a dark wild remains: animals who believe the time is right to rise up against their human enemies.  And soon Kester realizes: he is the only one who can stop them. Kester Jaynes saved the animals. Can he save the humans too? 

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About the Author:

Piers Torday was born in Northumberland, which is possibly the one part of England where more animals live than people. After working as a producer and writer in theatre, live comedy and TV, he now lives in London – where there are more animals that you might think. The Last Wild is followed by the sequel (and concluding volume) The Dark Wild. You can find out more about Piers and follow his blog at www.pierstorday.co.uk.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FIRST, A HELICOPTER

In the shadow of our apple tree, looking out across a river at a city full of glass and whispers, I take my dad’s hand and watch our enemy fly toward us.

The black dot of an enemy, which is getting closer all the time, leaving Premium far behind as it slices over the water, the blades whirring whup-whup in the air above. The sun is setting beyond the dark towers, and the sky has gone the colour tangerines used to be, the last rays of orange light bouncing off the flying dot.

The dot that is now no longer a dot, but a large flying metal machine.

A helicopter. A purple helicopter with a large “F” painted on the side. And that’s all you need to know for now.

(Although I should tell you where we are as well.)

The apple tree we stand under is in Dad’s garden, behind our house in the Culdee Sack. No one’s been out here for six years, and everything is overgrown and tangled. Dad grips my hand tight, which is his way of telling me not to worry. Like that’s an easy thing to do when there’s nowhere to run.

On my other side is a girl holding a large toad in her arms. The girl from the deserted house in the north, who cured me when I was ill, who saved my life once already. She turns her tousled head up at the sky, twigs trapped in her hair, shivering in her T-shirt.

Polly. My best-ever friend.

And standing behind us, my other friends, the ones I can talk to. The great stag, his ears trembling. A wolf-cub, his side still all bandaged up, and a harvest mouse on his back doing her special Dance of the Flying Metal Machine. (It involves a lot of spinning.)

Last but never least, on my scarf, the General of all the cockroaches, his massive orange shell shining like it has just been polished, his antennae flicking like crazy.

All around us, in the dusk, are nearly a hundred other animals of all kinds. An otter, polecats, pine martens, rabbits, and a very jumpy red squirrel. Birds in the trees, bees on the bushes, and—under our feet in the grass—too many bugs and insects to count.

“Hide them,” says Dad, not taking his gaze off the helicopter.

I look at him for a moment, not understanding.

He turns to me and Polly, eyes blazing. “If you want your animals to stay alive, hide them now. Go!”

And we do, me yelling orders to my wild as they dive under bushes, disappear behind trees, some even burrowing into the soil of the flower beds, Polly grabbing armfuls of fallen branches to cover them. Even the brave General leaps off my scarf and into my shirt pocket, folding his antennae away out of sight.

None of the animals says anything. They’re too used to running, too used to making themselves invisible, and all we can hear is WHUP-WHUP

Now there’s no time to even think anymore, we just have to hope they can’t be seen in the dusk, camouflaged behind overgrown plants and creepers. The last to find a hiding place is the red squirrel, running round and round in a panic, until at the final moment he shoots under a withered rose bush.

Then twigs and leaves are swept up into the air, swirling around us, clouds of grit choking my throat and making it hard to breathe.

Cold spotlights beam down, blinding us. The rush of air forces us back. It flattens a circle in the grass, and Dad is ducking, pulling Polly and me out of the way.

The helicopter sways lower and lower, and I can just hear the wolf-cub growling at the back of his throat. We can no longer smell the garden or the river, only oily fuel, the hot rotors making my eyes water as they grind past each other. The rivets in each panel look close enough to touch now . . .

I am a Wildness, a leader of animals. I wait, facing up to the light and the roar and the wind.

The helicopter lands. Slowly the spinning blades judder to a halt.

Polly clutches my hand.

For a moment the dark helicopter is silent, and then—

A door is dragged open on rails. Folding steps tumble down onto our grass. In the dusk behind us, Polly’s toad gives a little croak.

We peer into the shadows of the cabin, shrinking back as men thunder down the steps and into our garden. Cullers, clanking in helmets, padded uniforms, and boots. Without a word, they raise their long dart guns and point them. At Dad. At Polly. And at me.

Nervously glancing at one another, we raise our arms in the air.

Then, in the darkness of the night, comes another man. A small man in a grey suit, skipping down from the helicopter light and fast.

A man whose picture I have seen once before, in the Doctor’s room at Spectrum Hall.

The man looks down at his feet and rubs his hands together for a moment. He adjusts his cuffs and smoothes his fine hair down over his head. Then, his eyes hidden behind a pair of shiny glasses, he clears his throat and smiles. “I’m sorry to drop in unannounced like this, Professor Jaynes,” he says to Dad, who doesn’t say anything.

In fact, I think Dad is shaking. I’ve never seen Dad shake before, but his hands are definitely trembling. It only makes me want not to shake at all. Which, it turns out, is much harder than it sounds.

The man turns to me instead. He takes off his glasses and pulls out a handkerchief to rub away a grease spot. “Do you know who I am?” he asks.

I nod.

He smiles again and puts his glasses back on. “Good. Do you know what I do?”

Where to begin. Spreading viruses that kill the world’s animals so you can make us all eat your fake replacement food, culling the creatures who survived, lying to everyone that humans could get the virus when they couldn’t, locking my dad up just because he invented a cure . . .

“You may think differently,” says Selwyn Stone, his voice all quiet and controlled, like a wire that could snap at any moment, only it won’t because it’s made of steel, “but what I do is keep order. I make difficult, unpleasant decisions on behalf of everyone. I prevent starvation, I keep the money going round and round, and I protect every single one of us from a hostile planet.” Mr. Stone clasps his hands in front of him like a priest. “The only thing I ask from you in return is a little bit of help.” Then he steps forward, his polished shoes sinking into the grass. Polly and I shrink back.

“For example,” he continues, “I might ask you not to waste time designing a cure for a virus that we are eradicating from the face of this earth. Or I might ask you not to illegally bring infected animals right into the centre of our capital city. Things like that.”

I’m shaking now too, my legs wobbling, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Polly has gone super-quiet, as if she hardly even dares to breathe.

In the night sky, the moon is full and high behind us, showing the shadows of the skull under the man’s skin. Mr. Stone sticks a hand into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small object.

A pistol version of the cullers’ dart rifle.

“And if you were still protecting those animals, I would expect you to tell me. Is that so very much to ask?”

*No one move a muscle,* I order the creatures behind us in the dark.

Stone turns toward me with the pistol. I swallow hard, hoping he couldn’t tell I was talking to them. “So. Kester. Tell me. Are you concealing any animals in this garden?”

“No,” I say. It’s the only word I can say out loud to other people.

He nods, and places his free hand on my shoulder. His voice is friendly. “I understand that you might not want to tell me. I know you’ve been through so much. You probably think you’ve been very brave—escaping from Spectrum Hall, rescuing your young friend here after we took her parents in, finding all those animals and bringing them all this way, setting your father free . . . I know I’d be exhausted!”

He smiles like it’s a joke, except no one laughs.

“But don’t worry, because you don’t need to tell me straightaway. There’s no rush. We can just wait. Because even the best-trained animals in the world can’t stay still forever.”

I want to punch his stupid smiling face and tell him that they’re not trained, they’re wild animals, and it’s just that we understand one another, something he will never ever be able to do—but I don’t, and instead, we wait.

Mr. Stone’s one hand lying on my shoulder, no heavier than a leaf, another holding a gun. Polly next to me, trying not to cry, only sniffing a bit. Dad a bit farther along, his head bowed.

We wait . . .

The cullers with their guns raised around us in a circle of helmeted silhouettes looking like giant plastic soldiers.

We wait . . .

The helicopter, the big metal bird that dropped onto our lawn, just sitting there dull and lifeless. Beyond it, the towers of the city, casting their long shadows over us all. Reflected on the river, I see the moonlit sky above filling with clouds faster than I can count them.

Still there is silence in the garden.

We wait . . .

And then—with a squeal of panic, the red squirrel streaks out from under the rose bush, quivering with fear.

*What’s happening?* he yells at me. *Are we*

His voice falters as he sees the cullers and Mr. Stone. He freezes on the spot with terror.

*Run—* I start, but it’s too late.

Without taking his eyes off me, Mr. Stone points his gun and fires. A dart speeds through the air, and the squirrel falls with no sound but the thump of his body hitting the ground. The cullers move forward and bundle him into a net, clambering back into the helicopter.

The lights fire up, and the blades begin to whirl round again.

Dad lowers his arms slowly. Mr. Stone puts his gun back in his pocket. “We can come back for the rest later,” he says calmly. “And we will.”

He moves, as if he is about to walk back to the helicopter, and then stops. My heart nearly stops too.

“Oh, I nearly forgot,” he says. “There is another option. I might be persuaded to let you keep your animals. On one condition.”

The helicopter’s big light turns onto the garden, like a giant eye searching something out. It hovers over Dad, who buries his face in his hands. It seeks out the stag behind the tree and the wolf-cub in the bush. It blinds me for a moment, making me turn away, feeling the General burrow as deep into my pocket as he can.

Then it moves on. To the girl next to me, her hair beginning to blow around her as the blades whirl faster and faster, ready for takeoff. Like her hair is burning in the light.

Mr. Stone walks over to Polly. He reaches into his jacket once more, and this time I prepare to go for him. I don’t care how rich and powerful he is, or how many armed cullers are in his stupid helicopter. If he touches one hair on her head—

And he pulls out some flowers. Like a magic trick.

A big bouquet of black flowers, which he forces into Polly’s hands, raising his voice for the first time to be heard over the machine. “Polly Goodacre. Your parents have told me everything. If you really want to save the animals, give it to me. Give me what you have.”

He waits for a moment, but she just stares at him. “Give me what you have,” he repeats. “You have forty-eight hours—or I will return, and I will kill all of these animals.”

Then without another word he turns and climbs back into the helicopter, slamming the door shut behind him. The craft’s engines shudder and roar as it begins to accelerate up into the velvet sky, the white belly lifting farther and farther away, the spotlights fading to a dull orange glow, until—as if it had never even meant to come near us—the Facto bird is swooping out across the river and back upstream.

Which is when, clutching her black flowers tight—

My best friend begins to cry.

PART 1

POLLY’S SECRET

My story begins again with me waking early in my bed, then tossing and turning, unable to get back to sleep.

And if you think that sounds like fun, you should see my bedroom. It’s just as I left it six years ago. My duvet has some cartoon on it, and the bookshelves are full of stuffed animals that I would never play with now. (I have real ones for that.)

In other words—nothing in here is for a kid of my age.

(Days away from being thirteen—and even skinnier than I was.)

The room is at the top of our house, which is all white and modern, at the end of the Culdee Sack in the part of Premium where hardly anyone lives anymore. If you went outside you would see lots of other houses, with electric gates and cameras, but there wouldn’t be any people living there. They all live in the glass towers on the other side now. And there definitely wouldn’t be any animals like the ones in our garden.

All of which means it’s dead quiet. In fact, the only noise you can hear right now is a slow, vibrating hum, which could be a tank rolling down the street. But it’s just Dad snoring in the room next door.

Farther down the corridor is Polly. She’s sleeping on a camp bed Dad made up for her in Mum’s old study. At least, I think she’s sleeping. After last night . . .

Who knows what she’s doing after last night. After the helicopter left, she dropped the flowers on the lawn and ran to her room. She wouldn’t talk to me or answer any of Dad’s questions.

It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what Selwyn Stone said. I’m not going to let anything happen to my wild.

Not after what we’ve been through together.

I brought the animals all the way from their home at the Ring of Trees—far away in the north of the Island—to the city. I brought them here for a cure, which Dad invented, which Polly and I helped him make. We were chased by wolves, shot at by cullers, half drowned, and nearly burnt alive. We saved the animals and rescued Dad. I sent a flock of pigeons back to the Ring with supplies of the cure for the animals who couldn’t come with us.

Along the way Polly saved my life. Twice.

I first got to know her at her house, Wind’s Edge, right on the farthest edge of the Zone. I broke in looking for help, because I thought I had the red-eye virus. She pointed a gun in my face and called me “Kidnapper.” And then, in the dirtiest kitchen I’d ever seen, she made me a cup of herbal-medicine tea for my fever.

She made me feel less scared of things.

Although if you think not being scared of things makes you braver, you’d be wrong. Everything we did that everyone calls being brave didn’t feel like being brave at the time. It felt like the only thing to do, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything like that again. Not now, when I’m lying here in my room full of toys and piles of comics on every surface.

“Can’t or won’t?” Mum used to say. I don’t know. Reaching for the green watch she gave me, just repaired by Dad, I press the side button and squint at the brightly glowing screen.

It’s getting-up time.

But after what happened last night, I don’t want to get up. I feel a knot in my stomach and turn over for the hundredth time to stare at the wall, wishing it all had been a bad dream. The helicopter, the men inside—the squirrel I couldn’t save from them. ...

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