I’m not sure where the idea for this novel came from, but it didn’t stay stuck inside my head for very long. I started writing Blood and Water AGES ago, but I did most of the hard work within a span of two weeks. Talk about exhausting! Anyway, it’s about a teenage boy living in a world where half the population is dead from a virus. His parents die, and then he finds out he’s sick, too. When he discovers that his sister has been keeping her illness from him, he resolves to find a cure before they’re both out of time.
Here’s the first chapter!
BLOOD AND WATER
A Novel by Briana Morgan, Draft 1
Chapter 1. Blood in the Sink
There was blood in the sink. That wasn’t unusual. But Jay hadn’t been home all day, so it couldn’t have been his. That was the furthest thing from usual.
He reached down to scratch behind Samson’s ears. The cat was purring, which meant there couldn’t be an intruder in the apartment, right? Did cats even care if intruders broke in, like dogs, or were they apathetic about that, too? Samson was apathetic about everything but food and ear scratches.
“Hello?” Jay ventured.
No response. Of course not. If there were an intruder in the house, he wouldn’t respond. What had he expected, someone to jump out and go, “boo”? Melanie would say he’d seen too many horror movies. Sean would argue with her that he hadn’t seen enough. As much as they loved each other, they seldom agreed. Still, besides the homeless people, they were all he had left.
He had just gotten home from his volunteer shift at the homeless shelter on the other side of the river. Though its numbers had dwindled, they were still in desperate need of volunteers. Jay had been helping out there since moving to London. He’d been thinking about how much things had changed and trying to fill a glass with water from the sink when he looked down and saw the blood.
He’d been coughing up a lot of blood lately, but where had this stuff come from?
Samson meowed. Jay stooped to pet him. The cat purred as though nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened while Jay was gone. Useless thing.
“Was someone here?” he asked Samson. The cat blinked in response. Okay, so that was silly, too. Of course Samson couldn’t tell him. He was going to have to investigate the apartment himself.
Samson rubbed against Jay’s jeans before venturing down the hallway. Jay peered down at the blood in the kitchen sink. Dark, thick, red. Then, he went to the drawer in search of a knife.
In a world racked with disease, it was hard to imagine that crime was still an issue. Weren’t there more important things to be concerned about? Tragedy was supposed to band people together. Why kick one person when the whole world was down? Still, there were riots. People got murdered almost every day. Just last week, he’d seen someone get stabbed right outside of Hyde Park. Jay wished he’d had a weapon to protect himself. Luckily, the killer hadn’t come after Jay–he took the man’s wallet and ran into a tunnel.
In the present, Jay’s reflection was a flash of brown skin on the blade of the knife–darker than sand but much lighter than blood. He wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs, and then he closed his fingers around the black rubber handle. Whether he wanted to or not, it was time to search for the intruder.
He tried to think of all the reasons that someone would break into his apartment. He didn’t live on the wealthy side of town, and there was certainly nothing outside his door to suggest that he had any money. Once he or she got into the flat, surely they realized their mistake–he didn’t even have a television, for God’s sake. In his wallet, which he couldn’t be bothered to keep on his person, there was a ten pound note and a couple of coins. The wallet rested on his night stand. If the intruder had made it into the bedroom, once they picked up the wallet, they were bound to laugh.
Samson rubbed against Jay’s legs again as he walked through the living room. If he listened, he couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary–just the stillness of the apartment and the sleeping city beyond it. He’d lived in London pre-plague, which had only been months ago–all commotion, no rest. It was impossible to believe any of that now. He couldn’t imagine a life without curfew, let alone one in which people swarmed the streets.
Rumor had it that before the plague, it was impossible to get anywhere during rush hour. If you tried to ride the Underground, even to the South Bank, you were going to be delayed. Even if you weren’t delayed, you’d be packed into a train car with a hundred other people. The quarters were so close, according to Maia, that sometimes you could spend a whole ride with your nose in someone’s armpit or your hand against the door, trapped there by someone’s buttocks.
At one time, these stories had horrified Jay. Chicago was bad, but since hearing that the virus thrived in larger cities, a lot of people had moved out to the country. Before he’d moved, it wasn’t uncommon to ride the subway all the way downtown and only see one person.
Back then, he hadn’t known what it was like to be truly horrified. Back then, he’d believed that everything would be all right.
That was before the virus; before London, Sean and Melanie, the apartment, the intruder.
Jay opened the coat closet by the door, knife poised for action. With his right hand, he pushed the coats aside. Nothing. A wave of relief washed over him. Of course, he had more of the apartment to explore. It wasn’t a large space, but it now felt cavernous. Fears of the unknown swirled in his head, magnifying the flat’s interior. The more he thought about how much he still had to search, the worse he felt. Instead, he chose to focus on the feeling of the black rubber handle.
The knife in his left hand made him feel omnipotent. In a world that was rife with contagion, he, too, had power over death. The thought was a revelation. Armed with the knife, he had a say in who lived and who died. But he knew better than to dwell on the implications of that thought. They could drive him to do some terrible things, as they’d driven many others to do before him.
Jay drew in a shaky breath and started down the hallway. In the fading sunlight, it was difficult to see. He didn’t want to risk turning on the lights for fear of alerting the intruder of his presence. Then again, hadn’t he called out right after getting home? Yes, he had. He felt foolish.
Samson padded down the hallway past Jay, oblivious to the threat of danger. The cat was safe, Jay knew. Whoever had broken into his home meant to harm him, not his pet. With any luck, the intruder would adopt Samson after killing Jay. It was the least he could do, all things concerned.
His life could be in danger, and he was worried about the cat. What was wrong with him?
He couldn’t remember where he’d gotten Samson in the first place. As many strays as there were wandering around the city, he assumed he’d picked him up off the street somewhere, but there was no way of knowing. Actually, his sister had had something to do with it–right after he’d moved to London, following in her footsteps, she’d brought him the cat as a housewarming gift. Their father had been allergic to most animals, and Jay had always wanted a pet of his own.
Maia chose a cat because they were low-maintenance. She explained to Jay that if he couldn’t remember to buy new milk before the old milk spoiled, there was no way in hell he could handle a dog. As much as he wanted to argue, there had been no need. Samson was everything he wanted in a pet—minus the lack of protection, of course. Then again, he’d never been in a situation like this before. There had been no need for him to yearn for protection.
Jay tightened his grip on the knife. He pushed the thought away. He needed to focus.
A noise in the bedroom at the end of the hall made him freeze in his tracks. The floorboards creaked. He flattened his back against the wall and stood still for a minute, straining to hear any sounds of life. He listened so hard that the silence made his ears ring.
Then, somebody coughed.
Jay clapped a hand over his mouth, not wanting to give himself away, and realized that his throat wasn’t burning. He lowered his hand, examining his fingers. No blood. His chest felt loose, too. He hadn’t coughed.
The intruder. He should’ve known–everyone was sick. The virus wasn’t picky.
The floorboards in the bedroom creaked again as the intruder moved. Whoever had broken into the apartment was sick because half the world was sick. That made perfect, maddening sense. Jay swallowed hard against a wave of nausea and fear. At one point, contracting the virus terrified him more than the thought of getting killed. Now that he had the virus, well, he marveled that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Basic human instinct gave him several other options.
As Jay got closer to the bedroom, he noticed there was also blood spattered on the carpet. It had dripped from the intruder. He’d lost a lot of blood, more than Jay expected. Was he sick, like Jay, or had he been injured? Jay needed to know. If the man were merely injured, he could go to prison. However, if he were sick, he’d be labeled unstable, and he wouldn’t be held responsible for breaking and entering. There would be no repercussions, and the man could keep whatever he’d stolen.
Like Jay needed another reason to hate the pandemic.
The bedroom door was ajar. Jay nudged it with his toe. The knife glinted as he flipped on the lights. No one was there. Jay stood in the door way for a minute, puzzled. He swore he’d heard somebody moving around.
Light emanated from underneath the bathroom door. Jay took a step forward. Squish. He froze.
What the hell had he stepped on?
Jay looked down. Blood pooled dark and thick on the carpet at his feet. It was similar in texture to the blood in the sink.
There was a trail leading from it to the bathroom. He raised the knife, took another step forward, and opened the bathroom door.
His older sister Maia was hunched over the sink, retching. A string of saliva stretched from her mouth. She was shaking. When she turned to face Jay, she had blood on her chin.
He dropped the knife. It clattered against the tile. “Maia? What’s going on?”
“Jay,” she said. “Thank God you’re home now.”
“How did you get in here?”
“You left your door unlocked.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I didn’t know where else to go. I think it’s happening.”
Jay’s stomach lurched. “How long?”
“A week ago.” She looked into the sink. “I’m sorry. I should’ve called you.”
Jay leaned against the wall. His shoulders slumped. One week. Their parents had been dead in four. The less he thought about the time frame, the better. “Why didn’t you tell me when the symptoms started?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t want to scare you.”
Tears ran down her face, and her lower lip trembled. Her eyes were bloodshot with dark circles pillowed beneath them. There was blood on her shirt.
“Jesus,” Jay said. “You need to get help.”
Maia coughed and spit something else into the sink. She wiped her mouth again. “There’s no one in London.”
“We’ll go somewhere else, then. We’ll find you a doctor.” Jay tried to think of some lead he hadn’t followed yet. He’d been all over London in search of a cure. Nothing had turned up. He was running out of time—for himself and for Maia.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said.
“Of course it does,” Jay answered.
Maia turned on the tap, cupped water in her hands, and splashed it on her face. Some of it dripped off her chin and landed on her chest. “I’m so glad you’re immune to this.”
“Yeah,” Jay said, “me, too.”
He’d been sick for three weeks. She would never find out.