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They're beautiful. They're popular. They're dead. . . .
From the moment Hannah Sanders arrived in town, she felt there was something wrong. A lot of houses were for sale, and the town seemed infected by an unearthly quiet. And then, on Hannah's first day of classes, she ran into a group of cheerleaders -- the most popular girls in school.
The odd thing was that they were nearly identical in appearance: blonde, beautiful, and deathly pale.
But Hannah wants desperately to fit in -- regardless of what her friend Lukas is telling her: If she doesn't watch her back, she's going to be blonde and popular and dead -- just like all the other zombies in this town. . . .
"This foray into the world of the living dead is suspenseful and downright terrifying, with an ending right out of a classic film." -- Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author
Brian James is the author of several notable books including Pure Sunshine and Dirty Liar. He lives in a small town in upstate New York that may or may not be overrun with zombies. He is currently researching the matter . . . very carefully.
Brian James is the author of several highly praised books for young adults, including Pure Sunshine; Tomorrow, Maybe; Dirty Liar, Zombie Blondes; and The Heights. He lives in Upstate New York.
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By Brian James
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2008 Brian James
All rights reserved.
I can usually pick out the popular kids soon after setting foot into a new school. The girls, anyway. They wear popularity like a uniform for everyone to see. From their hair-styles to their expensive shoes. Everything about them is torn from the glossy pages of the latest teen fashion magazines. Everything about them is perfect. At least on the outside, anyway.
The boys are a little trickier.
Their looks have only a small part to play in deciding their place in the social order of things. What they're into is just as important as how they look. Depends on what kind of school it is, too. There are as many different kinds of high schools as there are different kinds of cliques in each one. There's the artsy sort of schools where the skinny, mysterious boys are the ones who get all the attention. Then there's the college-prep kind of schools where class rank and GPA go hand in hand with a boy's cute looks to determine where he stands with the girls. At thug schools and drug schools, the more damaged or dangerous a boy is makes all the difference. Last, but not least, there're jock schools like Maplecrest where all that really counts is how good a guy is at sports. Even if he's zit faced and moronic, a boy can be popular here, so it could take some time to figure it all out.
But with girls it doesn't matter so much what kind of school it is. It's always the thinnest, prettiest ones wearing the least amount of clothing that the dress code allows who rule the hallways. Because boys' tastes don't change much just because they like painting more than sports. So it's always the girls pretty enough to put on a postcard that get to be one of the Perfect People. The social elite. The clique that runs the school. The ones who get away with everything by batting their eyelashes and pretending not to know any better. They get to decide which of the other girls are okay to talk to and which should be teased into having an eating disorder.
Different schools but always the same thing.
Those are the girls I need to impress if I want to be popular, or keep from pissing off if I just wish to fit in. That makes figuring out who they are pretty important. Highest priority if I wish to avoid making a mistake that will get me on the wrong list unintentionally. A dirty look is all it takes. It's the way it's been at every school I've passed through in the last couple of years, so I've gotten pretty good at figuring out who they are. My social well-being depends on it.
Maplecrest might be the easiest school yet.
I know who the most popular girl is the second I see her.
One look is all it takes. Her long blond curls like a halo when the sunlight shines on her just right. Perfect smile and perfect skin like an angel made of porcelain. Sparkling blue eyes with soft pink eyelids to match the strawberry pout of her upper lip. The slender curve of her shoulder and fragile shape of her knees peeking out from the bottom of her short skirt. She's delicate like a bird as she glides through the cafeteria. Every pair of eyes following her as she soars to the table crowded with other pretty girls who just look like lesser clones once she joins them.
I don't need to know her name or anything about her to know she's the It Girl in school. It's written all over the faces of her friends as they wait their turn for her to say hi to them. Each and every one trying so hard to look exactly like she does. Each of them pretty, too. Each of them wearing the same bleached hair and bleached skin but with a little less twinkling in their eyes, making them a little less perfect.
And even though I promised myself I wouldn't do it this time, I start comparing myself with them, the Perfect People. I can't help it. I have to know where I stand. Crummy town or not, I care what people think of me. It's a bad habit. My dad calls it teenage-girl sickness and says there's a cure for it. I tell him I know there is, but that I don't really want to end up being a crazy cat lady when I get older.
I twist my hair around my finger and stare at the split ends. Mine doesn't have the same shine and it's not nearly as blond. Mine's more like dirty straw than a golden halo. And my eyes are muddy, too, and look nothing like the sky the way the popular-table girls' do. All of them so blond and beautiful, like little figurines too precious to let children play with.
I push my tray away. I'm not hungry anymore.
It's not that I think I'm ugly or anything. I know I'm cute enough. And I don't want to be the prettiest girl in school or anything like that. It's just that I don't even come close. Not to their leader or even to her tagalongs. I thought in a small, time-forgotten town like this that I'd at least have a shot. It's not really that important to me, it's just that it's easier being new in a school if you're one of the prettiest girls. I hoped maybe this time I'd get lucky. But that dream vanished the instant I saw her.
"Her name's Maggie Turner," a voice says in my ear as if reading my thoughts. Not startling me enough to scream, but just enough to squeak like a little mouse.
I turn my head to see a scrawny-looking boy with shaggy straw hair dressed in shabby clothes. I recognize him from one of my classes. Takes me a second to place him. Geometry, third period. The kid a few rows over who kept looking at me so much that I just stopped checking after a while. He's not so bad looking, but he's not exactly my type, either. Long and lanky and a little on the creepy side. And before I can make up my mind whether I want to tell him to get lost or not, he pulls up the empty chair and sits down next to me.
"Maggie Turner," he says again. "You're wondering what her name is, aren't you?" I'm not sure what to say. I wasn't really expecting company. First day in a new school mostly equals isolation, especially in the lunchroom. It's one of the symptoms of the new-kid disease. Everybody wants to talk about you, but nobody wants to talk to you. Not at first anyway and his surprise visit catches me off guard. Not to mention the fact that he knew what I was thinking about.
"I was just ...," I start to say but never finish.
"You were just staring at Maggie Turner like everyone else," he says and I can feel my face turning red.
It's not that I mind getting caught or that I'm embarrassed about being fascinated with the popular girls. I just don't know if I want to share it with some skinny, weird kid who wanders the lunchroom searching for girls he doesn't know to sit next to. But whatever the reason, my cheeks start to blush and he begins to notice.
"It's okay," he says. "She's an attention magnet. Everyone likes to stare at her." He puts his hands behind his head and leans back. Tilts the chair until it's resting against the wall and settles in like we're long-lost pals.
"Look, what do you want?" I ask in a snotty tone because at this point all I really want is for him to go away. I'd rather be lonely than sit with him. He sort of gives me the creeps. I even slide my chair a few inches away. Too bad he can't take a hint, though. He's either a little dense or else he has the beginnings of a crush on me. With my luck, it wouldn't surprise me. I'm never a magnet for attention so much as I'm a magnet for weirdos.
He puts his hands back on the table and lets the chair ease back down to the floor. Then he hunches over and leans closer to me like he's going to tell me a secret or something.
"Today's your first day, right?" he asks.
I'm not sure what that has to do with anything but I nod my head anyway.
"Well, I'm just trying to help you out, that's all," he says.
"Help me how?" I ask. I don't see him helping me out at all. The only thing he's doing is keeping any normal people from talking to me.
"I can tell you want to be friends with her," he says. I feel like arguing that I don't even know her and that he doesn't even know me, so how can he make that assumption. But deep down I know he's kind of right, so I don't bother. Besides, he knows he's right the same way I knew about Maggie being the It Girl in the first place. He can spot people like me just like I can spot the popular.
"So what if I do?" I ask him. "Is that a crime or something?"
"No," he says. "I just thought I'd try to save you from Maggie Turner's clutches before it's too late."
I can't help but smile a little, because I've seen this trick before. Get close to the new girl and scare her with tales of the evil clique. It's always the outsiders like him that try it. The malcontents. But that's all it is. A trick. Try to claim me for their own and poison me to the rest of the school. Still, though, he is sort of cute and he is the only person to talk to me all day, so I decide to humor him, anyway.
"Yeah, why's that?" I ask.
"Because Maggie isn't like the rest of us," he says in a whisper. Really getting into the part and looking around as if he's checking to make sure no one is listening. "She's not like real people, she's better. She was born on Christmas. Her favorite color is pink. Baby pink, not porno pink. And it doesn't matter how cold it is outside, she always wears short skirts and short tops and no one has ever once seen her shiver. She never eats anything but carrots, at least not in public. And though she doesn't have any proven superpowers, all her friends follow her like they're in some kind of cult. Plus, she just happens to be the captain of the cheerleading squad and is one evil bitch on top of that."
I fold my arms across the table and rest my head. Open my eyes wide and give him all my attention like a little kid at story time. "You seem to know a lot about her for not liking her," I say with a little smile but I think the sarcasm escapes him.
"Everyone does, she makes sure of it," he says. No longer whispering and no longer playful like before. A little angry even as he taps the edge of the table with his knuckles.
"Let me guess," I say because it's my turn to play a little game with him. "Every boy has the hots for her, including you."
"Not me," he says without hesitating. Says it like a fact, never taking his eyes off her. Says it the way I can tell it's not just a denial. Says it so I know he doesn't just not like her, he despises her.
"But you did at one point," I say because I can tell that, too. "And she didn't like you, so now you hate her." Nobody gives the kind of look he does to someone like Maggie Turner unless they're jealous or scorned. I can't see him being the kind of boy jealous of popularity, but he certainly looks like the emotional type who gets his feelings hurt.
I may have hurt them some, too, because he pushes his chair away from the table and half stands up. He's about to walk away but stops. Turns to me and opens his mouth and starts to stutter like he's not sure if he should say what he wants to. Then finally deciding to go ahead and say it, but refusing to take his eyes off the floor when he does. "It's just ... you're kind of pretty ... and she might try to turn you into one of them ... one of her clones," he says. "I don't want to see that happen to you, that's all."
I tuck my lip under my top teeth.
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?" I ask.
"Nope," he says. "Just a warning."
I stare at him in silence and he stares back. Stares into my eyes for the first time since coming over to me. Something blank in his expression that doesn't make sense to me. He's either the most socially challenged boy I've ever met, or one of the cleverest. Whichever it is, he's by far the most interesting thing about this town so far.
He takes a step away before stopping. Makes a gesture like he forgot something and comes back. "My name's Lukas, by the way," he says.
"You know, you're really supposed to do that before you start pestering strange girls," I say.
"Yeah? Well, this is Maplecrest," he says.
"What does that have to do with anything?" I ask.
"You'll see," he says. "A lot of things in Maplecrest are done differently."
He starts to drift away again and this time I stop him. "Don't you want to know my name?" I ask him.
"It's Hannah," he says. Then he smiles for the first time. And I'm a little surprised, but he actually has kind of a sweet smile. "I was paying attention in class when the teacher called your name," he explains.
"Oh. Right," I say, remembering third period for the second time. "Well, thanks for the warning," I say with just enough attitude for him to know I'm not being completely serious.
"Do yourself a favor and stay away from them," he says with just enough attitude to let me know he's being deadly serious. Then he disappears into the crowd of faces, leaving me alone to listen to the million fragments of conversations happening all around me until the bell rings.
The whispers start the moment I sit down. Voices soft and slow from behind me. So quiet like trying not to make a sound but making sure I hear them just the same. The sound of syllables something like a hissing noise. Something like words slithering out from pointed tongues. A secret language mumbled behind hands held up to cover their mouths.
I don't have to know what they're saying to know it's about me.
I bite my lip and keep my eyes safely on my notebook because I know this is a test. I saw them watching me as I walked in. Hair so blond it would look white if it wasn't for their skin's snowy shade. The faint blue glow of electricity in the center of their eyes. Studying me. The way I walk. The way I dress. Everything about me, trying to figure out where I fit in.
The best thing for me to do is to ignore them. Despite what Lukas, the lunchroom boy, thinks, I'm aware of how mean popularity can make people. I've been through it enough times to be an expert. I know one wrong look in their direction could make me a gossip target for as long as I end up staying in this place.
When the whispers fade away, I hear them shuffle in their seats. Hear the sound of their shoes moving across the floor, coming toward me. Then the scent of vanilla perfume lingers over my shoulder and I brace myself, waiting to find out my fate.
"Hey, new girl?" one of them says and I turn my head to look up at where they're standing above me.
"Hey," I say. My voice coming out smaller than I planned and they seem to notice. Giggling a little at how nervous they make me.
"Your name's Hannah, right?" the other girl says and I nod. "Well, I'm Morgan," she says. "This is Miranda."
"Hi," I say, speaking quieter than I did before.
Miranda gives me a smug smile in response. Her hands firmly on her hips and her back arched slightly like an unfriendly cat. "We were just saying how much we really liked your bag," she tells me, her eyes darting down to take a quick glance at my backpack with the flower patches stitched into the fabric.
"Thanks," I say but without sounding happy about it. I don't dare take a look at my bag. I keep watching them instead. Searching for any signs of what's going to come next, because I can't help but feel like I'm being set up.
"Where'd you get it?" Morgan asks. I take a careful look at her before answering. There's nothing mean about her face. Innocent like an angel. A friendly smile on her lips, too, and I start to relax.
It's that Lukas kid's fault for trying to spook me.
I start to breathe easier.
"I made it myself," I say. A little more sure of myself this time.
"Really? That's so cool!" Morgan says. Then she bends down to take a closer look. She traces the flower patches with her fingers and smiles at me. Asks me where I got them and if it was hard and I start to smile back. Tell her it wasn't that hard. Trying my best not to let on how proud I am about it.
"It couldn't have been that easy," Miranda says.
I glance over at her and see the start of a cruel smile. The pink skin under her eyes no longer looks gentle. Looks more like fire than flower petals, the way it looked before.
"I mean, you were probably in second grade or something, right?" she says. The words like the sound of an angry dog with sharp teeth.
They wait for my face to turn bright red before they start laughing. Wait for me to tuck my lip under my top teeth before they start to go back to their seats. Making sure I'm humiliated before leaving me alone.
"Can you believe she thought we were serious?" I hear Morgan say.
Miranda laughs and says she can believe it. "Anyone with a stupid little-girl bag like that would probably believe anything," she says.
Excerpted from Zombie Blondes by Brian James. Copyright © 2008 Brian James. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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