As part of the blog tour for the Red Eye series of books I’m delighted to present an extract from the utterly thrilling Sleepless by Lou Morgan. My review for Sleepless will follow on later today, but in the meantime sample a taster of this compelling, addictive and TERRIFYING story for yourself…
Extract: Sleepless by Lou Morgan
They were in the garden outside Juliet’s place, and it was Juliet’s birthday. The lower floor of all the townhouse-style apartments on this side of the Barbican opened straight out on to the large residents’ garden – each had their own small square of paving, and then the whole of the shared garden spread out in front of them. Tigs might have the best view, but Juliet had the grass. There were rules about using the garden at night – almost all of which came down to the fact that no one was supposed to. Most of the group were lounging under the spreading walnut tree that shaded the path around the edge of the lawn. Juliet went inside to fetch another jug of revoltingly sweet fruit punch from the kitchen. And, feeling bad that it was Juliet’s birthday party and everyone seemed to be treating her like some kind of waitress, Izzy went to help. When they emerged from the kitchen, Dom leaped to his feet.
“Sweet sixteen, baby!” he whooped at Juliet as he stumbled through the branches and ducked inside. He was doing a lot of that – making excuses to go in and out, past them at every opportunity. And every time he did, he said something to Juliet. And every time he did that, she turned bright red beneath her glasses and fiddled with the edge of the dress she’d bought specially. Not to impress Dom, of course – despite the fact that it was dark green, his favourite colour, and printed all over with tiny red roses.
“Uh-huh…” said Izzy, nudging her.
“Shut up,” Juliet mumbled into her hair. She turned an even deeper shade of red.
Tigs looked from Izzy to Juliet, and then turned to watch Dom’s back disappear into the kitchen. “Really? Dom?”
“What?” Juliet’s voice changed at the merest hint of disapproval from Tigs. “What’s wrong with Dom?”
“Oh. Nothing. I mean … he’s not my type but if you like him…”
Izzy sighed. Typical Tigs – to take something Juliet was excited about and squash it like a bug. “Shut up, Tigs.”
The evil look Tigs shot her didn’t go unnoticed, either, but Izzy turned back towards Juliet and took the jug of punch out of her hands. “I say go for it,” she said with a grin. “Don’t listen to her! Go enjoy your birthday or something.” Izzy gave Juliet a gentle shove towards the others. She watched Juliet flop down on to the grass beside Mia, smiling and smoothing out the skirt of her new dress.
“You know, you can be a real bitch, Tigs.”
“What? Just because I’m not sucking up to Juliet?”
“Seriously. Shut up. This whole ‘mean girl’ act gets a bit old sometimes.”
“Who says it’s an act?” Tigs shot back.
“Why d’you care what she thinks, anyway? Look at her – she doesn’t care what we think, does she?” Tigs nodded towards Juliet, who was sitting under the tree opening a birthday card. The shadows cast by the fairy lights and the flickering candles danced across the ground behind her. For a second, they almost looked like fingers reaching out for her – stretching out across the grass and up her back, catching in her hair.
And then Izzy leaned forward to dodge the party poppers that Noah had let off over her head and the illusion was broken.
Dom stuck his head back out through of the door. “D’you think it’s dark enough yet?” he asked, peering up at the evening sky. Izzy followed his gaze. From the gardens, even the lowest blocks of the Barbican loomed six storeys overhead. Directly behind them, Lauderdale Tower – where Izzy and Grey lived – looked like it was tall enough to pierce the clouds. (Although Tigs would always be quick to point out that Shakespeare Tower was, in fact, taller and therefore obviously better.) Even though it was June, and the day had been hot and sunny, there wasn’t a whole lot of evening sunlight to be found in the gardens and at ground level, dusk was gathering fast. Across the gardens, the lights on the front of the Barbican Centre itself glowed through the trees.
“Dark enough for what? You’ll have to wait ages if you want it to get properly dark. Best you’re going to get for a while is slight gloom.” Izzy realized she was talking to an empty doorway, so stepped inside to see exactly what he was up to.
“Can’t have a birthday party without a cake, can you?” Dom was rummaging around in a supermarket carrier bag. Eventually, he found what he was looking for – a packet of pink candles – and stuck them all over the top of the cake he’d unpacked.
“Pink?” Izzy flicked one of the candles with her fingernail.
“She’s a girl, isn’t she?”
“Not all girls love pink, you know.”
“I’m kidding. It’s fine – she’ll love it.”
“So, Juliet does like pink?”
“You got her a birthday cake and candles, Dom. I don’t think she’s going to care what colour they are.” She watched his face light up. So maybe there was something there after all. “You should ask her out.”
“What? No. I… I couldn’t…” He was suddenly deeply interested in lighting the candles.
“What if she said no?”
“Trust me, Dom.” Izzy patted him on the shoulder and held the door to the garden open for him. She could see Juliet looking around for someone – and Izzy didn’t think for one second that Juliet was looking for her. “She’s not going to say no.”
As he stepped past her, carefully carrying the cake in front of him, Dom’s face glowed red in the candlelight. A chorus of voices (some less in tune than others) started to sing “Happy Birthday” and Juliet clamped her hands over her mouth in happy surprise.
The cake, as it turned out, was so good that even Tigs couldn’t resist it. “It’s fine,” she said as she licked chocolate icing off her fork. “I found some of Mother’s diet supplements in the cupboard. They just burn the fat off you.”
“You ever look what’s in those things?” Grey asked, leaning back on his elbows and staring up at the branches overhead.
Tigs shrugged. “Like I said before – if they weren’t safe, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell them.”
“But they’re not, are they? You can’t exactly get all this stuff in Boots, can you? You’re buying it from some dodgy place on the internet.”
“I didn’t see you complaining when I came up with the FokusPro,” Tigs sniffed back at him. “You all took it, didn’t you?”
No one answered.
“Well. Everyone except Kara,” said Mia, quietly. As one, they all looked at her. “What?’ She sounded defensive. “She said she didn’t like the idea. That it felt like cheating.”
“So she didn’t take any of them?” Noah blinked at Mia as though he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. Even Noah, their very own genius, had struggled enough with the pressure and the sheer amount of revision that he’d taken the pills. And if he’d needed them…
“I guess that explains her little outburst in the exam hall then, doesn’t it?” said Tigs. She was still licking her fork, even though it was by this point the cleanest fork in the history of all forks. “She just couldn’t hack it.”
“And nobody’s seen her since? Don’t you think we should check up on her?” Izzy shifted uncomfortably. The grass was starting to feel damp. Clammy. The sky had darkened another shade, and now the shadows around the edges of the garden were thicker and heavier than they had been earlier.
Izzy had never really been in the gardens when they were empty – it had always been daytime, and there were was always people someone coming and goingaround. Not manyIt wasn’t crowded, true, but there was always a feeling that you weren’t really alone in the middle of the Barbican. Now, however, the gardens felt deserted – even knowing that there were people on the lakeside terrace, getting drinks or having a meal. Even knowing there were people faces behind so many of the windows that overlooked the gardens, passersby eople on the walkways above, somehow, the garden felt hostile, as though they were intruders.
Maybe it was because Izzy knew she’d felt exactly the same as Kara when Tigs handed out those packets of pills. That it felt like cheating. And she’d still taken them, anyway. Kara hadn’t. Kara had done what she thought was the right thing – what even Izzy thought was the right thing – and look where it had got her.
The others felt the change, too. She could tell. Everyone was suddenly a little less relaxed, a little less comfortable. A breeze shivered the branches above them and made the lights flicker and the jam jars rattle against each other. Juliet looked up at them nervously. “We should probably head inside. I don’t want any of the busybody neighbours complaining…”
“Wait.” Dom was standing with his back to them all, looking out into the garden.
“Dom…” Izzy started, meaning to tell him that now really wasn’t the time to ask Juliet out. But then he made a hissing sound.
He was looking at something.
“Did you see that?” he asked, not moving. Whatever it was, his eyes were fixed on it.
“See what?” Grey ducked past Izzy and stood shoulder to shoulder with Dom, peering into the shadows.
“Over there…” Dom nodded towards the bushes at the far side of the grass.
Disturbing bedtime reading from highly acclaimed author Lou Morgan
Young, rich and good-looking, Izzy and her friends lead seemingly perfect lives. But exams are looming – and at a school like Clerkenwell, failure is not an option. Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the friends begin taking the study drug.
But as the side effects take hold they realize there are far worse things than failing a few exams.
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About the author
Lou Morgan is an award-nominated fantasy and horror author, whose short stories have appeared in several anthologies. Her first novel, Blood and Feathers – an adult urban fantasy – was shortlisted for the 2013 British Fantasy Awards in both the Best Newcomer and Best Fantasy Novel categories