7:00 p.m.: Two hours to go . . .
In two hours' time I-and the rest of the Brotherhood-will kidnap a terrorist.
Our code name for this terrorist is SNAKE. By kidnapping SNAKE tonight, we-the Brotherhood of the Religion of Hebetheus-will prevent a bomb from going off at St. Sebastian's Secondary School. If I lean out of my bedroom window and look beyond the jagged patchwork of rooftops, I can see its metal railings, waving treetops, green playing fields. I picture what might have been, papier-mached out of TV images. Red blood sprayed across red brick. Parents hugging teenagers. EMTs lifting them into ambulances. Smoke spiraling up across a blistered sky. We will prevent all that.
I reach under my bed and pull out the wooden box, sifting through rustles of tissue paper. When Jeremiah first passed it on to me, I had this compulsion to just look at it. Sometimes two, three times a day. Just opening the box made my hands shake with anticipation. The virgin glint of the knife, arrowing through the paper, caused a firework to explode inside me; long after I'd put it back and tucked it under my bed, little sparks would fly through me for the whole day.
But over the last few days, whenever I've taken it out, I feel blank. I stare down at it now-nothing. Just a bit of metal trapped in a wooden handle.
I look at the posters on my walls and think: Slash them! Will that bring the knife back to life? Then I remember Jeremiah's words: We must keep acting as though everything is normal. A slip by just one of us will destroy our sacred mission.
I slice up air. Picture the blade held against a brown throat. How light or hard should I press it so as to provoke fear but not draw blood?
I hold it up so it catches the last of the sunset, narrowing my eyes until the silver blurs into a thinner knife of pure light. In its shimmers, I see all our faces: Thomas, Martyn, Chris, Raymond. And Jeremiah, our prophet, with his wise eyes and gentle smile.
"Jon! Dinner's ready!"
The knife slips and slices against my thumb, drawing a thin dribble of blood.
I hear a creak on the stairs and quickly shove it under my pillow.
"I've made lasagne-your favorite."
7:15 p.m.: One hour and forty-five minutes to go . . .
"Can you just finish laying the table, Jon? I forgot the serving mat. There. . . . Thank you."
This morning, when it was twelve hours to go, I forced myself to eat a bowl of cereal, but it felt like eating stones and on my way to school I spewed it up in some bushes.
A red trickle has reached the tines of my fork. I quickly look at Mum, but she is engrossed in her own world. She eats like a sad bird, taking tiny little mouthfuls, as though eating is a luxury she feels she doesn't quite deserve.
I press my thumb hard against the fork to stanch the flow from the cut, but my blood laces the lasagne with a salty, metallic taste.
My eyes sweep across the table and I notice that she has done it again. She has laid a third mat. Even though it's been a year. Last night, she brewed up two mugs of Horlicks before going to bed and then pretended that one was for me, even though I hate Horlicks. She still has dinner at 7:15 p.m., even though she's hungry much earlier, because that was the time Dad preferred it.
I take another mouthful and stare out the window. Six months ago, we moved to a new suburban housing estate where every house looks the same. The same red bricks. The same double-glazed windows, outfitted with gray bars to keep burglars out. The trees look pale and anorexic, wilting at being stuck in such a dump. Over the fence, I can see lines of other houses, stick figures moving about, people sitting down to eat, families snacking in front of the TV.
I look at these people and I wonder how they can go through life living the way they do, not doing a jot to change anything. No, they're all too busy dreaming of getting onto reality TV for fifteen milliseconds of fame. I fantasize that my fork swells into a giant metal harpoon that I smash through each house like a missile-
"Was school okay today?" Mum asks.
"Yeah, it was okay," I say. "It's always okay."
Green glitter lights up the sky. The stars shrink and the streetlamps pale away.
People gaze up, mesmerized.
"Guy Fawkes tomorrow," says Mum. "I bought some sparklers. And some sausages. We can have a little fun and a fry-up."
"Uh-huh." I try to thread my fork through another layer of lasagne, but my hand is shaking too violently. The explosion echoes through me, carrying warnings of burning flesh. I feel relief that we are going ahead with the plan, that tonight we will be saving our school. Our first step to saving the world.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Viper Within by Sam Mills. Copyright © 2008 by Sam Mills. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.