But he wasn't beaten yet. Practice, practice, practice that's what he had to do. He could still make it if he tried hard enough.
The arena filled. Everyone was so wound up. A few fights broke out, but they were quickly put down, often by other people in the crowd. Even now, with every seat sold, the concert could be called off at any second.
When Earle came on the stage, the noise welled up like a climax before a single note had been played. He held out his hands and waited for the uproar to subside.
"We're going to play you a few songs," he said. "And it's going to be the performance of a lifetime."
He turned around, lashed out with his arm, and the band burst into the first number. The crowd roared. "He's great! He's so great!" screamed Lizzie.
"He's fantastic!" yelled Adam.
The people, the adrenaline, the noise. He'd never seen anything like it. He wondered if anyone ever had. Around them the crowd surged to its feet, and they jumped up with it, everyone laughing, weeping, yelling, dancing. And this was only the first song.
The concert was brilliant. Jimmy seemed to be singing his whole life up there in the space of a couple of hours. The noise got louder and louder as they neared the magic time ten thirty when he was supposed to die. Death was accurate; you could work out when you were going to go pretty much to the minute. Was he mad enough committed enough to have really taken Death?
With Jimmy, you could never tell.
As the last few minutes ticked by, the band launched into their current single, "Something to Live For." Jimmy howled and strutted his way through the song. Ten thirty came and he sang on. It was all a publicity stunt of course!
But just when everyone was certain, the song died in his throat. He staggered. There was a gasp from the crowd. Jimmy almost fell, but then drew himself erect, and clamped the mike to his chest. The band petered out. Out of the speakers came a rapid beat.
Jimmy's heart. It sounded as if it was trying to hammer its way out of his chest.
The band started a countdown.
"Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . ." The crowd went crazy.
"Don't do it, Jimmy! Don't leave us!" someone yelled.
". . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one."
Jimmy Earle looked up at the crowd and grinned. He spread his arms as if to say, Fooled ya! Then he tipped forward and fell flat on his face.
There was a moment of stunned silence. People stood at their seats, waiting for him to get up. Was it another trick? It had to be another trick. A beefy paramedic rushed onto the stage, flipped Earle over onto his back, and started chest compressions. They could see it all up there on the big screens, a hundred times larger than life. The guy was pounding on Earle's chest like he meant to break his ribs.
The crowd started up again, a different noise this time a deep, nervous buzz, punctured with shouts and screams, building quickly. Onstage, one of the guitarists crossed himself, unplugged his guitar, and walked off. The drummer climbed down from his seat, came to the front, and said something into the mike. They couldn't quite make it out, but it sounded like, "Congratulations." The crowd was getting louder by the second. Someone nearby yelled, "I love you, Jimmy, I love you!" A girl just in front of them screamed, "Take me with you, Jimmy! I want to go, too!"
Some Red Cross people came running up the aisles but they didn't make it to the stage. Chaos broke out. The crowd surged for-ward and up toward the stage, trying to get to Jimmy. People were begging him to get up, begging him to live, demanding their money back. Security reacted furiously, lashing out, throwing people down.
Excerpted from The Hit by Melvin Burgess. Copyright © 2014 by Melvin Burgess. Excerpted by permission of The Chicken House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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