And people were taking them. He could see them tipping back their heads and flinging the pill down their necks. "Live fast, die young!" yelled the man. He laughed and threw a handful of the pills into the air. Around him, people scrabbled to pick them up.
"We could have taken it without realizing," exclaimed Lizzie. Adam stared at the black-and-white pill in the palm of his hand. What would it be like to know to feel like Jimmy Earle for one brief, sweet week . . . ?
He flung his hand to his mouth, then grinned madly at Lizzie. He swallowed. She started back, shocked but then he showed her the pill in his hand.
"You bastard," she yelled, and laughed. She stared at the small capsule of craziness in her palm. All those people, just swallowing it! "Do you think it's the real thing?" she said.
"Could be, if Jimmy Earle paid for it. He has the money.
"They looked at each other, shocked by how tempting it was. They'd been there with Jimmy. They'd seen it, they were part of it! If they took Death tonight, they'd be living it, too.
"It's not worth it," said Lizzie. She flung her pill into the crowd. Adam did the same. Death, on a night like this? He wanted to live.
Only, some people said, that was exactly what Death made you do . . .From some way off, they could hear sirens. Reinforcements were on the way. The city was a dangerous place tonight. There was the sudden rat-tat-tat-tat of machine-gun fire. Instinctively, Adam and Lizzie ducked. Up on the roof of the town hall, rat-masked Zealots waved weapons in the air. On another part of the roof, there was a small blaze of fire moving about. It stumbled a few yards, then fell; it looked like slow motion from that height and distance. The crowd gasped as the fire rolled down the steep ledge of the roof, over the edge, and down to the ground.
It was a person. Self-immolation. There were the jokes about cheese and the rat masks, but the Zealots were prepared to die for their beliefs. Every few weeks someone died, killing themselves with fire, or going up as a suicide bomb. It was crazy but you couldn't help respecting them for their commitment to their cause: freedom and food for all!
Above their heads, the loudspeakers began to spit out slogans: "Equality! Freedom! Power to the people! Down with corporate profits and greed! The government is in the pockets of the corporations fight for the right to govern yourselves."
Firearms spat out again from somewhere. People were running to get away. Adam and Lizzie dropped to the ground and followed the crowd out of the square and into Crown Street. Behind them, gunfire started up in earnest. There would be deaths tonight. This was no place for tourists.
* * *
Outside of Albert Square, there were hardly any police at all and the looting went on unopposed. The Arndale shopping center was in pieces; you could walk in and just help yourself. People had brought in cars and vans to carry stuff away wholesale. Adam and Lizzie wandered about the blazing streets, diving in and out of the bro-ken shops, following the crowds. They picked up some scarves from a looted department store, and the anonymity it gave them made them feel untouchable, as if they could spend the rest of their lives living off stolen food like beasts running feral in the trans-formed city.
Later on, the police came back to try to chase the crowds off and make arrests; maybe the war in Albert Square was over. Adam and Lizzie got caught in a camera shop and had to run for it with the uniforms on their tails. But the police got sidetracked by some kids smashing a car. There were so many crimes being committed tonight, the authorities didn't know where to turn.
The night came to an end abruptly. They were tagging along with a crowd running down one of the narrow streets, pursued by a couple of riot police, when another policeman dashed out on them from the side. Adam slipped sideways and got away, but the man grabbed Lizzie by the arm and held on to her.
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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