My brother was curled up in a ball in the centre of the crowd, the mort lying in the dirt next to him.

I’ll admit that part of me wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening and just walk away. But I quickly came to my senses. Levi was my brother. I had to protect him. Mama would kill me if anything happened to him.

I ran towards the crowd as fast I could, Zizu racing alongside me.

A large woman I recognised from church was waggling her finger at Levi. “What are you doing with this monster? Get away from it!”

I heard someone else saying, “What do you expect? That one has always been a strange boy.”

Another man called out, “We must drive it away, send it out of here!”

Most of the others looked frightened rather than angry. Somehow I knew this could make them more dangerous.

I shoved the large woman out of the way, dropped to my knees and threw my arms around my brother. He was shaking, his face streaked with tears. The mort was still cowering on the ground. It was inches away from me, moaning and writhing. The people around us shouted abuse at it. Zizu darted forward, snapping at their ankles, and most of them drew back.

“What are you doing out here, Levi?” I asked, trying to keep the anger out of my voice. “Where’s Mama?”

Levi drew in a shuddering breath. “Mama is cooking supper. Beyoncé wanted to come with me to find you.”

I couldn’t have heard him correctly. “Did you just say, Beyoncé?”

“Yes. I called my friend Beyoncé. He likes it.”

“You can’t name it that!”

My brother stopped crying and looked up at me, honestly confused. “Why not?”

“Because it’s a boy, that’s why.” I shuddered. I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was that it wasn’t a boy, at least not any more. It wasn’t even human, just a thing.

“Hey!” A man’s voice cut through the voices around us and I saw my teacher, Mr Cele, hurrying towards us. “You people get away from those children!”

The large woman from church stared back at him defiantly, but he waved her away, and one by one, everyone else started to drift off.

“What is going on here, Nyameka?” Mr Cele said to me. I told him. He sighed. “Well, we cannot leave it out here. Come, I will see you safely home.”

I helped Levi to his feet. The remaining onlookers gasped and stepped back as the mort staggered up unsteadily and lurched towards my brother.

“Come on, Beyoncé,” Levi said, holding out his hand.

A couple of men hooted with nervous laughter.

“Don’t touch it, Levi!” I hissed. He ignored me.

No one tried to stop us as we crossed the street. I prayed that the mort would just wander off, go bother someone else. But it stayed glued to Levi’s side.

“Yo, Meka!” I heard someone shout. I saw with horror that a couple of girls from school had joined the remaining onlookers on the side of the road. “That your new boyfriend?”

My face burned with shame. For an instant, I really hated Levi. Why did he have to bring it home? Now everyone would know.

Mr Cele touched my shoulder. “Ignore what they are saying, Nyameka. They cannot help it.”

He gestured at the mort shambling next to my brother. “Seeing ones like this reminds them that they sent their family members away. The ones who were infected. They were only too glad when the Collectors came to take them to the camps.”

“You mean they feel guilty?”


I wondered if Mr Cele was also feeling guilty. He’d had a wife once, but I didn’t know what had happened to her.

My family was lucky. None of my relatives had caught the S Virus, but as a nurse, Mama had had to deal with the first signs of the infection. She was on the frontline, at the heart of the panic and the horror when it first spread.


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