Will McIntosh has become one of our favorite new authors, thanks to books like Defenders and Love Minus Eighty. Now he’s written a young-adult novel called Burning Midnight, and we’ve got the exclusive first look!
In Burning Midnight, mysterious spheres have shown up all over the world, and they have miraculous powers. Burn two spheres together, and you can get an inch taller, or a bit smarter, or better looking. Sully supports himself and his mom by selling spheres at a flea market, even though the wealthy Alex Holliday has cornered the sphere market and is trying to drive all the small independent sphere sellers out of business. (And nobody knows where the spheres came from, who made them, or what their end game is.)
Then Sully meets Hunter, a girl who has a natural talent for finding the spheres — and together they find a gold sphere in a Brooklyn water tower. Nobody’s ever seen a golden one before, and nobody knows what this sphere can do. Alex Holliday will stop at nothing to get the sphere for himself — and it turns out the fate of the world depends on it.
So here’s the full cover, in all its excellent glory:
And here’s an excerpt from the book — watch out, it does contain spoilers...
“What is it?” Dom asked, staring up at the tower.
Hunter looked around, approached a woman carrying a shopping bag. “Perdóneme. ¿Qué es eso?”
The woman answered at length. When she finished, Hunter thanked her and turned back to them. “It’s called The Angel of Independence. There’s a spiral staircase in the column that takes you to the observation deck. The angel on top is Nike, a Greek goddess, and she’s holding a wreath directly over the spot where a dude named Hidalgo is buried. He’s the father of Mexican independence.”
Sully had no idea whom Mexico had fought to gain independence. He couldn’t remember being taught much of anything about Mexico in school. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked up. A man and a woman were on the observation deck, which was a small, fenced area. The Angel of Independence was perched on one foot atop the spire, her arms and other leg outstretched. Now that there were people on the observation deck for comparison Sully could see the statue was huge—four or five times as tall as the people. Unlike much of the city, she was bright and clean. She looked like she was made of gold.
“How are we gonna search a public monument?” Dom asked. “I doubt they’re going to let us stop every couple of steps to feel around in the cracks.”
“Maybe it’s hidden around the base, in a hollow part of one of those statues, or a drainpipe,” Hunter said.
There were six statues ringing the base: four women sitting on what looked like thrones, each clutching a sword and a book, and two lions being led by boys. The statues were black, maybe two-thirds the size of the angel at the top, and set about ten feet off the ground. Sully and his friends would have to scale the monument to get to those statues. There was no way they could do that in the middle of the day; they’d have to wait until dark.
“We’re gonna look like terrorists, poking around that thing,” Dom said, shaking his head. He was right. It was a national monument; four teenagers weren’t going to spend hours combing it without drawing attention from the police, day or night.
They’d come all this way, and now it was beginning to look like they’d be stopped a hundred feet from their goal.
Sully’s gaze rose and fell as he scanned the monument from top to bottom, trying to imagine where the sphere might be. Maybe one of the stone steps leading up to the monument was loose, and the Gold was wedged beneath it?
The Gold. It was interesting that the statue at the top was gold-colored. From this distance Sully couldn’t make out many details, but there didn’t appear to be any nooks or crannies on the angel where a sphere could hide. It looked to be all one piece.
Mandy had pulled a camera from her bag, was snapping photos of the monument, fiddling with the focus. It was a nice camera, and she seemed to know how to use it.
“Can I see that?” Sully asked her.
She handed him the camera.
At full zoom, the statue just about filled the viewfinder. The angel was gorgeous. Sully could see the individual feathers on her wings; each had a wispy texture. Her skirt was creased a thousand times, making it look like she was walking into a stiff wind. She was holding the crown high, her arm fully extended. The crown was slightly lopsided.
Sully lowered the camera. “Wait, didn’t you say she was holding a wreath? Did you mean a crown?”
Hunter shook her head. “The woman said a wreath.”
Sully moved a few steps to the right, squinted, and strained to make out the thing in the angel’s hand. It did look like a wreath; he could see leafy edges, which gave it a jagged look. He could just make out something smooth and round partially blocking the hole in the center. . . .
Sully nearly dropped the camera. “Holy crap. Oh, my God.” It was right there, in plain sight. Thousands of people saw it every day.
Hunter’s face was suddenly two inches from his. “You found it. Tell me you found it.”
He held out the camera, his hand trembling. “Look at the wreath.”
Dom took a few steps back, stopped at the curb, squinting up. “The wreath? You mean way up there?”
Hunter lowered the camera, her gaze still raised toward the angel. “We found it.”
“How are we going to get it, though?” Mandy asked as she took the camera from Hunter.
“I’ll get it,” Hunter said. “Or die trying”
Sully studied the photo of Nike, Greek goddess of victory, aka The Angel of Independence, in the glossy souvenir booklet. Among the many other things Sully had learned in the past hour, he now knew where a shoe company had gotten its name. Outside the hotel room window vehicles honked and engines rumbled.
When anyone stepped out onto the tower’s observation deck, The Angel was directly above, reaching out, perched on one foot atop the domed roof of the tower. The observation deck was maybe a dozen feet below that domed roof.
“How far do you think it is from the observation deck to the wreath?” Sully asked. “Can we buy an extension pole, like the kind painters use, and poke the Gold right out of it?”
Mandy studied the photo over his shoulder. “The statue is twenty-two feet tall. Plus you have the top section of the tower she’s standing on. That’s at least another ten feet. I doubt they make extension poles that long.”
No, probably not.
“There’s no other way,” Hunter said. “I have to climb up.”
“But everyone will see you,” Sully said. They kept circling around the same problem. “You’ll get arrested and they’ll take away the sphere.”
In the United States there were laws that said if you found a sphere it was your property, unless you did something illegal to get it. They were assuming the laws were the same in Mexico, and by climbing the statue—which was illegal—they’d risk having the Gold confiscated. They didn’t dare activate their phones to make sure. If Holliday located them, he could jump in his private jet and be in Mexico City in a few hours.
“As soon as I get the sphere, I toss it down,” Hunter said. “Somebody catches it and runs like hell before anyone knows what’s happening.”
“You drop it a hundred and eighteen feet—” Dom began.
“A hundred and forty,” Mandy corrected. “The tower is a hundred and eighteen feet. The statue is another twenty-two.”
“A hundred and forty feet,” Dom went on, “and one of us catches it? That’s going to be quite a trick. And if we miss, it’s going to hit the steps”—Dom ran a finger down the twenty-five or thirty steps that ringed the base of the monument—“and bounce out into traffic.”
Hunter took a breath, locked her hands behind her neck. “Then I stash the marble in my pack. I let them arrest me, and hand off the pack to one of you as they’re taking me away.”
“Will they let you do that?” Mandy asked.
No one answered. They knew a great deal about El Ángel de la Independencia now, but not much about Mexico City police procedures.
“There’s no other way,” Hunter said. “The tower’s locked at night. We have to do it during the day.”
“You can’t climb up there. You’ll kill yourself,” Sully said, still eyeing the photo of the statue.
“I’m a ninja, remember? I’ll tie off on the statue’s planted foot, so if I fall, I won’t fall far.”
Assuming the knot held.
“I’ll do it,” Mandy said. “I mess around on the climbing walls at the gym all the time.”
“No, I’ll go,” Sully said.
“No!” Hunter’s shout startled them. She looked from face to face, her nostrils flared. “This is what I do. You all go to school, you have jobs, you play sports. I hunt marbles. I’ve been in tunnels six stories under New York City. I’ve climbed the rafters over factory floors. I dove into six hundred water towers in the middle of winter.” She chopped her palm with the edge of her other hand. “This is what I do.”
Sully hated the idea, absolutely hated it, but he knew Hunter was going to do it whether or not he supported her. Plus, she was right. He’d watched her go down into that mine in Doodletown like it was nothing, and jump from one eight-story-building roof to the next. She had the best chance of pulling this off. He tried to convince himself that if she was tied off, the worst that could happen was the police confiscated the Gold, and he and the others would have to bail her out of jail. But he’d learned things rarely went the way you planned.
The metal stairs inside the spire were narrow, pie-shaped wedges, the space dim and claustrophobic. Their guide was a skinny man in his sixties with thick gray eyebrows. Two middle-aged women, both Mexican, were the only other people taking the first run of the day up to the balcony that stood in the shadow of El Ángel de la Independencia.
Sully felt light-headed with worry. He and Hunter had made some harrowing climbs up to the water towers of Manhattan, but they were always on ladders. Climbing El Ángel would be different.
As if reading his thoughts, Hunter reached back and took his hand.
They were still holding hands when they reached the top and stepped out the door to the balcony that circled the pillar. El Ángel loomed above them.
The view was dizzying; the vehicles zooming around the roundabout looked like toys. Buildings and trees and glimpses of wide avenues stretched out below, the horizon framed by mountains.
Sully spotted Mandy looking up at him from the steps of the monument. He hoped if it came down to it she’d stick with the plan: if he and Hunter were arrested, she was supposed to run back to the hotel, where Dom was waiting with the Gold.
Hunter squeezed his hand. “Okay. Here we go.”
Sully kissed her impulsively, hitting the side of her mouth. “Be careful.”
Since the balcony circled the top of the spire, wherever the guide was, if Hunter was on the opposite side, he couldn’t see her.
When Hunter entered the guide’s blind spot she reached up without hesitation, gripped the ornamental grillwork set into the spire, and pulled herself three or four feet off the balcony. Sully had worried about how Hunter would navigate the lip on the spire’s roof, which jutted out three or four inches, but it barely slowed her. With the toes of her shoes wedged into the grillwork, she reached up and around, gripped El Ángel’s ankle, and hoisted herself onto the tower roof.
Sully’s heart was galloping as Hunter pulled the cord out of her pack, tied one end around the statue’s ankle, and cinched Sully’s belt around her waist. The other end of the cord was already tied securely to the belt.
She reached into a fold in the statue’s billowing skirt and began to climb.
There were no good footholds low on the statue; Hunter’s foot slipped twice before she gave up and pulled herself up with her arms, like she was doing a chin-up. She managed to hoist her head even with her hands, but there was still nowhere to wedge her feet. Her legs flailed around until she finally swung her left one up so it was level with her hands, and hooked the same crevice.
Hunter lunged for a billowing curve in the skirt three feet higher. She got her fingertips around it. A growl of fear and effort escaped her as she pulled herself up, finally managing to get her right foot into a crevice.
There was a cry of surprise . One of their fellow tourists, a small Mexican woman, was starting at Hunter, one hand covering her mouth.
“¡Baja¡” the woman shrieked at Hunter. “Senorita, baja.”
Hunter was clinging to the side of El Ángel’s skirt from narrow pleats, fifteen feet above Sully’s head. She ignored the woman’s shouts as she shimmied up El Ángel’s bare waist, her body pressed tightly against the slick gold.
“No!” This time the shout came from their guide. “No! ¡Baja ya!”
Hunter reached out and grabbed El Ángel’s bare breast. At another time it might have been a comical sight, but under the circumstances Sully was just grateful the breast was there. The guide went on shouting as Hunter found footholds on the statue’s waistline, then reached and caught its outstretched arm with her left hand. She let go of the breast and gripped the arm with her right hand as well, then pushed off with both feet and swung her legs up so she was sitting on El Ángel’s arm.
Her breath coming in a tight squeal that Sully could hear from thirty feet below, Hunter shimmied out onto the arm, wobbling as it grew ever thinner, until she couldn’t go any farther. The sphere was three feet away. Hunter leaned forward until she was hugging the statue’s forearm with one hand, then reached with the other.
Her fingertips brushed the sphere.
She stretched, stretched, leaning forward.
She lunged. As one hand closed around the Gold, she lost her balance and flipped, swinging underneath the arm. She was hanging upside down, her legs still wrapped around the arm, one hand scrabbling for purchase while she clutched the Gold sphere in the other.
“Hunter!” Sully screamed. “Just drop it! Hang on!”
Hunter lost her grip and fell. She plummeted past Sully, past the edge of the balcony.
The rope went taut. He heard her slam into the side of the tower.
Sully sprinted to the rope, grabbed it with both hands, strained to pull her up.
Hands gripped the rope behind him. The guide and the other tourists helped Sully pull until Hunter’s outstretched hand rose into view. Gasping, she grabbed the balcony’s steel railing. They kept pulling until Hunter came over the top of the railing and dropped to the floor.
Sully knelt beside her. “Are you hurt?”
“I think my arm is broken.” She was cradling her left arm against her body.
The guide said something in Spanish. He was furious.
Hunter answered, then said to Sully, “He wants to know why I was vandalizing their statue.”
Sully nodded. The sphere matched the gold of the statue so perfectly, the guide still didn’t realize what Hunter had been after. The sphere was nowhere in sight. Either she’d dropped it or stashed it in her pack. “Let’s get you to the hospital.” He looked up at the guide. “Hospital? Ambulance?”
Two police officers appeared in the doorway to the stairs, breathless from the climb. The guide went to them, speaking quickly, gesturing at Hunter.
“Can you stand?”
“Yeah,” Hunter said. “Help me up, and immediately take my pack from me, like you’re doing it because of my arm.”
Sully did as she said, gently sliding the pack off her shoulders and draping it over his own as the officers came over. One of them, a stout woman, asked Hunter something.
“Come on,” Hunter said. “She wants us to go down.”
“Are they letting us go?”
“I’m being arrested, but first they’re taking me to the hospital.”
There was only room for one person at a time on the stairs, so a police officer went first, then Sully, in case Hunter fell. Hunter walked gingerly, and seemed woozy, but she made it down on her own.
A crowd had gathered at the bottom. Sully wrapped a hand around Hunter’s waist and helped her toward a police car. He’d been expecting an ambulance, but maybe she didn’t seem hurt enough for an ambulance.
“Perdóname, Señora Agente.”
The police officer who was walking beside Hunter turned toward the voice. Sully glanced over his shoulder.
His knees almost buckled.
Alex Holliday was approaching the officer, accompanied by two men in dark suits.
“Damn it,” Hunter hissed. “How the hell did he find us?”
Hunter listened carefully as Holliday spoke to the officer in rapid Spanish.
“No,” Hunter nearly shouted. She stepped toward Holliday and the officer, shaking her head and protesting.
“What is it?” Sully asked, staying close.
Hunter turned to Sully. “He’s telling them I’m wanted in the United States on felony drug charges. That I’m probably high on meth right now.” She turned and shouted something at the police officer.
Holliday reached out to shake the officer’s hand, and slipped something into it as he did. The gesture was subtle, but Sully caught it. The police officer smiled as if she and Holliday were old friends. She nodded, said something.
Sully could see this wasn’t going their way. “Run,” he said to Hunter under his breath.
Burning Midnight comes out on February 2, 2016.