Kiersten White is known for writing the Camelot Rising, And I Darken, and Paranormalcy YA series, but next year she’ll be releasing her first adult novel. Horror tale Hide is about a high-stakes competition that takes place at an abandoned amusement park. If that creepy setting isn’t enough to draw you in, io9 has an exclusive sneak peek for you today.
First, here’s a description. Again, we must emphasize: abandoned amusement park.
The challenge: spend a week hiding in an abandoned amusement park and don’t get caught.
The prize: enough money to change everything.
Even though everyone is desperate to win—to seize their dream futures or escape their haunting pasts—Mack feels sure that she can beat her competitors. All she has to do is hide, and she’s an expert at that.
It’s the reason she’s alive, and her family isn’t.
But as the people around her begin disappearing one by one, Mack realizes this competition is more sinister than even she imagined, and that together might be the only way to survive.
Here’s a look at the full cover, designed by Scott Biel—followed by the excerpt, in which we meet Mack along with some of her competitors.
Fourteen competitors. Seven days. The list is set. Arrangements have been made for delivery inside the park—food, gas for the generator, blankets and cots and whatever else is needed. Supplies have been gathered for outside the park. Cell phone jammers. Movies and books for the interminable wait. Power washers for the inevitable ending.
The list is distributed, along with photos. Everyone is supposed to memorize it. Few do. They competitors are tacked onto the wall at Ray’s diner one by one. Betting on the outcome is strictly against the rules, but it doesn’t stop them from ranking, making predictions, picking a favorite. The competitors can be divided into two groups.
Those who are best described as aspiring:
A social media fitness model
A graffiti artist
A YouTube prank show host
An app developer-slash-house sitter
A jewelry designer-slash-dog walker
A zealous crossfit instructor
An actress with severe food allergies
Those who are best described as stalled:
A writer with severe people allergies
A boy equal parts banished and lost
The kindest gas station attendant in Pocatello, Idaho
A solar panel salesman
An eternal intern
And Mack, who is nobody, if she has her way
Seventeen hours on a bus to another bus to a third bus to a glorified minivan, and finally Mack is delivered to the middle of the middle of nowhere. She often wonders which is more anonymous: a big city with so many people to notice that no one notices anyone, or the empty countryside where no one lives. Stepping off the van into a swirl of dust, greeted by no one, she suspects the former. She can see for what feels like miles in either direction down the road. Which means she can be seen, as well.
If she doesn’t win, will they give her a bus ticket back? Or will she be stuck here? She doesn’t even know where here is, unsure what state she’s in. It’s green, wildly so, with huge trees and droning insects. It seems flat, but she can’t see beyond the road or the trees.
She sits on the side of the road, clutching the Ox Extreme Sports duffel bag she was given. It contains seven shirts and four pairs of pants, all a weary shade of black. New but already faded, somehow. They feel familiar.
There’s also a toiletries kit, which feels like a tender mercy. There were several granola bars and a bottle of water, but those disappeared a few hours into the seventeen she spent getting here. Hungry is hungry. No point in stretching out what she has when she can have the luxury of a full stomach once.
After an hour, her unease sharpens, pulling ever tighter. No one has come. The trees loom at her back. The road stretches, empty.
Has the game already begun? Has she already lost?
It could be worse. She’s endless miles from where she knows, but she has clothes. Toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, a comb. A sturdy bag. She’s technically ahead of where she was before.
The protest of a much-abused automobile suspension greets her long before another van pulls up. She’s resigned. Either it’s here to pick her up—found!—or to deliver her to the actual game.
It spews out three people and then unceremoniously continues along the infinite road. Two women and a man. A boy, really, Mack gets the sense. He can’t be much younger than she is, and he’s far taller, but something—the boyish part of his hair, the round face, the long-sleeved white button-up worn tucked into ill-fitting, cheap navy slacks—suggests he was dressed by someone else.
One of the women is put together with an artist’s attention to detail. She is as much makeup and hair product as she is person, and Mack’s dazzled by the visual perfection. It’s almost hard to look at her. The other woman wears a black tank top over baggy cargo pants. She limps slightly as she shifts off the road and next to Mack.
The limping woman, her buzzed head emphasizing her large dark eyes, regards Mack without shame. The beautiful woman doesn’t regard Mack at all. She scowls at her phone, holding it ever higher as though reception can be found that way. And the boy looks everywhere but at the women he is with. A fine sheen of sweat is on his forehead, wet spots at his armpits. He looks ready to flee.
Someone here is more terrified than Mack. It’s comforting.
“Fucking kill me, there’s really no reception,” the beautiful woman finally says, still clutching her phone as some sort of talisman. “Lighting is too harsh, anyway.” For the first time, she looks at Mack, who has scooted farther back from the road, almost to the tree line. “Did they tell you anything?”
Mack shakes her head. When the van picked her up at the bus station, the driver had only said, “Oxen Free?” He even asked her what it was, but she mumbled an answer and pretended to fall asleep.
“Ava,” the woman with the buzzed head says.
“What?” the beautiful woman snaps.
The beautiful woman throws both hands in the air. “What?”
The buzzed woman lifts an eyebrow, patience wearing thin. “We didn’t talk in the van, so I’m introducing myself. I’m Ava. And you are…”
Finally, the beautiful woman relaxes, snorting a laugh. “God, sorry, I’m such a bitch when I’m hungry. I’m Ava, too. That’s why I was confused.”
“May the best Ava win, Ava Two.” Buzzed Ava’s wry smile shows dimples deep enough to get lost in.
“I intend to.” Beautiful Ava’s tone is more playful than vicious. She retreats into the trees, snapping several selfies. Buzzed Ava turns to Mack expectantly.
“Mack.” Mack offers her name as a complete sentence, hoping it will be accepted as such.
Buzzed Ava sits on the ground, stretching one leg easily in front of herself and manually positioning the other. “Good to meet you, Mack. I hope I beat you, and it’s not personal.”
Mack doesn’t answer. It’s a competition. Of course they want to win.
Buzzed Ava nods toward the boy, who has crossed the road and is standing on the other side, staring resolutely away from them. His shoulders are turned inward, his posture less anticipation than defeat. Already.
“That’s LeGrand. He got picked up the same time as me, before Ava Two. When I took off my jacket, he twitched so hard looking away, I thought he’d break his neck. Poor kid is terrified of women. Might give him an edge. He’ll be so desperate to avoid seeing us, he’ll never come out.”
“I think he’s gay.” Beautiful Ava sits on the ground next to buzzed Ava. Beautiful Ava is slender and bony. Buzzed Ava is thicker, strong looking. Mack admires and envies the line of her shoulders, the heft of her core. Her looks challenge in a different way than beautiful Ava’s, but both draw attention.
Mack’s own hair is cut short enough that she could be a guy, or she could be a girl. She wears oversized shirts and baggy pants, hands shoved in pockets to throw her shoulders forward and hide her breasts. Ava and Ava hide nothing.
Mack thinks she’ll beat both of them.
“Not gay,” buzzed Ava says, pulling up a long strand of grass and holding it to her mouth. She blows on it, but no sound comes out. “If he’s that scared of female skin, he’s gotta be interested.” She leans back, squinting toward Mack. “What’s your story?” There’s something equal parts playful and appraising in the way a single bold eyebrow raises.
None of these people are Mack’s friends. No one is her friend. No one will be. She can play nice and hope a mumbled answer satisfies buzzed Ava, but she doesn’t think it will. So she goes for the other tactic.
“Fuck off,” Mack answers.
Beautiful Ava scowls, offended by proxy. Buzzed Ava’s look shifts, but not in a threatened or angry way. “Cool.” She turns back to the road.
Mack retreats further into the shade, but in spite of her dismissal, both Avas eventually join her there. The sun is relentless and droning, like the insects around them. After an hour or two, another van bumps along to them. Beautiful Ava runs up to greet it, but it’s the same story. Hired and dropping off. Over the course of the day, three more vans come until finally there are fourteen people waiting. They all seem around the same age, mid-twenties, give or take a few years.
Mack feels more at ease now. With so many people there—several of whom are desperate to establish dominance and be noticed, talking and laughing loudly—she barely registers. Except to buzzed Ava, who brazenly stares at her and winks whenever caught.
When the last van pulls away, everyone looks down the road, waiting.
Five hours later and the mood has shifted considerably. Everyone is sweaty. There’s nowhere to sit but the ground. No phones work. No one has any food or water—though one expertly muscled man increases monetary offers for food by the hour. One of the women, a brunette who looks like a toothpaste commercial with her dazzlingly white smile, cries. Several vow to leave scathing reviews of the experience online. A couple of the men suggest walking down the road to find the nearest town, but fear of missing the competition keeps them in place. Everyone is short-tempered and angry. Except LeGrand, who stays at a distance, looking utterly lost, buzzed Ava, who is taking a nap with her arms for a pillow, and Mack, who knows she’s two full days from being too hungry to function. A ghost of a smile haunts her face.
She can win this.
From the book Hide by Kiersten White. Copyright © 2022 by Kiersten White.
Reprinted by arrangement with Del Rey Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Hide by Kiersten White will be released May 24, 2022; you can pre-order a copy here.
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