Excerpt: Deadlands by Lily Herne

02 Mar

Hey Everyone! 🙂

I’ve got permission from Penguin Books SA to post an excerpt of Deadlands by Lily Herne for you! In case you missed the review which I posted yesterday, read it here. 🙂

Deadlands should be on the shelves in practically every good bookshop across South Africa, and if it isn’t, give ’em a piece of your mind! 😉

Without further a-do, here’s the excerpt:


(This excerpt is from Chapter Eight)

When I arrived home, brain buzzing with the day’s events, Dad was on his way out of the house. It was strange to see him without the Mantis hovering behind him.

‘Lele.’ He nodded at me as if we were just acquaintances instead of father and daughter. ‘School okay?’

I shrugged. ‘Dad, can I ask you a question?’


‘Do you really believe life is better now?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Was life really so bad before the Rotters came?’

He shrugged. ‘There were problems, yes. Violence, of course. HIV. Unemployment. Drugs. Poverty.’

He sounded like one of the crap pamphlets the Resurrectionists handed out at their rallies. ‘So you’re saying that you really believe we’re better off? I mean, even though we can’t leave the enclave, and with the Lottery and everything?’

He plucked at the empty arm of his jacket. ‘In some ways, yes.’

‘But how can you say that after Mom . . . And after what the Guardians did to Jobe!’

He sighed. ‘There is always a price to pay, Lele.’

‘What kind of answer is that?’

‘I have to go,’ he said.

‘Where to?’

‘I’m on fence patrol tonight.’

I shivered. News of the city’s Rotter break-in four years earlier had reached the Agriculturals, and the thought of it had given me nightmares ever since. A pack of Rotters had slipped through a hole in the fence at the far reaches of the city and gone on a killing spree before the Guardians finally showed up and stopped them.

‘Checking to see the Rotters don’t break in?’ I said.

Dad sighed. ‘Don’t let your mother hear you calling them that, Lele.’

‘She’s not my mother.’

He sighed again. ‘I must go. I’m going to be late.’

I watched him walk away, shoulders hunched like a far older man, before heading for my room.

Jobe and Chinwag were already snoozing on my bed, curled up together, Jobe’s hand lightly clasping the kitten’s front paw. Carefully, so as not to wake them, I got down on my hands and knees and rummaged under the bed for Gran’s old leather suitcase. It was filled with the stuff she’d managed to salvage during the War. Unzipping it, I lifted out the dress that was folded on top – the one Mom had worn when she and Dad had gone to their Matric dance a million years earlier. It was made of shiny emerald green material that caught the light and seemed to shimmer like a reflection on water. It was no longer wearable, the fabric had given way to time in places, but it still smelled very faintly of perfume and smoke – my mother’s scent. That was all I had of her. No memories; I couldn’t remember her at all, not even a little bit. I didn’t even have a photograph of her as they’d all been destroyed in the fire that had ravaged the city.

I dug out my old history book, and climbed onto the bed next to Jobe. He muttered something in his sleep, but I couldn’t make out the words clearly. Then he snuggled closer to Chinwag, and his eyelids flickered as if he was dreaming.

I paged through to my favourite section – the first-person anecdotes. The first one was the story of Jacob White, the guy who had worked in the city morgue. He’d been one of the first to discover the reanimated corpses. No one had believed Jacob at first, thought he was on drugs and seeing things, and he’d only managed to get away at the last minute, climbing through the narrow window in the morgue toilets after being trapped in a stall for hours. Next there was the account of a rich businesswoman who’d evaded the dead for two weeks, sealed in the living room of her Camps Bay mansion, living off tins of asparagus and packets of cashew nuts, the reanimated corpses of her chauffeur and housekeeper moaning at her from outside the locked door. Some were too awful to read again, like the eyewitness account of someone who had seen a group of religious fanatics rushing out to greet the dead, convinced that this was the coming of the Rapture, only to be turned into more walking corpses. Or the stories of the mass suicides that had taken place in the wealthy suburbs and the unstoppable fires that had raged through Langa and Gugulethu, destroying the dead and living alike.

I flipped through to my favourite story.

Name: Levi Sole

Occupation: Schoolchild

Age: 14

Nationality: Malawian

NOTE: Levi was questioned three months after he and his father were relocated to the Cape Town city enclave. His story begins after they were rescued from the informal settlement fires that raged through the city two days after the dead started rising.

After the fire started, we escaped to the big soccer stadium. All around us the city burned; even the mountain was on fire. The smoke was so thick in the air that many of us were struggling to breathe. And the air was hot, like it was the middle of summer. But the heavy smoke meant that we did not have to see the horrible things on the roads. I mean, I was trying to be brave. I was too old to be scared, but I was glad for the smoke. Already I had seen my neighbour struck down, her stomach spilling from between her fingers, and then, as she stood up again, her eyes rolled back in her head as if she was mad. And with her guts outside her body, she walked away. Impossible things were happening.

When we arrived at the stadium my father and I spent many hours looking around for my brother, but he had been taken away on one of the other buses, and we could not find him.

We never found him.

There were so many of us! Most, like me, came from Khayelitsha; others from all over Cape Town. There were white people, black people, coloured people, refugees like us from Zimbabwe, the DRC and Malawi, rich tourists who had come out here for the World Cup soccer, old people, children, babies (some without mothers), sick people and the dying. We stayed there for three weeks, fighting off the Dead Ones who managed to break in. Many of us died. But the Dead Ones weren’t our only problem. We had very little food and water, and the smell of the toilets was terrible. It was bad, and many got sick. And then, just when we thought we would starve to death, just when some were saying that they would kill themselves, the first of the Guardians came to us. We didn’t know what to think of them at first. Whether to trust them or not. We knew, in our hearts, that they were not people like us, but they did not try to kill us like the Dead Ones. They wore robes like priests and did not speak to us. But they brought us food. There were many fights at first over the food, but those who caused trouble were taken away quickly. At first people called them the Shepherds, as they would guard us from the Dead Ones, as if we were sheep. But then people started to call them the Guardians.

Then we were moved out of the city, and the stadium was destroyed. Some were taken far away, to the agricultural enclaves, but me and my father, we were brought to what was to become the city enclave. At first we did not recognise where we were. The ground was black and burned, the buildings and many of the trees were gone. Then we realised! We were back in Khayelitsha! The first thing we did was try to find our old house, but nothing was the same.

At first life was like being back in the refugee camps, like the one my father and I came to when we left Malawi for the first time, and where we were sent for a short time in Messina. We all had to camp together in these very large army tents and those who were not injured were sent to work. I was sent to work building the fence – which was small at first, not like it is today. After all this time, I do not know if the fence was created to keep us in, or to keep the dead out. But either way, I was helping to build a prison, of that I am sure.

Some say it is aliens that made the dead wake up. Or maybe it was an angry god or demons. Just like some say that it is God who sent the Guardians to save us. Like I have said, I have seen many terrible things during this time and life will never be as it was. You see –

My door creaked open, and I quickly shoved the book under my pillow.

‘Are you awake, Leletia?’ The Mantis entered the room.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

‘Were you reading something?’ she asked. She never missed a trick.

‘Just history homework,’ I said.

‘I see. And why would you want to hide that?’

Crap. I had to think fast. ‘I thought you’d be angry if you saw I was still awake?’

‘But it’s still early. And you didn’t eat supper.’

‘Not hungry.’

‘Everything okay at school?’


She was looking slightly antsy about something, which wasn’t like her at all. ‘The embassy is showing a film tomorrow evening,’ she said. ‘I thought it would be nice if all of us went together.’

What she meant was that it would look weird if I didn’t show my face – I knew she wanted everyone to think we were some sort of happy family.

‘Okay,’ I said. The thought of seeing a movie again was too much of a temptation to resist.

‘Wonderful!’ she smiled at me. She didn’t look like such a bitch when she smiled.

‘Is that it?’ I asked.

‘Leletia, it would mean so much to your father if we could just get along.’

‘Okay,’ I said, remembering Thabo’s advice from earlier in the day to ‘play their game’. ‘That’s fine by me.’

The look of shocked surprise on her face almost made the lie worth it. But now there was something else on my mind. The thought of Thabo had made my stomach do that swooping thing. I remembered the feel of his breath on my cheek and his cute lopsided grin. And sometimes, I wasn’t absolutely sure, but sometimes I thought I could sense him looking at me.

‘Cleo? Can I ask you a question?’


This was embarrassing. ‘How do you know if someone likes you?’

‘What do you mean, Lele? You mean, like a boy?’

‘Or a girl.’

She started slightly, but her smile didn’t slip. ‘I think the question you should ask yourself is if you like . . . this person,’ she said. She touched the area just below her ribs. ‘You feel it here. Your stomach dances, and if it lasts for more than a week, then you could have something special.’

‘Okaaaay,’ I said. ‘But what if he – or she – likes you. How can you tell?’

‘You can see it in their eyes. They flicker. Like a light going on.’ The Mantis’s voice had become almost dreamy, and for a couple of seconds I thought I could actually see what it was Dad saw in her.

‘Is that how you felt when you met Dad?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she said simply.

‘Thanks,’ I said, faking a yawn. There was no way we were going to get all pally-pally suddenly. She could forget that idea. ‘I should get some sleep.’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Good night, Leletia – Lele.’

She crept out, closing the door softly behind her. As soon as she was gone I pulled the book out from underneath the pillow and turned back to the page I had been reading. One day, I thought, I’d like to meet the guy who wrote this story. Go up to him and say, thanks. Thanks for being honest and not messing with the truth.

Hope you enjoyed that! You can read another excerpt of Deadlands over at Book SA – just follow this link. 🙂

Remember, Deadlands is available right now, so make sure you get your copy ASAP; you can also order your copy from Exclusive Books’ through their website at this link.



Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Excerpt


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3 responses to “Excerpt: Deadlands by Lily Herne

  1. Lelethu Gawu

    August 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Ah’m reading the book right now. What is the Mantis?

    • Dave-Brendon de Burgh

      August 20, 2013 at 8:49 am

      Hi, Lelethu. 🙂 The Mantis is just a nickname given to Lele’s step-mother, mostly a description of how she moves, etc. 🙂 Glad you’re reading the book! Book two is already out (Death of a Saint) and book three is almost out! 🙂


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