Breath

by Jackie Kessler

In the fourth and final volume of the Riders of Apocalypse series, high school senior Xander Atwood has a secret. Death, the Pale Rider, has lost his way. What happens when the two meet will change the fate of the world.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547970431
  • ISBN-10: 0547970439
  • Pages: 336
  • Publication Date: 04/16/2013
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren’t just harbingers of doom—they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal?

         Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has finally decided that humanity is not worth the price he has paid time and again. When Death himself gives up on life, a teenager named Xander Atwood is the world's only hope. But Xander bears a secret, one that may bring about the end of everything.

         This heart-pounding final installment of the Riders of the Apocalypse series looks at the value of life, the strength of love, and how a small voice can change everything . . . forever.
  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    PROLOGUE:
    NOW

    Xander Atwood hated heights. Always had. Ever since he was a kid and chickened out of jumping off the high diving board at the community pool—much to the irritation of the kids behind him who had to make way as he climbed down the ladder, shamefaced—Xander staunchly preferred for the ground to be within easy reach. Going to the top floor of buildings was fine, as long as it wasn’t in one of those funky glass-walled elevators. Driving over bridges gave him fits. Airplanes were right out. Let others soar with the eagles; Xander was perfectly content with an ant’s-eye view.

    So the fact that he was leaning over the balcony railing of his parents’ apartment building, thirty floors above the street, was a very big deal.

    “So,” he said. “Want to talk about it?”

    “Not really,” replied Death.

    1
    THE MÖBIUS STRIP

    Möbius Strip: a one-sided surface that is constructed from a rectangle by holding one end fixed, rotating the opposite end through 180 degrees, and joining it to the first end.


    —Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

    A sound, like the screech of tires—or maybe the boom of a door slamming shut. Impact, then echoes of contact, then nothing.

    And then, a beep.

    And another.

    And again, until the beeping became an insistent shrill.

    And then…

    XANDER

    Xander Atwood woke with a start. He inhaled quickly, as if he’d forgotten that he’d been holding his breath, and he swatted his alarm clock until he hit the “off” button. The shrilling beep cut off mid-shriek. Success. He exhaled slowly, then grinned. Today was the big day.

    He was finally going to ask Riley out.

    Xander hopped out of bed and ducked into the shower. As he shampooed, he went over the plan: During fifth period, when they were both in the library for study hall, he’d casually mention that he was going to grab some pizza after school, and maybe Riley would like to join him. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a date, but it was a start.

    All Xander had to do was not vomit all over his sneakers, then he’d be all set.

    No problem. He’d be fine. Calm. Cool. Not at all freaked out from the thought of talking to Riley Jones.

    His belly flipped from nerves.

    Maybe he shouldn’t eat breakfast, just in case.

    Five minutes later, he was grabbing his clothing. Definitely the royal blue t-shirt, the one that made the blue in his eyes pop. He’d heard Riley mention in passing that there’s nothing better than gorgeous eyes, so Xander wanted to play that up. His friend Ted would bust a gut if he knew that Xander was obsessing over what to wear, but hey, Ted wasn’t the one who was going to be asking Riley out for pizza.

    Which Xander would absolutely not be too nervous to eat.

    He got dressed, then looked in the mirror and frowned at the fresh crop of pimples on his brow. Thank God for long hair. Xander busted out the gel and spent ten minutes working on his hair until he got it to that perfect style, the one that looked like he spent no time on his hair and managed to hide the zits.

    He could practically hear Ted’s guffaws as he told Xander that he was being such a girl. Of course Ted would say that; he never worried about anything. Ted was strictly a play-it-by-ear sort of guy, whereas Xander liked to plan his spontaneity. Could he help it if he had a thing for details?

    Xander glanced at the clock. He had about five minutes before he had to leave, twenty if he didn’t want to stop at Dawson’s for coffee before school. More than enough time for him to practice his smile.

    Yikes—way too much tooth.

    He tried again. Now he looked like he was constipated.

    Third time was the charm. Smiling his winning smile, he launched into his Asking-Riley-Out-But-Not-Really question. After a few tries, he thought he nailed the inflection, making it sound like he was interested but not too interested. He figured Riley would answer in one of four ways.

    ***

    SCENARIO 1: All Goes Well

    XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

    RILEY: Sure! Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?

    ***

    SCENARIO 2: Delayed Gratification

    XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

    RILEY: Thanks, wish I could, but I can’t today. I’ve got track.

    XANDER: Maybe another time.

    RILEY: That would be great. Hey—are you wearing contacts, or are your eyes really that blue?

    ***

    SCENARIO 3: Could Be Worse Somehow

    XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

    RILEY: No.

    ***

    SCENARIO 4: Kill Me Now

    XANDER: Hey, Riley, I’m gonna grab some pizza after school. Want to come?

    RILEY: …Sorry, do I know you?

    ***

    He thought those possibilities covered the bases. Even though part of him was terrified that Riley would opt for either scenario 3 or 4—thus the potential for puking—the rest of him focused on having a fifty-percent chance of either scenario 1 or 2 coming to pass. Fifty-fifty: that was basically a flip of the coin.

    He spotted his pile of change on his nightstand, and he plucked a bright penny from the top of the heap.

    “Heads,” he said, then tossed the coin high. He caught it, slapped it onto the back of his hand, and took a look.

    Heads.

    He flipped it again.

    And again: heads.

    Grinning like a fool, Xander pocketed the coin. Yeah, today was the day. His lucky day. He felt it.

    He stuffed his backpack for the day’s classload: his evil math textbook, massive enough to be a doorstopper; his equally massive but less evil philosophy textbook, which he actually enjoyed reading; his sketchbook, along with his set of HB pencils and two erasers; his overstuffed, overworked looseleaf binder. Finally, he plucked a novel off his nightstand—Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens, which he was rereading for the gazillionth time—and jammed it into his knapsack. He grabbed his wallet, made sure he had his keys, and then he quietly headed downstairs. He took pains to avoid the creaky steps, because he didn’t want to wake his mom; she hadn’t been sleeping well since her very-pregnant belly had started entering a room before the rest of her. Xander didn’t worry about waking his dad; that man slept like the dead. Then he was out the door and on his way.

    The entire time he walked to Dawson’s Pizza, he played and replayed the possible scenarios of him (kinda sorta not really) asking Riley out. By the time he got to the pizzeria—open for breakfast starting at the crack of dawn—he was feeling thoroughly nauseated. What if Riley laughed at him? Or, worse: pitied him?

    What if the answer wasn’t just No, but Hell, No?

    He squeezed the lucky penny in his pocket and told himself to stop worrying. Today was his lucky day; there was nothing to worry about.

    He walked into Dawson’s and waved to a handful of guys clumped around tables, but the group he was looking for was off in the corner by the window, basking in the morning spotlight. There was Ted, darkly casual, all lean good looks and radiating mischief, smiling wickedly as he tried to steal a homefry. Across from him, petite Suzie slapped his hand away and stuck out her tongue. Next to her, Izzy laughed and shook her head, her sloppy ponytail swinging across her shoulders.

    Xander grinned. The table changed daily, but the group was always the same: the four of them, kicking off the...

  • Reviews
    PRAISE FOR THE RIDERS OF THE APOCALYPSE SERIES
     
    Praise for Hunger:

    An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

    * "Realistic and compassionate. . . . the writing is never preachy, and it allows an interesting exploration of both intensely personal food issues and global ones."
    SLJ, starred review

    "Jackie Morse Kessler does a fine job of taking a critical issue that has been explored in writing no small number of times, and putting a new and thought provoking spin on it. . . . Sheer genius."
    New York Journal of Books

    "Powerful, fast-paced, hilarious, heart-wrenching. . . . This story will grab the reader and never let go."
    Romantic Times Magazine

    "Hunger is not just a good book. It is a great book. It is funny and sad, brilliant and tragic, and most of all, it speaks truth. . . . I adore it."
    Rachel Caine, author of The Morganville Vampires

    "A fantastic and gripping read that never shies from its difficult subject matter. . . . This book is a knockout."
    A.S. King, author of Everybody See the Ants

     

    Praise for Rage:

    A Junior Library Guild Selection

    An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

    "Rage is raw and real, a truly dark, honest look at self-harm and the teenage psyche. Kessler left me breathless."
    Heather Brewer, author of the New York Times bestselling series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod

    "The elegant mix of dark humor, brilliantly developed characters, and just enough moral threads to lead readers to make their own conclusions is impressive."
    Bulletin

    "Raw, visceral, pulling no punches, this story strikes home like a razor blade. It’s unforgettable, heart wrenching, and enlightening."
    Realms of Fantasy

     

    Praise for Loss:

    "Kessler blends fantasy, history, humor, and hard reality into a gripping tale."
    SLJ

    "Jackie Morse Kessler has a keen eye for capturing the awkward uncertainty of adolescence, which she wraps quite deliciously in a coating of mystery, fright, and suspense. Loss is a treat for readers, a one-of-a-kind, twisty turny carnival ride. . . . I loved this book."
    —Andrew Smith, author of The Marbury Lens

    "Whip-smart and elegant."
    —Saundra Mitchell, author of The Vespertine

    "Gritty and raw with powerful truths. An addictive read."
    —Sophie Jordan New York Times bestselling author of Firelight


     Praise for Breath:

    A Junior Library Guild Selection 

    "A riveting read."
    —Kirkus Reviews

    "Kessler has crafted a complex and gritty story that is a fitting end to a series. . . [Breath] will leave readers thinking."
    VOYA

    "The series is a strong and unique attempt to encourage troubled teens to consider their options and accept the help they need, while exposing all readers to the pain their friends may be experiencing."
    —Booklist

    "A fast-paced story that captures the darkness of young adulthood while effectively weaving in supernatural elements. . . . This quartet comes highly recommended."--RT Magazine


     
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