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Only One Survives by Hannah Mary McKinnon

A twisty thriller about the rise and bloody demise of an all-female pop rock group

Start reading Only One Survives and enter for the chance to win a copy. On sale July 16, 2024. Discover this book and more at harpercollins.ca

Truth and oil always come to the surface.
—Spanish proverb

Chapter One

The day of the accident

Something screams at me to open my eyes. Just open your eyes. I don’t want to. Darkness thicker than molasses surrounds me like a cloak. It feels safe. Comforting. As if my brain already knows I can’t handle what I’ll see. If I look, no matter how small or fast of a glimpse, I’ll never forget.

As I press my eyes shut, trying to block out the voice in my head, long spindly shadows emerge from the depths of my mind. They beckon me to follow them, down, down, and I give in, ignoring the screaming as I let myself sink deeper and deeper into the stillness, a place of peace.

Vienna, open your eyes.

It won’t go away. Won’t leave me alone. A thought emerges from the thick fog swirling through my brain. The voice isn’t mine. It’s not inside my head. I raise a hand in a feeble attempt to bat the words away.

“Vienna, wake up,” the voice says, clearer now. “Please, please wake up.”

It’s a herculean effort to do as I’m asked, and as my eyes flicker open, I turn my head, glance over my left shoulder. Madison’s leaning forward and staring at me, her fiery red hair disheveled, her emerald eyes wild, wide with fear and a hint of what might be relief. I’m not sure what to make of the mixture. I’m not sure what to make of anything. I look away, but not before I see tears snake down her cheeks and drop onto her blue hoodie.

“Can you hear me?” she says.

My throat’s dry, rough as sandpaper. I don’t think I can speak but manage to push out a weak-sounding “Yes.” I nod in case Madison didn’t hear, and the movement brings a stabbing pain to the side of my temple. When I touch my head, I feel a tender lump beneath my fingers. Why am I hurt? Why—

Everything returns all at once. A sudden whoosh of thoughts and memories and fear—so much fear—banishing the darkness like birds startled from a tree.

Six of us were in my old Tahoe SUV. The Bittersweet—Madison, Gabi, Evelina, Isabel, and me—plus Libby, the documentary research assistant who’s been shadowing us over the past few weeks. It’s midafternoon in early December, and we were driving from Brooklyn to a holiday party in the Catskills hosted by our record label. A major event Madison insisted we couldn’t miss, no matter what.

No matter the impending storm.

A sequence of images flashes through my mind. Gabi offering to drive because I was tired. The weather turning earlier than expected, and far worse than anything we’d anticipated. Whiteout conditions. Getting lost in the middle of nowhere. A steep, winding, narrow road up a hill. Slippery lanes. Me tightening my grip on the cup of coffee in my hands, opening my mouth to tell Gabi we were perhaps going a little too fast.

And then…

My fists bunch tight as I recall the sudden movement when the Tahoe slid. This is when the memories slow down. It’s as if I’m watching the events unfold from above, all in slow motion. I remember the SUV getting closer and closer to the edge of the road. When I looked out of the passenger window, there was no asphalt left on my side, only the tops of snow-laden trees and a sharp drop below.

Renewed panic rises, making my heart pound. It leaps into my throat, threatening to choke me when I relive the sound of our collective screams as we crashed into the metal barrier.

There was a tiny moment of disbelief. A fraction of an instant when I truly believed we’d be fine, before the barrier gave way, and the Tahoe toppled over the edge of the road, right side first. One second, I thought we’d be all right, we’d be safe, and then we rolled once, twice.

After that…

I search my brain for what came next but there’s nothing.

My coffee cup’s empty, its contents spilled, the scent turning my stomach. At least the vehicle’s upright now, which I’m grateful for, but the front passenger side where I’m sitting is severely crushed, the windshield and front window shattered, half-gone. Thumb-size snowflakes drift in through the holes, landing on my jacket. As I watch them soak into the fabric and disappear, I long to go back into the darkness. Pretend none of this has happened. Maybe if I escape for a while, everything will be back to normal when I wake up.

Except I know it won’t.

“Are you all right?” I ask Madison, turning around again, and she nods.

I look at the others. Gabi’s in the driver’s seat, shoulders trembling, face pale, but she’s not making a sound. Libby’s in the back row, one hand over her mouth as she sobs. Evelina’s slumped face down on the floor, her body twisted at an unnatural angle. There’s blood on her jacket. My gaze searches for its origins but can’t find it.

Madison leans over, touches Evelina’s shoulder, but she doesn’t move. Was she knocked unconscious, too? Is that why it’s taking her longer to wake up? My gaze sweeps the rest of the vehicle, my temple throbbing again. It takes me a moment to spot what else is wrong.

There are five of us.

Five.

There should be six.

“Wh-where’s Isabel?” I say. “Where did she—”

“Look.”

The tone of Gabi’s whisper makes a shiver tear down my spine. She points to the broken windshield, and I follow her line of sight. At first, I’m unsure of what I’m seeing. A jumble of clothes at the base of a tree? It’s what I tell myself until I register the bright teal color. The exact shade of the puffer jacket Isabel wore when we left Brooklyn. The coat she refused to take off, even after we cranked up the heat.

“No,” I say, wrestling with my seat belt, breaking free. “No, no, no, no.”

Scrambling, I heave myself up and climb over Gabi, hands yanking on the driver’s door. Mercifully, her side opens, and I jump out.

Driven by pure adrenaline, all temptation of going back to the darkness banished for good, I run to the heap of clothes—the heap I know is Isabel—gasping as I fall to my knees at her side.

A tree branch thicker than my arm is embedded in the left side of her chest where her heart should be, her shirt torn and spattered with deep red. Her eyes are open, staring at the gray skies above, but she doesn’t blink. She doesn’t move.

A guttural scream rises from deep within me, and I put my head back to let it escape. Before it can emerge, the smell of smoke makes the noise wither and die in my throat.

The Tahoe’s on fire. My friends are still inside.

Excerpt from Only One Survives, Copyright © 2024 by Hannah Mary McKinnon. All rights reserved.

Only One Survives will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on July 16th, 2024, 2024

Enter for your chance to win a copy of
Only One Survives by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Enter for your chance to win a copy of Only One Survives by Hannah Mary McKinnon