Excerpt

Honeycomb: Excerpt and Cover Reveal

S. B. Caves

The following is an exclusive excerpt from and cover reveal for Honeycomb, the new novel by S.B. Caves, forthcoming from Datura in July of this year. In the following passage, we encounter a burned-out pop star as she's being recruited for a bizarre experimental reality tv show in which contestants are exposed to a mysterious new drug.

“You have a magic lamp,” Bunny began, taking a pull on her cigarette. She exhaled and squinted through a ribbon of smoke. “And you have one wish. What is it?”

“One wish?” Amanda’s gaze swept across the moon-bathed rooftops in contemplation. She laughed mirthlessly. “Just the one?”

“Not easy, is it? See, most people would say they want to be rich, but you already know what that’s like. Or someone might say they want to be famous, but you already know what that’s like too, don’t you?”

“Not anymore,” Amanda said, turning to face her.

“There,” Bunny pointed her cigarette at Amanda. “That’s it. Money is money, it comes and goes, and it never really makes anyone happier. Don’t get me wrong, being rich is a lot easier than being broke, nobody is going to argue about that. But being famous? Having people recognize you, adoring you, going out of their mind at the mere sight of you? God, it must be the best feeling in the world.” She dragged on her cigarette, and when Amanda didn’t say anything, Bunny asked, “Is it?”

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“Yeah,” Amanda said in a very small voice, and then she fell silent a moment, dizzied by the nostalgia. An image slipped out of her memory: eating sushi at an expensive restaurant and ordering wine that cost more than her outfit, before having the entire bill waived by the manager in exchange for a photo. Then, stepping outside only to see a gang of over twenty people waiting in the freezing December rain for autographs. One girl crying with joy, unable to speak through trembling lips because Amanda had hugged her.

She could feel pressure building behind her eyeballs, the sting of tears threatening to blur her vision. The champagne was making her maudlin, but if she was honest with herself, it was more than that. She hadn’t spoken to anyone about the death of her career since the label dropped her. She’d had a window of opportunity to vent – offers streaming in from magazines and trashy tabloids – but the pain had been too raw, and she had been too distracted.

“Why am I here, Bunny?”

“Something has come up that you might find interesting. A company contacted me to enquire about your services. I had to explain that I no longer represented you, but that seemed like a great way for us to get back in touch. Perhaps we can work together again if you find everything agreeable.”

“Who was the company?”

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“They’re called The Midori Media Group. You won’t have heard of them; they’re new.”

“They want me to sing?”

“Ah, now here’s where it gets interesting,” Bunny said, funnelling smoke from the side of her mouth before crushing her cigarette out on the balcony and flicking the butt over the edge. “No, it’s not that kind of gig. They’re interested in you, your story.”

“Story? What story?”

“Hold on,” Bunny began calmly. “There’s a little bit to unwrap here, but in essence, they want you to take part in a social experiment of sorts.”

“Oh brother,” Amanda groaned.

“Don’t fly off yet, just hear me out. It’s not some tacky reality TV show. In fact, it’s not even TV. It’s all completely private, and you stand to make two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Tax free.”

“What?” Amanda thought she had misheard.

“That’s what they want to pay you. One week’s work. Quarter of a million pounds. And it gets better. Midori Media are hugely influential behind the scenes. They can put you back in the spotlight if you decide you want to make more music. I could negotiate a great deal for you.”

She spoke with a flat earnestness that completely contradicted her previous, easy tone. Her expression became placid and all those emotional subtleties – the friendly smile, the wide, understanding eyes – dissolved.

A cavalcade of questions clogged Amanda’s brain. She stuttered before she could get any of them out, and then shook her head, trying to sift away the sludge. “Wh–what would I be… um, doing?”

“They have designed a social experiment, and they believe that your input would be invaluable. Your experience, combined with your personality, make you an extremely attractive candidate for the role.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything, Bunny. For god’s sake, will you stop with all this mumbo jumbo and just say what you mean?” Amanda said, aware of how hard she was breathing, wisps of vapour trailing from her lips.

“In theory, you and five other candidates would live in a secluded mansion for a week. Every day, you will be required to take a pill.”

“Pill? What pill? I thought this was a… what did you say? A social experiment. You didn’t say anything about a pill.”

Bunny’s hands came up and patted the air between them in a calm-down gesture. “It is a social experiment but there is an element of medical research involved. But don’t worry. I have it in writing that the pill is completely harmless and has no adverse side effects.”

“This sounds fucking insane, you know that? I can’t believe what I’m listening to right now.”

Raising a hand to hush her, Bunny continued. “Each of you will be given a pill, but five of you will be taking a placebo. You won’t know who is taking what, or what the pill does.”

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Amanda shook her head. “Is that all the business you wanted to discuss? Because if it is, you can have my answer now: I’m not interested.”

“Even though I have a contract that says the pill is completely harmless with no side effects?”

“I don’t care if you have a written note from the Pope. You want to let them drug me? Is that what you brought me here for? You want to use me for medical testing?” The confusion made her head throb. She gulped in air, but couldn’t seem to get enough to take a deep breath.

“There’s only a one in six chance that you would be taking anything at all.”

“I still don’t like those odds, Bunny. This has nothing to do with my music, does it? This is about turning me into some kind of guinea pig.”

“Amanda, think about what I’ve just told you,” Bunny said patiently. “This is a legitimate business offer; a lot of money for no work at all. It’s a gig, nothing more.”

“And I suppose you get a cut, do you?”

“Naturally.” Bunny nodded. “But not from you. If you sign, I settle with Midori. Your quarter mil has nothing to do with me. You and I wouldn’t even need to have a contract between us… that is, unless you want me to manage you again when the experiment is done. What do you think? Amanda Pearson rises from the ashes. A new look, a new sound, a new album. It’s got a great publicity spin already.”

Amanda gripped the guardrail surrounding the balcony ledge and stared out at the skyline, her brain working overtime to process the information while simultaneously calculating the percentage of truth in Bunny’s proposal.

“So, let me get this straight, just so I have it all clear in my head,” Amanda said, the cool night air kissing her hot face. “A few years ago, you and the label decide to throw me on the scrap heap because you think I’m a fucking drug-addled mess.”

“Nobody called you that, Amanda.”

“Nobody called me at all. I just get a letter saying, Thanks very much but you’re a stupid little cokehead, so your career’s over. That about right?” When Bunny refused to meet her eyes, Amanda continued. “And now you have the nerve to contact me out of the blue as though you didn’t just abandon me, and… the punchline is, you want to pay me to take more drugs.” A snort of laughter left her then, and she turned away, seeing the cityscape through tear-blurred eyes.

Bunny placed a palm on Amanda’s shoulders and said, “It was business. That’s all. And now it’s water under the bridge.”

“Not to me it isn’t.” She swallowed down a rising sob, adding, “I was only a kid, Bunny, for fuck’s sake.” She blotted her eyes with her index finger. “I needed your help. You were like a big sister to me. I trusted you.”

Passing Amanda a tissue from her purse, Bunny said, “I know that. But believe me, cutting you loose was a blessing in disguise. You might not see that now, but the truth is, you were just too young for that kind of pressure.” Bunny picked a loose strand of hair from her mouth and gripped the guardrail. “Mental health wasn’t top of the list of priorities back then. Now we have psychologists on hand at the show, and at the label. It would be much different for you if it were today.”

“Yeah,” Amanda said dryly. “Too bad I don’t have a magic wand to turn back time.”

“No, but this might be a second chance.”

“Really? Because it doesn’t sound like much of a second chance to me. It sounds like you want to pump me full of drugs, film it to make me look like a fool, and then push it on the public.”

“Not at all.” Bunny’s voice was eerily calm, as though she were trying to lull her into a meditative trance. “There will be cameras in the house, but that’s to monitor the six candidates. The footage will not be made public. That’s all in the contract, and before you ask, I’ve had our solicitors go through it with a fine-tooth comb. It’s legit, and it’s watertight.”

“Yeah?” Amanda made a small spitting sound. “That contract won’t be too much use to me when I go blind or my arms drop off, will it?”

“The pill has no–”

“No side effects? Yeah. You must think I’m some kind of fucking idiot. You expect me to believe that they’re going to pay me all that money to take a drug that doesn’t do anything?”

“Yes, that’s what the contract says.”

Amanda was momentarily lost for words. This proposition had stirred up a confusing cocktail of emotions, and she felt both giddy with frustration and sick with anger. Biting back the encroaching bitterness, Amanda thought very carefully about what to say next. She settled for: “It was nice seeing you again, Bunny. Take care of yourself.”

Amanda opened the fire exit door to step back inside. Bunny touched her arm, delicate as a lover. “They’re extremely influential.” She pointed through the window at a young woman who was crossing the room, waving and smiling at the other partygoers. “They’ve helped build and rebuild numerous careers. You want to get back to the top of the mountain, don’t you? Fortunately, there’s always more than one path.”

Amanda watched the woman, who couldn’t have been older than twenty but looked as young as sixteen, approach the piano. She wore a billowy gold dress that was almost as bright as her perfect smile, her long hair cascading like a black waterfall over her shoulders. The room hushed to silence as the woman straightened up and began to sing. She didn’t need a microphone; a large, captivating voice left her petite body, raising the fine hairs on the nape of Amanda’s neck. The woman’s voice was honey on toast; a sweet thickness flowing with coarse emotion.

“She’s good isn’t she,” Bunny whispered in Amanda’s ear. “Maybe not as good as you were. Still, her debut single drops first week of December. Christmas it’ll be number one. Album platinum by February. By summer she’s headlining the O2.”

Amanda opened her mouth to respond, but for a second, she forgot how to breathe. The jealousy held her lungs hostage, and the throb in her head turned into a steady, rhythmic beating. That uneasy sense of familiarity shivered through her as she watched the performance, picking up all the little vocal nuances. She was incredible.

“Does she remind you of anyone, Amanda?”

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Excerpted from Honeycomb by S.B. Caves. Copyright © 2024 by S.B. Caves. Reprinted with permission from Datura Books, an imprint of Angry Robot Books. All rights reserved.




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