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The first thing Drake Colin noticed was the ripple on the chalkboard, a breath of pulsed waves sweeping across the green slate as from a stone thrown in a pond. The second thing he noticed was that everybody else saw it too. And pretended they didn't. Drake saw things like that a lot, not chalkboards quivering like Jello but the little nods and reflexes that made those "I didn't see that" reactions so obvious. Here in freshman algebra, 28 students and the ever-earnest Mrs. Bartak had just watched the chalkboard flicker liquid and nobody said a thing. X still equaled Y, if Y were squared but "what was that?" never made it into the equation. The chalkboard had rippled. It was like everything else in high school. Eyes forward. Don't let on. Emotions and esteem torn raw up and down the halls, but the blinders remain fixed. The newest everything, the latest talk and what happened on "Gossip Girl!" last night some kind of gauze for an assortment of wounds. But the chalkboard had rippled. Drake wanted to say "Did you see that?" but mostly Drake didn't say anything. He just slumped his too-skinny frame a little lower in his seat, and let his flat-black hair fall over his green eyes.
Kallye Trembelle's locker was right outside Mrs. Bartak's class and she was there when the bell rang. Drake saw her tugging at the lock. Mostly, Drake didn’t say anything but when he did, it was mostly to Kallye. "Snack bar or hot lunch?" he asked, only slightly more animated than a mumble. "Bag," Kallye answered. She was still jerking at the lock. Kallye had painted the inside of her locker black, a violation of the Sutro High School conduct code but a statement of the sort that meant something to her. A bit of the paint, an acrylic snagged from art class, had bled into the lock and turned her daily struggle into a statement she never intended. "Crap," she snarled, flicking her eyes over her shoulder for a quick teacher-check. Drake took the Slaughterhouse Five hardbound out of his turd-brown backpack and slammed the door dead center. The latch clicked and
Kallye pulled the door open on her "Shrine of Darkness." She didn't call it that, but Drake had heard the snickers. It wasn't really a shrine. Kallye Trembelle’s locker was a black hole. She'd even wrapped the textbooks in back construction paper, scrolling "Not Geometry Again" and "Social Studies Sucks" in silver highlighter so she could tell them apart. Black, from what Drake could tell, made getting dressed in the morning really easy. The ink-dark jeans, the chunky vintage tuxedo jacket: it all matched. Even the eyeliner she brushed on between homeroom and first period and then wiped clean every afternoon before her mom picked her up added to the graveyard aesthetic. Only the ever-present silver chain broke the monotone. She grabbed the one thing that wasn't black, a lunch bag, or it used to be lunch bag. Kallye had been toting the same paper sack since the middle of sixth grade, better than three years before Drake transferred into Sutro, his third school in three years. Patched together in transparent packing tape, the bag became a time capsule of random doodles. Kallye had liked the Power Puff Girls once, but they'd been accessorized in felt tip long since. They had fangs now. "Y'know," Drake intoned, dropping his jaw into the best-he-could-manage gymteacher chuckle. "That bag's going to be able to eat your lunch for you before long." "Shut up, loser," Kallye smirked back. It was the nicest thing anybody had said to him all day.
The bottleneck where the halls came together, like chutes in a meatpacking plant, was subdued for a Monday. The confluence of the different tones of beige linoleum flowing into the lunchroom felt more like a normal school hallway, in some normal school that Drake could imagine but had never attended. Still, it was eyes forward, no talk, until they made it to their table, halfway between the stage and the drinking fountain, neutral territory. If there were such a thing at Sutro High. "Can you feel it?" Kallye asked. "Feel what?" "The buzz!" Kallye exclaimed, raising her hands and shoulders in her classic mock cheerleader speak. "Huh?" Drake shrugged.
"The excitement," she said, dropping out of her theatrical enthusiasm at the last syllable. "They're all jazzed about Heritage Day." “Are you going?" Kallye paused a beat, and took in the archipelago of spruce veneer tabletops. "I didn't even bring the permission slip home," she whispered. And then spared herself a smile. Drake didn't smile. He only shrugged. "Foster mom doesn't sign anything unless it's a check." He turned back to his free lunch. He was sure he'd seen that particular hunk of gristle before. It had a face. He jerked his neck a second later at the sudden crash of tray and stamped-metal cutlery. The random mishap drew the standard applause. People didn't look up to see what it was, merely who it was. The same pack chose from the same menu of victims every day. Sometimes it was an overt shove, more often it was the foot dodged into the aisle, the effect fairly consistent. They weren't going after athletes. Anyone with quick reflexes, or even reasonable eyesight, got a free ride. But Sutro High was a target-rich environment, a cusp school, a storied simmer of trailer parks down valley and the gated communities on Santerra’s west side. They got it all here. The tray trap went back generations, Drake assumed. But the applause wasn't as loud as in the first months. Better than half way into the school year, more than a few people in freshman lunch period were beginning to wonder when their number would come up. It was getting old. Derby Kirby's gang needed new material. Drake had no doubts they would find it. Ted “Derby” Kirby was straight out of the field guide to high-school mayhem, from his broad-for-his-age shoulders to his peach-fuzz crew cut and whatever pro team logo he was sporting that day. Drake had seen it all before, different characters, different props, a different school. Same plot. Like Animal Planet with football jerseys. Separate the quarry from the herd and run it down. Except most of their targets had no herd. Evan Dandridge was on the menu most days, the auto default. Evan was a puzzler, even for a scholar of schoolyard dysfunction like Drake. Staying out of the way required a studied form of observation. Drake noticed what
people pretended not to notice. He took it in and he read the patterns. But Evan didn't match any of the patterns from any of the schools Drake had slogged through. Evan was smart. That was obvious. If a computer crashed in a classroom and Evan was there, the teachers didn't even bother to call the tech team. Drake had seen a stack of hard drives in Evan's locker braided in fiber optic cable. Evan followed the nerd fashion manual - he wore cargo pants every day and actually used the pockets, all of them – and his kept his wispy brown hair rumpled to match. People said his dad worked at NASA. Drake assumed that a fabrication, but Evan was always dragging around some piece of tech that didn't look like it came from Radio Shack. The fluorescent lights overhead hummed at a different pitch wherever Evan sat. But it wasn't the braniac geek factor that jarred Evan Dandridge out of the patterns. There was something different about him, a force-field-like intensity. It wasn't weakness or awkwardness. It was differentness and in that differentness a kind of resolve, deep intention. Still, differentness often passed for weakness in high school. Ted Kirby made sure it did. Evan sat at a table by the stage, by himself. The table didn't have his name on it but it might as well have. The custodians didn't even bother washing off the schematics he scrawled in black Sharpie on the plasticized wood grain. Kirby, and whatever hammerheads he was dragging in his wake, made a point of stopping by almost every day. Freshman lunch was the one time of the day Kirby didn’t have to be scanning the room for older boys, especially seniors. For these 25 minutes in the cafeteria, he could strut a little taller, his laugh a little louder. "So, Dandrip, what are we working on today?" Kirby shouted, rolling his eyes in time with the sarcasm. Evan barely looked up, his pencil lead steady on the graph paper, his left hand draped protectively over the laptop. With his right foot he drew a scuffed orange knapsack from under the table to secure it between his knees. Evan glanced back at Kirby and his P.E. goons and gave his standard answer, "Nothing you'd understand, Ted." "Oh yeah? Maybe you're right. I don't speak Dork" Kirby's crew laughed. There were few other chuckles. Most of the
lunchroom was tired of the act. Drake saw a different flicker on Kirby's face. "Ted" wasn't far from "Teddy" and a 15-year-old rolling up the sleeves to fit into his older brother's varsity jacket didn't even want to hear "Ted" from his mom. "That's Derby to you, brain boy," Kirby scoffed over his shoulder as he kicked Evan's books hard enough that they clanged against the garbage can. Evan didn't bother to get up. He reached down to the orange knapsack between his legs and peeked inside. The fluorescents flickered above him. And rippled.
At the other tables, whispers were quickly replaced by actual conversation as Kirby and crew left the lunchroom, each jumping to slap the door jam on their way out. Drake took another stab at the gristle on his tray, the knife bent. Kallye sighed. "I am so tired of that show." "Maybe a curse, a hex perhaps?" Drake smiled back. "Shut up. I don't do curses." "Then why all the dread and witch’s bane books? The candles? Who magicmarkered that pentagram on your bedroom window?" "Shut up." "And the black lipstick? Did it come with the broom and the cauldron?" "Hey! Occult stuff is interesting. It tells me about people - what they're afraid of. Doesn't mean I believe it. And besides, if I could curse Furby Kirby, he'd be eating flies and pasting Clearasil on his warts by now. I am so tired of his little show." "But wait!" Drake exclaimed and drum rolled his fingers on the tabletop. "There's a new episode next week!" "Well there's no episode tomorrow, thank God," Kallye answered, smoothing out the lunch bag and folding it into her leather messenger bag, black, of course. "What d'you mean?" Drake asked, dropping the shared sarcasm. "Heritage Day, remember? The whole school is gone. The whole Santerra school district gets to go downtown and play cowboy or Indian or prospector Joe, or whatever it is you do at a history fest when you're 12. In fourth grade we dressed up like
cows." "So what do we do?" Drake asked, leaning forward slightly, concerned, more than slightly. "We stay in some classroom with some teacher and read. Remember - no permission slip, no hillbilly dungarees." "Oh," Drake shrugged. He wasn't sure he wanted to go to Heritage Day. But he wasn't sure he wanted to get left behind either. Getting left behind was a ragged scar across Drake’s life.
The end of the school day was always a mixed triumph for Drake. Making it through the day was one thing. But he didn't get to go home. Or at least it didn't feel like home. Every day, he'd see Kallye cower behind her magenta and black bangs and climb into the back of her mom's minivan, squeezing into a spot between her half sister’s car seat and the bulging real estate folders that Kallye's mom took everywhere. Kallye called it the Embarrass-mobile. The only highlight of the school pickup zone was seeing Ted Kirby standing at the outer curb, hoping nobody would hear his mom call out "Teddy" through the sunroof. It was worse when Kirby's brother picked him up. Then it was "Yo, Teddy Boy." Drake wasn't sure which was more embarrassing, the "Teddy Boy" part or the 23-year-old Kirby brother pulling "Yo" out of his peaked-in-high school swagger. Either way, it was always worth it. Drake didn't have anybody to be embarrassed by. And he hadn't gone home - the way he said "home" when he meant it - in three years. When you dropped the word "foster" in front of "home" it scratches the milk and cookies off the soundtrack. Drake had put the word "foster" in front of three homes in three years. The latest was particularly bleak. She wanted him to call her "mom." It all felt as forced as a social worker's smile. Three "homes.” Three foster "families." Three schools. And three years since the day his mother disappeared. The memory bled deep. Drake was in after-school care that day. It was Medieval Week and the gym at Hughes Elementary was a blaze of foam swords. At the end of the day, he was the last kid standing. He had not vanquished his enemies: no triumph on the gym mat field of honor. They just went home; picked up by mom and dads; carried straight from the battle and into various Range Rovers and Euro sedans. And then it was just Drake. His mom never showed up. The counselors waited. They called. His mother’s cell phone went to voice mail. Drake met his first social worker at the police station. They found his mother's car in the parking garage at her office, her purse on
the passenger's seat. The police gave up first. Drake gave up not long after, mostly. They boy who never knew his father, would never see his mother again. And there are no play dates in foster care, no sleepovers, no summer camp. There was TV, lots of that, if you could wrestle the remote control out of whatever dysfunction ruled that particular home. Drake was never around long enough to take a stake in such dynamics. The first foster mom lost her job, and her mind, about the same time. The second mom got transferred with her husband. Mom number three, Elly, appeared to have some staying power, and not much else. When Drake talked about her to Kallye - and Kallye was about the only person he talked to about it who wasn't a teacher or a social worker - he called Elly the SMOR, the Smoldering Mound of Resentment. Some people never connect with anyone long enough to start a family. So they apply for one through the foster care system. That was Elly, the SMOR. And that was Drake's life: Sutro High and all its trials by day and a corner in the bedroom of a foster home by night; Elly surfing the WEB in the living room; a changing cast of other kids hogging the TV. He'd given up, mostly.
When she could talk her mom into it, Kallye took the bus to school. Or she'd beg to be dropped off at Brewed Awakenings Café, four blocks from school. It was obvious Kallye's mom worried about her the way most moms would worry about a girl who painted her fingernails black and she kept the leash short with a sharp smile and the occasional pinch of Kallye's cheeks. On the mornings when Kallye took the bus, there was always a seat open next to Drake. She didn't know if anybody ever sat there. She suspected not. It was obvious when she got on that Drake had been watching the bus stop for her.
"Where's your cowboy hat?" she said, sliding in. "Where's your Indian headdress?" he answered. Nobody on the bus was actually wearing cowboy hats and headdresses but all their classmates had their sack lunches. A few of the girls had calico dresses. Drake wondered if a real estate agent in a business suit with a briefcase would have been a more accurate pioneer costume. Most of the kids at Sutro lived in neighborhoods that had been grass and oak until the suburbs washed over their corner of the sprawl in the mid ’90s. "Wait a minute. Do we get lunch today?" he asked. "Of course not. What do you think? They keep the cafeteria open for you and the three other people who aren't going to Heritage Day? The whole building is shut down. It's just you and me, a couple of other losers and whatever teacher won the chance to skip the whole Spanish missionaries kill the Indians with religion parade." "I wonder if they leave the cafeteria unlocked." "You can have some of my wrap. Mom is on some total protein kick. I'm already not hungry," she said, shaking the lunch bag of the undead. "Who else do you think will be there?" "I don't know. People who pissed off their parents. People who are allergic to Indian fry bread." The chatter on the bus seemed to suggest that nobody else was intent on ducking the historical reenactment. It was considered a free day by most kids at Sutro. Every kid had been doing it every year. The chance that they would actually learn something new ended around third grade. The Miwoks, the missionaries, the Gold rush - a collective yawn heard all the way across the West Bay. The bus stopped in front of Sutro and the kids walked 100 yards across the drop off zone to wait in line for another bus. Kallye and Drake stepped around the lines and walked inside. There wasn't even a light on in the principal’s office, just a sign, magic markered on a file folder taped to the glass window: "Stay-at-school students report to Mr. Lockwood, Lab 1BC.” “We could do worse,” Drake shrugged. “A buttload worse,” Kallye sighed. Mr. Lockwood taught science like a carnival barker. Teachers weren’t supposed to juggle pig brains. If it could ooze, it oozed green. If it could burn, it exploded. Some kids
said Mr. Lockwood asked to be in the portable classroom. Others thought they kept him there for safety reasons. In high school, a kid had to be careful about liking a teacher but most Sutro yearbooks had Gary Lockwood’s signature in the margins. “Did you bring your robe and sacred knife” Drake asked. “He might have some goat brains.” “Shut up, loser.” They clacked through the cow vertebrae curtain into Lab 1BC. “Welcome, victims!” Mr. Lockwood exclaimed from his desk at the back of the room, looking up from a laptop wedged between specimen jars and gas canisters. The blinds were always pulled in Lab 1BC. The glow from the screen, gave the teacher a ghoulish pallor. A calculated effect, Drake was convinced. “I trust you brought your studies, a book, maybe an enemies list to update,” Mr. Lockwood inquired, cheerfully. “Kallye brought her hex list,” Drake suggested. “Does that count?” Mr. Lockwood laughed, or at least chuckled. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, Drake got a chance to look around. Two faces came into focus through the framework of test tubes, beakers and dried reptile specimens: the first a surprise, the second a catastrophe. Tracy Glass was not the no-permission slip type. Her parents shoved her into every extracurricular obligation they could glean from the bulletin board. She sang in choir. She played first chair flute in the marching band, and the orchestra. People said that when she ran for student body president, her mom hired a campaign consultant. It was a joke. But they also said that her mother grounded her when she lost. That was not a joke. That was sad, really. She was the surprise. The catastrophe was Ted Kirby. He sat sullen behind the Bunsen burner, flicking at it with his thumb like he had a lighter and glaring up at Drake with a face he’d stolen from a martial arts flick. Drake slumped. Kallye rolled her eyes.
“Ok kids, I think that’s all of you,” Mr. Lockwood announced, and then added “I suppose you all know why you’re here” with an evil genius laugh that was lost on the unenthusiastic audience. “I’m here because my mom’s being a total pain,” Ted Kirby announced, and rubbed the heel of his hand against the hard black lab table. “Same here,” flicked Tracy. “I blame society,” drolled Kallye. “I came for the warmth and friendship,” Drake smirked. Mr. Lockwood shared a knowing glance with his charges. “Look,” he said. “Nobody really wants to be here, especially not me. But I’m sure some of you don’t really want to be stepping in mule patties on the Santerra Town Plaza either. I don’t expect you to study. I just expect you to be here until 2:45 p.m. Headphones are OK. Texting is not. The key is tied to the lamb femur if you want to use the restroom,” he said, pointing to the hook by the door. “Any questions?” “Yeah,” Kirby said, looking up from his lab table. “Got any cool body parts we can look at? Cadaver stuff?” Mr. Lockwood fixed him a stare. “The freezer is locked for a reason, Mr. Kirby.” Kallye and Drake took a table near the back. Drake pulled back a swivel stool. The lab tables weren’t like regular desks. The stools were tall. You couldn’t slump over, or lean back like you could with a chair. If you did, you’d slip right off. In Mr. Lockwood’s class, that might mean an acid burn, or getting impaled on a tusk of unknown origin. Drake and Kallye exchanged a glance. “Bring any comic books?” Drake asked, slumping his cheek onto the cold tabletop. From his horizontal vantage, he could see Mr. Lockwood plucking at his laptop and scratching at a notepad on his desk, looking up only rarely to count heads. Tracy Glass was reading a book but in an affected way that was not unlike filing her nails. On the Tracy Glass scale, she’d dressed down for the day. No fashion hurdles to jump on a day when the school was deserted. But she’d thrown a lace white sweater over the black
tank and tailored jeans. Her boots were still polished, her red-highlighted hair curled just so. She never shot far under fabulous. Ted Kirby had folded up a paper football and was finger kicking it through an empty slot in a test tube rack. When he got a goal, he’d raise his arms in a whisper cheer. Kallye looked over at Drake, the 15-year-old’s cheek still on the cold black lab slab. “Maybe we could huff some naphtha?” she suggested. She played with the braided silver chain that hung from her neck almost every day. There was a crucifix, a star wrapped in a circle and something that looked like a vial, maybe made out of bone. “I see you brought your Goth multitool. Is there a GhostPod on that thing? Can you download tracks from beyond the grave?” She didn’t even bother with “Shut up, loser.” She crossed a smirk with a roll of her eyes. Drake would have smiled, but he saw the ripple again. It started on the chalkboard and radiated across a shelf of glass beakers, the refracted light of the glass bending, contorted like a funhouse mirror. He could almost hear it this time. “There,” he said, popping up off the table, his steel swivel stool squealing in alarm. “Did you see that?” He was ready for everybody to say “what?” and pretend nothing happened. But this was too weird, too obvious. And there weren’t enough people in the room for the play-it-cool effect. Everybody had seen it this time. Mr. Lockwood, slapped his laptop shut. The jars on his desk rattled. The ripple swept back across the room. Drake felt it this time. And heard it. It was a hum, like static with a rhythmic ping. The hum pulsed with the ripples, all of this emanating from a corner in the back of the lab, where a stack of outdated computers was buried under a pile of printer ink cartridges Sutro students had been collecting for a recycling fundraiser. The hum got louder and Drake stood still. They all stood still, not sure whether to run, or step closer and see what was buzzing in the pile of old tech. Drake recognized the orange knapsack he’d seen gripped between Evan Dandridge’s legs the day before. A
light blinked inside, glowing through the fabric to reveal a tangle of cables twined into a glom of memory cards and black plastic, a hint of glass. The hum didn’t get louder. It just got more. “What the …” Kirby shouted in a small voice. The lab shuddered. The ripples tore across the ceilings and down the walls. The lab tables whipped like banners in a storm. Drake felt a lurching lightness fall on the room like a wave. He could not see through the ripples. He grabbed for Kallye’s arm just as the world faded blue and slammed forward. Into something that felt a lot like falling.
Drake didn’t remember consciousness returning, but he remembered it hurting. His hair stiff with ice, his joints rigid, he sat up with an audible crack and looked about LAB 1BC, what was left of it. Most of the equipment and tables crashed to the end near the door, something was hissing. He smelled a solvent off gassing, metallic in his throat, stinging in his eyes. The hum coming from the landslide of old computers crackled in static and died away. Kallye blinked a few feet away, her arm bleeding where she’d landed in a fracture of test tubes and beakers. “Are you ok?” Drake asked, groggy but urgent. She looked back and blinked again. He unwrapped her legs from a tangle of cables and pulled her upright. He held her close for a moment. “What happened?” she whispered. It was almost a cry. They could hear the others stirring around them. The shutters hung torn and open on three of the windows but the light was still dim. The fluorescents that hadn’t shattered were dead. Drake could see Mr. Lockwood’s legs tilted out from behind the radiator at the back of the room and heard a groan muffled behind it. The loudest noise in the room was Ted Kirby, a sobbing kind of scream. Tracy was knocked cold. Drake tried to stand up. The room tilted drastically, the walls now several degrees off plumb. Everything that could slide had slid. Broken test tubes clumped in razor brimmed piles. The floor sprawled in a rumpled maze of tubes and wires with the lab tables forming a logjam in one corner with the bones of the resident skeletons, Mr. and Mrs. Marrow, adding a
macabre fringe. Drake wedged a leg against a fallen cabinet and brought himself into a crouch. “Is everybody ok?” he shouted. “No!” snarled Kirby. “What the hell would be ok about this?” A red stain on his shoulder blossomed through the blue jersey. “What the crap happened?” Drake could see Mr. Lockwood moving now. He had heaved his upper body out from behind the radiator but his left leg still jutted at the wrong angle. He winced and let out a long breath. “Drake, where’s Tracy? Can you see her?.” Drake looked over. Tracy was half buried in ink cartridges near the chalkboard. He could see her chest rising in tight jerks. “She’s by the door. She’s breathing. I don’t see any blood.” “Good, I guess. I hope. Can you get to the door?” Drake looked over to the corner, the low spot in the room. Most of the black slabbed lab tables and half of the chairs were piled there. “No. But I think I can make the window.” “Get a look.” Drake and Kallye’s lab table had fallen against a sink station at the back of the room, five feet from the window. Drake shoved a chair against a cabinet and grabbed the sill. He pulled himself up. The sky was gray, not clouds but something like static. The main buildings, all sheathed in a thin layer of ice, wrenched up at the same angle with Lab1BC and the other portables, as though Sutro High had been in a giant bowl plopped into a sandbox at a tilt. Drake could see the low end of the bowl where the tennis courts smacked into a bank of earth. But beyond that, where the neighborhoods and the office park should be, he saw only barren ground and broken concrete. He could recognize the outline of the hills beyond that, but where the rest of Santerra should be, only a few tumbled ruins and charred asphalt. Still, clutching the window frame, he looked back to Kallye, and then Mr. Lockwood. “Everything’s gone.”
“What’s gone dorkwad?” Kirby shouted. He wanted to sound tough, pull on his Derby Kirby face as reflex. But Ted Kirby sounded scared. Drake looked out the window. He whispered, to himself. And then turned to look back into Lab 1BC. “Everything,” he said.
It took Drake and Kirby 10 minutes and a post pried from a metal bookshelf to lift the radiator from Mr. Lockwood’s leg while Kallye used a broken light stand to sweep aside the really scary debris, clearing a path to the bigger pile blocking the door. Drake had already dug the first aid kit out of a cabinet dripping in formaldehyde and flatworm segments, Kirby grabbing it from him before he could pick his way through the wrecked lab equipment to Mr. Lockwood. The cut on Kirby’s shoulder wasn’t deep but it didn’t stop the 15-year-old from ripping the sleeve off his football jersey and making a show of tearing the bandage open with his teeth. Tracy had stirred a few minutes before, kicking her way out of the ink cartridge flotsam, sitting upright and squinting. She said nothing. She simply reached into her purse that was never, even in this wreckage, far from her side, and pulled out her cell phone. “I’m not getting any signal,” she declared. She kept pushing buttons. Mr. Lockwood made an obvious effort to talk steadily and wince only slightly as he lifted his newly freed leg into a more natural angle. The break bulged below the knee, and Kallye looked away when the teacher used the edge of a broken lab beaker to cut through the corduroy pant leg. “Grab me that tripod,” he said pointing at a knot of gear by the blackboard. Drake dug it out, shaking it free from a nest of cables and unclipping the video camera from the mount. The science teacher unscrewed one leg of the tripod before lining it up against his own leg and reaching into the first aid kit. He handed a roll of elastic gauze to Drake. “I am going to hold the leg steady. You need to wrap the gauze as tight to the tripod as you can. If I scream, don’t listen. Just wrap. If I pass out, keep my legs elevated and keep digging your way to the door. If we can get to the nurse’s office, there might be something better but we need to get out of the lab. If the power comes back on with all the alcohol and formaldehyde on the floor, this place is one big Bunsen burner.” Drake held the gauze in his hand and met Mr. Lockwood’s gaze. They nodded at each other. The work was quick and the room was quiet. Drake could feel the bone
against bone as he brought the tape tight, but Mr. Lockwood only closed his eyes. With the last twist of gauze rap, Drake finally heard his teacher let out his breath and then inhale. “Nice work,” he whispered, allowing himself a wince. “You get extra credit for that one.” They both tried to smile. With Mr. Lockwood propped against the wall and sorting through the first aid kit, Drake scooted himself around the thicket of chairs and lab benches that Kallye had Lego stacked to work toward the door. Kirby was helping. Drake said nothing. Kallye looked over. “We’re close,” she said. There had been little discussion of just what “everything’s gone” had meant. But the lack of sirens, or really any sound from outside, made it pretty clear that nobody was rushing to the rescue of Lab 1BC. Kallye was the only other person who made it to the window and her quick description added little to Drake’s terse summary. When Mr. Lockwood had worried about the power coming back on, that thought had not occurred to Drake. After they heaved the last set of chairs out of the way, Kallye grabbed Drake by the shoulder. “What’s out there?” she asked, pointing at the door. “Is it safe?” “Does it look safe in here?” he asked. He held her gaze for a moment, urgently, and reached for the knob. He flinched his hand back quickly. The knob was ice cold. He pulled his sweatshirt sleeve around his hand and turned the knob with a solid shove. The door swung open. If the school was in a bowl, the portables sat somewhere near the center. The buildings, the sidewalks – everything - was askew from its proper orientation, a tilted plane. To the left, Drake could see the main school buildings and beyond that the sky and the familiar hillsides, draped in crumbled ruins that had not been there when the bus dropped him off that morning. To the back of the school he could see the football bleachers cut cleanly at the 20 yard line, silhouetted against the sky, the field ending along the same parallel. And Drake could make out now that the line where the school ended and this altered landscape began was a great circle, cut like a razor, through brick, through concrete, steel, through the earth itself.
Kallye was standing beside him. He could hear her holding her breath. “This is so wrong,” she whispered. “Tell me about it.” “Where is everybody?” she asked. Drake looked at the ground, so oddly off camber. “Not here,” he said. “Not coming back.” When they turned back to the portable, Kirby was steadying himself against the stair railing. Tracy sat on the bottom step crying. She hadn’t said a word since her cell phone declaration. They all instinctively looked to Mr. Lockwood who had pulled himself upright in the doorframe. “OK,” he announced in his best teacher voice. “I can’t tell you I have any blink of an idea what happened or even where we are, much less where everyone else is. But it’s pretty obvious we aren’t going to be calling 911.” He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them as if willing away the pain and confusion. “The problem right now isn’t what happened but whether it’s going to happen again. We need to get to the front of the school and to the cafeteria and the nurse’s office. We need food. We need water. We need all the first aid gear we can get. We don’t even know what we need yet.” The science teacher had ripped the rod from a roll-up periodical table to use as a crutch. He prodded Tracy, gently, with one end. “Miss Glass?” he said. “Are you with me?” She looked up at him, weakly, dropped her cell phone into her Marc Jacobs handbag and stood up, wobbly for a second before she grabbed the stair rail. Vertigo on the ground is a rare sensation. But with the sidewalks and buildings at one angle, and gravity at another, it was inescapable. Drake thought about the time his mother had taken him to the Vortex Mystery Spot on a camping trip through the redwoods. The guide had showed the pendulums swinging sideways and a bowling ball
rolling uphill, a clever set of optical deceptions. Sutro was a mystery spot now, all wrong angles and bad sightlines, but bigger. And scarier. Looking up only made it worse. The gray sky was almost featureless. But it pulsed: ripples, not constant but maybe every minute. Balls of slow motion lightning banded out in waves. They walked slowly. Mr. Lockwood limped, encumbered by the crude splint, but none of them looked eager to step much farther into this world. Tracy stayed silent at the back. Kirby rocked his shoulders with every step, as though looking for somebody, or some thing, to yell at. He was the first to see the figure outside the edge of the circle where the fractured but familiar world of Sutro met the new reality. Near the axis of tilt, the ground was fairly even there. “Who is that?” Kirby shouted. “What is that?” The figure did not move. It wasn’t until they got closer that they could tell it was a statue, the one object still standing in the devastation. Everything outside the circle lay at waste, buildings fallen and burned, and, from a quick glance, looted down to the foundations. Even the asphalt was scorched and on the hills, Drake could make out rows of shacks fallen against each other where the fires hadn’t reached, cinders thick on the roofs like snow. Drake was the first to step outside the circle, working his way around a bristle of broken concrete and rebar. He looked up to the statue - a man black in soot, the features melted on one side but startlingly familiar - and then down to the dais and the scroll of letters pressed into bronze. Scattered around the pedestal, he saw animal skulls painted in black and covered in slashes of red characters, all thick in wax and burnt candle stubs. The same scrawl covered the broken concrete all around the statue. Drake stood there quiet, until the others reached his side. They all stared blankly. The letters were worn, but clear enough to read. EVAN DANDRIDGE – PROMETHEUS TO THE MODERN WORLD.
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