SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS

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. Treasured friend. who first brought the issue of dwindling fossil fuels to my attention. hilarious pal. YOUNG.FOR DAVID M. and brilliant filmmaker —thanks for always being willing to bounce ideas with me.

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CONTENTS COVER DEDICATION 10 YEARS FROM NOW CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 6 CH APTER 7 CHAPTER 8 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 21 CHAPTER 22 ABOUT THE AUTHOR COPYRIGHT .

10 YEARS FROM NOW

Gwen crossed the small yard along the moonlit pathway into the hedges. and buried his head in his hands. With her knees to her chest. Outsi de. His app earance always managed to charge Gwen with excitement. Guys could be that way. fly into a rage if she ever suggested he was anything bu t steely and unemotional. The yard easiest for Gwen to see belonged to the fami ly of a guy from last year’s junior class at Sage Valley High. its chipped tiles sparkling under the reflection of the full moon. with his dark curls and broad shoulders. and they just happened to be down there. she hurried through the dark kitchen and let the screen door slam behind her. She guessed that she had more chance of catching a late-night summer draft the higher she went. She was more likely to mock it. tall and strongly built. She’d come with t he idea that they would talk like friends.CHAPTER 1 Gwen Jones squeezed out of her bedroom window onto the sizzling roof below. With her fingers curled into the metal web of the fence. She cou ld hardly believe they’d both be seniors when school started. at the end of August. Tom wa s clearly upset. a welcome and natural part of it. Something was defi nitely wrong. Still…she’d been coming up to this rooftop since she was e leven and she had been watching him and his family in their yard at night since they moved in over a year ago. Most pe ople in town blamed the electricity price hike on the fact that the electric tur bines in their area were all powered by oil. laughing. She knew it from watching h er older brother. letting the screen door slam behind him. Climbing into her bedroom window. what he look ed like was only a small part of it. She liked imagining herself in that warm. She was up here. Gwen peered down over the high hedges just behind her house. They seeme d so normal and wholesome. In the last six months. and the oil price would not stop ri sing. blasting at full roar. Some cosmic cook had slowly started cranking the temperature a week earlier. Gwen’s skin prickled with worry. that part of her would have liked ve ry much to be there. He might not like that she’d seen him so vulnerable. And when they wer e having one of their family barbecues. so she b oosted herself over the gutter and inched up. Standing. Tom’s upper back rose and fell in a measured rhythm that looked like sleep. He sat that way for a long while before r esting his head down completely on the table. if only to herself. But. She could barely hang on herself. The feebly whi rring minifan on her night table was no match against the full bake of this nigh t. she observed him. This longing confused her. he wa s shooting basketball or talking on his cell phone. Of course she liked his looks—who wouldn’t? He could have been a model. she was seeing a different picture. Tonight. the price of elect ricity had gone so high that everyone was cutting back where they could. even . and he looked the type. her bare feet scratched the raspy roof until she was nea rly at the peak. She wanted to call to him—to ask what was wrong—but then he’d know she’d been watching him. Squee zing through. The dark-haired boy threw himself down hard onto the wooden bench of the picnic table in the Harris’s backy ard. but now she wondered why she thought she could help him. Kicking off her sliding flip-flops. she ignored the scratches to her skin as she pushed her way to the chain-link fence separating Tom’s perfect world from her very different one. Gwen left the upper roof and slipped back into h er flip-flops she’d left on the lower level. it was so nice to watch them. really. backward and sitting. But she had to admit. to a new housing development. The ring of dark mountains no longer twinkled with lights from distant houses and st ores as they’d done when she was a kid. He played foot ball. once again fo . Gwen backed away slowly. Even through her flip-flops. she could feel the burn of the shingles. Tom lifted hi s head. Tom and Gwen had been in several of the same classes. c ozy family setting. Sometimes she imagined herself going out with Tom. It wasn’t as though she was stalking or spying on t hem. His red-rimmed eyes were swollen. Gwen lifted her gaze to a sagging second level of roof above her. Gwen’s pulse quickened as Tom emerged from his house. Almost as though he sensed her presence. It wasn’t something she would ever admit to. Tom Harris. though. Not a bit like her own home situation. Wiping sweat from her fac e. On an impulse. Whatever relief she could find out here was better than nothing. when she saw him out here in the evenings. Luke. but they did n’t really know each other. she sat surveying the valley. Wha t had happened to him? Usually. and Sage Valley was now.

For them. And your lights. why should she have to duck her own bro ther? She resented it. But he clicked off his call and turned toward her the moment she stepped into the kitchen. . That was a good sign. “I’m sorry. When he was like this. but I just now flew back on my jet. That was what they were learning. Ever since Leila had skipped out on th em—they never referred to their mother as anything but Leila—back in Gwen’s freshman y ear of high school. and considered scrambling up to the low roof behind the house and getting into her bedroom that way. But really. “If you’re going to go out.” Luke said. On the other hand. Warily. Heading back toward the old. Paris was as far away as the moon. Luke was there. the only thing she was sorry about was th at she was alive in this place. Gwen assesse d the situation. she never really knew. she’d been dependent on Luke. at this time.” Gwen said. she decided defiantly. if things kept going the way they were going. Luke was tu rned toward the wall. And that even when she wanted to s ay something that might somehow make things better.” Everyt hing counted. There was nothing she c ould do. Gwen saw that the kitchen’s too-bright overhead light had been t urned on. Something in his movements told her he was in one of his states. scrutinizing her with sharp. and she was in no mo od to fight with him. “Where’ve y ou been?” he shouted. “turn off your fan. “I went to Paris. He made the money.” Gwen snapped at Luke. She paused several feet from the back door. Maybe she could slip past him.” he grunted sarcastically. they wouldn’t be able to afford the amount of gas it took to get to school. Gwen’s should ers tightened. everything counted. dark eyes. And right now.rcing the scratching hedges to part and let her through. either—also a positive. who’d been a senior back then. Luke wasn’t slurring or weaving. “That’s hysterical. His eyes d idn’t seem bloodshot. No matter how small. Due to the rising price of gas oline. he always picked a fight. pacing rapidly. avoiding Luke a ltogether. a flight from New York to Paris cost thousands of dollars. she never knew how. though what he did to earn it. talking. talking on his cell phone. and was gl ad not to know. wooden house with its warped structure and blistered paint. I’m not hiding from him.

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Carlos Hernand ez strolled over from across the street. He does it in a garage behind Ghost Motorcycle. Her last boyfriend was already a vars ity quarterback junior year.” “What about the father?” “I don’t think anybody ever kne w him. Tom didn’t like to think about it—because there wasn’t all that much he could do about it. The price went higher and hi gher.” Ca rlos remarked. but it conks out on me and I can’t figure out why. They still cranked up their heat in winter and airconditioning in summer. Reserves were depleted. we don’t have money for a new car.” It had happened quicker than anybody thought it could—country b y country. I think. looking the brown truck up and down. Did she change her hair or something?” “I just told you she did!” Gwen had reached the drivew ay and glanced up at them. The hoses looked all right. “That girl is seriously spooky.” He leaned in a nd jiggled the battery cables. I thin k his name is Artie. Alaska was going to be the new Saudi Arabia. man. “Who knows? But at twenty bucks a gallon. He hoped the proble m wasn’t the catalytic converter. “I heard a rumor that her mother ran off with some guy a few summers ago a nd left Gwen with her older brother.” Tom replied. fixi ng up the truck. “She doesn’t see him anymore. The boy’s hair was shaven except for a strip of electric green down the middle. Both of them wore baggy khaki shorts.” “Whoa! Aiming kinda high.” “And the price is getting higher ev ery day. the oil had started to dry up. which is my goal for this year. It was right in front of everybody’s faces. “Do we know her?” “Th at’s Gwen Jones. “I’m surprised it’s running at all. Somebody at the top mad e a bundle. I’m sure. How you be?” Tom shrugged. “This thing starts. yeah. He didn’t know how to fix that himself and.” They turned to look at a girl with black. well by well. “Hey.” Carlos added.” Tom defended himself. “Could you be shorting out here?” “It’s possible. gangly boy. it might be worth it. “I hear there’s a guy downtown who will convert an old engine like this and make it more fuel efficient.” Carlos insisted with a smile.” Carlos agreed pointedly. so it doesn’t matter.” Tom shoved Carlos just hard enough to ma ke him totter backward a few steps. I think. Alaska was drilled. and that’s why nobody ever sees her. “You don’t see gas guzzlers like these anymore. Tom Harris stood in his driveway staring into the engine of his dad’s Ford pickup and tried to remember the last time it had been turned on.” Carlos let out a low whistle.” “How much does that cost?” Carlos asked. “You don’t want that happening while you’re on the highway. aren’t you?” “You think she’s out of my league?” “Maybe. “Hey. They still tried to driv e everywhere. buddy. “Oh.” Tom cast Carlos a puzzled look. th e crunch got tighter and tighter on everyone else. “When did she dye her hair black?” Carlos asked in a low voice.” “I’m on the football team. He k new for certain that it hadn’t been run all summer. hi s rolling eyes implying that it would be expensive. “Do you really think yo u can get this thing to run?” Carlos asked. And while rich people—really rich people —could still afford to get places. “It might be worth it to have the car refitted. spiky hair slouching down the sidewalk with a tall. Didn’t the oil companies get the goahead to start drilling in Alaska?” “Yeah. Ma ybe he just needed to clean the jets and replace the filter.” “H .” Tom s aid. the repair would cost more money than he had.” “Very big. Why not turn this in for a hybrid or an electric?” “It was my dad’s. Tom shrugged.” Carlos said once Gwen was out of e arshot.” Tom studied her as best he could from the corner of his eye. but they pretended it wasn’t happening. “Totally out of your league. I guess . I don’t kn ow which story is actually true.” she mumbled. He’s bound to be captain this year. Tom returned his attention to the engine.” “Who’s the guy with her?” “Hector something or other. “Sorry. but you’re just now getting onto varsity. they broke up. “I have to.” “I nev er can understand why gas prices are so high. The girl’s black T-shirt was ripped along the bo ttom hem. It’s almost run out. I recognize her now.” “The place where all those bikers hang out?” “Yep. Except. I’m going to need wheels if I ask out Niki Barton.CHAPTER 2 Two weeks later.” “So? The guy can pla y football. and they convinced everybody that they ha d hit the mother lode. then ducked her head down as though not wanting to be forced into furth er conversation. I also heard that her mother is a drug addi ct who never comes out of the house. “Anyway.” Tom allowed.” Carlos said. “Yea h. “Hey. “I don’t remembe r it looking like that last year. if he had to bring it in. but she is. acknowledging her with a nod. No joke. bending forward for a closer look. But there wa sn’t as much oil there as they thought. big deal. he guessed. B esides. He’s homeschooled. She’s been in your grade ever since you got here.

I still have room in my car. “Naw. I don’t think I’ll come. But there was n o guarantee she’d show up. don’t they?” They both s tared back into the engine another moment. before he actually asked her. and he didn’t want to be around a lot of people right now .” Tom considered it. I think so. but with just the right amount of curves. “I’m going to get a new air filter and se e if that helps. her straig ht blond hair swinging around her gracefully athletic shoulders. He’d get a sen se if she might possibly agree to go out with him. they do look like a set.boyfriend?” “Yeah.” Tom concluded. . “Want to go down to Lake Morrisey later? A bunch of us are going to swim. he might run into her. If she was there. I mean.” he told Carlos. Niki Barto n had a house on the lake. He pictured Niki: so slim.

The TV was on in the family room off the kitchen. The truck and the old sailboat he kept in the storage shed down at the lake—they were the two things that he specifically gave to Tom. You know h ow really sorry I am.” “Yeah. he looked at the screen.” Tom agreed.” “Venezuel ah. or about to be. Thanks for coming to the funeral and all. T he president. “I’ll go get that air filter with you tomorrow.” Walking backward. Carlos draped his arm ac ross Tom’s shoulders. even though he’d known for mo nths that the cancer was winning.” “Okay. of course. It was only the two of them now. “We’re at war. Jeffrey Waters.These days. And you’ve got about twenty minutes to change your mind about the lake. anyway.” he added. Carlos headed toward his house. Stepping into the room. His dad’s death had hit him hard. The thing probably wasn’t worth fixing. if you want.” Tom stood a moment gazing absently at the truck’s engine. Tom went back to his house through the side door. Glad to see you up and around again. and he could see his mot her on the couch watching it. But his dad had said he wanted Tom to have it. right? Your dad was a great guy. “With who?” “Venezuela.” . just getting out of bed and maybe checking out the truck was as much as he could manage. Didn’t you see the headlines?” Tom’s mother said.” “He was.” his mother replied. “At least he’s not in pain anymore. “What’s going on?” Tom asked. The rest went to Tom’s mothe r. “Take a look. “Okay. was at a podium giving a speech. pointing to the laptop on the co ffee table. “Another time.

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” The United States and Venezuela remain at a stalemate. They’re not coming back until they have their fuel. However. Up until this year. This rise in import ed Venezuelan oil is also due. he said. At eight hundre d dollars a barrel. “War is inevitable. in part. the United States will not be able to have its armed forces—or anything else. must withdraw troops that stand poised to seize oil refineries that suppl y American companies.” international security analyst Wanda Schaffer said in a n interview with the North Country News. bec ame a petroleum kingmaker. its purpose was to keep prices of abundant oil from dipping too low. “would be laughable. Venezuela. With the advent of horizontal drilling techniques. t he Middle East experienced a brief upsurge in production. When five of OPEC’s original eleven members dropped out of the or ganization. the recent announcement tha t these Alaskan fields are reaching—or have already reached—complete depletion has r ocked the worldwide stock exchange and driven the price of oil to a record $500 a barrel in recent days. It has also boosted America’s consumption of Venezuelan o il from roughly 20 percent to 60 percent over the last year. known as OPEC. Troops Headed for Venezuela Long-standing political tensions between the United States and the oil-producing country of Venezuela stretched to the breaking point in the last week. “I am simply exercising my country’s right within a free market to set its own price. Take our price or go elsewhere. He threatened to attack the 149 oil refineries that remain in the United States should there be any aggression against the Venezuelan refi neries. President Jeffrey Waters called Venezuela’s latest bid to raise its oil price to $800 a barrel an act of ag gression that amounted to “an attempt at a bloodless takeover of our country” and sa id he would not let the United States be “held hostage by this price gouging. An additional condition set by President Rodriguez is that th e U. who in his speech recalled that when OPEC was first formed. Canada was the world’s sec ond-largest supplier of oil. to the exhaustion of Canadian oil fields and oil sludge found in sandbanks. once the world’s eighth-largest crude oil exporter.S. In a speech this morning.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. The opening of the Alaskan territory to unregulated d rilling allowed world markets to stabilize.” To th is remark.” . Venezuelan president Hector Rodriguez replied. but it was only a temp orary reprieve.” The irony of this remark was not lost on President Waters. it was due to the fact that oil fields in the Middle East were runni ng dry at an alarming rate. if it weren’t s o insulting. Venezuel a was a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries . The idea that there was any place left fo r the United States to go for its oil. “It is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain a military presence in South America—primarily because of the cost of fuel. with Venezuel a threatening a total oil embargo if the United States does not withdraw its for ces from the area.S.

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Niki inspected Brock’s stron g. Niki knew it probably seemed funny to some people that they had a vacation home only one town away from where they liv ed. she tapped th e edge of Brock’s photo with the tips of her manicured nails. “Need some help with that?” Niki looked u p at Tom Harris. It wouldn’t suit her image at all to come frolicking down like some puppy excited to play with any new company. Niki hesitated. The Bartons would leave their lake house here in Marietta tomorrow. even though she’d been tempted not to bother. She was captain of the cheerleading squad. setting her sights on the far shore. a few swipes with her brush made the silky curtain of blondness shi ne. This gave th ose below a chance to see her without appearing to notice them. but she sudde nly wished she’d found some less strenuous way of looking busy. to have some f eeling of summer vacation when he came home every night. He was on the football team with Brock. She recognized several of the other guys with him. dark curls. Lean ing forward. after all. The Marietta lake house also allowed her fa ther. but hanging with them would at least break the monotony of late summer at Lake Morrisey. Gazing down at the public beach off to the right of her family’s property. And going alone was not an option—what if Brock showed up with some new girl. The kayak wasn’t rea lly heavy. But who should she go with? Tossing off the blanket. but the two communities were so different that she felt as if much more than the mere five miles separated them. Niki feigned interest in a hand-built. All she needed to do was come up with a strategy. who commuted to his office on Wall Street in New York City. though she’d neve r paid too much attention to him before this. Niki shifted from e agerness to a breezy nonchalance as she descended the steep stairs to the lake. She glanced out over the lake. his thick. Still. B-team types. The blasting airconditioning was covering her arms with goose bumps. With a quick intake of breath. Pulling off her glasses. Niki found her box of contacts in her top dresser drawer and insert ed them with a deft. she hurried out of her room. At the bottom of the stairs. she took in his height and athletic bu ild. her casual notice had regis tered him in her mind as a nice guy. and she was there by herself? Nuh-uh. And they didn’t have to d rive for all that long to get there. no way! She wasn’t going to let herself get into that situation. she attempted to turn the kayak. Being on the cheering squad. wooden kayak supported betwe en two sawhorses. These kids were second-stringers. Before. longish. she hadn’t noticed hi m there with the others. Niki snapped up her glasses from her dresser and put them on. making sure to steer clear of the speedboat’s wake. Speedboats were really rare now. Now. She was now glad she’d put the straightening iron to her hair that morning. Stepping out onto the elevated ce dar deck facing the lake. It had been taken at the bonfire at the end of September last year. Once the blanket was in place. He had to have miss ed her—they’d been going together since the eighth grade. practiced touch. Or a summer house that required a long dr ive. Brock had gone with his family to the ir summer home in North Carolina. attractive features in the photo. A motorboat pulled a water-skier along.CHAPTER 3 Niki Barton drew up a light blue cotton blanket from the end of her four-poster bed until it reached the bottom of her shorts. She recognized the particular shade of deep purple of th e Sage Valley football jersey one of the guys wore. You had to be pretty rich to have a speedboat. to retu rn to their all-year home in Sage Valley. She’d gone there with Brock for the last two years. It would be too awkward if she just ra n down to see these kids. The activity gave her an excuse to be there. She noticed for the first time that his haz . she pretty much knew all the athletic types from Sage Va lley High. Now she could see that the jersey was being wo rn by Carlos Hernandez. A sailfish with a single sail and one passenger moved steadily on the light breeze. as if in tending to launch it. but long and awkward to manage. but she’d heard he was back. its carved-out hull facedown. There had to be a wa y to make him see how wrong he’d been to break up with her this past June. Donning polka-dotted canvas skimmers and tightening the neck knot of her whi te halter blouse. when she was looking from her room. Niki crossed to the picture window that looked out onto Lake Morrisey. she saw a group of teens laughing and joking their way to the water’s edge. Glancing from the corner of her eye at the raucous group to her right. She c ouldn’t imagine being there with anyone else.

” Tom nodded back toward the classmates he’d arrived wit h. Some thing to do with oil. Tom had a good profile. “They always do.” “So ? We’ll get it from somewhere else. it seemed to please him that she’d noticed. but my mom was all freaked out about us going to war and I couldn’t take listening to her talk about it anymore. “Don’t you have a place on the lake?” She was pretty sure she’d noticed him around Lake Morrisey before. “Carlos told me some kids were coming down to swim. “Oh. isn’t it?” “Yeah. “Is that where you’re going now?” she asked.” she said. sure.” “I knew I’d seen you around here before. “I’m sure they’ll figure something out. .el eyes had hints of copper in them. but I’m sure he’ll lend it to me. “No. not really a place—just a little lan d with a dock out on the lake. Tom.” Nik i said in a breezy tone. I heard about that. “I came in Carlos’s car. “Okay.” she said.” she said. supposedly they’re going to cut off our supply. waving her hand to push away the unpl easant subject. pleased that he was choosing h er over them. “Naw.” “Oh.” Tom assured her. He g rinned a little at that.” “Won’t your f nds miss you?” Tom shrugged.” Niki smiled. hi. “They’ll live. “Feel like driving into town to get some ice cr eam?” he suggested. I haven’t seen you all summer. “I wasn’t going to go with Carlos at first. Hot out. so I grabbed a ride with th em at the last minute.” “Why was it at the last minute?” Niki asked.” Niki agreed. isn’t it?” “Awful. Niki licked the hot fudge from her plastic spoon and cut her eyes to Tom. in the driver’s seat of Carlos’s beat-up hybrid.

Gaseous heat waves undulated at the level of the asphalt. Tom turned t he key again as the car’s engine sputtered and whined. Tom waved his arms to hail them. “Good. Niki considered the questi on. “Or murder us. but the motorcycle whizzed past. “I can’t believe this!” Tom shouted.” Tom took his thumb-sized phone from his shorts back pocket.” Tom said as they set out on the roa d.” Niki remembered. it conke d out. worried breath. “How can a gas station be out of gas?” “I don’t know.” “There’s a gas station just two miles or so ahead. I’m not in the mood for a h ike in this heat. They’d gotten the ice cream in town and then driven down the long.” Tom pulled up to the gas station entry. in a couple of miles we’ll fin d out who’s right. He pumped the gas pedal hard. alarmed.” “Yeah.” “Too late now. “I guess we walk. “Did you see that guy? We don’t want to have anything to do with him. “What is it?” Niki asked. “Hopeful ly someone will come along to give us a lift. As it came ever closer. “I hope you’re right.” Tom said. following Tom’s gaze. The motorcycle was executing a U-turn.” Tom said.” “Hey—I thought you were the optimist!” he said.” Tom tol her as he pulled up to the station.” Niki grinned triumphantly when the Shell station came into view . He was starting to anno y her. Suddenly. flat road b ack for several miles before Niki suggested that Tom pull over to eat his ice cr eam before it melted.” Tom chuckled darkly. and a vest with cutoff sleeves tha t revealed two arms loaded with bright tattoos. again. “Where’s your phone?” Niki asked. The car made a cranking sound as if despera te to come alive. There’s got to be other stations if we go back to town. “But I can afford one gallon.” “We’ll get there. Niki stared down the stre tch of unpopulated country road—trees on the left and nothing but tall grasses on the right side. though. heavy black boots. kicking a cloud of road dust into their faces. that’s a lot.” Tom pointed out.” Niki hedged. jeans. Tom swore under his breath and slapped the steer ing wheel. and clearly he could afford to pay Carlos back for the use of the c ar. Someone smaller was seated behin d him.” Niki predic ted. but it was blocked b y a saw-horse displaying a sign handwritten on white oak tag. “I’m not sure.” Tom replie re there any more stations down the road?” With a sigh.” “Well.” “It would be c loser to try to get to the beach. squinting down the road. “There it is! I told you!” Her smile faded as she noticed the scowl forming on Tom’s face. . attached with duct tape: OUT OF GAS!!! “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. As it g ot closer. A holographic message floate d in the air: Refuel battery. sitti ng back hard against the seat. “I forgot mine. She sucked in a sharp . and coming right back a t them.” “I don’t believe in worrying.she decided. With a final gasp. will go wrong. looking re lieved. “Are you nuts?” Niki asked. “These cars always have a few miles in them once the gauge reads empty. she detected an ever-increasing mosquito-like drone. “You’re an optimist.” “I believe Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong. if that’s what you mean. They’d walked for five minutes when a spot appeared on the horizon. A motorcycle was racing toward them very fast. He wore a helmet. coughing. nothing. And then. “I don’t pay much attention to gas prices.” Tom said. “We’re on empty! I just noticed it. “What is it?” “Twenty-nine fifty a gallon for regular? Are they kidding?” “Is that a lot?” Niki asked. Niki turned. enough to get u s back to the beach. I wish I’d noticed how long we were riding on empty. Niki could see the driver . “Maybe.

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so he was aware of her. “Too bad. I’m going to have to peel all this off if I can’t f ind any nail polish remover in the stores. Luke snorted with laughter from beneath his helmet. “Thanks. digging in her back pocket to pull out two five-dollar bills.” Niki said. and from the look on Niki’s face. “I only have thirty. “Did your car break down or something?” she asked. looking do wn at the chipped. Not that it mattered. “You’re wearing nail polish. Luke had explained all this to her. Your manicure looks fresh. The y’d talk again. Gwen slapped a mosq uito. Niki examined her manicure. black polish on Gwen’s fingers. Gwen had never rea lized how many things were made from oil.” “That’s terrible.” Tom told him.” Gwen had some.” Tom said. Gwen wasn’t exactly sure. taking the fives from Gwen.” Tom’s s mile faded. angular face.” she offered. She might as well spare them all the awkwardness and cut to the chase. “Yeah. “I don’t know. Do you have polish or remover? Where’d you get it? Nobody’s be en able to find any for weeks.” Had Tom notice d her eyes flash at his words? Gwen had felt that inadvertent spark of excitemen t and was embarrassed. shampoo. “Why is that funny?” Tom asked Gwen. it was clear the other girl was equally horrified at the idea of spending time stranded with Gwen. and she couldn’t tell if Tom realized they went to the same school. outraged. you know. “The stations are hoarding. “Forty a gall on!” Niki echoed. “Where do you live?” he asked her now. Tom was not her type .” Gwen told him.” Gwen sat down on the side o f the road as Niki continued to stand. “You can catch me in school. he now officially knew she was alive. And there’s none around anywhere. “Mmm. Luke had come in with a bag of the stuff one night and to ssed the bottle of black and some remover onto the couch beside her. There was not a flicker of recognition in Niki’s eyes. It didn’t make sense. “Great. Little kids couldn’t get balloons or crayons. at least a little. It’ll cost you. “I’ll pay you back. They were way too different for there ever to be anything—even a friendship—between them. And they’re not sure when the next shipments are going to come in. Girls in school were hoarding lipstick. What was there. Luke shot Niki a disdainful glance. it is. though. Not really.” Luke said. rubbing a bit of white polish that had chipped . to say? She didn’t want Niki to know how many things her brother could get her. “Sage Valley Nails closed down. in a way—he was a joc k and she was the cheerleading queen. A red flag went up inside Gwen—she didn’t want him coming there.” Tom sai d. in a tone bordering on irritation. one of his pals h ad broken into a closed-down gas station and stolen some. but to ge t off the motorcycle and hand Tom her helmet. Still…didn’t she already have a megajock boyfr iend? Gwen didn’t bother greeting them. “Where’s he getting the gas?” Niki asked.” Luke told him. Gwen pulled off her helmet and looked at them. If he paid her back. “Everyone’s out of gas. this strange attraction she felt. I’d be glad to buy some from you.” Luke added. “But I can get you gas. Luke knew people who s old all sorts of things that had become hard to come by as more shipping and man ufacturing had stopped— everything from car parts to cigarettes. There was no choice. Plus. “Why?” Luke took off his helmet. Luke also seemed to have some kind of inside track on other hard-to-get items. And even if they could get these t hings. Luke was carrying Tom away down the road. “Th ey want to hold it back to sell at a higher price. “What do you mean?” Niki asked. “They figure we’re all going to get pretty desperate. “Out of gas. “How much?” “Forty a gallon.” Niki glared at him. he’d have to come looking for her. and ev en toothpaste—all made from oil-based products. “Do you know someone?” “You could say that.” Gwen offered. “Gwen. Why was Tom wa sting his time with a phony like Niki Barton? It made sense. Ballpoint pens had become a luxury bec ause they were made from plastic! Everyone used pencils now. “I hav e ten more.” He didn’t ask what sc hool. revealing a thin.” he reported. one gallon minimum. “Okay. man. I don’t care what i t costs. really. though. They couldn’t get supplies.” Niki remarked.CHAPTER 4 Luke idled to a stop alongside Tom and Niki. Gwen thought. i n the same tone Gwen imagined she would use if she discovered that a sweater did n’t come in the color she’d wanted.” he said.” Gwen said.” Gwen replied.” Luke agreed with mockery in his voice. Her eyes darted to Gwen’s black-painted nails. brightening. In minutes. you want to wait here whil e I take this guy to get the gas?” Luke asked. speaking right to Tom. Staying seated on the back of her b rother’s motorcycle. “Super terrible. the prices had skyrocketed. just as likely. He’d been in . Which was mostly true. He was probably in touch with som eone who had access to this hoarded gasoline—or.

” She didn’t want every girl in school seeki ng her out for nail care products and every other line of cosmetic. deciding what to d o—and then she shook her head and said. she decided to take the stuff off as soon as she got home. It . Gwen studied Niki for a brief moment. “No.a good mood that night. In fact.

she made it to the peak and squatted. N ormally. She was li fted above the dark world below. Gwen thought. her voice rising. Bea ds of sweat formed on Gwen’s forehead as she sat just below the roof’s peak. ubiquitous whine of electricity on t he wire that usually buzzed just below the level of consciousness was missing. Then she went back outside. The sun had been down for hours. and sh e didn’t.” “So ou’re just hanging out for today?” “I suppose. “What do you see up there?” “Everything’s out for miles.” he said as his expression once more disappeared into the dark.” Good. Everything in h er immediate area was black—all the lights were out. In the darkness. aggrava ted. It was obvious from her scornful expression that she realized Gwen was l ying to her. Was everyone conserving what gas they had left? In the next moment. a flashlight snapped on. Tom’s yard was so deeply entrenched in darkness that she couldn’t see anything. That night. It was a l ong way off before she could see a patch of lights from some other town once aga in. she could barely make out his form looking up at her. This was insanity—but it filled her with a serene happiness. she realized why the stars were so bright. he turned off the flashlight and disappeared. Squeezing her abdominal muscles tight. She understood Niki’s confusion. Surely all these people hadn’t left their bills unpaid? No.” “They shut it off?” Gwen ask ed. In the next second. Gwen came into the house behind Luke. Just below. he stood at the back of the house. But no. Looking down. throwing a pool of light. lucky us. ar ms outstretched. Moonlight rimme d the peak of the roof. Gwen ran around the back of t he house and got onto the low roof. she saw fireflies blinking in the blackness. Our bill was nine hundred dollars for last month. crazy!” Luke’s voice stirred her from her reverie.” Gwen evaded th e question. “Can’t. We live in a place where they generate electricity from oil-burning turbines. The next second. Silver moon energy poured into her. “Price of electric went up again. the stillne ss was broken by a rising chorus of crickets. a loon whooped its crazy call. “What friend?” “You don’ now her. she stumbled on a box of motorcycle parts in the living room.” Niki replied sulkily. she’d been twelve. and Gwen opened her mouth to speak—but then shu t it once again.” she muttered. “Then where’d you get that?” Niki pressed. A few more awkward moments passed. in front of the house where the creek ran. What was the point? In the intense heat. At least we’re no worse off than everyone else. and that was the la st thing she needed. had it become more ungainly—or had she only felt that it had? Gwen suddenly burn ed to know if she could still walk the narrow peak. she checked t hat Luke had gone back inside.” Niki answered. “A friend. “We just went for ice cream. “Looks that way. I don’t know what’s going on. she saw that Sage Valley was completely black. because she didn’t dare look down for fear of losing he r balance. His illuminated face seemed to hang there in the black ness. no breeze stirred. this was a blackou t. and I couldn’t make it this month. Then. Glancing down. No TV or music blared. cars would have been on the road.” With the right side of her lip quirking up slightly. Th e constellation of Cancer the Crab hung brilliantly. The high. “Oh. will you!” Luke struck a match.” “Sure. Climbing higher on all fours. she climbed to the peak of the second. Two steps in. Had she tied the shoelaces of he r sneakers? Gwen hoped so.” Gwen hoped Niki wouldn’t insist on getting the name of this friend. No air conditione rs hummed. bullfrogs initiated a chant of c all and response. “Oh. Down on the far side of the road. “Ow!” she shouted. As if roused by the maniac sound of the strange fowl. but tonight she couldn’t hear any pass. There were no engine sounds. The last time she’d wal ked it. tantalizing Gwen with its shimmer. “I’m not seeing him. high er roof. she lifted herself. perfectly defined above her . Lucky us!” Gwen had heard this complaint pl enty of times before. “Hey.” she reported. Why should it matter to her? But still…for some reason…it did. Did they do this every night? Gwen had never noticed it this f ully before. traveling f . man!” he yelled. “Yeah. I never thought I’d wish I li ved next to a nuclear generator. Niki shot Gwen a look that asked. Why had she stopped? As her body had started to develop . “How long have you been seeing Tom ?” Gwen dared to ask. What’s it to you? Gwen looked away. The impulse to call to him was strong. Inhaling deeply. She had never known such a deep silence. she balanced. “Put on a light. so it was n o longer blistering hot. Opening her eyes. “It was the last she had. From there.would mark her as someone with access to black market items. T om stood at its center. so I couldn’t pay it.

Deep. and he’d started coming around. Startling. halting her descent.rom the roof and up her body as she stepped into its light. Gwen was halfway across the roof when a dark form abrupt ly appeared in her path.” . In the dark. Hector lived in the trailer home down the road. she slipped and began an uncontrolled slide. A strong hand gripped her wrist. She hadn’t yet decided if he was just being friendly or if he was looking for a girlfriend. Gwen had met him while walking to the corner deli o ne day. because she knew it was really more surprise than anger she was feeling. “Hector!” Gwen shouted. looki ng up into the narrow face of her neighbor. She could still do i t. “T here’s nothing to do. Like riding a bike.” he mumb led. Steady on. “Are you okay? Can I let go now?” Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position and tried to contain her temper. “Why did you come up here?” she repeated. his Mohawk made him look almost like an exotic bird. First one foot swung forward. “Did you want to kill me?!” “Sorry. I figured I’d find you up here. would you? Don’t just sneak up on me.” “Next time whistle or say somethi ng. Hector sat and pulled his knees to his chest. slow breaths. and then the other.

” he remin ded her.” “Don’t do it anymore. exp ressive eyes filled with moon.” “Are you ready for school to start next week?” Hector asked. “I would like my electric fan to work . “Why did you do it?” he pressed. That’s not how I am. She had an idea of what it meant on her end of things.” Gwen answered with a shrug.” “Don’t those ne ed electricity?” Hector shook his head. lights blinked on around the valley. People are probably getting their small generators going. That got old pretty quick .’” “What you think it means?” “I don’t know.” Gwen said.” “Why’d you stop?” “Those gymnastic girls were real cl iquish.” Gwen stood. “What do you think is out there. Too bad there aren’t libraries open anymore. “Uh. we’ll be in real trouble.” “But why is it out there? What does it mean?” “I suppose there’s s ome larger plan. his words half request.” “Whatever hap pens. Hector shr ugged and smiled. then. There was something in Hector’s low tone of voice. “Not me.” Gwen insisted.” Hector insisted. too. at least we have each other. you never have school vacation.” Gwen said as she sat and began inching qui ckly down the roof. “What do you mean by that ?” she asked. I guess. You’re lucky you don’t have to go back. Whatever. sometimes. His dark. I kind of like the qui et and the dark.” “Better hoard battery c hips.” “I guess that means sleep.” Gwen said. “My tablet isn’t charged. “Don’t you think what you were doing was kind of dangerous?” “Prob ably.” Hector repeated. “Trying to figure it all out keeps life interesting. moving back. “Stop worrying. so I can’t even read. “The rest of it isn’t so bad.” “We don’t have it. but I never need anyone. I guess. I miss TV. “No. okay?” Hector said.“Sorry. half comma nd.” Gwen commented. Hector looked hurt. either. the only team we could ever compete against was Marietta.” Gwen laughed. I didn’t fit in. or something. so that doesn’t mat ter to me. “I’d better get inside. but she wasn’t completely certain. “The power’s back. especially the science fiction channel. or maybe it was the bend of his body that made her think he was about to lean in for a kiss. And once they stopped being able to afford the buses. I have good balance.” Hector said. Gwen looked at him sharply. “I do n’t think so.” Gwen looked up at his face.” “Someday you might need some help. “Your fu rnace has an electric start button. Lots and l ots of space. Luke and I don’t have air-conditioning. “Lithium battery chips.” Hector said. thanks. “Mean by what?” “‘We have each other. “So what do you think of all this—I mean the war and the no gas and no ligh t?” “The war part stinks. Friends? More than friends? “I t means I’ll be there to help if you need me.” Gwen observed.” “You’re going to wash it in freezing cold water?” Hector asked. “If we can’t get them.” Lit tle by little. Unless you have a hot water tank—and I doubt y ou do in a house this old—you don’t have any hot water. Gwen thought. its angular arches and planes rimmed with silver light.” “I’ve never seen the stars so b right. “What good is a bigger picture if we can never know it for sure?” she asked. “Why sho uld the water be freezing?” Gwen replied as she made her way down the roof. a bigger picture than we can ever be aware of. Because the re was nothing else they could do.” Gwen said. . “I like th e feeling. Hector could be deep sometimes. anyway. Everyone d oes. It’s going to take a while to wash my hair by candlelight.” “Hey—when you’re homeschooled. Do they still have real books?” “I think the old ones a re all stored in a vault in Washington. I was on the gymnastics team in my freshm an year. Hector?” “I don’t know. you could go get an actual book. I walked the balance beam. That’s what the whole town would do—sleep until things got better. Hector.

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diplomats hold emerge ncy sessions with Bolivian representatives. to the loss of the hybrid-car initiative in the U. Bolivia is the world’s greatest suppli er of the valuable mineral lithium. As oil grows ever scarcer. with fuel-efficient cars taking their pl ace. In the eleven years since. the Bo livian PRP has become the ruling party of Bolivia. . has been b rought to a temporary cease-fire in recent days while U. When the lithium fields of Bolivia were seiz ed by the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP). and had to depend exclusively on the much smaller lithiu m-producing salt flats of Chile and Argentina. the use of battery-powered cars and gene rators is seen as increasingly crucial.S. failed to make trade agreements with the Chinese to tap into its l ithium supply in Tibet.S. The U. Vows to Support Venezuela The fighting in Venezuela. Any stall in talks with Bolivia could ha ve dire consequences for the global economy.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Bolivia Backs Out of Lithium Trade Talks With U.” Their insistence on tightly cont rolling trade and pricing agreements led.S. centered just outside the city of Maracay. and Japan have opened the doors to renewed interest in hybrid vehicle development. and new trade agreements with the U. in part. party leaders called lithium “the mine ral that will lead us to the post-petroleum era. that same year.S.S.

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Tom blasted him with laughter. Tom found h imself praying the school’s generator would fail and the lights would suddenly bli nk out. things hadn’t really improved. It was just too dark at night and the water was too cold for them to attend to their usual hair routines. “I’ve been going to sleep at six o’clo k because there’s nothing to do. Our oil tank is nearly empty. but she couldn’t. I wish Curtin would come back. and ever since then they’d chatted briefly in the hall sometimes. Ralph. She says if the pipes in the house freeze. did you notice?” Carlos a sked as the two of them headed for the cafeteria. and then all she wants to do is freak out about this war. Luke had parked his motorcycle in front of the bu rned-out wooden building and insisted Tom stay with it while he disappeared arou nd the back.” “We all do. “I thought the English el ectives were going to be fun. I was actually glad to come back to school this morning. anyway? That’s the main reason I signed up for the class. walking toward them. at least not with the same care they usually used.” Carlos said.” Carlos said. “This substitute. so class was bordering on chaos. an d I can’t even watch TV. I slept with four blankets. e ither. He’d paid her money back on the first day of school. the jet-black hair. “I know. that she was hid ing under the dark eyeliner. and teachers were bei ng discouraged from using the electric boards. but she didn’t have to. “Your brother has oil. The oil company doesn’t know when it’s going t o be able to deliver. The ones who washed it in the school showers didn’t h ave time to style it. “I told you…he doe . Curtin. She wa s entirely different from Niki—and he still thought of Niki as the perfect girl. before returning in ten minutes with a red canister.” Carl os agreed.” “I can’t wait. Each tim e they met. “Why weren’t you in journalism?” Gwen checked to see who else was nearby before replying in a conspiratorial voice. “Hey. so he’s on temporary leave. Tom cou ld tell that her choppy. because at least the generator means there’s hot water. Instead. Yet he thought Gwen was also attractive. This is starting to drive me nuts. too. But the morning of the first day of sc hool. not meeting his eyes. and the scruffy outfits. he had to walk the tw o miles to school—there hadn’t been buses for as long as he’d been there—and head back t o class. Ralph—what a dork. Mom has to save what we have in case it freezes.” “Mom has an emergency crank radio . I can’t take that Mr. If I could at least recharge my phone.” Tom suddenly realized what she meant. Too bad she was seeing that guy with the Mohawk—the homeschooled one. Then he realized home wasn’t much be tter. “Not reall y.” “I already feel crazy. they could burst.” Tom saw Gwen turn the corner. Most of the girls at Sage Valley H igh had taken to wearing their hair pulled back or in braids to hide the fact th at it was overdue to be washed.” Carlos recounted. After a week back. “I ditched. I’d call you and mak e you crazy. Tom caught up with Carlos as they left their creative journalism English elective. Last night. “Is it at the same place we went that day I got it from him?” Tom remembered the old buil ding where Luke had taken him. but this is a total bore. Most kids hadn’t been able to charge their tablets. My mother keeps wanting us to spend time t alking. e ven though she’d forgotten all about him. black cut was clean.” he complained. Tom had the sensation Gwen was a girl in a costume. There was som ething about her that he really liked. stinks. He considered th eir relationship as being friendly.” he greeted her when she was close. doesn’t he?” he whispered. even if they weren’t exactly friends. “Where is he getting the oil?” Tom asked in a low voice. intriguing. Where is Mr.CHAPTER 5 Tom thought that school might be canceled because of all the blackouts and the h ard time people were having finding fuel. the call Tom had been hoping for hadn’t come. and sort of mysterious but with a dry sense of humor. causing the students to be sent home. Mr. “And I wish the electric would come back on. “Did you fre eze last night?” Gwen answered with a little shrug. He stepped in closer to her. I actually enjoy showering after gym now. He’d have asked Gwen if she wanted to hang out with him sometime if she wasn’t already involved with another guy. “Did I notice? How could I not notice? I begged Mom to turn on the heat. And then I wake up in the middle of the night.” “My parents don’t have any oil. Did he quit or something?” Tom shook hi s head. “I heard he lives so far away that he can’t get enough gas to come to work e ach day. Gwen. Gwen didn’t answer. I heard that they expect emergency oil to bring the electric turbi nes back up by tomorrow. Concentrating on what the teachers were saying was harder than ever.” “It was cold last night.

He can’t get it anymore. Ralph replied without stopping. “It’s closed. We won’t tell anyone else.” “I froze my butt off! You’re crazy. The nights are really getting cold. “S he might be pretty if she wasn’t so weird. Not his type.” Mr. “Could be.” “I like er stuff when she reads it in journalism. Smart.” Gwen insisted. “She’s interesting.” Gwen said. That was just that one day. “She has sad eyes. Ralph was nearby. Tom waved good-bye as he watched her disappear into the crowd.sn’t have oil. tell us. Mr. You can go . but still…there was that something about her. “No cafet eria?” he asked.” Tom replied. “You can trust us.” Gwen agreed “You’re probably totally right about that. backing away down the hall. Gwen. “It’s more than the generat or can handle. I have to go to the computer room. “What do yo u think of her?” Carlos asked. “No refrigeration and no electri city equals no lunch. Tom felt something pass between the m before they both darted self-consciously out of the connection. “They hook into the generator between one and two.” Carlos challenged her softly. of course. Tom and Carlos arri ved at the wide double cafeteria doors and instantly saw the sign taped to it: C LOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.” “He doesn’t h ave oil or gas or anything.” Carlos said.” “I don’t believe you. jerking his thumb toward the sign.” “Yeah. She’s a good writer. and Tom turned to him. “Then why weren’t you cold?” Tom asked. “It wa sn’t that cold.” Carlos scoffed.” Tom coaxed.” “Come on.” Gwen called over her sh oulder. “We just want to buy enough to get a generator going.” Tom t old her. “Anyway.” Gwen looked at him and their eyes connected. She was pretty.” Tom agreed.

I’ve been trying to get m y father’s old truck up and going. Since I’m not playing football. but so far I haven’t been able to find one. Tom had never really thought about it. “So. Ju st the same. he should n’t mind seeing Tom and Niki together. Curtin. he’d heard s he’d gotten back together with Brock. He caught sight of Brock standi ng in the parking lot with some of the guys from the football team. thin man with a head of thick. Tom slid his student cash car d into the vending machine before noticing every single thing was out. I heard about your father. I’ve finally bought this house closer to the school. “That’s Mr. he unintentionally slid lower in his seat. just like last year.” “We can see if someone has a bag lunch we can grub from.” “Doing anything this weekend?” Carlos asked as they headed down the hall. so I can walk to work. Thanks. they had to drive right past Brock.” “Want to go to my house? I’ll make you a sandwich or somethin g. “I don’t know. “I’m supposed to go clean out the boathouse.” “What’s tha t?” Tom asked. Deciding to chance it.” Tom didn’t believe her. Tom noticed a tall. Niki had been avoiding him.” Tom suggested. Tom?” “Why aren’t you?” Tom inquired. “A big hole in the ground for keeping food. New rule. “I’m supposed to be in your journalism elective. There’s no rush. throwing his arms wide in frustration. please.” Carlos shook his head. waving.” “Oh. Mo m wants to sell the boat. “Mr. Tom couldn’t read his expression. “What are we going t o eat?” Carlos asked. but I just have enough gas to get home—I hope. Tom could never make eye contact or find an opening to talk to her.out to eat if you want. “Looking for lunch. and Niki leaned across the passenger seat. A red two-seater sports car pulled in front of him. See ya later. Curtin!” he called. Brock glanced nonchalantly into the car.” “I’m coming bac . And anyway.” he said. Niki s tayed in the car. noticing when he got closer that she smelled like a heady mixture of lem on and honeysuckle perfume. as though this wasn’t something she had intended. If Brock broke up with Niki. standin g on a lawn. but I didn’t know. “What have you been up to?” “Not much. I go t a great deal because the former owner is moving south so his heating bill won’t be so high.” “Later. I was just out here looking for a place to dig a root cellar. Tom slid into the pa ssenger seat. Brock was a formidable figure. Tom sprang from the car. clearly.” Why was she being so nice to him? “Okay. “This is crazy.” They were nearly to the lobby. it’s naturally cool so I wo n’t need refrigeration for things like potatoes. ma n.” “That stinks . I’m so sorry.” Students were milling around the halls and spilling out int o the front walkway by the near-empty parking lot. her perfect blond hair seemingly unaffected by recent condit ions. To get out of the school parking lot. I’m cruising on fumes as it is. “Where do you think that produce comes from?” Mr.” Carlos agreed. so she asked if I would clean out the storage shed tha t has all the boat stuff in it.” “Why? Because of Brock? He has nothing to say about it. no t someone Tom would especially want to anger. Tom. We’re stuck here in school with no food and no wheels.” Niki t urned out of the school lot and drove down a block of neat houses. she wasn’t looking for any student-teacher reunions thi s afternoon. No one will have enough for both of us. Farms. “Not yet. We broke up. I haven’t seen much of you. “Yeah. “What’s everyone else doing?” “I have no idea. but he felt relieved that Brock wasn’t glaring at him angrily. After their disastrous ice cream outing.” “Exact .” Niki noticed. “Why aren’t you in school.” “Do you have your car?” Tom asked Carlos.” “No luck with your dad’s truck?” Tom shook his head. He was sure she saw hi m as a complete loser for getting her stranded like that. Easily six-f oot-three and every inch the star quarterback. “I don’t know!” Tom admitte d.” “Why don’t you just go to the grocery store like everybody else?” Tom asked. “What are you doing?” Niki asked. Glancing to h is right. As they passed. Cu rtin replied. “Maybe we shouldn’t go. right?” “Like all the farms in this town?” “Are you kidding? There are no farms here anymore.” Tom said. Mostly. “Now you’re thinking. Niki hesitated. He’d been delusional to think he ever had a chance with her. blond hair.” Niki said brightly.” “You’re righ t. “We’d pr obably do better if we split up. looking sleek in he r hot pink sweater. The teacher looked to Tom and smiled. The window closest to him went down. yams—root vegetables.” “Again? Whose idea was that?” Tom asked. He wander ed outside to the front of the building and scanned the parking lot across the r oad from the front entrance. I woul d have said something last time I saw you. I couldn’t afford to put gas in it even if I got it going. I’ve been looking for a job. They were holding hands and nuzzling each ot her in the hallway once again.” “It’s okay. But maybe it was only wishful thinking on his part. “Pull over a minute. I pl an to grow my own vegetables next spring. carrots. “Mine. st opping at the curb.

I wish I’d grown a garden this summer. The fres h produce shelves are just about empty. A slim. my mom does the shopping.” “Check it out sometime. The food is brought in by trucks and. The price of food in general has more th an tripled. on freighter s from places like South and Central America. and they pass that cost on to consumers like us. Curtin . To m Harris. “Mary. my wife.ly.” Mr.” “Nobody did. Have you seen the supermarket prod uce department lately?” “No.” Tom said. this is one of my students. blond w oman with her hair in a ponytail approached. Mary. but I never expec ted that things would get this bad this fast. Tom. especially in the winter. You need gasoline for trucks and freighters.

” “What’s happened. it really didn’t seem to matter—nothing mattered. tryin g to sound as if it didn’t matter. They drove into Marietta. here people were on the streets. “What else is new?” Niki scoffed. drinking in h er citrus-sweet perfume. “Eighty dollars a gallon!” It amazed him that a line of vehicles snaked out of the station and down the roa d. w here there’s still reliable electric. Bricks and concrete are made with oil. She’s been very involved wit h ecological issues for the last ten years. The lithium is what we ne ed if we’re going to be using more and more lithium batteries—though lithium will ru n out eventually. “It’s not stopping people. linked an d processed from oil. exactly?” Tom ask d.” Niki told him with a grin.” Tom said. “Didn’t we just pass your road?” Tom pointed out.” Tom replied. “Thanks. we’ll be back to normal.” Mrs. “There’s a rumor that they tapped into the power grid down county. “We’re trying to gear up nuclear an d wind-power facilities—but. “Ne xt week.” “Then why are they doing it?” “Maybe we want to get in and see if we ca n find more oil.” Tom murmured. and Tom followed her in.” “See you then.” Mr. Tom let out a low whistle.” “How is Marietta manag ing that?” Tom asked. hot water. In the 1950s.” “What must be nice?” “To be rich. Isn’t that what social studies is all about?” “Yeah. the bottom of th e tank is empty. “Still…it could tide us over until we c ome up with something better. Now it hit him. impressed. “Now.” Mrs. Curtin said. refrigerat ion—just like always.” They drove for a while in silence. Curtin explained. insect icides. Unlike in Sage V alley’s downtown section. “Tom and I were just saying how nobody expected everything to fal l apart so fast. Our military is fighting for something that’s not even there anymore. The electricity stays on all the tim e in Marietta! It’s not like here in Sage Valley.” Mrs. The asphalt we use to pave our roads—that comes from th e bottom of the tank after oil’s been refined. He’d never b een in such a luxurious home. “What was that about ?” Niki asked when Tom got back in the car. “Oh. I’ll see you then. we all should have seen it coming.” “Nice to meet you. “The world’s always been about to collapse. Carpet.” “Now the foreign oil is almost gone. They know it. “So I should have known better. “It’s a nonrenewable resource. they a rrived at the lake house. “Wow. “Ar e your gas stations open?” Tom asked excitedly. this is a cool place. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. and it wa sn’t a good feeling. Well. Niki opened the front door with a remote-control key. where it blinks on and off and n obody knows when or why.” Mr. Curtin explained. pulling open his car door. once this thing with Venezuela is settled. Things are much better in Marietta.” Mary Curtin said. “I mean.introduced them. They got on the lo g road to the beach where they’d run out of gas. Shampoo and soap are made of hydrocarbons. too. ironically. it’s happened.” “Where does it come from?” “I have no idea. Curtin said. “Not these people. We have constant heat. “One is.” Niki commented. We had no idea that everything is made from oil—plastic.” Mr. The subject scared him.” Tom said. it’s hard to build them without oil. Saudi Arabia overreported its oil production for years until its supply of oil was completely gone. Curtin added.” “Well. shocked at the news. He glanced back at Nik i waiting in the car. “We’ve been headed down this road for a while. A tanker comes every day an d refuels it. The shingles on our roof.” Niki picked up a note from the glass coffee . how m uch of a difference money could make. “People in Marietta have connections.” he said. It’s a con game to keep the world from bothering with alternative fuels. “It must be nic e. I forgot to tell you—we’ve moved back into the lake house in Marietta. businesses were open. righ t?” “Venezuela is bluffing.” “My wife has her PhD in bioengineering. in a much bigger way than before. “When are you coming back to school?” Tom asked his teacher. “You. and passed the station that had b een closed the last time. Curtin s with a wave. After a few more miles. I guess no one—including me— thought the oil wou ld really run out. the United States was the largest producer of oil in the world—then it just finally ran out and we beca me dependent on foreign oil.” Mrs. at last. Curtin allowed.” Niki replied slyly. Fertilizer.” Tom abs orbed this news with a sense of growing dread. “What do you mean?” “Their oil supply is runni ng dangerously low.” Niki pointed to a Shell station on the corner. It could be a move to corner Bolivia.” “Great. And when he was there beside her. too. “What did he say?” she prompted.” “It is. People have been predicting this would happen for the last thirty years. cosmetics—everything. It was still shut down. just about how t he world is falling apart and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. When there’s no oil.” “Wow. There it is. “Oh. Once again. But it never does. I guess. He’d never spent much time thinking about what it meant to be wealthy. he found her lemon-and-hon eysuckle scent drew him to her.

too.” she reported.” Niki waved his comment away. “That could have happened to anybody. “I thought you always liked Brock. “You know I’ve always liked you. “I’ve alwa ys liked you.” She gazed at Tom boldly. But I figured you thought I was a loser after we ran out of g as. so I could never let you know how I felt.” Tom admit ed with a shaky laugh.” Tom was struck by the faulty logic of that.” “I was always going with Br ock. “So. but he had no interest in sorting it out—at least not right then. good—that means nobody’s home.” . “Mom’s out with her friends. don’t you?” “No.table and read it.

kissing her passionately on the l ips. she kissed h im on the lips. L et the world fall apart. he noticed how anxious he felt. “I don’t know. “I need a date for the bonfire. That’s great.Stepping closer to her. Even an hour ago.” she said. he didn’t care. it would have seemed impossible. “Want to go with me?” Was th is really happening? “Yeah. Not until later.” she said. . If this was a dream. I’d love to go with you. He inhaled to quiet his rising nerves. Tom didn’t want to know. He placed his hand o n the small of her back and pulled her closer. “When are your parents coming home?” he asked . Lifting her hand to caress his cheek. he kissed her again. This morning. Niki stepped closer an d took his hand. her face softening.” “I’m glad. sure I would.” Still holding her waist. Though his stomach growled. he never would have dreamed he’d be alone with Niki B arton. he was no longer hungry for anything but her.

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I don’t allow them to fill up with extra gas. Several waiting on line rammed the stalled car until it careened down an embankment and into Lake Morrisey with the driver still inside. gasoline. I n one instance. The Route Six thoroughfare leading into Mari etta is clogged for miles as motorists. . We are sending a team of investigators to get to the bottom of this. “My tank is smaller than the tanks of some of these gas guzzlers.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Hundreds Flock to Marietta Township Seeking Gasoline The well-to-do residents of the usually quiet town of Marietta have seen their s leepy lake vacation community transformed in recent days. As much as we respect the hardship on Americans.” In the wake of Kravner’s comments. This was met with loud booing. line up at the local station—all willing to pay from seventy to ninety dol lars a gallon. News has traveled fast that in these tough times.” “That’s so unfair. “We are sending all our oil reserves to the military fighting in Venezuela and to our troops on alert in Bolivia. making oil an d its by-product. “That’s a lie. even twenty-ga llon containers. the line of cars lined up outside the Shell station more than tripled. claimed last night in a widely released response. Patterson obviously knows someo ne with access to our emergency reserves. desperate to obtain a tank of this liqui d gold. “We’re out of gas by ten in the mor ning. (He was rescued shortly thereafter. though.” says Pete Patterson. A man was arrested for throwing a rock at Commissioner Parks. a motorist refused to push his stopped vehicle to the side of th e road or even get out. “Folks come with ten-. available to our troops is a higher priority. I only perm it each driver to fill his or her tank. What t he Marietta Shell is selling is stolen gasoline. a spoke sman for Shell.” Mike Kravner. a daily visit from a tanker containing gasoline. the station’s owner. the town has been able to parlay the clout of its mo st influential citizens into tangible advantages—most significantly. on ly residents who can prove they own property in Marietta will be able to access gasoline from the station.) Police commissioner Jay Parks announced in a press conference yesterday that due to the chaos caused by this situation. depending on the day in question. Patterson revealed that Shell has released some of its emergency oil reserves to key distributors.” complained Alice Tucker of Sage Valley. Violence ensued in several incidents when cars with low fuel tanks had their engines quit while on line. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to buy as much gasoline as they do?” When asked about the so urce of this gasoline tanker.

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Wear your glasses. “Mom! Wh ere is the box of contacts I asked you for?” Her mother. “Maybe he can find some contacts in the city and Dr. Her mother defen ded herself. It looks very hopeful. “Did you have a diffic ult time in the city?” her mother asked cautiously.” “I’m not hungry. going toward him. came to the bottom of the stairs and spoke from there. It’s not dif-f i-cult anymore.” her father replied with a rumbling. spe echless. “What’s going on?” she asked. much better. Philips can call for them. Because of this. I’m not going—not wearing glasses. Dad went on a job interview tod ay.” Niki turned to see her father standing at the front door.” Niki’s fac e wrinkled into a bewildered expression. “If anyone has the money to buy it. George.” Niki stared at the blurred form of her mother. Ap parently. leaving her room for the top of the stairway. He shooed her off with a flailing swipe of his ar m. Gas jets ignited into blue tongues of flame around a ceramic log. “This is my tenth interview in two weeks. speaking of freezing.” her father insisted. the truckers are refusing to come this far north because they can’t get enough gas. the company is downsizing. “Mom!” she shouted. “Did you call Dr. It was as though the shocking news had physically hit Niki.” her mother agreed. “but all our savings are also inves ed in stocks. she r ubbed the sleeves of her lightweight cashmere sweater. our baby is cold. so they’re pulli ng their money out of Dad’s brokerage in record numbers.” Niki threw her arms u p. “That’s better.” her mother replied with a note of helpless frustration. stone fireplace . “I’m warm now.” That’s how it sounded to her. “Difficult?” he scoffed. “It’s okay. He says he didn’t get his delivery this week.” Getting to the bottom of the stairs. and Niki instantly knew he’d been drink ing. Bad enough she was going to sho w up with a second-string lineman—now she would be wearing glasses! “Call Dad.” “So we’re broke?” “Not exactly. I don’t mind. slurring the word. I have to talk to you. I have to get her s ome heat!” There was a frightening madness in his voice. searching for a box of contact lenses. and even fear. If only she could call them back somehow. It was crossed w ith uncertainty.” Her moth er nodded. Her father trudged forward. I d on’t know what to tell you.” Niki’s mother nervously offered. Phili ps?” Her mother nodded. Th anks. Don’t worry.” Niki s aid.” “That’s what I said.” Niki’s mother said as she sat on the couch in front of the large.” “Yes. a petite woman with short blond hair. “We’re broke.CHAPTER 6 Niki ransacked her top dresser drawer. Wear something warm . Niki could suddenly hear just how drunk he actually was. “We can’t have that. coming halfway down the stairs. He r mother always dropped a new box into the drawer when Niki told her she was out .” Niki said quickly. Besides. “It’s not really tha t cold.” she explained. “Lots of people wear glasses. “You still have to pay for it .” A man’s voice cut in. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him drunk. Niki trailed her mother int o the living room. People’s stock values are plummeting. “Dad was laid off a couple of weeks ago . . It gets easier every time. Brock would be there with his new girlfriend. They say the temperature is going to drop tonight.” her mother suggested. “Dad. maybe below freezing. leaving her unstea dy on her feet.” “Sit down. Niki felt her mother’s dread pass to her like a co ntagious illness. “Why so early?” “Niki. You look cute in your glasses.” “Below f reezing? No way. “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. This wasn’t happening! “Mom! I cannot go to the bonfire in glasses!” “Niki. and the cost of keeping their building going. “Now let me et you something to eat. come down here.” Crossing her arms. “We sell this house. “No. turn the heat on!” Niki demanded.” Niki shot ba k.” “Your father is already on his way home. Now go get ready for the bonfire. “True. “He’s out. Massively downs izing. “Are you kidding? Why?” “This oil and gasoline shortage has affected s tock prices around the world. and our stocks—like everyone else’s—are not worth as much as they used t o be. too. Dad. “You have got to be kidding!” “It’s not the end of the world!” “Not for you. “How did you and Dad let this happen?” she asked. “BJK-Mart was out. referring to the large box store with an optometrist where Ni ki got her lens prescription filled. “It’s happening to everyone.” The expression on her mother’s face unnerved Niki.” her mother said. but this time there was somethin g wild and desperate in his expression that frightened her. “And.” Niki said.” He stumbled toward a button beside the fireplace and hit it. it’s freezing in this house! When are you going to turn the heat on? I thought Ma rietta was the town with the oil. Where was it? Tom was going to come pick her up for the bonfire in less than a half hour. I’ll make you something to eat.” Niki insisted. wringing her hands. Her w ords had set him off.

. we’re going to burn i t. “Fire sale—everything must go!” he cried as he threw the mirror frame into the now roaring fire.” George Barton lunged fo rward and grabbed hold of a straight-back chair. And you can’t get any. The price of propane gas has gone through the roof. but her husband ignored her as he yanked the wooden frame from the mirror. If we can’t eat it. Niki jumped back as her father lifted the chair above his head and smashed it hard against the fireplace. “This will burn. This is how we’re going to be living now.disdainful laugh. “Stop it!” Kate Barton screamed. It’s all being sent to the war effort. “Here’s firewood!” he announced as he pulled open the protective glass fire window and tossed in rungs of the shattered chair.” “Geor ge! Stop! Please!” her mother pleaded. Kat e. “That flame won’t last. “That chair was an antique. sendi ng its pieces flying.” George Barton pulled a mirror off the wall and banged it onto the fireplace ma ntel. anyway.” “Get used to it. Didn’t you know? There’s hardly any propane le ft in the gas tank.

” “Aw. When Tom had finally rung her front doorbell.” Niki laughed lightly at he r dilemma. A windshield shattered. “Hey. Would her chee ring squad be expected to respond to this? Did they last year? She hadn’t been ele cted captain then. You know it wasn’t working out. “I’ll be okay. But. I’ll find out. don’t leave me. Just a s the Mariner cheerleaders were ending their last lines. I understand that you couldn’t find gas. Brock. with he r limited vision. raging father. “Don’t be like that. Around them. tried to act like nothing was wrong. “I’m not sure. In the fire’s jump ing light. his face a shifting landscape of shadow s. give me a break. Tom wrapped his arm around Niki’s shoulder and pulled her tighter. and couldn’t remember if they’d assembled to face off against the Mariner squad. Its sharp. Could she get through a routine half blind? She’d have to insist i t wasn’t one with a pyramid or any kind of throw and catch.” A sharp shout carried up from the parking lot on the cold wind. since beyond a sm all circle close by. She took in his warmth and the pleasantly smoky smell of his jacket. someone hurtled an enraged curse int o the night. she couldn’t even find Brock in the crowd. “I’d rather be warm. come on. She hadn’t started out to do anything more than make Brock jealous. leaving her alone to deal with her drunken. Outraged voices rose up on every side.” An hour later. though.” The crowd around the big fire separated to make room for a bunch of Mariner cheerleaders. We’re still friends. but you should go.” she confirmed. Grabbin g Tom’s hand. “What’s happening?” Niki asked Tom. his voice neutral. “You okay?” Tom checked.” But it was too l te. Maybe w e won’t fight so much if we’re friends. tears brimming. to o?” Niki suggested.” “No. I’m going down to see what’s going on. No doubt. Technicall y. “Yo u should leave right now. Niki could se . He’d gone. but tonight any thing that would take her away from her house was a welcome sight.” He shifted her around so she was closer to the fi re. “I don’t know. From the parking lot. Maybe he was someone she really could like . “Do you want to move away from the fire?” Tom asked. so she said nothing. “No. I wanted to know if you’re alone because I thi nk there’s going to be some fighting. Even in Mar ietta. her voice quavering. she’d have been horrified to be seen in such a piece of junk. she could see Tom beside her. And after the time sh e’d spent kissing Tom the other day…well.” “The smoke is getting to my eyes. everyone turned toward the sound. her classmates booed and heckled good-naturedly. “They’ve siphoned all the gas from our tanks!” someone shouted. aggressive hostility lifted it above the joking barbs her classmates were pitching at the rival cheerleaders. Niki became aware of a large person standing beside her. Niki stood as close to the bonfire as she could get. then I’ll be cold.” “Way too much.” Niki offered as a partially true explanation for her strained eyes. we’re not. She kept hold of his hand for warmth and also for guidance. But clearly he co uld tell she was troubled. her unfocused expressi on was adding to his sense that something was not right with her. “Better?” “Better. And that truck o f yours must suck up a ton. “It’s cold. she’d fled down the front walkway into his old wreck of a truck. “Stay here. too. and maybe you should get out of here before it starts. but she could clearly hear them chanting the Mariner chee rs. tall and square—she’d know Brock just by the smell of the fabric softener his mother used. she’d abandone d her mother. “He’s gone crazy! What should we do?” Her moth er began to cry and covered her wet eyes with one hand.” “No. the bonfire was a Sage Valley event. but every year a group of Mariner player s and cheerleaders showed up to taunt and be taunted in return.” he answered.Niki clutched her mother’s trembling arm. “Are you upset that I was so late?” Niki hadn’t wanted to talk about what had happened with her fat her. “See what I mean?” Brock said.” The night had been full of song and a friendly rivalr y between some members of the Marietta Mariners football team. “No.” she admitted. they w ere just moving blurs. She didn’t even know that word—siphoned. “What do you care?” Niki shot back. you have to know exactly when to show up at the station. Sage Valley’s rival s. everything was a blur. You dumped me twice! A friend w ouldn’t do that. She hadn’t told him that she’d come out without contacts or glasses. “I don’t know. To Niki. She smiled tigh tly and nodded.” “Shouldn’t you leave. All of a sudden. Norma lly. Her mother h ad been right: The night was unexpectedly frigid for September. Niki was growing to like him more than she’d suspected she would. “You sure you’re all right?” She was still shaken by t e scene at her house. He let go of her hand. The next big football game would be a home game with the Mariners. Niki. Are you her e by yourself?” he asked.

e well enough to take several steps forward along with the crowd around her. She heard thumping and pounding. There was more shouting. “H ow’d they do that?” “Don’t they usually stick a hose into the fuel tank or something lik e that?” the girl replied before she rushed forward with the rest of the crowd tha t was running off into the darkness beyond the bonfire. Occasionally.” “Are you kidding?” Niki gasped. motors revved but wouldn’t start. “What’s happening?” she asked a girl who had come into focus to her right. Stop! You’re going to kill him!” . ano ther crash of broken glass. “Some of the Mar iner players have sucked the gasoline from our cars. Most of the shouting was indistinct. Down in the parking lot. More curses. Niki inched her way fo rward. she could make out a clea r sentence: “Stop hitting him.

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But it was on ly enough to keep their old furnace going at sixty degrees and to fuel a small g enerator for a few hours in the evening. And yet. in a tone that told Gwen they’d been drinking. the wind howled. They reeked of gasoline and body odor as they dragged in an array of various plastic containers—juice and milk jugs. By the 1930s. pro ducing enough electricity to light their house. where they can afford it.” Rat said mockingly through his hilarity. black hair who they called Rat. Alternator Theory and Design. Can you believe that? In the world! Do you think all those rich oil guys got so fat by doing everything legally?” He laughed scornfully. especially ove r in Marietta. a flashlight held with the other. which means filling a truck with gas just to g o get the stuff. She learned that windmills were used to grind grain in Persia as early as 2 00 BC. “Don’t bet on it . The rest of the gas Luke sold at high p rices.” “Gwen. it seemed prett y much impossible to imagine converting to wind power. Propped between her stomach and her knees was a tablet onto which she’d uploaded a book titled Sustainable Future . Gwen switched off the tablet.” Luke said. muscular guy with long. his laughter subsiding.” “Don’t worry. was that Luke had so much old motorcycle junk lying around.” “Isn’t what you’re doing illegal?” Gwen asked. along with red containers.” Gwen replied sourly. she recognized the strong odor of gasoline before she even got there. “We’re going to ma ke a bundle on this. by 1908 there were seventy-two windpropelled electric genera tors. The first electricity-generating wind machine was installed in 1887 in Sc otland. Winding Coils. they’ll pay anything. you sold him the ga s that day?” “Well. don’t you? We need that money for food. She pictured a wind turbine with its blades spinning.” Gwen scrolled down to a subhead titled: History of the Wind Turb ine.” “What about the boyfriend that you sit around and howl at the moon with? What’s his name? Horace?” “Hector—and he’s not my boyfriend.” The r eading wasn’t easy to understand. stupid.” “You don’t have to know any thing. Out side. “He won’t say anything. When Gwen wanted to know why he didn’t keep more for their own use. “Just keep your mouth shut and don’t say an ything to your friends. You haven’t alr eady. The last thing Tom needed was for Luke to be o n his case. I don’t have any friends. “Are you going to call th e cops on us?” “Of course not. Tom and Carlos had been on the right track when they’d suggested that Luke had access to stolen gasoline. “What’s your kind of thing?” “Helping my brother move illegal gasoline. Gwen. Gwen left the tablet on the couch. I have to buy t he gas from the black market guy. People are so desperate. “You like to eat. He doesn’t care what you do. T ossing off her blanket.” “Yeah. Gwen couldn’t remember what she’d told Hector. laughing raucously. Going toward the porc h. Wiring and Fabrication. a tall. Fitting Mag nets into Homebuilt Alternators. skinny guy in motorcycle leathers named M ark. In America. Besides.” “That’s not for me. he answered dismissively.” she added. The article had subtitles such as: Designing and Carving Wooden Blades. tell him to keep his mouth shut about it. “I don’t really get the whole team spirit thing. From it.” “You tell him. In fact. well. and even soda bottles. have you?” Honestly. Wire and motors and all sorts of meta l were piled in the shed behind the house. Luke and two of his friends stomped through the front door into the enclosed front porch. “Did you just come up from the city with that?” she asked Luke. “Isn’t it obvious?” “You know what I read?” Rat said. “He’d better not. Tom at school knows. It also said that— as an individual—it might be easier to work wi th solar energy. There was so much she’d need to know before she could think ab out building a wind turbine and installing it on their roof.” “Yeah?” said R at. Remember. “What thing? The bonfire?” “Yeah. I just wanted to know. though. “Oil is the biggest business i n the world. I guess it could be. L uke looked to his two friends.” Luke told her. and a wider. Don’t tell him anything about what I do. They f aced Gwen with serious expressions before bursting into laughter. Governing Systems. Construction Details. Ma ybe it was useless. he said . though he appeared to be in a good mood. Gwen was poring over an article called “Residential Wind Turbines. What intrigued her about wind energy. why aren’t you at t thing at the high school?” Rat asked.” Gwen snappe d. but then thought better of it.CHAPTER 7 Gwen stretched out on her couch with a scratchy blue blanket held over her head with one hand. large water jugs. Yaw and Tail Design and Cons truction. the article said it could be done. “Hector is coo l. “None of your business where we got it. “Gee. windmills for electricity were common on American farms.

No guts.” Luke said. no glory. I’m not going into a foster home.” “Is it safe to store g asoline in here?” Gwen questioned. “I’ll run away first.” L uke waved her away as he headed back toward the door for more canisters filled w ith gasoline.” Luke turned at the door and faced her. Then help us get the rest of this gas. “I could make a bundle because I’m willing to ta ke the risk.” “Yeah? Well. pushing the canisters to the back of the porch to make room for more. either. aren’t you?” “That’s not what I mean. would ya?” Gwen lay supine on her lower roof.” Gw en insisted.” “Just get going. “You’re eating. staring at the stars. what about me?” Gwen argued. “Shut your tr ap and be useful. . “I’m not getting arrested. What if you get arrested? I land in foster care. Pull the blinds and curtains so everyone in town doesn’t know ou r generator is going.” “Don’t worry about this being illegal.. well. “I don’t think you’re supposed to store it in milk co ntainers.” “Yeah. Carrying all those cani sters of gasoline onto the front porch had made her muscles ache.

Not that Leila Jones had ever been strict—Luke always cracked that their mother was “asleep at the wheel. sniffing back blood. G wen did an excellent forgery of her mother’s handwriting when a signature was requ ired. “Why?” Gwen asked. Since she wasn’t dea d.” he explained. “Tom?” Tom stepped closer. A purple bruise was forming around his left eye . wear what she liked. But two Marietta guys started whaling on Carlos. mostly when she thought back to when she was small. “You’re bleeding. but. Soon. no one had even noticed that her mother had split. and Gwen was instantly on her knees. Hector was the only one who knew for s ure that her mother didn’t live with her. peering into the darkness. to a time when her mother didn’t drink so heavily and before Richard had brought the h arder stuff. trying to keep her voice even enough to mask her hurt feelings. Her house was close to the development where Tom lived. into a pool of moonlight. Had h e come to see her because he needed help? If so.” “Good for you. f reer life with Luke. you live right behind me. and Gwen recognized it. they’d gotten away wit h ignoring them. though.” He looked toward the wall of b ushes at the back of her small yard. Good thing the cops came when they did. some jerk stole all the gasoline right out of my ta nk. It turned out that Leila had quit her b artending job before she left. then thinking better of it. So far. “I was getting the snot kicked out of me. I realized I was going to your house. . Gwen didn’t even know how to find her mother. she might be in foster care. And it helped that he was so off the grid. and Gwen gasped. Gwen and Luke simply hadn’t told anyone about it.” Tom shrugged. The shoulder seam of his varsity jacket was torn. Who would pay for a jacket then? The state? Her foster parents? Anyone? Would they f ind her mother? Thinking about her mother made Gwen’s stomach clench with anxiety. a vapor cloud formed in front of her face. “Gwen?” A dark form appeared from the side of the house. and she still felt guilty that she had hurt the feelings of some of her old friends. just missing in action. she’d need some kind of winte r jacket. Everyone ran when they showed. but that was separated by the hedges.” “Want to come inside to clean up?” Gwen offered. and that was that. “Like those kids can’t afford to buy it. impulsively raising her hand to stroke his bruise.” “How did you find my house?” Gwen asked. Gwen quickly broke off the several friendships she had at school to p revent anyone from nosing around. A stream of b lood ran from his right nostril. “Guys from the Marietta team were steal ing gas from our tanks.” Tom disagreed with bitter laughter. “Hey. She’d left a quick note saying Lu ke and Gwen were now old enough to take care of themselves. Th at was how they knew what had happened. but it couldn’t have been avoided. Her job was done. Who would he even tell? A twig snapped below the roof. She’d run off with her boyfriend when Gwen was in ninth grade.” Gwen hissed a curse. I thought they had all the fuel in the world over there. Luke and Gwen had managed to stay under everyone’s radar up until now. “Who’s there?” she ask ed.” Life with only Luke in charge was complete freedom. “I don’t know . She saw letters that we re stamped FINAL NOTICE OF OVERDUE BACK TAXES. “I walked here from the scho ol. At first. Gwen quickly crawled to the edge of the roof and he joined her there. but Gwen trusted him. If neighbors realized she and Luke were on their own. Would Luke sell enough black market gasoline to pay for a new one? By the time the jacket was an absolute necessity. Enraged by the abandonment. Doing this made her lonely. Still…did she mis s her mother? A little. There was no sense thinking about it too much. “There was a big fight at the bonfire.” Tom brushed the red stream from his nose.” Gwen grinned. they weren’t getting involved. “Maybe later. He reeked of smoke and gasoline. so far. Their old house had been inherited from Gw en’s grandfather. But it was shockingly easy to settle into her new. She pulled the zipper of her black sweatshirt up as high as it went. at le ast not anyone in charge of anything. after all. so they didn’t have anything to pay on it.” “Not really. why her? “What happened to you?” sh e asked. not that she thought anyone really checked. She could make her own rules. My truck is stuck there. glancing at his s tained hand a moment before wiping it on his jeans. The nearest h ouse on her side was easily an acre away. She’d simply gone out for a date with Richard and had never returned. Furious. so no one at work thought it was odd that she did n’t come in. Gwen had been angry. so I had to jump in to even t he score. “A guy at a gas station told me where I co uld get some black market gas and gave me directions. Is you r brother home?” So he hadn’t come to find her. Leila had ch osen Richard over Luke and Gwen.Breathing out. When he told me I should a sk for Luke.

” “Huh.He had only just realized it—and after she’d been watching him from her perch on the roof for so long. too. “Wait here. is Luke around?” “I’m not sure where Luke is.” “Yeah. The last thing we need is this . My mom is going to seriously freak out. that’s low!” “No kidding. s he had allowed herself to continue to imagine he had come to the house to see he r.” much gas did those guys take from you?” Gwen asked. Tom picked up the red canister he’d set at his feet. For a few minutes there. “Do you have a gas container?” she asked.” Gwen sympathized sincerely. and I just want to get the t hing home before anything more happens to it.” Gwen told him trying to dodge the pang of disappointment she felt.” she grunted. If you go behind those trees. “He went out with his friends a little while ago. Gwen sighed.” “I don’t have any money to pay him right now. Imagine that. “Ma n. And when I did. I don’t even want to tell you how much it cost me. “That’s funny. “I had a nearly full tank. even though she knew he hadn’t. Gwe n took it from him. wondering how she could help Tom. I had to wait on line for two more hours. you could see right into my yard. and they took it all.” If she poured a little from each of Luke’s containers . it would fill Tom’s canister and her brother would never miss it.” Luke wasn’t inclined to give anything on credit or faith. My windshield got smashed in the fight. we’re neighbors. “Yeah.” “A whole tank of gas jacked right out of your truck. It took me hours to find the gas today. “What do you know?” Tom missed he r sarcasm altogether. . Sort of. So. But I could get it to him by the end o f the week. “Is that right?” she replied drily.

you won’t have to pay him at all.“Will Luke mind that I can’t pay him right away?” Tom asked. “I don’t want him to be mad a t you.” “If I do this right. .” Gwen said as she pulled the red gas can into her bedroom window behind her. If Luke was going to say the law no longer applied. he was fair game like everyone else.

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S. They only want to solidify their position as a world power in the co ming reorganization of alliances that will surely follow the realization that th e world is out of oil. too. American Refineries Bombed in Retaliation …Only 149 American-owned refineries remain in the United States.” . and. South America. 26 fewer than exi sted in the 1990s. Junior Senato r Thomas Rambling (D-MA) has called for an end to the fighting. Some analysts have suggested that the w orld may be completely out of oil in the next ten to twenty years. There is speculation. Canada. that Saudi Arabia. Although President Waters has decried the bombing of three refinerie s in the last week. Iran. the United Arab Emirates (UAE). stating. Kuwait. indeed. and Canada.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. It is here that oil is pumped from the ground and processed int o gasoline. even Venezuela have b een grossly overestimating their supply. Most of these oil refineries are owned by the top ten America n oil companies. Iraq. Canadian tar sands have not y ielded the expected supply. The Venezuelans ar e bluffing. has lately reported severe depletions. experts speculate that the loss will not significantly hinde r the war effort since approximately only 30 percent of America’s oil supply comes from these refineries. with the remaining 70 percent of crude oil coming from t he Middle East. once the second-leading suppl ier of oil. “We are f ighting over something that does not even exist anymore: oil. Seizes Venezuelan Refineries.

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The officer got out of his car and shone a flashlight’s beam into the truck. The second time he tried. and keepin g to the darkest parts of the grassy hill. The red canister of ga soline sat on the grass between them. “It’s spilled all over the place.” Gwen mumbled. “No. He would have told Gwen that she didn’t have to wait there with him. She’s not picking up her phone. Tom stepped down from the driver’s seat.” Gwen blew out a low. shrill whi stle. bleak view of things.” “Thanks a lot. “Have either of you been drinking or taking any kind of drug this evening?” the officer asked. I couldn’t find her again after the fight. “Say you already had the gas. gesturing at the oily splotches that now stained the parking lot. Most of them had run when the police had shown up. have you?” “What if they ask where I got the gasoline?” Tom replied. There was a lot of confusion. “Just picking up my dad’s truck. miss?” “I told you. “Nice whistle.” Gwen cringed. taking in the sight of his smashed windshield. The patrol car came alongside and Tom rolled down the truck window. Tom drove out of his parking space just as a police cruiser turned into the drive to the school. “Why do I smell gasoline on you?” “I slipped in a puddle of it earlier this evening.” Tom said. please. the principal?” “Yep. It was difficult to see from this distance exactly which students were still there. with her wry. then sputtered. “You.” Tom shook his head. so this was clearly a big deal in Sage Valley tonight.CHAPTER 8 Tom and Gwen sat on a dark hill on the far side of the high school’s outdoor track and watched the police activity down in the parking lot. “Where i s she now?” “I don’t know.” the officer commanded in a matter-of-fact tone. they made their way down toward the t ruck. sir. Out of the truck. but it was late and an gry Marietta kids were still driving around looking to pick fights.” “Hmm. “Niki Barton.” His heart banging in his chest. shaking her head and picking at a moon-rimmed blade of grass. please. “Say you bought it at a station. You don’t remember where you got it. Tom s wore under his breath.” She flopped down flat with her legs bent. “Who’d you go to the bonfire with?” Gwen asked casua lly. “Let’s go. If I pick the wrong one.” Gwen said. by the way. She was a funny girl sometim es.” Tom suggested. and I yanked it out of the guy’s han d. Tom leaned forward. The officer stepped closer to Gwen and sniffed. It wouldn’t be safe for her to walk home alone. “I t’s all right.” “See what I mean?” Tom said. “No. “Wh y don’t we just go down and put this gas in your truck?” Gwen said. either. “Glad I’m not you. Officer. When they got near it.) A van probably driven by someone’s parent arrived.” “Oh. When I did. Would he be connected to t he damage to Principal Davenport’s SUV? Did the policeman suspect that he was usin g stolen gasoline? Tom took the requested identifications from his wallet and sh owed them to the police officer. (There were only three pol ice cars left on the whole squad.” Gwen quipped sourly.” he added. He looked her up and down. it flew out of my hand and sailed into a window of Mr. forcing Tom to squint against its glare. “Mr.” “That’s not what . “Out of the truck. how fancy of her! Nice of Niki to stick around to see if you were okay.” The sound of slamming doors alerted th em that the police were getting back into their cars. do y ou think?” “Just wait a little longer and I’ll drive you home. “At least your side windows are okay. “You haven’t done an ything wrong.” Gwen lied quickly. “You? Why?” “A Marietta guy was about to hit Carlos with a tire iron.” Tom explai ned. empty vehicles remained in the parking lo t. lso…they might be looking for me.” “Which one?” “Any one. getting to his feet and lifting the gas-filled canister. watching the police ta lk to various students. She’s been staying at her lake house over there. They climbed into the front seats and Tom turned the ignition key. nearly half of them with broken windows. Somebody told me she might have gotten a ride from some Mari etta cheerleaders. too. they’ll know I’m lying.” Tom replied emphatically.” she added. Don’t you?” . Davenport’s SUV.” Gwen pointed out. and the remaining stu dents climbed in. the engine roared to life. Davenport. Gwen scrambled up alongside him. The engine revved. who perused them critically. “Thanks. “A lot of them are closed. “W ould you breathe out for me. “Do you really like her?” “Yeah. “Are we going to be here all night. Tom cringed at the gash someone had gouged into the right door. About thirty parked.” Gwen coached. License and registration. I haven’t been drinking. miss. Tom grunted in agreement as he opened the small door to his gas tank and began pouring in the fuel.” Gwen looked up at him sharply.” Gwen sat up straight again. but found his lips twisting into a bal eful grin despite the seriousness of his situation.” Tom said.

” “You’re a fast thinker. Sage Valley. “Name and address. “Get back in the truck.” Gwen’s breath formed a clo ud in front of her face and the officer leaned toward it. . please.” Gwen lied. 57 Dartmouth Street.” Tom commented when he and Gwen were once again in the truck’s front seat. please.I’m checking for. “Breathe out.” “Rae Gonzale z. Then he straightened o nce more and took a pad from his back pocket. please. Wai t there.” the officer insisted.

son?” “I was trying to leave when some guys jumped me.” “No problem. When Tom had first come down to the parking lot.” Tom objected. her voice cracki ng with fear. like fireworks.” Tom considered. was I?” she replied. He hoped that sense of camaraderie would last through the police questioning that was sure to follow. you can go. he realize d that some of the Marietta guys were getting the gas out of the tanks using bla ck rubber tubes. but the house behind ours is up in flames. Someone should have l it a match in front of one of the guys when he burped. I’m just saying—you’re pretty cool under pressure. “Somethi ng’s on fire. “Who worked you over like that. It makes sense. She might have gotte n herself into trouble and there was still time to turn back and correct it.” Tom remarked. “It’s basic science. “What?” Gwen asked incredulously.” “Did you see who broke any of the windows on your truck and these other vehicl es?” Tom shook his head. He wondered why she felt the need to throw u p such a harsh front and remembered the rumors about her mother being gone. there was so much gas residue in the tubes that they were suckin g it in. In this fight.” his mother said. You should have seen them. “All right. Mom? Are you okay?” “I’m f ine. Just pray it d oesn’t spread.” Gwen came out of the truck and joined him. he’d gradually realized that in the course of talking to her at school. “He smelle d gas on you. but I didn’t see who was doing it.” “Thanks. the S age Valley kids had stuck together. “I grabbed this box of family photos and ran outside. They were belching like crazy—sickening gas bu rps. And they know you were with me.” “And this cop thought I was suck ing up gasoline?” Tom smiled at her revulsion and shrugged his shoulders. “What if they check and come after you?” “They’d have to find me first. You wouldn’t be impossible to find.” Tom chuckled. “No. if it wasn’t for alcohol?” “He wanted to know if you’d been sucking up gasoline. “ ant to see what’s burning.“Well. Gwen wasn’t as tough as she tried to pretend. “That’s my house. like when you draw liquid up in a straw. sounding reluctant. But maybe it was. He could have given the officer a t least five names of Sage Valley guys he saw whaling on Marietta-owned cars and trucks. Sparks. he didn’t know who had smashed his windshield. backing into Birchwood Lane and then turning in the opposite direction on Creek Road. His mother was standing on the s idewalk. “Those guys were using the same tube over and over. His injuries would c ertainly be a lot worse right now. “Are you sure?” Without waiting for her reply. “Maybe we should turn back. which they were sucking air from and then sticking into a fuel tank’s opening. Thank you. since his name would be among those reported. After a while. “But there’s a good chance that someone will be coming by your home with further questions. allowing Tom to drive forward. The policeman ste pped back. If it hadn’t been for Brock pulling one guy fr om his back.” he said. blew up over the high . she looked worried .” “Why would that make my bre ath smell like gas?” Gwen asked.” “Don’t turn back.” “So they were from Marietta?” “Ma ybe.” Gwen agreed. “It sounds big.” th e officer said. Despite her words. He knew that various Sage Valley volunteer firefighters responded or didn’t. he leapt from the truck and ran to her.” Tom said.” “They won’t bother. They had to be cr azy to drive straight into a fire emergency. That would have scared th e snot out of him. Tom didn’t know what would have happened to him. in her pink winter jacket and clutching a box. I guess. I didn’t know them. It sounded like all of them would be run ning for their bluelight-equipped cars tonight.” Gwen replied. Quickly pulling to the c urb. “No. Officer.” Gwen scrunched her face in disgust. I wasn’t going to tell him the truth.” In truth .” “I don’t think it’s safe. Why was he checking my breath. The vacuum created by sucking the air from the tube drew the gas o ut of the fuel tank and into a container. alarmed. Tom glanced at her from the corner of his eye as he drove out the school’s front entrance. “I heard crashing. “Glad I missed that. That had to be rough on her.” The police officer came back from his car and returned Tom’s paperwork to him. “I’d like to see that.” Gwen said. “Let’s go to my house and see what we c an tell from there. turning toward Gwen. They were on Creek Road near the trailer park and about to turn up toward her house when Tom noticed an odd glow in the night sky. The moment he rolled down his window.” he said. They were nearing h is driveway when they heard the first fire sirens. smoky air wafted into the truck.” Tom told her. and he hoped his classmates f elt the same.” Gwen insisted.” “All right. but he wasn’t about to turn in his friends. dependi ng on how many siren blasts they heard. Tom st epped into his driveway to check.” she murmured . acrid. He explained to Gwen how it worked. “I wonder if you should have given that phony name and address. “What’s happening. “Sage Va lley isn’t that big.

isn’t it?” Gwen asked when he reached her. “That ol d thing was a fire trap to begin with.” . heading back down the driveway toward the firefighter. “Do you own that truck?” he demand ed of Tom. as though she was actually happy to see the house go up in blazes.” Going toward the truck. It struck him as something close to exaltation. yeah. but it would be bad if this nice block we nt up in flames. What was tha t wild expression in her eyes? It wasn’t grief or fear. “It sounds that way. “Can you save it?” “D o you think we can save that?” the firefighter asked scornfully as he gestured tow ard the flames dancing above the high hedges at the back of Tom’s yard—flames turnin g the night’s blackness into a purple haze shot through with orange sparks. Tur ning. “The house is gone. I hop e Luke’s all right.” “You have to move it. We’re going to soak all this property back here and hope it doesn’t catch. he realized they were pulling in front of his house.” “How’s that house back there doing?” T om asked. The fire sirens suddenly grew loud on his street. Tom saw Gwen standing at the end of the driveway. “Yes. in a voice he found strangely bland.” Tom confirmed. By the time he was halfway up the driveway. he co uld feel the wall of heat.hedge at the back of his yard. A firefighter in a ye llow slicker appeared at the end of the driveway. “I’m real sorry. More trucks are coming. gazing at the dancing lights of her home being destroyed.

“Want me to drive you to Luke?” Gwen shook her head. don’t y ou?” he tested.” he admitted. “You can’t—” Turning completely around. about me. “You’re Napoléon Bonaparte. She was in shock. She turned toward him.” she murmured dreamily. “Or maybe you’re that do rky Mr.” Tom scrutinized her mesmerized expression.” Gwen added. It’s not as though it was filled with happy memories. her eyes wide. “I shouldn’t be standing around her e. he soaked up t he sounds and buzz of returning electricity. looking up at Tom. not taking her eyes from the fire. who tried to teach creative journalism. The streetlamps flickered back on in the s treet around them. Where could she have gone so quickly? “Gwen!” .” All at once. he couldn’t find her. “Gwen!” he shout d. He let himself enjoy this moment of relief before opening his eyes again. Then the side of her right lip pulled up into a cynical grin.” In the next moment. or even in a state of shock. “It’s pretty sh ocking to have your house burn down. What kind of question is that?” “What is it?” he pressed. not sure what to do next. For a moment. the neighborhood came alive with the sounds of TVs and radios.’” he said. He suddenly felt like an idiot. There are going to be questions—about my mother. Closing his eyes. you know my name.” he told her. turning to find Gwen. He co uld tell something new had just occurred to her.” “Like I said. I won’t miss that h ouse. “I’m okay.” she said. Gwe n’s blankness fell away and was replaced by an expression of panicked worry. “Of course I know it. I’m real sorry. ‘disappear. “I know you’re Tom. I’ve bee n telling Luke not to store gasoline.“I called him. Ralph. “It’s worse than you can imagine. “The grid’s back up!” Tom exulted.” H stared at her. “What do you mean. he wondered if she was hyp notized by the flames. his voice taking o n a sulky tone that embarrassed him.” “What do you mean?” “I mean. brows furrowed skeptically. “Gwen. meani ng it. I’m not sticking around for that. What did you thi nk? That the fire shocked me out of my head?” “Maybe. “He’s okay. Every house was illuminated. about Luke. it’s time for me to disappear. This is a total disaster.” “I was just waiting for this to happen.

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” “It’s o ay. Don’t forget to get gas. “Marietta is so beautifu l. and she didn’t want him back there anytime soon. “I couldn’t really see until now. She’d been dumped for Emily Mear? It seemed inconceivable. She was fed up with not seeing. “Bye. Stephy ogled th e large homes lit with cozy front lights and Niki worried that Stephy might run up on the curb if she didn’t get her eyes back on the road. But she knew Brock hadn’t wanted to make her jealous. They po wered up. “Mom ?” she checked. “Oh.” “You look adorable in those. I saw you were with Tom Harris tonight. don’t you think?” “Very hot. though she detected a glow from the living room window.” Stephy a greed. The idea of going in made Niki turn toward her house. digging into her bag for the case that held her gl asses. Good nig ht. but… “You’re probably right. “And it’s great to be in a town that isn’t pitch-black at night. Niki peered into the amber light of the barel .” she said. He probably just wanted to make you nuts.” Niki said.” Stephy grinned wickedly. After all. No one in Sage Valley left their phones on anymore. “He just wanted to get me upset. I’m really into Tom now. she approached the front door. “I’m glad you don’t live any farther. “That’s great about Tom.” Stephy said. “Take this for the gas. I wouldn’t take it. got their messages. Was Brock there with someone?” “Uh-huh. though there’s always a long line. “Oh. stepping out of the car. Please. Sh e missed Brock and he’d been sweet tonight. “I can’t wait to see the town with lights again. Brock was starting to be in her head less and less. But I d on’t care.” Niki said.” The dashboard was a blur until Niki bent c loser and brought it into a soft focus. Something new?” “Kind of. Slipping them on. entering cautiously. He’d just flown out of her mind. “Is Brock crazy jealous?” “I don’t know. I forgot to turn it off before.” Nik i admitted. “Just think. Z ipping her jacket against the increasing cold. I don’t. he’d been the one who’d broken off with her—for the second time. once more. He was the one who’d be en in a fight. I can tell he really likes you. “No more detention for unauthorized plug-ins. Stephy did a small bounce in her seat when she read the text message. take it.” Stephy added.” “Thanks.” The gir glanced uneasily at her fuel gauge.” Stephy crooned. She would ca ll him as soon as she got inside. You’d better stop there before you head back to Sage Valley. tonight I can charge this phone at home instead of sneaking in to the girls’ room at school to plug it in there. “Sage Valley has lights tonight. though Niki wished he hadn’t been. I understand. and then she’d begun chatting with Stephy. Defi nitely. It was dark. never certain when the y’d have a chance to recharge the batteries. The station on Main Street in Marietta usually has some. “At least he’s not all stuck on himself like a lot of the other guys on the t eam. Was he there with someone?” She tapped her eyeglasses. A s she pulled to the curb in front of Niki’s house. she saw that Stephy had less than an eighth of a tank r emaining. It will only buy you a gallon.” “You’re welcome. in a quiet kind of way. It didn’t seem like he really liked he r. which s till had half its battery life: seven texts from Tom.” “A hundred dollars! T hat’s too much. “No. Can you believe those g uys?” “Really! Hey. Hop efully I have just enough to get home. As they drove down the street to her house. Yay!” “Great!” Niki ch eered. Something w asn’t right. though. I hope the battery isn’t too low. “He’s pretty hot.” Niki st ared at her pointedly.” Stephy said. She felt guilty that she hadn’t contacted him sooner. rea ching for the phone.” Stephy objected. “I know it’s out of your way. Was the gas fireplace still going? A tingle of anxiety ran up her back. She took two fifty-dollar bills from her wallet and tucked them into t he console between their seats. who was on her cheering squad. Stephy. smiling delightedly .” Niki checked her own phone.” “No.CHAPTER 9 Niki sat in the passenger seat next to a brunette named Stephy Rosen. I just know it is!” “I bet you’re right. though. but it’s getting late and I r eally don’t want to run out when I’m this far from Sage Valley. “Are you kidding? Not for gasoline.” “Good thing no one stole my gas. Give my address if they insist you have to be fro m Marietta to get gas. after all. She’d been so preoccupied with finding a ride home. then turned them off again. it was…um…Emily Mear. Stephy’s phone lit and buzzed.” Was that true? It might be.” Niki watched Stephy pull away and then turned.” Niki pictured the girl Brock had been with.” Stephy commented. wanting to know if she was okay. Everyt hing’s going to go back to normal now. maybe a gallon and a half. Thanks for the ride. Stephy was smiling happily. “Don’t tell anyone you saw this.” “No kidding. She wasn’t sure yet. toward her house. Niki.” she assured Stephy. She wasn’t even a cheerleader! It wouldn’t last.

entering the room. listening to a news program on a b attery-operated radio. Stopping to listen.y burning gas fire. Meteorologists had named the hurricane Oscar. At the end of the hall was the family room. but he hadn’t. Texas. Her father had done this. “Mom!” Niki called. Niki found her mother sitting on a couch. A reporter relayed the news that a Category Fo ur hurricane had hit landfall in the Gulf Coast island city of Galveston. sunk down t hree steps so that it overlooked the deck that faced the lake. . Niki hurried down the d ark center hallway. “Mom. A throw pillow had bee n ripped and its stuffing was scattered. A voice emanated from the room. An end table and chair lay toppled. What had happened here? “Mom!” Then the truth str uck her. Her m other kept her eyes on the radio. kicking aside broken frames and shattered glass from paintin gs thrown to the ground. The winds were blasting at 120 mi les per hour. Niki realized a male news reporter was speaki ng. Why had she left her mother here alone with h im? She’d just assumed he’d calm down. are you all right?” she asked. “Oh my God!” she gasped. Clearly. The living room furniture had been flun g everywhere. now gripped by panic. Shards of a vase lay shattered at her feet.

She stood to go to her room.” She sighed dee ply—Niki had never seen her look so defeated. Mentioning Tom reminded Niki that she should answer h is texts and let him know she was all right. . aren’t you?” Niki checked. he had a complete meltdown.” “We have no electricity?” Niki asked. He’s in a panic about money. “I don’t know if he forgot or just didn’t think they’d really turn off the electric.” Sitting beside her mother on the couch. He’s sleeping it off now. m eteorologists are tracking a Category Four hurricane that is continuing to gain force in the Caribbean off the coast of Puerto Rico. Niki struggled to make sense of this.” her mother agreed. When the lights went off. tho ugh. the stock market has been simply devastated. “Not until we pa y the bill. “Why didn’t he pay the bill?” Her mother laughed wearily as she shook her hea d. the force of which has nev er been seen before. which means gale force winds of ove r one hundred and fifty miles per hour.” Her red. but between the war in South America and the gas shortage. “I’m all right. “Everything was so crazy that I lost track of Tom. Nobody’s hiring.” her mother replied.” “I think you’r e right. I thought we were l iving on our stock investments. though she wasn’t all that sure what his job entailed. “How was the bonfire?” Niki told her abo ut the fight. “Forgot?” Niki questioned. it could be a Category Five hurricane. would he?” Her mother hook her head.” Niki’s mother turne d to her. Was it her sympathy for the people of Gal veston. A newswoman was speaking urgently. “He wouldn’t hurt you. But she didn’t feel safe at all. or something else? “What happened? Why is it so dark in here. completely stranded there. “Those poor. she knew that the word devastated and the term destroyed stock market weren’t good. “As I told you. There is speculation that by the time Pearl makes landfall in M iami.” Niki knew she should feel safe. “This just in. it could form a superhurricane. And what meteorologists most fear is tha t if Pearl sweeps across the Florida panhandle and into the Gulf to join forces with Hurricane Oscar. shocked. “You’re okay.” Niki knew her dad was a s tock trader. puffed eyes made it obvious that she’d been crying. Her mo ther turned back to the radio. many people here in Galveston were willing to evacuate but were simply unable to find the gasoline necessary to make the trip. since she was over a thousan d miles away from the storms. her eyes still on the rad io. No matter. he’s been out of work for the last two weeks. It seems to me th at everyone is just cold and tired and looking for a fight these days.Niki couldn’t believe what she was hearing: “The real scary thing about this situati on is that many. poor people. Mom?” “Your fath er forgot to pay the electric bill. They have dubbed the storm Hurricane Pearl.

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The window smashing was the catalyst for an all-out brawl between students from the two schools. especially considering the general blackout condit ions that have occurred in Sage Valley. requiring Sage Valley students under the age of eighteen to be in their homes after eight o’cloc k. Eleanor Crane. For years. Frank Hoba rt. visiting alumni have joined with students to become reacq uainted and to celebrate the approaching football game between the Sage Valley T igers and the Marietta Mariners. In response. These threats were me t with calls for countersuits from Sage Valley parents. Numerous arrests were made. whose ch ildren and vehicles were injured.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS High School Brawl Results in New Teen Curfew Fighting erupted last night at Sage Valley High’s usually peaceful yearly homecomi ng bonfire. Several Marietta parents. At this year’s event. Several students re quired hospitalization from injuries sustained before county police arrived to s top the fighting. threatened legal action. It’s just safer for students to stay insid e. “This is a sensible measure. suspected of instigating the siphoning. the mayor o f Sage Valley. has instituted an emergency curfew. tempers flared over several incidents of gasoline siphoning. Angry words escalated to violence when a tire iron was used to smash the front windshield of Marietta’s team captain.” .

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Jones was no longer at her home. but s aid that her children let it be known that their mother had taken ill and was be dridden. but she did not arrive at school and her whereabo uts remain unknown. 20. Her neighbors said they’ve suspected Mrs. Mrs. yesterday. 38. These containers did not meet guidelines approved for safe gas oline storage and have led authorities to believe that they were used to store i llegally obtained gasoline. Police are currently searching for these two. was not located there. 17. a senior at Sage Valley High School. which was about to go into foreclosure due to unpaid property taxes. so a rson is not suspected. Also missing are Lucas Jones. known to frequent a motorcycle shop known as Gh ost Motorcycle. nor was he at Vinnie’s Tattoo. Leila Jones. Police tried to locate Gwendolyn Jones. was not insured. Charred and melted containers containing small amounts of gasoline were found when fire fighters arrived. a former barten der at the Happy Corners Lounge. It is not be lieved that either of them was home when the fire started.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Fire on Creek Road Still Under Investigation Sage Valley’s night sky was ablaze two nights ago when an old-style wood-frame hou se off Creek Road caught fire. another of h is known hangouts. The homeowner. Lucas Jones. Jones relocated over two years ago to the state of Florida . and Gwendolyn Jones. could not be found for questioning. It has been discovered that Mrs. They may face f ines for the improper storage of gasoline leading to a fire. The house. and are also suspec ted of selling black market gasoline. . most likely at elevated prices. The cause of the fire is believed to be the impro per storage of gasoline on the sixty-year-old home’s enclosed front porch.

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Presiden t Waters has sent U. but admit that food is sca rce and costly due to the increased price of fuel for the trucking industry and the fact that fresh produce imported from Central and South America has been cut off due to the war. Fresh water is also in short supply. calling OscPearl “a nation al emergency of the first magnitude. Sandbagging along the Hudson Ri ver has already begun in an effort to hold back floodwaters. local residents are bei ng asked to do everything possible to prepare for the worst. including National Guardsmen. While meteorologists keep their a ttention riveted to the path of this unbelievable storm. They admit to being surpr ised that the hurricane has not yet done so. People are being encou raged to collect as much rain water as possible when OscPearl does hit. to the region. Local municipalities in our region are laying in f ood and water supplies at local schools and shelters. Though towns along the river tend to be elevated. In our area. which is expected to be some time in the next four days. Unlike the manned refinerie s that produce only several hundred barrels of crude oil a day. causing incredible damage to the ci ty of Atlanta before washing away the outer bank beaches of North Carolina. troops. and he’s called upon the Navy to repair the robotic platform. a combination of hurricanes Oscar and Pear l. especiall y during the current oil crisis. which run along the ea st side of the river.” But experts say that replacing the lost equipment. hit land in Texas last night. The inability of residents to evacuate due to gas shortages has caused a devastating loss of life in these areas. knocking out nearly all the oil refineries alon g the Gulf Coast. will not be easily achieved. . could be severely disrupted due to flooding.S.500 barrels of crude per day. The many thou sands of commuters who travel daily into New York City—and their number has grown dramatically since the recent oil and gasoline crisis—could find themselves strand ed should the banks of the Hudson River flood. exper ts expect OscPearl to lose velocity as it moves north.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Townships Brace for Worst as OscPearl Makes Way Up Eastern Seaboard The superhurricane known as OscPearl. In this robotically “manned” facility. trains on the Hudson Line. Hardest hit was the robotic refinery set out in the Gulf itsel f. Rebuilding the robotic oil refinery is our number one priority. the robotic plat form drills deep enough to produce over 6. robots labor around the clock to extract o il buried thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor.

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and was coming back. The woods surrounding Sage Valley might not have been the best dest ination in a hurricane—a superhurricane—she realized. The disconnected treetop twisted twice. Companies didn’t mine coal anymore in Sage Valley. She’d tried Hector’s trailer. Where. It then bounced. Gwen knew she’d fo . hurtling toward he r. after spending a cold night on the bleachers at school. and even stones that were sailing past her. but I’ll pretend she’s crazy and just imagined we had that food. shaking everything arou nd it. That’s when she’d recalled the old mine shaft openings set into bo ulders in the woods. It had to be Osc Pearl. She tried the schoo l—the same thing. Gwen squinted into the blinding downpour. and pines she was about to enter. Gwen had heard enough news report s to know what they meant—OscPearl had arrived. and entered the woods. frozen in terror as it headed for her. The ca nopy of red. mixing with the rain pelting her f ace. she’d noti ced ominous storm clouds beginning to roll in. Living out in the open was now out of the question. It was all charged and lit up. Gwen stood. a loaf of bread. oaks. The batter ing of rain against the ones that remained above created an almost deafening din as wind tossed the trees violently back and forth. she was searc hing for now. Someone had told her Gwen and Hector wer e friends. hoping she could stay with him. and a six-pack of Juicy Juice. She’d charged it at Ghost Motorcycle when she’d gone looking—unsuccessfully—for Luke. in particular. and no one. Wit h her other hand. Not covered! From the ever-intensifying growl and toss of the wind. had ever nailed the mi ne opening shut again. She raised one arm to shield her face from windswept branches.CHAPTER 10 Gwen sighed and stuffed her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. Tears sprang from the colliding emotions of ter ror and relief. she clutched the grocery bag containing food. just as the heavy mass of wood hit the ground where she’d been standing. Oreos. leaves.” he warned. was it? Gwen hadn’t been up in the woods that rimmed the valley in a few years. There it was! Just beyond an outcropping of rock Gwen spied a black hole. A sharp crack split the air. and she let them fall freely. watching the trees rustle in t he wind. but he told her that a woman from Children’s Services had been by lookin g for her already. Her eyes darting upward. Every time she tried to call Luke. covered the bag with her swea tshirt. pushing her way against a brutal wind that had suddenly kicked up. Gwen allowed a frightened shu dder to travel through her body. She’d come to find th e old mine shaft opening she’d remembered exploring as a kid. and finally hit the forest floor a second and last time. Gwen decided as she gazed into the expanse of maples. He’d be en the one who’d pulled off the plywood boards that nailed shut the old coal mine opening so they could use it as their secret clubhouse. so it always work s.” This morning. She hoped no park ranger had come by since her last visit . that’s all she got. He’d given her a bag of salami. As kids. Afraid the conte nts might get ruined. More static. There was one shaft.” he sai d with a laugh. She spr ang away at the last second. “She’s never really sure whether she’s crazy or not. OscPearl was probably messing with radio signals up and dow n the coast. stuck to her spot. Staying with Tom wasn’t an option. “Mom swore to her there was no way she was taking in a runaway and prom ised to turn you over if you showed up. It was the only safe hideaway she could think of. irregular opening in the rocks that would lead to the mine shaft. Nothing but static. Lying on the muddy ground just a foot away. she bundled it more tightly. it took Gwen a seco nd to fully comprehend what she was seeing. Gwen realized that the leave s were providing some shelter from the rain but fewer and fewer remained every s econd. Without further warning. A giant pine had split three-quarter s of the way up and appeared to move in slow motion as the top portion banged ha rd against its own trunk before bouncing free and spinning out into the air. as she entered the sloping. and then changed course. exactly. But she was here now and there was no turning back. as far as Gwen knew. She tried phoning the information number just to check her phone. she and Luke had played in these woods with friends. It wasn’t her phone. She wasn’t about to involve him in her messy life. spraying wood chips and pine into the air. the skies opened. tree-packed hill. Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position after a few more minutes and sear ched around for the rough. “Mom will notice it’s gone an d have a fit. and yellow autumn leaves cascaded to the ground. orange. releasing a torr ent of rain.

As she scanned the area with h one louder than the last. Could things be any worse? Her situation was so bad that it was almost funny. built into the side of a hill deep in the Sage Valley woods. A terribl e howl filled the black. But where was her bag of food? She’d lost it when th go back to find it. open space behind her. and she . She raced into ing past her. “This will end. decaying stone. Gas shortages end. She cried because Tom would never be interested in her. smashing to the ground and shaking it. a second crack. Just the wind. “Storms end. T he wavering image filtering through the waterfall in front of her was nothing bu t a blur of brown.und the opening just in time. terrifie d. How had this happened to her? Why did no one love her enough to come out to find her? Pressing her forehead against her knees. sh ivering. told her another tree wa the mine shaft opening just as a branch came crash Gwen slumped against the inside of the crooked doorway of the mine shaft. Almost. The branch that fell before she could get inside had cut her cheek. She cried for the father she’d never known. Gwen le t out a low chortle of grim laughter that began in her belly and traveled upward . Outside. Pushing back her soaked hair. Gwen flattened herself against the wall. this s coming down. It stung like crazy. e tree had fallen. Gwen shivered. She had to er eyes. one after th e other. Her hand came up bloody when sh e wiped it across her face. with a few spots of remaining green. Wars end.” she told herself in a hoarse. Lowering herself to the dirt floor. crashing into one another and sh attering with the force of bombs. Rain poured in a sheet. bouncing off the walls and rattl ing the loose. Maybe this was the start of somethi ng new. gold. Rain pelted the leaves in a rhythmic tattoo th at made Gwen imagine knives being thrown from the heavens. She hung her head. “It’s just the wind.” Gwen told herself aloud. frightened whisp er. and red. ancient trees fell. letting the cold water from her hair and body soak the dirt floor until a mud puddle surrounded her. she once again let her tears fall freely. a world of misery without end.” But she couldn’t see an end to any of it. She cried for the loss of the selfish wom an who had been the only mother she’d ever had.

was lit in the cr ystalline. other times lying in piles of threes and fours on the ground. . It was the most beautiful thing Gwen had ever seen. Gwen awakened and immediately registered a change in the quality of the light co ming through the mine shaft door. It told her where she was. Gwen wiped her eyes and stepped out.couldn’t even figure out why she wanted him to care. Standing. Everywhere. She sobbed until she exhausted herself . There was no rain or wind. Just this strange light. Above. It was exquisitely clear. and then she fell into a sleep that was just as sad as the waking. white glow. She cried for the terrible co ndition of her life right then and there. trees were down— sometimes propped against one another. The foliage floated in clumps in the puddles and raced along in small rivulets that had for med everywhere. T he scene of awesome destruction. breathtaking in its ferocity. but dark clouds hovered at its edges. th e leaves had been stripped from the broken and bent remaining trees. Gwen was standing in the eye of Superhurricane OscPearl. Gazing upwar d. she saw a bright blue sky.

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It was off the c oast of Boston now. He rnandez. so she was probably all right. “And you’re not helping her?” “She sent me out to see i f I could buy a dehumidifier. “That’s all the food you have in the house?” “Don’t give me that look. So if the power comes back on. Tom. Forget it. Tom followed Carlos and his father back to the kitchen. encased in the plastered gauze of a cast and supported by a sling. Tom’s phone still wasn’t working. as gently as he could. find some towels. you could get fried. but I wouldn’t count on it. which Tom ha d donned for the post-hurricane exploration. He hadn’t expected to become involved in a fight when he left her to check ou t the situation. Maritza. “I bet t hose houses are floating around in the lake now. It rose nearly to the top of his father’s old fishing waders. Tell her to come on over here.” Maritza sat up on the couch looking al armed. Herna ndez raised a skeptical eyebrow.” he announced.” Carlos’s mother c ame in. “Carlos.” “I’m grounded from electric. th ose waders are filled with water. If you run short. Tom grinned. disrupting radio signals for hundreds of miles. “Have you been in the supermarkets lately? There’s nothing on the shelves.” Tom wondered how Niki was doing.” “My mom has some stuff still in the fridge. could you take Carlos and Tom back over to Tom’s house? Karen needs help bail ing out her basement. And then OscPearl had begun movin g up the coast. Niki had said she understood.” her mother ca utioned. including s ewage. How’s your mother?” “Not so great this morn ing. He’d called her to apologize for leaving her stran ded. “Who ever thought we’d h ave waterfront property?” Carlos joked.” Mrs. Water was sloshing inside the waders by the time Tom reached Carlos. He’s soaking the floo r. “The dinghy is blown up if we need to get out of here. “Joe. “Nice boot s. There could even be live electric current traveling through. Hernandez said. “For one thing. “Let’s go. Her house was high up. Tom.” “I hope she’s right. emptied his waders into the kitchen pot. bobbing in the three feet or so of muddy water below. come over to us. There are lots of downed wires. I wouldn’t bet my life on them protecting you fr om getting zapped.” “I’m just saying…what are we going to do?” Maritza replied. there could be all sorts of nasty stuff. Mrs. who’d have thought it?” “Now w e’re just like those snobs over on the water at Lake Morrisey. “Rubber boots.” Tom stood on the towels Carlos brought an d. Everyone was hoping it would veer off toward the ocean there and spare the rest of New England from its rage.” “What’s she going to run it on…love?” Carlos’s mother asked. “Yeah. nothing’s open anywhere today. “I think she want s to eat what’s there before it all goes bad. teased from the couch where she was reading a fashion magazine. he saw a yellow blowup boat. large enough f or four. I stood in line for t wo hours just to get what I have in the house now—and it cost three times the usua l price.” he apologized. Get some buckets. guys. She’s trying to bail out our basement.” Tom said. “Sewage?” Carlos nodded. I can cook us up some breakfast on Carlos’s camping stove.” Carlos’s fifteen-year-old sister. Electricity will run down the boots into the ground. Carlos’s father came into the room holdin g a hand pump. His right arm stayed stationary at his side. “We can’t eat pancakes orever. Gazing out the window. Tom boosted himself u p into Carlos’s window and Carlos helped pull him the rest of the way in.” Joe Hernandez replied. It was still considered a Cate gory Six hurricane. Besides. crystal-clear sky. in this water. but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Carlo s hung out his first-story window and swung his left arm in greeting. get a pot from the kitchen. “They’re spilling all over the floor. I have a little pancake mix left and some butter and syrup. Its massive roots po inted toward an amazingly blue. “Sorry.” Carlos said. He could hardly believe it had only been five days ago.CHAPTER 11 Tom dropped down from his first-floor window. From across the street. The truckers are rationing their trips because of the gas.” Tom turned pale. The big maple in front of his house lay sideways in the brown torrent running down the street. b ouncing lightly in his waders. His bruised face instantly reminded Tom of the fight at th e high school. Maritza. The small craft w .” Carlos told Tom. We had power before the storm.” “Nice idea.” “Tha t’s sweet of you. frigid water. landing hip deep in filthy.” Carlos added. which is completely flooded. “You’d better get out of this wate r.” “Sure. “You don’t know what’s floating around in here.” Af ter collecting buckets from a closet. She’d texted him after the bonfire to say she’d gotten home.” Mrs. I ca n tell you that. looking frazzled and tired. “Whatever. “ he figures the power will come back on once the lines are repaired. Besides.” Tom volunteered.

The dog tried with futile movements to p addle away.” A golden retriever that Tom didn’t recognize was being carrie d past the boat by the rushing torrent. Tom rea lized immediately that the rush of water had increased by a lot. Please!” “We’re out of food!” “I’ve run out of my heart pills. He rnandez handed down the buckets and some oars before climbing down also. Who knows what’s in there?” Carlos went out first and Tom followed him down. I co uld die without them. but he was no match for the racing floodwaters. their neighbors were standing at their open windows calling out for help. “My grandmother’s stuck in our flooded base ment. “Mom is going to really appreciate t he help. That’s what neighbors do. “Thanks f or doing this. Joe Hernandez w as pulling hard on the oars just to keep the small boat from being caught up and carried away in the current.as tied to the doorknob of the back door. They help each other when times get tough. “Stay low in the dinghy. untying and pushing off from the house. You don’t want to tip and land in that muddy water.” Joe Hernandez said. Tom rea ched out and clutched the big dog’s long. On instinct. Mr. All around them. “Out the window. Help me carry her. Every bump and small wave rocked the rubber vessel as Carlos’s father rowed it around the si de of the house and down the driveway. “What are you do ing?” . When they were out on the street. boys. The boat rocked precariousl y as he hoisted the animal into it. “Whoa! Tom!” cried Joe Hernandez.” “No problem. Tom.” Carlos’s father inst ructed. reddish fur.” Tom told Carlos and his father.

Larry. There was no tag.” his father replied. “Larry . he looked a t the animal more closely and saw that the retriever was no longer a puppy. first. but still young. He examined the coll ar the dog wore.” Carlos suggested. “We’ve got all these people to try to help. “That’s a funny name for a dog. “Maybe we’d better see about that woman’s grandmother. spraying them all with the foul water. “Welcome ab oard.“He would have drowned. “Maybe the dog can help.” . When Tom stopped ducking away from the shower. turning the boat away from Tom’s house. “I’ll take care of him. The dog shook himself dry.” Carlos’s father insisted.” He patted the dog’s soaked fur.” he repeated.” Tom insisted. but the name Larry was stitched onto it.” Joe Hernandez put his back into the work of rowing. We can’t take on a dog right now. “A dog has to be fed.” Tom explained.

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to wean themselves from their addiction to oil. P erhaps it is already too late. scientists at England’s University College . claiming that just as high-oct ane gas produces more power. the world’s largest consum er of crude oil. warmer ocean waters produce more powerful hurricane s. Those that have some remaining supply are near depletion. really. Oil i s still abundant and continues to be the best source of inexpensive fuel. but we must try. If indeed global warming is the culprit in the formation of this ruinous storm. This war with Venezuela is a game of blin dman’s bluff. The conclusions they are drawing all seem to point in one direction: heat. We have just seen. what our lack of leadership and gra ssroots action is costing us. that the current unavailability of gas that has so curbed our driving and general mobility could be a blessing in disguise. it makes us view the current fuel crisis in a new light. the college’s Benfield Hazard Research Centre is attributing the never-before-seen fer ocity of OscPearl to the rise in sea surface temperatures that has been happenin g steadily over the last forty years—put even more plainly: global warming. We import over thirteen billion barrels of oil a day. Rambling rebutted the president’s words. are busy studying the devastating superhurricane. Many of these oil-producing cou ntries have finally.” Mr.” Senator Rambling is calling for an antiwar rally in Washington by the end of the month.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Climatologists Now Believe OscPearl Caused by Global Warming More Superhurricane s Could Be Brewing Now that OscPearl has blown out to sea. “This sort of panicky rhetoric undermines the current military effort to open oil fields in Venezuela and elsewhere. To be more specific. it has always been in the best interest of oil-producing countries to keep prices at a somewha t reasonable level. The re searchers speculate that ocean temperatures may be climbing even more rapidly th an atmospheric temperatures. Rather than striving to regain the oil that feeds our current way of life—and continues to raise carbon levels to dangerous highs. A senior analyst with the National Hurricane Center likened warm ocean waters to the fuel for a car. . costing American lives. It’s time to stop the madness. run out of what we have always known was a nonrenew able source of fuel. p olluting and warming our planet—we should be searching for cleaner alternatives. saying: “The last t hing the oil suppliers want is for the American public. our entire way of life will have to be revamped in a way most citizens wil l find unacceptable. Withou t it. But now things have changed. Each day! For that reason.” President Jeffrey Waters responde d to Senator Rambling with harsh words. London. Senator Thomas Rambling (D-MA) stated in a press release today: “As our state s truggles to recover from this horrific storm. in a wildly dramatic way. It flows logically from that. then we must look to carbon emissions as the underlying c ause. t hough they don’t want anyone to know it.

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Niki let the spray of lake water stirred up by the Jet Ski hit h er face. Her glasses fo gged.” “You f loated here on a dinghy?!” Niki cried. and there wa s no sense fighting the glasses. he pulled up to a rotted dock extending off the island.” “What do you have to do?” “Get on. It might be him. “It was floating in s omeone’s yard. After his rampage. I’ll put it back when I’m done. He put his finge r to his lips. having been unable to shower for days since the power shortage took out the el ectric pump to the family well. after all. I’ll give y ou a ride. was now completely submerged. so nothing could be cooked.” “Okay. The war in Venezuela had escalated. When Tom was in front of her. and she laughed with delight at the improbability of his driving out to see her on a Jet Ski. but their house was empty. There had been s o much misery that riding so fast now with Tom made her feel that she could race away from it all. But she could still see the boat sitting there below the surface. Tom returned her lau ghter. The water vehicle seemed to be heading directly for her. The floodwaters had risen to just below the five-foot-high platform.” he admitted in a confiding tone. Tom brought the Jet Ski alongsi de the stairs and Niki came down another three steps before swinging around to s ettle in behind him. swinging her arm broadly. thanks. in Danbury. but it didn’t look awful. more and more American troops wen t down to fight for oil. “Tom?” she wondered aloud. “All the roads a re flooded. The last BJK-Mart Superstore. “It got me here. but now she was ready for lunch and didn’t re lish the idea of cold chicken soup. Tom sent them surging forward into the lake. A teen boy was driving. The water was muddier than usual with the contents from the bottom still swirling. had been force d to shut its gates when rioting broke out as customers fought over the sparse g oods left on the shelves. only moving away from it t o rummage for something to eat. Speeding aro und a jutting lakeshore bend. as though they might be able to actually outrun all the troub les of the world. It was Tom. half sunk below the water. “Not n ow. The BJK-Mart corporation explained that not only was t he high fuel price of trucking to blame. In just one day. everything in the refrigerator and freezer was a melting mess. too. When they were close. Niki wondered if he even realized there had been a hurricane. though she wasn’t yet sure.” Tom suggested.CHAPTER 12 Niki stood on her back deck and looked down the hill into the floodwaters.” “Want to come up?” Niki offered. Her mother was staying glued to the radio. “I borrowed it. Niki had to admit he had the be st smile. I wanted to see you . Niki was st ill staring out at the lake when she noticed someone crossing the water on a Jet Ski. and she wrapped her arms around his w aist. and she took them off to wipe on her shirt. The stove and microwave wer e electric. “Hang on. I have something else I have to do. Every day. she leaned out for a better look. Bolivia had sided with Venezuela. laughing in disbelief. The f amily’s Bayliner motorboat.” “I used my friend’s dinghy. I have this other thing to do. which hadn’t been too awful. Its bracing iciness made her feel alive. Tom offered . Tom drove them out to the north side of the lake. Contact lenses weren’t coming back into her life anytime soon. As she waved to him. pointing to the Jet Ski. she snatched off her gl asses and stuck them in the front pocket of her jeans. And she felt disgusting . Getting off the Jet Ski. It was tempting t o jump into the flooded lake.” he instructed. She was hungry. and the fighting had spread. her father had taken to h is bed and hadn’t yet emerged. Cl osing her eyes. and was now more up-to-date on current events than she’d ever been in her life. Lucky the ta nk still has gas. “You’ll see. shrugging in a way she found charming. Connecticut. Her breakfast had been a can of cold tom ato soup. almost happy. Turning the hand throttle. Descending several steps until her bare feet hit the water.” she agreed. he set a path toward a wooded island out in the mi ddle of the lake. “Where’d you get that?” she asked. obscuring her view of Lake Morrisey. Niki realized it was closer than she’d originally thought.” “How did you even get over to Marietta?” Niki asked. Niki had sat with her for two hours that morning . he idled the Jet Ski. It’s tied up back there at the empty house. Canada. but also the fact that plastic was a pr oduct derived from oil and the elevated price of plastic products due to the sca rcity of oil had made many of their products too expensive to stock. A Russian nuclear submarine had been spotted off the coast of Nova Scoti a. She needed to see. still tethered to the family dock. “How are you?” he called. and plus.

A t its center was a tumbledown wooden storage shed. and he r bare feet sank into a muddy ooze as she gazed around at the trees and bushes.Niki a hand in climbing onto the dry part of the dock. “No kidding? Does your family really own this island?” Niki asked. “Where are we?” Niki asked. here’s another part. so she pulled out her glasses. I used to camp out here with him when I was little. the two of them struggling t o make it fit through the narrow opening. “Partly. Niki helped him pull it sideways out the shed door. Its one window was smashed. intending to leave them on for just long enough to take in her surroundings. all tangled in vines. “That’s what you came here for?” Niki asked.” He walked around to the far side of the shed. Then he pulled the Jet Sk i up into the bushes. “Okay. Tom nodded. “What are you looking for?” Niki asked. Gripping the top of a scratched orange canoe. “It was m y grandfather’s. They were a blur.” Tom pushed at the shed’s jammed doorway until it gave way. he pulled it off the two wooden sawhorses on which it had been sitting.” .” Niki stepped up to her ankles in frigid water. “Here’s one of the things. “Did you think you were the only one whose family owns property on Lake Morrisey?” he asked in a teasing voice. The entire i sland must have been no more than ten yards long and about eight yards across. “This is my family’s vacation estate.” he said. He pushed through old camping equipme nt and boat oars. its shingled roof nearly cras hed in by the heavy branch that lay on top of it. stepping inside the shed b ehind him.

She’d completely forgotten sh e’d put them on.” Niki admitt ed.” he remarked. suddenl y worried that he’d like her less for not loving dogs.” he said. “I think you look very pretty in the glasses. worried voice.” Tom said. though. I t’s funny on a dog. “They’re called halyards. “Here it is. but so far there’s no news. Tom took the glasses from her and gently placed them back on her face. I’m going to drag the canoe home with me.” “What for?” she asked.” she admitted.” “That makes sense. “Yeah. but he had no tags.Niki joined him and saw the bottom side of a small boat.” “What are those ropes for?” Niki asked. “Does it sound crazy?” “Everything is crazy now. and h e responds to it when I call him that.” “Hey. Laughing. “He must belong to someone. sure he was just being nice. gazing around the island. Suddenly.” “Yeah. Embarrassed. I’ll have to come back for it. anchors. “I feel like I’m turning into someone else.” he explained. and you have to see. It’s got two sails—I think it’s called a s loop. “Is it a rowboat?” she aske d. Niki had never kissed a boy while wearing her glasses before. she whipped off the glasses. and I remembered these were here. “First to an all-out fight between t wo high schools and now to a snake-infested island.” Niki said. All I know is that his collar says Larry.” “I bet he’s nice.” she said quietly when they broke from their kiss. did I say you look good in your glasses? I never knew you wo re them. unfurling them on the shed’s wooden floor.” Tom agreed. he unearthed two dirty nylon sails. they were kissing. “Don’t I take you to the nicest places?” he joked. “That was my plan.” After a few minutes more of searching. Once I get back to my di nghy I can attach it and float the canoe behind me. He used to take me out. This sailboat is too heavy. “Oh? Well. It has to be fixed up .” Niki went with him back into the s hed and followed his lead in continuing to overturn beach chairs and deflated fl oats to dig below moldy blankets. pulling out a long meta l pipe with nylon ropes wrapped around it. knocking out spider-webs with his h ands.” “I’m not big on dogs.” “How do you know I—?” Niki’s hands flew to her face. “The mast. “It’s the hull of my father’s old sailboat. “Larry is an adorable name. But they’re not poi sonous. . and just about anythi ng anyone would ever need at a lake. He smiled sheepishly. wishing she hadn’t spoken. “They live all over the island. I checked with the sheriff’s office to see if anyone’s looking for him. I figure that any kin d of boat that doesn’t need gas would be good to have. though.” “Snakes?” Niki asked in a small. did I tell you I have a dog now?” He told Nik i about the golden retriever he’d found swimming in the floodwaters. towels.” he confirmed. they’re disgusting. pu tting his arms around her. “Did you plan to sail it?” Niki asked. motors.” Tom said. “The sail s are attached with them. and then kissed her again. Right now it’s completely disassembled. “Why do you want to bring it home?” “People are stranded all around by me. In the next second.” “Like who else?” Tom asked. and I could sail it if I can find the other parts.” Tom replied as he turned the boat over. still digging among the piles. “No. “Everything’s changing so fast. I like him. “You look good in them.” “You’re going to bring the canoe home on the Jet Ski?” she q uestioned. yeah. he laughed. She’d never have thought it was so mething she’d ever do. don’t you?” “Do you really think they’re all right?” Niki asked. “Not today. By the way. “Aw. I suppose. “I’m not sure.

CHAPTER 13 Gwen threw all her weight against one of the two huge trees, the one on top of t he other that had fallen in front of the mine shaft doorway. It wouldn’t budge. Sh e screamed in frustrated defeat. She’d been pushing at the trees for at least a ha lf hour without any result. After the eye of OscPearl had passed, the storm had resumed, beating against the mine shaft with an even more terrifying ferocity th an before. Gwen had rushed back inside and had been there mere minutes before th e first tree crashed down and hit the second tree. She had cringed into a ball o n the ground, covering her head and ears. The two trees made a door that blocked the rain, and at first Gwen had been thankful for the additional protection, no longer fearing that her small space might flood. But now the storm was over, an d the trees were stopping her from leaving the mine shaft. Initially, she’d hoped she could wriggle out through the space on top, but she couldn’t even get her shou lders through. Gwen’s stomach rumbled and a dull ache of hunger was forming at its pit. Panic seized her, increasing the pain in her belly. What if she survived t he storm only to starve to death, trapped here in this old mining shaft? Even if she shouted for help, who knew how long it would be before anyone came by? If i t was weeks—and it could be—she’d be dead. The small space suddenly felt unbearably cl austrophobic. She had to get out. Calm down, she urged herself. Breathe. There h ad to be a way out. Searching around, Gwen saw a patch of wood about five feet s quare from side to side in the dirty rock floor—a trapdoor. Walking over, she real ized that it hadn’t been placed perfectly on the opening. And then a dim memory ca me to her. Luke, Rat, and other friends used to go down into the mine, leaving h er on top, usually with a boy named Tim and his sister, Tina. Luke always said t hey were too young to come down into the mine, and Gwen had been just as happy n ot to go. The dark, rocky descent made her think of a fearsome entry into an und erworld. As much as she would put on a brave face, she always sighed a deep brea th of relief when Luke reemerged. Gwen had asked Luke once if he could breathe a ll right when he was down in the mine. “Yeah, there’s air down there,” he’d answered. “It’s coming from somewhere.” If there was air, maybe there was another way out. Grippin g the trapdoor’s handle, Gwen put all her strength into pushing the door from atop the opening. The space between her shoulder blades cramped with the effort, and her biceps twisted in pain. She clamped her teeth together, contorting her face into a determined grimace until the door was pushed forward. Breathing hard, sh e stepped back to observe her work. The door wasn’t completely off, but she’d pushed it far enough for her to squeeze into the opening. Bending, Gwen peered into th e blackness and another memory came to her—the secret flashlight. Luke and his fri ends kept it stashed on a rock shelf behind the metal steps leading down into th e mine. Did she have the nerve to go down there? Glancing back anxiously at the tree-blocked doorway, Gwen shuddered at the idea. What was down there? But what other choice was there? Gwen sat at the edge of the trapdoor opening. Turning, s he lowered herself onto the metal ladder, feeling with her sneakers for the rung . Descending four more steps until she faced only dark rock, she groped through the ladder until her hand came to the heavy lantern-style flashlight she’d remembe red. Could the batteries still be good? Clicking on the switch, nothing happened . Then she remembered something else Luke had told her. He always stored batteri es separately. “They stay good as long as you don’t leave them inside the flashlight ,” he’d told her. Again groping blindly for the rock shelf, she came to a blister pa ck of C batteries. Score. Feeling her way down the long ladder, flashlight clutched under her left arm, ba tteries stuffed deep into the back pocket of her jeans, Gwen felt as though she were disappearing into a world of utter blackness. The shaft opening above took on a grayish glow, lit by the bit of sunlight that filtered into the shaft from the opening, but it was disappearing with every downward step she took. At the b ottom of the ladder, she sat cross-legged on the cold, damp rock, which instantl y soaked the seat of her jeans, and fumbled in the darkness with the bottom of t he flashlight. When it was off, she loaded it with the batteries, feeling the bo

ttom of each one with probing fingers to ascertain if it was going in the correc t direction. Batteries like this had become rarer and rarer—and more and more expe nsive—in the past couple of years, but she still remembered how to do this. Holdin g her breath in anticipation, she clicked to the ON position. Gwen blinked to ad just her eyes to the light as she took in her cavernous surroundings. The black and brown speckled rock was veined with bluish-gray lines. Stalactites hung from the rocky ceiling and dripped everywhere. There was a sound of rushing water co ming from somewhere, but she couldn’t tell where. When Gwen breathed out, her brea th formed a cloud of vapor. Swinging her flashlight all around, Gwen saw that th e mine continued on to her right and she headed that way. Along the way, she sca nned the walls with her flashlight beam, searching for anything that might indic ate that there was light or air coming in. After a while, Gwen’s feet ached and sh e felt sure she had walked at least five miles. This endless underground path se emed to lead nowhere in particular. And now she would have to go back the way sh e’d come—because there was no way she was going to sleep down here in this cold, wet , dark place. Throwing her arms wide in frustration, she swung around in a circl e. And suddenly, she froze midswing, because right in front of her was a door ma de of a highly polished stainless steel. Assuming it was locked, Gwen tried the handle just to be certain. And it opened. Pulling the door toward her, she stare d in at the improbable sight of a clean, ultramodern living room. “Hello?” Gwen call ed, stretching forward to see more of the room. “Anybody home?” The only reply was t he hum of the stainless-steel refrigerator. Drawn by intense curiosity and the p romise of finding food and water, Gwen stepped inside. The door shut effortlessl y, making no sound as it swung on silent, spring-loaded hinges. The room had no windows but was bathed in a pleasant, soft, whitish light from bulbs embedded in the ceiling. Gwen hoped this meant the power in Sage Valley had been restored. At the room’s center was a long, black counter space surrounded by high stools. On the right were couches covered in a tweedy, tan material and a smallish TV with about a 32-inch screen. A Ping-Pong table sat to the right of the couches.

their edges smoothed. its downed trees nearly stripped of their foliage. bringing her just below the surface. It took a moment more of disoriented confusion for her to realize she was staring out of a window that ran from floor to ceiling and took up the entire wall. she was deeply disappointed to find it empty. It had worked—she’d found a way out. WELCOME TO THE HEART OF THE WHIPPERSNAPPER 3 GREEN MODEL HOME— THE REVOLUTIONARY MAGNETIC GENERATOR . Putting down the glass. Quickly perusing their spines. Gwen gulpe d down an entire glass of it. Ju st as he’d foretold with the help of his complex mathematical formulas.Directly behind the counter was an all stainless-steel kitchen. It seemed that the spinning plates were turning two fan belts. she was gre eted with a vision of the windblown forest. But what was this place? Th ere was no other window aside from the one that covered the entire wall. Gwen saw that they had titles such as Building for a Greener Tomorrow. Conquering Lift and Drag in Wind Power. She took one a nd turned on the filtered water tap. It had been nearly twe nty-four hours since she’d had anything to eat or drink. but the shelves were lined with various books. nothing but one long table on the high ly polished wooden floor. she found a supply of green-tinted drinking glasses that looked as if the y had been made from the bottom of bottles. Apparently. It was a whirring motor of some kind. and The Green Potential of Magnets. “Hell o? Anyone up there?” After waiting several minutes for a reply. It was also empty. turning. 1956? It seemed that this mess they were in the middle of now had been com ing for a long time. Was thi s building set into the side of the hill? Going to the window. The room was nearly empty. Thumbing through. King Hubbert. the other two counterclockwise. She couldn’t remember anything ever looking a s delicious to her as the stream of crystal-clear water that ran out. had predicted that oil production in the United States would reach its highest level in the 1970s. windowless room she assumed was a bed room. and Gwen took it down. A winding staircase in the corner of the room appeared to lead to an upper floor. A geophysicist named M . peered to her right. It seemed to be coming from the next room. There were three shut doors against the back wall. The second room was identical to the first. she saw it was filled with graphs and charts. she went out to sear ch for the source of the resonance. Deffeyes.S. though there was an unfilled bookcase built into the wa ll. the underground path she had been on had sloped upward gently. Gwen emerged into a room flooded in sunlight. It was all movin g very fast. scooping a handful of ice into her parched mouth and lettin g the wonderful cold and wet melt there. Gwen f ound a sign. Pasted to the back of the third door. Pullin g open the refrigerator. One book looked older th an the others. Gwen laid the book back on the s helf. she pressed her c heek up to it. In the ca binet. and saw nothing but rock. Gwen went to the bottom of the stairs. and after that. On the b ack cover. but with all its parts exposed. and then refilled a second. It was titled Hubbert’s Peak: the Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S. This wasn’t an illusion—it was real. and the water instantly r evived her. and the staircase had brought her t he rest of the way. humming sound d istracted Gwen from her thoughts. WELCOME TO THE HEART OF THE WHIPPERSNAPPER 3 GREEN MODEL HOME— THE REVOLUTIONARY MAGNETIC GENERATOR The only thing on the floor was a motor about the size of a microwave oven. had been dependent on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Comp anies for their oil. Straw Bale Insulation. and Gwen went ri ght for the freezer. It seemed she’d gues sed correctly. They were set between two heavy blocks of some kind of metal. Gwen turned back to the sign to find out some more about the Whippe rsnapper 3. th e production of crude oil would begin to fall off and would never again rise. since 1971 the U. Leaving the second room. who was working for Shell. It was an updated edition from back i n 2003. Four heavy plates spun. two clockwise. Gwen read a blurb explaining the book’s subject. Gwe n pushed open the first and found a small. How had everyone missed the warning? A low. she began to ascen d the stairs. He’d predicted this in 1956.

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His mother was still in bed and lo oked pale. re d coat.” Sage Valley had been offici ally declared a disaster area. which had been even harder hit. She needs to get out of the house. Tom ruffled the fur that curled like a mane around Larry’s neck . but there were places. “Mom. dropping it over the railing to the water below. “O kay. They all want cash.” Downstairs. He’d figured she was all right and other people needed him mo re. he’d taken the canoe out with Carlos and Carlos’s dad. she’d started with thi s horrible coughing. “Come on. Tom hoped no one was looking for this dog right now. Can you buy some for me?” “Tom.” “You found milk?” he asked hopefully. That s hould be enough to stock them up for a while. And get me some cough syrup . buddy. The dog came running. and he pulled down a woolen blanket to tuck around her. “Larry!” he called.” he repeated to no one in particular. even if you are a go od swimmer. catching her br eath. his words seemed to him shameful and cold.” Tom told her. “Why no t?” “I don’t know. Or take my debi t card from my wallet. She nodded. Be careful. The racing water carried him out to the street without even using the paddles. “Hey. but it’s still high enough that the canoe is the best way to go. He untied the c anoe from the table. let’s go find you some dog food. “Some cereal. A Red Cross boat will probably be by soon. and the golden retriever scampered in fro m the living room. What a disgusting mess! His stomach rumbled. t rying to help more neighbors who were stranded. But he’d have felt just as bad if he helped them and ignored his mother yet again. he turned out to be a gorgeous animal with a thick.” “Then take the cash. you can still get that dehumidifier. which set off another fit of coughs. He turned and began to untie the canoe that he’d tethered to the picnic table anchored to the deck. as the canoe rocked from side to side. but Sage Valley was apparently lower on the list of places in need of immediate relief than others. Tom had gr own completely attached to him. to keep from being swept away. “I have to do something right now. “Whoa. . Grabbing t he oars from the table. Now that Larry was dry.” she a nswered. laughing.” “I’ll be back soon!” he called to them.” “Okay. the mold is making my sister sick. “I’ll b e back. to try to bail out the basement. Tom. there’s not much food left. Tom saw that the brown floodwaters were just abo ut a foot below.” his mother replie d. Various groups offering aid had come in. “You don’t want to land in the water again. In only days. yeah.” “Is the water still that high?” “It’s down bout a foot from yesterday. he knocked.CHAPTER 14 Tom stopped in the second-floor hallway of his house to listen to the hacking co ugh coming from his mother’s bedroom. Can you go into town and see what you can fi nd? And. so he figured there was little danger of it floating off now. can you take me to the doctor?” “I have money for food. Neighbors instantly noticed him and opened their windows. He set his gaze dead ahead to avoid meeting any of their eyes as he threw his back into the task of rowing the canoe to town. And now this morning. Two hundred dollars. The table had withstood the blast of the stor m. As he spoke. But then he had to stroke hard against the flow to turn the boat toward town. He counted the money in his pocket. There’s money over there on my dresser. He’d left her there al one in the basement. Guilt shot through him. Moving to her door. the next day. maybe by some miracle. It’s cold in here. there!” he cautioned. And then.” Tom nodded.” There was a strong current that required him to hang on to the deck w hile he climbed in. It’s just what I heard. The possibility of giving up Larry was something he didn’t want to consider. “I’ll take the canoe out and go into town. especially places south of them. once m ore. and Tom leaned aside to let him leap into the canoe. can I come in?” “Sure. His mother had gone down. but he’d have to remember to buy onl y nonperishable items. he whistled for Larry as he descended the deck steps and grabbed the canoe at the bow. “Listen. “Have you eaten anything yet?” Tom asked her.” Ste pping outside to the back deck.” “No one’s taking cards. “I had it dry. Do you have any other blankets?” His mother pointed to the top shelf of her closet. Tom pulled open the refrigerator door.

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you missed that. her voice rising ang rily. “Sorry to leave you to handle it all. not the war.” Her father g azed at her blankly for a moment and then tossed his blanket aside. He had always seemed s o in control. Then she picked up the tray and walked out. or about the possibility of more superhurrican es tearing their way up the coast. When Niki’s mother had discovered she was out of gas. dumbstruck with di sappointment. facing away from Niki.” he said. Niki. “Oh. Brock’s kisses had been sort of slobbery.” “I suppose it’s understandable. slurping his soup. “I brought you some soup.” he muttered.” Niki snapped. Niki didn’t want to spend ti me worrying about global warming. “You two seem to be handling things. “Come in. and Marietta is in big trouble. He was a good kisser.” she said as she walked the bike to the puddle-dotted sidewalk. It was pleasant to think about Tom. to her team. was infuriating. These memories almost made everything else go away.” She ignored his criticism of the soup.” “Dad. wearing pajamas he hadn’t cha nged in three days. “This is a little cold. using the last bit of propane left in the tank. but the sight of him lazing in bed. being Brock’s girlfriend had given her a sen se of where she fit in. She still didn’t want to spend time dwelling on any of this—not the aftereffects of the hurricane. “The lake was halfway to the back deck. Was it Tom or. “Basically…we’re all going to die.” She hadn’t intended for her voice to sound as annoyed as it did. “S uddenly it seems like she lives far away. “If things are so bad. a real slammin’ hurricane. but she’d gone to see Niki’s grandmother. thrilling to think of him coming across t he lake on the Jet Ski.” “Go to the corner gas station and get s ome. Nothing leap t to mind. certainly not her depressed. She was sick of hearing about all of it. She didn’t have many close friends. whom she was surprised to realize she didn’t think about m uch at all anymore. you’r e not an invalid! Snap out of it!” Her father pushed the tray with the half-finish ed soup onto the bed and rolled over. No food. to remember how his arms felt around her. “It was a superhu rricane. she discovered that this was a question she couldn’t easily answer. Not being able to drive certainly chan ges your point of view about distance. tranquilized. It was part of who she was. “What would be the point?” “The point is that Mom a nd I could use some help!” Niki shouted. either. out-of-work father. Is that true?” Niki ro lled her eyes and fought the urge to knock the tray over on him. But was that all she was? . With everything tha t had happened recently. “Oh. “I used to think Grandm a lived close by. the pleasu re of thinking about him? Before Tom. more satisfying— for having been cooked outdoo rs? He probably wouldn’t even notice. a great kisser—better than Brock. too.” her father suggested. “It’s just all too much to deal with. at least. taking the tray from her. now that she recalle d.” “That would be a start. We still have no electricity. “Thank you. I guess I should get out of bed. Was it his job that had been holding him together all along? How p athetic! What held her together? As she walked back to the kitchen with the tray . Was it cheerleading? It did give her a sense of purpose—to her school. “Your mother told me that storm I heard was a big hurricane. But not completely. who needed her medications refilled—and whose pharmacy hadn’t reopened since OscPearl swept through. Nothing! And there’s no way to get out except to walk like a bunch of refugees with all our belongings stacked in wagons or on our heads—and to where? No place is better off than Mariet ta. “Yeah. groggy voice when she knocked at his bedroom door.” Niki had nodded. though she hadn’t particula rly wanted to think about it. Marietta’s private gas tanker c an’t get through the floodwater. unshaven. Niki just wanted to be left alone to think about Tom.” her father call ed in a sleepy. she’d taken Niki’s bicycle for the four-mile trip. not the gasoline short age. So you can imagine what the other towns are like. and no w we have no gas for the generator. There’s no gasoline.” Niki threw her hands into the air. I guess I’ve had a sort of meltdown since losing m y job. Niki could only stare at his back.” Niki said.” Niki grumbled begrudgingly.” she informed him stiffly. She wondered if he’d appreciate the fact that she’d warmed it outside on the gas grill. It was too obnoxious t o even acknowledge. the idea of crawling into bed and simply staying there had a certain appeal.CHAPTER 15 Niki balanced the tray as she went up the steps to bring her father his lunch of canned chicken soup. Would the soup taste any different—smokier. Her mother usually did this. really?” he said. “But what could I do about it all?” her father wondered aloud as he dragged the blanket back on.

would she be just like her father. adrift and useless? Niki s uddenly realized her eyes were wet with tears. . Niki couldn’t manage to put it out of her head. This question was one more thing she didn’t particularly want to think about.A cheerleader? Brock Brokowski’s girlfriend? Tom Harris’s girlfriend? If those thing s were taken away. and she quickly brushed them away . On ly. somehow.

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Tom slogged through the water with Larry leaping along at hi s side. taking in the various kinds of damage they’d sustained.” Brock shook his head miserably as he surveyed the damage. “Got insurance?” Tom asked. I saw her a few days ago. He came to one where a very large tree had come down right on top of a red hybrid parked in the driveway. Mr. Tom recognized the vehicle. “Give the kid a break. Curtin agreed unconvi ncingly. and an uneasy expression came over his face. Curtin. “I’m desperately in need of a paycheck. come on. “She’s still living at Lak e Morrisey. pushing the canoe deep into them until only a bit of orange peeked through. going in the direction of the old A&P. and the two of them left t he post office. She spent too much time in the basement trying to bail floodwater. “I saved for t his since freshman year. Bro ck and Niki had broken up. built before the day of t he superstores. and that g . He stayed by Tom’s s ide as Tom dragged the canoe into some bushes.” Les grumbled. I can’t even imagine how much it costs to se nd a package nowadays. He was a quarter mile down the road. As they took the road back down into the valley.” “Thanks. joining him at the back of the line. “Yeah. “No. She’s okay. And apparently. Okay.” Mr. Brock knew he was involved with Niki. “Where is everybody?” Were any stores even open? He’d heard they were. I guess we’re the lucky ones. “Liste n. It wasn’t a perfect hiding place. “Aw.” Brock said.” Tom said as he canoed into the center of the Sage Valley business district. “When do you think school will open again?” “Soo n. “Do you know where I can buy some?” “ o you know where the little A&P just about a mile up the road is? I heard that’s o pen. I hope. Tom shrugged. Seeming to understand. taking the paper from him.” he answered.” he lamented. Sucks. A hand shot out to wave to Tom. The first store he came to was Maria’s Deli. Mr. If not. This is my cell phone number if we ever get electric and cel l phone service again. “How’s it going?” he asked. I guess.” Tom said. either: PIZZA OVENS OUT OF ORDER DUE TO FLOOD. and Tom had heard rumors that it was Brock who had br oken it off. although there’s probably not much left. the water once again began to rise around them. “I know mold grows fast in wet conditions and some people can get really serious respiratory conditions . which came to the tops of his legs. He took a pad and pen from the pocket of his corduroy sports jacket. and now she’s coughing. Just the same. you’re welcome at my hous e anytime.” he told Larry as he got out of the canoe. crushin g the roof on the driver’s side. what the heck. “Have you seen Niki sin ce the storm?” Tom immediately saw himself kissing Niki there on the island and ho ped Brock couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Thanks. “You know where I live.” Mr. The water is sti ll much deeper than here. Everybody here is picking up packages. Curtin had worried him. Tom felt incredibly awkward. “I’ll go there now.” Tom sympathized.” “Okay.” “Great. How are things at your house?” “Not so good. so he headed in. It was Mr. than where Tom lived. I thought it was just a head cold from standing in the water for so long.” he said to the clerk. the water was below his knees. “No dogs!” the clerk behind the counter snapped. or he wouldn’t have asked if Tom had seen her. moving forward in line. “Yeah. Curtin said. backing toward the door. I don’t want to worry you. closer to the valley’s rim. “Aw. so it was less flooded.” To m said.” “I know.” Mr.” “I hope the mold in your house isn’t getting to her. Remember. scratching sound as it scraped the bottom of the road. The business district was at a higher elevation.” Tom comp lained.” “Thanks . Brock Brokowski came around the tree and waved to Tom. splashing into the water.CHAPTER 16 “This is definitely weird. He had no reason to feel guilty. “Sorry about your car. man. A line of people wrapped itself all the way to the door. There were lights on in the post office. “Maybe that’s all it is. Curtin.” Tom said. Larry jumped out. HOPE TO REOPEN NEXT WEEK read the sign on the front door. His canoe made a rough.” Tom said. Curtin replied.” “I hope she doesn’t have th at. Larry. Les. either. “Hey. “How’s it going with you?” “Hopefully bette r once I pick up this care package my sister sent. looking at the houses.” Tom said. The pizzeria he came to nex t wasn’t open. CLOSED—OUT OF EVERYTHING. just come over if you need help of any kind. and my mom’s not feeling so good.” “I’m desperately in need of food.” “Do they have electric over there yet?” Tom shook his head. but i t would have to do.” Tom motioned for Larry to follow him. Good to see ya. “We’d better stow this thing. but we’ve got no cell signals and even the landlines are down. but you should be aware of it. By the time they wer e at the center of town. and Tom wondered if he should have gone back fo r the canoe.

” Tom said instead. which was spotted with large puddles but was othe rwise pretty dry. she seems to be. He knew that right no w most people couldn’t get their water-logged engines running. The large. why had he broken it off with h er? Tom didn’t know Brock well enough to ask. a man was knocked to the ground and Tom knew what was really happening. This struck Tom as a hopeful gestu re. pulling her little d aughter along by the hand. They were fighting. Som ething about the scene wasn’t right. Then. Tom noticed a vacuum machine about the size of a small car in the far corner of the lot. But if he was. By the time Tom and Larry neared the grocery store. but he couldn’t quite figure out what. “Good luck with the car. and assumed it had been us ed to suck up much of the water from the lot. the wa ter was just below Tom’s knees. white building was in sight at the far end of a midsized parking lot. .as station that was getting fuel is shut down now. It sounded to Tom li ke Brock was still stuck on Niki. “if those rich people over there can’t get any help. its orange hoses dangling. He started to cross the lot but stopped walking when he realized that people were milling outside the store. what chance do we have? But y ou said Niki’s okay.” “Man. In her other arm. “I have to get going. su ddenly. she clutched a paper bag that looke d half full. returning his attention to assessing the damage. considering that although there seemed to be about twenty people in front of the store. there were only three cars in the parking lot.” Tom told him.” Brock said with a wave. A young woman ran toward him. right?” “Yeah. and those who could start their cars couldn’t find gas to fuel them. too.” “Thanks. A curse was hurtled through the air as if to seal his new un derstanding of the situation.” Brock said with a sigh .

a police siren sounded. “Yeah. the other man was off the ground and running ba ck. He had to wonder how the jails were fu nctioning without power. Maybe he knew where Gwen had disappeared to.” she reported. Two of the women struggled over a jar of tomato sauce until it wen t flying out of their hands and smashed onto the parking lot’s blacktop. A heavy woman came flying betwee n them. fighting to get as much of it as possible. He was caught between his impulse to avoid the fighting at the groc ery store and intense curiosity. Tom saw t hat two boys about his age were shoving each other. “They’re fighting over the food. “You live behind Gwen. He d idn’t get far before he was tackled to the ground by the guy he had punched. “I’m not sure there’s going to be a next time. we’ve never met and you don’t know me. sure.” Hector agreed. They walked to the back of the par king lot.” Tom said. While the two men wrestled on the ground. “That’s why I wanted to ask if you know where Gwen is. He realized that one of them was the tall. With a nod of his head.” he said once it seemed safe to stop and talk. Hector.” “Of course. normal person.” he said. Larry. alarmed. Two police cars came into the lot. sendi ng his food rolling out of the bag. locking the door.” Hector revealed.” he told Tom. And canned corn. shouting voices snapped in the air as he came c lose to the front entrance. and then he shrugged. Tom suppos ed they would call it disorderly conduct. “She was going off to find some old mine shaft to live in to keep safe from OscPearl. As he staggered ba ck. having just been pushed away from an abandoned grocery cart by another w oman. I found him in the f lood. “But you escap ed? You’re okay?” he checked with the woman. “Hey!” Tom sho uted at Hector’s attacker. What am I supposed to do?” Larry barked at her as if giving a reprimand. and shouting ferociously. Listen. And pasta in the shape of unicorns. The store is nearly out and closing down. skirting the wide puddles. One man punched another and sent him tottering backw ard so close to Tom that Tom had to leap out of the way. Tom signaled Hector to follow h im even farther out of the lot until they were on a quiet side road. “He’s a great-looking dog.” “I saw her after that. “Thanks a lot.” Hector just stood there panting as he hugged his brown bag of groceries. and he walked towar d the front of the store. you—” Before the man could finish. “The kid is hungry. Hector gazed at him as though fi ltering his reply. I’m Tom. “Let’s get out of here. It didn’t look like the best moment to speak to him. I remember. T he last thing they needed was to be picked up for fighting in public. but—” “I know who you are. Angry. Hector looked to Tom. th ree women and two men pounced on the spilled food.” Hector said w ith a small wave.” “Hey. “Good idea. “You know what I have in here? Anchovy paste. Bas ically. At least you used to before her house went up in smoke. though Tom knew it was probably only a reaction to her ag itated tone. “Thanks. “Why don’t you get lost?” Tom countered. She had robbed so meone of their groceries? “Don’t look at me like that!” the woman shouted over her sho ulder at Tom. “This is Larry. Those who haven’t been able to get any are attacking people as they come out with their bags.” A gro cery clerk came to the door and quickly turned the inside dead bolt. spraying Tom and Larry. I was able to grab this bag even t hough some spilled. His curious nature won out. who seemed to be unharmed as she ran back into the fray of people fighting ov er the cart’s contents.” Tom suggested to Hector after a quick check of the woma n. I haven’t s een her since the fire. “I think Gwen and I walked past your house one day and I figured it out. After the kid stormed off. the only things left are the things that nobody ever really wanted. In the distance. “Hi. deciding what he wanted to say. Mohawked kid he’d seen Gwen with that day he’d been talking to Carlos by his truck. the kid glowered at Hector. pink tongue.” the other boy snarled. Next time I’m gonna mess you up. “And you let her go?” “I couldn’t really stop her. without talking until they were far enough away to feel safe from the fighting. a mother with her small child. Larry licked his face clean with his long.” “How do you know where I live?” Tom asked. aghast. She loo ked like a nice. their si rens screaming. “Get your own food. The first man grabbed his groceries and began to run. Tom ducked his head away and noticed that Hector did the same. Tom stared at her.” Hector inte rrupted him. “You’re lucky your bodyguard showed up. his head bent as if he were a ram intending to butt horns with a rival. shoving the boy away from Hector.” she said without stopping. “You’re not getting my food . Hector was clutching his bag of groceries to his body while the other boy was trying to tear it away from him.” “Are you kidding me ?” Tom cried.“What’s going on?” Tom asked the woman as she passed him.” He shook his head.” “Get lost.” Hector defended h .

how would she have survived? A mine shaft was probably good shelte r.” He ctor said.” Tom said. I’m living at the shelter in the bas ement of the elementary school.” Tom had meant o be casual when he’d asked if Hector was seeing Gwen. “I think we should. “Yeah. right?” “Did she tell you I was?” “No. “No idea. I found a couple of mine s hafts. really. I went up to th e hills looking for her yesterday and the day before. There was no way she could hav e gotten into those.imself. “Do you think we should go look for her again?” he suggested. But he’d definitely dete cted a certain strain in his voice when he asked. We can take it part of the way. Tom’s thoughts focused on Gwen. Besides. but did she have enough drinkable water and food? And OscPearl had ended four days ago—why hadn’t she come down and let Hector know she was all right? “Why wouldn’t she contact you? You are her boyfriend.” “She wouldn’t have said good-bye to you? You’re he r boyfriend. and steadied the boat as Hector a nd Larry climbed out. they trudged up the muddy dirt road leading to the forest. Without a word. He whistled fo r Larry. Maybe she fou nd Luke and they went off somewhere. If she had been up here dur ing OscPearl. but I…you know…I assumed. After all. but they were boarded up from the outside. it was none of h is business. “She has her own mind. They were all standing knee-deep in water but the canoe co uld no longer move forward. . who had gone off to explore some tall grass. OscPearl demolished our trailer. I don’t know where else to look except in the forest some more. stowed his oars. the cops or social services would have picked her up. He’d just been kissing Niki yesterday.” Tom tied the canoe to a tree.” “So where do you think she is?” Tom asked. “Let’s go. If she’d stayed with me. right now. and he wondered if Hector had caught it also.” “I have a canoe. aren’t you?” Tom checked.

” he finally replied. Was he interested in Gwen? Niki was the one he was supposed to be involved with. “If i t were up to me.” “Probably not. absorbing this new information. “I don’t know.” “But you lik e her?” “Yeah.” Hector grunted non committally. “I’m not sure you’re Gwen’s type. Maybe he was just worried about her. “Why?” Hector asked as they n ared the trail leading into the hilly forest. Tom cast him a confused glance.” Tom said. in that way. “W hat do you mean?” “I don’t think Gwen is all that into me—I mean. I would be. Then a look of resignation came over his face. But still… .” “Oh. Hector’s shifting eyes made him seem to be calculating how he wanted to ans wer before actually speaking.” Tom conceded.Again.” Tom admitted to Hector. But he’d found himself thinking a lot about Gwen ever since the night of the fire when she’d run off. “I’m not sure. he’d thought of no other girl but her for such a long. wasn’t she? And he did like Niki. long time. “Are you interested?” “In Gwen?” “Who else a re we talking about?” Tom realized he was avoiding the question. But it felt like somethin g more than that.

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“Were we just out there? Is t his one-way glass?” “Yep. “Hell. she went close to the window for a bet ter view.” Hector reported. The whole trailer park is demolished. “It’s the Whippersnapper Three.” Gwen confirmed. It’s made from all recycled and recyclable materials. startled. coming al ongside her. leading the way to the side door th at was set into a huge boulder. “What’s in there?” Tom asked. as you saw. “You are okay. “You would never even know this place was here. I’m totally okay. she decided they didn’t look all that great. Hector. “It did turn on its side. gaping in wonder. Come on in.CHAPTER 17 Gwen put down the fork she was using to eat the salad she’d picked from the greenh ouse on the top floor of the Whippersnapper 3 Green Model Home and stared intent ly out the expansive wall of a window to the forest outside. “and it got blown down the road. Thanks. quickly brushing the wetness from her eyes.” Tom turned to look out at the forest.” “Thank goodness. I guess it’s because we’re at the bottom of the valley. Hector and Tom ran to her. and his clothes were dirty. Two. It would’ve bee n washed out or blown away. Solid forms were mo ving among the trees. they might not realize there was anythin g there at all. They wouldn’t be ab le to look in at her.” Gwen gasped.” Gwen add ed. “I’ll sh w you. pushing her out o f the hug for closer scrutiny. Squinting for a better focus.” “What about you?” Gwen asked Tom. too. The ro of just peeled right off. “Oh. Gwen embrace d him.” Hector admitted. At first. amazed. Gwen could tel l they weren’t the white-tailed deer that often browsed by in their constant quest for leaves and brush to eat.” Gwen stepped ahead of him and knocked on the glass. Someone had come out to look for her—two someones. Were they hikers? Forest rangers? No— Hector! Tom! Running to the side door. “That’s terrible. “Hi. “It’s me!” Hector exclaimed as he walked forward to inspect his image. “Not great.” “Maybe you should come to the shelter with me. We were able to get into my mother’s car and just pray it didn’t turn over. knocking her back a few steps as he leapt on her. Stepping back to look at them.” Hector su ggested.” Gwen told them. hugging her tight. “It doesn’t even matter that it burned. but the basement is flooded and so are the st reets. The forms were coming toward her.” Tom said. “For a second.” “Were you there at the time?” Tom asked. It has storm water retention.” “When did you become an expert on . pointing toward the forest. pleased to me et you. “I’m here! Over here!” Larry ba rked and ran to her first. One? No. “The Whippersnapper Three features passive so lar design and natural cross-ventilation that eliminates the need for an air con ditioner. Yesterday she went outside through the camouflaged sliding door and knew that the window panel was made of mildly reflective one-way glass . “My trailer…like…just blew away. yeah? Wh ere have you been living?” Hector asked. but before she could explain. it seems.” Gwen told them. her delight in seeing him making her forget any self-conscious inhib ition. I have it good where I’m living. she pounded the button that caused it to slide open and raced into the forest. His Mohawk had flopped to one side and there were dark circles under his eyes.” Gwen agreed. Follow me.” Gwen realized. She recalled the night in the mine shaft when the desolate feeling of being completely unlov ed and alone had been so awful that she’d cried herself to sleep. yeah! We were there. and as long as they didn’t catch sight of themselves in the greenish reflection. calling to them. “Yeah. “It’s a solar panel. “Our house held. aren’t you?” Still laughing. “You’re okay!” Then he gripped her arms. “The what?” Tom asked. and it all runs on a magnetic generator that never costs any more th an its initial start-up cost. Tom’s bright eyes had a weary expression. “Yes. Tom jumped back. too. Gwen turned toward the reflective glass. Better than you guys.” “My house definitely wou ldn’t have lasted. “I know. Be sides. “A lmost no impact on its environment. There were two people out there.” Tom said. Yes. all they’d see was more trees. That was the most horrible day of my life. Gwen rubbed his head.” “Awesome. “Thank you for coming to find me. inf used with the excitement of her outburst. as he walked into the room on the main floor. even the front isn’t intrusive. Getting up off the floor. bu t at least it didn’t get far.” “You were lucky it didn’t. man! What is that?” He ctor cried as Larry barked at the reflection.” she said. “How have you two been?” she asked.” “Oh.” Tom murmured.” Gwen’s eyes welled with happy tears. You. Hector threw his arms arou nd Gwen. “And that one-way glass. Hector was even worse. It w terrifying.” Tom said. and have social services put me in foster care? I don’t think so. laughing.” “No kidding. Gwen leaned back into the hug. I thought I was seeing a ghost.

“I’ve been reading those.all this?” Hector asked as he slowly turned in a circle. “I t seems like someone just left this house as it was and never came back. plus all the sales brochures on this pla ce. or someplace else far enough away tha t it would cost way too . Gwen pointed to the pile of books she’d taken from the bookshelves and stac ked on the floor. My best guess is that t he people who built it live in California. There’s not much else to do. taking in the Whippersnap per 3.” “So. do you have power here?” Tom asked. Gwen nodded. I don’t t hink anyone ever lived here. It’s just a sales model home.

“Farmers used to get their seeds from their crops. popping a hydroponic strawberry into his mouth.” Gwen con firmed.” Hector added. just the top is open. “Every day they get sprinkled with storm water collecte d in that cistern. He cursed softly. Gwen showed them to the basement kitchen . things like square tomatoes that would fit more neatly into shipping containers.” “At least somebody was thinking.” Gwen looked to Tom and Hector. For a while. But come upstairs first. “It’s to encourage you not to leave chargers p lugged in because they drain energy. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been sort of forced to eat the good stuff. The panels must’ve been pretty thic k to withstand the storm—but obviously they did.” Gwen offere d. big biochemical companies started making genetically modified foods. I’ve read a whole pape r on what they’ve planted here. “So. “The side walls use ultraviolet grow lights and those containers on the walls are hydroponics. fortunately. “Dig in. “No.” she said. Are you?” “Real hungry. way freaky. but then we all just got used to it.” Gwen told him. Freaky.” “Are these plants genetically modified to grow insid e?” Tom asked.much for them to move back right now. “but isn’t it cool?” “How come we c ouldn’t see this from the outside?” Tom asked. Gwen pointed up. it looked like we had allowed the big biotech compa nies to destroy all the world’s food.” “Hydro what?” Hector a sked. “They’re grown in the air without dirt. then a few years ago.” “You have power!?” Hector cried.” Hector recalled excitedly. “Is it hard to get the seeds?” “Real hard.” Gwen told him. But now they h ad to buy them from the company every year. so I guess some thing is heating it. “I can’t believe I d .” Hector replied. Hector is s tanding by the herbs. Gwen shook her head. smiling. “It’s still below the outside walls. Except. either. “Sorry. “You have to eat it plain because there’s no salad dressing or anything like that here.” “I read about that.” Tom suddenly hit the table.” she added apologetically. Gwen pointed to spri nklers set into the glass. snapping off a twig of gre en basil and popping it into his mouth. “See the way the roots dan gle down out of those holes? Every day a nutrient spray gives them food. plus there are heating units in the walls that are powered by the same ma gnetic generator that’s running the whole house. you know.” When they’d filled s traw baskets with the food they’d picked. “You guys look like you’re hungry.” Hector said. pointing to a large blue bin on the outsi de corner of the glass roof. none of those. Gwen nodded. “I suppose you’d have to build a house like this in a clearing to get the sun in here like this.” “There’s a c harger rack downstairs. only now there were no m ore seeds left. “They were called terminator seeds because they didn’t renew themselves. They stepped into a greenhouse brightly lit b y natural sunlight pouring in.” Tom agreed. At fi rst everybody was suspicious of it. taking his cel l phone from his jeans pocket. All these seeds come from a natural seed bank in H olland.” Gwen said. “but the Whippersnapper Three comes with its own supply.” Again. up in that container are hydroponic tomatoes and next to that. They’re totally natural.” Gwe n said. “All I found was som e stale cereal for breakfast. “Are you kidding?” Hector said. It turns out that the GMOs don’t h ave the same nutritional value as the natural food had. Tom. the way those peop le at the grocery store were acting.” “A seed bank?” Hector questioned. “I didn’t bring my charger. “The stuff I read was real interesting. I want to show you guys something. “It’s nice and warm in here. “Do you know how good t his tastes after eating nothing but powdered cheese and macaroni for days?” “It’s grea t. “There was a lot of rotten fruit and vegetables when I first got up here ’cause no one had collected it. Maybe you can find one that fits your phone . which is why I don’t think anyon e’s been here for at least a little while. “There are some apple and peach trees at the far end in those pots. There.” “Yeah. You get used to it.” Gwen led them up a spiral staircase to the top floor. About thirty years ago. I had it dry and I haven’t had anything since. See?” Gwen explained.” Gwen agreed.” she answered.” “I did a r eport on something like this last year in social studies. “Those glass panels also work as solar heat. snapping bright yellow cherry tomatoes from a plant. cucumbers. staring up. these reports star ted coming out by private medical groups claiming that a lot of the sickness the y were seeing was tracing back to malnutrition. but I just dumped the old fruit in the composting bin over there. “Didn’t the c ompanies make it so the fruits and vegetables completely died out each year?” “That’s right. too. there were some groups that had thought this might be a problem and had begun collecting seeds.” “Where’s the Twinkie plant?” Hector joked.” Tom remarked.” “This is awesome.” “How come these plants didn’t die if the place was abandoned?” Tom asked. It di dn’t seem like I was going to get anything else to eat.

” “You know . “I thought you fo und people annoying. “There’s a bottle o f acetaminophen in the medicine cabinet. I can say that I was abducted by a spaceship and the aliens return ed me to earth with a bag of food as payment for the valuable internal body part s they stole from me. . I was supposed to go right back. I w onder if you guys should tell them about this place. Gwen.” “I’ll go get her some veggies and fruit. shovelin g a forkful of lettuce into his mouth while he hand-fed Larry snap peas.” Gwen agreed.” Tom added.” Gwen offered.” “True that.” “People are annoying. which t he dog eagerly gobbled.id it again!” “What?” Gwen asked.” “Okay.” “And have them duking it out i n the forest?” Hector questioned. They were clobbe ring each other for a bag of groceries.” “Way nuts. e specially people with kids. and I’ve been gone for at lea st three hours.” “Thanks. “there’s a lot of food up there that people could use.” Hector agreed. “You should have seen them.” Gwen agreed.” Gwen said.” “Why didn’t I th ink of that?” Hector said.” “We have to find a way to get some of this food to them .” Tom agreed. “Since when are you such a saint?” Hector asked lightly. “I was supposed to bring my mother some groceries and medicine. “But I guess people get sort of crazy when they’re hungry. You can bring that to her. It was nuts. She’s sick. “If you could fill a bag. I’ll take it to the people in the shelter.” Gwen began thoughtfully. “If you have extra. some of my neighbors are completely out of food. “I’ll say I got it in town somewhere. “But little kids shouldn’t go hu ngry.

“It’s the end of the world. “You could be right. “Like back in t he days of prohibition when alcohol was illegal and they made whiskey in stills?” Hector asked quizzically. Gwen laughed. I keep asking myself—is this a good thing or a bad thing that’s happe ning?” The three of them stared at one another helplessly. “No idea at all.“That’s not the way your mind works. or does it feel like it’s the end of the world?” “Why should it be the end of the world?” Tom asked.” “A kit for what?” Tom asked. Come on. she’d assumed he wasn’t a person who would ever ask a question like that.” Gwen agreed. It struck her that she had made the same quick judgments about Tom that she so deeply resented others making about her. “But is it the end of the world.” Tom admitted.” Hector agreed. crazy .” Hector said disapprovingly. Gwen thought she understood what Hector was getting at.” . looking bothered by what he was about to say. not a deep thinker. “It’s as though t he world is falling apart. “I have no idea about tha t. I’ve learned how to make alcohol for fue l—ethanol.” “Me. Don’t worry. and no one is in charge or even knows what to do abou t it. He was a football player. “I don’t know if I’m really into that. “Gwen.” Gwen said.” “What? Are we going to have to walk everywhere and become farmers?” Hector asked. Even though she had always liked hi m. Or at lea st ride bikes. or only the end of the world as we’ve always known it?” Tom considered.” Gwen suggested. It’s pretty cool.” Hector decided.” Gwen said.” Hector continued. “It’s a thing I’ve been building from some blueprints in a k it I found down here. “Is it just me.” Gwen replied.” “There’s something else I want to show you in the back of this place.” Gwen answered. “Or maybe it’s ju st that everything about the way we live is going to have to change. “I have to ask you guys something. neither. “No. I’ll show you. “A still. Gwen looked at him as though sudde nly seeing him in an entirely different way. “But we might have to do that. “Sort of. don’t tell me you’ve been out h ere getting blitzed every day.” “Exactly. I haven’t been making whiskey.

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hard slog to recovery after Superhurricane OscPearl dev astated much of their semirural town almost a week ago. flood-re lated respiratory diseases. Sage Valley residents have been pleasantly surprised to find gift baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables deposited at their front do ors. “Perhaps this individual ha s a boat. Speculation is that the mysterious benefactor bestowing these much-needed f oods must be a local resident with an insider’s knowledge of Sage Valley’s people. Desperately in need of s ervices but largely overlooked by agencies busy assisting even harder hit areas. sick. Badly needed pharmaceuticals are also in short supp ly.” Ms. Crane speculated. But they have n ot been totally overlooked. It’s late September. the citizens of Sage Valley are currently suffering from homelessness. resulting in a severely deplet ed supply of food and goods.” . “This must be someone with access to th e food markets at Hunts Point in the Bronx.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Mysterious Donations of Fresh Produce Bewilder Local Residents Flood-stricken residents of Sage Valley have had at least a taste of good fortun e to help ease the long. Crane admits that her analysis does not take into con sideration the fact that a person bringing food from Hunts Point would have to t ravel through areas that OscPearl has made impassable.” Ms. s ince the baskets have found their way to the elderly. and other sicknesses. and therefore the se products have to be imported since it would be impossible to grow them locall y at this time of year. Sage Valley is a town that can be excused for feeling that their government and even their neighboring towns have completely abandoned them. and families with ch ildren more quickly than to other townspeople who are more able to find food for themselves. Mayor Eleanor Crane tells us. “Folks have told me about a person seen traveling a round Sage Valley in an orange canoe. plus an almost complete breakd own in their deliveries by rail and truck routes.

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either. She made a note to he rself to also buy some batteries while she was in town. especiall y the wealthier ones. Train tracks weren’t so flooded anymore. And there was a pervasive dampness in the air. too. They said they were t oo isolated out here by the lake. “Where are you going?” “We need fresh water and charcoa l. That’s an expensive. Niki ran back to the chest t o get the long oar with its paddles on either end. Was he back from his stupor? He seemed to care if she was safe all of a sudden. Towns in Westchester and the Bronx had power.” Niki nodded and stopped to gaze at him a moment. As Niki began walking toward tow n. even though it would be miles. she might be gone. Nik i decided. his face was covered in stub ble and his hair bent at odd angles. Okay. After chaining and locking it to a tre e. she didn’t rea lly mind going. Niki couldn’t detect even a single distant engine. I will.” They’d drunk the last of their bottled water supply. Maybe they’d gone to relatives closer to town. “Okay. The last time she’d seen him. Despite the difficulty. knowing it would bring her to Shore Road. “In that equipment chest over there. and an orange life vest. Everything had gone silent and wet. It wasn’t easy. her thoughts wandered and she remembered the day she’d been stuck there with To . Her father appeared on the deck in his pajamas. she had dragged the kayak off its stand of twin sawhorses and pulled it to the shoreline. Sage Valley. “Take a chain and padlock with you. She knew there was no way to kno w whether he’d called her—her phone was dead—but still…he knew where she lived. though the water was choppier than she’d expected and the breeze stronger than she had guesse d. It was immediately exhilarating to be out on Lake Morrisey. This morning. “Do we have an oar for this kayak?” Niki called up to him. The weather people said th ere were two more hurricanes brewing in the Caribbean. And even that was getting more and more static. What the reports had said seemed true to Niki: It was as if they had been for gotten. and other nearby towns weren’t as luck y. and handstand s had made her strong. The gray wash of sk y above lent a somber. the floodwaters were receding enough for trucks to get through and bring in supplies. Most of her neighbors had left . due to the necessity to conserve power. The lake had gone down a little. “Wear a life vest. she headed up a dirt trail. the back end afloat as the wat er lapped at its side. she got out. In lower Westchester. stas hed the life vest in front of her. Her glasses fo gged and she wiped them on her shirt.” he replied. but everything was still so wet. Why didn’t all this water just evaporate? Th e dark clouds overhead probably had something to do with it. and thought.” That was an excellent sign that he was getting back to his old self. Had all that meant nothing? If he didn’t come to see her soon. but then the charcoal supply slowly dwindled down to a few chun ks. she’d have gone total ly insane. pointing to a rectangu lar cedar box behind the boat. he’d seemed so crazy about her. pulled the kayak up. Niki went down the steps to the wet dirt below. and stowed the oar inside. so Tom is alive. Everyone agreed: The East Coast couldn’t take anoth er superhurricane. Niki began rowing across the lake. it would be another OscPearl situation. she’d been stuck in the house with no electricity for longer than she could stand. “Okay. wooden kayak. and barefoot. From there she could walk to town. When Niki reached knee-high water on the other side. dipping her elbow in an effort to flip it hull-side up. and pushed off by digging the paddle into the ground. It’s also in the chest. The glorious days r ight after the hurricane had turned gloomy once more. Standing. cartwheels. That was probably a good sign. the news r eport had said some towns not too far away had come back onto the electric grid and their power had been restored. List ening hard. the front still in the dirt. If they hadn’t had the battery-powered radio. but years of handsprings. handmade kayak.CHAPTER 18 Niki heard the story about the “mysterious benefactor” in the orange canoe on her mo ther’s radio.” she agreed as she leaned i nto the highly polished. If they merged. and coming bac k she would be dragging charcoal and water. Niki positioned herself low in the hull. O r even into the city. almost ghostly gloom. In five minutes. Shore Road was eerily deserted—no cars at all. Manhattan was the first to light up. not when it hadn’t yet recovered from the first one. Returning to the kayak. though she wasn’t exactly sure where they were leaving to.” her father shout ed. though i t was a mild amber version of its former illuminated glory. But Marietta. She’d taken some from the lak e and boiled it.

but it di dn’t seem possible. it would have been a dream come true. “Brock?” she asked. the one with the swingy blunt haircut. She’d just about gotten used to the sight of herself i n eyeglasses when she’d dropped them one morning and the right side piece had snap ped. yet it seemed so long ago. the perfect skin—a girl who understood the world and knew ex actly what she wanted from it. she felt she must have been a different pers on. Wipin g mist from her glasses. Niki was nearly t o the gas station that had been closed on the day she was out of gas with Tom wh en she spotted a lone male figure walking down the road coming toward her. Niki laughed darkly at how that image contra sted with the girl currently heading down the road. “Me? Why are you here?” Brock’s crew cut was longer and he was thinner. What were the chances of meeting Brock out here on the road li ke this? Her mind couldn’t make sense of it. Niki Barton. Back in August. but now Brock was someone who seemed like he belonged in that o ld world she’d left behind. captain of the cheer squad. “Niki. Her skin now showed blemishes on her cheeks from a diet of canned and boxed foods and quick washups done by candlelight with water taken from the lake. Imagine. she put them back on and peered at him. Now. This girl had unwashed hair pulled into a messy ponytail. When she even thought of herself. But . she was still the perfect girl she’d always been. He’d lost that square football-player shape that Niki had always f ound so appealing. In August. Everything had been so different then . She knew those broad shoulders and his lumbering walk. It was as though it was a world away. She still had some clean clothing left. What is he doing out here? He started jogging toward her. in fact. why are you out here by yourself?” Brock asked brea thlessly when he reached her.m. Just a little more than a month and a half had passed. in glasses taped together with a Band-Aid! It was almost funny—nearly hilarious. but it wasn’t her fi rst choice of what to wear. Niki knew what she was seeing was real.

really glad. and Niki knew he’d caught the jealous resentment in her tone. Did you drive here?” Brock asked. He used to charge a ton of money to do it. She couldn’t be sure yet. is all. They continued on without talking. not meeting her eyes. A tree fell on our roof during OscPearl. My little brother is real sick with some kind of pneumonia thing. Niki wondered if it was possible to like t wo boys at one time. “Biked.” “Sorry. If Brock wasn’t there.” A pang of disappointment ran th rough her.” Niki dismissed the subject. “It’s not too bad anymore. “Were you going into town?” Tom asked.” Tom replied. “Unfortunately. “But good strange. “I’d have helped you. she wou ld have been happy to see Tom. she would have been t hrilled that Brock had traveled so far to check on her. Brock looked at her sharply. I found this guy Artie. Niki was dying to ask Tom if he had come to see her. and she w asn’t sure why that should be.” Brock warned. too. His words surprised and shocked her—but they pleased her. impressed. As it was.” she amended more mildly. An uneasy silence settled as Tom contin ued down the road. “I just think she’s strange. How are you?” she said.maybe she liked the look of this lankier Brock better. But it was better than walking all the way into the center of Marietta. Niki recognized it immediately. irked by the way he’d defended the strange girl. “That freaky Goth girl?” “She’s pretty cool w hen you get to know her. going to the window. “I mean. but he took pity on me and showed me how for nothing as long as I did the work. worried glance at the sky. “Is that your sailboat I see in the back?” Niki asked. “I can take you into town.” “Did he show y ou how to make the ethanol.” “Are you kidding?” Brock cried.” “Whatever. ea ger to be off it. Rain splashed the windshield and Tom turned on the wipers. I made it in a still from corn. “No. She’d have to wait to get him alone to find out. water.” “Where’d you get gas. “I’m all right. and D batteries. I wanted to see if you were okay.” Tom invited them. “The roads are passable now?” “I came the back way. “Muscle power. He’d come all this way and hadn’t stopped by to see her. Another o ne came down and destroyed my car. the three of t hem staring into the gray road ahead. “Hop in.” Brock remarked.” He shot a quick. “Where’d that guy ever get ga s?” Brock wondered. but it wouldn’t have bee n easy. I d on’t know her that well.” “Gwen Jones?” Niki qu estioned.” Tom told them. “Yeah. but it d idn’t seem right with Brock sitting right there. “You guys okay?” he asked. the bike blew a flat about a mile back. leaning against the pas senger side door. “Okay. but what would he think when he saw her there with Brock? Of all the moments for him to show up! And yet she was so touched that Brock had come to see if she wa s all right. “We’re fine.” Niki’s heart raced as she tried to sort throu gh the whirl of emotions she was feeling. “I was coming to your house. man?” Tom grinn d. up on Ridge Road. “My family ne eds charcoal. It was Tom’s old brown truck. Niki thought. So. She was glad to see Tom. too?” Brock asked. But if Tom hadn’t come along.” Niki clim bed into the truck beside Tom. “What are you talking about?” “It’s ethanol. all she felt was extremely uncomfortable. My whole family is living in a shelter at Sag e Valley Elementary. Though maybe he had. why are you out on the road like this?” Before Niki could answer. .” “What?” Niki would’ve thought Tom had totally lost it.” Tom allowed. “I was. if he weren’t sitting in a running vehicle. furrowing her brow with dislike. I came out here to get it. but he’s not goin g to get any better like that. “I made it. “And how were you planning to drag all that stuff back?” Niki fle xed her bicep. “There’s none anywhere. a flatbed truck appeared on the road coming from down by the lake and heading toward town. They have all these cots set up in the gym for sick kids.” “Good luck finding any kind of batteries anyw here.” “I guess…in a way. The hospital says he’s not sick enough for them to take him.” she replied.” he said. considering…” “ sidering what?” “You know…all this. who showed me how to change the truck around. This is awkward. Gwen Jones did. “Since when do you hang out with Gwen Jones?” N iki demanded. and then Brock wedged in.” “How did you get all the way over here?” Niki asked. The truck pulled to a stop right by Niki and Brock. “And this truck runs on it?” “I had to tinker with the engine a little.” “Yeah. Tom stuck his h ead out of the window. The roads are pr etty passable now as long as it doesn’t rain again.” Niki said. because that was how she felt.

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“I searched them on the computer today. although she knew Hector was right. “You’ve only been spying on the guy forever. “Do you hate me now?” “Of course not. The company was owned by some b illionaire’s son who said he was just ‘ahead of his time. Standing up. “You can’t even see it from outside. but I don’t feel that way about you. almost magical enclave to share with Tom a nd Hector. a little better. Who goes charging around smashing i nto other huge guys just to catch a ball?” Gwen glanced up at Hector. She’s written up a grant to try to make the town a model of energy self-sufficiency. He’s in Australia now. Is that cool. I don’t want Niki and Brock here. The fac t that it wasn’t her secret spot anymore made her willing to open it up. and your face lights up every time you see him. and Brock stepped into the room.” “But not the same way you like Tom.” he admitted quietly. Hector looked up from the book on biofuels that he was reading cross-legged on the floor. “We should have them come here. Hector.” It occurred to her to sidestep the question by remarking that Tom wasn’t interested in her. Curtin t o hold her workshops here. Tom’s dream girl.” Gwen complained. looking do wn self-consciously. “What if the Whippersnapper people object? Or want their house back?” “They’re out of business. hanging around. “And all footballers are Neanderthals. We’ll take good care o f the place until he comes looking for it. “They’re Tom’s friends. “Why wait for the power to turn on?” she said. “This is very awesome.” Gwen told him.” Niki greeted her. I guess. “I can’t believe yo u found this. “Now you’d better let go. “This is it.” she said. “Hector. “And listen to this: His wife is an environmental engineer. she’s going to start giving workshops to people in Sage Valley on alter native fuels and all sorts of stuff like solar and wind power. “Go on upstairs. She was staring i n alarm out the rain-streaked wall-length front window.” “Who says I’m crushing on Tom?” Gwen challenged. Tom.” She forced herself to tell him the truth.” “That’s not true. She especia lly didn’t want Niki. he liked Niki.’ which is probably true. and I told him I wasn’t. He might get the wrong idea. Hector . “Hector will show you.” She held on. Niki. sure. it could brin g all sorts of unwanted attention. Curtin!” Tom said. “Wow! It’s like a secret hiding place.” “You did? Thanks. Unbelievably cool. t hey’ll all want to come.” Niki replied. “I had a feeling. Hector nodded.” Hector brushed off her comment. don’t you think?” Hector worried. “Did you tell him you were?” “N o! He came up with that on his own. Hector joined Gwen at the window.” Gwen wrapped him in a hug.” “Please.” Tom said. The private-world quality of the Whippersnapper 3 had been breached in her mind when Niki and Brock came in. her excitement growing. Hector.” H ector grumbled. knowing how much her words hurt him and hating to cause him pain.” she mumbled.” “Once people find out there’s food here. At least she looked like a human being instea d of a fashion doll now.” Gwen protested. He’s not my crush. and Brock wer e pushing their way through the wet foliage. or what?” Gwen put her anger aside as a new thought made it seem suddenly less imp ortant. you’re a real—” “Friend…I know. starting now. “That might call too much attention to the place.” Tom.” He noticed Hector and Gwen and smiled. I guess. “Yeah. “I’m glad. and as soon as we have po wer again. heading toward the Whippersnapper 3 . but there was no going back.” told them. No longer was the place her special. “I thought you liked Tom. Gwen. “There’s food here?” Brock echoed enthusiastically. That loss made her a little sad. “Guess who we met on the way over here—Mr. “Thanks.” Gwen pulled away from Hector. That’s what you get for cru shing on a Neanderthal football player type—you inherit friends like Niki and Broc k. “Cute glasses. If everyone knew about the place. Hector met her gaze.CHAPTER 19 “Why are Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski here?” Gwen asked Hector.” Gwen put her han d on his arm. “So you do like Tom.” he said . “Well. “I thought you liked me. “Who?” “Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski.” Gw en realized how changed Niki looked and begrudgingly liked her. “Even though I’m so much more your type .” Hector per sisted. Niki. But it felt right. He already thou ght I was your boyfriend. “Sorry.” Gwen said.” he mumbled. you’re my b est friend. “I do like you. “We can invite Mrs.” “There are worse things than being friends. with her new. “And don’t call him a Neanderthal—but th t’s not even the point. Keepin g the place to herself didn’t seem to matter anymore. squeezing her tightly.” Gwen repeated. because I hear your boyfriend com ing through the door with his pals. but she knew that wasn’t what Hector wanted to know. “Please.” Brock said with enthusiasm.” she said.” With . searching for something new to invest in.” “I will?” Hector questioned.” “Hi. le ss-perfect image.” It would be taking a big chance.

and Niki’s like.” Gwen wasn’t sure how to respond. “They’re your friends. They’re not friends of yours and this is your place. . Sorry. Hector led them upstairs to the garden. you know…whatever…you’re going out ith her and all…right?” “Sort of…in a way. Gwen saw now how this quality might have its downside. “You’re angry that I brought them.nod to Niki and Brock. It was done now.” she said.” Tom said when they were gone. I mean. One of the things she liked best about Tom was his openness and how he just jumped in to help people without calculating t he risks. I guess. “I should have thought about how you’d f eel. I didn’t think. Th ey just seemed so…lost.” Tom replied. “I understand. and he hadn’t meant any harm. you found it.

She was here. it began to flutter wildly. Now it was on the ramp leading into the river. “I suppose so.” It was nearly a minute before Gwen realized she was standing there simply grinning.” Gwen watched his face carefully for his reaction to this idea. Make sure it doesn’t whip around and clonk you in the head. the other shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare.” “Okay. “Isn’t that sort of sexist?” Gwen objected. and I have to. “It’s in the truck. but the realization of what he’d j ust said stopped her. surprised.” he told Gwen. It had ta ken them over an hour to unload the boat and rig it.” “Okay. Tom threw his weight into pushing the boat forward. The mai nsail swung on its mast and bumped him. When he stepped out. “Okay.” he sai old it loosely.” Gwen agreed. I’ve felt kind of coo ped up here. speak ing over the wind coming off the river. She ran back and joined Tom in shovin g the back end of the sailboat.” “You can’t go by yourself. feeding more slack into the line. do you?” “Don’t argue with me.” Gwen insisted .” Tom told her. “Lower the centerboard!” he y . especially not with you standing in it. Tom rolled up his jeans. He’d already kicked off hi s sneakers.” “We’re not even sailing yet. She grabbed the rope…line…whatever…nearest to the sail. she couldn’t tell because he didn’t register any obvious emotion. With the two of them pushing. positioning the centerboard. Inwardly. “Hector can do it. “You’re going to have to help me. “But you don’t know how to sail. but the expression of exasperation on his face compelled her to shrug it on over her shoulders. attaching the rudder. “I always wan ted to learn to sail. “Go! Go! Go!” Tom shouted. “Are you nuts?” Gwen replied. So don’t argue with—” “I’m not a rguing. and getting onto the river would be awesome.” They were at the public dock space down on the Hudson. “Which i s the mast?” Gwen asked. She looked at the center pole and the bottom pipe attached to it. “Which rope do I grab?” “It’s called a line. she knew what he planned to do and it worried her. turning away so he wouldn’t see how disappoint ed she was by his answer. tying in the lines. “Are you really sure you can sail it down th e Hudson? Don’t they have all sorts of heavy tides? I mean…it’s the Hudson River. The sail flapped violently.” he shouted. snapping in the wind. “But the sail?” Gwen reminded him. “So? What’s the difference? wen asked with a shrug. and she didn’t want to wear it in front of Tom. Maybe Brock and Niki will help him. Gwen was lost in its folds. “And keep y our eyes on that sail. “Just be prepared to run. “You get in and I’ll push.” Gwen agreed. “I can’t budge this.” Tom shouted to her. “You do?” she checked. The moment she let go of the sa il’s line.” Tom gazed at her. running around the side and hopping into the boat. its bow bobbing in the choppy water but its stern still on the cement.” Gwen didn’t think the life vest was probably her best look. too. Gwen sighed.” Gwen opened h er mouth to speak.” he told her. That reminds me—get your life vest on. “This?” “Yes! That’s it.” Tom said thoughtfully.“Did you get the sailboat?” Gwen asked. My mom has pneumonia and no pharmacy in town can fill her antibiotic prescription. “I’m a fast learner and you could show me what I need to know. and there was no turning back. It’s a big deal—and a small boat. especially when he was s till trying to recall all his dad had taught him a long time ago about sailing. the water made his feet instantly numb. “Yeah. It occurred to Gwen that insisting on coming along with Tom might not have been the best idea she ever had. They splashed into the icy river. but he pushed it aside. Ther e have got to be pharmacies open. pulling it hard with o ne hand while drawing in the main line with the other. pounding them b ack just to get clear before ducking away. “Who will tak e care of things here?” he asked. she cringed at the look of frustration on his f ace.” Tom warned. one hand gripping the boat’s main line. It budged sli ghtly but not enough. Pitching the ir bodies into the hull.” Gwen insisted. so aking themselves. Tom was instantly at the rudder. How would he feel about Brock and Niki being together while he was gone? However he felt. “Hang on to the rope that runs along the mast. things are better. I’m coming with you. the boat slid abru ptly into the water.” Tom interrupted. push it forward!” Tom shouted to Gwen. An inexperienced sailor on a ro ugh trip like this could get him into a lot of trouble.” “Would it be better to take the canoe?” “The sailboat is a lot faster than the canoe. Down the river. Don’t pull it tight or the sail could catch the wind and the boat take off without me. “Somebody’s got to hang on to the sail’s line. I have a bunch of neighbors who need their medicine. “I think it would be great if you came along. There was no sense worrying about it now. though.” “I think I can do it. preparing to argue with Tom. setting in the one mainsail .

That! Lower it!” Lunging to it. “Whoa!” she shouted as the sail suddenly caught. Get up fron t left and paddle. racing them forward.elled to Gwen. “Why aren’t we going? What’s wrong with this sail?” Gwen asked. “There. The boat instantly rig hted. for several yards before Tom was able to pull in the main line. “Stay low!” Tom said. Slow ly he gave it some slack until it was .” “What’s that?” “The wind is hitting us from both s des. Gwen f ound the lever that dropped the board down into the hull. wildly out of control. “The what?” Gwen replied loudly just as the boat leaned heavily to th e right. “We’re in irons.” Gwen did as he said.” Tom explained as he continued to push the rudder to the right. gripping the white rope. so we can’t move forward. “That stabilizes it. She gripped the side of the hull to keep from going overboard. pushing her windb lown hair from her eyes. knocking her back. They sped ahe ad. Gwen flattened her body ag ainst the bow and watched him pull in the line until the sail became tight. in the middle of the boat. There’s an oar on the bottom of the boat. and gradually she felt the sailboat turn. Tom nodded his head toward a board jutting up from the center of the boat’s hull.

his eyes on the sail but with a faraway look. Was this how it was going to be again? Sailing. or maybe later. Righ t now all I have to do is make small adjustments in direction to keep the sail f ull. and I’m happy we’re going there together. “Because I have a feeli ng we’re going to the world that comes after the end of the world. no more plastic. Tom startled but then returned the kiss . The sky above was clear with fat. “Then we’d have to tack back and forth. it didn’t stop the oil from running out. Gwen stretched her arms out and let the sun hit her cheeks and forehead. “What should I do now?” she asked. “Just watch me and I’ll explain what I’m doing. Gwen rem embered seeing Tom in his yard the night his father died. getti ng into a more relaxed position. On an impulse.” Gwen said.” Returni ng his smile. Does that sound crazy?” “A little. and then later I’ll let you try. It was his father who had taught him to sail. too. some soldier from one side or the other was probably dying in this fight over oil. Planting. but I’ll explain that later. Stretch ing forward.” Adjusting her position for a more comfortable one restin g her back against the side. G lancing outside the sailboat.” “You are? Really?” T om nodded and kissed her again. his right hand holding the main line and his le ft on the tiller that controlled the rudder. “Right now. Maybe it was the end of the world—that world. “I hope we don’t have to go all the way to Manhattan. What wasn’t made of plasti c these days? Looking back at Tom. It’s good that we’re together. Gwen thought a moment. I’m glad you came with me. all the oil would run out—like it or not.” “I don’t think we will. “I heard Wes tchester is almost back. “We did it. but I think I know what yo u mean. Gwen slid into the hull. she kissed him on the lips. Then what? No more gasoline engines.” Tom suggested. The world was such a different place without oil. white cloud mountains. Sooner. How would they survive without it? It seemed so impossible to go on. No fumes. t he planet where people lived by oil and died for it. settling in to the hull. This was what it once was like: boats pushed by wind. No hum of an engine. . Was he thinking about his father now? Probably. Walking. The fate of the weather.” Tom replied. she gues sed. in a way. Had that night seemed like the end of the world to him? It must have. no more concrete. At that very minute in Vene zuela. she lost herself in watching the racing water spla sh against the boat’s side. pressing his lips into hers.full with wind but under control. we’re running with the wind . “What was that for?” he asked when they pulled apart. maybe even more so. He looked to Gwen and smiled.” “What if it was blowing into us?” Gwen asked. which means it’s behind us. not sure how to put it into words. Not having plastic was as huge as not having gasoline. And no matter how hard they fought. He seemed peaceful. Gwen shifted to the back of the sailboat beside Tom. Growing.” “How far do you think we’ll have to go to find supplies?” “We can stop at the first town where we see signs of electricity and check it out. not at all like he was worried about this journey. The mercy of the river. she saw he was also lost in thought as he lay against the back of the sailboat.

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and the like.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS President Waters Calls Troops Home Intelligence Reports Reveal Oil Fields in Ven ezuela Depleted President Jeffrey Waters reported today that last week the White House received intelligence smuggled in by operatives from the nationalized oil fields of Venez uela. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. had this to say. sen ator from Massachusetts. Shame on them!” In response. solar. and other renewable sources like corn oil.” . since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years. “Like Texas. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement. had this to add: “When are we going to get it throug h our heads that oil is a nonrenewable resource? The future is in wind. Non e of these alone can replace oil and so we must throw ourselves wholeheartedly i nto developing every source of renewable energy—nothing less than our survival as a global community depends on it. policy. h ydrogen. magnetism. This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. Thomas Rambling. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. the White House has determined through sources that th e reports are indeed accurate in their conclusion that Venezuela has grossly ove rreported its oil-producing capacity. Alaska. Canada. Said President Waters: “Venezuela has cynica lly engaged us in warfare and dragged Bolivia into the fight rather than admit i t has no oil left in its fields.S. The fact that Venezuela felt it co uld not reveal its new vulnerability as it drops out as one of the last oil-prod ucing nations on earth demonstrates how the world is still clinging to outmoded notions about the status of oil-rich nations.” Senator Rambling.

CHAPTER 20 Tom pulled the tiller for a hard turn. “Coming about,” he warned. Gwen ducked low, a s he’d instructed her to do whenever he gave that command. “Where are you going?” Gwen asked. “I want to see what’s happening. All these boats are going in there. Look.” Th ey’d come around a turn in the river and were suddenly amid many different sorts o f small craft: kayaks; canoes; sailboats of every kind, from large sloops to cat amarans, sailfish, and small fetches like the one they were on. There were rowbo ats and even people paddling smaller motorboats. “They all seem to be heading for that marina,” he pointed out to Gwen. “Something must be going on.” “Where are we?” Gwen a sked. Tom checked the map he’d spread out at his feet. “This must be Hastings.” “Finally !” Gwen said, and he knew how she felt. They’d been sailing for almost three hours a nd every marina and port they’d come upon had been flooded or abandoned. The low-l ying river towns had been hit the hardest by OscPearl. Many of the towns had ove rturned and sunken boats in their marinas, and harbor buildings with torn-off ro ofs and broken windows. It was frightening to see. As Tom sailed in closer to th e marina, he let out his main line and allowed his sail to flap, slowing the boa t. It was necessary because so many other boats were crowding in around him. “What’s going on here?” he asked a white-haired woman who paddled a blue kayak next to hi m. “Farmer’s market,” the woman replied. “Some folks went down to Hunts Point Market ear ly and brought up produce to sell. I heard it was all gone by five in the mornin g. But there are still soups, breads, ciders, and cheeses, too.” Tom’s stomach growl ed enthusiastically at the mention of those last foods. He’d changed his diet in t he last week. Never before had he eaten so many fruits and vegetables and actual ly enjoyed them, but a slice of bread and hunk of cheese suddenly struck him as too good to be true. “Is the town open?” he called to the woman as she glided forwar d away from him. “Don’t know,” she called over her shoulder. Dropping sail altogether, Tom and Gwen were able to tie the boat to the end of a dock that already held s everal other boats crowded and scraping against one another. Tom disconnected th e tiller and rudder as a safety precaution against anyone who might steal the bo at. Throwing the tiller and rudder onto the dock, Tom swung himself up and exten ded his hand to help Gwen. “This must be the only place with food for miles,” Gwen s aid. “It’s so crowded.” With Gwen beside him, Tom hurried up the narrow, sloping stree ts leading from the river until they came onto a more level street. When he foun d a small pharmacy, they went in and got to the end of a line that reached all t he way to the other end of the store. The first thing Tom noticed was that the s helves were only half filled with the supplies drugstores usually carried, such as shampoos, soaps, and the like. Gwen left his side and grabbed a basket, loadi ng it with necessities. Tom fished his money from his front pocket and began cou nting out his bills. He had the two hundred from his savings. They desperately n eeded toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, and so many other things he had once ta ken for granted. He just hoped he had enough money for it all. They still needed to load up on food supplies. Tom had other money besides the two hundred, but h is neighbors had given it to him to pay for their medicines. In his back pocket, he had the stack of prescriptions to be filled. “Thank heavens this place is open ,” said a man in his fifties who stood in front of them. “My wife could die if she s uddenly stops taking her heart pills. I rowed all the way down from Monroe.” He sw ung his right arm in a wide circle to work out the muscles. “I just pray they don’t run out before we get to the counter.” “If they do, is any other town below here ope n?” Tom asked. “I’ve heard that the towns south of here until Manhattan are pretty goo d because freighters are still coming into New York Harbor, but only about half as many are coming in because of the oil prices. Once you get south and east of the city, things get even worse. The Jersey Shore is just about washed away and so is Long Island.” “Where have all those people who were living there gone to?” Tom a sked. “Anywhere they can. The shelters in Manhattan are crammed full of them. Mayb e now that this war is over, things will get a little better.” “Why is that?” Tom want ed to know as the line inched forward a little. “The government has been shifting all the available oil to the troops. Maybe they’ll release some of it now,” the man explained. “And then will people go back to driving all over the place?” Tom wondere d. “I guess,” the man said. “People who can afford it will.” The man spoke about the ret

urn of inexpensive and abundant oil as if it were a good thing, but Tom wasn’t so sure. What would happen the next time there was a shortage if nothing changed no w? Maybe next time the oil would run out for good. By the time Tom was nearly to the front of the line, Gwen was back at his side holding her basket of supplies . “You might have to put some of that back if I don’t have enough money,” he warned he r. “Okay,” Gwen agreed as music began playing from the pocket of her sweatshirt. Pul ling out her phone, her eyes lit excitedly. “It’s Luke!” She clicked into the call. “Whe re have you been? Are you okay? I’m in Hastings. Hastings! Tom and I sailed down. No, I’m not kidding you. We sailed… okay…he sailed.” Gwen listened a while more and her smile slowly faded into an expression of distress. “Okay. All right, text me from now on—it will use less battery. Bye.” “What did he say?” Tom asked as Gwen put her phon e back in her pocket. He could see from her face that it wasn’t good news. “A group from Marietta attacked Sage Valley.” Tom gazed at her, unsure he’d heard correctly. It was too crazy. One town attacking another? “What kind of group?” he asked. “Who att acked Sage Valley? Why?” A sheepish expression came over Gwen’s face. “You caused it.” “Wh at? Me? What? How could I cause it?” What was she talking about? “Indirectly, it’s you . People saw the news about you delivering food, so a bunch of them came over to find where the food was coming from. They wound up breaking some windows and th ey got into a big brawl with some people from Sage Valley.” “We’d better get back ther e,” Tom said. He was thinking of his mother laid up in bed, and even of Larry. The Whippersnapper 3 could come under attack if people learned about it.

Then he turned to Gwen and said. “Let me see w hat I can get you.” the tall. “Le t’s get this stuff. “I can’t fill every one of these.” “Okay. dark-haired woman pharmacist told him. and get home. grab some food.” .Tom had come to the front of the line and laid down his prescriptions. I have a really weird feeling so mething bad’s going to happen.” he told the pharmacist.

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” Mrs.” he told her. It was a welcome s ound. “Okay. There were several teachers from school. It was a good thing Gwen had come with him since she’d been such a big help. The ringtone on Niki’s phone sounded and she looked down to see who it was. He was even able to send her a photo tak en from the Internet of brawling going on in downtown Sage Valley. Cur tin agreed. but that th ey were hugging the shoreline so they didn’t veer to the far side of the river.” Niki clicked off the call and blinked away the rising tears before they fell free. And listen to this—she even went to grad school wi th Ricky Montbank. but luckily the little they had was blowing north in their d irection. “That. “What do you think we should do?” she asked. and for long stretches of time distracted her from worrying about what wa s happening with Gwen and Tom.CHAPTER 21 Niki sat beside Brock on the tan couch in the basement of the Whippersnapper 3. She also recognized Tom’s friend. “I told you to wear gloves. she knew it. Being here with Brock had been ple asant. Niki hoped they hadn’t j ust come to the workshop to charge their phones. “I have the sliced hands to show for it. He said he didn’t know a nd to ask the Curtins what they thought. Getting off the couch. He was there with a man w ho looked like he must be his father. so good to feel connected to the world around her again.” “What’s going on?” Mrs. Curtin picked his cell phone off the desk and punched in a number. He was afraid. Where are you?” There was a pause. Curtin said to the group. People from Ma rietta are looking for the food they’ve heard we have here. Curtin allowed them to do before the workshop officially started. It made Niki ner vous that so many people now knew there was electricity to be had out here in th e forest. Niki found Mr. jo . She knew about a quarter of them. They were watching the informational DVD that Mary Curtin was showing to the twe nty people who were attending one of her workshops. “Tom! Hi! How’s it go ing?” She felt a pang of jealousy as Tom revealed that Gwen was actually sailing t he boat at the moment. “Too late. “Be-what?” Niki questioned. Carlos Hernandez. “Maybe I can find out what’s happening. raised his palms.” He said Gwen was doing a great job. “I’m calling the county sheriff’s department. you did. he told her. Mr. A lot of the group members were fiddling w ith their phones while the video was explaining how to construct a small-scale w ind power turbine to supply energy to an individual home. Sage Valley was still not back on the electric grid. though. but it passed quickly. The video was called Renewab le Energy: A Do-It-Yourself Guide.” Mr. Niki looked the group over. See you soon. Curtin.” Mrs. the guy who owns the Whippersnapper Corporation. It was in his voice and the way he said Gwen’s name. Good luck. He had sailed all the way down and needed a break. “I want us to start small. as Mrs. It meant stuck. Mrs. revea ling red lines. who had been standing in a corner listening. “Tom just called. Curtin reminded him with a good-natured shrug. “We’re going to start by building small greenhouses from scrap glass and metal my husband and I have collected fro m the dump. a nd Niki could picture Tom gazing around the river embankments trying to ascertai n his location. “Hector contacted the Curtins about holding the workshops here. that the wind would die out altogether and they would be becalmed. People in town are fighting back and it’s getting bad .” Niki t old him. “Let’s have some of the fruit smoothies Hector made from the plants in o ur upstairs garden and then get started. she’d learned really fa st.” Mrs.” Mr. Tom. Curt in was blown away by the place.” he said. some were parents of h er friends on the cheer squad. Curtin asked. “Maybe yo u should sail the boat. or bought inexpensively from the car salvage and the recycle center.” Niki showed him the picture from the Internet. But what are you saying about fighting? How can that be possible? Towns don’t attack each othe r.” Tom told her what Luke had told Gwen. Curtin told the group. Gwen learned to sail faster th an anyone I’ve ever known. Tom told her about the fighting in Sage Valley an d advised her not to tell anyone else about the Whippersnapper 3. not far from the post office. “Okay. others she’d simply seen around town through the ye ars. They didn’t need a crowd of people here all desperate to recharge. He told her it was foggy and he couldn’t exactly tell. and neither were most of the surrounding towns. Curtin at the computer wat ching a YouTube video on installing solar panels. Tom’s exact words rang in Niki’s ears and caused a tingle o f emotion below her eyes. Th ere wasn’t much wind. It was over betwe en them before it really began. It sounds like they’re l ooting and just going crazy.

“Someone hurled a rock through the f ront window!” he told them.” “I’m not running like a coward.” From upstairs. “I just get a busy tone. “No. . “We can get out this way. We can clim b up into the mine shaft. The way out is blocked.” Mr.” a man from the workshop o bjected. Cur tin reported. Curtin worried.” Mrs. Niki told her what she knew. “It’s those rich creeps from Marietta.” he volunteered. Curtin suggested. glass shattered.” Brock stood beside Mr.” Mr. Carlos stood and joined Brock. “I can’t get through to the sheriff.” a woman said. “Those solar panels are goi ng to cost a lot to replace. but you can be safe there unti l these Marietta guys leave. his face full of alarm. It can be locked behind us.” said a white-haired woman.” he said. Hector scrambled down the stairway and hurried toward the side door that led to the mining tunnel Gwe n had shown him.” cried a man from the workshop.” “We have to fight them.” Another sound of shattering glass made Niki jump.” Mrs. “I’m going.ining them. “I’ll go up there and try to talk to them.” another of the men disag reed as he found a large kitchen knife among the supplies. Curtin. “Maybe we can talk to them calmly. They’re in Sage Val ley to steal our supplies. I don’t need to defen d it. “You can’t talk to a mob. “We have to stop them. “I just heard about it on the web feed from my phone. “This isn’t my house. it’s too dangerous. “I’ll go with you. Hector clamb ered down the stairs. Curtin disagreed.

” Hector pulled the door open and eleven people left quickly.” “Are you crazy?” a man from the workshop said. still clutching Brock’s hand. . Niki let him get a few paces ahead and then followed him toward t he window. I’m not standing down here waiting to be killed.” “Then why haven’t you shared it already?” shouted a woman outside. Brock stepped out behind Luke. “That’s it!” cried the man with the kitchen knife. “No—stay back here. It took a moment for Nik i to realize what was crashing through the woods toward them. Curtin implored as he went toward the bro ken window. The sound of roaring engines came toward them. “They have electricity in here!” shouted a balding man in a sweatshirt and jeans as he k nocked the jagged shards of glass from the windowpanes with an ax.” said the man with the kitchen knife. With his worried eyes still on t he stairs. “No way. “I’m goi to help him. “You people ar e invading private property. she saw about ten other bikers. When the rider pushed back the visor on his helmet. Mary Curtin joined him. A motorcyc le pulled up in front of the Whippersnapper 3 and a leather-clad male figure jum ped from his bike. Niki stepped back in fear. Broken glass lay all over the floor and people were starting to climb through the shattered front panes. On the first floor. some with rocks in their hands. “Those peo ple are throwing rocks. Kicking away more sharp glass at the panes. “Just in time. calm down!” Mr.” he remin ded the last one out. “They’re almost in. “That’s Gwen’s brother. surprised. letting o of her hand. ready to stamp ede in. “You’re not going?” Brock asked Hector. frozen where they stood. Hector.” she told Brock. Maybe I’ll know some of the people and I can talk to them. More glass broke and now Niki could hear frantic. “Come on!” Behind him were at least twenty people. Mr. Brock looked at her. “They’ll see me as a neighbor. and Carlos went out behind him. ex cited voices coming from upstairs. everyone. “Please. knocking him into his wife. A line of blood gushed f rom his forehead. Curtin raised his arms to se ttle the crowd. too. Niki reco gnized him.” “I’ll come with you.” Niki said.” Mr. Niki ducked her head as a tremendous wind shook the trees. the wail of police sirens could be heard.” Hector reported from the top o f the stairs. A police helicopter hovered just above the trees. The Marietta peopl e outside were equally stunned by the sight.” In the distance. maybe. and did I mention the police are on their way?” Luke shouted over the thundering of the police chopper. Curtin turned toward her voice just as a rock hit him in the head.“I’ll go with him. “Stay calm and there’s enough here for everyone. too. and the rest of the remaining nine from the Sage Vall ey workshop group followed. You’ll get killed.” “Well. “And mis s all this action? Never. Niki took Brock’s hand. Her heart pounding with fear. “I have a house in M arietta. “We’re not going to j ust stand here and take this!” The people behind surged forward but then stopped a bruptly. They held clubs a nd chains in a successful effort to appear as menacing as possible. Brock squeezed it and kept walking with her. Curtin headed toward the stairs and started going u p. “Remember to lock it shut from your side.” Brock disagreed. Frightened.” Niki said. Niki went ou t.” Brock remarked. Mr. “Oh. “No one will get killed or even hurt if we keep our heads.” Luke said. open the door and let anyone out who wants to leave. Looking to both sides.” he replied. “and me and my buddies are here to make sur e you don’t.” Niki said.

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” . Our kids are hun gry and sick. but when we couldn’t find anything. there must be more of it. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. speaking from the county ja il. We figured if he had food to deliver. I guess we got craz y.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS County Police Clamp Down on Civil Violence Connected to Severe Shortages Sage County police arrested eighty-one people recently in connection to outbreak s of civil unrest due to the fact that so many towns in Sage County have been wi thout electricity and other services since OscPearl decimated the area over two weeks ago. We came intending to buy it. close to approximat ely fifty citizens of Marietta township descended on the semirural town of Sage Valley—many of them on foot due to the current ongoing gas shortage—in search of muc h-needed food. made this statement to the press: “We came because we read the article about t he mysterious guy in the orange canoe delivering fresh produce. medicine. George Amos of Marietta.

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she ruffled his fur. toothpaste. as were the nearly sixty or so other residents of Sage Valley. Next door. Folks in Mariet ta are used to being on the winning side. We don’t want anyone to be embarrassed. owner of the Whippersnapper 3. This. Outside her room. are you rea dy for today? Where’s Tom?” Gwen threw on a white terry robe as she followed Larry o ut the door. As it drew ahead. “Okay. “No kidding?” Gwen asked. toilet tissue. “I’m glad to do it. O nce spring came. We have a guy coming at nine with a bunch of horses. “W ow.” Ni ki said. Even if there was gas to be had. she could hear the hum of t he magnetic generator and she found it comforting to know she would have heat an d light on that chilly October morning. each time having to go less and less far since towns closer to home were beginning to recover. and so on. its ope n cart filled with baskets of produce. poking him playfully.” he was saying to Mrs. all right. underwritten by a grant from Whippersnapper. Ricky? We just belie ve it’s the right thing to do. They’d sailed at least a do zen more times since then. hoping for a good day. Tom nodded.” Mr. was how they would survive. causing him to startle. most of whom were also participants in Mary Curtin’s effort. you have to be more publicity oriented. Hector. “Yeah. He smiled at her warmly as he returned the gesture. Hector. In his bike basket were some of the toiletries he and Gwen had picked up during their l ast trip down the river: shampoo. a horse sputtered. ultima tely.” Niki explained. boarded-up stores. “You understand that. Brock and Niki were ahead of them.” “Oh. waved to them. “We are pioneers traveling west .” Gwen commented to Tom.” “That’s not really why we’re doing it. “Be right back.” “Of course! Of course it’s the right thing. The town—and its citizens— would never be connected to the world in the same way again. Curtin. I’m g oing to grab a bite and come right back. razors. Cur tin. Marietta is a wreck. And until the area started using wind power or nuclear power or some other kind of power to fuel electricity. there were going to be some hard times. “Hey. Carlos.” There w as scratching at Gwen’s door.” Gwen told them. she heard voi ces talking amiably. “But if you’re going to make Sage Val ley a showcase for green living. This event today will bring lots of attention to the company. Curtin requested. the trash in the streets. Brock. could be heard above those of Mr.” he said. who was seated in back. “Thanks. a nd we’re going to load them up with the food. “He knows a dirt road around the back way up. People like Gwen and Tom weren’t going to be on that priority list. She’d been staying there with the Curtins ever since she and Tom re turned from their journey downriver two weeks earlier. and she swung herself out of bed to open it just eno ugh to let Larry wander in. Beside him. “He has horses that can pull wagons. and we don’t want them humiliated by thi s. waving sleepily to the Curtins and Ricky Montbank. “I think what you want to do is remarkable. “I feel like a pioneer traveling west. They were seated at the table in front of what used to be the solar window. the abandoned cars. don’t you.” Gwen pulled her bicycle alongside Tom’s as they rode into Marietta.” “How are they getting around the trees?” Brock asked. Gwen found Niki. “Go have your breakfast and then we need help carrying these baskets out. to make Sage Valley a completely energy self-sufficient town.” M .” Gwen replied. it would only be had by the very rich or the very powerful.” Tom told her.” Hector teased. Climbing the stairs to the garden ro om.” Mrs. it would be sunny and cool. just as reported. Smiling. Mary. Curtin said. “They’re all upstairs getting r eady. Gwen rolled over and gazed around her small bedroom in the Whi ppersnapper 3. “Please.CHAPTER 22 Saturday morning. there would be a program of local farming as well.” Ricky Montbank said. and Mrs. The police would need it and the army would need it. relenting. and my Whippersnapper Corporation is delighted to support it. Larry. She knew it would be brisk out because t hey’d been checking the weather report frequently. She found Tom across the garden r oom and waved to him. Hopefull y. Ricky Montbank had p romised to have it replaced before the week was out. and Tom filling baskets with fruits and vegetables from the garden room. “Nice of you to get up. wiping her glasses on her sweater.” “Yo u’re welcome. The robust and distinctly Australian tones of Ricky Montban k. Curtin told Gwen as she passed by. They were all riding new bicycles donated by Ricky Montbank’s company.” “So no press. gazing around at the closed. I’m letti ng you all stay here because the time is right to sell this kind of home.

the one with the private fuel tanker. Looking around. “They’ll come. A small fireball o f happiness and new hope began to spin down at Gwen’s very center and it grew stro nger and brighter by the moment. we’r e not taking any money for this. Do you think they might want some help teaching it?” “You’d want to do that?” Gwen asked. . and they’re teaching a workshop on how t o do it together down at Ghost Motorcycle. “They’re still hurti ng for food and supplies. “Start setting up your stands around this gas station. Maybe the wor ld didn’t have to be a pit of greed and overconsumption. It’s a gesture of goodwill. Be sure everyone gets a flyer telling them about our energy workshops and programs in town. Can you believe it?” “Yeah?” Tom asked. “Listen to this. int erested. “I think so.” With a roar. “I learned a lot when I converted my truck.” Gwen smiled at hi m. Luke and his pals made a grand show of rid ing in with the Sage Valley group. It was exactly how she saw them.” Gwen said to Tom.. Curtin said. Remember. as pioneers. until it felt like it filled her. The crowd quieted to hear Mary Cu rtin yell out. The procession stopped at an abandoned gas station. maybe something better—some thing like what was happening right then and there—was really possible after all.” Gwen pointed out.” “What if no one comes out?” a man on a bike asked. helping the volunt eers from Sage Valley to set up their food and supply stands. the one people had flocked to just a month earlier. she noticed that people from Marietta had already realized wh at was going on and were streaming into the gas station area.” Mr. “Luke knows the guy who refitted your truck for ethanol.

It was true—the world had ended. . And now the new world was beginning.

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. The Bar Code Rebel lion. including The Bar Code Tattoo. Reincarnation. and Distant Waves.ABOUT THE AUTHOR SUZANNE WEYN is the acclaimed author of many novels that delve into the worlds o f science fiction and history. She lives in a valley in New York state.

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writ e to Scholastic Inc. transmitted. For information regarding permission. without the express written permissio n of publisher. or otherwise. an imprint of Scholastic Inc. stored in a retrieval system. now known or hereinafter invented. whether electronic or mech anical. and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc. photocopying.COPYRIGHT Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Weyn Cover art & design © 2010 by Phil Falco All rights reserved. or stored in or introduced into any information stora ge and retrieval system. NY 10012. non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book o n-screen. downloaded. Attention: Permissions Department. without written permission of the publisher. No part of this text may be reproduced. By payment of the required fees. Publishe rs since 1920.. Published by Scholastic Press. recording. or transmitted in any form or by a ny means. in any form or by any means.. reverse engineered. SCHOLASTIC PRESS. mechanical. New York. E-ISBN 978-0-545-32882-1 . Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available First ed ition. SCHOLASTIC. 557 Broadway. No part of this publication may be reproduced. October 2010 All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Cop yright Conventions. decom piled. electronic. you have been granted the n onexclusive.

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