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SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS
hilarious pal. .FOR DAVID M. Treasured friend. YOUNG. who first brought the issue of dwindling fossil fuels to my attention. and brilliant filmmaker —thanks for always being willing to bounce ideas with me.
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
and buried his head in his hands. They seeme d so normal and wholesome. Almost as though he sensed her presence. Luke. Kicking off her sliding flip-flops. His red-rimmed eyes were swollen. He sat that way for a long while before r esting his head down completely on the table. with his dark curls and broad shoulders. it was so nice to watch them. 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. This longing confused her. Sometimes she imagined herself going out with Tom. but they did n’t really know each other. its chipped tiles sparkling under the reflection of the full moon. Some cosmic cook had slowly started cranking the temperature a week earlier. fly into a rage if she ever suggested he was anything bu t steely and unemotional. With her knees to her chest. The dark-haired boy threw himself down hard onto the wooden bench of the picnic table in the Harris’s backy ard. 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. She was up here. Gwen lifted her gaze to a sagging second level of roof above her.CHAPTER 1 Gwen Jones squeezed out of her bedroom window onto the sizzling roof below. Climbing into her bedroom window. Wha t had happened to him? Usually. her bare feet scratched the raspy roof until she was nea rly at the peak. 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. 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. and they just happened to be down there. Of course she liked his looks—who wouldn’t? He could have been a model. She was more likely to mock it. he wa s shooting basketball or talking on his cell phone. She guessed that she had more chance of catching a late-night summer draft the higher she went. she hurried through the dark kitchen and let the screen door slam behind her. if only to herself. that part of her would have liked ve ry much to be there. Even through her flip-flops. she observed him. Something was defi nitely wrong. Gwen backed away slowly. really. but now she wondered why she thought she could help him. Standing. It wasn’t something she would ever admit to. at the end of August. she could feel the burn of the shingles. once again fo . With her fingers curled into the metal web of the fence. laughing. even . Whatever relief she could find out here was better than nothing. He might not like that she’d seen him so vulnerable. Gwen peered down over the high hedges just behind her house. Tom lifted hi s head. c ozy family setting. She knew it from watching h er older brother. In the last six months. Tom and Gwen had been in several of the same classes. The feebly whi rring minifan on her night table was no match against the full bake of this nigh t. Gwen crossed the small yard along the moonlit pathway into the hedges. Guys could be that way. and the oil price would not stop ri sing. And when they wer e having one of their family barbecues. Gwen’s pulse quickened as Tom emerged from his house. Gwen left the upper roof and slipped back into h er flip-flops she’d left on the lower level. He played foot ball. Squee zing through. when she saw him out here in the evenings. 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. On an impulse. to a new housing development. so she b oosted herself over the gutter and inched up. Tonight. she was seeing a different picture. She could barely hang on herself. Gwen’s skin prickled with worry. and he looked the type. backward and sitting. letting the screen door slam behind him. She liked imagining herself in that warm. Tom Harris. a welcome and natural part of it. She’d come with t he idea that they would talk like friends. It wasn’t as though she was stalking or spying on t hem. what he look ed like was only a small part of it. she sat surveying the valley. Tom wa s clearly upset. though. But she had to admit. blasting at full roar. But. and Sage Valley was now. the price of elect ricity had gone so high that everyone was cutting back where they could. Not a bit like her own home situation. Tom’s upper back rose and fell in a measured rhythm that looked like sleep. Wiping sweat from her fac e. tall and strongly built. His app earance always managed to charge Gwen with excitement. Outsi de. She cou ld hardly believe they’d both be seniors when school started. She wanted to call to him—to ask what was wrong—but then he’d know she’d been watching him.
Heading back toward the old. she decided defiantly. scrutinizing her with sharp. I’m not hiding from him. And right now.” Gwen snapped at Luke. On the other hand. they wouldn’t be able to afford the amount of gas it took to get to school.” Gwen said. For them. Something in his movements told her he was in one of his states. She paused several feet from the back door. wooden house with its warped structure and blistered paint. and considered scrambling up to the low roof behind the house and getting into her bedroom that way. 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. Maybe she could slip past him. if things kept going the way they were going. “I’m sorry. she never really knew. No matter how small. Due to the rising price of gas oline. dark eyes. Warily. . but I just now flew back on my jet. talking on his cell phone. pacing rapidly. who’d been a senior back then. a flight from New York to Paris cost thousands of dollars. she never knew how. “If you’re going to go out. He made the money. and she was in no mo od to fight with him. Gwen saw that the kitchen’s too-bright overhead light had been t urned on. the only thing she was sorry about was th at she was alive in this place. And your lights.” he grunted sarcastically. “That’s hysterical. Gwen’s should ers tightened.” Everyt hing counted. And that even when she wanted to s ay something that might somehow make things better. though what he did to earn it. Luke was there. everything counted. “I went to Paris. Luke wasn’t slurring or weaving. talking. and was gl ad not to know. “turn off your fan. When he was like this. he always picked a fight. avoiding Luke a ltogether. His eyes d idn’t seem bloodshot. Paris was as far away as the moon. That was what they were learning. But really. That was a good sign.” Luke said. at this time. “Where’ve y ou been?” he shouted. why should she have to duck her own bro ther? She resented it. she’d been dependent on Luke. There was nothing she c ould do. either—also a positive. But he clicked off his call and turned toward her the moment she stepped into the kitchen.rcing the scratching hedges to part and let her through. Luke was tu rned toward the wall. Gwen assesse d the situation.
so it doesn’t matter. they broke up.” “Who’s the guy with her?” “Hector something or other.” Carlos insisted with a smile.” He leaned in a nd jiggled the battery cables. But there wa sn’t as much oil there as they thought. How you be?” Tom shrugged. Carlos Hernand ez strolled over from across the street. “Sorry.” Carlos let out a low whistle.” Carlos agreed pointedly. I think.CHAPTER 2 Two weeks later. but it conks out on me and I can’t figure out why. He hoped the proble m wasn’t the catalytic converter. I don’t kn ow which story is actually true.” “Very big. The girl’s black T-shirt was ripped along the bo ttom hem.” Tom allowed. Ma ybe he just needed to clean the jets and replace the filter. “Totally out of your league. and they convinced everybody that they ha d hit the mother lode. big deal. It’s almost run out. he guessed.” she mumbled. Didn’t the oil companies get the goahead to start drilling in Alaska?” “Yeah. I’m sure. “Yea h. “I don’t remembe r it looking like that last year.” They turned to look at a girl with black. gangly boy. “I’m surprised it’s running at all.” “And the price is getting higher ev ery day. Alaska was going to be the new Saudi Arabia. “You don’t see gas guzzlers like these anymore. Reserves were depleted. She’s been in your grade ever since you got here. I also heard that her mother is a drug addi ct who never comes out of the house. bending forward for a closer look. “Could you be shorting out here?” “It’s possible. Why not turn this in for a hybrid or an electric?” “It was my dad’s. The price went higher and hi gher. we don’t have money for a new car. The boy’s hair was shaven except for a strip of electric green down the middle. th e crunch got tighter and tighter on everyone else. buddy. He’s homeschooled. looking the brown truck up and down.” Tom s aid.” Tom studied her as best he could from the corner of his eye. but she is. and that’s why nobody ever sees her.” “I nev er can understand why gas prices are so high. but they pretended it wasn’t happening. hi s rolling eyes implying that it would be expensive. the repair would cost more money than he had. man. Did she change her hair or something?” “I just told you she did!” Gwen had reached the drivew ay and glanced up at them. aren’t you?” “You think she’s out of my league?” “Maybe. “It might be worth it to have the car refitted. “Who knows? But at twenty bucks a gallon. which is my goal for this year.” “How much does that cost?” Carlos asked. The hoses looked all right. B esides.” “Whoa! Aiming kinda high. “This thing starts. spiky hair slouching down the sidewalk with a tall. “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 defended himself. acknowledging her with a nod.” Carlos said. 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. He’s bound to be captain this year. Tom shrugged.” “The place where all those bikers hang out?” “Yep. “Hey. I recognize her now.” Tom replied.” Tom cast Carlos a puzzled look. I think. He k new for certain that it hadn’t been run all summer. “Hey. “Oh. “That girl is seriously spooky. “I have to. “I hear there’s a guy downtown who will convert an old engine like this and make it more fuel efficient. I thin k his name is Artie. the oil had started to dry up. fixi ng up the truck. “She doesn’t see him anymore. yeah. “Anyway. “You don’t want that happening while you’re on the highway.” Tom shoved Carlos just hard enough to ma ke him totter backward a few steps. “When did she dye her hair black?” Carlos asked in a low voice. “Hey. it might be worth it. He does it in a garage behind Ghost Motorcycle.” “H . Somebody at the top mad e a bundle.” It had happened quicker than anybody thought it could—country b y country. I’m going to need wheels if I ask out Niki Barton. They still cranked up their heat in winter and airconditioning in summer. He didn’t know how to fix that himself and.” Carlos added.” “I’m on the football team. I guess . Tom didn’t like to think about it—because there wasn’t all that much he could do about it.” Carlos said once Gwen was out of e arshot. Both of them wore baggy khaki shorts. well by well. then ducked her head down as though not wanting to be forced into furth er conversation. Alaska was drilled. Except.” “So? The guy can pla y football. but you’re just now getting onto varsity. Tom returned his attention to the engine. if he had to bring it in. No joke. It was right in front of everybody’s faces.” Ca rlos remarked. “Do we know her?” “Th at’s Gwen Jones. Her last boyfriend was already a vars ity quarterback junior year. “Do you really think yo u can get this thing to run?” Carlos asked.” “What about the father?” “I don’t think anybody ever kne w him. And while rich people—really rich people —could still afford to get places. They still tried to driv e everywhere.
Niki Barto n had a house on the lake. but with just the right amount of curves. He pictured Niki: so slim. “Want to go down to Lake Morrisey later? A bunch of us are going to swim. “I’m going to get a new air filter and se e if that helps. If she was there.” Tom concluded. they do look like a set. and he didn’t want to be around a lot of people right now . “Naw. I don’t think I’ll come. her straig ht blond hair swinging around her gracefully athletic shoulders. I mean. I think so. He’d get a sen se if she might possibly agree to go out with him. he might run into her.boyfriend?” “Yeah. don’t they?” They both s tared back into the engine another moment. before he actually asked her. I still have room in my car.” he told Carlos.” Tom considered it. . But there was n o guarantee she’d show up.
“We’re at war.These days. Thanks for coming to the funeral and all.” Tom agreed. anyway. 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. just getting out of bed and maybe checking out the truck was as much as he could manage. The TV was on in the family room off the kitchen.” “Okay. And you’ve got about twenty minutes to change your mind about the lake. Tom went back to his house through the side door. “What’s going on?” Tom asked. or about to be. was at a podium giving a speech.” “He was. Carlos draped his arm ac ross Tom’s shoulders. and he could see his mot her on the couch watching it. “I’ll go get that air filter with you tomorrow. “With who?” “Venezuela. pointing to the laptop on the co ffee table. right? Your dad was a great guy. Carlos headed toward his house. Didn’t you see the headlines?” Tom’s mother said. You know h ow really sorry I am.” .” his mother replied. His dad’s death had hit him hard. T he president.” Walking backward. even though he’d known for mo nths that the cancer was winning. Jeffrey Waters.” he added. if you want. The thing probably wasn’t worth fixing. Stepping into the room. “Another time. “At least he’s not in pain anymore. It was only the two of them now. he looked at the screen.” “Venezuel ah. But his dad had said he wanted Tom to have it. of course. The rest went to Tom’s mothe r. “Take a look.” Tom stood a moment gazing absently at the truck’s engine. “Okay.” “Yeah. Glad to see you up and around again.
but it was only a temp orary reprieve. 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. Venezuelan president Hector Rodriguez replied. bec ame a petroleum kingmaker. who in his speech recalled that when OPEC was first formed. However. This rise in import ed Venezuelan oil is also due. must withdraw troops that stand poised to seize oil refineries that suppl y American companies. t he Middle East experienced a brief upsurge in production. it was due to the fact that oil fields in the Middle East were runni ng dry at an alarming rate. its purpose was to keep prices of abundant oil from dipping too low. “would be laughable. “I am simply exercising my country’s right within a free market to set its own price. in part. Up until this year.” The irony of this remark was not lost on President Waters.” . Canada was the world’s sec ond-largest supplier of oil.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. He threatened to attack the 149 oil refineries that remain in the United States should there be any aggression against the Venezuelan refi neries.” international security analyst Wanda Schaffer said in a n interview with the North Country News. An additional condition set by President Rodriguez is that th e U.S. The idea that there was any place left fo r the United States to go for its oil. They’re not coming back until they have their fuel. Venezuela. The opening of the Alaskan territory to unregulated d rilling allowed world markets to stabilize. At eight hundre d dollars a barrel.” The United States and Venezuela remain at a stalemate. In a speech this morning. once the world’s eighth-largest crude oil exporter. With the advent of horizontal drilling techniques. the United States will not be able to have its armed forces—or anything else. Venezuel a was a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries . Take our price or go elsewhere. to the exhaustion of Canadian oil fields and oil sludge found in sandbanks. “It is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain a military presence in South America—primarily because of the cost of fuel. It has also boosted America’s consumption of Venezuelan o il from roughly 20 percent to 60 percent over the last year.S. When five of OPEC’s original eleven members dropped out of the or ganization. he said. “War is inevitable. known as OPEC.” To th is remark. 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. with Venezuel a threatening a total oil embargo if the United States does not withdraw its for ces from the area. if it weren’t s o insulting. 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.
He had to have miss ed her—they’d been going together since the eighth grade. Brock had gone with his family to the ir summer home in North Carolina. And they didn’t have to d rive for all that long to get there. a few swipes with her brush made the silky curtain of blondness shi ne. She noticed for the first time that his haz . Pulling off her glasses. she pretty much knew all the athletic types from Sage Va lley High. Niki crossed to the picture window that looked out onto Lake Morrisey. his thick. she saw a group of teens laughing and joking their way to the water’s edge. She’d gone there with Brock for the last two years. even though she’d been tempted not to bother. Niki feigned interest in a hand-built. Gazing down at the public beach off to the right of her family’s property. who commuted to his office on Wall Street in New York City. wooden kayak supported betwe en two sawhorses. and she was there by herself? Nuh-uh. The kayak wasn’t rea lly heavy. Once the blanket was in place. Glancing from the corner of her eye at the raucous group to her right. no way! She wasn’t going to let herself get into that situation. She glanced out over the lake. attractive features in the photo. to retu rn to their all-year home in Sage Valley. You had to be pretty rich to have a speedboat. She was captain of the cheerleading squad. its carved-out hull facedown. She c ouldn’t imagine being there with anyone else. she tapped th e edge of Brock’s photo with the tips of her manicured nails. as if in tending to launch it. This gave th ose below a chance to see her without appearing to notice them. The blasting airconditioning was covering her arms with goose bumps. Niki shifted from e agerness to a breezy nonchalance as she descended the steep stairs to the lake. Stepping out onto the elevated ce dar deck facing the lake. Niki found her box of contacts in her top dresser drawer and insert ed them with a deft. though she’d neve r paid too much attention to him before this. Now. practiced touch. All she needed to do was come up with a strategy. longish. It would be too awkward if she just ra n down to see these kids. And going alone was not an option—what if Brock showed up with some new girl. With a quick intake of breath. She was now glad she’d put the straightening iron to her hair that morning. The Marietta lake house also allowed her fa ther. Niki hesitated. Speedboats were really rare now. At the bottom of the stairs. Before. dark curls. she hadn’t noticed hi m there with the others. she hurried out of her room. to have some f eeling of summer vacation when he came home every night. It had been taken at the bonfire at the end of September last year. These kids were second-stringers. He was on the football team with Brock. “Need some help with that?” Niki looked u p at Tom Harris. There had to be a wa y to make him see how wrong he’d been to break up with her this past June. she took in his height and athletic bu ild. but hanging with them would at least break the monotony of late summer at Lake Morrisey. Donning polka-dotted canvas skimmers and tightening the neck knot of her whi te halter blouse. when she was looking from her room. but long and awkward to manage. Now she could see that the jersey was being wo rn by Carlos Hernandez. Lean ing forward. But who should she go with? Tossing off the blanket. Niki snapped up her glasses from her dresser and put them on. B-team types. making sure to steer clear of the speedboat’s wake. Or a summer house that required a long dr ive. her casual notice had regis tered him in her mind as a nice guy. Still. She recognized several of the other guys with him. but the two communities were so different that she felt as if much more than the mere five miles separated them. A motorboat pulled a water-skier along. The Bartons would leave their lake house here in Marietta tomorrow. setting her sights on the far shore. Niki knew it probably seemed funny to some people that they had a vacation home only one town away from where they liv ed. A sailfish with a single sail and one passenger moved steadily on the light breeze. It wouldn’t suit her image at all to come frolicking down like some puppy excited to play with any new company. she attempted to turn the kayak. The activity gave her an excuse to be there. Niki inspected Brock’s stron g. but she sudde nly wished she’d found some less strenuous way of looking busy.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. after all. She recognized the particular shade of deep purple of th e Sage Valley football jersey one of the guys wore. but she’d heard he was back. Being on the cheering squad.
” Tom nodded back toward the classmates he’d arrived wit h. hi. Hot out. waving her hand to push away the unpl easant subject. in the driver’s seat of Carlos’s beat-up hybrid. sure.” “I knew I’d seen you around here before. Tom. but I’m sure he’ll lend it to me. “They’ll live.” she said.” “Oh. pleased that he was choosing h er over them. “Is that where you’re going now?” she asked. “Carlos told me some kids were coming down to swim. isn’t it?” “Yeah. so I grabbed a ride with th em at the last minute. “Oh. “They always do.” Niki smiled. .” Nik i said in a breezy tone. I heard about that.” she said. not really a place—just a little lan d with a dock out on the lake. “Okay.” “Won’t your f nds miss you?” Tom shrugged. Tom had a good profile. supposedly they’re going to cut off our supply. “I came in Carlos’s car.” Tom assured her.el eyes had hints of copper in them. Niki licked the hot fudge from her plastic spoon and cut her eyes to Tom. “No. isn’t it?” “Awful. Some thing to do with oil. “I wasn’t going to go with Carlos at first. “Feel like driving into town to get some ice cr eam?” he suggested. 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.” “So ? We’ll get it from somewhere else.” “Why was it at the last minute?” Niki asked. He g rinned a little at that. “Naw.” Niki agreed.” she said. I haven’t seen you all summer. “Don’t you have a place on the lake?” She was pretty sure she’d noticed him around Lake Morrisey before. “I’m sure they’ll figure something out.
.” Tom pulled up to the gas station entry. The car made a cranking sound as if despera te to come alive. Gaseous heat waves undulated at the level of the asphalt. And then. “We’re on empty! I just noticed it. “I can’t believe this!” Tom shouted. “I guess we walk. “These cars always have a few miles in them once the gauge reads empty.” “Well. A holographic message floate d in the air: Refuel battery. coughing. squinting down the road. in a couple of miles we’ll fin d out who’s right. she detected an ever-increasing mosquito-like drone. attached with duct tape: OUT OF GAS!!! “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. “Where’s your phone?” Niki asked. “I don’t pay much attention to gas prices. will go wrong. Tom turned t he key again as the car’s engine sputtered and whined. “I hope you’re right.” Niki remembered.” “Yeah. Niki could see the driver .” Tom took his thumb-sized phone from his shorts back pocket.” Niki hedged. A motorcycle was racing toward them very fast. if that’s what you mean. and clearly he could afford to pay Carlos back for the use of the c ar. “What is it?” “Twenty-nine fifty a gallon for regular? Are they kidding?” “Is that a lot?” Niki asked. Niki turned. I wish I’d noticed how long we were riding on empty. The motorcycle was executing a U-turn. She sucked in a sharp . Niki stared down the stre tch of unpopulated country road—trees on the left and nothing but tall grasses on the right side.” Tom said. “How can a gas station be out of gas?” “I don’t know. Tom waved his arms to hail them. Suddenly. looking re lieved. “Maybe. I’m not in the mood for a h ike in this heat. “Hopeful ly someone will come along to give us a lift. worried breath. “I forgot mine. “Did you see that guy? We don’t want to have anything to do with him.” Tom said. They’d gotten the ice cream in town and then driven down the long. “Or murder us.” “We’ll get there. it conke d out. “Good. that’s a lot.” “It would be c loser to try to get to the beach. but it was blocked b y a saw-horse displaying a sign handwritten on white oak tag.” Niki grinned triumphantly when the Shell station came into view . but the motorcycle whizzed past.” Tom replie re there any more stations down the road?” With a sigh. “What is it?” Niki asked. alarmed.” Tom said. though. There’s got to be other stations if we go back to town.” “Too late now. Someone smaller was seated behin d him. “But I can afford one gallon.she decided.” “I believe Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong.” Tom chuckled darkly. “I’m not sure. kicking a cloud of road dust into their faces. sitti ng back hard against the seat. nothing.” Tom said as they set out on the roa d. As it came ever closer. With a final gasp. “There it is! I told you!” Her smile faded as she noticed the scowl forming on Tom’s face.” Tom tol her as he pulled up to the station.” “There’s a gas station just two miles or so ahead. “You’re an optimist. again.” Niki predic ted. He was starting to anno y her. enough to get u s back to the beach. Niki considered the questi on. As it g ot closer. They’d walked for five minutes when a spot appeared on the horizon. He pumped the gas pedal hard. and coming right back a t them. flat road b ack for several miles before Niki suggested that Tom pull over to eat his ice cr eam before it melted.” “Hey—I thought you were the optimist!” he said. Tom swore under his breath and slapped the steer ing wheel. and a vest with cutoff sleeves tha t revealed two arms loaded with bright tattoos. “Are you nuts?” Niki asked.” Tom pointed out. jeans. heavy black boots. following Tom’s gaze. He wore a helmet.” “I don’t believe in worrying.
What was there.” Tom sai d. rubbing a bit of white polish that had chipped . “Sage Valley Nails closed down. “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. “Where’s he getting the gas?” Niki asked. “How much?” “Forty a gallon. Ballpoint pens had become a luxury bec ause they were made from plastic! Everyone used pencils now. outraged. In minutes. in a way—he was a joc k and she was the cheerleading queen. She might as well spare them all the awkwardness and cut to the chase. one gallon minimum. it is. so he was aware of her. It didn’t make sense. “The stations are hoarding. “Too bad. And even if they could get these t hings. he now officially knew she was alive. but to ge t off the motorcycle and hand Tom her helmet. Luke had explained all this to her. “Gwen.” Luke added. man. though. Still…didn’t she already have a megajock boyfr iend? Gwen didn’t bother greeting them. at least a little. 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. this strange attraction she felt. If he paid her back. “What do you mean?” Niki asked. looking do wn at the chipped. and she couldn’t tell if Tom realized they went to the same school. The y’d talk again. Not really. “You can catch me in school. really. I’m going to have to peel all this off if I can’t f ind any nail polish remover in the stores.” Gwen sat down on the side o f the road as Niki continued to stand. “I hav e ten more. “Why is that funny?” Tom asked Gwen. taking the fives from Gwen. Staying seated on the back of her b rother’s motorcycle. It’ll cost you. “Yeah.” Luke told him. “Forty a gall on!” Niki echoed. you want to wait here whil e I take this guy to get the gas?” Luke asked. Niki examined her manicure. Gwen wasn’t exactly sure. though. and ev en toothpaste—all made from oil-based products. revealing a thin.” Luke agreed with mockery in his voice. “Super terrible. “They figure we’re all going to get pretty desperate. black polish on Gwen’s fingers. Which was mostly true. Plus. he’d have to come looking for her. in a tone bordering on irritation. to say? She didn’t want Niki to know how many things her brother could get her. They couldn’t get supplies. Gwen slapped a mosq uito. shampoo.” he reported. A red flag went up inside Gwen—she didn’t want him coming there. angular face.” Tom told him.” Had Tom notice d her eyes flash at his words? Gwen had felt that inadvertent spark of excitemen t and was embarrassed.” Luke said.” he said. “I don’t know. “Where do you live?” he asked her now. speaking right to Tom.” Gwen offered. “Out of gas. the prices had skyrocketed. “Th ey want to hold it back to sell at a higher price. Luke also seemed to have some kind of inside track on other hard-to-get items.” Niki remarked. “Thanks. “Do you know someone?” “You could say that. I’d be glad to buy some from you. And there’s none around anywhere.” He didn’t ask what sc hool. Not that it mattered.” Tom said. “Great. “Everyone’s out of gas.CHAPTER 4 Luke idled to a stop alongside Tom and Niki. Luke was carrying Tom away down the road. Do you have polish or remover? Where’d you get it? Nobody’s be en able to find any for weeks.” Tom’s s mile faded. just as likely. 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. Tom was not her type . you know. 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. Your manicure looks fresh.” Gwen replied.” “That’s terrible. “Mmm. There was not a flicker of recognition in Niki’s eyes. Girls in school were hoarding lipstick. He was probably in touch with som eone who had access to this hoarded gasoline—or.” she offered. “I only have thirty. Little kids couldn’t get balloons or crayons. and from the look on Niki’s face. “You’re wearing nail polish. Gwen had never rea lized how many things were made from oil. one of his pals h ad broken into a closed-down gas station and stolen some. “I’ll pay you back.” Gwen said. There was no choice. Luke snorted with laughter from beneath his helmet. Luke shot Niki a disdainful glance. Her eyes darted to Gwen’s black-painted nails. Why was Tom wa sting his time with a phony like Niki Barton? It made sense. brightening. He’d been in .” Niki glared at him.” Niki said. I don’t care what i t costs. it was clear the other girl was equally horrified at the idea of spending time stranded with Gwen. digging in her back pocket to pull out two five-dollar bills. Gwen pulled off her helmet and looked at them. “Okay.” Gwen had some. “Why?” Luke took off his helmet.” Gwen told him. Gwen thought. “Did your car break down or something?” she asked.
“No. deciding what to d o—and then she shook her head and said.” She didn’t want every girl in school seeki ng her out for nail care products and every other line of cosmetic. It .a good mood that night. she decided to take the stuff off as soon as she got home. In fact. Gwen studied Niki for a brief moment.
“What friend?” “You don’ now her. Was everyone conserving what gas they had left? In the next moment.” “Sure. she climbed to the peak of the second. aggrava ted. “Yeah. traveling f . Silver moon energy poured into her. and sh e didn’t. Just below.” Gwen evaded th e question.” Niki replied sulkily. she realized why the stars were so bright. she’d been twelve. she saw fireflies blinking in the blackness.would mark her as someone with access to black market items. It was a l ong way off before she could see a patch of lights from some other town once aga in. throwing a pool of light. We live in a place where they generate electricity from oil-burning turbines. No air conditione rs hummed. the stillne ss was broken by a rising chorus of crickets. lucky us. The sun had been down for hours. “How long have you been seeing Tom ?” Gwen dared to ask. tantalizing Gwen with its shimmer. man!” he yelled. What’s it to you? Gwen looked away. Then. I never thought I’d wish I li ved next to a nuclear generator.” “So ou’re just hanging out for today?” “I suppose. Why should it matter to her? But still…for some reason…it did. The impulse to call to him was strong. but tonight she couldn’t hear any pass. she checked t hat Luke had gone back inside. Why had she stopped? As her body had started to develop . “We just went for ice cream. “A friend. Inhaling deeply. Gwen ran around the back of t he house and got onto the low roof. “Then where’d you get that?” Niki pressed. her voice rising. In the next second. This was insanity—but it filled her with a serene happiness. she saw that Sage Valley was completely black. Did they do this every night? Gwen had never noticed it this f ully before. Opening her eyes. crazy!” Luke’s voice stirred her from her reverie. she made it to the peak and squatted.” “They shut it off?” Gwen ask ed. Everything in h er immediate area was black—all the lights were out. no breeze stirred. “Hey. Had she tied the shoelaces of he r sneakers? Gwen hoped so. a flashlight snapped on. In the darkness. It was obvious from her scornful expression that she realized Gwen was l ying to her. “It was the last she had. and that was the la st thing she needed. Gwen came into the house behind Luke. T om stood at its center.” he said as his expression once more disappeared into the dark. Our bill was nine hundred dollars for last month. “Oh. N ormally. Looking down. Tom’s yard was so deeply entrenched in darkness that she couldn’t see anything. No TV or music blared. Moonlight rimme d the peak of the roof. Climbing higher on all fours. he stood at the back of the house. will you!” Luke struck a match. I don’t know what’s going on. As if roused by the maniac sound of the strange fowl. this was a blackou t.” she muttered. she could barely make out his form looking up at her. But no. At least we’re no worse off than everyone else. The next second. because she didn’t dare look down for fear of losing he r balance. high er roof. bullfrogs initiated a chant of c all and response. Down on the far side of the road.” she reported. Th e constellation of Cancer the Crab hung brilliantly. She was li fted above the dark world below. ar ms outstretched. Bea ds of sweat formed on Gwen’s forehead as she sat just below the roof’s peak. There were no engine sounds. “Can’t. Squeezing her abdominal muscles tight. ubiquitous whine of electricity on t he wire that usually buzzed just below the level of consciousness was missing. Niki shot Gwen a look that asked. “Looks that way. She understood Niki’s confusion. cars would have been on the road. “I’m not seeing him. She had never known such a deep silence. “What do you see up there?” “Everything’s out for miles.” Niki answered. in front of the house where the creek ran. she lifted herself. The last time she’d wal ked it. Two steps in.” With the right side of her lip quirking up slightly. he turned off the flashlight and disappeared. From there. Lucky us!” Gwen had heard this complaint pl enty of times before. A few more awkward moments passed. “Ow!” she shouted. The high. “Oh. she balanced. Surely all these people hadn’t left their bills unpaid? No. Then she went back outside. so I couldn’t pay it.” Gwen hoped Niki wouldn’t insist on getting the name of this friend. “Put on a light. Glancing down. a loon whooped its crazy call. Gwen thought. and Gwen opened her mouth to speak—but then shu t it once again. perfectly defined above her . What was the point? In the intense heat. and I couldn’t make it this month. “Price of electric went up again. His illuminated face seemed to hang there in the black ness. she stumbled on a box of motorcycle parts in the living room.” Good. That night. 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. so it was n o longer blistering hot.
Like riding a bike. his Mohawk made him look almost like an exotic bird. halting her descent. because she knew it was really more surprise than anger she was feeling. She hadn’t yet decided if he was just being friendly or if he was looking for a girlfriend. she slipped and began an uncontrolled slide. “Are you okay? Can I let go now?” Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position and tried to contain her temper. I figured I’d find you up here. Gwen was halfway across the roof when a dark form abrupt ly appeared in her path. Hector sat and pulled his knees to his chest. “Hector!” Gwen shouted. “Why did you come up here?” she repeated. Steady on.rom the roof and up her body as she stepped into its light. and he’d started coming around. A strong hand gripped her wrist. Gwen had met him while walking to the corner deli o ne day. Startling. Hector lived in the trailer home down the road.” . She could still do i t. would you? Don’t just sneak up on me. “T here’s nothing to do.” “Next time whistle or say somethi ng. “Did you want to kill me?!” “Sorry. slow breaths. In the dark. Deep. looki ng up into the narrow face of her neighbor. and then the other.” he mumb led. First one foot swung forward.
I walked the balance beam. Everyone d oes. so I can’t even read. Luke and I don’t have air-conditioning. “The power’s back. “My tablet isn’t charged.” “Whatever hap pens. Hector looked hurt.” Hector insisted. Hector shr ugged and smiled. you never have school vacation. “No. “What do you think is out there. That’s not how I am. “What do you mean by that ?” she asked.” “Why’d you stop?” “Those gymnastic girls were real cl iquish.” “I guess that means sleep. half comma nd.” Gwen said as she sat and began inching qui ckly down the roof. “Uh. Because the re was nothing else they could do. “If we can’t get them.” “You’re going to wash it in freezing cold water?” Hector asked. a bigger picture than we can ever be aware of.” Gwen observed. And once they stopped being able to afford the buses. “I like th e feeling.” Hector repeated. its angular arches and planes rimmed with silver light. That got old pretty quick . or something. “Why sho uld the water be freezing?” Gwen replied as she made her way down the roof. I guess.” Lit tle by little. There was something in Hector’s low tone of voice.” Gwen said.” “Don’t those ne ed electricity?” Hector shook his head. His dark.” Gwen said. “Not me. 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. People are probably getting their small generators going. “So what do you think of all this—I mean the war and the no gas and no ligh t?” “The war part stinks. especially the science fiction channel. but she wasn’t completely certain. .” “Someday you might need some help. the only team we could ever compete against was Marietta. “Why did you do it?” he pressed. or maybe it was the bend of his body that made her think he was about to lean in for a kiss. “Stop worrying. so that doesn’t mat ter to me.” “I’ve never seen the stars so b right. sometimes. lights blinked on around the valley. She had an idea of what it meant on her end of things.” Gwen commented. “Mean by what?” “‘We have each other. but I never need anyone. okay?” Hector said. Friends? More than friends? “I t means I’ll be there to help if you need me. “The rest of it isn’t so bad. It’s going to take a while to wash my hair by candlelight. anyway.“Sorry.” “Better hoard battery c hips. you could go get an actual book.” “Don’t do it anymore. “Trying to figure it all out keeps life interesting. then. That’s what the whole town would do—sleep until things got better. moving back. “Lithium battery chips.” Gwen said.” Gwen stood. I guess. “I do n’t think so.” Gwen laughed.” “Hey—when you’re homeschooled. Lots and l ots of space. “Don’t you think what you were doing was kind of dangerous?” “Prob ably. I kind of like the qui et and the dark.” Gwen answered with a shrug. at least we have each other. I didn’t fit in. I was on the gymnastics team in my freshm an year.” “We don’t have it. I have good balance.” Hector said. his words half request. “I’d better get inside.’” “What you think it means?” “I don’t know. “What good is a bigger picture if we can never know it for sure?” she asked.” Gwen looked up at his face. Gwen thought. Hector could be deep sometimes. exp ressive eyes filled with moon. You’re lucky you don’t have to go back. either. Whatever. thanks.” he remin ded her. “Your fu rnace has an electric start button. too. we’ll be in real trouble. Gwen looked at him sharply. I miss TV. Hector. Hector?” “I don’t know. “I would like my electric fan to work . Do they still have real books?” “I think the old ones a re all stored in a vault in Washington.” Hector said.” “But why is it out there? What does it mean?” “I suppose there’s s ome larger plan.” Gwen insisted.” “Are you ready for school to start next week?” Hector asked. Too bad there aren’t libraries open anymore.
As oil grows ever scarcer.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Bolivia Backs Out of Lithium Trade Talks With U. the use of battery-powered cars and gene rators is seen as increasingly crucial. Vows to Support Venezuela The fighting in Venezuela.S.S. .S.S. with fuel-efficient cars taking their pl ace. and Japan have opened the doors to renewed interest in hybrid vehicle development. has been b rought to a temporary cease-fire in recent days while U. and had to depend exclusively on the much smaller lithiu m-producing salt flats of Chile and Argentina. Bolivia is the world’s greatest suppli er of the valuable mineral lithium. Any stall in talks with Bolivia could ha ve dire consequences for the global economy. failed to make trade agreements with the Chinese to tap into its l ithium supply in Tibet. and new trade agreements with the U. centered just outside the city of Maracay. party leaders called lithium “the mine ral that will lead us to the post-petroleum era. In the eleven years since. the Bo livian PRP has become the ruling party of Bolivia. that same year. diplomats hold emerge ncy sessions with Bolivian representatives. When the lithium fields of Bolivia were seiz ed by the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP). The U. to the loss of the hybrid-car initiative in the U.S. in part.” Their insistence on tightly cont rolling trade and pricing agreements led.
” Carlos recounted. Tom cou ld tell that her choppy.” Tom suddenly realized what she meant.” Carl os agreed. “I know. stinks. Our oil tank is nearly empty. anyway? That’s the main reason I signed up for the class.” he greeted her when she was close. and teachers were bei ng discouraged from using the electric boards.” Carlos said. Ralph.” “Mom has an emergency crank radio . Gwen. If I could at least recharge my phone. It was just too dark at night and the water was too cold for them to attend to their usual hair routines. Last night. “I told you…he doe . “I thought the English el ectives were going to be fun. Curtin. Tom caught up with Carlos as they left their creative journalism English elective. “I ditched. Yet he thought Gwen was also attractive. an d I can’t even watch TV. black cut was clean. Too bad she was seeing that guy with the Mohawk—the homeschooled one. I heard that they expect emergency oil to bring the electric turbi nes back up by tomorrow. walking toward them. 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. She says if the pipes in the house freeze. I’d call you and mak e you crazy. and sort of mysterious but with a dry sense of humor. “Your brother has oil. Mom has to save what we have in case it freezes. Did he quit or something?” Tom shook hi s head. and then all she wants to do is freak out about this war. too. “Where is he getting the oil?” Tom asked in a low voice. “I heard he lives so far away that he can’t get enough gas to come to work e ach day. the call Tom had been hoping for hadn’t come. and the scruffy outfits. There was som ething about her that he really liked. Most kids hadn’t been able to charge their tablets. Each tim e they met.CHAPTER 5 Tom thought that school might be canceled because of all the blackouts and the h ard time people were having finding fuel. e ven though she’d forgotten all about him. intriguing. Tom blasted him with laughter.” “It was cold last night. “This substitute. and ever since then they’d chatted briefly in the hall sometimes. but she couldn’t. He’d paid her money back on the first day of school. that she was hid ing under the dark eyeliner. Tom had the sensation Gwen was a girl in a costume. Gwen didn’t answer. Ralph—what a dork. He’d have asked Gwen if she wanted to hang out with him sometime if she wasn’t already involved with another guy. they could burst. even if they weren’t exactly friends.” Tom saw Gwen turn the corner. She wa s entirely different from Niki—and he still thought of Niki as the perfect girl. not meeting his eyes.” Carlos said.” “My parents don’t have any oil. This is starting to drive me nuts. the jet-black hair. “I’ve been going to sleep at six o’clo k because there’s nothing to do. After a week back. “And I wish the electric would come back on. And then I wake up in the middle of the night. Mr. “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. I slept with four blankets. at least not with the same care they usually used. Tom found h imself praying the school’s generator would fail and the lights would suddenly bli nk out. things hadn’t really improved. but this is a total bore. causing the students to be sent home. so class was bordering on chaos. because at least the generator means there’s hot water. My mother keeps wanting us to spend time t alking. The ones who washed it in the school showers didn’t h ave time to style it. “Why weren’t you in journalism?” Gwen checked to see who else was nearby before replying in a conspiratorial voice. He stepped in closer to her.” he complained. “Hey. “Not reall y. so he’s on temporary leave. Concentrating on what the teachers were saying was harder than ever. “Did I notice? How could I not notice? I begged Mom to turn on the heat. I can’t take that Mr. did you notice?” Carlos a sked as the two of them headed for the cafeteria. I actually enjoy showering after gym now. But the morning of the first day of sc hool. “Did you fre eze last night?” Gwen answered with a little shrug. Instead. Then he realized home wasn’t much be tter. before returning in ten minutes with a red canister. Where is Mr. but she didn’t have to. He considered th eir relationship as being friendly. e ither.” “We all do. 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. I wish Curtin would come back. I was actually glad to come back to school this morning. 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. The oil company doesn’t know when it’s going t o be able to deliver.” “I can’t wait.” “I already feel crazy. doesn’t he?” he whispered.
“She’s interesting.” Carlos said.” Tom agreed.” “I froze my butt off! You’re crazy.” “I don’t believe you. Ralph replied without stopping. of course. You can go . backing away down the hall. “S he might be pretty if she wasn’t so weird. She was pretty. Smart. I have to go to the computer room.” Tom t old her. “We just want to buy enough to get a generator going. “What do yo u think of her?” Carlos asked. “Anyway. The nights are really getting cold. That was just that one day. Ralph was nearby. “You can trust us. tell us. and Tom turned to him.” “Come on. “It’s closed.” “I like er stuff when she reads it in journalism. “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. Tom and Carlos arri ved at the wide double cafeteria doors and instantly saw the sign taped to it: C LOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. but still…there was that something about her.” Gwen agreed “You’re probably totally right about that. “She has sad eyes. “It’s more than the generat or can handle.” Mr. “Then why weren’t you cold?” Tom asked. Not his type. “They hook into the generator between one and two.” Tom coaxed. She’s a good writer. Gwen.” Gwen looked at him and their eyes connected. He can’t get it anymore.” “Yeah.” Carlos scoffed. “It wa sn’t that cold. “Could be. We won’t tell anyone else.” Gwen said.” Gwen insisted.” “He doesn’t h ave oil or gas or anything. Mr. Tom waved good-bye as he watched her disappear into the crowd. jerking his thumb toward the sign. “No cafet eria?” he asked.sn’t have oil.” Gwen called over her sh oulder.” Carlos challenged her softly.” Tom replied.
” Tom suggested. and Niki leaned across the passenger seat. Curtin!” he called.” “I’m coming bac .” “Again? Whose idea was that?” Tom asked. he unintentionally slid lower in his seat. “I don’t know!” Tom admitte d.” Students were milling around the halls and spilling out int o the front walkway by the near-empty parking lot. Since I’m not playing football. We broke up.” “It’s okay. waving. “What’s everyone else doing?” “I have no idea. “So. Tom could never make eye contact or find an opening to talk to her.” Carlos agreed.” “Want to go to my house? I’ll make you a sandwich or somethin g. throwing his arms wide in frustration. Tom?” “Why aren’t you?” Tom inquired. “What are you doing?” Niki asked. Niki hesitated. The teacher looked to Tom and smiled. so she asked if I would clean out the storage shed tha t has all the boat stuff in it.” They were nearly to the lobby. Mostly. “Mine. “Pull over a minute.out to eat if you want. “That’s Mr.” “No luck with your dad’s truck?” Tom shook his head.” he said. Tom had never really thought about it. Easily six-f oot-three and every inch the star quarterback. Deciding to chance it. He caught sight of Brock standi ng in the parking lot with some of the guys from the football team. they had to drive right past Brock. “I’m supposed to go clean out the boathouse. it’s naturally cool so I wo n’t need refrigeration for things like potatoes. I’ve finally bought this house closer to the school. I haven’t seen much of you. I go t a great deal because the former owner is moving south so his heating bill won’t be so high.” Tom didn’t believe her. looking sleek in he r hot pink sweater. I woul d have said something last time I saw you.” Niki noticed. blond hair. Ju st the same. “Not yet. Brock was a formidable figure. “What have you been up to?” “Not much. “This is crazy. as though this wasn’t something she had intended. “Why aren’t you in school. I couldn’t afford to put gas in it even if I got it going. but so far I haven’t been able to find one. Curtin.” “That stinks . Tom. I pl an to grow my own vegetables next spring. A red two-seater sports car pulled in front of him.” “Oh. she wasn’t looking for any student-teacher reunions thi s afternoon. “Mr. but I didn’t know. “Where do you think that produce comes from?” Mr. right?” “Like all the farms in this town?” “Are you kidding? There are no farms here anymore. “We’d pr obably do better if we split up. Glancing to h is right. I was just out here looking for a place to dig a root cellar. “Maybe we shouldn’t go. To get out of the school parking lot. thin man with a head of thick. I heard about your father.” “We can see if someone has a bag lunch we can grub from. Farms. We’re stuck here in school with no food and no wheels.” “What’s tha t?” Tom asked. no t someone Tom would especially want to anger. New rule. please. but he felt relieved that Brock wasn’t glaring at him angrily. noticing when he got closer that she smelled like a heady mixture of lem on and honeysuckle perfume. Tom sprang from the car.” Tom said. If Brock broke up with Niki.” “Doing anything this weekend?” Carlos asked as they headed down the hall. “Yeah. he should n’t mind seeing Tom and Niki together. After their disastrous ice cream outing. so I can walk to work. “Looking for lunch. I’ve been looking for a job.” “You’re righ t. but I just have enough gas to get home—I hope.” Niki t urned out of the school lot and drove down a block of neat houses.” “Exact . yams—root vegetables.” “Why? Because of Brock? He has nothing to say about it. Brock glanced nonchalantly into the car. I’ve been trying to get m y father’s old truck up and going. Niki had been avoiding him. I’m cruising on fumes as it is. He wander ed outside to the front of the building and scanned the parking lot across the r oad from the front entrance. Niki s tayed in the car. There’s no rush. Mo m wants to sell the boat. her perfect blond hair seemingly unaffected by recent condit ions. clearly. just like last year. Thanks. But maybe it was only wishful thinking on his part. “I’m supposed to be in your journalism elective. st opping at the curb. The window closest to him went down. standin g on a lawn. As they passed.” Carlos shook his head.” Why was she being so nice to him? “Okay. “What are we going t o eat?” Carlos asked. “Now you’re thinking. “I don’t know. carrots. See ya later. He was sure she saw hi m as a complete loser for getting her stranded like that.” “Later.” “Do you have your car?” Tom asked Carlos. Tom slid his student cash car d into the vending machine before noticing every single thing was out. No one will have enough for both of us.” Niki said brightly. They were holding hands and nuzzling each ot her in the hallway once again. I’m so sorry. ma n. He’d been delusional to think he ever had a chance with her. Tom slid into the pa ssenger seat. Tom couldn’t read his expression.” “Why don’t you just go to the grocery store like everybody else?” Tom asked. he’d heard s he’d gotten back together with Brock. Cu rtin replied. And anyway. Tom noticed a tall. “A big hole in the ground for keeping food.
Mary.ly.” “Nobody did. Curtin . my mom does the shopping.” Tom said. my wife. blond w oman with her hair in a ponytail approached.” “Check it out sometime. and they pass that cost on to consumers like us. The fres h produce shelves are just about empty. I wish I’d grown a garden this summer.” Mr. The price of food in general has more th an tripled. The food is brought in by trucks and. To m Harris. this is one of my students. A slim. but I never expec ted that things would get this bad this fast. “Mary. You need gasoline for trucks and freighters. on freighter s from places like South and Central America. especially in the winter. Have you seen the supermarket prod uce department lately?” “No. Tom.
“Still…it could tide us over until we c ome up with something better. He’d never spent much time thinking about what it meant to be wealthy. the bottom of th e tank is empty. “It’s a nonrenewable resource. Unlike in Sage V alley’s downtown section. Curtin explained.” “It is. I forgot to tell you—we’ve moved back into the lake house in Marietta. “Didn’t we just pass your road?” Tom pointed out. “We’re trying to gear up nuclear an d wind-power facilities—but. tryin g to sound as if it didn’t matter. Curtin said. he found her lemon-and-hon eysuckle scent drew him to her. “Oh. Well. I guess.” Mr.introduced them. “Eighty dollars a gallon!” It amazed him that a line of vehicles snaked out of the station and down the roa d. The asphalt we use to pave our roads—that comes from th e bottom of the tank after oil’s been refined. Shampoo and soap are made of hydrocarbons.” “Where does it come from?” “I have no idea. It could be a move to corner Bolivia. Tom let out a low whistle.” Mrs. We had no idea that everything is made from oil—plastic.” Niki picked up a note from the glass coffee .” “Nice to meet you. too.” Mr.” Niki pointed to a Shell station on the corner. “It must be nic e. Now it hit him. ironically. it really didn’t seem to matter—nothing mattered.” “Now the foreign oil is almost gone. I guess no one—including me— thought the oil wou ld really run out. how m uch of a difference money could make.” “Well.” Mrs. Fertilizer.” Tom abs orbed this news with a sense of growing dread.” Mrs. “What do you mean?” “Their oil supply is runni ng dangerously low. “It’s not stopping people.” “What’s happened. When there’s no oil. refrigerat ion—just like always. exactly?” Tom ask d. “What else is new?” Niki scoffed. He’d never b een in such a luxurious home. Once again. They know it.” “Great.” They drove for a while in silence. Curtin explained.” Tom replied. pulling open his car door. w here there’s still reliable electric. we’ll be back to normal. cosmetics—everything. at last. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Saudi Arabia overreported its oil production for years until its supply of oil was completely gone. here people were on the streets. Carpet. “Oh. insect icides.” Niki commented. “Tom and I were just saying how nobody expected everything to fal l apart so fast. The subject scared him. Bricks and concrete are made with oil. “When are you coming back to school?” Tom asked his teacher. There it is. “I mean. shocked at the news.” Tom said. They got on the lo g road to the beach where they’d run out of gas. this is a cool place. “What did he say?” she prompted. “Ar e your gas stations open?” Tom asked excitedly.” “See you then. It’s a con game to keep the world from bothering with alternative fuels. In the 1950s. “Wow. Curtin s with a wave.” he said. And when he was there beside her. I’ll see you then. businesses were open. “So I should have known better. “The world’s always been about to collapse.” “How is Marietta manag ing that?” Tom asked. righ t?” “Venezuela is bluffing.” “What must be nice?” “To be rich. “Ne xt week. “One is. After a few more miles. too. “You. 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.” Mrs. The shingles on our roof.” “Wow. “Not these people. We have constant heat.” Mary Curtin said. it’s happened. they a rrived at the lake house. The electricity stays on all the tim e in Marietta! It’s not like here in Sage Valley. hot water. Isn’t that what social studies is all about?” “Yeah. “Now. Curtin allowed. A tanker comes every day an d refuels it.” Tom said. it’s hard to build them without oil. He glanced back at Nik i waiting in the car. But it never does. linked an d processed from oil. “What was that about ?” Niki asked when Tom got back in the car. and it wa sn’t a good feeling. Our military is fighting for something that’s not even there anymore. “We’ve been headed down this road for a while. Things are much better in Marietta.” “Then why are they doing it?” “Maybe we want to get in and see if we ca n find more oil.” Tom murmured. 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.” Mr. Curtin said. where it blinks on and off and n obody knows when or why. just about how t he world is falling apart and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.” Niki replied slyly. and Tom followed her in. once this thing with Venezuela is settled. “There’s a rumor that they tapped into the power grid down county. impressed. They drove into Marietta. Curtin added. we all should have seen it coming.” Niki told him with a grin. Niki opened the front door with a remote-control key. and passed the station that had b een closed the last time. People have been predicting this would happen for the last thirty years.” “My wife has her PhD in bioengineering. “Thanks. It was still shut down. “People in Marietta have connections. She’s been very involved wit h ecological issues for the last ten years. drinking in h er citrus-sweet perfume. in a much bigger way than before.
But I figured you thought I was a loser after we ran out of g as.” She gazed at Tom boldly.” she reported.” Tom admit ed with a shaky laugh. “I thought you always liked Brock.” Niki waved his comment away. so I could never let you know how I felt. “I’ve alwa ys liked you. “So.” . but he had no interest in sorting it out—at least not right then.table and read it.” “I was always going with Br ock. good—that means nobody’s home. don’t you?” “No. too. “You know I’ve always liked you. “That could have happened to anybody.” Tom was struck by the faulty logic of that. “Mom’s out with her friends.
That’s great.” “I’m glad. . Not until later.” she said. it would have seemed impossible. her face softening. “When are your parents coming home?” he asked . he didn’t care. He placed his hand o n the small of her back and pulled her closer.Stepping closer to her. he never would have dreamed he’d be alone with Niki B arton. Even an hour ago. sure I would. Lifting her hand to caress his cheek. If this was a dream. L et the world fall apart. he noticed how anxious he felt. she kissed h im on the lips. he was no longer hungry for anything but her. kissing her passionately on the l ips. He inhaled to quiet his rising nerves. This morning. “I don’t know. he kissed her again. Niki stepped closer an d took his hand.” Still holding her waist. Tom didn’t want to know. I’d love to go with you.” she said. Though his stomach growled. “I need a date for the bonfire. “Want to go with me?” Was th is really happening? “Yeah.
the station’s owner.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. available to our troops is a higher priority. News has traveled fast that in these tough times. I don’t allow them to fill up with extra gas. Patterson revealed that Shell has released some of its emergency oil reserves to key distributors. “That’s a lie. line up at the local station—all willing to pay from seventy to ninety dol lars a gallon. making oil an d its by-product. on ly residents who can prove they own property in Marietta will be able to access gasoline from the station. Several waiting on line rammed the stalled car until it careened down an embankment and into Lake Morrisey with the driver still inside. Violence ensued in several incidents when cars with low fuel tanks had their engines quit while on line. a spoke sman for Shell.” “That’s so unfair.) 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. “My tank is smaller than the tanks of some of these gas guzzlers. desperate to obtain a tank of this liqui d gold. gasoline. I only perm it each driver to fill his or her tank. the town has been able to parlay the clout of its mo st influential citizens into tangible advantages—most significantly. claimed last night in a widely released response. . This was met with loud booing. even twenty-ga llon containers. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to buy as much gasoline as they do?” When asked about the so urce of this gasoline tanker. “Folks come with ten-. (He was rescued shortly thereafter. though.” In the wake of Kravner’s comments. a motorist refused to push his stopped vehicle to the side of th e road or even get out. A man was arrested for throwing a rock at Commissioner Parks. The Route Six thoroughfare leading into Mari etta is clogged for miles as motorists.” Mike Kravner. I n one instance. As much as we respect the hardship on Americans. “We are sending all our oil reserves to the military fighting in Venezuela and to our troops on alert in Bolivia. Patterson obviously knows someo ne with access to our emergency reserves. a daily visit from a tanker containing gasoline. What t he Marietta Shell is selling is stolen gasoline. We are sending a team of investigators to get to the bottom of this. “We’re out of gas by ten in the mor ning.” says Pete Patterson.” complained Alice Tucker of Sage Valley. the line of cars lined up outside the Shell station more than tripled.
I don’t mind. It was as though the shocking news had physically hit Niki. speaking of freezing. People’s stock values are plummeting.” her mother said. Phili ps?” Her mother nodded. and the cost of keeping their building going. 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. referring to the large box store with an optometrist where Ni ki got her lens prescription filled. It’s not dif-f i-cult anymore. “You still have to pay for it . He shooed her off with a flailing swipe of his ar m.” He stumbled toward a button beside the fireplace and hit it. Wear something warm .” her mother replied with a note of helpless frustration. Brock would be there with his new girlfriend.” her father insisted. so they’re pulli ng their money out of Dad’s brokerage in record numbers. “I’m warm now. “Difficult?” he scoffed.” she explained.” Niki’s fac e wrinkled into a bewildered expression. I d on’t know what to tell you.” “Your father is already on his way home.” Niki shot ba k.” her father replied with a rumbling.” Niki’s mother said as she sat on the couch in front of the large. “It’s okay.” Niki stared at the blurred form of her mother. slurring the word. and Niki instantly knew he’d been drink ing. “How did you and Dad let this happen?” she asked. leaving her room for the top of the stairway. Wear your glasses. I’ll make you something to eat. “Did you call Dr. “This is my tenth interview in two weeks.” Niki turned to see her father standing at the front door. Niki trailed her mother int o the living room. “Mom!” she shouted. Bad enough she was going to sho w up with a second-string lineman—now she would be wearing glasses! “Call Dad. “BJK-Mart was out. If only she could call them back somehow.CHAPTER 6 Niki ransacked her top dresser drawer.” Niki s aid. It was crossed w ith uncertainty. and our stocks—like everyone else’s—are not worth as much as they used t o be. Niki felt her mother’s dread pass to her like a co ntagious illness. Her w ords had set him off. Massively downs izing. spe echless. “That’s better.” The expression on her mother’s face unnerved Niki. I have to talk to you.” Getting to the bottom of the stairs. “We sell this house. “Dad was laid off a couple of weeks ago . Niki could suddenly hear just how drunk he actually was. maybe below freezing. “You have got to be kidding!” “It’s not the end of the world!” “Not for you. Her father trudged forward. You look cute in your glasses. Th anks. He says he didn’t get his delivery this week. “And. “He’s out.” “That’s what I said. Philips can call for them. “Dad. and even fear. Where was it? Tom was going to come pick her up for the bonfire in less than a half hour. coming halfway down the stairs. Dad went on a job interview tod ay. . Dad. “Why so early?” “Niki.” Crossing her arms.” Niki’s mother nervously offered. a petite woman with short blond hair.” “I’m not hungry. “We can’t have that. “It’s happening to everyone. Her mother defen ded herself. “Mom! Wh ere is the box of contacts I asked you for?” Her mother. Because of this. wringing her hands. “Lots of people wear glasses. the truckers are refusing to come this far north because they can’t get enough gas.” Niki insisted. Don’t worry.” That’s how it sounded to her.” her mother suggested. turn the heat on!” Niki demanded. leaving her unstea dy on her feet. come down here. “Are you kidding? Why?” “This oil and gasoline shortage has affected s tock prices around the world. “Maybe he can find some contacts in the city and Dr.” “Below f reezing? No way.” Niki said quickly.” “Sit down. He r mother always dropped a new box into the drawer when Niki told her she was out .” “So we’re broke?” “Not exactly. “Now let me et you something to eat. Ap parently. the company is downsizing. “We’re broke. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him drunk.” Niki said.” Her moth er nodded. I’m not going—not wearing glasses. Besides. too. our baby is cold. searching for a box of contact lenses.” “Yes. “What’s going on?” she asked. “but all our savings are also inves ed in stocks. “If anyone has the money to buy it.” Niki threw her arms u p. much better. stone fireplace . “No. “It’s not really tha t cold. Gas jets ignited into blue tongues of flame around a ceramic log. “True. but this time there was somethin g wild and desperate in his expression that frightened her. “Did you have a diffic ult time in the city?” her mother asked cautiously. It gets easier every time. It looks very hopeful. This wasn’t happening! “Mom! I cannot go to the bonfire in glasses!” “Niki. I have to get her s ome heat!” There was a frightening madness in his voice. “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. They say the temperature is going to drop tonight.” A man’s voice cut in. Now go get ready for the bonfire. she r ubbed the sleeves of her lightweight cashmere sweater. going toward him. came to the bottom of the stairs and spoke from there. George.” her mother agreed.
” George Barton pulled a mirror off the wall and banged it onto the fireplace ma ntel. but her husband ignored her as he yanked the wooden frame from the mirror. And you can’t get any. Kat e.” George Barton lunged fo rward and grabbed hold of a straight-back chair. anyway. “This will burn. “Here’s firewood!” he announced as he pulled open the protective glass fire window and tossed in rungs of the shattered chair. The price of propane gas has gone through the roof. Didn’t you know? There’s hardly any propane le ft in the gas tank. Niki jumped back as her father lifted the chair above his head and smashed it hard against the fireplace. “Stop it!” Kate Barton screamed. This is how we’re going to be living now. “Fire sale—everything must go!” he cried as he threw the mirror frame into the now roaring fire. “That flame won’t last. “That chair was an antique. sendi ng its pieces flying. . If we can’t eat it.disdainful laugh.” “Geor ge! Stop! Please!” her mother pleaded.” “Get used to it. It’s all being sent to the war effort. we’re going to burn i t.
To Niki. with he r limited vision.” The crowd around the big fire separated to make room for a bunch of Mariner cheerleaders. but she could clearly hear them chanting the Mariner chee rs. “See what I mean?” Brock said.” “Way too much. aggressive hostility lifted it above the joking barbs her classmates were pitching at the rival cheerleaders. We’re still friends. “Hey. Its sharp. she’d abandone d her mother. she’d fled down the front walkway into his old wreck of a truck. her unfocused expressi on was adding to his sense that something was not right with her. and maybe you should get out of here before it starts. so she said nothing. You dumped me twice! A friend w ouldn’t do that. When Tom had finally rung her front doorbell. “I’ll be okay. since beyond a sm all circle close by. his voice neutral. “Better?” “Better. “Do you want to move away from the fire?” Tom asked. to o?” Niki suggested. “You sure you’re all right?” She was still shaken by t e scene at her house. “No. Her mother h ad been right: The night was unexpectedly frigid for September. He’d gone. Around them. Just a s the Mariner cheerleaders were ending their last lines. she could see Tom beside her. Niki was growing to like him more than she’d suspected she would. In the fire’s jump ing light. “He’s gone crazy! What should we do?” Her moth er began to cry and covered her wet eyes with one hand. leaving her alone to deal with her drunken. All of a sudden. someone hurtled an enraged curse int o the night. She kept hold of his hand for warmth and also for guidance. No doubt. Tom wrapped his arm around Niki’s shoulder and pulled her tighter. She hadn’t started out to do anything more than make Brock jealous. too. then I’ll be cold.” The night had been full of song and a friendly rivalr y between some members of the Marietta Mariners football team. Even in Mar ietta.” “Aw. And that truck o f yours must suck up a ton. But. Maybe w e won’t fight so much if we’re friends. I’m going down to see what’s going on. She hadn’t told him that she’d come out without contacts or glasses. everyone turned toward the sound. and couldn’t remember if they’d assembled to face off against the Mariner squad. “Don’t be like that. everything was a blur. “Yo u should leave right now. “It’s cold.Niki clutched her mother’s trembling arm. Outraged voices rose up on every side. her classmates booed and heckled good-naturedly. A windshield shattered. “I don’t know. But clearly he co uld tell she was troubled. Norma lly. Niki could se . Maybe he was someone she really could like . “What’s happening?” Niki asked Tom. raging father. but tonight any thing that would take her away from her house was a welcome sight.” “Shouldn’t you leave. Brock. “I don’t know. 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. she couldn’t even find Brock in the crowd.” he answered. don’t leave me. she’d have been horrified to be seen in such a piece of junk. From the parking lot. She took in his warmth and the pleasantly smoky smell of his jacket.” “The smoke is getting to my eyes. Grabbin g Tom’s hand. Sage Valley’s rival s.” Niki laughed lightly at he r dilemma. I’ll find out. Are you her e by yourself?” he asked. his face a shifting landscape of shadow s. “Are you upset that I was so late?” Niki hadn’t wanted to talk about what had happened with her fat her.” A sharp shout carried up from the parking lot on the cold wind. give me a break. “I’d rather be warm.” He shifted her around so she was closer to the fi re.” “No. they w ere just moving blurs. And after the time sh e’d spent kissing Tom the other day…well. come on. He let go of her hand.” she confirmed. “What do you care?” Niki shot back. her voice quavering.” she admitted. but you should go. “They’ve siphoned all the gas from our tanks!” someone shouted. Niki stood as close to the bonfire as she could get. She didn’t even know that word—siphoned. “No. tall and square—she’d know Brock just by the smell of the fabric softener his mother used. “Stay here.” But it was too l te. you have to know exactly when to show up at the station. She smiled tigh tly and nodded. tears brimming. but every year a group of Mariner player s and cheerleaders showed up to taunt and be taunted in return. I understand that you couldn’t find gas. Technicall y. Would her chee ring squad be expected to respond to this? Did they last year? She hadn’t been ele cted captain then. I wanted to know if you’re alone because I thi nk there’s going to be some fighting. “I’m not sure. The next big football game would be a home game with the Mariners. the bonfire was a Sage Valley event. we’re not.” Niki offered as a partially true explanation for her strained eyes.” “No. though. “You okay?” Tom checked. You know it wasn’t working out.” An hour later. Niki became aware of a large person standing beside her. tried to act like nothing was wrong. Niki.
“What’s happening?” she asked a girl who had come into focus to her right. Occasionally. ano ther crash of broken glass.” “Are you kidding?” Niki gasped. Stop! You’re going to kill him!” . motors revved but wouldn’t start. Down in the parking lot. “Some of the Mar iner players have sucked the gasoline from our cars. She heard thumping and pounding. “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. Most of the shouting was indistinct. There was more shouting. Niki inched her way fo rward. she could make out a clea r sentence: “Stop hitting him.e well enough to take several steps forward along with the crowd around her. More curses.
she recognized the strong odor of gasoline before she even got there. windmills for electricity were common on American farms. Out side. tell him to keep his mouth shut about it. he answered dismissively. Propped between her stomach and her knees was a tablet onto which she’d uploaded a book titled Sustainable Future . I don’t have any friends. Construction Details. well. though.” “You don’t have to know any thing.” she added. why aren’t you at t thing at the high school?” Rat asked. by 1908 there were seventy-two windpropelled electric genera tors. They f aced Gwen with serious expressions before bursting into laughter.” “Gwen.” The r eading wasn’t easy to understand. “He’d better not. Gwen couldn’t remember what she’d told Hector. black hair who they called Rat. People are so desperate. The last thing Tom needed was for Luke to be o n his case. laughing raucously.” Rat said mockingly through his hilarity.” “Don’t worry. The first electricity-generating wind machine was installed in 1887 in Sc otland. T ossing off her blanket. The article had subtitles such as: Designing and Carving Wooden Blades. you sold him the ga s that day?” “Well.” Gwen snappe d.” Gwen replied sourly. muscular guy with long. She learned that windmills were used to grind grain in Persia as early as 2 00 BC. Winding Coils. And yet.” Luke said. stupid. Gwen switched off the tablet. Wiring and Fabrication. was that Luke had so much old motorcycle junk lying around.” Gwen scrolled down to a subhead titled: History of the Wind Turb ine. Tom at school knows. 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. “You like to eat. large water jugs. Gwen was poring over an article called “Residential Wind Turbines. I have to buy t he gas from the black market guy. in a tone that told Gwen they’d been drinking. “Just keep your mouth shut and don’t say an ything to your friends.” “You tell him. Don’t tell him anything about what I do. When Gwen wanted to know why he didn’t keep more for their own use. Yaw and Tail Design and Cons truction. In America. but then thought better of it. though he appeared to be in a good mood. “I don’t really get the whole team spirit thing. Going toward the porc h. 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. especially ove r in Marietta. the article said it could be done. They reeked of gasoline and body odor as they dragged in an array of various plastic containers—juice and milk jugs. Governing Systems.CHAPTER 7 Gwen stretched out on her couch with a scratchy blue blanket held over her head with one hand. “Don’t bet on it . have you?” Honestly. Gwen. “Oil is the biggest business i n the world.” Luke told her. By the 1930s. 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. “What’s your kind of thing?” “Helping my brother move illegal gasoline.” “Yeah?” said R at. I guess it could be.” “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. he said .” “Isn’t what you’re doing illegal?” Gwen asked. It also said that— as an individual—it might be easier to work wi th solar energy. his laughter subsiding. “Isn’t it obvious?” “You know what I read?” Rat said. pro ducing enough electricity to light their house. He doesn’t care what you do. skinny guy in motorcycle leathers named M ark. Tom and Carlos had been on the right track when they’d suggested that Luke had access to stolen gasoline. “What thing? The bonfire?” “Yeah.” “Yeah. “Hector is coo l. Fitting Mag nets into Homebuilt Alternators. Besides. You haven’t alr eady. they’ll pay anything. “Are you going to call th e cops on us?” “Of course not. the wind howled. which means filling a truck with gas just to g o get the stuff. “Gee. She pictured a wind turbine with its blades spinning. it seemed prett y much impossible to imagine converting to wind power. and a wider. “We’re going to ma ke a bundle on this. From it. don’t you? We need that money for food. where they can afford it. The rest of the gas Luke sold at high p rices. a tall. In fact. “None of your business where we got it. L uke looked to his two friends. I just wanted to know. Remember. Wire and motors and all sorts of meta l were piled in the shed behind the house. a flashlight held with the other. What intrigued her about wind energy. and even soda bottles. Luke and two of his friends stomped through the front door into the enclosed front porch. along with red containers.” “That’s not for me. “Did you just come up from the city with that?” she asked Luke. Alternator Theory and Design. Ma ybe it was useless. “He won’t say anything. Gwen left the tablet on the couch.
What if you get arrested? I land in foster care. what about me?” Gwen argued. I’m not going into a foster home. well.” Luke turned at the door and faced her. “Shut your tr ap and be useful. pushing the canisters to the back of the porch to make room for more..” L uke waved her away as he headed back toward the door for more canisters filled w ith gasoline. would ya?” Gwen lay supine on her lower roof. “I could make a bundle because I’m willing to ta ke the risk. “I don’t think you’re supposed to store it in milk co ntainers.” “Just get going. Pull the blinds and curtains so everyone in town doesn’t know ou r generator is going. Then help us get the rest of this gas. No guts. .” Gw en insisted.” “Is it safe to store g asoline in here?” Gwen questioned. aren’t you?” “That’s not what I mean.” “Don’t worry about this being illegal.” “Yeah. “I’ll run away first. Carrying all those cani sters of gasoline onto the front porch had made her muscles ache.” Luke said. “I’m not getting arrested. “You’re eating. staring at the stars. either.” “Yeah? Well. no glory.
a vapor cloud formed in front of her face. “Who’s there?” she ask ed. they’d gotten away wit h ignoring them.” “How did you find my house?” Gwen asked. and that was that. wear what she liked. When he told me I should a sk for Luke. trying to keep her voice even enough to mask her hurt feelings. There was no sense thinking about it too much.” he explained. sniffing back blood. Since she wasn’t dea d. “You’re bleeding. The nearest h ouse on her side was easily an acre away.” Tom brushed the red stream from his nose. not that she thought anyone really checked. He reeked of smoke and gasoline. Doing this made her lonely. at le ast not anyone in charge of anything. so no one at work thought it was odd that she did n’t come in.” Gwen hissed a curse. Not that Leila Jones had ever been strict—Luke always cracked that their mother was “asleep at the wheel. So far. into a pool of moonlight. 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. Is you r brother home?” So he hadn’t come to find her.” “Good for you. Leila had ch osen Richard over Luke and Gwen. She’d run off with her boyfriend when Gwen was in ninth grade. Luke and Gwen had managed to stay under everyone’s radar up until now. And it helped that he was so off the grid. to a time when her mother didn’t drink so heavily and before Richard had brought the h arder stuff. Hector was the only one who knew for s ure that her mother didn’t live with her. and she still felt guilty that she had hurt the feelings of some of her old friends. after all. peering into the darkness. She pulled the zipper of her black sweatshirt up as high as it went. glancing at his s tained hand a moment before wiping it on his jeans.” “Not really. “Why?” Gwen asked. why her? “What happened to you?” sh e asked. “A guy at a gas station told me where I co uld get some black market gas and gave me directions. mostly when she thought back to when she was small. Gwen and Luke simply hadn’t told anyone about it. then thinking better of it. “There was a big fight at the bonfire. At first. “Maybe later. “Gwen?” A dark form appeared from the side of the house. “Hey. Th at was how they knew what had happened. A stream of b lood ran from his right nostril. Who would he even tell? A twig snapped below the roof.” “Want to come inside to clean up?” Gwen offered. so they didn’t have anything to pay on it. Their old house had been inherited from Gw en’s grandfather. She saw letters that we re stamped FINAL NOTICE OF OVERDUE BACK TAXES. you live right behind me. . and Gwen gasped. Soon.” Gwen grinned. Gwen quickly broke off the several friendships she had at school to p revent anyone from nosing around. Her house was close to the development where Tom lived. “Tom?” Tom stepped closer. If neighbors realized she and Luke were on their own. Gwen quickly crawled to the edge of the roof and he joined her there. “Guys from the Marietta team were steal ing gas from our tanks. My truck is stuck there. But it was shockingly easy to settle into her new. she might be in foster care. Would Luke sell enough black market gasoline to pay for a new one? By the time the jacket was an absolute necessity. She’d left a quick note saying Lu ke and Gwen were now old enough to take care of themselves. She’d simply gone out for a date with Richard and had never returned. f reer life with Luke. but Gwen trusted him. I thought they had all the fuel in the world over there. but it couldn’t have been avoided. just missing in action. she’d need some kind of winte r jacket. But two Marietta guys started whaling on Carlos. “I was getting the snot kicked out of me. “I walked here from the scho ol. It turned out that Leila had quit her b artending job before she left. “Like those kids can’t afford to buy it. Gwen had been angry. Had h e come to see her because he needed help? If so. A purple bruise was forming around his left eye . Enraged by the abandonment. but. and Gwen recognized it. She could make her own rules.Breathing out. impulsively raising her hand to stroke his bruise. Furious. so I had to jump in to even t he score. I realized I was going to your house.” Life with only Luke in charge was complete freedom.” Tom disagreed with bitter laughter. so far. “I don’t know . but that was separated by the hedges. and Gwen was instantly on her knees. The shoulder seam of his varsity jacket was torn. Her job was done. Everyone ran when they showed.” Tom shrugged. no one had even noticed that her mother had split. they weren’t getting involved. Still…did she mis s her mother? A little. G wen did an excellent forgery of her mother’s handwriting when a signature was requ ired. Gwen didn’t even know how to find her mother. 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.
Imagine that. wondering how she could help Tom. “Ma n. and they took it all. I don’t even want to tell you how much it cost me.” Luke wasn’t inclined to give anything on credit or faith. “What do you know?” Tom missed he r sarcasm altogether. “Yeah.” she grunted.He had only just realized it—and after she’d been watching him from her perch on the roof for so long. Gwe n took it from him. “He went out with his friends a little while ago.” “Yeah.” much gas did those guys take from you?” Gwen asked.” “A whole tank of gas jacked right out of your truck. even though she knew he hadn’t. Tom picked up the red canister he’d set at his feet. and I just want to get the t hing home before anything more happens to it. it would fill Tom’s canister and her brother would never miss it. that’s low!” “No kidding. My windshield got smashed in the fight. we’re neighbors. “That’s funny. “Wait here. “Is that right?” she replied drily. For a few minutes there. And when I did. too. s he had allowed herself to continue to imagine he had come to the house to see he r. Sort of.” Gwen told him trying to dodge the pang of disappointment she felt. My mom is going to seriously freak out. “I had a nearly full tank.” Gwen sympathized sincerely. is Luke around?” “I’m not sure where Luke is. Gwen sighed. “Do you have a gas container?” she asked. The last thing we need is this . So.” If she poured a little from each of Luke’s containers . you could see right into my yard. If you go behind those trees. I had to wait on line for two more hours.” “I don’t have any money to pay him right now.” “Huh. But I could get it to him by the end o f the week. . It took me hours to find the gas today.
.” Gwen said as she pulled the red gas can into her bedroom window behind her. he was fair game like everyone else. “I don’t want him to be mad a t you.“Will Luke mind that I can’t pay him right away?” Tom asked. If Luke was going to say the law no longer applied. you won’t have to pay him at all.” “If I do this right.
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.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. Although President Waters has decried the bombing of three refinerie s in the last week. Some analysts have suggested that the w orld may be completely out of oil in the next ten to twenty years. has lately reported severe depletions. even Venezuela have b een grossly overestimating their supply. and. Iran. once the second-leading suppl ier of oil.” . Canada. There is speculation. too. American Refineries Bombed in Retaliation …Only 149 American-owned refineries remain in the United States. stating. Seizes Venezuelan Refineries. 26 fewer than exi sted in the 1990s. The Venezuelans ar e bluffing. Most of these oil refineries are owned by the top ten America n oil companies. with the remaining 70 percent of crude oil coming from t he Middle East. Kuwait. Junior Senato r Thomas Rambling (D-MA) has called for an end to the fighting.S. indeed. It is here that oil is pumped from the ground and processed int o gasoline. that Saudi Arabia. Iraq. South America. 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. Canadian tar sands have not y ielded the expected supply. the United Arab Emirates (UAE). and Canada. “We are f ighting over something that does not even exist anymore: oil.
” Gwen pointed out.” Gwen lied quickly.” Gwen looked up at him sharply. “You haven’t done an ything wrong. When I did. If I pick the wrong one. Tom grunted in agreement as he opened the small door to his gas tank and began pouring in the fuel. “Just picking up my dad’s truck. and keepin g to the darkest parts of the grassy hill. “Wh y don’t we just go down and put this gas in your truck?” Gwen said. Gwen scrambled up alongside him. “A lot of them are closed. “Are we going to be here all night.” “See what I mean?” Tom said. “No. Don’t you?” . “Say you already had the gas.” His heart banging in his chest.” “Thanks a lot.” Tom suggested.” Tom said. The patrol car came alongside and Tom rolled down the truck window.” Gwen mumbled. It wouldn’t be safe for her to walk home alone. it flew out of my hand and sailed into a window of Mr. “Thanks.” Gwen said. Davenport’s SUV. License and registration.” “Hmm.” The sound of slamming doors alerted th em that the police were getting back into their cars. shrill whi stle. The engine revved. “Let’s go. “Nice whistle. Davenport. have you?” “What if they ask where I got the gasoline?” Tom replied. by the way. “You? Why?” “A Marietta guy was about to hit Carlos with a tire iron. “Niki Barton. Tom cringed at the gash someone had gouged into the right door. gesturing at the oily splotches that now stained the parking lot. do y ou think?” “Just wait a little longer and I’ll drive you home. Most of them had run when the police had shown up.” Gwen cringed.” Gwen quipped sourly. the engine roared to life. “Why do I smell gasoline on you?” “I slipped in a puddle of it earlier this evening. please. The red canister of ga soline sat on the grass between them. they’ll know I’m lying. Out of the truck. “Have either of you been drinking or taking any kind of drug this evening?” the officer asked. About thirty parked.” She flopped down flat with her legs bent. (There were only three pol ice cars left on the whole squad. “At least your side windows are okay. either.) A van probably driven by someone’s parent arrived. and I yanked it out of the guy’s han d. He would have told Gwen that she didn’t have to wait there with him.” Tom explai ned. they made their way down toward the t ruck. “Say you bought it at a station. how fancy of her! Nice of Niki to stick around to see if you were okay. please. but found his lips twisting into a bal eful grin despite the seriousness of his situation. sir. “Where i s she now?” “I don’t know.” Tom said. Tom stepped down from the driver’s seat.” Gwen blew out a low. You don’t remember where you got it. Officer. “I t’s all right. He looked her up and down. then sputtered. Tom s wore under his breath.” Gwen sat up straight again. forcing Tom to squint against its glare. “No. so this was clearly a big deal in Sage Valley tonight. with her wry. “It’s spilled all over the place. miss. taking in the sight of his smashed windshield.” “Which one?” “Any one. “You. Tom leaned forward. She’s not picking up her phone.” “That’s not what . lso…they might be looking for me. bleak view of things. “Glad I’m not you. I haven’t been drinking.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. Tom drove out of his parking space just as a police cruiser turned into the drive to the school.” he added. “W ould you breathe out for me.” “Oh. She was a funny girl sometim es. The officer got out of his car and shone a flashlight’s beam into the truck.” Tom shook his head. miss?” “I told you. “Who’d you go to the bonfire with?” Gwen asked casua lly. She’s been staying at her lake house over there. getting to his feet and lifting the gas-filled canister. It was difficult to see from this distance exactly which students were still there. Somebody told me she might have gotten a ride from some Mari etta cheerleaders. The officer stepped closer to Gwen and sniffed. but it was late and an gry Marietta kids were still driving around looking to pick fights. I couldn’t find her again after the fight.” Gwen coached. too. “Do you really like her?” “Yeah.” the officer commanded in a matter-of-fact tone. the principal?” “Yep.” she added. and the remaining stu dents climbed in. The second time he tried. watching the police ta lk to various students. nearly half of them with broken windows. “Mr. They climbed into the front seats and Tom turned the ignition key. There was a lot of confusion. When they got near it.” Tom replied emphatically. “Out of the truck. shaking her head and picking at a moon-rimmed blade of grass. 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. empty vehicles remained in the parking lo t. who perused them critically.
please. 57 Dartmouth Street. “Get back in the truck. please. Sage Valley. please.I’m checking for.” the officer insisted. “Breathe out. Then he straightened o nce more and took a pad from his back pocket. “Name and address.” Gwen’s breath formed a clo ud in front of her face and the officer leaned toward it. Wai t there.” “Rae Gonzale z.” Gwen lied. .” Tom commented when he and Gwen were once again in the truck’s front seat.” “You’re a fast thinker.
turning toward Gwen. “That’s my house. I didn’t know them.” “Thanks. Despite her words. “No.” In truth . “He smelle d gas on you. Why was he checking my breath. “Are you sure?” Without waiting for her reply.” Tom told her. he’d gradually realized that in the course of talking to her at school. They had to be cr azy to drive straight into a fire emergency. dependi ng on how many siren blasts they heard. Thank you. Sparks. but he wasn’t about to turn in his friends. backing into Birchwood Lane and then turning in the opposite direction on Creek Road. like when you draw liquid up in a straw. You wouldn’t be impossible to find. After a while. That would have scared th e snot out of him. If it hadn’t been for Brock pulling one guy fr om his back.” Gwen agreed. but I didn’t see who was doing it.” his mother said. I’m just saying—you’re pretty cool under pressure. I wasn’t going to tell him the truth.” “Don’t turn back.” he said. His mother was standing on the s idewalk. “I wonder if you should have given that phony name and address.” The police officer came back from his car and returned Tom’s paperwork to him. That had to be rough on her. acrid. “Who worked you over like that.” “They won’t bother. You should have seen them. Officer. Tom didn’t know what would have happened to him. “Somethi ng’s on fire. her voice cracki ng with fear. you can go. “What’s happening.” “I don’t think it’s safe. She might have gotte n herself into trouble and there was still time to turn back and correct it.” “Did you see who broke any of the windows on your truck and these other vehicl es?” Tom shook his head.” Gwen replied.“Well. 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 vacuum created by sucking the air from the tube drew the gas o ut of the fuel tank and into a container.” Gwen scrunched her face in disgust. And they know you were with me. in her pink winter jacket and clutching a box. son?” “I was trying to leave when some guys jumped me. It sounded like all of them would be run ning for their bluelight-equipped cars tonight. “But there’s a good chance that someone will be coming by your home with further questions. Quickly pulling to the c urb. “I grabbed this box of family photos and ran outside. He explained to Gwen how it worked. if it wasn’t for alcohol?” “He wanted to know if you’d been sucking up gasoline. Gwen wasn’t as tough as she tried to pretend. They were nearing h is driveway when they heard the first fire sirens. smoky air wafted into the truck. there was so much gas residue in the tubes that they were suckin g it in. Tom glanced at her from the corner of his eye as he drove out the school’s front entrance. but the house behind ours is up in flames. “Let’s go to my house and see what we c an tell from there. He knew that various Sage Valley volunteer firefighters responded or didn’t. “I heard crashing. the S age Valley kids had stuck together. “Those guys were using the same tube over and over. His injuries would c ertainly be a lot worse right now. allowing Tom to drive forward. Just pray it d oesn’t spread. which they were sucking air from and then sticking into a fuel tank’s opening. Tom st epped into his driveway to check.” “All right. He could have given the officer a t least five names of Sage Valley guys he saw whaling on Marietta-owned cars and trucks. But maybe it was. sounding reluctant.” th e officer said.” “No problem. alarmed. “Maybe we should turn back. “It sounds big. he didn’t know who had smashed his windshield. “What if they check and come after you?” “They’d have to find me first.” she murmured . “Glad I missed that. he leapt from the truck and ran to her.” Gwen insisted.” “Why would that make my bre ath smell like gas?” Gwen asked. The policeman ste pped back. “I’d like to see that.” “And this cop thought I was suck ing up gasoline?” Tom smiled at her revulsion and shrugged his shoulders.” Tom objected. “All right.” Tom remarked. In this fight. It makes sense. He wondered why she felt the need to throw u p such a harsh front and remembered the rumors about her mother being gone. he realize d that some of the Marietta guys were getting the gas out of the tanks using bla ck rubber tubes.” Gwen said. They were belching like crazy—sickening gas bu rps. “What?” Gwen asked incredulously. When Tom had first come down to the parking lot. “It’s basic science.” Tom chuckled. she looked worried . was I?” she replied. blew up over the high . The moment he rolled down his window.” Tom said.” Gwen came out of the truck and joined him. since his name would be among those reported.” he said. “ ant to see what’s burning. “No. Mom? Are you okay?” “I’m f ine. I guess. like fireworks. Someone should have l it a match in front of one of the guys when he burped. “Sage Va lley isn’t that big. He hoped that sense of camaraderie would last through the police questioning that was sure to follow. and he hoped his classmates f elt the same.” “So they were from Marietta?” “Ma ybe.” Tom considered.
“Yes. “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.hedge at the back of his yard. I hop e Luke’s all right.” Tom confirmed. heading back down the driveway toward the firefighter. A firefighter in a ye llow slicker appeared at the end of the driveway. “The house is gone. It struck him as something close to exaltation. By the time he was halfway up the driveway. What was tha t wild expression in her eyes? It wasn’t grief or fear.” . as though she was actually happy to see the house go up in blazes. Tur ning. he realized they were pulling in front of his house. We’re going to soak all this property back here and hope it doesn’t catch. but it would be bad if this nice block we nt up in flames. “It sounds that way. More trucks are coming. he co uld feel the wall of heat. isn’t it?” Gwen asked when he reached her. “I’m real sorry.” “How’s that house back there doing?” T om asked. The fire sirens suddenly grew loud on his street. in a voice he found strangely bland. “That ol d thing was a fire trap to begin with. yeah.” Going toward the truck. Tom saw Gwen standing at the end of the driveway. gazing at the dancing lights of her home being destroyed.” “You have to move it. “Do you own that truck?” he demand ed of Tom.
He co uld tell something new had just occurred to her. “He’s okay.” she murmured dreamily.” he told her. or even in a state of shock. brows furrowed skeptically. “Gwen!” he shout d. For a moment.” “Like I said. you know my name. meani ng it. he soaked up t he sounds and buzz of returning electricity. Where could she have gone so quickly? “Gwen!” . There are going to be questions—about my mother. I’ve bee n telling Luke not to store gasoline. She was in shock. “I know you’re Tom.” she said. I won’t miss that h ouse. turning to find Gwen.” H stared at her. “You’re Napoléon Bonaparte. Ralph. not taking her eyes from the fire. her eyes wide.” “What do you mean?” “I mean. don’t y ou?” he tested. “It’s worse than you can imagine. who tried to teach creative journalism. he wondered if she was hyp notized by the flames. She turned toward him. This is a total disaster.” Gwen added. “Gwen. the neighborhood came alive with the sounds of TVs and radios. It’s not as though it was filled with happy memories.’” he said. I’m real sorry. about Luke. The streetlamps flickered back on in the s treet around them. He suddenly felt like an idiot. Then the side of her right lip pulled up into a cynical grin. Every house was illuminated.“I called him. “I shouldn’t be standing around her e.” All at once. “You can’t—” Turning completely around. “What do you mean. What did you thi nk? That the fire shocked me out of my head?” “Maybe. his voice taking o n a sulky tone that embarrassed him. looking up at Tom. “Or maybe you’re that do rky Mr.” In the next moment. “Of course I know it. ‘disappear. He let himself enjoy this moment of relief before opening his eyes again. What kind of question is that?” “What is it?” he pressed. “The grid’s back up!” Tom exulted.” “I was just waiting for this to happen. Gwe n’s blankness fell away and was replaced by an expression of panicked worry.” he admitted. I’m not sticking around for that.” Tom scrutinized her mesmerized expression. not sure what to do next. it’s time for me to disappear. “I’m okay. “It’s pretty sh ocking to have your house burn down. about me. Closing his eyes. he couldn’t find her. “Want me to drive you to Luke?” Gwen shook her head.
No one in Sage Valley left their phones on anymore.” “Good thing no one stole my gas.” Niki st ared at her pointedly. which s till had half its battery life: seven texts from Tom.” Stephy grinned wickedly.” “You’re welcome. “I can’t wait to see the town with lights again. The station on Main Street in Marietta usually has some. and she didn’t want him back there anytime soon. Was he there with someone?” She tapped her eyeglasses. but it’s getting late and I r eally don’t want to run out when I’m this far from Sage Valley. Can you believe those g uys?” “Really! Hey.” Stephy added. Good nig ht. take it. “And it’s great to be in a town that isn’t pitch-black at night. and then she’d begun chatting with Stephy. I don’t. She took two fifty-dollar bills from her wallet and tucked them into t he console between their seats. She’d been so preoccupied with finding a ride home. It will only buy you a gallon. tonight I can charge this phone at home instead of sneaking in to the girls’ room at school to plug it in there. in a quiet kind of way. She wasn’t sure yet. As they drove down the street to her house. “Take this for the gas. I saw you were with Tom Harris tonight. then turned them off again. Please. entering cautiously. I understand. “Marietta is so beautifu l.” she said. Thanks for the ride. It was dark.” “A hundred dollars! T hat’s too much.” Niki said. it was…um…Emily Mear. She would ca ll him as soon as she got inside. stepping out of the car. After all. “Is Brock crazy jealous?” “I don’t know. I hope the battery isn’t too low. Stephy was smiling happily. Everyt hing’s going to go back to normal now. he’d been the one who’d broken off with her—for the second time. It didn’t seem like he really liked he r. “That’s great about Tom. Z ipping her jacket against the increasing cold.” Stephy said.” Stephy commented. Stephy did a small bounce in her seat when she read the text message. They po wered up. The idea of going in made Niki turn toward her house. but… “You’re probably right. she saw that Stephy had less than an eighth of a tank r emaining.” Stephy said. “Just think.” Stephy a greed. Something w asn’t right.” Niki said. Give my address if they insist you have to be fro m Marietta to get gas. Something new?” “Kind of. maybe a gallon and a half. though. He probably just wanted to make you nuts.” Nik i admitted. “He’s pretty hot. rea ching for the phone. she approached the front door. Yay!” “Great!” Niki ch eered. though there’s always a long line. “He just wanted to get me upset. once more. never certain when the y’d have a chance to recharge the batteries. “I know it’s out of your way. though.” she assured Stephy. But I d on’t care.” The dashboard was a blur until Niki bent c loser and brought it into a soft focus. He’d just flown out of her mind.” “No kidding. who was on her cheering squad. I’m really into Tom now. “Bye. “Sage Valley has lights tonight. Stephy. “No. digging into her bag for the case that held her gl asses. “Oh. got their messages. I can tell he really likes you. She was fed up with not seeing. He was the one who’d be en in a fight.” “It’s o ay.” Niki pictured the girl Brock had been with. “Mom ?” she checked.” “You look adorable in those. You’d better stop there before you head back to Sage Valley. Niki peered into the amber light of the barel . Hop efully I have just enough to get home. She’d been dumped for Emily Mear? It seemed inconceivable. “Are you kidding? Not for gasoline. She wasn’t even a cheerleader! It wouldn’t last.” “No. though she detected a glow from the living room window.” Was that true? It might be. “At least he’s not all stuck on himself like a lot of the other guys on the t eam. toward her house. Brock was starting to be in her head less and less. “I’m glad you don’t live any farther. Defi nitely. wanting to know if she was okay. though Niki wished he hadn’t been.” Niki watched Stephy pull away and then turned.” “Thanks. I forgot to turn it off before. 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. “No more detention for unauthorized plug-ins.” Stephy crooned. after all. Sh e missed Brock and he’d been sweet tonight. Was the gas fireplace still going? A tingle of anxiety ran up her back.CHAPTER 9 Niki sat in the passenger seat next to a brunette named Stephy Rosen. I wouldn’t take it. don’t you think?” “Very hot. Niki. “Don’t tell anyone you saw this. Don’t forget to get gas. “Oh. “I couldn’t really see until now. Was Brock there with someone?” “Uh-huh. Slipping them on. I just know it is!” “I bet you’re right.” The gir glanced uneasily at her fuel gauge.” Niki checked her own phone. She felt guilty that she hadn’t contacted him sooner. Stephy’s phone lit and buzzed.” Stephy objected. A s she pulled to the curb in front of Niki’s house. smiling delightedly .
entering the room. “Oh my God!” she gasped. now gripped by panic. . Meteorologists had named the hurricane Oscar. A reporter relayed the news that a Category Fo ur hurricane had hit landfall in the Gulf Coast island city of Galveston. The winds were blasting at 120 mi les per hour. At the end of the hall was the family room. are you all right?” she asked. A throw pillow had bee n ripped and its stuffing was scattered. Why had she left her mother here alone with h im? She’d just assumed he’d calm down. An end table and chair lay toppled.y burning gas fire. Niki found her mother sitting on a couch. Clearly. Shards of a vase lay shattered at her feet. listening to a news program on a b attery-operated radio. kicking aside broken frames and shattered glass from paintin gs thrown to the ground. A voice emanated from the room. Niki realized a male news reporter was speaki ng. Texas. sunk down t hree steps so that it overlooked the deck that faced the lake. Her father had done this. but he hadn’t. The living room furniture had been flun g everywhere. “Mom!” Niki called. Her m other kept her eyes on the radio. What had happened here? “Mom!” Then the truth str uck her. “Mom. Stopping to listen. Niki hurried down the d ark center hallway.
it could form a superhurricane. her eyes still on the rad io. completely stranded there. But she didn’t feel safe at all. 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. “Why didn’t he pay the bill?” Her mother laughed wearily as she shook her hea d. “How was the bonfire?” Niki told her abo ut the fight.” She sighed dee ply—Niki had never seen her look so defeated. “Not until we pa y the bill.” her mother replied. It seems to me th at everyone is just cold and tired and looking for a fight these days. aren’t you?” Niki checked. Niki struggled to make sense of this. Mentioning Tom reminded Niki that she should answer h is texts and let him know she was all right. “You’re okay. He’s sleeping it off now. Nobody’s hiring. Was it her sympathy for the people of Gal veston.” Niki knew her dad was a s tock trader.” Her red. He’s in a panic about money. the force of which has nev er been seen before. . No matter. or something else? “What happened? Why is it so dark in here. poor people.Niki couldn’t believe what she was hearing: “The real scary thing about this situati on is that many. she knew that the word devastated and the term destroyed stock market weren’t good. since she was over a thousan d miles away from the storms. he had a complete meltdown.” “I think you’r e right. A newswoman was speaking urgently. though she wasn’t all that sure what his job entailed. “I’m all right. “This just in. m eteorologists are tracking a Category Four hurricane that is continuing to gain force in the Caribbean off the coast of Puerto Rico.” Sitting beside her mother on the couch. “I don’t know if he forgot or just didn’t think they’d really turn off the electric.” her mother agreed. shocked. the stock market has been simply devastated. Mom?” “Your fath er forgot to pay the electric bill. They have dubbed the storm Hurricane Pearl. When the lights went off. “Everything was so crazy that I lost track of Tom. 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. “He wouldn’t hurt you. but between the war in South America and the gas shortage. tho ugh. “Forgot?” Niki questioned.” Niki knew she should feel safe.” “We have no electricity?” Niki asked. I thought we were l iving on our stock investments. he’s been out of work for the last two weeks. There is speculation that by the time Pearl makes landfall in M iami. “Those poor. which means gale force winds of ove r one hundred and fifty miles per hour. She stood to go to her room.” Niki’s mother turne d to her. it could be a Category Five hurricane. “As I told you. puffed eyes made it obvious that she’d been crying. would he?” Her mother hook her head.
These threats were me t with calls for countersuits from Sage Valley parents. Frank Hoba rt. has instituted an emergency curfew. Several Marietta parents. threatened legal action. Eleanor Crane.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. 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.” . Angry words escalated to violence when a tire iron was used to smash the front windshield of Marietta’s team captain. Several students re quired hospitalization from injuries sustained before county police arrived to s top the fighting. For years. the mayor o f Sage Valley. At this year’s event. requiring Sage Valley students under the age of eighteen to be in their homes after eight o’cloc k. It’s just safer for students to stay insid e. tempers flared over several incidents of gasoline siphoning. Numerous arrests were made. whose ch ildren and vehicles were injured. “This is a sensible measure. The window smashing was the catalyst for an all-out brawl between students from the two schools. In response. especially considering the general blackout condit ions that have occurred in Sage Valley. suspected of instigating the siphoning.
yesterday. The homeowner. was not located there. 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. known to frequent a motorcycle shop known as Gh ost Motorcycle. another of h is known hangouts. and are also suspec ted of selling black market gasoline. could not be found for questioning. a senior at Sage Valley High School. Also missing are Lucas Jones. They may face f ines for the improper storage of gasoline leading to a fire. Her neighbors said they’ve suspected Mrs. which was about to go into foreclosure due to unpaid property taxes. 20. 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. . Mrs. but she did not arrive at school and her whereabo uts remain unknown. Police tried to locate Gwendolyn Jones. nor was he at Vinnie’s Tattoo. It has been discovered that Mrs. Jones relocated over two years ago to the state of Florida . Police are currently searching for these two. Lucas Jones. a former barten der at the Happy Corners Lounge. Jones was no longer at her home. The house.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. 38. was not insured. but s aid that her children let it be known that their mother had taken ill and was be dridden. Charred and melted containers containing small amounts of gasoline were found when fire fighters arrived. most likely at elevated prices. Leila Jones. It is not be lieved that either of them was home when the fire started. 17. and Gwendolyn Jones. so a rson is not suspected.
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. a combination of hurricanes Oscar and Pear l. especiall y during the current oil crisis. Though towns along the river tend to be elevated.S. Fresh water is also in short supply. local residents are bei ng asked to do everything possible to prepare for the worst. knocking out nearly all the oil refineries alon g the Gulf Coast. In our area. will not be easily achieved.” But experts say that replacing the lost equipment. 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. robots labor around the clock to extract o il buried thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor. causing incredible damage to the ci ty of Atlanta before washing away the outer bank beaches of North Carolina.500 barrels of crude per day. exper ts expect OscPearl to lose velocity as it moves north. including National Guardsmen. 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. Presiden t Waters has sent U. Unlike the manned refinerie s that produce only several hundred barrels of crude oil a day. Rebuilding the robotic oil refinery is our number one priority. calling OscPearl “a nation al emergency of the first magnitude. and he’s called upon the Navy to repair the robotic platform. which is expected to be some time in the next four days. could be severely disrupted due to flooding. While meteorologists keep their a ttention riveted to the path of this unbelievable storm. trains on the Hudson Line. In this robotically “manned” facility. Sandbagging along the Hudson Ri ver has already begun in an effort to hold back floodwaters. which run along the ea st side of the river. to the region. Hardest hit was the robotic refinery set out in the Gulf itsel f.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Townships Brace for Worst as OscPearl Makes Way Up Eastern Seaboard The superhurricane known as OscPearl. . troops. 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. the robotic plat form drills deep enough to produce over 6. Local municipalities in our region are laying in f ood and water supplies at local schools and shelters.
leaves. Oreos. Gwen knew she’d fo . Nothing but static. orange. 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. she’d noti ced ominous storm clouds beginning to roll in. Someone had told her Gwen and Hector wer e friends. Companies didn’t mine coal anymore in Sage Valley.CHAPTER 10 Gwen sighed and stuffed her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. she and Luke had played in these woods with friends. as far as Gwen knew. Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position after a few more minutes and sear ched around for the rough. after spending a cold night on the bleachers at school. irregular opening in the rocks that would lead to the mine shaft. The disconnected treetop twisted twice. and no one. was it? Gwen hadn’t been up in the woods that rimmed the valley in a few years. Her eyes darting upward. She wasn’t about to involve him in her messy life. but I’ll pretend she’s crazy and just imagined we had that food. Gwen allowed a frightened shu dder to travel through her body. He’d given her a bag of salami. Afraid the conte nts might get ruined. She’d come to find th e old mine shaft opening she’d remembered exploring as a kid. Gwen realized that the leave s were providing some shelter from the rain but fewer and fewer remained every s econd. she was searc hing for now. hurtling toward he r. the skies opened. it took Gwen a seco nd to fully comprehend what she was seeing. and even stones that were sailing past her. Wit h her other hand. Gwen squinted into the blinding downpour. spraying wood chips and pine into the air.” he sai d with a laugh. She spr ang away at the last second. More static. That’s when she’d recalled the old mine shaft openings set into bo ulders in the woods. releasing a torr ent of rain. oaks. Not covered! From the ever-intensifying growl and toss of the wind. Without further warning. mixing with the rain pelting her f ace. in particular. A sharp crack split the air. It was the only safe hideaway she could think of. “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. But she was here now and there was no turning back. exactly. that’s all she got. stuck to her spot. Gwen had heard enough news report s to know what they meant—OscPearl had arrived. pushing her way against a brutal wind that had suddenly kicked up. and pines she was about to enter. She hoped no park ranger had come by since her last visit . Gwen stood. Lying on the muddy ground just a foot away. “Mom will notice it’s gone an d have a fit. It then bounced. Living out in the open was now out of the question.” This morning. she clutched the grocery bag containing food. and yellow autumn leaves cascaded to the ground. so it always work s. and entered the woods. It wasn’t her phone. The woods surrounding Sage Valley might not have been the best dest ination in a hurricane—a superhurricane—she realized. Staying with Tom wasn’t an option. Gwen decided as she gazed into the expanse of maples. shaking everything arou nd it. frozen in terror as it headed for her. covered the bag with her swea tshirt. The ca nopy of red. She tried the schoo l—the same thing. Every time she tried to call Luke. as she entered the sloping. She’d charged it at Ghost Motorcycle when she’d gone looking—unsuccessfully—for Luke. watching the trees rustle in t he wind. just as the heavy mass of wood hit the ground where she’d been standing. tree-packed hill. had ever nailed the mi ne opening shut again. and finally hit the forest floor a second and last time. It was all charged and lit up. Where. and then changed course. hoping she could stay with him. 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. a loaf of bread. OscPearl was probably messing with radio signals up and dow n the coast. There was one shaft. As kids. but he told her that a woman from Children’s Services had been by lookin g for her already. Tears sprang from the colliding emotions of ter ror and relief. “She’s never really sure whether she’s crazy or not. It had to be Osc Pearl. and she let them fall freely. she bundled it more tightly. and was coming back.” he warned. There it was! Just beyond an outcropping of rock Gwen spied a black hole. She’d tried Hector’s trailer. 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. She raised one arm to shield her face from windswept branches. and a six-pack of Juicy Juice. She tried phoning the information number just to check her phone.
She cried for the father she’d never known. Gas shortages end. A terribl e howl filled the black. “It’s just the wind. She cried because Tom would never be interested in her. But where was her bag of food? She’d lost it when th go back to find it. She raced into ing past her. Outside. Gwen shivered. frightened whisp er. gold. sh ivering. Almost. Maybe this was the start of somethi ng new. and she . and red. this s coming down.” she told herself in a hoarse. a second crack. Wars end. Pushing back her soaked hair. Could things be any worse? Her situation was so bad that it was almost funny. “Storms end. crashing into one another and sh attering with the force of bombs. Rain poured in a sheet. Rain pelted the leaves in a rhythmic tattoo th at made Gwen imagine knives being thrown from the heavens. As she scanned the area with h one louder than the last. built into the side of a hill deep in the Sage Valley woods. “This will end. terrifie d. decaying stone.und the opening just in time. She had to er eyes. It stung like crazy. T he wavering image filtering through the waterfall in front of her was nothing bu t a blur of brown. The branch that fell before she could get inside had cut her cheek. Just the wind. She cried for the loss of the selfish wom an who had been the only mother she’d ever had. open space behind her. a world of misery without end.” Gwen told herself aloud. e tree had fallen. one after th e other. Gwen le t out a low chortle of grim laughter that began in her belly and traveled upward . she once again let her tears fall freely. Gwen flattened herself against the wall. She hung her head. ancient trees fell. letting the cold water from her hair and body soak the dirt floor until a mud puddle surrounded her. 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. 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. with a few spots of remaining green. Lowering herself to the dirt floor. bouncing off the walls and rattl ing the loose.” But she couldn’t see an end to any of it. smashing to the ground and shaking it. Her hand came up bloody when sh e wiped it across her face.
couldn’t even figure out why she wanted him to care. She sobbed until she exhausted herself . It was the most beautiful thing Gwen had ever seen. trees were down— sometimes propped against one another. Everywhere. other times lying in piles of threes and fours on the ground. It was exquisitely clear. The foliage floated in clumps in the puddles and raced along in small rivulets that had for med everywhere. Just this strange light. th e leaves had been stripped from the broken and bent remaining trees. and then she fell into a sleep that was just as sad as the waking. It told her where she was. breathtaking in its ferocity. Gwen wiped her eyes and stepped out. Above. There was no rain or wind. white glow. but dark clouds hovered at its edges. She cried for the terrible co ndition of her life right then and there. T he scene of awesome destruction. . Gwen awakened and immediately registered a change in the quality of the light co ming through the mine shaft door. Standing. Gazing upwar d. was lit in the cr ystalline. Gwen was standing in the eye of Superhurricane OscPearl. she saw a bright blue sky.
nothing’s open anywhere today. find some towels. Water was sloshing inside the waders by the time Tom reached Carlos. “I bet t hose houses are floating around in the lake now.” “I’m grounded from electric. “Sewage?” Carlos nodded.” Tom volunteered. “I think she want s to eat what’s there before it all goes bad.” “Tha t’s sweet of you. His bruised face instantly reminded Tom of the fight at th e high school. It rose nearly to the top of his father’s old fishing waders. could you take Carlos and Tom back over to Tom’s house? Karen needs help bail ing out her basement. From across the street. who’d have thought it?” “Now w e’re just like those snobs over on the water at Lake Morrisey. Tom followed Carlos and his father back to the kitchen. “Nice boot s. He could hardly believe it had only been five days ago.” “Nice idea. Gazing out the window. Maritza. frigid water. He rnandez. landing hip deep in filthy.” Mrs. get a pot from the kitchen. Tom boosted himself u p into Carlos’s window and Carlos helped pull him the rest of the way in. There could even be live electric current traveling through. The small craft w .” “Sure. “And you’re not helping her?” “She sent me out to see i f I could buy a dehumidifier. She’s trying to bail out our basement. come over to us. “Have you been in the supermarkets lately? There’s nothing on the shelves. Electricity will run down the boots into the ground.” Carlos’s mother c ame in. b ouncing lightly in his waders. large enough f or four.” her mother ca utioned.” Tom stood on the towels Carlos brought an d. He hadn’t expected to become involved in a fight when he left her to check ou t the situation.” Joe Hernandez replied. “Rubber boots. I wouldn’t bet my life on them protecting you fr om getting zapped. “Let’s go. bobbing in the three feet or so of muddy water below. “The dinghy is blown up if we need to get out of here. Besides. Hernandez said. which Tom ha d donned for the post-hurricane exploration.” Tom turned pale.” Carlos said. Tom’s phone still wasn’t working. crystal-clear sky.CHAPTER 11 Tom dropped down from his first-floor window. And then OscPearl had begun movin g up the coast. Its massive roots po inted toward an amazingly blue. I have a little pancake mix left and some butter and syrup. looking frazzled and tired. She’d texted him after the bonfire to say she’d gotten home. “For one thing.” Carlos told Tom.” Carlos added. teased from the couch where she was reading a fashion magazine. but I wouldn’t count on it. The big maple in front of his house lay sideways in the brown torrent running down the street. emptied his waders into the kitchen pot. “You don’t know what’s floating around in here. Tom grinned.” “I’m just saying…what are we going to do?” Maritza replied. Mrs.” Af ter collecting buckets from a closet. “Sorry.” Tom wondered how Niki was doing. It was still considered a Cate gory Six hurricane. “Who ever thought we’d h ave waterfront property?” Carlos joked. I ca n tell you that. “We can’t eat pancakes orever. “Carlos. There are lots of downed wires. “Whatever. he saw a yellow blowup boat.” Carlos’s fifteen-year-old sister. as gently as he could. Niki had said she understood. It was off the c oast of Boston now.” he announced. The truckers are rationing their trips because of the gas.” “What’s she going to run it on…love?” Carlos’s mother asked. Her house was high up. So if the power comes back on. We had power before the storm. disrupting radio signals for hundreds of miles. If you run short. “Joe. How’s your mother?” “Not so great this morn ing. 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. Tell her to come on over here.” “I hope she’s right. but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. “You’d better get out of this wate r. including s ewage. Everyone was hoping it would veer off toward the ocean there and spare the rest of New England from its rage. in this water. you could get fried.” Mrs.” Tom said. He’d called her to apologize for leaving her stran ded. Get some buckets. Tom.” Maritza sat up on the couch looking al armed. Besides. so she was probably all right. encased in the plastered gauze of a cast and supported by a sling. th ose waders are filled with water. Forget it. which is completely flooded. His right arm stayed stationary at his side.” “My mom has some stuff still in the fridge. “They’re spilling all over the floor.” he apologized. He’s soaking the floo r. “ he figures the power will come back on once the lines are repaired. I can cook us up some breakfast on Carlos’s camping stove. Carlos’s father came into the room holdin g a hand pump. Maritza. Carlo s hung out his first-story window and swung his left arm in greeting. Herna ndez raised a skeptical eyebrow. there could be all sorts of nasty stuff. “That’s all the food you have in the house?” “Don’t give me that look. “Yeah. guys. Tom.
as tied to the doorknob of the back door. That’s what neighbors do. Mr. Help me carry her.” “No problem. When they were out on the street. their neighbors were standing at their open windows calling out for help. On instinct. The dog tried with futile movements to p addle away. but he was no match for the racing floodwaters. “Stay low in the dinghy. untying and pushing off from the house.” Joe Hernandez said. Who knows what’s in there?” Carlos went out first and Tom followed him down.” A golden retriever that Tom didn’t recognize was being carrie d past the boat by the rushing torrent. “My grandmother’s stuck in our flooded base ment.” Carlos’s father inst ructed. “Thanks f or doing this.” Tom told Carlos and his father. You don’t want to tip and land in that muddy water. He rnandez handed down the buckets and some oars before climbing down also. Please!” “We’re out of food!” “I’ve run out of my heart pills. The boat rocked precariousl y as he hoisted the animal into it. Tom rea ched out and clutched the big dog’s long. “Mom is going to really appreciate t he help. 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. “Whoa! Tom!” cried Joe Hernandez. 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. “Out the window. They help each other when times get tough. “What are you do ing?” . All around them. Tom. reddish fur. Tom rea lized immediately that the rush of water had increased by a lot. I co uld die without them. boys.
he looked a t the animal more closely and saw that the retriever was no longer a puppy.” Carlos’s father insisted. but still young.” Tom explained. “Maybe the dog can help. There was no tag.” He patted the dog’s soaked fur. “That’s a funny name for a dog. first.” his father replied.” Tom insisted. turning the boat away from Tom’s house. We can’t take on a dog right now.” Carlos suggested. “Maybe we’d better see about that woman’s grandmother. He examined the coll ar the dog wore. Larry.” Joe Hernandez put his back into the work of rowing. The dog shook himself dry.“He would have drowned. “I’ll take care of him. “A dog has to be fed.” he repeated.” . but the name Larry was stitched onto it. When Tom stopped ducking away from the shower. spraying them all with the foul water. “Larry . “Welcome ab oard. “We’ve got all these people to try to help.
To be more specific. We import over thirteen billion barrels of oil a day. then we must look to carbon emissions as the underlying c ause. . Withou t it. We have just seen.” President Jeffrey Waters responde d to Senator Rambling with harsh words.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 war with Venezuela is a game of blin dman’s bluff. it has always been in the best interest of oil-producing countries to keep prices at a somewha t reasonable level. t hough they don’t want anyone to know it. but we must try. It flows logically from that. Each day! For that reason. really. it makes us view the current fuel crisis in a new light. Rambling rebutted the president’s words. in a wildly dramatic way. claiming that just as high-oct ane gas produces more power. But now things have changed. that the current unavailability of gas that has so curbed our driving and general mobility could be a blessing in disguise. Those that have some remaining supply are near depletion. p olluting and warming our planet—we should be searching for cleaner alternatives. A senior analyst with the National Hurricane Center likened warm ocean waters to the fuel for a car. The conclusions they are drawing all seem to point in one direction: heat.” Mr. Oil i s still abundant and continues to be the best source of inexpensive fuel. the world’s largest consum er of crude oil. our entire way of life will have to be revamped in a way most citizens wil l find unacceptable. 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. Senator Thomas Rambling (D-MA) stated in a press release today: “As our state s truggles to recover from this horrific storm.” Senator Rambling is calling for an antiwar rally in Washington by the end of the month. It’s time to stop the madness. run out of what we have always known was a nonrenew able source of fuel. costing American lives. Many of these oil-producing cou ntries have finally. “This sort of panicky rhetoric undermines the current military effort to open oil fields in Venezuela and elsewhere. London. Rather than striving to regain the oil that feeds our current way of life—and continues to raise carbon levels to dangerous highs. what our lack of leadership and gra ssroots action is costing us. are busy studying the devastating superhurricane. saying: “The last t hing the oil suppliers want is for the American public. If indeed global warming is the culprit in the formation of this ruinous storm. P erhaps it is already too late. to wean themselves from their addiction to oil. The re searchers speculate that ocean temperatures may be climbing even more rapidly th an atmospheric temperatures. warmer ocean waters produce more powerful hurricane s. scientists at England’s University College .
Contact lenses weren’t coming back into her life anytime soon. When they were close. I have something else I have to do. but it didn’t look awful. The war in Venezuela had escalated. It was tempting t o jump into the flooded lake. Tom drove them out to the north side of the lake. “Tom?” she wondered aloud. Her mother was staying glued to the radio. Niki had sat with her for two hours that morning .” he admitted in a confiding tone. still tethered to the family dock. “It got me here. Lucky the ta nk still has gas. As she waved to him. more and more American troops wen t down to fight for oil. 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. he pulled up to a rotted dock extending off the island. and she wrapped her arms around his w aist. in Danbury. Connecticut. obscuring her view of Lake Morrisey. Tom offered . shrugging in a way she found charming. Niki realized it was closer than she’d originally thought. Cl osing her eyes. Niki let the spray of lake water stirred up by the Jet Ski hit h er face. thanks. Niki had to admit he had the be st smile. I’ll put it back when I’m done.” “Want to come up?” Niki offered. he set a path toward a wooded island out in the mi ddle of the lake. and she laughed with delight at the improbability of his driving out to see her on a Jet Ski.” “What do you have to do?” “Get on. Tom returned her lau ghter. and there wa s no sense fighting the glasses. so nothing could be cooked. Her glasses fo gged. It was Tom.” “Okay. Turning the hand throttle. I’ll give y ou a ride. Bolivia had sided with Venezuela.” she agreed. I have this other thing to do.” “You f loated here on a dinghy?!” Niki cried.” “How did you even get over to Marietta?” Niki asked. Canada. It’s tied up back there at the empty house. Speeding aro und a jutting lakeshore bend. swinging her arm broadly. and the fighting had spread. 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. he idled the Jet Ski. She needed to see. pointing to the Jet Ski. her father had taken to h is bed and hadn’t yet emerged. “Where’d you get that?” she asked. which hadn’t been too awful. The water was muddier than usual with the contents from the bottom still swirling. “How are you?” he called. Her breakfast had been a can of cold tom ato soup. After his rampage. I wanted to see you . almost happy. she leaned out for a better look. though she wasn’t yet sure. everything in the refrigerator and freezer was a melting mess. too. laughing in disbelief. but their house was empty. she snatched off her gl asses and stuck them in the front pocket of her jeans. The BJK-Mart corporation explained that not only was t he high fuel price of trucking to blame.CHAPTER 12 Niki stood on her back deck and looked down the hill into the floodwaters. She was hungry. “I borrowed it. as though they might be able to actually outrun all the troub les of the world. and plus. half sunk below the water. The last BJK-Mart Superstore. but now she was ready for lunch and didn’t re lish the idea of cold chicken soup. “Not n ow. In just one day. A Russian nuclear submarine had been spotted off the coast of Nova Scoti a. He put his finge r to his lips. And she felt disgusting . It might be him. When Tom was in front of her. only moving away from it t o rummage for something to eat. 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. Every day. “You’ll see. after all. Descending several steps until her bare feet hit the water. having been unable to shower for days since the power shortage took out the el ectric pump to the family well. Niki was st ill staring out at the lake when she noticed someone crossing the water on a Jet Ski. and was now more up-to-date on current events than she’d ever been in her life.” he instructed. “Hang on. The f amily’s Bayliner motorboat. Its bracing iciness made her feel alive. “It was floating in s omeone’s yard. “All the roads a re flooded. The water vehicle seemed to be heading directly for her. was now completely submerged.” Tom suggested. and she took them off to wipe on her shirt. The floodwaters had risen to just below the five-foot-high platform. A teen boy was driving. Niki wondered if he even realized there had been a hurricane. But she could still see the boat sitting there below the surface. Getting off the Jet Ski. had been force d to shut its gates when rioting broke out as customers fought over the sparse g oods left on the shelves. Tom sent them surging forward into the lake. The stove and microwave wer e electric.” “I used my friend’s dinghy.
“Okay. “Did you think you were the only one whose family owns property on Lake Morrisey?” he asked in a teasing voice. its shingled roof nearly cras hed in by the heavy branch that lay on top of it. the two of them struggling t o make it fit through the narrow opening. I used to camp out here with him when I was little.” Tom pushed at the shed’s jammed doorway until it gave way. Niki helped him pull it sideways out the shed door. He pushed through old camping equipme nt and boat oars. “Here’s one of the things. Tom nodded.” . Then he pulled the Jet Sk i up into the bushes. so she pulled out her glasses.Niki a hand in climbing onto the dry part of the dock. “What are you looking for?” Niki asked. “Partly. Gripping the top of a scratched orange canoe. stepping inside the shed b ehind him. “This is my family’s vacation estate. intending to leave them on for just long enough to take in her surroundings. all tangled in vines.” Niki stepped up to her ankles in frigid water. Its one window was smashed.” he said. The entire i sland must have been no more than ten yards long and about eight yards across. A t its center was a tumbledown wooden storage shed. he pulled it off the two wooden sawhorses on which it had been sitting. “No kidding? Does your family really own this island?” Niki asked. “Where are we?” Niki asked. “That’s what you came here for?” Niki asked. They were a blur.” He walked around to the far side of the shed. and he r bare feet sank into a muddy ooze as she gazed around at the trees and bushes. here’s another part. “It was m y grandfather’s.
” “Hey. Laughing.” he explained. . “Did you plan to sail it?” Niki asked. “He must belong to someone. towels. and I remembered these were here.” she admitted. worried voice. It’s got two sails—I think it’s called a s loop. and you have to see. she whipped off the glasses.” Tom replied as he turned the boat over. “Everything’s changing so fast. “It’s the hull of my father’s old sailboat.” “What for?” she asked. but so far there’s no news. I’m going to drag the canoe home with me.” “I bet he’s nice. “They’re called halyards. “I feel like I’m turning into someone else. Right now it’s completely disassembled. wishing she hadn’t spoken. “Here it is. and just about anythi ng anyone would ever need at a lake. I figure that any kin d of boat that doesn’t need gas would be good to have.” Tom said.” “What are those ropes for?” Niki asked. “Why do you want to bring it home?” “People are stranded all around by me. suddenl y worried that he’d like her less for not loving dogs. I’ll have to come back for it. and h e responds to it when I call him that. knocking out spider-webs with his h ands. Once I get back to my di nghy I can attach it and float the canoe behind me. pu tting his arms around her.” Tom said. don’t you?” “Do you really think they’re all right?” Niki asked. “Don’t I take you to the nicest places?” he joked. I checked with the sheriff’s office to see if anyone’s looking for him. Niki had never kissed a boy while wearing her glasses before. pulling out a long meta l pipe with nylon ropes wrapped around it.” “Yeah.” “How do you know I—?” Niki’s hands flew to her face. In the next second. motors. anchors. She’d never have thought it was so mething she’d ever do. unfurling them on the shed’s wooden floor. All I know is that his collar says Larry.” “Like who else?” Tom asked. “Aw. they were kissing. though.” he said.” Tom agreed. and then kissed her again. Suddenly.” “Snakes?” Niki asked in a small. “That was my plan. he unearthed two dirty nylon sails.” After a few minutes more of searching. they’re disgusting.” “I’m not big on dogs. “Does it sound crazy?” “Everything is crazy now. “Not today. gazing around the island. “Is it a rowboat?” she aske d. “The sail s are attached with them.” he remarked. By the way. did I say you look good in your glasses? I never knew you wo re them. But they’re not poi sonous.” she said quietly when they broke from their kiss.” he confirmed.” 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. “No.” “That makes sense. but he had no tags. It has to be fixed up . still digging among the piles. She’d completely forgotten sh e’d put them on. yeah. I t’s funny on a dog. sure he was just being nice. This sailboat is too heavy. Embarrassed. He used to take me out. “First to an all-out fight between t wo high schools and now to a snake-infested island. he laughed. though.” Niki admitt ed. and I could sail it if I can find the other parts. “You look good in them.” “You’re going to bring the canoe home on the Jet Ski?” she q uestioned. “The mast. I like him. did I tell you I have a dog now?” He told Nik i about the golden retriever he’d found swimming in the floodwaters. Tom took the glasses from her and gently placed them back on her face. “Larry is an adorable name. He smiled sheepishly. “Yeah.Niki joined him and saw the bottom side of a small boat. “Oh? Well. “I’m not sure.” Niki said. I suppose. “They live all over the island. “I think you look very pretty in the glasses.
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.
Gwen laid the book back on the s helf. Gwen gulpe d down an entire glass of it. she found a supply of green-tinted drinking glasses that looked as if the y had been made from the bottom of bottles. The second room was identical to the first. Quickly perusing their spines. She took one a nd turned on the filtered water tap. had been dependent on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Comp anies for their oil. A winding staircase in the corner of the room appeared to lead to an upper floor. and the staircase had brought her t he rest of the way. It seemed that the spinning plates were turning two fan belts. and the water instantly r evived her. On the b ack cover. Apparently. Ju st as he’d foretold with the help of his complex mathematical formulas. He’d predicted this in 1956. since 1971 the U. turning. bringing her just below the surface. WELCOME TO THE HEART OF THE WHIPPERSNAPPER 3 GREEN MODEL HOME— THE REVOLUTIONARY MAGNETIC GENERATOR . Leaving the second room. They were set between two heavy blocks of some kind of metal. There were three shut doors against the back wall. Straw Bale Insulation. Gwen emerged into a room flooded in sunlight. It had worked—she’d found a way out. But what was this place? Th ere was no other window aside from the one that covered the entire wall. Putting down the glass. “Hell o? Anyone up there?” After waiting several minutes for a reply. Pasted to the back of the third door. and after that. she began to ascen d the stairs. It was an updated edition from back i n 2003. Four heavy plates spun. King Hubbert. 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. It was all movin g very fast. She couldn’t remember anything ever looking a s delicious to her as the stream of crystal-clear water that ran out. A geophysicist named M . It was a whirring motor of some kind. but the shelves were lined with various books. its downed trees nearly stripped of their foliage. Gwen turned back to the sign to find out some more about the Whippe rsnapper 3. and Gwen went ri ght for the freezer. but with all its parts exposed. Gwe n pushed open the first and found a small. she was deeply disappointed to find it empty. she was gre eted with a vision of the windblown forest. who was working for Shell. their edges smoothed. In the ca binet. and then refilled a second. she went out to sear ch for the source of the resonance. she pressed her c heek up to it. nothing but one long table on the high ly polished wooden floor. Deffeyes. It was also empty. This wasn’t an illusion—it was real. though there was an unfilled bookcase built into the wa ll. It had been nearly twe nty-four hours since she’d had anything to eat or drink. 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. Gwen saw that they had titles such as Building for a Greener Tomorrow. she saw it was filled with graphs and charts. and Gwen took it down. It was titled Hubbert’s Peak: the Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S. the underground path she had been on had sloped upward gently. Thumbing through. One book looked older th an the others. humming sound d istracted Gwen from her thoughts. How had everyone missed the warning? A low. peered to her right. two clockwise. the other two counterclockwise. had predicted that oil production in the United States would reach its highest level in the 1970s. Gwen went to the bottom of the stairs. Was thi s building set into the side of the hill? Going to the window.Directly behind the counter was an all stainless-steel kitchen. and The Green Potential of Magnets. It seemed she’d gues sed correctly. Gwen f ound a sign. Gwen read a blurb explaining the book’s subject. th e production of crude oil would begin to fall off and would never again rise.S. scooping a handful of ice into her parched mouth and lettin g the wonderful cold and wet melt there. Conquering Lift and Drag in Wind Power. windowless room she assumed was a bed room. Pullin g open the refrigerator. The room was nearly empty. 1956? It seemed that this mess they were in the middle of now had been com ing for a long time. It seemed to be coming from the next room. and saw nothing but rock.
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. as the canoe rocked from side to side. especially places south of them. Tom had gr own completely attached to him. can you take me to the doctor?” “I have money for food. “I’ll take the canoe out and go into town.” “You found milk?” he asked hopefully. he whistled for Larry as he descended the deck steps and grabbed the canoe at the bow. but Sage Valley was apparently lower on the list of places in need of immediate relief than others. which set off another fit of coughs. “Some cereal. Or take my debi t card from my wallet. And now this morning. “Larry!” he called. They all want cash. let’s go find you some dog food. It’s cold in here. But then he had to stroke hard against the flow to turn the boat toward town.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. “Come on. Guilt shot through him. he turned out to be a gorgeous animal with a thick.” “I’ll be back soon!” he called to them. to try to bail out the basement. There’s money over there on my dresser. re d coat. His mother was still in bed and lo oked pale. Neighbors instantly noticed him and opened their windows. The racing water carried him out to the street without even using the paddles.” Ste pping outside to the back deck. to keep from being swept away.” Tom nodded. It’s just what I heard. Tom. so he figured there was little danger of it floating off now. “Hey. he’d taken the canoe out with Carlos and Carlos’s dad. The possibility of giving up Larry was something he didn’t want to consider. The table had withstood the blast of the stor m. Grabbing t he oars from the table. Tom hoped no one was looking for this dog right now. Now that Larry was dry. laughing. Do you have any other blankets?” His mother pointed to the top shelf of her closet. “You don’t want to land in the water again. “I’ll b e back. He counted the money in his pocket. Various groups offering aid had come in.” “Is the water still that high?” “It’s down bout a foot from yesterday. She needs to get out of the house. As he spoke. but there were places. “Listen. dropping it over the railing to the water below. and Tom leaned aside to let him leap into the canoe. can I come in?” “Sure. even if you are a go od swimmer.” Sage Valley had been offici ally declared a disaster area. Can you buy some for me?” “Tom.” he repeated to no one in particular. Two hundred dollars. but he’d have to remember to buy onl y nonperishable items. What a disgusting mess! His stomach rumbled. Be careful. “Whoa. and the golden retriever scampered in fro m the living room. She nodded. catching her br eath. “I had it dry. his words seemed to him shameful and cold. And get me some cough syrup . He untied the c anoe from the table. “Have you eaten anything yet?” Tom asked her. t rying to help more neighbors who were stranded.” “Okay. and he pulled down a woolen blanket to tuck around her.” she a nswered. And then. He’d figured she was all right and other people needed him mo re. there’s not much food left.” Downstairs.” his mother replie d. He’d left her there al one in the basement. buddy. but it’s still high enough that the canoe is the best way to go. the next day. Moving to her door. “Why no t?” “I don’t know. “Mom. there!” he cautioned. 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. you can still get that dehumidifier. “O kay. In only days. A Red Cross boat will probably be by soon. once m ore. Tom saw that the brown floodwaters were just abo ut a foot below. he knocked. That s hould be enough to stock them up for a while. “I have to do something right now. maybe by some miracle. But he’d have felt just as bad if he helped them and ignored his mother yet again. He turned and began to untie the canoe that he’d tethered to the picnic table anchored to the deck. Tom ruffled the fur that curled like a mane around Larry’s neck . she’d started with thi s horrible coughing. yeah. His mother had gone down. the mold is making my sister sick.” “Then take the cash. Tom pulled open the refrigerator door. The dog came running. Can you go into town and see what you can fi nd? And. which had been even harder hit.” Tom told her.” “No one’s taking cards.” There was a strong current that required him to hang on to the deck w hile he climbed in.
more satisfying— for having been cooked outdoo rs? He probably wouldn’t even notice. dumbstruck with di sappointment.” Niki had nodded. wearing pajamas he hadn’t cha nged in three days.CHAPTER 15 Niki balanced the tray as she went up the steps to bring her father his lunch of canned chicken soup. Niki. not the gasoline short age. but the sight of him lazing in bed. She wondered if he’d appreciate the fact that she’d warmed it outside on the gas grill. Brock’s kisses had been sort of slobbery.” he muttered. Marietta’s private gas tanker c an’t get through the floodwater.” Niki grumbled begrudgingly. out-of-work father. now that she recalle d. to her team. a great kisser—better than Brock. taking the tray from her. When Niki’s mother had discovered she was out of gas. Niki just wanted to be left alone to think about Tom. using the last bit of propane left in the tank. to remember how his arms felt around her. “S uddenly it seems like she lives far away. her voice rising ang rily. Nothing leap t to mind. though she hadn’t particula rly wanted to think about it. She didn’t have many close friends. He was a good kisser. “You two seem to be handling things. “Thank you. Was it cheerleading? It did give her a sense of purpose—to her school. you missed that. tranquilized. Then she picked up the tray and walked out. “Oh. who needed her medications refilled—and whose pharmacy hadn’t reopened since OscPearl swept through. 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. We still have no electricity. and Marietta is in big trouble. Is that true?” Niki ro lled her eyes and fought the urge to knock the tray over on him. “But what could I do about it all?” her father wondered aloud as he dragged the blanket back on. Would the soup taste any different—smokier. the pleasu re of thinking about him? Before Tom. “Sorry to leave you to handle it all. These memories almost made everything else go away.” “That would be a start.” “Dad. groggy voice when she knocked at his bedroom door. really?” he said. but she’d gone to see Niki’s grandmother. Niki didn’t want to spend ti me worrying about global warming.” Niki said.” her father call ed in a sleepy. “If things are so bad. a real slammin’ hurricane. “Basically…we’re all going to die. she discovered that this was a question she couldn’t easily answer. “This is a little cold. “Come in. He had always seemed s o in control. or about the possibility of more superhurrican es tearing their way up the coast. either. She still didn’t want to spend time dwelling on any of this—not the aftereffects of the hurricane. No food. It was too obnoxious t o even acknowledge. With everything tha t had happened recently. Was it Tom or. facing away from Niki. “Yeah. the idea of crawling into bed and simply staying there had a certain appeal. 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. It was part of who she was. “It’s just all too much to deal with. “Oh.” She ignored his criticism of the soup. “Your mother told me that storm I heard was a big hurricane. at least. being Brock’s girlfriend had given her a sen se of where she fit in. not the war. “It was a superhu rricane. There’s no gasoline.” She hadn’t intended for her voice to sound as annoyed as it did. 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 . slurping his soup. I guess I’ve had a sort of meltdown since losing m y job.” she informed him stiffly.” “Go to the corner gas station and get s ome. unshaven.” Her father g azed at her blankly for a moment and then tossed his blanket aside. “What would be the point?” “The point is that Mom a nd I could use some help!” Niki shouted. thrilling to think of him coming across t he lake on the Jet Ski.” Niki snapped. and no w we have no gas for the generator. she’d taken Niki’s bicycle for the four-mile trip. “The lake was halfway to the back deck. It was pleasant to think about Tom. I guess I should get out of bed.” “I suppose it’s understandable. Not being able to drive certainly chan ges your point of view about distance. But was that all she was? . She was sick of hearing about all of it. “I used to think Grandm a lived close by. too. “I brought you some soup.” her father suggested. was infuriating.” he said.” Niki threw her hands into the air. Her mother usually did this. Niki could only stare at his back. So you can imagine what the other towns are like. But not completely.” she said as she walked the bike to the puddle-dotted sidewalk. whom she was surprised to realize she didn’t think about m uch at all anymore. certainly not her depressed.
This question was one more thing she didn’t particularly want to think about. adrift and useless? Niki s uddenly realized her eyes were wet with tears.A cheerleader? Brock Brokowski’s girlfriend? Tom Harris’s girlfriend? If those thing s were taken away. On ly. and she quickly brushed them away . Niki couldn’t manage to put it out of her head. would she be just like her father. somehow. .
the water once again began to rise around them. which came to the tops of his legs.” Brock said. splashing into the water. Everybody here is picking up packages. Larry. “Got insurance?” Tom asked. It was Mr. built before the day of t he superstores. Tom shrugged. moving forward in line. Curtin had worried him. Les.” “Do they have electric over there yet?” Tom shook his head. Tom felt incredibly awkward. “No dogs!” the clerk behind the counter snapped.” Mr.” Tom said.” To m said.” he said to the clerk. and my mom’s not feeling so good. taking in the various kinds of damage they’d sustained. come on. Curtin.CHAPTER 16 “This is definitely weird. scratching sound as it scraped the bottom of the road. “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. As they took the road back down into the valley. Seeming to understand. you’re welcome at my hous e anytime. A hand shot out to wave to Tom.” “Thanks. Tom slogged through the water with Larry leaping along at hi s side.” “I’m desperately in need of food. The first store he came to was Maria’s Deli.” Tom said.” Tom sympathized. “I saved for t his since freshman year. Curtin said. just come over if you need help of any kind. Curtin agreed unconvi ncingly. what the heck. and Tom had heard rumors that it was Brock who had br oken it off. the water was below his knees. Curtin. “No. and now she’s coughing. And apparently. I hope. crushin g the roof on the driver’s side. “Aw.” Brock shook his head miserably as he surveyed the damage. but i t would have to do. I don’t want to worry you. Okay. Good to see ya. His canoe made a rough. Curtin replied. either.” Mr.” he lamented. “Hey.” “I know. By the time they wer e at the center of town. Tom recognized the vehicle. or he wouldn’t have asked if Tom had seen her. Larry jumped out. I saw her a few days ago. “Yeah. “She’s still living at Lak e Morrisey. either: PIZZA OVENS OUT OF ORDER DUE TO FLOOD. I can’t even imagine how much it costs to se nd a package nowadays.” “Thanks . The water is sti ll much deeper than here. I guess we’re the lucky ones. There were lights on in the post office. and the two of them left t he post office. “Give the kid a break. Bro ck and Niki had broken up. I guess. I thought it was just a head cold from standing in the water for so long. but we’ve got no cell signals and even the landlines are down.” Tom motioned for Larry to follow him. Brock Brokowski came around the tree and waved to Tom. He took a pad and pen from the pocket of his corduroy sports jacket. “How’s it going?” he asked. Mr.” he told Larry as he got out of the canoe. “Where is everybody?” Were any stores even open? He’d heard they were. The pizzeria he came to nex t wasn’t open. Remember. Brock knew he was involved with Niki. “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. closer to the valley’s rim.” Tom said. although there’s probably not much left. How are things at your house?” “Not so good.” Tom said. He was a quarter mile down the road. so it was less flooded. “Yeah. He had no reason to feel guilty. Just the same.” Tom comp lained. “I know mold grows fast in wet conditions and some people can get really serious respiratory conditions .” “I hope she doesn’t have th at. backing toward the door. He came to one where a very large tree had come down right on top of a red hybrid parked in the driveway. CLOSED—OUT OF EVERYTHING. but you should be aware of it. pushing the canoe deep into them until only a bit of orange peeked through. than where Tom lived. “When do you think school will open again?” “Soo n. This is my cell phone number if we ever get electric and cel l phone service again.” Mr. joining him at the back of the line.” he answered. so he headed in. going in the direction of the old A&P. HOPE TO REOPEN NEXT WEEK read the sign on the front door.” Les grumbled. He stayed by Tom’s s ide as Tom dragged the canoe into some bushes.” Tom said as he canoed into the center of the Sage Valley business district. “Sorry about your car. “I’m desperately in need of a paycheck.” “Great. “Liste n. man. The business district was at a higher elevation. “We’d better stow this thing. She spent too much time in the basement trying to bail floodwater.” “Okay. and an uneasy expression came over his face. A line of people wrapped itself all the way to the door. “I’ll go there now. Mr. looking at the houses. If not. Sucks. “How’s it going with you?” “Hopefully bette r once I pick up this care package my sister sent. and Tom wondered if he should have gone back fo r the canoe. taking the paper from him. It wasn’t a perfect hiding place. and that g . “Maybe that’s all it is.” “I hope the mold in your house isn’t getting to her. “Aw. “You know where I live. She’s okay. Thanks.
pulling her little d aughter along by the hand. right?” “Yeah.” Tom said instead. But if he was. su ddenly.” “Thanks. why had he broken it off with h er? Tom didn’t know Brock well enough to ask. and assumed it had been us ed to suck up much of the water from the lot. returning his attention to assessing the damage. there were only three cars in the parking lot. a man was knocked to the ground and Tom knew what was really happening. It sounded to Tom li ke Brock was still stuck on Niki. white building was in sight at the far end of a midsized parking lot. and those who could start their cars couldn’t find gas to fuel them.” Tom told him. Then. They were fighting. “I have to get going. what chance do we have? But y ou said Niki’s okay. considering that although there seemed to be about twenty people in front of the store. “if those rich people over there can’t get any help. A curse was hurtled through the air as if to seal his new un derstanding of the situation. He knew that right no w most people couldn’t get their water-logged engines running. This struck Tom as a hopeful gestu re. Tom noticed a vacuum machine about the size of a small car in the far corner of the lot. but he couldn’t quite figure out what. . the wa ter was just below Tom’s knees. too.” Brock said with a sigh . Som ething about the scene wasn’t right. its orange hoses dangling. she clutched a paper bag that looke d half full. He started to cross the lot but stopped walking when he realized that people were milling outside the store. The large. she seems to be.” “Man. “Good luck with the car. which was spotted with large puddles but was othe rwise pretty dry. By the time Tom and Larry neared the grocery store.” Brock said with a wave.as station that was getting fuel is shut down now. A young woman ran toward him. In her other arm.
She loo ked like a nice. I was able to grab this bag even t hough some spilled. I found him in the f lood. While the two men wrestled on the ground. Hector gazed at him as though fi ltering his reply. And pasta in the shape of unicorns. “Good idea. Angry. Tom signaled Hector to follow h im even farther out of the lot until they were on a quiet side road.” “Are you kidding me ?” Tom cried.“What’s going on?” Tom asked the woman as she passed him. Those who haven’t been able to get any are attacking people as they come out with their bags. but—” “I know who you are. without talking until they were far enough away to feel safe from the fighting. “Hey!” Tom sho uted at Hector’s attacker. who seemed to be unharmed as she ran back into the fray of people fighting ov er the cart’s contents. He had to wonder how the jails were fu nctioning without power. “You live behind Gwen. His curious nature won out. “Let’s get out of here. his head bent as if he were a ram intending to butt horns with a rival. As he staggered ba ck.” Hector said w ith a small wave. Tom saw t hat two boys about his age were shoving each other. “Why don’t you get lost?” Tom countered.” A gro cery clerk came to the door and quickly turned the inside dead bolt. Bas ically. shouting voices snapped in the air as he came c lose to the front entrance. their si rens screaming.” Tom said. “You know what I have in here? Anchovy paste. With a nod of his head. “Thanks a lot. fighting to get as much of it as possible. Two police cars came into the lot. Tom stared at her. th ree women and two men pounced on the spilled food.” “Get lost. I haven’t s een her since the fire. T he last thing they needed was to be picked up for fighting in public. He was caught between his impulse to avoid the fighting at the groc ery store and intense curiosity. He d idn’t get far before he was tackled to the ground by the guy he had punched. you—” Before the man could finish. “You’re not getting my food . spraying Tom and Larry. the kid glowered at Hector. They walked to the back of the par king lot. Mohawked kid he’d seen Gwen with that day he’d been talking to Carlos by his truck. It didn’t look like the best moment to speak to him.” he said. Tom ducked his head away and noticed that Hector did the same. “And you let her go?” “I couldn’t really stop her. Next time I’m gonna mess you up. “Yeah.” Tom suggested to Hector after a quick check of the woma n. In the distance. the only things left are the things that nobody ever really wanted. Hector was clutching his bag of groceries to his body while the other boy was trying to tear it away from him.” Hector revealed. “She was going off to find some old mine shaft to live in to keep safe from OscPearl.” she said without stopping. Maybe he knew where Gwen had disappeared to. At least you used to before her house went up in smoke. The first man grabbed his groceries and began to run. Hector looked to Tom. and shouting ferociously. The store is nearly out and closing down. though Tom knew it was probably only a reaction to her ag itated tone. “The kid is hungry. and then he shrugged. pink tongue. we’ve never met and you don’t know me. I’m Tom. One man punched another and sent him tottering backw ard so close to Tom that Tom had to leap out of the way. Larry.” he said once it seemed safe to stop and talk. “I’m not sure there’s going to be a next time.” “How do you know where I live?” Tom asked. sendi ng his food rolling out of the bag. “That’s why I wanted to ask if you know where Gwen is. Listen. “He’s a great-looking dog. “They’re fighting over the food.” “Hey. A heavy woman came flying betwee n them. “Thanks. Larry licked his face clean with his long. aghast. “But you escap ed? You’re okay?” he checked with the woman. alarmed. deciding what he wanted to say. What am I supposed to do?” Larry barked at her as if giving a reprimand. Tom suppos ed they would call it disorderly conduct. After the kid stormed off.” “Of course. Hector.” Hector inte rrupted him. the other man was off the ground and running ba ck.” Hector agreed. normal person. and he walked towar d the front of the store. skirting the wide puddles. locking the door. He realized that one of them was the tall. shoving the boy away from Hector.” Hector just stood there panting as he hugged his brown bag of groceries. a mother with her small child. “This is Larry. a police siren sounded. 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. sure. I remember. “You’re lucky your bodyguard showed up.” she reported. having just been pushed away from an abandoned grocery cart by another w oman. “Hi. And canned corn.” He shook his head. She had robbed so meone of their groceries? “Don’t look at me like that!” the woman shouted over her sho ulder at Tom. “Get your own food.” “I saw her after that.” he told Tom.” Hector defended h .” the other boy snarled. “I think Gwen and I walked past your house one day and I figured it out.
Without a word. I don’t know where else to look except in the forest some more. I found a couple of mine s hafts. how would she have survived? A mine shaft was probably good shelte r. “Let’s go. I’m living at the shelter in the bas ement of the elementary school. “She has her own mind. they trudged up the muddy dirt road leading to the forest. I went up to th e hills looking for her yesterday and the day before. 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.” Tom tied the canoe to a tree. stowed his oars.” Tom said. “No idea. Tom’s thoughts focused on Gwen. If she had been up here dur ing OscPearl. We can take it part of the way.” Tom had meant o be casual when he’d asked if Hector was seeing Gwen. Maybe she fou nd Luke and they went off somewhere. aren’t you?” Tom checked. right?” “Did she tell you I was?” “No. If she’d stayed with me. He whistled fo r Larry. “Do you think we should go look for her again?” he suggested. but they were boarded up from the outside. Besides. But he’d definitely dete cted a certain strain in his voice when he asked. .” He ctor said. There was no way she could hav e gotten into those. and steadied the boat as Hector a nd Larry climbed out. who had gone off to explore some tall grass. but I…you know…I assumed. They were all standing knee-deep in water but the canoe co uld no longer move forward.imself. right now. “I think we should.” “I have a canoe. OscPearl demolished our trailer. and he wondered if Hector had caught it also. really.” “So where do you think she is?” Tom asked. the cops or social services would have picked her up. After all. “Yeah. it was none of h is business.” “She wouldn’t have said good-bye to you? You’re he r boyfriend. He’d just been kissing Niki yesterday.
“Why?” Hector asked as they n ared the trail leading into the hilly forest. But he’d found himself thinking a lot about Gwen ever since the night of the fire when she’d run off. “I don’t know.” Tom said. wasn’t she? And he did like Niki. But still… . “I’m not sure you’re Gwen’s type. he’d thought of no other girl but her for such a long. long time.” Tom conceded.” Hector grunted non committally. “If i t were up to me. “I’m not sure. in that way. “W hat do you mean?” “I don’t think Gwen is all that into me—I mean. Then a look of resignation came over his face. But it felt like somethin g more than that. absorbing this new information.” “Oh.” he finally replied. Maybe he was just worried about her.Again.” “But you lik e her?” “Yeah. Hector’s shifting eyes made him seem to be calculating how he wanted to ans wer before actually speaking. Was he interested in Gwen? Niki was the one he was supposed to be involved with. “Are you interested?” “In Gwen?” “Who else a re we talking about?” Tom realized he was avoiding the question. Tom cast him a confused glance.” Tom admitted to Hector. I would be.” “Probably not.
and have social services put me in foster care? I don’t think so. “Hi. “What’s in there?” Tom asked. Hector. Tom’s bright eyes had a weary expression. “Yes. It would’ve bee n washed out or blown away. startled. Were they hikers? Forest rangers? No— Hector! Tom! Running to the side door. aren’t you?” Still laughing. Be sides.” Gwen confirmed. pointing toward the forest. His Mohawk had flopped to one side and there were dark circles under his eyes. Gwen embrace d him. Someone had come out to look for her—two someones.” Gwen gasped. I thought I was seeing a ghost. “Yeah.” Hector admitted. calling to them.” “Awesome. “Hell. You. Gwen turned toward the reflective glass. “It’s the Whippersnapper Three.” “When did you become an expert on .” Tom turned to look out at the forest.” Gwen’s eyes welled with happy tears. There were two people out there.” Hector su ggested. bu t at least it didn’t get far. “Thank you for coming to find me. her delight in seeing him making her forget any self-conscious inhib ition. Better than you guys. “and it got blown down the road. yeah! We were there. Getting up off the floor. pushing her out o f the hug for closer scrutiny. “How have you two been?” she asked. knocking her back a few steps as he leapt on her. “It did turn on its side. she went close to the window for a bet ter view.” “What about you?” Gwen asked Tom. but before she could explain. Two. and his clothes were dirty. all they’d see was more trees. Solid forms were mo ving among the trees. “A lmost no impact on its environment.” “No kidding. “Not great. Hector threw his arms arou nd Gwen.” “You were lucky it didn’t. I guess it’s because we’re at the bottom of the valley. It w terrifying. Yes. “It’s me!” Hector exclaimed as he walked forward to inspect his image. quickly brushing the wetness from her eyes. “My trailer…like…just blew away.” Gwen stepped ahead of him and knocked on the glass. 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. The whole trailer park is demolished.” Gwen told them. laughing. Squinting for a better focus. “The what?” Tom asked.” Gwen agreed. Gwen leaned back into the hug. Come on in.” Tom murmured. “You’re okay!” Then he gripped her arms. she pounded the button that caused it to slide open and raced into the forest.” Gwen told them. man! What is that?” He ctor cried as Larry barked at the reflection. 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. hugging her tight. That was the most horrible day of my life. and it all runs on a magnetic generator that never costs any more th an its initial start-up cost.” she said. “I’m here! Over here!” Larry ba rked and ran to her first. yeah? Wh ere have you been living?” Hector asked. Gwen rubbed his head. It has storm water retention. Follow me. Hector was even worse. “I’ll sh w you. “Oh. too. At first. she decided they didn’t look all that great. “You would never even know this place was here. gaping in wonder. amazed.” “Oh. leading the way to the side door th at was set into a huge boulder. Hector and Tom ran to her. “The Whippersnapper Three features passive so lar design and natural cross-ventilation that eliminates the need for an air con ditioner. Stepping back to look at them. “For a second. “Were we just out there? Is t his one-way glass?” “Yep. “You are okay. We were able to get into my mother’s car and just pray it didn’t turn over.” Tom said. One? No. “It’s a solar panel. pleased to me et you. they might not realize there was anythin g there at all.” Hector reported.” “Thank goodness.” Gwen realized. too. “That’s terrible. even the front isn’t intrusive. it seems. They wouldn’t be ab le to look in at her. It’s made from all recycled and recyclable materials. inf used with the excitement of her outburst. “It doesn’t even matter that it burned. and as long as they didn’t catch sight of themselves in the greenish reflection.” “My house definitely wou ldn’t have lasted.” Tom said. “I know. The forms were coming toward her. coming al ongside her. “And that one-way glass. but the basement is flooded and so are the st reets. as he walked into the room on the main floor. Thanks.” Tom said. “Our house held. The ro of just peeled right off. Yesterday she went outside through the camouflaged sliding door and knew that the window panel was made of mildly reflective one-way glass . Tom jumped back.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.” Gwen add ed.” “Maybe you should come to the shelter with me. I’m totally okay.” “Were you there at the time?” Tom asked. as you saw. I have it good where I’m living.
Gwen nodded. There’s not much else to do.all this?” Hector asked as he slowly turned in a circle.” “So. My best guess is that t he people who built it live in California. taking in the Whippersnap per 3. I don’t t hink anyone ever lived here. plus all the sales brochures on this pla ce. It’s just a sales model home. “I’ve been reading those. Gwen pointed to the pile of books she’d taken from the bookshelves and stac ked on the floor. do you have power here?” Tom asked. “I t seems like someone just left this house as it was and never came back. or someplace else far enough away tha t it would cost way too .
“Dig in.” Gwen looked to Tom and Hector.” Tom remarked. Maybe you can find one that fits your phone . “See the way the roots dan gle down out of those holes? Every day a nutrient spray gives them food.” she added apologetically. staring up. Gwen showed them to the basement kitchen . which is why I don’t think anyon e’s been here for at least a little while. “The stuff I read was real interesting. “I suppose you’d have to build a house like this in a clearing to get the sun in here like this. “Sorry. way freaky. Hector is s tanding by the herbs.” “At least somebody was thinking. but then we all just got used to it.” Hector replied.” Gwen led them up a spiral staircase to the top floor. up in that container are hydroponic tomatoes and next to that. but I just dumped the old fruit in the composting bin over there.” Gwen said. “No. 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. I had it dry and I haven’t had anything since.much for them to move back right now. cucumbers. Gwen nodded.” she said.” she answered. The panels must’ve been pretty thic k to withstand the storm—but obviously they did. Gwen pointed up. Except.” “Are these plants genetically modified to grow insid e?” Tom asked. “It’s to encourage you not to leave chargers p lugged in because they drain energy. “It’s nice and warm in here. About thirty years ago. then a few years ago. “Those glass panels also work as solar heat. They’re totally natural. “They were called terminator seeds because they didn’t renew themselves. snapping off a twig of gre en basil and popping it into his mouth. I want to show you guys something. popping a hydroponic strawberry into his mouth. so I guess some thing is heating it. There. none of those. you know.” “You have power!?” Hector cried. things like square tomatoes that would fit more neatly into shipping containers. “I can’t believe I d .” “How come these plants didn’t die if the place was abandoned?” Tom asked. either.” Hector said.” Hector added. “It’s still below the outside walls.” Hector recalled excitedly. smiling.” “This is awesome. taking his cel l phone from his jeans pocket. pointing to a large blue bin on the outsi de corner of the glass roof. there were some groups that had thought this might be a problem and had begun collecting seeds. “Farmers used to get their seeds from their crops. At fi rst everybody was suspicious of it. You get used to it. Gwen pointed to spri nklers set into the glass. “There was a lot of rotten fruit and vegetables when I first got up here ’cause no one had collected it. it looked like we had allowed the big biotech compa nies to destroy all the world’s food.” Again. Tom. just the top is open. “Every day they get sprinkled with storm water collecte d in that cistern.” “A seed bank?” Hector questioned. “Are you kidding?” Hector said.” Gwe n said.” “Hydro what?” Hector a sked. only now there were no m ore seeds left. They stepped into a greenhouse brightly lit b y natural sunlight pouring in.” “There’s a c harger rack downstairs. snapping bright yellow cherry tomatoes from a plant. All these seeds come from a natural seed bank in H olland.” “Where’s the Twinkie plant?” Hector joked. Are you?” “Real hungry. I’ve read a whole pape r on what they’ve planted here. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been sort of forced to eat the good stuff. the way those peop le at the grocery store were acting. But come upstairs first. too. plus there are heating units in the walls that are powered by the same ma gnetic generator that’s running the whole house. Gwen shook her head. It di dn’t seem like I was going to get anything else to eat.” Tom agreed.” “I read about that. It turns out that the GMOs don’t h ave the same nutritional value as the natural food had. “Is it hard to get the seeds?” “Real hard. But now they h ad to buy them from the company every year. “All I found was som e stale cereal for breakfast. “Didn’t the c ompanies make it so the fruits and vegetables completely died out each year?” “That’s right. See?” Gwen explained.” Gwen told him.” Tom suddenly hit the table. “but the Whippersnapper Three comes with its own supply. “The side walls use ultraviolet grow lights and those containers on the walls are hydroponics. “I didn’t bring my charger. “They’re grown in the air without dirt.” Gwen offere d. Freaky.” “I did a r eport on something like this last year in social studies. “but isn’t it cool?” “How come we c ouldn’t see this from the outside?” Tom asked. “Do you know how good t his tastes after eating nothing but powdered cheese and macaroni for days?” “It’s grea t. “You have to eat it plain because there’s no salad dressing or anything like that here. “There are some apple and peach trees at the far end in those pots. big biochemical companies started making genetically modified foods. For a while. “You guys look like you’re hungry. “So.” When they’d filled s traw baskets with the food they’d picked.” Gwen told him.” “Yeah. fortunately. He cursed softly.” Gwen con firmed.” Gwen agreed.
” “People are annoying. “There’s a bottle o f acetaminophen in the medicine cabinet. You can bring that to her.” “Why didn’t I th ink of that?” Hector said.” Gwen agreed. She’s sick.” “And have them duking it out i n the forest?” Hector questioned.” Hector agreed. “I’ll say I got it in town somewhere. “there’s a lot of food up there that people could use. Gwen. e specially people with kids. I w onder if you guys should tell them about this place. .” Tom added. “But I guess people get sort of crazy when they’re hungry.” “True that. which t he dog eagerly gobbled.” “Way nuts.” Gwen agreed. “Since when are you such a saint?” Hector asked lightly. “I thought you fo und people annoying. “If you could fill a bag. “If you have extra. “But little kids shouldn’t go hu ngry.” “I’ll go get her some veggies and fruit. It was nuts.id it again!” “What?” Gwen asked.” Tom agreed.” Gwen began thoughtfully.” “Okay. some of my neighbors are completely out of food.” “You know . and I’ve been gone for at lea st three hours. I was supposed to go right back.” “Thanks. 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.” Gwen offered.” “We have to find a way to get some of this food to them .” Gwen said. “I was supposed to bring my mother some groceries and medicine. shovelin g a forkful of lettuce into his mouth while he hand-fed Larry snap peas. They were clobbe ring each other for a bag of groceries. “You should have seen them. I’ll take it to the people in the shelter.
” Hector agreed. “Is it just me. It struck her that she had made the same quick judgments about Tom that she so deeply resented others making about her.” “There’s something else I want to show you in the back of this place.” “A kit for what?” Tom asked.” Gwen suggested. “A still. “But is it the end of the world.” Gwen said. I’ve learned how to make alcohol for fue l—ethanol.” Gwen said. “I have no idea about tha t.” Tom admitted. “Like back in t he days of prohibition when alcohol was illegal and they made whiskey in stills?” Hector asked quizzically. I haven’t been making whiskey. “You could be right. It’s pretty cool. Gwen laughed. “It’s as though t he world is falling apart. He was a football player. neither. 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. Gwen thought she understood what Hector was getting at.” Gwen agreed. “No idea at all. Or at lea st ride bikes. looking bothered by what he was about to say. don’t tell me you’ve been out h ere getting blitzed every day. “Or maybe it’s ju st that everything about the way we live is going to have to change. “No. Don’t worry. I’ll show you. “Sort of. and no one is in charge or even knows what to do abou t it. crazy .” Gwen replied. “But we might have to do that.” Hector continued.” “What? Are we going to have to walk everywhere and become farmers?” Hector asked. “It’s the end of the world. Gwen looked at him as though sudde nly seeing him in an entirely different way.” Gwen answered.” Hector said disapprovingly.“That’s not the way your mind works. she’d assumed he wasn’t a person who would ever ask a question like that.” . Even though she had always liked hi m. Come on. “It’s a thing I’ve been building from some blueprints in a k it I found down here. not a deep thinker. or does it feel like it’s the end of the world?” “Why should it be the end of the world?” Tom asked.” “Exactly.” “Me. “Gwen.” Hector decided. “I don’t know if I’m really into that. “I have to ask you guys something. or only the end of the world as we’ve always known it?” Tom considered.
Crane speculated.” Ms. and families with ch ildren more quickly than to other townspeople who are more able to find food for themselves. and other sicknesses. 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. “This must be someone with access to th e food markets at Hunts Point in the Bronx. plus an almost complete breakd own in their deliveries by rail and truck routes.” . It’s late September. sick. the citizens of Sage Valley are currently suffering from homelessness. 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.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. flood-re lated respiratory diseases. Sage Valley is a town that can be excused for feeling that their government and even their neighboring towns have completely abandoned them. “Folks have told me about a person seen traveling a round Sage Valley in an orange canoe. But they have n ot been totally overlooked. s ince the baskets have found their way to the elderly. 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. Desperately in need of s ervices but largely overlooked by agencies busy assisting even harder hit areas. and therefore the se products have to be imported since it would be impossible to grow them locall y at this time of year. hard slog to recovery after Superhurricane OscPearl dev astated much of their semirural town almost a week ago. Mayor Eleanor Crane tells us. resulting in a severely deplet ed supply of food and goods. Badly needed pharmaceuticals are also in short supp ly.” Ms.
and barefoot. wooden kayak. it would be another OscPearl situation. The weather people said th ere were two more hurricanes brewing in the Caribbean. especiall y the wealthier ones. Sage Valley. It was immediately exhilarating to be out on Lake Morrisey. her thoughts wandered and she remembered the day she’d been stuck there with To . When Niki reached knee-high water on the other side. O r even into the city. though i t was a mild amber version of its former illuminated glory. In five minutes. Niki went down the steps to the wet dirt below. 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. the front still in the dirt.” Niki nodded and stopped to gaze at him a moment. Everything had gone silent and wet. Standing. The gray wash of sk y above lent a somber. too. “Take a chain and padlock with you. 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. though the water was choppier than she’d expected and the breeze stronger than she had guesse d. I will. Manhattan was the first to light up. she had dragged the kayak off its stand of twin sawhorses and pulled it to the shoreline. Was he back from his stupor? He seemed to care if she was safe all of a sudden. she might be gone. and pushed off by digging the paddle into the ground. They said they were t oo isolated out here by the lake. That’s an expensive. pulled the kayak up. almost ghostly gloom. The last time she’d seen him. she didn’t rea lly mind going. pointing to a rectangu lar cedar box behind the boat. Niki positioned herself low in the hull. “Where are you going?” “We need fresh water and charcoa l. And there was a pervasive dampness in the air. and other nearby towns weren’t as luck y. dipping her elbow in an effort to flip it hull-side up. Okay. and coming bac k she would be dragging charcoal and water. Niki ran back to the chest t o get the long oar with its paddles on either end. Why didn’t all this water just evaporate? Th e dark clouds overhead probably had something to do with it. From there she could walk to town. and thought. she’d have gone total ly insane. Maybe they’d gone to relatives closer to town. due to the necessity to conserve power. handmade kayak. and handstand s had made her strong.” her father shout ed. Everyone agreed: The East Coast couldn’t take anoth er superhurricane. The glorious days r ight after the hurricane had turned gloomy once more. What the reports had said seemed true to Niki: It was as if they had been for gotten. The lake had gone down a little. but then the charcoal supply slowly dwindled down to a few chun ks. “In that equipment chest over there. knowing it would bring her to Shore Road. Nik i decided. It’s also in the chest. After chaining and locking it to a tre e. “Wear a life vest.” she agreed as she leaned i nto the highly polished. It wasn’t easy. In lower Westchester. If they merged. she’d been stuck in the house with no electricity for longer than she could stand. Had all that meant nothing? If he didn’t come to see her soon.” That was an excellent sign that he was getting back to his old self. but everything was still so wet. but years of handsprings. “Do we have an oar for this kayak?” Niki called up to him. She’d taken some from the lak e and boiled it. Most of her neighbors had left . not when it hadn’t yet recovered from the first one. stas hed the life vest in front of her. cartwheels. Returning to the kayak. Niki couldn’t detect even a single distant engine. and an orange life vest. But Marietta. Niki began rowing across the lake. either. though she wasn’t exactly sure where they were leaving to. List ening hard. his face was covered in stub ble and his hair bent at odd angles. This morning. “Okay. As Niki began walking toward tow n. the floodwaters were receding enough for trucks to get through and bring in supplies. Train tracks weren’t so flooded anymore. Towns in Westchester and the Bronx had power. That was probably a good sign. “Okay. and stowed the oar inside. so Tom is alive.” he replied. Her glasses fo gged and she wiped them on her shirt. She made a note to he rself to also buy some batteries while she was in town. Despite the difficulty. If they hadn’t had the battery-powered radio.” They’d drunk the last of their bottled water supply. Her father appeared on the deck in his pajamas. he’d seemed so crazy about her. the back end afloat as the wat er lapped at its side. And even that was getting more and more static. she headed up a dirt trail. she got out.CHAPTER 18 Niki heard the story about the “mysterious benefactor” in the orange canoe on her mo ther’s radio. Shore Road was eerily deserted—no cars at all. even though it would be miles.
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. the one with the swingy blunt haircut. Niki laughed darkly at how that image contra sted with the girl currently heading down the road. the perfect skin—a girl who understood the world and knew ex actly what she wanted from it. What is he doing out here? He started jogging toward her.m. In August. but it wasn’t her fi rst choice of what to wear. Imagine. 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. He’d lost that square football-player shape that Niki had always f ound so appealing. why are you out here by yourself?” Brock asked brea thlessly when he reached her. but now Brock was someone who seemed like he belonged in that o ld world she’d left behind. it would have been a dream come true. What were the chances of meeting Brock out here on the road li ke this? Her mind couldn’t make sense of it. Everything had been so different then . This girl had unwashed hair pulled into a messy ponytail. yet it seemed so long ago. 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. captain of the cheer squad. Back in August. “Brock?” she asked. Now. in fact. She knew those broad shoulders and his lumbering walk. It was as though it was a world away. in glasses taped together with a Band-Aid! It was almost funny—nearly hilarious. Wipin g mist from her glasses. but it di dn’t seem possible. she felt she must have been a different pers on. When she even thought of herself. “Me? Why are you here?” Brock’s crew cut was longer and he was thinner. But . She still had some clean clothing left. Just a little more than a month and a half had passed. “Niki. she was still the perfect girl she’d always been. Niki knew what she was seeing was real. she put them back on and peered at him. Niki Barton.
Niki wondered if it was possible to like t wo boys at one time. water. Niki was dying to ask Tom if he had come to see her. why are you out on the road like this?” Before Niki could answer. but he took pity on me and showed me how for nothing as long as I did the work. she would have been t hrilled that Brock had traveled so far to check on her. Did you drive here?” Brock asked. irked by the way he’d defended the strange girl. The roads are pr etty passable now as long as it doesn’t rain again. but he’s not goin g to get any better like that. If Brock wasn’t there. if he weren’t sitting in a running vehicle. impressed. “I made it. a flatbed truck appeared on the road coming from down by the lake and heading toward town. and then Brock wedged in. “No.” “How did you get all the way over here?” Niki asked.” he said. “It’s not too bad anymore. Rain splashed the windshield and Tom turned on the wipers. because that was how she felt. The hospital says he’s not sick enough for them to take him.” Tom allowed.” Tom invited them. How are you?” she said.” “Whatever.” He shot a quick.” Tom told them. too. Another o ne came down and destroyed my car. the three of t hem staring into the gray road ahead. They continued on without talking. “You guys okay?” he asked. An uneasy silence settled as Tom contin ued down the road. The truck pulled to a stop right by Niki and Brock.” Tom replied.” “Sorry.” “Are you kidding?” Brock cried. “Unfortunately. My whole family is living in a shelter at Sag e Valley Elementary. all she felt was extremely uncomfortable. ea ger to be off it. She’d have to wait to get him alone to find out. His words surprised and shocked her—but they pleased her. 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. but it wouldn’t have bee n easy. up on Ridge Road. not meeting her eyes. “Yeah.” she replied. but it d idn’t seem right with Brock sitting right there. “Hop in.” she amended more mildly. Gwen Jones did. They have all these cots set up in the gym for sick kids. “I’m all right.maybe she liked the look of this lankier Brock better. “There’s none anywhere. “I was. “What are you talking about?” “It’s ethanol. Tom stuck his h ead out of the window. and D batteries. So. “The roads are passable now?” “I came the back way. “And how were you planning to drag all that stuff back?” Niki fle xed her bicep. This is awkward. As it was. “But good strange. too?” Brock asked. “We’re fine. man?” Tom grinn d.” “Good luck finding any kind of batteries anyw here. My little brother is real sick with some kind of pneumonia thing. I came out here to get it. I d on’t know her that well.” “Yeah.” Niki said. really glad. She couldn’t be sure yet. the bike blew a flat about a mile back. “Muscle power. Niki thought.” “What?” Niki would’ve thought Tom had totally lost it.” “Did he show y ou how to make the ethanol. A tree fell on our roof during OscPearl. “Is that your sailboat I see in the back?” Niki asked. . It was Tom’s old brown truck.” Niki’s heart raced as she tried to sort throu gh the whirl of emotions she was feeling. “I’d have helped you. But it was better than walking all the way into the center of Marietta. “I mean. “I just think she’s strange.” A pang of disappointment ran th rough her. But if Tom hadn’t come along. She was glad to see Tom. “My family ne eds charcoal. “That freaky Goth girl?” “She’s pretty cool w hen you get to know her. I made it in a still from corn. I wanted to see if you were okay. “Biked. “Since when do you hang out with Gwen Jones?” N iki demanded. leaning against the pas senger side door.” Niki clim bed into the truck beside Tom. and she w asn’t sure why that should be. is all. “I was coming to your house. “Okay. “Were you going into town?” Tom asked.” Niki dismissed the subject. considering…” “ sidering what?” “You know…all this.” “Where’d you get gas. “I can take you into town. who showed me how to change the truck around. going to the window. she wou ld have been happy to see Tom. furrowing her brow with dislike. He’d come all this way and hadn’t stopped by to see her. He used to charge a ton of money to do it.” Brock warned.” “Gwen Jones?” Niki qu estioned. I found this guy Artie. Though maybe he had.” Brock remarked. “Where’d that guy ever get ga s?” Brock wondered. “And this truck runs on it?” “I had to tinker with the engine a little. Niki recognized it immediately. and Niki knew he’d caught the jealous resentment in her tone.” “I guess…in a way. Brock looked at her sharply. worried glance at the sky.
“Well. “There’s food here?” Brock echoed enthusiastically. The fac t that it wasn’t her secret spot anymore made her willing to open it up. At least she looked like a human being instea d of a fashion doll now. “We should have them come here.” Tom. you’re a real—” “Friend…I know. and Brock stepped into the room. “Sorry. The private-world quality of the Whippersnapper 3 had been breached in her mind when Niki and Brock came in.” It occurred to her to sidestep the question by remarking that Tom wasn’t interested in her. “I can’t believe yo u found this.” Niki greeted her. “That might call too much attention to the place.” she mumbled. almost magical enclave to share with Tom a nd Hector. I guess. searching for something new to invest in.” he mumbled. “Do you hate me now?” “Of course not.” “That’s not true. but she knew that wasn’t what Hector wanted to know.’ which is probably true. her excitement growing.” told them.” Brock said with enthusiasm. squeezing her tightly. Tom.” Gwen protested. “Please. Gwen. Keepin g the place to herself didn’t seem to matter anymore.” “I will?” Hector questioned. Standing up. He might get the wrong idea. but there was no going back. “Why wait for the power to turn on?” she said. “And don’t call him a Neanderthal—but th t’s not even the point.” With . Hector.” Gwen told him. “Who?” “Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski.” he admitted quietly. “Even though I’m so much more your type . No longer was the place her special. 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. le ss-perfect image.” “Please. That loss made her a little sad. “Wow! It’s like a secret hiding place. “Hector. heading toward the Whippersnapper 3 .” Hector brushed off her comment. “And all footballers are Neanderthals. “So you do like Tom. it could brin g all sorts of unwanted attention. “And listen to this: His wife is an environmental engineer. he liked Niki. Tom’s dream girl.” “But not the same way you like Tom.” She held on.” He noticed Hector and Gwen and smiled. Niki. But it felt right. Niki.” she said. He already thou ght I was your boyfriend.” Hector per sisted.” It would be taking a big chance.” “Once people find out there’s food here.” Gwen repeated. Hector nodded.” Gwen pulled away from Hector. and as soon as we have po wer again. The company was owned by some b illionaire’s son who said he was just ‘ahead of his time. Hector . “Go on upstairs.” Gw en realized how changed Niki looked and begrudgingly liked her. “You’ve only been spying on the guy forever. Curtin!” Tom said. although she knew Hector was right. Who goes charging around smashing i nto other huge guys just to catch a ball?” Gwen glanced up at Hector. “This is it. a little better. looking do wn self-consciously. Hector.” “Hi. because I hear your boyfriend com ing through the door with his pals.” Gwen said. I guess.” he said . starting now. “We can invite Mrs. Curtin t o hold her workshops here. “Yeah. “What if the Whippersnapper people object? Or want their house back?” “They’re out of business.” she said. “This is very awesome. hanging around. “I searched them on the computer today. “Did you tell him you were?” “N o! He came up with that on his own. He’s in Australia now. “Thanks. “I do like you. She was staring i n alarm out the rain-streaked wall-length front window. Hector met her gaze.CHAPTER 19 “Why are Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski here?” Gwen asked Hector. you’re my b est friend.” Niki replied.” She forced herself to tell him the truth. “They’re Tom’s friends.” Tom said. She especia lly didn’t want Niki. and I told him I wasn’t. sure.” Gwen complained. or what?” Gwen put her anger aside as a new thought made it seem suddenly less imp ortant. “I had a feeling. t hey’ll all want to come. She’s written up a grant to try to make the town a model of energy self-sufficiency.” Gwen wrapped him in a hug. knowing how much her words hurt him and hating to cause him pain. “Hector will show you. “Cute glasses. We’ll take good care o f the place until he comes looking for it. “I thought you liked me.” “Who says I’m crushing on Tom?” Gwen challenged.” Gwen put her han d on his arm. don’t you think?” Hector worried. Is that cool.” H ector grumbled. Hector joined Gwen at the window. “Now you’d better let go. Unbelievably cool. and Brock wer e pushing their way through the wet foliage. He’s not my crush. Hector looked up from the book on biofuels that he was reading cross-legged on the floor. “I thought you liked Tom. but I don’t feel that way about you. “I’m glad. I don’t want Niki and Brock here.” “There are worse things than being friends.” “You did? Thanks. If everyone knew about the place. with her new. and your face lights up every time you see him. That’s what you get for cru shing on a Neanderthal football player type—you inherit friends like Niki and Broc k. “Guess who we met on the way over here—Mr. “You can’t even see it from outside.
Th ey just seemed so…lost.nod to Niki and Brock.” Tom replied. “I should have thought about how you’d f eel. I guess. you know…whatever…you’re going out ith her and all…right?” “Sort of…in a way. “They’re your friends.” Tom said when they were gone. “You’re angry that I brought them. Gwen saw now how this quality might have its downside. Sorry. I mean. and Niki’s like. It was done now. 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. .” she said. and he hadn’t meant any harm. “I understand. Hector led them upstairs to the garden. I didn’t think.” Gwen wasn’t sure how to respond. They’re not friends of yours and this is your place. you found it.
Tom rolled up his jeans.” Gwen agreed. Don’t pull it tight or the sail could catch the wind and the boat take off without me.” he shouted. she couldn’t tell because he didn’t register any obvious emotion. “And keep y our eyes on that sail. The sail flapped violently. do you?” “Don’t argue with me. Inwardly. Down the river. Gwen was lost in its folds. Maybe Brock and Niki will help him. “You do?” she checked. It budged sli ghtly but not enough.” “You can’t go by yourself. “You get in and I’ll push. its bow bobbing in the choppy water but its stern still on the cement. An inexperienced sailor on a ro ugh trip like this could get him into a lot of trouble.” Gwen agreed. “Isn’t that sort of sexist?” Gwen objected. She looked at the center pole and the bottom pipe attached to it. running around the side and hopping into the boat. though. It occurred to Gwen that insisting on coming along with Tom might not have been the best idea she ever had. It had ta ken them over an hour to unload the boat and rig it.” Tom shouted to her. push it forward!” Tom shouted to Gwen. positioning the centerboard.” he told her. “I always wan ted to learn to sail. “Just be prepared to run. especially not with you standing in it. and getting onto the river would be awesome. too. “Which i s the mast?” Gwen asked.” They were at the public dock space down on the Hudson. That reminds me—get your life vest on. “But the sail?” Gwen reminded him. The mai nsail swung on its mast and bumped him. “Yeah. turning away so he wouldn’t see how disappoint ed she was by his answer.” Tom interrupted.” he told Gwen. Tom threw his weight into pushing the boat forward.” Gwen watched his face carefully for his reaction to this idea. Now it was on the ramp leading into the river.” “I think I can do it. “I think it would be great if you came along. Pitching the ir bodies into the hull. especially when he was s till trying to recall all his dad had taught him a long time ago about sailing. setting in the one mainsail . Ther e have got to be pharmacies open. and I have to. she cringed at the look of frustration on his f ace. and there was no turning back.” he sai old it loosely.” It was nearly a minute before Gwen realized she was standing there simply grinning. “But you don’t know how to sail. “Hang on to the rope that runs along the mast. “Go! Go! Go!” Tom shouted. I’ve felt kind of coo ped up here.” “Okay. “Okay. Make sure it doesn’t whip around and clonk you in the head. The moment she let go of the sa il’s line. but the expression of exasperation on his face compelled her to shrug it on over her shoulders. snapping in the wind. I have a bunch of neighbors who need their medicine. “I can’t budge this. preparing to argue with Tom.” Tom told her. surprised. I’m coming with you. My mom has pneumonia and no pharmacy in town can fill her antibiotic prescription. She grabbed the rope…line…whatever…nearest to the sail. it began to flutter wildly. “You’re going to have to help me. pulling it hard with o ne hand while drawing in the main line with the other. There was no sense worrying about it now. They splashed into the icy river. and she didn’t want to wear it in front of Tom. things are better.” Tom said thoughtfully. Gwen sighed.” Tom gazed at her.” Gwen opened h er mouth to speak. “Somebody’s got to hang on to the sail’s line.” Tom warned. speak ing over the wind coming off the river. “Are you nuts?” Gwen replied. “I suppose so. “Hector can do it. She was here. but the realization of what he’d j ust said stopped her.” Gwen didn’t think the life vest was probably her best look. feeding more slack into the line. but he pushed it aside. she knew what he planned to do and it worried her. With the two of them pushing. “This?” “Yes! That’s it. Tom was instantly at the rudder. pounding them b ack just to get clear before ducking away. “Lower the centerboard!” he y . attaching the rudder. “Who will tak e care of things here?” he asked.” “We’re not even sailing yet. So don’t argue with—” “I’m not a rguing. She ran back and joined Tom in shovin g the back end of the sailboat.” Gwen insisted. He’d already kicked off hi s sneakers. “So? What’s the difference? wen asked with a shrug. “It’s in the truck. When he stepped out.” “Would it be better to take the canoe?” “The sailboat is a lot faster than the canoe. “I’m a fast learner and you could show me what I need to know. “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 boat slid abru ptly into the water. so aking themselves. the water made his feet instantly numb. How would he feel about Brock and Niki being together while he was gone? However he felt.“Did you get the sailboat?” Gwen asked. one hand gripping the boat’s main line. It’s a big deal—and a small boat. “Which rope do I grab?” “It’s called a line.” Gwen insisted . the other shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare.” “Okay. tying in the lines.
“Why aren’t we going? What’s wrong with this sail?” Gwen asked. “Stay low!” Tom said. in the middle of the boat. “The what?” Gwen replied loudly just as the boat leaned heavily to th e right.elled to Gwen. Get up fron t left and paddle. Gwen f ound the lever that dropped the board down into the hull. “There. so we can’t move forward.” Gwen did as he said. She gripped the side of the hull to keep from going overboard.” “What’s that?” “The wind is hitting us from both s des. racing them forward. Slow ly he gave it some slack until it was . The boat instantly rig hted. knocking her back. “We’re in irons. That! Lower it!” Lunging to it. They sped ahe ad. gripping the white rope. Tom nodded his head toward a board jutting up from the center of the boat’s hull. “That stabilizes it. wildly out of control. There’s an oar on the bottom of the boat. Gwen flattened her body ag ainst the bow and watched him pull in the line until the sail became tight. and gradually she felt the sailboat turn. pushing her windb lown hair from her eyes. “Whoa!” she shouted as the sail suddenly caught.” Tom explained as he continued to push the rudder to the right. for several yards before Tom was able to pull in the main line.
On an impulse. Gwen shifted to the back of the sailboat beside Tom. it didn’t stop the oil from running out. Gwen rem embered seeing Tom in his yard the night his father died. or maybe later. “Right now.” Tom replied. she kissed him on the lips. Does that sound crazy?” “A little.” Adjusting her position for a more comfortable one restin g her back against the side. and I’m happy we’re going there together.” Returni ng his smile. Gwen thought a moment. settling in to the hull. “I heard Wes tchester is almost back. his right hand holding the main line and his le ft on the tiller that controlled the rudder. G lancing outside the sailboat. in a way. pressing his lips into hers. she gues sed. No hum of an engine. too. He looked to Gwen and smiled.” Tom suggested. “What should I do now?” she asked.” Gwen said. He seemed peaceful. Maybe it was the end of the world—that world. maybe even more so. she lost herself in watching the racing water spla sh against the boat’s side. Then what? No more gasoline engines. she saw he was also lost in thought as he lay against the back of the sailboat.” “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. t he planet where people lived by oil and died for it. How would they survive without it? It seemed so impossible to go on. The mercy of the river. “Just watch me and I’ll explain what I’m doing. “I hope we don’t have to go all the way to Manhattan. . Growing. Not having plastic was as huge as not having gasoline. which means it’s behind us. Had that night seemed like the end of the world to him? It must have.” “You are? Really?” T om nodded and kissed her again. The sky above was clear with fat. getti ng into a more relaxed position. and then later I’ll let you try. I’m glad you came with me.full with wind but under control. not at all like he was worried about this journey. Righ t now all I have to do is make small adjustments in direction to keep the sail f ull. some soldier from one side or the other was probably dying in this fight over oil. It was his father who had taught him to sail. Planting. we’re running with the wind . “Because I have a feeli ng we’re going to the world that comes after the end of the world. At that very minute in Vene zuela.” “What if it was blowing into us?” Gwen asked. Sooner. but I think I know what yo u mean. It’s good that we’re together. And no matter how hard they fought. Was this how it was going to be again? Sailing. his eyes on the sail but with a faraway look. No fumes. white cloud mountains. no more concrete. “We did it. The world was such a different place without oil. What wasn’t made of plasti c these days? Looking back at Tom. The fate of the weather. Tom startled but then returned the kiss . “What was that for?” he asked when they pulled apart. Walking. not sure how to put it into words. no more plastic. Stretch ing forward. but I’ll explain that later. Was he thinking about his father now? Probably.” “I don’t think we will. Gwen slid into the hull. This was what it once was like: boats pushed by wind. “Then we’d have to tack back and forth. all the oil would run out—like it or not. Gwen stretched her arms out and let the sun hit her cheeks and forehead.
This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. h ydrogen. 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.” Senator Rambling. solar. 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. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. 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. 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.” . 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. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement. and the like. and other renewable sources like corn oil. “Like Texas. Canada. Alaska. had this to say.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.S. magnetism. Shame on them!” In response. Thomas Rambling. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. sen ator from Massachusetts. since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years.
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.
” “Okay. dark-haired woman pharmacist told him.” he told the pharmacist. and get home. “Let me see w hat I can get you. grab some food.” the tall.” . I have a really weird feeling so mething bad’s going to happen.Tom had come to the front of the line and laid down his prescriptions. Then he turned to Gwen and said. “I can’t fill every one of these. “Le t’s get this stuff.
CHAPTER 21 Niki sat beside Brock on the tan couch in the basement of the Whippersnapper 3. Tom told her about the fighting in Sage Valley an d advised her not to tell anyone else about the Whippersnapper 3. It was a good thing Gwen had come with him since she’d been such a big help. Mr.” Mrs. Being here with Brock had been ple asant. He told her it was foggy and he couldn’t exactly tell. Curtin picked his cell phone off the desk and punched in a number. but that th ey were hugging the shoreline so they didn’t veer to the far side of the river. he told her. Sage Valley was still not back on the electric grid. Cur tin agreed. Curtin at the computer wat ching a YouTube video on installing solar panels. Curtin. He was afraid. He was there with a man w ho looked like he must be his father. He was even able to send her a photo tak en from the Internet of brawling going on in downtown Sage Valley. “Okay. “Maybe I can find out what’s happening. “Maybe yo u should sail the boat. “I’m calling the county sheriff’s department.” Mr.” Niki showed him the picture from the Internet. jo . See you soon.” Mrs. Niki looked the group over. raised his palms. Curtin allowed them to do before the workshop officially started. but luckily the little they had was blowing north in their d irection. People in town are fighting back and it’s getting bad . People from Ma rietta are looking for the food they’ve heard we have here. and neither were most of the surrounding towns. “Be-what?” Niki questioned. “Let’s have some of the fruit smoothies Hector made from the plants in o ur upstairs garden and then get started.” Tom told her what Luke had told Gwen. Curtin asked.” Niki clicked off the call and blinked away the rising tears before they fell free. Mrs. “Okay. Carlos Hernandez.” Mr. The ringtone on Niki’s phone sounded and she looked down to see who it was. “I want us to start small. It was over betwe en them before it really began. The video was called Renewab le Energy: A Do-It-Yourself Guide.” he said. But what are you saying about fighting? How can that be possible? Towns don’t attack each othe r. She knew about a quarter of them. They didn’t need a crowd of people here all desperate to recharge. “What do you think we should do?” she asked. Niki found Mr. not far from the post office. Th ere wasn’t much wind. “I told you to wear gloves. as Mrs. It was in his voice and the way he said Gwen’s name. Getting off the couch. He said he didn’t know a nd to ask the Curtins what they thought. “Too late. Curtin told the group. Curtin reminded him with a good-natured shrug. “Tom just called. “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. “I have the sliced hands to show for it. “Hector contacted the Curtins about holding the workshops here. or bought inexpensively from the car salvage and the recycle center. you did. 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. Tom. She also recognized Tom’s friend. They were watching the informational DVD that Mary Curtin was showing to the twe nty people who were attending one of her workshops. revea ling red lines. He had sailed all the way down and needed a break. and for long stretches of time distracted her from worrying about what wa s happening with Gwen and Tom. Curt in was blown away by the place. It was a welcome s ound. so good to feel connected to the world around her again. she knew it. It made Niki ner vous that so many people now knew there was electricity to be had out here in th e forest.” Mrs. the guy who owns the Whippersnapper Corporation. Where are you?” There was a pause.” Niki t old him.” “What’s going on?” Mrs. “We’re going to start by building small greenhouses from scrap glass and metal my husband and I have collected fro m the dump. Good luck. but it passed quickly. It meant stuck. Niki hoped they hadn’t j ust come to the workshop to charge their phones. Tom’s exact words rang in Niki’s ears and caused a tingle o f emotion below her eyes. who had been standing in a corner listening.” He said Gwen was doing a great job. that the wind would die out altogether and they would be becalmed. she’d learned really fa st. others she’d simply seen around town through the ye ars. There were several teachers from school. It sounds like they’re l ooting and just going crazy. though. “That. Curtin said to the group. a nd Niki could picture Tom gazing around the river embankments trying to ascertai n his location. Gwen learned to sail faster th an anyone I’ve ever known. some were parents of h er friends on the cheer squad. And listen to this—she even went to grad school wi th Ricky Montbank.” he told her.
“You can’t talk to a mob.” cried a man from the workshop.” “We have to fight them. “This isn’t my house.” Mr. “I just heard about it on the web feed from my phone. “Someone hurled a rock through the f ront window!” he told them.” he volunteered.” Mrs. Curtin. glass shattered. “I’ll go up there and try to talk to them. Curtin worried.ining them. “No. Curtin suggested. I don’t need to defen d it. The way out is blocked. “We can get out this way. “I’m going. “Maybe we can talk to them calmly.” he said.” said a white-haired woman. “We have to stop them. Curtin disagreed. “It’s those rich creeps from Marietta.” a woman said.” From upstairs. “I just get a busy tone. but you can be safe there unti l these Marietta guys leave. “I can’t get through to the sheriff.” Mr. Cur tin reported. Hector clamb ered down the stairs.” Another sound of shattering glass made Niki jump. it’s too dangerous.” another of the men disag reed as he found a large kitchen knife among the supplies. They’re in Sage Val ley to steal our supplies. “I’ll go with you. It can be locked behind us. We can clim b up into the mine shaft.” Brock stood beside Mr.” Mrs. his face full of alarm. . Carlos stood and joined Brock. Hector scrambled down the stairway and hurried toward the side door that led to the mining tunnel Gwe n had shown him.” a man from the workshop o bjected. Niki told her what she knew. “Those solar panels are goi ng to cost a lot to replace.” “I’m not running like a coward.
More glass broke and now Niki could hear frantic. Her heart pounding with fear. A line of blood gushed f rom his forehead.” Mr. “I have a house in M arietta. Maybe I’ll know some of the people and I can talk to them.” “Well. It took a moment for Nik i to realize what was crashing through the woods toward them. too. and the rest of the remaining nine from the Sage Vall ey workshop group followed. Niki ducked her head as a tremendous wind shook the trees. Brock stepped out behind Luke. Looking to both sides. frozen where they stood. I’m not standing down here waiting to be killed. still clutching Brock’s hand. Brock looked at her. They held clubs a nd chains in a successful effort to appear as menacing as possible. On the first floor. The sound of roaring engines came toward them. “Oh.” Niki said. Curtin implored as he went toward the bro ken window. “You’re not going?” Brock asked Hector. Niki took Brock’s hand. Mr.” Hector pulled the door open and eleven people left quickly. knocking him into his wife. “No—stay back here. letting o of her hand.” Hector reported from the top o f the stairs. some with rocks in their hands. “Stay calm and there’s enough here for everyone. Mr. “You people ar e invading private property. With his worried eyes still on t he stairs. Hector. “No way.” Niki said.“I’ll go with him. she saw about ten other bikers. maybe. “That’s it!” cried the man with the kitchen knife. Niki went ou t. open the door and let anyone out who wants to leave. Curtin raised his arms to se ttle the crowd.” “Then why haven’t you shared it already?” shouted a woman outside.” she told Brock. Brock squeezed it and kept walking with her.” Luke said. “They’re almost in. “That’s Gwen’s brother. Frightened. “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. “They’ll see me as a neighbor. Niki stepped back in fear. Curtin headed toward the stairs and started going u p. ex cited voices coming from upstairs. The Marietta peopl e outside were equally stunned by the sight. “Just in time. “Please. .” Brock remarked. A motorcyc le pulled up in front of the Whippersnapper 3 and a leather-clad male figure jum ped from his bike. ready to stamp ede in. calm down!” Mr. Broken glass lay all over the floor and people were starting to climb through the shattered front panes. the wail of police sirens could be heard. Kicking away more sharp glass at the panes.” said the man with the kitchen knife. surprised. “I’m goi to help him. “Come on!” Behind him were at least twenty people. “We’re not going to j ust stand here and take this!” The people behind surged forward but then stopped a bruptly. A police helicopter hovered just above the trees.” “I’ll come with you. and did I mention the police are on their way?” Luke shouted over the thundering of the police chopper. “and me and my buddies are here to make sur e you don’t. Niki reco gnized him.” In the distance. “Remember to lock it shut from your side. Niki let him get a few paces ahead and then followed him toward t he window. and Carlos went out behind him. You’ll get killed.” he replied. too.” Niki said.” Brock disagreed. “Those peo ple are throwing rocks. When the rider pushed back the visor on his helmet. “No one will get killed or even hurt if we keep our heads. everyone. “And mis s all this action? Never. Mary Curtin joined him.” “Are you crazy?” a man from the workshop said.” he remin ded the last one out. Curtin turned toward her voice just as a rock hit him in the head.
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. George Amos of Marietta. Our kids are hun gry and sick. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. medicine. 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. We figured if he had food to deliver.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. speaking from the county ja il. but when we couldn’t find anything. We came intending to buy it. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck.” . there must be more of it. I guess we got craz y.
” he was saying to Mrs. Mary.” Mrs.” Ni ki said. as were the nearly sixty or so other residents of Sage Valley.” Tom told her. As it drew ahead. don’t you. you have to be more publicity oriented. just as reported. “Hey. most of whom were also participants in Mary Curtin’s effort. I’m letti ng you all stay here because the time is right to sell this kind of home.” Hector teased. causing him to startle.” Gwen commented to Tom. it would be sunny and cool. are you rea dy for today? Where’s Tom?” Gwen threw on a white terry robe as she followed Larry o ut the door. wiping her glasses on her sweater. each time having to go less and less far since towns closer to home were beginning to recover. O nce spring came. She’d been staying there with the Curtins ever since she and Tom re turned from their journey downriver two weeks earlier. all right. Brock. “I think what you want to do is remarkable. it would only be had by the very rich or the very powerful. “Thanks. He smiled at her warmly as he returned the gesture. “No kidding?” Gwen asked. gazing around at the closed. “Okay. toilet tissue. Curtin. Curtin requested.” Gwen replied. In his bike basket were some of the toiletries he and Gwen had picked up during their l ast trip down the river: shampoo. Next door. who was seated in back. and my Whippersnapper Corporation is delighted to support it. I’m g oing to grab a bite and come right back. She knew it would be brisk out because t hey’d been checking the weather report frequently. They were all riding new bicycles donated by Ricky Montbank’s company. she heard voi ces talking amiably. “Nice of you to get up. “He knows a dirt road around the back way up. Outside her room. Hopefull y. razors.” “So no press. boarded-up stores. This event today will bring lots of attention to the company.” M . poking him playfully.” Gwen told them. “He has horses that can pull wagons. Ricky Montbank had p romised to have it replaced before the week was out. Beside him. toothpaste. This.” Ricky Montbank said. Climbing the stairs to the garden ro om. the abandoned cars. “Be right back. waved to them. Hector. Curtin told Gwen as she passed by. hoping for a good day.” “How are they getting around the trees?” Brock asked. owner of the Whippersnapper 3. Folks in Mariet ta are used to being on the winning side. Carlos. Even if there was gas to be had. “Please. Brock and Niki were ahead of them. could be heard above those of Mr.” Mr. Marietta is a wreck. “I’m glad to do it. “They’re all upstairs getting r eady. We don’t want anyone to be embarrassed. relenting.” “Of course! Of course it’s the right thing. “Go have your breakfast and then we need help carrying these baskets out. “W ow. was how they would survive. The town—and its citizens— would never be connected to the world in the same way again. and so on. Gwen rolled over and gazed around her small bedroom in the Whi ppersnapper 3. to make Sage Valley a completely energy self-sufficient town.” “That’s not really why we’re doing it. there would be a program of local farming as well. Gwen found Niki.” Gwen pulled her bicycle alongside Tom’s as they rode into Marietta. there were going to be some hard times. Larry. The police would need it and the army would need it. And until the area started using wind power or nuclear power or some other kind of power to fuel electricity. and she swung herself out of bed to open it just eno ugh to let Larry wander in. she ruffled his fur. “Yeah. People like Gwen and Tom weren’t going to be on that priority list. a nd we’re going to load them up with the food. a horse sputtered.” “Oh.” Niki explained. They were seated at the table in front of what used to be the solar window. Curtin said. and Tom filling baskets with fruits and vegetables from the garden room. its ope n cart filled with baskets of produce. 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. the trash in the streets. underwritten by a grant from Whippersnapper.CHAPTER 22 Saturday morning. Tom nodded. waving sleepily to the Curtins and Ricky Montbank. We have a guy coming at nine with a bunch of horses.” There w as scratching at Gwen’s door. Ricky? We just belie ve it’s the right thing to do. The robust and distinctly Australian tones of Ricky Montban k. and Mrs. Smiling. Cur tin. “You understand that. and we don’t want them humiliated by thi s. ultima tely. “But if you’re going to make Sage Val ley a showcase for green living. Hector.” he said. She found Tom across the garden r oom and waved to him.” “Yo u’re welcome. They’d sailed at least a do zen more times since then. “We are pioneers traveling west . “I feel like a pioneer traveling west.
the one people had flocked to just a month earlier. Curtin said. Be sure everyone gets a flyer telling them about our energy workshops and programs in town. helping the volunt eers from Sage Valley to set up their food and supply stands. she noticed that people from Marietta had already realized wh at was going on and were streaming into the gas station area. “Start setting up your stands around this gas station. maybe something better—some thing like what was happening right then and there—was really possible after all. Can you believe it?” “Yeah?” Tom asked. “I think so. Looking around. we’r e not taking any money for this.” With a roar.. It was exactly how she saw them.” Gwen said to Tom. 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. “I learned a lot when I converted my truck. Maybe the wor ld didn’t have to be a pit of greed and overconsumption. “Listen to this. The crowd quieted to hear Mary Cu rtin yell out. “They’ll come. “Luke knows the guy who refitted your truck for ethanol. Do you think they might want some help teaching it?” “You’d want to do that?” Gwen asked. It’s a gesture of goodwill. the one with the private fuel tanker. “They’re still hurti ng for food and supplies. The procession stopped at an abandoned gas station. Remember. until it felt like it filled her.” “What if no one comes out?” a man on a bike asked.” Mr. and they’re teaching a workshop on how t o do it together down at Ghost Motorcycle. int erested.” Gwen pointed out. . as pioneers.” Gwen smiled at hi m. Luke and his pals made a grand show of rid ing in with the Sage Valley group.
And now the new world was beginning. .It was true—the world had ended.
. Reincarnation. and Distant Waves. including The Bar Code Tattoo. She lives in a valley in New York state.ABOUT THE AUTHOR SUZANNE WEYN is the acclaimed author of many novels that delve into the worlds o f science fiction and history. The Bar Code Rebel lion.
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