SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS

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

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

10 YEARS FROM NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 . “No.a good mood that night. Gwen studied Niki for a brief moment. In fact. she decided to take the stuff off as soon as she got home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down in the parking lot. Stop! You’re going to kill him!” . “What’s happening?” she asked a girl who had come into focus to her right. There was more shouting. ano ther crash of broken glass. 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. Niki inched her way fo rward. More curses. Most of the shouting was indistinct. “Some of the Mar iner players have sucked the gasoline from our cars.e well enough to take several steps forward along with the crowd around her. she could make out a clea r sentence: “Stop hitting him. motors revved but wouldn’t start. Occasionally.” “Are you kidding?” Niki gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eleanor Crane. tempers flared over several incidents of gasoline siphoning. requiring Sage Valley students under the age of eighteen to be in their homes after eight o’cloc k. In response. threatened legal action. Several students re quired hospitalization from injuries sustained before county police arrived to s top the fighting. especially considering the general blackout condit ions that have occurred in Sage Valley. 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. These threats were me t with calls for countersuits from Sage Valley parents. The window smashing was the catalyst for an all-out brawl between students from the two schools. whose ch ildren and vehicles were injured. For years. Frank Hoba rt.” . Several Marietta parents. has instituted an emergency curfew. suspected of instigating the siphoning. Angry words escalated to violence when a tire iron was used to smash the front windshield of Marietta’s team captain. It’s just safer for students to stay insid e. Numerous arrests were made.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. At this year’s event. “This is a sensible measure. the mayor o f Sage Valley.

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Jones was no longer at her home. so a rson is not suspected. They may face f ines for the improper storage of gasoline leading to a fire.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. Lucas Jones. Police are currently searching for these two. The homeowner. 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. yesterday. was not located there. and Gwendolyn Jones. was not insured. a senior at Sage Valley High School. Police tried to locate Gwendolyn Jones. Her neighbors said they’ve suspected Mrs. It has been discovered that Mrs. . could not be found for questioning. nor was he at Vinnie’s Tattoo. Also missing are Lucas Jones. Charred and melted containers containing small amounts of gasoline were found when fire fighters arrived. known to frequent a motorcycle shop known as Gh ost Motorcycle. Mrs. 17. Jones relocated over two years ago to the state of Florida . but she did not arrive at school and her whereabo uts remain unknown. Leila Jones. 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. and are also suspec ted of selling black market gasoline. 20. 38. but s aid that her children let it be known that their mother had taken ill and was be dridden. another of h is known hangouts. The house. It is not be lieved that either of them was home when the fire started. a former barten der at the Happy Corners Lounge. which was about to go into foreclosure due to unpaid property taxes. most likely at elevated prices.

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Local municipalities in our region are laying in f ood and water supplies at local schools and shelters. In this robotically “manned” facility. Rebuilding the robotic oil refinery is our number one priority. The inability of residents to evacuate due to gas shortages has caused a devastating loss of life in these areas. to the region.500 barrels of crude per day. will not be easily achieved. . Fresh water is also in short supply. and he’s called upon the Navy to repair the robotic platform. Unlike the manned refinerie s that produce only several hundred barrels of crude oil a day.S. robots labor around the clock to extract o il buried thousands of feet beneath the ocean floor. which is expected to be some time in the next four days. Presiden t Waters has sent U. calling OscPearl “a nation al emergency of the first magnitude. trains on the Hudson Line. knocking out nearly all the oil refineries alon g the Gulf Coast. 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.” But experts say that replacing the lost equipment. Sandbagging along the Hudson Ri ver has already begun in an effort to hold back floodwaters. hit land in Texas last night.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Townships Brace for Worst as OscPearl Makes Way Up Eastern Seaboard The superhurricane known as OscPearl. causing incredible damage to the ci ty of Atlanta before washing away the outer bank beaches of North Carolina. 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. local residents are bei ng asked to do everything possible to prepare for the worst. 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. which run along the ea st side of the river. the robotic plat form drills deep enough to produce over 6. including National Guardsmen. could be severely disrupted due to flooding. troops. a combination of hurricanes Oscar and Pear l. exper ts expect OscPearl to lose velocity as it moves north. Though towns along the river tend to be elevated. In our area. Hardest hit was the robotic refinery set out in the Gulf itsel f. especiall y during the current oil crisis. While meteorologists keep their a ttention riveted to the path of this unbelievable storm.

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

and red.” Gwen told herself aloud. She raced into ing past her. “Storms end. 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. letting the cold water from her hair and body soak the dirt floor until a mud puddle surrounded her. Just the wind. She cried for the loss of the selfish wom an who had been the only mother she’d ever had. Rain poured in a sheet. “This will end. built into the side of a hill deep in the Sage Valley woods. A terribl e howl filled the black. Could things be any worse? Her situation was so bad that it was almost funny. this s coming down. She had to er eyes. But where was her bag of food? She’d lost it when th go back to find it. sh ivering. Gwen flattened herself against the wall. one after th e other. open space behind her. Maybe this was the start of somethi ng new. terrifie d. As she scanned the area with h one louder than the last. It stung like crazy. Lowering herself to the dirt floor. The branch that fell before she could get inside had cut her cheek. Her hand came up bloody when sh e wiped it across her face. frightened whisp er. Gwen shivered. Gwen le t out a low chortle of grim laughter that began in her belly and traveled upward . with a few spots of remaining green. gold. Almost. Wars end. she once again let her tears fall freely. She cried for the father she’d never known. e tree had fallen. She hung her head. Rain pelted the leaves in a rhythmic tattoo th at made Gwen imagine knives being thrown from the heavens.” But she couldn’t see an end to any of it. “It’s just the wind. ancient trees fell. a second crack. Outside. Pushing back her soaked hair. crashing into one another and sh attering with the force of bombs. 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. decaying stone. T he wavering image filtering through the waterfall in front of her was nothing bu t a blur of brown. a world of misery without end.” she told herself in a hoarse. and she . She cried because Tom would never be interested in her. Gas shortages end. bouncing off the walls and rattl ing the loose.und the opening just in time. smashing to the ground and shaking it.

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

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

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

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

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But now things have changed. really. in a wildly dramatic way. It’s time to stop the madness. Senator Thomas Rambling (D-MA) stated in a press release today: “As our state s truggles to recover from this horrific storm. . Oil i s still abundant and continues to be the best source of inexpensive fuel. run out of what we have always known was a nonrenew able source of fuel. If indeed global warming is the culprit in the formation of this ruinous storm. Each day! For that reason. London. to wean themselves from their addiction to oil. our entire way of life will have to be revamped in a way most citizens wil l find unacceptable. A senior analyst with the National Hurricane Center likened warm ocean waters to the fuel for a car. scientists at England’s University College . saying: “The last t hing the oil suppliers want is for the American public. The conclusions they are drawing all seem to point in one direction: heat. are busy studying the devastating superhurricane. We import over thirteen billion barrels of oil a day. To be more specific. 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. “This sort of panicky rhetoric undermines the current military effort to open oil fields in Venezuela and elsewhere. claiming that just as high-oct ane gas produces more power.” Mr. the world’s largest consum er of crude oil. warmer ocean waters produce more powerful hurricane s. We have just seen. P erhaps it is already too late. The re searchers speculate that ocean temperatures may be climbing even more rapidly th an atmospheric temperatures. t hough they don’t want anyone to know it. 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. It flows logically from that. p olluting and warming our planet—we should be searching for cleaner alternatives. then we must look to carbon emissions as the underlying c ause. it has always been in the best interest of oil-producing countries to keep prices at a somewha t reasonable level.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.” Senator Rambling is calling for an antiwar rally in Washington by the end of the month. This war with Venezuela is a game of blin dman’s bluff.” President Jeffrey Waters responde d to Senator Rambling with harsh words. costing American lives. but we must try. Many of these oil-producing cou ntries have finally. Rambling rebutted the president’s words. it makes us view the current fuel crisis in a new light. Withou t it. 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.

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

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

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

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

Be part of the solution. the g enerator utilizes magnetic attraction and repulsion to produce five times more p ower than it consumes. this home is a completely self-sustaining answer to many of the fuel e mergencies bound to face the planet in coming years. Ask your representative how you can purchase a Whippersna pper 3 Green Home today. This amazing new generator from a visionary Australian invent or will completely power the Whippersnapper 3 home. no t part of the problem. From its third-floor greenhouse to its fully straw bale–insulated basement. We hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the Whippersnapper 3 Gr een Model Home. For a one-time start-up cost of about five tho usand dollars.You have reached control central. producing up to twenty-four kilowatts of power per day. a homeowner need never pay a single dollar more for electricity i n his or her home. . With an initial kick start from battery power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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plus an almost complete breakd own in their deliveries by rail and truck routes. Desperately in need of s ervices but largely overlooked by agencies busy assisting even harder hit areas.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. It’s late September. and therefore the se products have to be imported since it would be impossible to grow them locall y at this time of year. “Perhaps this individual ha s a boat. and families with ch ildren more quickly than to other townspeople who are more able to find food for themselves. Badly needed pharmaceuticals are also in short supp ly.” Ms. Sage Valley is a town that can be excused for feeling that their government and even their neighboring towns have completely abandoned them. But they have n ot been totally overlooked. “Folks have told me about a person seen traveling a round Sage Valley in an orange canoe.” Ms. Mayor Eleanor Crane tells us. and other sicknesses. “This must be someone with access to th e food markets at Hunts Point in the Bronx. 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. s ince the baskets have found their way to the elderly. flood-re lated respiratory diseases. Crane speculated. hard slog to recovery after Superhurricane OscPearl dev astated much of their semirural town almost a week ago. resulting in a severely deplet ed supply of food and goods.” . 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. Sage Valley residents have been pleasantly surprised to find gift baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables deposited at their front do ors.

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his face was covered in stub ble and his hair bent at odd angles. the back end afloat as the wat er lapped at its side. If they merged.” her father shout ed. pointing to a rectangu lar cedar box behind the boat. though i t was a mild amber version of its former illuminated glory. Maybe they’d gone to relatives closer to town. so Tom is alive. Niki positioned herself low in the hull. It wasn’t easy. In five minutes. After chaining and locking it to a tre e. she had dragged the kayak off its stand of twin sawhorses and pulled it to the shoreline. he’d seemed so crazy about her. Most of her neighbors had left .” he replied. As Niki began walking toward tow n. The glorious days r ight after the hurricane had turned gloomy once more. Train tracks weren’t so flooded anymore. she might be gone. Towns in Westchester and the Bronx had power. it would be another OscPearl situation. 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 news r eport had said some towns not too far away had come back onto the electric grid and their power had been restored. The gray wash of sk y above lent a somber. her thoughts wandered and she remembered the day she’d been stuck there with To . Niki went down the steps to the wet dirt below. but years of handsprings. And there was a pervasive dampness in the air.” They’d drunk the last of their bottled water supply. she’d have gone total ly insane. she didn’t rea lly mind going. Niki couldn’t detect even a single distant engine. Everything had gone silent and wet. What the reports had said seemed true to Niki: It was as if they had been for gotten. It was immediately exhilarating to be out on Lake Morrisey. I will. and thought. The lake had gone down a little. They said they were t oo isolated out here by the lake. and pushed off by digging the paddle into the ground. too. O r even into the city. not when it hadn’t yet recovered from the first one. 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. In lower Westchester. even though it would be miles. stas hed the life vest in front of her. Despite the difficulty. either.” That was an excellent sign that he was getting back to his old self.” she agreed as she leaned i nto the highly polished. she headed up a dirt trail. Sage Valley. though the water was choppier than she’d expected and the breeze stronger than she had guesse d. Manhattan was the first to light up. but everything was still so wet. If they hadn’t had the battery-powered radio. But Marietta. Niki began rowing across the lake. Why didn’t all this water just evaporate? Th e dark clouds overhead probably had something to do with it. pulled the kayak up. knowing it would bring her to Shore Road. It’s also in the chest. especiall y the wealthier ones. though she wasn’t exactly sure where they were leaving to. Returning to the kayak. Her father appeared on the deck in his pajamas. Was he back from his stupor? He seemed to care if she was safe all of a sudden. “Do we have an oar for this kayak?” Niki called up to him. Okay. The last time she’d seen him. “Take a chain and padlock with you. List ening hard. And even that was getting more and more static. That’s an expensive. This morning. wooden kayak. and stowed the oar inside. handmade kayak. Nik i decided. “Where are you going?” “We need fresh water and charcoa l. “In that equipment chest over there. and barefoot. and handstand s had made her strong. From there she could walk to town. “Wear a life vest. Her glasses fo gged and she wiped them on her shirt. but then the charcoal supply slowly dwindled down to a few chun ks. Standing. “Okay. She’d taken some from the lak e and boiled it. the floodwaters were receding enough for trucks to get through and bring in supplies. the front still in the dirt. “Okay. due to the necessity to conserve power. Niki ran back to the chest t o get the long oar with its paddles on either end. cartwheels. she got out. The weather people said th ere were two more hurricanes brewing in the Caribbean. Everyone agreed: The East Coast couldn’t take anoth er superhurricane. Shore Road was eerily deserted—no cars at all. dipping her elbow in an effort to flip it hull-side up. and an orange life vest. and coming bac k she would be dragging charcoal and water. She made a note to he rself to also buy some batteries while she was in town.” Niki nodded and stopped to gaze at him a moment.CHAPTER 18 Niki heard the story about the “mysterious benefactor” in the orange canoe on her mo ther’s radio. almost ghostly gloom. and other nearby towns weren’t as luck y. When Niki reached knee-high water on the other side. That was probably a good sign.

She still had some clean clothing left. What is he doing out here? He started jogging toward her. she was still the perfect girl she’d always been. but it di dn’t seem possible. 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. “Me? Why are you here?” Brock’s crew cut was longer and he was thinner. In August. She knew those broad shoulders and his lumbering walk. 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. What were the chances of meeting Brock out here on the road li ke this? Her mind couldn’t make sense of it. When she even thought of herself. she felt she must have been a different pers on. “Brock?” she asked. Now. Everything had been so different then . Back in August. Niki knew what she was seeing was real. Just a little more than a month and a half had passed. It was as though it was a world away. in glasses taped together with a Band-Aid! It was almost funny—nearly hilarious. 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. she put them back on and peered at him. This girl had unwashed hair pulled into a messy ponytail. But . in fact. Wipin g mist from her glasses. captain of the cheer squad.m. He’d lost that square football-player shape that Niki had always f ound so appealing. 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. yet it seemed so long ago. but now Brock was someone who seemed like he belonged in that o ld world she’d left behind. the one with the swingy blunt haircut. but it wasn’t her fi rst choice of what to wear. Imagine. it would have been a dream come true. “Niki. why are you out here by yourself?” Brock asked brea thlessly when he reached her. Niki Barton.

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

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

Hector led them upstairs to the garden. and he hadn’t meant any harm. . Sorry.” Gwen wasn’t sure how to respond. It was done now. you know…whatever…you’re going out ith her and all…right?” “Sort of…in a way. I didn’t think. and Niki’s like. Th ey just seemed so…lost. I mean.” Tom said when they were gone. “You’re angry that I brought them. 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. Gwen saw now how this quality might have its downside.” she said. you found it.” Tom replied. “I should have thought about how you’d f eel. They’re not friends of yours and this is your place.nod to Niki and Brock. I guess. “They’re your friends. “I understand.

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

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

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

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” Senator Rambling. 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. Thomas Rambling. since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years.S. 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. Canada. solar. h ydrogen. Alaska. sen ator from Massachusetts. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. magnetism.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. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement. 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 like. This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. “Like Texas. 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. had this to say. Shame on them!” In response. 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. and other renewable sources like corn oil. policy.

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.

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

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

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

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

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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.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. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. We figured if he had food to deliver. I guess we got craz y. Our kids are hun gry and sick.” . medicine. We came intending to buy it. George Amos of Marietta. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. 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. but when we couldn’t find anything. there must be more of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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