SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that same year. Vows to Support Venezuela The fighting in Venezuela. to the loss of the hybrid-car initiative in the U. centered just outside the city of Maracay. the use of battery-powered cars and gene rators is seen as increasingly crucial. As oil grows ever scarcer.S.S. has been b rought to a temporary cease-fire in recent days while U. The U. 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. In the eleven years since. and new trade agreements with the U. Any stall in talks with Bolivia could ha ve dire consequences for the global economy. the Bo livian PRP has become the ruling party of Bolivia.S. in part.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Bolivia Backs Out of Lithium Trade Talks With U.S. and Japan have opened the doors to renewed interest in hybrid vehicle development. . When the lithium fields of Bolivia were seiz ed by the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP).” Their insistence on tightly cont rolling trade and pricing agreements led. with fuel-efficient cars taking their pl ace. 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.S. diplomats hold emerge ncy sessions with Bolivian representatives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We came intending to buy it. George Amos of Marietta. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. I guess we got craz y. In one of the most shocking displays of violence.” . but when we couldn’t find anything.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. Our kids are hun gry and sick. medicine. We figured if he had food to deliver. 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. there must be more of it. close to approximat ely fifty citizens of Marietta township descended on the semirural town of Sage Valley—many of them on foot due to the current ongoing gas shortage—in search of muc h-needed food. speaking from the county ja il.

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

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

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

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

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