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