SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS

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

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

10 YEARS FROM NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no t part of the problem. Ask your representative how you can purchase a Whippersna pper 3 Green Home today. From its third-floor greenhouse to its fully straw bale–insulated basement. For a one-time start-up cost of about five tho usand dollars. With an initial kick start from battery power. . We hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the Whippersnapper 3 Gr een Model Home. 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.You have reached control central. producing up to twenty-four kilowatts of power per day. Be part of the solution. This amazing new generator from a visionary Australian invent or will completely power the Whippersnapper 3 home. this home is a completely self-sustaining answer to many of the fuel e mergencies bound to face the planet in coming years.

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

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

. On ly. and she quickly brushed them away . This question was one more thing she didn’t particularly want to think about. somehow. 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. Niki couldn’t manage to put it out of her head. would she be just like her father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Said President Waters: “Venezuela has cynica lly engaged us in warfare and dragged Bolivia into the fight rather than admit i t has no oil left in its fields. Thomas Rambling. “Like Texas. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. sen ator from Massachusetts.” . This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. Alaska. policy. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. h ydrogen. Canada. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. 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. had this to add: “When are we going to get it throug h our heads that oil is a nonrenewable resource? The future is in wind. Non e of these alone can replace oil and so we must throw ourselves wholeheartedly i nto developing every source of renewable energy—nothing less than our survival as a global community depends on it. Shame on them!” In response.” Senator Rambling. magnetism. and other renewable sources like corn oil. since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years. 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.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. solar. and the like.S. had this to say.

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

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

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

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They didn’t need a crowd of people here all desperate to recharge. Gwen learned to sail faster th an anyone I’ve ever known. Curtin told the group. “Be-what?” Niki questioned.” Niki showed him the picture from the Internet. you did. “I have the sliced hands to show for it. he told her. It was over betwe en them before it really began. Where are you?” There was a pause. And listen to this—she even went to grad school wi th Ricky Montbank. that the wind would die out altogether and they would be becalmed. He said he didn’t know a nd to ask the Curtins what they thought. as Mrs. Tom.” He said Gwen was doing a great job. There were several teachers from school. “Hector contacted the Curtins about holding the workshops here. The video was called Renewab le Energy: A Do-It-Yourself Guide.” “What’s going on?” Mrs. It made Niki ner vous that so many people now knew there was electricity to be had out here in th e forest.” Mrs. the guy who owns the Whippersnapper Corporation. she’d learned really fa st. Mrs.” Niki t old him. some were parents of h er friends on the cheer squad. Tom told her about the fighting in Sage Valley an d advised her not to tell anyone else about the Whippersnapper 3. revea ling red lines. “Maybe yo u should sail the boat.” Mr. “Too late. Sage Valley was still not back on the electric grid. others she’d simply seen around town through the ye ars. It was a good thing Gwen had come with him since she’d been such a big help. Curtin picked his cell phone off the desk and punched in a number. “I told you to wear gloves. “Okay. “Okay. Curtin said to the group. Being here with Brock had been ple asant. It sounds like they’re l ooting and just going crazy. Curt in was blown away by the place. though. 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. It meant stuck. It was in his voice and the way he said Gwen’s name. Curtin. People in town are fighting back and it’s getting bad . Niki looked the group over. Curtin asked. Niki hoped they hadn’t j ust come to the workshop to charge their phones. The ringtone on Niki’s phone sounded and she looked down to see who it was. She knew about a quarter of them. Tom’s exact words rang in Niki’s ears and caused a tingle o f emotion below her eyes. raised his palms. or bought inexpensively from the car salvage and the recycle center.” Mr. Curtin at the computer wat ching a YouTube video on installing solar panels. Curtin allowed them to do before the workshop officially started. “I’m calling the county sheriff’s department. It was a welcome s ound. They were watching the informational DVD that Mary Curtin was showing to the twe nty people who were attending one of her workshops. “What do you think we should do?” she asked. and neither were most of the surrounding towns. but luckily the little they had was blowing north in their d irection.” he said. but it passed quickly. But what are you saying about fighting? How can that be possible? Towns don’t attack each othe r. “Tom just called. People from Ma rietta are looking for the food they’ve heard we have here. but that th ey were hugging the shoreline so they didn’t veer to the far side of the river.” Mrs. “Let’s have some of the fruit smoothies Hector made from the plants in o ur upstairs garden and then get started. so good to feel connected to the world around her again.” Mrs. and for long stretches of time distracted her from worrying about what wa s happening with Gwen and Tom. “I want us to start small.” he told her. Niki found Mr. not far from the post office. “Maybe I can find out what’s happening. She also recognized Tom’s friend. Good luck. who had been standing in a corner listening. “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. a nd Niki could picture Tom gazing around the river embankments trying to ascertai n his location. See you soon. He had sailed all the way down and needed a break. she knew it. Curtin reminded him with a good-natured shrug. Mr.” Niki clicked off the call and blinked away the rising tears before they fell free.CHAPTER 21 Niki sat beside Brock on the tan couch in the basement of the Whippersnapper 3. He was afraid. He told her it was foggy and he couldn’t exactly tell. “We’re going to start by building small greenhouses from scrap glass and metal my husband and I have collected fro m the dump. He was there with a man w ho looked like he must be his father. jo .” Tom told her what Luke had told Gwen. Getting off the couch. “That. Th ere wasn’t much wind. Carlos Hernandez. 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 said. They’re in Sage Val ley to steal our supplies.” Brock stood beside Mr. “I’m going. We can clim b up into the mine shaft.” a man from the workshop o bjected. “I’ll go up there and try to talk to them.” “I’m not running like a coward. his face full of alarm.” he volunteered. “You can’t talk to a mob. “We can get out this way. “Someone hurled a rock through the f ront window!” he told them. Niki told her what she knew.” Another sound of shattering glass made Niki jump. Curtin. “I just heard about it on the web feed from my phone.” a woman said. “This isn’t my house. “I’ll go with you. Cur tin reported. “Those solar panels are goi ng to cost a lot to replace.” another of the men disag reed as he found a large kitchen knife among the supplies.” “We have to fight them. Curtin disagreed.” cried a man from the workshop. It can be locked behind us.” Mrs. I don’t need to defen d it. “It’s those rich creeps from Marietta. it’s too dangerous. “No. Hector scrambled down the stairway and hurried toward the side door that led to the mining tunnel Gwe n had shown him.” Mr. Curtin worried. “Maybe we can talk to them calmly.” From upstairs.ining them. “I can’t get through to the sheriff. Curtin suggested. “We have to stop them.” Mr. The way out is blocked. Carlos stood and joined Brock.” Mrs.” said a white-haired woman. but you can be safe there unti l these Marietta guys leave. “I just get a busy tone. glass shattered. Hector clamb ered down the stairs.

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

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speaking from the county ja il. 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. Our kids are hun gry and sick. We came intending to buy it. but when we couldn’t find anything. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. made this statement to the press: “We came because we read the article about t he mysterious guy in the orange canoe delivering fresh produce. medicine.” . I guess we got craz y. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. there must be more of it. We figured if he had food to deliver. George Amos of Marietta.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.

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

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

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

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

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

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