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SUZANNE WEYN EMPTY SCHOLASTIC PRESS
hilarious pal. who first brought the issue of dwindling fossil fuels to my attention.FOR DAVID M. . Treasured friend. and brilliant filmmaker —thanks for always being willing to bounce ideas with me. YOUNG.
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
He sat that way for a long while before r esting his head down completely on the table. Sometimes she imagined herself going out with Tom. really. And when they wer e having one of their family barbecues. and Sage Valley was now. a welcome and natural part of it. and he looked the type. if only to herself. backward and sitting. the price of elect ricity had gone so high that everyone was cutting back where they could. His red-rimmed eyes were swollen. Gwen backed away slowly. laughing. Even through her flip-flops. Tom’s upper back rose and fell in a measured rhythm that looked like sleep. she was seeing a different picture. She was more likely to mock it. He might not like that she’d seen him so vulnerable. even . With her fingers curled into the metal web of the fence. what he look ed like was only a small part of it. 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. so she b oosted herself over the gutter and inched up. Climbing into her bedroom window. but now she wondered why she thought she could help him. c ozy family setting. Wiping sweat from her fac e. This longing confused her. when she saw him out here in the evenings. to a new housing development. Standing. Of course she liked his looks—who wouldn’t? He could have been a model. letting the screen door slam behind him. fly into a rage if she ever suggested he was anything bu t steely and unemotional. Not a bit like her own home situation. She could barely hang on herself. Some cosmic cook had slowly started cranking the temperature a week earlier. They seeme d so normal and wholesome. and the oil price would not stop ri sing. he wa s shooting basketball or talking on his cell phone. But. her bare feet scratched the raspy roof until she was nea rly at the peak. it was so nice to watch them. but they did n’t really know each other. and buried his head in his hands. with his dark curls and broad shoulders. Gwen left the upper roof and slipped back into h er flip-flops she’d left on the lower level. Gwen’s pulse quickened as Tom emerged from his house. Tonight. She liked imagining herself in that warm. Gwen lifted her gaze to a sagging second level of roof above her. She was up here. Wha t had happened to him? Usually. It wasn’t as though she was stalking or spying on t hem. tall and strongly built. Tom Harris. She guessed that she had more chance of catching a late-night summer draft the higher she went. She wanted to call to him—to ask what was wrong—but then he’d know she’d been watching him. It wasn’t something she would ever admit to. Gwen peered down over the high hedges just behind her house. Squee zing through. Whatever relief she could find out here was better than nothing. Almost as though he sensed her presence.CHAPTER 1 Gwen Jones squeezed out of her bedroom window onto the sizzling roof below. and they just happened to be down there. 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. The feebly whi rring minifan on her night table was no match against the full bake of this nigh t. Tom lifted hi s head. 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. Tom and Gwen had been in several of the same classes. She’d come with t he idea that they would talk like friends. He played foot ball. She cou ld hardly believe they’d both be seniors when school started. that part of her would have liked ve ry much to be there. Kicking off her sliding flip-flops. In the last six months. Outsi de. Tom wa s clearly upset. Something was defi nitely wrong. though. she hurried through the dark kitchen and let the screen door slam behind her. With her knees to her chest. at the end of August. 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 observed him. Gwen’s skin prickled with worry. she sat surveying the valley. She knew it from watching h er older brother. once again fo . Guys could be that way. blasting at full roar. its chipped tiles sparkling under the reflection of the full moon. The dark-haired boy threw himself down hard onto the wooden bench of the picnic table in the Harris’s backy ard. But she had to admit. His app earance always managed to charge Gwen with excitement. Gwen crossed the small yard along the moonlit pathway into the hedges. Luke. On an impulse. she could feel the burn of the shingles. 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.
wooden house with its warped structure and blistered paint. On the other hand. but I just now flew back on my jet. But really. Something in his movements told her he was in one of his states. Due to the rising price of gas oline. And your lights.rcing the scratching hedges to part and let her through. and she was in no mo od to fight with him. and was gl ad not to know. And that even when she wanted to s ay something that might somehow make things better. why should she have to duck her own bro ther? She resented it. everything counted. she never knew how.” Gwen snapped at Luke. scrutinizing her with sharp. she never really knew. though what he did to earn it. But he clicked off his call and turned toward her the moment she stepped into the kitchen. and considered scrambling up to the low roof behind the house and getting into her bedroom that way.” Everyt hing counted. she’d been dependent on Luke. Luke was tu rned toward the wall. avoiding Luke a ltogether. That was what they were learning. he always picked a fight. talking on his cell phone. Maybe she could slip past him. a flight from New York to Paris cost thousands of dollars. Luke wasn’t slurring or weaving.” he grunted sarcastically. No matter how small. Warily. at this time. if things kept going the way they were going. dark eyes. She paused several feet from the back door. . she decided defiantly. “I’m sorry.” Gwen said. either—also a positive. Heading back toward the old. the only thing she was sorry about was th at she was alive in this place. Paris was as far away as the moon. pacing rapidly. talking. When he was like this. There was nothing she c ould do. That was a good sign. Gwen’s should ers tightened. “I went to Paris. “That’s hysterical. “Where’ve y ou been?” he shouted. Gwen saw that the kitchen’s too-bright overhead light had been t urned on. His eyes d idn’t seem bloodshot. “If you’re going to go out. Luke was there. I’m not hiding from him. who’d been a senior back then.” Luke said. And right now. “turn off your fan. they wouldn’t be able to afford the amount of gas it took to get to school. Gwen assesse d the situation. 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. For them. He made the money.
Alaska was going to be the new Saudi Arabia. it might be worth it.” Carlos said. “Do we know her?” “Th at’s Gwen Jones. “Do you really think yo u can get this thing to run?” Carlos asked. which is my goal for this year. “When did she dye her hair black?” Carlos asked in a low voice. “She doesn’t see him anymore. “I hear there’s a guy downtown who will convert an old engine like this and make it more fuel efficient. I guess . th e crunch got tighter and tighter on everyone else. “Hey. The price went higher and hi gher. acknowledging her with a nod.” “What about the father?” “I don’t think anybody ever kne w him. but it conks out on me and I can’t figure out why. They still tried to driv e everywhere. then ducked her head down as though not wanting to be forced into furth er conversation. Why not turn this in for a hybrid or an electric?” “It was my dad’s. “Hey.” Ca rlos remarked. Reserves were depleted. “Anyway. “Yea h. Did she change her hair or something?” “I just told you she did!” Gwen had reached the drivew ay and glanced up at them. “You don’t see gas guzzlers like these anymore. “This thing starts. The girl’s black T-shirt was ripped along the bo ttom hem. yeah.” It had happened quicker than anybody thought it could—country b y country. I also heard that her mother is a drug addi ct who never comes out of the house. “I have to. Tom returned his attention to the engine. looking the brown truck up and down. fixi ng up the truck. Ma ybe he just needed to clean the jets and replace the filter. big deal. B esides.” Tom shoved Carlos just hard enough to ma ke him totter backward a few steps. He didn’t know how to fix that himself and. Alaska was drilled. But there wa sn’t as much oil there as they thought. he guessed. they broke up.” “And the price is getting higher ev ery day.” “So? The guy can pla y football. hi s rolling eyes implying that it would be expensive. No joke. “I heard a rumor that her mother ran off with some guy a few summers ago a nd left Gwen with her older brother. “Who knows? But at twenty bucks a gallon. gangly boy.” “H . but she is. The hoses looked all right.” she mumbled. Her last boyfriend was already a vars ity quarterback junior year. He hoped the proble m wasn’t the catalytic converter.” “I nev er can understand why gas prices are so high. Tom didn’t like to think about it—because there wasn’t all that much he could do about it. “Sorry. I thin k his name is Artie. spiky hair slouching down the sidewalk with a tall. and that’s why nobody ever sees her. He k new for certain that it hadn’t been run all summer.” “Who’s the guy with her?” “Hector something or other.” “How much does that cost?” Carlos asked. How you be?” Tom shrugged.” “The place where all those bikers hang out?” “Yep.” They turned to look at a girl with black. the repair would cost more money than he had. we don’t have money for a new car. He’s bound to be captain this year.” “I’m on the football team. I’m going to need wheels if I ask out Niki Barton.” Carlos agreed pointedly.” Tom studied her as best he could from the corner of his eye.” Tom allowed. “Hey. “I don’t remembe r it looking like that last year. Except. I think. 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.” Tom cast Carlos a puzzled look. aren’t you?” “You think she’s out of my league?” “Maybe.CHAPTER 2 Two weeks later. bending forward for a closer look. “Oh. I don’t kn ow which story is actually true.” Carlos added. She’s been in your grade ever since you got here.” “Very big. Both of them wore baggy khaki shorts. Tom shrugged. And while rich people—really rich people —could still afford to get places. man. but they pretended it wasn’t happening. “That girl is seriously spooky. The boy’s hair was shaven except for a strip of electric green down the middle. the oil had started to dry up. I think. It was right in front of everybody’s faces. They still cranked up their heat in winter and airconditioning in summer. well by well.” Carlos let out a low whistle. Somebody at the top mad e a bundle.” “Whoa! Aiming kinda high. “You don’t want that happening while you’re on the highway.” He leaned in a nd jiggled the battery cables. Carlos Hernand ez strolled over from across the street. “I’m surprised it’s running at all. It’s almost run out. I’m sure. I recognize her now. buddy.” Carlos said once Gwen was out of e arshot. if he had to bring it in. Didn’t the oil companies get the goahead to start drilling in Alaska?” “Yeah. “Could you be shorting out here?” “It’s possible. and they convinced everybody that they ha d hit the mother lode. “It might be worth it to have the car refitted.” Carlos insisted with a smile. He’s homeschooled.” Tom replied. so it doesn’t matter. He does it in a garage behind Ghost Motorcycle. but you’re just now getting onto varsity.” Tom defended himself. “Totally out of your league.” Tom s aid.
he might run into her. But there was n o guarantee she’d show up. before he actually asked her. “Want to go down to Lake Morrisey later? A bunch of us are going to swim. don’t they?” They both s tared back into the engine another moment. . and he didn’t want to be around a lot of people right now . they do look like a set. He’d get a sen se if she might possibly agree to go out with him.” Tom concluded. He pictured Niki: so slim. Niki Barto n had a house on the lake.” he told Carlos. I mean. If she was there. “I’m going to get a new air filter and se e if that helps. her straig ht blond hair swinging around her gracefully athletic shoulders. I don’t think I’ll come. “Naw. but with just the right amount of curves. I still have room in my car. I think so.boyfriend?” “Yeah.” Tom considered it.
You know h ow really sorry I am. of course. “I’ll go get that air filter with you tomorrow. 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. “We’re at war. Carlos headed toward his house. right? Your dad was a great guy.” Tom stood a moment gazing absently at the truck’s engine. His dad’s death had hit him hard.These days. just getting out of bed and maybe checking out the truck was as much as he could manage. Tom went back to his house through the side door.” “Yeah. or about to be. “With who?” “Venezuela. he looked at the screen. The TV was on in the family room off the kitchen.” Walking backward. Jeffrey Waters. Stepping into the room. if you want.” . was at a podium giving a speech. Didn’t you see the headlines?” Tom’s mother said. Carlos draped his arm ac ross Tom’s shoulders. Thanks for coming to the funeral and all. “Okay.” his mother replied. T he president.” he added. and he could see his mot her on the couch watching it. Glad to see you up and around again. “Another time. But his dad had said he wanted Tom to have it.” “Okay.” “He was. anyway. And you’ve got about twenty minutes to change your mind about the lake.” “Venezuel ah. The rest went to Tom’s mothe r. even though he’d known for mo nths that the cancer was winning. pointing to the laptop on the co ffee table. “What’s going on?” Tom asked. “Take a look. It was only the two of them now. The thing probably wasn’t worth fixing.” Tom agreed. “At least he’s not in pain anymore.
Up until this year. known as OPEC. once the world’s eighth-largest crude oil exporter. its purpose was to keep prices of abundant oil from dipping too low. in part. It has also boosted America’s consumption of Venezuelan o il from roughly 20 percent to 60 percent over the last year. but it was only a temp orary reprieve.S. if it weren’t s o insulting.” To th is remark. it was due to the fact that oil fields in the Middle East were runni ng dry at an alarming rate.” The irony of this remark was not lost on President Waters. Venezuelan president Hector Rodriguez replied. “I am simply exercising my country’s right within a free market to set its own price. 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.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. The opening of the Alaskan territory to unregulated d rilling allowed world markets to stabilize.” international security analyst Wanda Schaffer said in a n interview with the North Country News. They’re not coming back until they have their fuel. the United States will not be able to have its armed forces—or anything else. In a speech this morning. who in his speech recalled that when OPEC was first formed. with Venezuel a threatening a total oil embargo if the United States does not withdraw its for ces from the area. he said. must withdraw troops that stand poised to seize oil refineries that suppl y American companies.” . Venezuela.” The United States and Venezuela remain at a stalemate. “It is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain a military presence in South America—primarily because of the cost of fuel. bec ame a petroleum kingmaker. “would be laughable. When five of OPEC’s original eleven members dropped out of the or ganization. At eight hundre d dollars a barrel. This rise in import ed Venezuelan oil is also due. Venezuel a was a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries . Take our price or go elsewhere. An additional condition set by President Rodriguez is that th e U. the recent announcement tha t these Alaskan fields are reaching—or have already reached—complete depletion has r ocked the worldwide stock exchange and driven the price of oil to a record $500 a barrel in recent days. With the advent of horizontal drilling techniques. 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. The idea that there was any place left fo r the United States to go for its oil. “War is inevitable. t he Middle East experienced a brief upsurge in production. to the exhaustion of Canadian oil fields and oil sludge found in sandbanks.S. Canada was the world’s sec ond-largest supplier of oil. However. He threatened to attack the 149 oil refineries that remain in the United States should there be any aggression against the Venezuelan refi neries.
Niki snapped up her glasses from her dresser and put them on. She was captain of the cheerleading squad. He had to have miss ed her—they’d been going together since the eighth grade. She’d gone there with Brock for the last two years. attractive features in the photo. she hadn’t noticed hi m there with the others. You had to be pretty rich to have a speedboat. The Bartons would leave their lake house here in Marietta tomorrow. Before. she tapped th e edge of Brock’s photo with the tips of her manicured nails. Niki crossed to the picture window that looked out onto Lake Morrisey. It wouldn’t suit her image at all to come frolicking down like some puppy excited to play with any new company. her casual notice had regis tered him in her mind as a nice guy. Stepping out onto the elevated ce dar deck facing the lake. practiced touch. making sure to steer clear of the speedboat’s wake. Still. Lean ing forward. she pretty much knew all the athletic types from Sage Va lley High. Niki hesitated. to have some f eeling of summer vacation when he came home every night. as if in tending to launch it. even though she’d been tempted not to bother. She was now glad she’d put the straightening iron to her hair that morning. B-team types. “Need some help with that?” Niki looked u p at Tom Harris. Gazing down at the public beach off to the right of her family’s property. Brock had gone with his family to the ir summer home in North Carolina. she attempted to turn the kayak. Niki inspected Brock’s stron g. but long and awkward to manage. The activity gave her an excuse to be there. Speedboats were really rare now. A motorboat pulled a water-skier along. its carved-out hull facedown. The Marietta lake house also allowed her fa ther. when she was looking from her room. Niki feigned interest in a hand-built. after all. There had to be a wa y to make him see how wrong he’d been to break up with her this past June. and she was there by herself? Nuh-uh. Glancing from the corner of her eye at the raucous group to her right. She glanced out over the lake. no way! She wasn’t going to let herself get into that situation. his thick. All she needed to do was come up with a strategy. Being on the cheering squad. a few swipes with her brush made the silky curtain of blondness shi ne. Donning polka-dotted canvas skimmers and tightening the neck knot of her whi te halter blouse. Niki knew it probably seemed funny to some people that they had a vacation home only one town away from where they liv ed. Now. Niki shifted from e agerness to a breezy nonchalance as she descended the steep stairs to the lake. wooden kayak supported betwe en two sawhorses. she hurried out of her room. A sailfish with a single sail and one passenger moved steadily on the light breeze. dark curls. She noticed for the first time that his haz . And they didn’t have to d rive for all that long to get there. But who should she go with? Tossing off the blanket. Now she could see that the jersey was being wo rn by Carlos Hernandez. who commuted to his office on Wall Street in New York City. She c ouldn’t imagine being there with anyone else. The blasting airconditioning was covering her arms with goose bumps. though she’d neve r paid too much attention to him before this. He was on the football team with Brock. These kids were second-stringers. to retu rn to their all-year home in Sage Valley. With a quick intake of breath. Or a summer house that required a long dr ive. She recognized the particular shade of deep purple of th e Sage Valley football jersey one of the guys wore. she saw a group of teens laughing and joking their way to the water’s edge. And going alone was not an option—what if Brock showed up with some new girl. It had been taken at the bonfire at the end of September last year. Pulling off her glasses. longish. but the two communities were so different that she felt as if much more than the mere five miles separated them. It would be too awkward if she just ra n down to see these kids. She recognized several of the other guys with him.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. but she sudde nly wished she’d found some less strenuous way of looking busy. but she’d heard he was back. The kayak wasn’t rea lly heavy. Once the blanket was in place. At the bottom of the stairs. but hanging with them would at least break the monotony of late summer at Lake Morrisey. This gave th ose below a chance to see her without appearing to notice them. setting her sights on the far shore. Niki found her box of contacts in her top dresser drawer and insert ed them with a deft. she took in his height and athletic bu ild.
” “Oh.” “I knew I’d seen you around here before. Niki licked the hot fudge from her plastic spoon and cut her eyes to Tom. He g rinned a little at that. “They always do.” “So ? We’ll get it from somewhere else.” Tom nodded back toward the classmates he’d arrived wit h.” Nik i said in a breezy tone. hi. supposedly they’re going to cut off our supply. I haven’t seen you all summer. in the driver’s seat of Carlos’s beat-up hybrid. Some thing to do with oil. “I’m sure they’ll figure something out. “Oh. “They’ll live. I heard about that.” she said. it seemed to please him that she’d noticed.” “Won’t your f nds miss you?” Tom shrugged. “I came in Carlos’s car.” “Why was it at the last minute?” Niki asked. . not really a place—just a little lan d with a dock out on the lake. “Don’t you have a place on the lake?” She was pretty sure she’d noticed him around Lake Morrisey before. “Okay. pleased that he was choosing h er over them. Hot out. so I grabbed a ride with th em at the last minute. isn’t it?” “Awful. “Feel like driving into town to get some ice cr eam?” he suggested. “Carlos told me some kids were coming down to swim. “I wasn’t going to go with Carlos at first.” she said. but my mom was all freaked out about us going to war and I couldn’t take listening to her talk about it anymore. isn’t it?” “Yeah. “Is that where you’re going now?” she asked. Tom had a good profile. but I’m sure he’ll lend it to me. Tom. sure. “No.” Niki agreed.” Niki smiled.” Tom assured her. “Naw.el eyes had hints of copper in them.” she said. waving her hand to push away the unpl easant subject.
” “We’ll get there. They’d gotten the ice cream in town and then driven down the long. He was starting to anno y her.” “I don’t believe in worrying. nothing. He pumped the gas pedal hard. “Are you nuts?” Niki asked. “We’re on empty! I just noticed it. Tom waved his arms to hail them. and clearly he could afford to pay Carlos back for the use of the c ar. With a final gasp.” Tom said. if that’s what you mean. “What is it?” “Twenty-nine fifty a gallon for regular? Are they kidding?” “Is that a lot?” Niki asked. “There it is! I told you!” Her smile faded as she noticed the scowl forming on Tom’s face. As it came ever closer. He wore a helmet.” “Yeah.” “There’s a gas station just two miles or so ahead. There’s got to be other stations if we go back to town. attached with duct tape: OUT OF GAS!!! “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. The car made a cranking sound as if despera te to come alive. “I forgot mine. And then. enough to get u s back to the beach. “Where’s your phone?” Niki asked.she decided. in a couple of miles we’ll fin d out who’s right. Tom turned t he key again as the car’s engine sputtered and whined. kicking a cloud of road dust into their faces.” Tom chuckled darkly. “But I can afford one gallon. but it was blocked b y a saw-horse displaying a sign handwritten on white oak tag. jeans.” Niki grinned triumphantly when the Shell station came into view .” Niki hedged. coughing. squinting down the road.” Tom pulled up to the gas station entry. As it g ot closer. Niki considered the questi on. “Did you see that guy? We don’t want to have anything to do with him. Niki stared down the stre tch of unpopulated country road—trees on the left and nothing but tall grasses on the right side. “I don’t pay much attention to gas prices. alarmed. that’s a lot. She sucked in a sharp . though.” Tom pointed out. “You’re an optimist. “I hope you’re right. Niki could see the driver . flat road b ack for several miles before Niki suggested that Tom pull over to eat his ice cr eam before it melted. looking re lieved.” Tom replie re there any more stations down the road?” With a sigh. “What is it?” Niki asked. I wish I’d noticed how long we were riding on empty. .” “Hey—I thought you were the optimist!” he said. Gaseous heat waves undulated at the level of the asphalt.” “It would be c loser to try to get to the beach.” Tom said. A motorcycle was racing toward them very fast. she detected an ever-increasing mosquito-like drone. again.” “Well. will go wrong. They’d walked for five minutes when a spot appeared on the horizon. A holographic message floate d in the air: Refuel battery.” Niki remembered. “I’m not sure. The motorcycle was executing a U-turn.” “I believe Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong.” Tom tol her as he pulled up to the station. but the motorcycle whizzed past. and a vest with cutoff sleeves tha t revealed two arms loaded with bright tattoos. “Good. “I guess we walk. “Maybe. Niki turned. Suddenly. “How can a gas station be out of gas?” “I don’t know. “I can’t believe this!” Tom shouted. “These cars always have a few miles in them once the gauge reads empty.” Tom said as they set out on the roa d. worried breath. following Tom’s gaze. “Or murder us.” “Too late now.” Niki predic ted.” Tom said. and coming right back a t them.” Tom took his thumb-sized phone from his shorts back pocket. sitti ng back hard against the seat. Tom swore under his breath and slapped the steer ing wheel. Someone smaller was seated behin d him. “Hopeful ly someone will come along to give us a lift. it conke d out. heavy black boots. I’m not in the mood for a h ike in this heat.
Gwen wasn’t exactly sure. “Out of gas. one of his pals h ad broken into a closed-down gas station and stolen some. A red flag went up inside Gwen—she didn’t want him coming there. Not really. “I hav e ten more. “Mmm. “Did your car break down or something?” she asked.” Niki glared at him. “How much?” “Forty a gallon. revealing a thin.CHAPTER 4 Luke idled to a stop alongside Tom and Niki.” He didn’t ask what sc hool. though. They were way too different for there ever to be anything—even a friendship—between them. it is.” Tom told him. Gwen slapped a mosq uito. 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. In minutes. just as likely. If he paid her back. “I’ll pay you back.” Luke said. Gwen had never rea lized how many things were made from oil. 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. It’ll cost you.” Niki said. There was no choice. so he was aware of her. in a tone bordering on irritation.” Luke told him. outraged. Luke had explained all this to her. black polish on Gwen’s fingers.” “That’s terrible. “I don’t know. Not that it mattered. I’m going to have to peel all this off if I can’t f ind any nail polish remover in the stores. “But I can get you gas. Niki examined her manicure. Which was mostly true.” Tom sai d. Her eyes darted to Gwen’s black-painted nails.” Had Tom notice d her eyes flash at his words? Gwen had felt that inadvertent spark of excitemen t and was embarrassed.” Gwen sat down on the side o f the road as Niki continued to stand. “Where do you live?” he asked her now. She might as well spare them all the awkwardness and cut to the chase.” Luke added. Your manicure looks fresh. He’d been in . They couldn’t get supplies. Still…didn’t she already have a megajock boyfr iend? Gwen didn’t bother greeting them. and she couldn’t tell if Tom realized they went to the same school. at least a little. “You can catch me in school. Why was Tom wa sting his time with a phony like Niki Barton? It made sense. but to ge t off the motorcycle and hand Tom her helmet. he’d have to come looking for her. taking the fives from Gwen. Luke also seemed to have some kind of inside track on other hard-to-get items. brightening. 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.” she offered. There was not a flicker of recognition in Niki’s eyes. you want to wait here whil e I take this guy to get the gas?” Luke asked.” Gwen offered. though. it was clear the other girl was equally horrified at the idea of spending time stranded with Gwen.” Tom said. angular face.” he reported. “I only have thirty. “Th ey want to hold it back to sell at a higher price. he now officially knew she was alive. Plus. “Sage Valley Nails closed down.” Niki remarked. this strange attraction she felt. the prices had skyrocketed. “The stations are hoarding.” Luke agreed with mockery in his voice. And even if they could get these t hings. Staying seated on the back of her b rother’s motorcycle. “You’re wearing nail polish. Luke shot Niki a disdainful glance. I don’t care what i t costs. Gwen pulled off her helmet and looked at them. “Forty a gall on!” Niki echoed. “Why is that funny?” Tom asked Gwen. and ev en toothpaste—all made from oil-based products. “Do you know someone?” “You could say that. And they’re not sure when the next shipments are going to come in. “Super terrible. I’d be glad to buy some from you. “Everyone’s out of gas.” Gwen replied. rubbing a bit of white polish that had chipped . Luke was carrying Tom away down the road. man. He was probably in touch with som eone who had access to this hoarded gasoline—or. It didn’t make sense. And there’s none around anywhere. really. “Okay. Gwen thought. Tom was not her type .” Tom’s s mile faded. in a way—he was a joc k and she was the cheerleading queen.” Gwen told him. “Yeah.” he said.” Gwen said. “Too bad. “Where’s he getting the gas?” Niki asked. and from the look on Niki’s face. Luke snorted with laughter from beneath his helmet.” Gwen had some. “Why?” Luke took off his helmet. “What do you mean?” Niki asked. looking do wn at the chipped. speaking right to Tom. Do you have polish or remover? Where’d you get it? Nobody’s be en able to find any for weeks. “They figure we’re all going to get pretty desperate. one gallon minimum. to say? She didn’t want Niki to know how many things her brother could get her. Ballpoint pens had become a luxury bec ause they were made from plastic! Everyone used pencils now. Little kids couldn’t get balloons or crayons. Girls in school were hoarding lipstick. you know. “Great. What was there. “Gwen. “Thanks. digging in her back pocket to pull out two five-dollar bills. shampoo. The y’d talk again.
she decided to take the stuff off as soon as she got home. It .a good mood that night. In fact. Gwen studied Niki for a brief moment. “No.” She didn’t want every girl in school seeki ng her out for nail care products and every other line of cosmetic. deciding what to d o—and then she shook her head and said.
Down on the far side of the road. T om stood at its center.would mark her as someone with access to black market items. “It was the last she had. In the next second. she saw fireflies blinking in the blackness. so it was n o longer blistering hot. perfectly defined above her . she climbed to the peak of the second. “What do you see up there?” “Everything’s out for miles. she could barely make out his form looking up at her. I don’t know what’s going on. No air conditione rs hummed. A few more awkward moments passed. she checked t hat Luke had gone back inside.” he said as his expression once more disappeared into the dark. She had never known such a deep silence. Our bill was nine hundred dollars for last month. high er roof. this was a blackou t. he turned off the flashlight and disappeared. “Put on a light. “Yeah. and I couldn’t make it this month. This was insanity—but it filled her with a serene happiness. She understood Niki’s confusion.” Good. cars would have been on the road. she saw that Sage Valley was completely black. Inhaling deeply. Tom’s yard was so deeply entrenched in darkness that she couldn’t see anything. Looking down. No TV or music blared. but tonight she couldn’t hear any pass. her voice rising. Had she tied the shoelaces of he r sneakers? Gwen hoped so. “Oh. the stillne ss was broken by a rising chorus of crickets. “Looks that way. “We just went for ice cream. ubiquitous whine of electricity on t he wire that usually buzzed just below the level of consciousness was missing. she balanced.” “They shut it off?” Gwen ask ed. It was obvious from her scornful expression that she realized Gwen was l ying to her. But no. ar ms outstretched.” she reported. Opening her eyes.” “So ou’re just hanging out for today?” “I suppose. and Gwen opened her mouth to speak—but then shu t it once again. Everything in h er immediate area was black—all the lights were out. Niki shot Gwen a look that asked. Gwen ran around the back of t he house and got onto the low roof.” Gwen hoped Niki wouldn’t insist on getting the name of this friend. Why had she stopped? As her body had started to develop . Climbing higher on all fours.” Niki replied sulkily. In the darkness. “Oh. The impulse to call to him was strong. Was everyone conserving what gas they had left? In the next moment. she stumbled on a box of motorcycle parts in the living room. What was the point? In the intense heat.” she muttered. Lucky us!” Gwen had heard this complaint pl enty of times before. Gwen came into the house behind Luke. The next second. She was li fted above the dark world below. The sun had been down for hours. “Price of electric went up again. throwing a pool of light. Two steps in. Surely all these people hadn’t left their bills unpaid? No. and that was the la st thing she needed. Silver moon energy poured into her. Why should it matter to her? But still…for some reason…it did. a flashlight snapped on. “Hey. I never thought I’d wish I li ved next to a nuclear generator. and sh e didn’t. Th e constellation of Cancer the Crab hung brilliantly. traveling f . a loon whooped its crazy call. The last time she’d wal ked it. 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. she’d been twelve. lucky us. Then she went back outside. It was a l ong way off before she could see a patch of lights from some other town once aga in. Squeezing her abdominal muscles tight. he stood at the back of the house.” Niki answered. The high. “A friend. no breeze stirred.” Gwen evaded th e question. man!” he yelled. tantalizing Gwen with its shimmer. in front of the house where the creek ran. Moonlight rimme d the peak of the roof. As if roused by the maniac sound of the strange fowl. Did they do this every night? Gwen had never noticed it this f ully before. “Then where’d you get that?” Niki pressed.” With the right side of her lip quirking up slightly. “How long have you been seeing Tom ?” Gwen dared to ask. Then. His illuminated face seemed to hang there in the black ness. At least we’re no worse off than everyone else. What’s it to you? Gwen looked away. That night. she made it to the peak and squatted. “Ow!” she shouted. N ormally. “Can’t. There were no engine sounds. she realized why the stars were so bright. “I’m not seeing him. “What friend?” “You don’ now her. We live in a place where they generate electricity from oil-burning turbines. so I couldn’t pay it. Glancing down. From there. Just below. bullfrogs initiated a chant of c all and response. aggrava ted.” “Sure. crazy!” Luke’s voice stirred her from her reverie. because she didn’t dare look down for fear of losing he r balance. Bea ds of sweat formed on Gwen’s forehead as she sat just below the roof’s peak. she lifted herself. Gwen thought. will you!” Luke struck a match.
“Are you okay? Can I let go now?” Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position and tried to contain her temper. “Hector!” Gwen shouted. Deep. Like riding a bike. and he’d started coming around. Gwen was halfway across the roof when a dark form abrupt ly appeared in her path.rom the roof and up her body as she stepped into its light. A strong hand gripped her wrist. She could still do i t. Gwen had met him while walking to the corner deli o ne day.” . First one foot swung forward. would you? Don’t just sneak up on me.” “Next time whistle or say somethi ng. slow breaths. Hector sat and pulled his knees to his chest. looki ng up into the narrow face of her neighbor. and then the other. “T here’s nothing to do. halting her descent. she slipped and began an uncontrolled slide. “Why did you come up here?” she repeated. She hadn’t yet decided if he was just being friendly or if he was looking for a girlfriend. his Mohawk made him look almost like an exotic bird.” he mumb led. I figured I’d find you up here. Hector lived in the trailer home down the road. because she knew it was really more surprise than anger she was feeling. “Did you want to kill me?!” “Sorry. Steady on. Startling. In the dark.
” Lit tle by little. People are probably getting their small generators going. “What good is a bigger picture if we can never know it for sure?” she asked.” he remin ded her. or something. a bigger picture than we can ever be aware of. I was on the gymnastics team in my freshm an year. “My tablet isn’t charged.” “Better hoard battery c hips.” Gwen looked up at his face.” Hector said.” Gwen said.” Hector said.” Gwen laughed. “So what do you think of all this—I mean the war and the no gas and no ligh t?” “The war part stinks. its angular arches and planes rimmed with silver light. Lots and l ots of space. you never have school vacation. too. Because the re was nothing else they could do. “No. “What do you mean by that ?” she asked. “Why sho uld the water be freezing?” Gwen replied as she made her way down the roof. Gwen thought. anyway. so I can’t even read. That’s what the whole town would do—sleep until things got better. “Uh. I have good balance. but she wasn’t completely certain.” Gwen said. Everyone d oes. exp ressive eyes filled with moon. “The rest of it isn’t so bad. moving back. “I do n’t think so. “Stop worrying. “Not me. Whatever. “Trying to figure it all out keeps life interesting.” “Why’d you stop?” “Those gymnastic girls were real cl iquish.” Hector repeated. so that doesn’t mat ter to me. but I never need anyone.” Gwen said as she sat and began inching qui ckly down the roof. you could go get an actual book. “I like th e feeling.” “We don’t have it.” “Whatever hap pens. or maybe it was the bend of his body that made her think he was about to lean in for a kiss. And once they stopped being able to afford the buses. .” Gwen answered with a shrug. I guess. “If we can’t get them. “I would like my electric fan to work . “The power’s back. sometimes.” Gwen commented.” Gwen observed. That got old pretty quick . especially the science fiction channel. Luke and I don’t have air-conditioning. Hector?” “I don’t know.” “I guess that means sleep. “Your fu rnace has an electric start button. Do they still have real books?” “I think the old ones a re all stored in a vault in Washington.” Gwen stood. I guess. his words half request. then.” “Don’t do it anymore. Hector looked hurt. That’s not how I am.” “Are you ready for school to start next week?” Hector asked. Hector could be deep sometimes. “Lithium battery chips. Friends? More than friends? “I t means I’ll be there to help if you need me. at least we have each other. “Mean by what?” “‘We have each other.” “Someday you might need some help.” “I’ve never seen the stars so b right. It’s going to take a while to wash my hair by candlelight. half comma nd.” “But why is it out there? What does it mean?” “I suppose there’s s ome larger plan.“Sorry. I didn’t fit in. lights blinked on around the valley. okay?” Hector said. His dark. I kind of like the qui et and the dark. the only team we could ever compete against was Marietta. either. Gwen looked at him sharply. There was something in Hector’s low tone of voice. 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. “Don’t you think what you were doing was kind of dangerous?” “Prob ably. Hector shr ugged and smiled.” Hector insisted. She had an idea of what it meant on her end of things. I miss TV.” “You’re going to wash it in freezing cold water?” Hector asked. Hector. thanks. “What do you think is out there. we’ll be in real trouble. You’re lucky you don’t have to go back. “Why did you do it?” he pressed.” Gwen insisted.” “Hey—when you’re homeschooled.” “Don’t those ne ed electricity?” Hector shook his head.” Gwen said. I walked the balance beam. Too bad there aren’t libraries open anymore.’” “What you think it means?” “I don’t know. “I’d better get inside.
and Japan have opened the doors to renewed interest in hybrid vehicle development.S. Vows to Support Venezuela The fighting in Venezuela. Any stall in talks with Bolivia could ha ve dire consequences for the global economy.S. to the loss of the hybrid-car initiative in the U. diplomats hold emerge ncy sessions with Bolivian representatives. When the lithium fields of Bolivia were seiz ed by the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP). Bolivia is the world’s greatest suppli er of the valuable mineral lithium. that same year. the use of battery-powered cars and gene rators is seen as increasingly crucial.S. centered just outside the city of Maracay. in part. In the eleven years since. and new trade agreements with the U. As oil grows ever scarcer. failed to make trade agreements with the Chinese to tap into its l ithium supply in Tibet. .S.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Bolivia Backs Out of Lithium Trade Talks With U.” Their insistence on tightly cont rolling trade and pricing agreements led. the Bo livian PRP has become the ruling party of Bolivia.S. The U. and had to depend exclusively on the much smaller lithiu m-producing salt flats of Chile and Argentina. with fuel-efficient cars taking their pl ace. party leaders called lithium “the mine ral that will lead us to the post-petroleum era. has been b rought to a temporary cease-fire in recent days while U.
I was actually glad to come back to school this morning. 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. anyway? That’s the main reason I signed up for the class.” “I can’t wait. Ralph. and sort of mysterious but with a dry sense of humor.CHAPTER 5 Tom thought that school might be canceled because of all the blackouts and the h ard time people were having finding fuel. Our oil tank is nearly empty. Gwen didn’t answer. Curtin. He’d have asked Gwen if she wanted to hang out with him sometime if she wasn’t already involved with another guy. at least not with the same care they usually used. and then all she wants to do is freak out about this war. “Your brother has oil. I wish Curtin would come back. Most kids hadn’t been able to charge their tablets. Tom had the sensation Gwen was a girl in a costume. Where is Mr.” “Mom has an emergency crank radio .” he complained. “Did you fre eze last night?” Gwen answered with a little shrug. Tom cou ld tell that her choppy. because at least the generator means there’s hot water. but she didn’t have to. and ever since then they’d chatted briefly in the hall sometimes. that she was hid ing under the dark eyeliner. Concentrating on what the teachers were saying was harder than ever. Too bad she was seeing that guy with the Mohawk—the homeschooled one. stinks.” Tom saw Gwen turn the corner. If I could at least recharge my phone. the jet-black hair. This is starting to drive me nuts. Mom has to save what we have in case it freezes. before returning in ten minutes with a red canister.” Carlos said. “Why weren’t you in journalism?” Gwen checked to see who else was nearby before replying in a conspiratorial voice.” Carlos recounted. “I’ve been going to sleep at six o’clo k because there’s nothing to do. doesn’t he?” he whispered. 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. not meeting his eyes. causing the students to be sent home. even if they weren’t exactly friends. but she couldn’t. Ralph—what a dork. but this is a total bore.” Carlos said. She wa s entirely different from Niki—and he still thought of Niki as the perfect girl. But the morning of the first day of sc hool. “Hey. “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 I wish the electric would come back on.” Tom suddenly realized what she meant. the call Tom had been hoping for hadn’t come. “I told you…he doe . My mother keeps wanting us to spend time t alking. It was just too dark at night and the water was too cold for them to attend to their usual hair routines. e ven though she’d forgotten all about him. intriguing.” he greeted her when she was close. did you notice?” Carlos a sked as the two of them headed for the cafeteria. Each tim e they met. so he’s on temporary leave. e ither. He stepped in closer to her. Gwen. Last night. things hadn’t really improved. I can’t take that Mr. Then he realized home wasn’t much be tter. I heard that they expect emergency oil to bring the electric turbi nes back up by tomorrow. Mr. walking toward them. After a week back. “Did I notice? How could I not notice? I begged Mom to turn on the heat. The ones who washed it in the school showers didn’t h ave time to style it. “Where is he getting the oil?” Tom asked in a low voice. “Not reall y. And then I wake up in the middle of the night. and teachers were bei ng discouraged from using the electric boards.” “I already feel crazy. “I ditched. an d I can’t even watch TV. There was som ething about her that he really liked. The oil company doesn’t know when it’s going t o be able to deliver. “I thought the English el ectives were going to be fun. and the scruffy outfits.” “We all do. He’d paid her money back on the first day of school. Instead. “I heard he lives so far away that he can’t get enough gas to come to work e ach day. they could burst. I’d call you and mak e you crazy. he had to walk the tw o miles to school—there hadn’t been buses for as long as he’d been there—and head back t o class. Tom blasted him with laughter. I actually enjoy showering after gym now. Tom found h imself praying the school’s generator would fail and the lights would suddenly bli nk out.” Carl os agreed. He considered th eir relationship as being friendly.” “My parents don’t have any oil.” “It was cold last night. I slept with four blankets. so class was bordering on chaos. “This substitute. Did he quit or something?” Tom shook hi s head. “I know. Tom caught up with Carlos as they left their creative journalism English elective. too. Yet he thought Gwen was also attractive. black cut was clean. She says if the pipes in the house freeze.
Ralph replied without stopping.” “I don’t believe you. jerking his thumb toward the sign. We won’t tell anyone else. “It wa sn’t that cold. and Tom turned to him. The nights are really getting cold. “No refrigeration and no electri city equals no lunch.” “I like er stuff when she reads it in journalism.” Carlos challenged her softly. “It’s closed. Tom waved good-bye as he watched her disappear into the crowd. “What do yo u think of her?” Carlos asked. She was pretty. She’s a good writer. Not his type. “We just want to buy enough to get a generator going. “Could be.” Gwen looked at him and their eyes connected.” Mr.” “Come on. “It’s more than the generat or can handle.” “He doesn’t h ave oil or gas or anything.” “Yeah. Ralph was nearby.” Gwen said. Tom felt something pass between the m before they both darted self-consciously out of the connection. That was just that one day. tell us. Gwen. You can go .” Tom agreed.” Carlos said.sn’t have oil. Mr. “S he might be pretty if she wasn’t so weird. “She has sad eyes. of course. but still…there was that something about her. “They hook into the generator between one and two.” Tom t old her. “No cafet eria?” he asked.” Gwen agreed “You’re probably totally right about that.” Tom replied. Smart.” Gwen called over her sh oulder. “Then why weren’t you cold?” Tom asked.” “I froze my butt off! You’re crazy.” Tom coaxed.” Gwen insisted. “You can trust us. backing away down the hall. “She’s interesting. He can’t get it anymore.” Carlos scoffed. Tom and Carlos arri ved at the wide double cafeteria doors and instantly saw the sign taped to it: C LOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. “Anyway. I have to go to the computer room.
Curtin!” he called. waving. Tom had never really thought about it. “So. Brock was a formidable figure.” “What’s tha t?” Tom asked. right?” “Like all the farms in this town?” “Are you kidding? There are no farms here anymore. just like last year.” They were nearly to the lobby. No one will have enough for both of us.” “Why don’t you just go to the grocery store like everybody else?” Tom asked. she wasn’t looking for any student-teacher reunions thi s afternoon.” “Exact . Deciding to chance it. blond hair. “Yeah. “What have you been up to?” “Not much. “That’s Mr. I’m so sorry. “We’d pr obably do better if we split up. Mostly. I go t a great deal because the former owner is moving south so his heating bill won’t be so high. “A big hole in the ground for keeping food. as though this wasn’t something she had intended. he’d heard s he’d gotten back together with Brock. but so far I haven’t been able to find one.” “Do you have your car?” Tom asked Carlos. Tom couldn’t read his expression. “Maybe we shouldn’t go.” Students were milling around the halls and spilling out int o the front walkway by the near-empty parking lot. Farms. but I just have enough gas to get home—I hope. Tom.” “Want to go to my house? I’ll make you a sandwich or somethin g. it’s naturally cool so I wo n’t need refrigeration for things like potatoes. throwing his arms wide in frustration.” he said. To get out of the school parking lot. “Now you’re thinking. noticing when he got closer that she smelled like a heady mixture of lem on and honeysuckle perfume. “What are we going t o eat?” Carlos asked. but I didn’t know.” “Why? Because of Brock? He has nothing to say about it. so she asked if I would clean out the storage shed tha t has all the boat stuff in it.” “You’re righ t. and Niki leaned across the passenger seat. “Pull over a minute. Easily six-f oot-three and every inch the star quarterback.” “Later. I’ve been trying to get m y father’s old truck up and going. I’m cruising on fumes as it is.” “Oh. Thanks. We’re stuck here in school with no food and no wheels.” Tom didn’t believe her. “Mr. st opping at the curb. Tom?” “Why aren’t you?” Tom inquired. I woul d have said something last time I saw you. they had to drive right past Brock. carrots. he should n’t mind seeing Tom and Niki together. “I’m supposed to go clean out the boathouse. They were holding hands and nuzzling each ot her in the hallway once again.” Why was she being so nice to him? “Okay.” “Doing anything this weekend?” Carlos asked as they headed down the hall. Tom could never make eye contact or find an opening to talk to her. looking sleek in he r hot pink sweater. “I don’t know.” “It’s okay. If Brock broke up with Niki. See ya later. Tom sprang from the car. Curtin.out to eat if you want. He caught sight of Brock standi ng in the parking lot with some of the guys from the football team.” “Again? Whose idea was that?” Tom asked.” “That stinks . Mo m wants to sell the boat.” “We can see if someone has a bag lunch we can grub from. “This is crazy. ma n. please.” Tom said. “What are you doing?” Niki asked. The window closest to him went down. but he felt relieved that Brock wasn’t glaring at him angrily. The teacher looked to Tom and smiled. I couldn’t afford to put gas in it even if I got it going.” “I’m coming bac . Glancing to h is right. As they passed. New rule.” Niki t urned out of the school lot and drove down a block of neat houses. no t someone Tom would especially want to anger. He wander ed outside to the front of the building and scanned the parking lot across the r oad from the front entrance. There’s no rush. But maybe it was only wishful thinking on his part. “I don’t know!” Tom admitte d.” Niki said brightly.” Carlos shook his head. “Looking for lunch. Since I’m not playing football. I heard about your father. clearly. “What’s everyone else doing?” “I have no idea. I haven’t seen much of you. Tom noticed a tall. Niki s tayed in the car. After their disastrous ice cream outing. standin g on a lawn. Tom slid his student cash car d into the vending machine before noticing every single thing was out. Niki hesitated.” “No luck with your dad’s truck?” Tom shook his head.” Tom suggested. Ju st the same. her perfect blond hair seemingly unaffected by recent condit ions. He was sure she saw hi m as a complete loser for getting her stranded like that. We broke up. He’d been delusional to think he ever had a chance with her. Tom slid into the pa ssenger seat. “Not yet. “I’m supposed to be in your journalism elective. I pl an to grow my own vegetables next spring. “Mine. “Why aren’t you in school. Cu rtin replied. I was just out here looking for a place to dig a root cellar. A red two-seater sports car pulled in front of him. thin man with a head of thick. “Where do you think that produce comes from?” Mr. Brock glanced nonchalantly into the car. yams—root vegetables. Niki had been avoiding him.” Carlos agreed. I’ve been looking for a job. And anyway. so I can walk to work. he unintentionally slid lower in his seat.” Niki noticed. I’ve finally bought this house closer to the school.
blond w oman with her hair in a ponytail approached. Have you seen the supermarket prod uce department lately?” “No.” Tom said. especially in the winter. on freighter s from places like South and Central America. and they pass that cost on to consumers like us. but I never expec ted that things would get this bad this fast. A slim. Curtin . The price of food in general has more th an tripled. You need gasoline for trucks and freighters. Tom. To m Harris.” “Nobody did. Mary. this is one of my students. my wife. “Mary.ly. The fres h produce shelves are just about empty. I wish I’d grown a garden this summer.” “Check it out sometime. The food is brought in by trucks and.” Mr. my mom does the shopping.
“It’s a nonrenewable resource. Well. and it wa sn’t a good feeling. “So I should have known better. Curtin explained. this is a cool place. how m uch of a difference money could make. Saudi Arabia overreported its oil production for years until its supply of oil was completely gone. in a much bigger way than before. “What else is new?” Niki scoffed. They drove into Marietta. Curtin explained.” Niki pointed to a Shell station on the corner.” “How is Marietta manag ing that?” Tom asked. the bottom of th e tank is empty. But it never does. Curtin said. cosmetics—everything.” Niki picked up a note from the glass coffee . we’ll be back to normal. The electricity stays on all the tim e in Marietta! It’s not like here in Sage Valley.” Tom murmured. 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. After a few more miles.” “What must be nice?” “To be rich. Bricks and concrete are made with oil.” Niki told him with a grin.” “It is. where it blinks on and off and n obody knows when or why. Our military is fighting for something that’s not even there anymore. We had no idea that everything is made from oil—plastic.” Tom replied. The shingles on our roof. it’s happened.” he said. Things are much better in Marietta. “We’ve been headed down this road for a while. “Didn’t we just pass your road?” Tom pointed out. He glanced back at Nik i waiting in the car. shocked at the news. here people were on the streets. “Still…it could tide us over until we c ome up with something better. ironically. righ t?” “Venezuela is bluffing. businesses were open. Curtin added. insect icides. There it is. “Eighty dollars a gallon!” It amazed him that a line of vehicles snaked out of the station and down the roa d. “Thanks.” “Nice to meet you. “What was that about ?” Niki asked when Tom got back in the car. too. hot water.” Mary Curtin said.” Tom said.” Mr.” “Great. I guess no one—including me— thought the oil wou ld really run out. “I mean. Curtin allowed. People have been predicting this would happen for the last thirty years. “Not these people. They got on the lo g road to the beach where they’d run out of gas. When there’s no oil.” Mrs. “Ne xt week. We have constant heat.” “What’s happened. “One is.” Tom abs orbed this news with a sense of growing dread. It was still shut down. “The world’s always been about to collapse. “When are you coming back to school?” Tom asked his teacher. we all should have seen it coming. “Tom and I were just saying how nobody expected everything to fal l apart so fast. “Ar e your gas stations open?” Tom asked excitedly. A tanker comes every day an d refuels it. it really didn’t seem to matter—nothing mattered. “Now. linked an d processed from oil. pulling open his car door. refrigerat ion—just like always. The asphalt we use to pave our roads—that comes from th e bottom of the tank after oil’s been refined. “Oh. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. just about how t he world is falling apart and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. “Wow. tryin g to sound as if it didn’t matter. Shampoo and soap are made of hydrocarbons. “Oh.” Mrs. Curtin said. I forgot to tell you—we’ve moved back into the lake house in Marietta. “People in Marietta have connections. it’s hard to build them without oil.” “See you then. Isn’t that what social studies is all about?” “Yeah. once this thing with Venezuela is settled. w here there’s still reliable electric. “What do you mean?” “Their oil supply is runni ng dangerously low. “It must be nic e. They know it. drinking in h er citrus-sweet perfume. impressed.” They drove for a while in silence.introduced them.” “Now the foreign oil is almost gone.” “Where does it come from?” “I have no idea. at last.” Niki commented. He’d never b een in such a luxurious home. The subject scared him. Fertilizer.” “Well. He’d never spent much time thinking about what it meant to be wealthy. “It’s not stopping people. Now it hit him. Carpet. “What did he say?” she prompted. he found her lemon-and-hon eysuckle scent drew him to her. 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. exactly?” Tom ask d.” Niki replied slyly.” “Wow. and passed the station that had b een closed the last time.” Mr. It’s a con game to keep the world from bothering with alternative fuels. And when he was there beside her. Niki opened the front door with a remote-control key. “There’s a rumor that they tapped into the power grid down county. It could be a move to corner Bolivia. Unlike in Sage V alley’s downtown section.” Mr.” “My wife has her PhD in bioengineering.” Tom said.” Mrs. I’ll see you then. “We’re trying to gear up nuclear an d wind-power facilities—but. they a rrived at the lake house. She’s been very involved wit h ecological issues for the last ten years. Curtin s with a wave. In the 1950s. “You. and Tom followed her in.” Mrs. Tom let out a low whistle. I guess.” “Then why are they doing it?” “Maybe we want to get in and see if we ca n find more oil. too. Once again.
But I figured you thought I was a loser after we ran out of g as. “So.” Tom admit ed with a shaky laugh. too.” Tom was struck by the faulty logic of that.” .” “I was always going with Br ock.” She gazed at Tom boldly. “I thought you always liked Brock. “You know I’ve always liked you. “I’ve alwa ys liked you. good—that means nobody’s home. “That could have happened to anybody.” Niki waved his comment away.” she reported. but he had no interest in sorting it out—at least not right then. so I could never let you know how I felt. “Mom’s out with her friends.table and read it. don’t you?” “No.
He placed his hand o n the small of her back and pulled her closer. L et the world fall apart. he kissed her again. kissing her passionately on the l ips.” “I’m glad. he noticed how anxious he felt. he never would have dreamed he’d be alone with Niki B arton. Tom didn’t want to know. Niki stepped closer an d took his hand. “I don’t know. . it would have seemed impossible. If this was a dream. her face softening. Lifting her hand to caress his cheek. Not until later. she kissed h im on the lips. Even an hour ago. I’d love to go with you. Though his stomach growled. “Want to go with me?” Was th is really happening? “Yeah.” Still holding her waist. sure I would.Stepping closer to her. he didn’t care. “When are your parents coming home?” he asked . He inhaled to quiet his rising nerves. he was no longer hungry for anything but her. This morning.” she said.” she said. That’s great. “I need a date for the bonfire.
” says Pete Patterson. depending on the day in question. available to our troops is a higher priority. I don’t allow them to fill up with extra gas. “We’re out of gas by ten in the mor ning. though. claimed last night in a widely released response. a spoke sman for Shell. Patterson obviously knows someo ne with access to our emergency reserves. .” “That’s so unfair. The Route Six thoroughfare leading into Mari etta is clogged for miles as motorists.) Police commissioner Jay Parks announced in a press conference yesterday that due to the chaos caused by this situation. What t he Marietta Shell is selling is stolen gasoline. “My tank is smaller than the tanks of some of these gas guzzlers. the line of cars lined up outside the Shell station more than tripled. “Folks come with ten-. the station’s owner. Violence ensued in several incidents when cars with low fuel tanks had their engines quit while on line.” complained Alice Tucker of Sage Valley. desperate to obtain a tank of this liqui d gold. “We are sending all our oil reserves to the military fighting in Venezuela and to our troops on alert in Bolivia. Patterson revealed that Shell has released some of its emergency oil reserves to key distributors. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to buy as much gasoline as they do?” When asked about the so urce of this gasoline tanker. “That’s a lie. I only perm it each driver to fill his or her tank. a motorist refused to push his stopped vehicle to the side of th e road or even get out. Several waiting on line rammed the stalled car until it careened down an embankment and into Lake Morrisey with the driver still inside. the town has been able to parlay the clout of its mo st influential citizens into tangible advantages—most significantly. (He was rescued shortly thereafter. A man was arrested for throwing a rock at Commissioner Parks. This was met with loud booing.” Mike Kravner. We are sending a team of investigators to get to the bottom of this. even twenty-ga llon containers. on ly residents who can prove they own property in Marietta will be able to access gasoline from the station. making oil an d its by-product. I n one instance. gasoline.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. As much as we respect the hardship on Americans. a daily visit from a tanker containing gasoline. News has traveled fast that in these tough times.” In the wake of Kravner’s comments. line up at the local station—all willing to pay from seventy to ninety dol lars a gallon.
“Are you kidding? Why?” “This oil and gasoline shortage has affected s tock prices around the world. “Difficult?” he scoffed. “but all our savings are also inves ed in stocks. searching for a box of contact lenses. Philips can call for them. Ap parently.” “Yes. “If anyone has the money to buy it. Gas jets ignited into blue tongues of flame around a ceramic log. Her father trudged forward. Dad went on a job interview tod ay. People’s stock values are plummeting. “We’re broke. wringing her hands. 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. come down here. “It’s okay. referring to the large box store with an optometrist where Ni ki got her lens prescription filled.” “That’s what I said. came to the bottom of the stairs and spoke from there. They say the temperature is going to drop tonight.” Niki insisted. This wasn’t happening! “Mom! I cannot go to the bonfire in glasses!” “Niki. “It’s happening to everyone. leaving her unstea dy on her feet.” “Below f reezing? No way. the company is downsizing. the truckers are refusing to come this far north because they can’t get enough gas. George. “You still have to pay for it . He r mother always dropped a new box into the drawer when Niki told her she was out . “That’s better. but this time there was somethin g wild and desperate in his expression that frightened her. turn the heat on!” Niki demanded. going toward him.” He stumbled toward a button beside the fireplace and hit it. Now go get ready for the bonfire. Th anks.” her mother suggested. spe echless. “No. Don’t worry.” her father replied with a rumbling.” Niki’s fac e wrinkled into a bewildered expression. and even fear.” “Your father is already on his way home. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Now let me et you something to eat. “BJK-Mart was out. “Did you call Dr. It was crossed w ith uncertainty. too. “I’m warm now. Her w ords had set him off.” “So we’re broke?” “Not exactly. our baby is cold. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen him drunk.” Niki shot ba k.” her mother replied with a note of helpless frustration.” Crossing her arms. Phili ps?” Her mother nodded. Besides. slurring the word. Niki felt her mother’s dread pass to her like a co ntagious illness. I’ll make you something to eat. It looks very hopeful. “Did you have a diffic ult time in the city?” her mother asked cautiously. “This is my tenth interview in two weeks. I have to talk to you. I don’t mind.CHAPTER 6 Niki ransacked her top dresser drawer.” her father insisted. “Maybe he can find some contacts in the city and Dr. “Mom! Wh ere is the box of contacts I asked you for?” Her mother.” Niki’s mother nervously offered.” Niki stared at the blurred form of her mother. If only she could call them back somehow. “You have got to be kidding!” “It’s not the end of the world!” “Not for you. Because of this.” Niki’s mother said as she sat on the couch in front of the large. and our stocks—like everyone else’s—are not worth as much as they used t o be. Wear something warm .” she explained.” Her moth er nodded. “Dad. “It’s not really tha t cold. “We can’t have that. “True. Niki trailed her mother int o the living room. I have to get her s ome heat!” There was a frightening madness in his voice. . “Mom!” she shouted.” Niki said quickly. He says he didn’t get his delivery this week. “That’s crazy!” Niki cried. Where was it? Tom was going to come pick her up for the bonfire in less than a half hour.” her mother agreed. Her mother defen ded herself. You look cute in your glasses. and the cost of keeping their building going. Wear your glasses. It gets easier every time. leaving her room for the top of the stairway.” That’s how it sounded to her. “Why so early?” “Niki. speaking of freezing. and Niki instantly knew he’d been drink ing. “Dad was laid off a couple of weeks ago . Brock would be there with his new girlfriend. maybe below freezing. He shooed her off with a flailing swipe of his ar m. I’m not going—not wearing glasses. “We sell this house.” Niki s aid. It’s not dif-f i-cult anymore.” Niki threw her arms u p. “How did you and Dad let this happen?” she asked.” her mother said. “He’s out.” Niki turned to see her father standing at the front door. Bad enough she was going to sho w up with a second-string lineman—now she would be wearing glasses! “Call Dad. so they’re pulli ng their money out of Dad’s brokerage in record numbers. Niki could suddenly hear just how drunk he actually was. “Lots of people wear glasses. Massively downs izing.” “Sit down.” Niki said.” The expression on her mother’s face unnerved Niki.” A man’s voice cut in. a petite woman with short blond hair.” Getting to the bottom of the stairs. “And.” “I’m not hungry. stone fireplace . she r ubbed the sleeves of her lightweight cashmere sweater. coming halfway down the stairs. Dad. much better. I d on’t know what to tell you. It was as though the shocking news had physically hit Niki.
sendi ng its pieces flying. Kat e. If we can’t eat it.” “Geor ge! Stop! Please!” her mother pleaded. we’re going to burn i t. “Here’s firewood!” he announced as he pulled open the protective glass fire window and tossed in rungs of the shattered chair. “This will burn. Didn’t you know? There’s hardly any propane le ft in the gas tank. “Fire sale—everything must go!” he cried as he threw the mirror frame into the now roaring fire. This is how we’re going to be living now.” George Barton pulled a mirror off the wall and banged it onto the fireplace ma ntel. Niki jumped back as her father lifted the chair above his head and smashed it hard against the fireplace. The price of propane gas has gone through the roof. “That flame won’t last. “That chair was an antique. It’s all being sent to the war effort. . but her husband ignored her as he yanked the wooden frame from the mirror.” “Get used to it.disdainful laugh. “Stop it!” Kate Barton screamed.” George Barton lunged fo rward and grabbed hold of a straight-back chair. And you can’t get any. anyway.
then I’ll be cold. everyone turned toward the sound. “Yo u should leave right now.” The night had been full of song and a friendly rivalr y between some members of the Marietta Mariners football team. Would her chee ring squad be expected to respond to this? Did they last year? She hadn’t been ele cted captain then. And after the time sh e’d spent kissing Tom the other day…well. “You okay?” Tom checked.” But it was too l te. “You sure you’re all right?” She was still shaken by t e scene at her house.” An hour later. I’ll find out. she’d fled down the front walkway into his old wreck of a truck. but tonight any thing that would take her away from her house was a welcome sight. but you should go. All of a sudden. Sage Valley’s rival s. aggressive hostility lifted it above the joking barbs her classmates were pitching at the rival cheerleaders.Niki clutched her mother’s trembling arm. We’re still friends. “What’s happening?” Niki asked Tom.” he answered. her classmates booed and heckled good-naturedly. Niki was growing to like him more than she’d suspected she would. I wanted to know if you’re alone because I thi nk there’s going to be some fighting. 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. leaving her alone to deal with her drunken. Even in Mar ietta. But. “He’s gone crazy! What should we do?” Her moth er began to cry and covered her wet eyes with one hand. so she said nothing. To Niki. come on. “I don’t know. and couldn’t remember if they’d assembled to face off against the Mariner squad. though. I’m going down to see what’s going on.” Niki offered as a partially true explanation for her strained eyes. When Tom had finally rung her front doorbell. and maybe you should get out of here before it starts. “They’ve siphoned all the gas from our tanks!” someone shouted. Niki. Niki could se . Grabbin g Tom’s hand.” she confirmed. her voice quavering. “No. Just a s the Mariner cheerleaders were ending their last lines. to o?” Niki suggested.” “Way too much. “Stay here. She didn’t even know that word—siphoned. “I’ll be okay. since beyond a sm all circle close by. “Hey. “Are you upset that I was so late?” Niki hadn’t wanted to talk about what had happened with her fat her.” Niki laughed lightly at he r dilemma. tried to act like nothing was wrong. we’re not. you have to know exactly when to show up at the station. “See what I mean?” Brock said. she’d have been horrified to be seen in such a piece of junk. “I’d rather be warm. You dumped me twice! A friend w ouldn’t do that. give me a break. “Don’t be like that. but she could clearly hear them chanting the Mariner chee rs. too.” she admitted. she’d abandone d her mother. Niki stood as close to the bonfire as she could get. Maybe w e won’t fight so much if we’re friends. “Better?” “Better. raging father. She smiled tigh tly and nodded. Outraged voices rose up on every side.” “No.” “The smoke is getting to my eyes. “What do you care?” Niki shot back. Technicall y. She hadn’t told him that she’d come out without contacts or glasses. with he r limited vision. don’t leave me. but every year a group of Mariner player s and cheerleaders showed up to taunt and be taunted in return. But clearly he co uld tell she was troubled. From the parking lot. tears brimming.” The crowd around the big fire separated to make room for a bunch of Mariner cheerleaders.” “Shouldn’t you leave. Brock. Are you her e by yourself?” he asked. she could see Tom beside her. his voice neutral. He’d gone. She took in his warmth and the pleasantly smoky smell of his jacket. tall and square—she’d know Brock just by the smell of the fabric softener his mother used. Niki became aware of a large person standing beside her. the bonfire was a Sage Valley event. She kept hold of his hand for warmth and also for guidance. And that truck o f yours must suck up a ton. “No. I understand that you couldn’t find gas. Maybe he was someone she really could like .” He shifted her around so she was closer to the fi re. she couldn’t even find Brock in the crowd.” “Aw. “I don’t know. his face a shifting landscape of shadow s. they w ere just moving blurs. Its sharp. The next big football game would be a home game with the Mariners. He let go of her hand. everything was a blur. someone hurtled an enraged curse int o the night. Tom wrapped his arm around Niki’s shoulder and pulled her tighter. Norma lly. “I’m not sure. Around them. In the fire’s jump ing light. Her mother h ad been right: The night was unexpectedly frigid for September. “Do you want to move away from the fire?” Tom asked. She hadn’t started out to do anything more than make Brock jealous.” A sharp shout carried up from the parking lot on the cold wind. No doubt. You know it wasn’t working out. her unfocused expressi on was adding to his sense that something was not right with her. “It’s cold.” “No. A windshield shattered.
motors revved but wouldn’t start. she could make out a clea r sentence: “Stop hitting him. There was more shouting. Occasionally. She heard thumping and pounding.” “Are you kidding?” Niki gasped. “Some of the Mar iner players have sucked the gasoline from our cars. More curses.e well enough to take several steps forward along with the crowd around her. “H ow’d they do that?” “Don’t they usually stick a hose into the fuel tank or something lik e that?” the girl replied before she rushed forward with the rest of the crowd tha t was running off into the darkness beyond the bonfire. Most of the shouting was indistinct. ano ther crash of broken glass. Niki inched her way fo rward. “What’s happening?” she asked a girl who had come into focus to her right. Stop! You’re going to kill him!” . Down in the parking lot.
laughing raucously. his laughter subsiding. L uke looked to his two friends. he said . “What’s your kind of thing?” “Helping my brother move illegal gasoline. and a wider. windmills for electricity were common on American farms.” “You tell him. And yet. “He won’t say anything. but then thought better of it. she recognized the strong odor of gasoline before she even got there. Tom and Carlos had been on the right track when they’d suggested that Luke had access to stolen gasoline.” Rat said mockingly through his hilarity. where they can afford it. he answered dismissively. Gwen. though he appeared to be in a good mood. well. The rest of the gas Luke sold at high p rices. in a tone that told Gwen they’d been drinking. “Did you just come up from the city with that?” she asked Luke. “None of your business where we got it. People are so desperate. From it.CHAPTER 7 Gwen stretched out on her couch with a scratchy blue blanket held over her head with one hand. “Are you going to call th e cops on us?” “Of course not. It also said that— as an individual—it might be easier to work wi th solar energy. why aren’t you at t thing at the high school?” Rat asked. The last thing Tom needed was for Luke to be o n his case. and even soda bottles. pro ducing enough electricity to light their house. tell him to keep his mouth shut about it.” “Isn’t what you’re doing illegal?” Gwen asked. “What thing? The bonfire?” “Yeah. “We’re going to ma ke a bundle on this. Ma ybe it was useless. Wiring and Fabrication. They f aced Gwen with serious expressions before bursting into laughter. the article said it could be done. 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. large water jugs.” Luke said. Gwen couldn’t remember what she’d told Hector. a tall. She learned that windmills were used to grind grain in Persia as early as 2 00 BC.” The r eading wasn’t easy to understand. which means filling a truck with gas just to g o get the stuff. He doesn’t care what you do. “Just keep your mouth shut and don’t say an ything to your friends. 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. In America. “I don’t really get the whole team spirit thing. don’t you? We need that money for food. Gwen switched off the tablet. T ossing off her blanket. “Don’t bet on it . it seemed prett y much impossible to imagine converting to wind power. Winding Coils. “Oil is the biggest business i n the world. You haven’t alr eady. I have to buy t he gas from the black market guy. by 1908 there were seventy-two windpropelled electric genera tors. Propped between her stomach and her knees was a tablet onto which she’d uploaded a book titled Sustainable Future .” “Yeah. When Gwen wanted to know why he didn’t keep more for their own use. By the 1930s. But it was on ly enough to keep their old furnace going at sixty degrees and to fuel a small g enerator for a few hours in the evening.” Gwen snappe d. Gwen was poring over an article called “Residential Wind Turbines. skinny guy in motorcycle leathers named M ark. they’ll pay anything. Besides. you sold him the ga s that day?” “Well. Going toward the porc h.” Gwen replied sourly. along with red containers. black hair who they called Rat.” Gwen scrolled down to a subhead titled: History of the Wind Turb ine. I guess it could be. especially ove r in Marietta.” “Yeah?” said R at. was that Luke had so much old motorcycle junk lying around.” “That’s not for me. What intrigued her about wind energy. “Isn’t it obvious?” “You know what I read?” Rat said. muscular guy with long. I just wanted to know. “You like to eat. In fact. stupid. Construction Details. Governing Systems. Wire and motors and all sorts of meta l were piled in the shed behind the house.” she added. Luke and two of his friends stomped through the front door into the enclosed front porch. The first electricity-generating wind machine was installed in 1887 in Sc otland. Tom at school knows. “Gee.” “Gwen. Remember. I don’t have any friends. the wind howled. Yaw and Tail Design and Cons truction. Alternator Theory and Design. a flashlight held with the other. Don’t tell him anything about what I do.” “Don’t worry. have you?” Honestly.” Luke told her. “Hector is coo l. though.” “You don’t have to know any thing. Out side. She pictured a wind turbine with its blades spinning. They reeked of gasoline and body odor as they dragged in an array of various plastic containers—juice and milk jugs. Gwen left the tablet on the couch. Fitting Mag nets into Homebuilt Alternators. “He’d better not.” “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. The article had subtitles such as: Designing and Carving Wooden Blades.
” “Is it safe to store g asoline in here?” Gwen questioned.. I’m not going into a foster home. staring at the stars. .” L uke waved her away as he headed back toward the door for more canisters filled w ith gasoline. would ya?” Gwen lay supine on her lower roof. either.” Luke said. “You’re eating. aren’t you?” “That’s not what I mean. no glory. No guts.” “Don’t worry about this being illegal.” Luke turned at the door and faced her.” “Yeah? Well. Then help us get the rest of this gas.” “Yeah. “I could make a bundle because I’m willing to ta ke the risk. pushing the canisters to the back of the porch to make room for more. “Shut your tr ap and be useful. “I’ll run away first. What if you get arrested? I land in foster care. well.” Gw en insisted. Carrying all those cani sters of gasoline onto the front porch had made her muscles ache. “I don’t think you’re supposed to store it in milk co ntainers. what about me?” Gwen argued. Pull the blinds and curtains so everyone in town doesn’t know ou r generator is going. “I’m not getting arrested.” “Just get going.
” Tom disagreed with bitter laughter. Furious. But two Marietta guys started whaling on Carlos. f reer life with Luke. “Like those kids can’t afford to buy it. Her house was close to the development where Tom lived. Doing this made her lonely. but. “A guy at a gas station told me where I co uld get some black market gas and gave me directions. Gwen quickly broke off the several friendships she had at school to p revent anyone from nosing around. “Tom?” Tom stepped closer. though. “Who’s there?” she ask ed. It turned out that Leila had quit her b artending job before she left. Since she wasn’t dea d. and Gwen recognized it. Leila had ch osen Richard over Luke and Gwen. Not that Leila Jones had ever been strict—Luke always cracked that their mother was “asleep at the wheel. 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. “Maybe later. she might be in foster care. The shoulder seam of his varsity jacket was torn.” Gwen hissed a curse. mostly when she thought back to when she was small. Enraged by the abandonment. at le ast not anyone in charge of anything. “Hey. and that was that. and Gwen gasped. At first. And it helped that he was so off the grid. they’d gotten away wit h ignoring them.Breathing out.” “Good for you. impulsively raising her hand to stroke his bruise. “Gwen?” A dark form appeared from the side of the house. Is you r brother home?” So he hadn’t come to find her. so far. But it was shockingly easy to settle into her new. no one had even noticed that her mother had split. Soon. Who would he even tell? A twig snapped below the roof. She pulled the zipper of her black sweatshirt up as high as it went. they weren’t getting involved. Had h e come to see her because he needed help? If so. So far. but Gwen trusted him. I thought they had all the fuel in the world over there. “I was getting the snot kicked out of me. Gwen had been angry. “Why?” Gwen asked.” “How did you find my house?” Gwen asked. If neighbors realized she and Luke were on their own. not that she thought anyone really checked. so I had to jump in to even t he score. Gwen didn’t even know how to find her mother. She’d run off with her boyfriend when Gwen was in ninth grade. Their old house had been inherited from Gw en’s grandfather. Hector was the only one who knew for s ure that her mother didn’t live with her. peering into the darkness. but it couldn’t have been avoided. Good thing the cops came when they did. Th at was how they knew what had happened. glancing at his s tained hand a moment before wiping it on his jeans.” Tom brushed the red stream from his nose.” He looked toward the wall of b ushes at the back of her small yard. She could make her own rules. A stream of b lood ran from his right nostril. some jerk stole all the gasoline right out of my ta nk. Luke and Gwen had managed to stay under everyone’s radar up until now. but that was separated by the hedges. and she still felt guilty that she had hurt the feelings of some of her old friends. just missing in action. Gwen and Luke simply hadn’t told anyone about it. G wen did an excellent forgery of her mother’s handwriting when a signature was requ ired. why her? “What happened to you?” sh e asked. She’d simply gone out for a date with Richard and had never returned. Still…did she mis s her mother? A little. so no one at work thought it was odd that she did n’t come in. My truck is stuck there. I realized I was going to your house. and Gwen was instantly on her knees. “There was a big fight at the bonfire. Gwen quickly crawled to the edge of the roof and he joined her there. Would Luke sell enough black market gasoline to pay for a new one? By the time the jacket was an absolute necessity. There was no sense thinking about it too much. sniffing back blood. She saw letters that we re stamped FINAL NOTICE OF OVERDUE BACK TAXES. “I don’t know . “Guys from the Marietta team were steal ing gas from our tanks. into a pool of moonlight. He reeked of smoke and gasoline. The nearest h ouse on her side was easily an acre away.” he explained. a vapor cloud formed in front of her face. “You’re bleeding.” Life with only Luke in charge was complete freedom. Her job was done. she’d need some kind of winte r jacket. When he told me I should a sk for Luke. to a time when her mother didn’t drink so heavily and before Richard had brought the h arder stuff. A purple bruise was forming around his left eye . trying to keep her voice even enough to mask her hurt feelings.” “Want to come inside to clean up?” Gwen offered. so they didn’t have anything to pay on it. then thinking better of it.” Gwen grinned. you live right behind me. She’d left a quick note saying Lu ke and Gwen were now old enough to take care of themselves. after all. wear what she liked. Everyone ran when they showed.” “Not really. “I walked here from the scho ol.” Tom shrugged. .
Gwen sighed.He had only just realized it—and after she’d been watching him from her perch on the roof for so long. “I had a nearly full tank. that’s low!” “No kidding. And when I did. My mom is going to seriously freak out. I don’t even want to tell you how much it cost me. “Is that right?” she replied drily. The last thing we need is this . wondering how she could help Tom.” much gas did those guys take from you?” Gwen asked.” Luke wasn’t inclined to give anything on credit or faith. and they took it all.” “I don’t have any money to pay him right now. But I could get it to him by the end o f the week.” If she poured a little from each of Luke’s containers . it would fill Tom’s canister and her brother would never miss it. you could see right into my yard.” she grunted. is Luke around?” “I’m not sure where Luke is. Gwe n took it from him.” Gwen sympathized sincerely. So. we’re neighbors. My windshield got smashed in the fight. “Do you have a gas container?” she asked.” Gwen told him trying to dodge the pang of disappointment she felt. .” “Yeah. It took me hours to find the gas today. Imagine that. I had to wait on line for two more hours.” “Huh. and I just want to get the t hing home before anything more happens to it. even though she knew he hadn’t. “That’s funny. “Wait here. “He went out with his friends a little while ago. too. Sort of.” “A whole tank of gas jacked right out of your truck. For a few minutes there. “Ma n. s he had allowed herself to continue to imagine he had come to the house to see he r. “What do you know?” Tom missed he r sarcasm altogether. Tom picked up the red canister he’d set at his feet. “Yeah. If you go behind those trees.
he was fair game like everyone else.“Will Luke mind that I can’t pay him right away?” Tom asked. “I don’t want him to be mad a t you. If Luke was going to say the law no longer applied.” Gwen said as she pulled the red gas can into her bedroom window behind her. you won’t have to pay him at all. .” “If I do this right.
Seizes Venezuelan Refineries. Some analysts have suggested that the w orld may be completely out of oil in the next ten to twenty years.S. with the remaining 70 percent of crude oil coming from t he Middle East.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS U. Canadian tar sands have not y ielded the expected supply. stating. 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. There is speculation. has lately reported severe depletions.” . Junior Senato r Thomas Rambling (D-MA) has called for an end to the fighting. The Venezuelans ar e bluffing. South America. indeed. American Refineries Bombed in Retaliation …Only 149 American-owned refineries remain in the United States. Kuwait. 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. 26 fewer than exi sted in the 1990s. Although President Waters has decried the bombing of three refinerie s in the last week. once the second-leading suppl ier of oil. too. even Venezuela have b een grossly overestimating their supply. Iran. that Saudi Arabia. It is here that oil is pumped from the ground and processed int o gasoline. and Canada. and. “We are f ighting over something that does not even exist anymore: oil. Iraq. Canada. the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
how fancy of her! Nice of Niki to stick around to see if you were okay. The red canister of ga soline sat on the grass between them. “Do you really like her?” “Yeah.” Tom said. “Where i s she now?” “I don’t know.” Gwen sat up straight again. “No. empty vehicles remained in the parking lo t. “Mr.” “Oh. “Just picking up my dad’s truck. “Say you already had the gas. Gwen scrambled up alongside him. Somebody told me she might have gotten a ride from some Mari etta cheerleaders. it flew out of my hand and sailed into a window of Mr. “Who’d you go to the bonfire with?” Gwen asked casua lly. “Have either of you been drinking or taking any kind of drug this evening?” the officer asked. “Wh y don’t we just go down and put this gas in your truck?” Gwen said. “It’s spilled all over the place. When they got near it.” Tom suggested. “No. watching the police ta lk to various students.” “See what I mean?” Tom said. either. please. License and registration. “Let’s go. “Out of the truck. with her wry. and I yanked it out of the guy’s han d. Tom grunted in agreement as he opened the small door to his gas tank and began pouring in the fuel. “Glad I’m not you. and the remaining stu dents climbed in.” Gwen lied quickly. Most of them had run when the police had shown up. 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. too. “Why do I smell gasoline on you?” “I slipped in a puddle of it earlier this evening. do y ou think?” “Just wait a little longer and I’ll drive you home.” Tom explai ned. by the way. bleak view of things.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. “You.) A van probably driven by someone’s parent arrived. the principal?” “Yep. lso…they might be looking for me. they’ll know I’m lying. getting to his feet and lifting the gas-filled canister. Tom leaned forward. The second time he tried. shrill whi stle. When I did. There was a lot of confusion. nearly half of them with broken windows. She’s been staying at her lake house over there.” “Which one?” “Any one.” Tom said.” “That’s not what . the engine roared to life. “Are we going to be here all night. Officer. She was a funny girl sometim es. shaking her head and picking at a moon-rimmed blade of grass. but found his lips twisting into a bal eful grin despite the seriousness of his situation.” the officer commanded in a matter-of-fact tone. Davenport’s SUV. “Niki Barton.” she added. You don’t remember where you got it. Tom drove out of his parking space just as a police cruiser turned into the drive to the school.” Gwen mumbled. please.” His heart banging in his chest. gesturing at the oily splotches that now stained the parking lot.” Tom replied emphatically.” Gwen said. miss?” “I told you.” She flopped down flat with her legs bent. miss. forcing Tom to squint against its glare. sir. they made their way down toward the t ruck. then sputtered. About thirty parked.” Gwen cringed. If I pick the wrong one. He looked her up and down.” he added. “I t’s all right.” The sound of slamming doors alerted th em that the police were getting back into their cars. have you?” “What if they ask where I got the gasoline?” Tom replied.” Gwen looked up at him sharply. and keepin g to the darkest parts of the grassy hill. “Thanks. (There were only three pol ice cars left on the whole squad. who perused them critically. I haven’t been drinking.” Gwen blew out a low. They climbed into the front seats and Tom turned the ignition key.” Tom shook his head. Davenport. Don’t you?” . “W ould you breathe out for me.” “Hmm. taking in the sight of his smashed windshield. She’s not picking up her phone.” Gwen quipped sourly.” Gwen coached. Tom cringed at the gash someone had gouged into the right door. It was difficult to see from this distance exactly which students were still there. “Say you bought it at a station. Tom s wore under his breath. He would have told Gwen that she didn’t have to wait there with him. “You? Why?” “A Marietta guy was about to hit Carlos with a tire iron. Tom stepped down from the driver’s seat. The engine revved. but it was late and an gry Marietta kids were still driving around looking to pick fights. I couldn’t find her again after the fight. The officer got out of his car and shone a flashlight’s beam into the truck. The patrol car came alongside and Tom rolled down the truck window.” Gwen pointed out. The officer stepped closer to Gwen and sniffed. It wouldn’t be safe for her to walk home alone. “At least your side windows are okay. “Nice whistle.” “Thanks a lot. “A lot of them are closed. Out of the truck. “You haven’t done an ything wrong. so this was clearly a big deal in Sage Valley tonight.
” “You’re a fast thinker.” the officer insisted. Wai t there. please. please. “Get back in the truck. “Name and address.” Gwen lied.” “Rae Gonzale z. Sage Valley. 57 Dartmouth Street. .” Gwen’s breath formed a clo ud in front of her face and the officer leaned toward it.” Tom commented when he and Gwen were once again in the truck’s front seat. please. Then he straightened o nce more and took a pad from his back pocket.I’m checking for. “Breathe out.
When Tom had first come down to the parking lot. He hoped that sense of camaraderie would last through the police questioning that was sure to follow. alarmed. They were nearing h is driveway when they heard the first fire sirens.“Well. “Let’s go to my house and see what we c an tell from there. backing into Birchwood Lane and then turning in the opposite direction on Creek Road. since his name would be among those reported. “Sage Va lley isn’t that big. He explained to Gwen how it worked. turning toward Gwen.” Gwen came out of the truck and joined him.” Gwen said. His mother was standing on the s idewalk.” “Thanks. In this fight. That had to be rough on her.” “I don’t think it’s safe. He knew that various Sage Valley volunteer firefighters responded or didn’t. The vacuum created by sucking the air from the tube drew the gas o ut of the fuel tank and into a container. “Those guys were using the same tube over and over. His injuries would c ertainly be a lot worse right now. “No. The policeman ste pped back. They had to be cr azy to drive straight into a fire emergency. But maybe it was. The moment he rolled down his window. like when you draw liquid up in a straw. Gwen wasn’t as tough as she tried to pretend. he didn’t know who had smashed his windshield. her voice cracki ng with fear. she looked worried . It sounded like all of them would be run ning for their bluelight-equipped cars tonight.” The police officer came back from his car and returned Tom’s paperwork to him. “No. but he wasn’t about to turn in his friends. in her pink winter jacket and clutching a box. Mom? Are you okay?” “I’m f ine.” Gwen insisted. “What’s happening.” “Did you see who broke any of the windows on your truck and these other vehicl es?” Tom shook his head. if it wasn’t for alcohol?” “He wanted to know if you’d been sucking up gasoline. “He smelle d gas on you. I didn’t know them. he leapt from the truck and ran to her.” th e officer said. They were belching like crazy—sickening gas bu rps. You should have seen them. “Somethi ng’s on fire. you can go. “Who worked you over like that. Just pray it d oesn’t spread. “It sounds big. That would have scared th e snot out of him.” “So they were from Marietta?” “Ma ybe. smoky air wafted into the truck. After a while. You wouldn’t be impossible to find. Despite her words. “All right. “Are you sure?” Without waiting for her reply. he realize d that some of the Marietta guys were getting the gas out of the tanks using bla ck rubber tubes. “Maybe we should turn back.” Tom told her.” Tom considered. “But there’s a good chance that someone will be coming by your home with further questions. “I’d like to see that. Thank you.” “They won’t bother.” she murmured .” “Don’t turn back.” In truth . “That’s my house.” “Why would that make my bre ath smell like gas?” Gwen asked. the S age Valley kids had stuck together. “I grabbed this box of family photos and ran outside.” Gwen scrunched her face in disgust. And they know you were with me.” his mother said. Someone should have l it a match in front of one of the guys when he burped. He wondered why she felt the need to throw u p such a harsh front and remembered the rumors about her mother being gone. Sparks.” Tom objected. but the house behind ours is up in flames. dependi ng on how many siren blasts they heard. “What?” Gwen asked incredulously. “I heard crashing. I wasn’t going to tell him the truth.” Gwen replied. Officer. I’m just saying—you’re pretty cool under pressure. I guess. He could have given the officer a t least five names of Sage Valley guys he saw whaling on Marietta-owned cars and trucks.” he said. allowing Tom to drive forward.” Tom chuckled.” “No problem.” Gwen agreed. Tom didn’t know what would have happened to him. blew up over the high . was I?” she replied. “Glad I missed that. “I wonder if you should have given that phony name and address. She might have gotte n herself into trouble and there was still time to turn back and correct it.” “And this cop thought I was suck ing up gasoline?” Tom smiled at her revulsion and shrugged his shoulders. there was so much gas residue in the tubes that they were suckin g it in. Tom glanced at her from the corner of his eye as he drove out the school’s front entrance. which they were sucking air from and then sticking into a fuel tank’s opening. he’d gradually realized that in the course of talking to her at school. “ ant to see what’s burning. Quickly pulling to the c urb.” he said. and he hoped his classmates f elt the same. It makes sense.” Tom said. “It’s basic science.” “All right.” Tom remarked. but I didn’t see who was doing it. sounding reluctant. Tom st epped into his driveway to check. “What if they check and come after you?” “They’d have to find me first. Why was he checking my breath. 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. acrid. son?” “I was trying to leave when some guys jumped me. like fireworks. If it hadn’t been for Brock pulling one guy fr om his back.
Tur ning.” Going toward the truck. “That ol d thing was a fire trap to begin with. We’re going to soak all this property back here and hope it doesn’t catch. gazing at the dancing lights of her home being destroyed. he co uld feel the wall of heat. “Do you own that truck?” he demand ed of Tom. What was tha t wild expression in her eyes? It wasn’t grief or fear. “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. “I’m real sorry. “It sounds that way. “Yes. yeah.” .” Tom confirmed. By the time he was halfway up the driveway. as though she was actually happy to see the house go up in blazes. Tom saw Gwen standing at the end of the driveway. but it would be bad if this nice block we nt up in flames. I hop e Luke’s all right. “The house is gone. he realized they were pulling in front of his house. in a voice he found strangely bland. A firefighter in a ye llow slicker appeared at the end of the driveway. isn’t it?” Gwen asked when he reached her. The fire sirens suddenly grew loud on his street. More trucks are coming. It struck him as something close to exaltation. heading back down the driveway toward the firefighter.” “You have to move it.hedge at the back of his yard.” “How’s that house back there doing?” T om asked.
I’m not sticking around for that. ‘disappear.” “What do you mean?” “I mean. brows furrowed skeptically. This is a total disaster. I’m real sorry. What did you thi nk? That the fire shocked me out of my head?” “Maybe. Where could she have gone so quickly? “Gwen!” .” she murmured dreamily.“I called him. “The grid’s back up!” Tom exulted. “Of course I know it. He suddenly felt like an idiot. about Luke. She was in shock. not taking her eyes from the fire. “What do you mean. “Want me to drive you to Luke?” Gwen shook her head.” he told her. Then the side of her right lip pulled up into a cynical grin. don’t y ou?” he tested.” he admitted.’” he said. “I shouldn’t be standing around her e. about me. meani ng it.” she said. Ralph. it’s time for me to disappear. “I’m okay. “Gwen!” he shout d. “Gwen.” Gwen added. you know my name. There are going to be questions—about my mother. She turned toward him. he wondered if she was hyp notized by the flames. For a moment. I’ve bee n telling Luke not to store gasoline. “I know you’re Tom.” Tom scrutinized her mesmerized expression. “Or maybe you’re that do rky Mr. “He’s okay. the neighborhood came alive with the sounds of TVs and radios. looking up at Tom. not sure what to do next. What kind of question is that?” “What is it?” he pressed. Gwe n’s blankness fell away and was replaced by an expression of panicked worry. he couldn’t find her.” “Like I said. he soaked up t he sounds and buzz of returning electricity. “It’s worse than you can imagine.” H stared at her. Closing his eyes. his voice taking o n a sulky tone that embarrassed him. Every house was illuminated. I won’t miss that h ouse.” In the next moment. “You can’t—” Turning completely around.” All at once. He co uld tell something new had just occurred to her. who tried to teach creative journalism. “It’s pretty sh ocking to have your house burn down. The streetlamps flickered back on in the s treet around them. It’s not as though it was filled with happy memories. her eyes wide. or even in a state of shock. turning to find Gwen.” “I was just waiting for this to happen. “You’re Napoléon Bonaparte. He let himself enjoy this moment of relief before opening his eyes again.
Something w asn’t right. Can you believe those g uys?” “Really! Hey. She’d been dumped for Emily Mear? It seemed inconceivable.” Stephy added. She wasn’t even a cheerleader! It wouldn’t last. He’d just flown out of her mind. smiling delightedly . who was on her cheering squad. “No more detention for unauthorized plug-ins. and she didn’t want him back there anytime soon. “That’s great about Tom. 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. “I couldn’t really see until now.” Stephy grinned wickedly. It was dark. He probably just wanted to make you nuts. Defi nitely. She was fed up with not seeing.” Niki watched Stephy pull away and then turned. I don’t. Was the gas fireplace still going? A tingle of anxiety ran up her back. I forgot to turn it off before. though there’s always a long line. He was the one who’d be en in a fight.” Stephy said. never certain when the y’d have a chance to recharge the batteries. Please. in a quiet kind of way. The idea of going in made Niki turn toward her house. I’m really into Tom now. take it. stepping out of the car. Stephy’s phone lit and buzzed. I wouldn’t take it. don’t you think?” “Very hot.” Stephy said. digging into her bag for the case that held her gl asses. Give my address if they insist you have to be fro m Marietta to get gas.” Stephy objected. “Is Brock crazy jealous?” “I don’t know. The station on Main Street in Marietta usually has some. Z ipping her jacket against the increasing cold. Hop efully I have just enough to get home. Sh e missed Brock and he’d been sweet tonight. After all. Yay!” “Great!” Niki ch eered.” “A hundred dollars! T hat’s too much.” Was that true? It might be. tonight I can charge this phone at home instead of sneaking in to the girls’ room at school to plug it in there. after all. It didn’t seem like he really liked he r. “At least he’s not all stuck on himself like a lot of the other guys on the t eam. wanting to know if she was okay. Stephy did a small bounce in her seat when she read the text message. she approached the front door. Niki. Something new?” “Kind of. rea ching for the phone.CHAPTER 9 Niki sat in the passenger seat next to a brunette named Stephy Rosen. “He just wanted to get me upset. I hope the battery isn’t too low. “Oh. She wasn’t sure yet.” Stephy crooned. She took two fifty-dollar bills from her wallet and tucked them into t he console between their seats.” “You’re welcome. You’d better stop there before you head back to Sage Valley.” “It’s o ay. but… “You’re probably right. Stephy.” Stephy a greed. “No. No one in Sage Valley left their phones on anymore. “Don’t tell anyone you saw this. though. she saw that Stephy had less than an eighth of a tank r emaining. once more.” Niki checked her own phone. “I know it’s out of your way. “And it’s great to be in a town that isn’t pitch-black at night. maybe a gallon and a half.” Niki said. which s till had half its battery life: seven texts from Tom.” “You look adorable in those. “Take this for the gas. As they drove down the street to her house.” Niki st ared at her pointedly.” Niki pictured the girl Brock had been with. though.” “Good thing no one stole my gas. Was Brock there with someone?” “Uh-huh. “Mom ?” she checked.” Stephy commented. it was…um…Emily Mear.” “No kidding. I understand. Everyt hing’s going to go back to normal now. She’d been so preoccupied with finding a ride home. “Are you kidding? Not for gasoline. But I d on’t care. then turned them off again. “I can’t wait to see the town with lights again. Slipping them on. Niki peered into the amber light of the barel .” The gir glanced uneasily at her fuel gauge. They po wered up. he’d been the one who’d broken off with her—for the second time. “Just think.” she assured Stephy. She would ca ll him as soon as she got inside. “Marietta is so beautifu l. and then she’d begun chatting with Stephy. But she knew Brock hadn’t wanted to make her jealous. Was he there with someone?” She tapped her eyeglasses. Brock was starting to be in her head less and less. “He’s pretty hot. Thanks for the ride. though she detected a glow from the living room window. Don’t forget to get gas. “I’m glad you don’t live any farther. but it’s getting late and I r eally don’t want to run out when I’m this far from Sage Valley. I can tell he really likes you.” The dashboard was a blur until Niki bent c loser and brought it into a soft focus. “Oh.” Niki said.” she said. It will only buy you a gallon. Stephy was smiling happily. entering cautiously. got their messages. I just know it is!” “I bet you’re right. She felt guilty that she hadn’t contacted him sooner. toward her house.” Nik i admitted.” “Thanks. A s she pulled to the curb in front of Niki’s house. “Bye. Good nig ht. I saw you were with Tom Harris tonight.” “No. though Niki wished he hadn’t been. “Sage Valley has lights tonight.
At the end of the hall was the family room.y burning gas fire. Stopping to listen. are you all right?” she asked. Niki found her mother sitting on a couch. “Mom. but he hadn’t. Her father had done this. sunk down t hree steps so that it overlooked the deck that faced the lake. Niki hurried down the d ark center hallway. entering the room. kicking aside broken frames and shattered glass from paintin gs thrown to the ground. Clearly. Shards of a vase lay shattered at her feet. A throw pillow had bee n ripped and its stuffing was scattered. “Mom!” Niki called. now gripped by panic. Why had she left her mother here alone with h im? She’d just assumed he’d calm down. listening to a news program on a b attery-operated radio. Meteorologists had named the hurricane Oscar. “Oh my God!” she gasped. The living room furniture had been flun g everywhere. A reporter relayed the news that a Category Fo ur hurricane had hit landfall in the Gulf Coast island city of Galveston. Texas. What had happened here? “Mom!” Then the truth str uck her. A voice emanated from the room. . An end table and chair lay toppled. Niki realized a male news reporter was speaki ng. Her m other kept her eyes on the radio. The winds were blasting at 120 mi les per hour.
he had a complete meltdown. completely stranded there. . he’s been out of work for the last two weeks. When the lights went off. Her mo ther turned back to the radio. Was it her sympathy for the people of Gal veston.” Sitting beside her mother on the couch. or something else? “What happened? Why is it so dark in here. “Why didn’t he pay the bill?” Her mother laughed wearily as she shook her hea d. “Forgot?” Niki questioned.Niki couldn’t believe what she was hearing: “The real scary thing about this situati on is that many. Mom?” “Your fath er forgot to pay the electric bill.” Her red. the force of which has nev er been seen before. “How was the bonfire?” Niki told her abo ut the fight. “Not until we pa y the bill. But she didn’t feel safe at all. Mentioning Tom reminded Niki that she should answer h is texts and let him know she was all right. she knew that the word devastated and the term destroyed stock market weren’t good. m eteorologists are tracking a Category Four hurricane that is continuing to gain force in the Caribbean off the coast of Puerto Rico.” her mother agreed. He’s sleeping it off now. A newswoman was speaking urgently. They have dubbed the storm Hurricane Pearl. It seems to me th at everyone is just cold and tired and looking for a fight these days.” Niki knew she should feel safe. the stock market has been simply devastated. it could be a Category Five hurricane. There is speculation that by the time Pearl makes landfall in M iami. “Those poor. shocked. “This just in. since she was over a thousan d miles away from the storms. “As I told you. puffed eyes made it obvious that she’d been crying.” Niki knew her dad was a s tock trader. tho ugh. it could form a superhurricane. “Everything was so crazy that I lost track of Tom. though she wasn’t all that sure what his job entailed. aren’t you?” Niki checked.” “I think you’r e right. Niki struggled to make sense of this. Nobody’s hiring. her eyes still on the rad io. “I’m all right. “You’re okay. “I don’t know if he forgot or just didn’t think they’d really turn off the electric. He’s in a panic about money. She stood to go to her room. poor people.” her mother replied. “He wouldn’t hurt you.” “We have no electricity?” Niki asked. which means gale force winds of ove r one hundred and fifty miles per hour. but between the war in South America and the gas shortage.” Niki’s mother turne d to her. No matter. I thought we were l iving on our stock investments.” She sighed dee ply—Niki had never seen her look so defeated. many people here in Galveston were willing to evacuate but were simply unable to find the gasoline necessary to make the trip. would he?” Her mother hook her head. 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.
threatened legal action. These threats were me t with calls for countersuits from Sage Valley parents. the mayor o f Sage Valley. has instituted an emergency curfew. Several students re quired hospitalization from injuries sustained before county police arrived to s top the fighting. At this year’s event. Eleanor Crane. “This is a sensible measure. In response. For years. It’s just safer for students to stay insid e. Angry words escalated to violence when a tire iron was used to smash the front windshield of Marietta’s team captain. whose ch ildren and vehicles were injured. Several Marietta parents. requiring Sage Valley students under the age of eighteen to be in their homes after eight o’cloc k. especially considering the general blackout condit ions that have occurred in Sage Valley. tempers flared over several incidents of gasoline siphoning. suspected of instigating the siphoning. 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.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. Numerous arrests were made. The window smashing was the catalyst for an all-out brawl between students from the two schools.” . Frank Hoba rt.
17. was not located there. They may face f ines for the improper storage of gasoline leading to a fire. . another of h is known hangouts. nor was he at Vinnie’s Tattoo. The homeowner. Mrs. Police are currently searching for these two. Leila Jones.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. Jones was no longer at her home. Jones relocated over two years ago to the state of Florida . a senior at Sage Valley High School. but s aid that her children let it be known that their mother had taken ill and was be dridden. but she did not arrive at school and her whereabo uts remain unknown. 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. The house. a former barten der at the Happy Corners Lounge. It is not be lieved that either of them was home when the fire started. Her neighbors said they’ve suspected Mrs. Lucas Jones. and are also suspec ted of selling black market gasoline. known to frequent a motorcycle shop known as Gh ost Motorcycle. which was about to go into foreclosure due to unpaid property taxes. so a rson is not suspected. yesterday. 38. Also missing are Lucas Jones. Police tried to locate Gwendolyn Jones. most likely at elevated prices. Charred and melted containers containing small amounts of gasoline were found when fire fighters arrived. 20. and Gwendolyn Jones. could not be found for questioning. was not insured. 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. It has been discovered that Mrs.
trains on the Hudson Line. knocking out nearly all the oil refineries alon g the Gulf Coast. could be severely disrupted due to flooding. which run along the ea st side of the river. While meteorologists keep their a ttention riveted to the path of this unbelievable storm. hit land in Texas last night.500 barrels of crude per day. the robotic plat form drills deep enough to produce over 6. Fresh water is also in short supply. will not be easily achieved. Though towns along the river tend to be elevated. In our area. calling OscPearl “a nation al emergency of the first magnitude.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS Townships Brace for Worst as OscPearl Makes Way Up Eastern Seaboard The superhurricane known as OscPearl. 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. and he’s called upon the Navy to repair the robotic platform. Presiden t Waters has sent U. In this robotically “manned” facility.S.” But experts say that replacing the lost equipment. especiall y during the current oil crisis. Hardest hit was the robotic refinery set out in the Gulf itsel f. troops. Rebuilding the robotic oil refinery is our number one priority. a combination of hurricanes Oscar and Pear l. including National Guardsmen. which is expected to be some time in the next four days. Unlike the manned refinerie s that produce only several hundred barrels of crude oil a day. local residents are bei ng asked to do everything possible to prepare for the worst. They admit to being surpr ised that the hurricane has not yet done so. People are being encou raged to collect as much rain water as possible when OscPearl does hit. Local municipalities in our region are laying in f ood and water supplies at local schools and shelters. Sandbagging along the Hudson Ri ver has already begun in an effort to hold back floodwaters. . 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. 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. to the region. The inability of residents to evacuate due to gas shortages has caused a devastating loss of life in these areas. causing incredible damage to the ci ty of Atlanta before washing away the outer bank beaches of North Carolina.
orange.” he warned. she was searc hing for now. She raised one arm to shield her face from windswept branches.” he sai d with a laugh. she bundled it more tightly. The ca nopy of red. and even stones that were sailing past her. as she entered the sloping. But she was here now and there was no turning back. Afraid the conte nts might get ruined. and was coming back. She’d tried Hector’s trailer. Not covered! From the ever-intensifying growl and toss of the wind. Where. after spending a cold night on the bleachers at school. The woods surrounding Sage Valley might not have been the best dest ination in a hurricane—a superhurricane—she realized. was it? Gwen hadn’t been up in the woods that rimmed the valley in a few years. The disconnected treetop twisted twice. tree-packed hill. She’d come to find th e old mine shaft opening she’d remembered exploring as a kid. Gwen decided as she gazed into the expanse of maples. and a six-pack of Juicy Juice. in particular. a loaf of bread. He’d given her a bag of salami. Gwen squinted into the blinding downpour. A giant pine had split three-quarter s of the way up and appeared to move in slow motion as the top portion banged ha rd against its own trunk before bouncing free and spinning out into the air. She’d charged it at Ghost Motorcycle when she’d gone looking—unsuccessfully—for Luke. More static. It was all charged and lit up. watching the trees rustle in t he wind. covered the bag with her swea tshirt. and no one. That’s when she’d recalled the old mine shaft openings set into bo ulders in the woods. had ever nailed the mi ne opening shut again. irregular opening in the rocks that would lead to the mine shaft. Gwen stood. She hoped no park ranger had come by since her last visit . as far as Gwen knew. Gwen realized that the leave s were providing some shelter from the rain but fewer and fewer remained every s econd. and pines she was about to enter. Nothing but static. It then bounced. “She’s never really sure whether she’s crazy or not. Gwen had heard enough news report s to know what they meant—OscPearl had arrived. She spr ang away at the last second. she and Luke had played in these woods with friends. 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. Oreos. As kids. she’d noti ced ominous storm clouds beginning to roll in. Without further warning. Wit h her other hand. oaks. she clutched the grocery bag containing food. She tried phoning the information number just to check her phone. OscPearl was probably messing with radio signals up and dow n the coast. Gwen allowed a frightened shu dder to travel through her body. She tried the schoo l—the same thing.” This morning. that’s all she got. mixing with the rain pelting her f ace. Tears sprang from the colliding emotions of ter ror and relief. Lying on the muddy ground just a foot away. Every time she tried to call Luke. Companies didn’t mine coal anymore in Sage Valley. Her eyes darting upward. She wasn’t about to involve him in her messy life. just as the heavy mass of wood hit the ground where she’d been standing. but he told her that a woman from Children’s Services had been by lookin g for her already. spraying wood chips and pine into the air. Staying with Tom wasn’t an option. Someone had told her Gwen and Hector wer e friends. Gwen pulled herself to a sitting position after a few more minutes and sear ched around for the rough. hoping she could stay with him.CHAPTER 10 Gwen sighed and stuffed her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. and entered the woods. 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. shaking everything arou nd it. “Mom will notice it’s gone an d have a fit. It had to be Osc Pearl. Living out in the open was now out of the question. “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. releasing a torr ent of rain. A sharp crack split the air. exactly. leaves. and she let them fall freely. There was one shaft. frozen in terror as it headed for her. It was the only safe hideaway she could think of. Gwen knew she’d fo . the skies opened. There it was! Just beyond an outcropping of rock Gwen spied a black hole. and then changed course. so it always work s. It wasn’t her phone. stuck to her spot. it took Gwen a seco nd to fully comprehend what she was seeing. and finally hit the forest floor a second and last time. and yellow autumn leaves cascaded to the ground. but I’ll pretend she’s crazy and just imagined we had that food. pushing her way against a brutal wind that had suddenly kicked up. hurtling toward he r.
” But she couldn’t see an end to any of it. Gas shortages end. terrifie d. It stung like crazy. a world of misery without end. Rain pelted the leaves in a rhythmic tattoo th at made Gwen imagine knives being thrown from the heavens. crashing into one another and sh attering with the force of bombs. “Storms end. Just the wind. Almost.” Gwen told herself aloud. open space behind her. Wars end. letting the cold water from her hair and body soak the dirt floor until a mud puddle surrounded her. e tree had fallen. Maybe this was the start of somethi ng new. Gwen le t out a low chortle of grim laughter that began in her belly and traveled upward . and she . Lowering herself to the dirt floor. Gwen shivered. She cried because Tom would never be interested in her. Gwen flattened herself against the wall. frightened whisp er. decaying stone. But where was her bag of food? She’d lost it when th go back to find it. She cried for the loss of the selfish wom an who had been the only mother she’d ever had. T he wavering image filtering through the waterfall in front of her was nothing bu t a blur of brown. ancient trees fell. Rain poured in a sheet. Outside. 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. bouncing off the walls and rattl ing the loose. “This will end. a second crack. she once again let her tears fall freely. “It’s just the wind. She had to er eyes. A terribl e howl filled the black. Could things be any worse? Her situation was so bad that it was almost funny. this s coming down. smashing to the ground and shaking it. Pushing back her soaked hair. built into the side of a hill deep in the Sage Valley woods. and red. gold. The branch that fell before she could get inside had cut her cheek. with a few spots of remaining green. She cried for the father she’d never known.” she told herself in a hoarse. She hung her head. She raced into ing past her. Her hand came up bloody when sh e wiped it across her face. sh ivering. As she scanned the area with h one louder than the last. 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.und the opening just in time. one after th e other.
breathtaking in its ferocity. and then she fell into a sleep that was just as sad as the waking. The foliage floated in clumps in the puddles and raced along in small rivulets that had for med everywhere. She sobbed until she exhausted herself . Gwen awakened and immediately registered a change in the quality of the light co ming through the mine shaft door. other times lying in piles of threes and fours on the ground. Just this strange light. Gwen wiped her eyes and stepped out. but dark clouds hovered at its edges. .couldn’t even figure out why she wanted him to care. It was the most beautiful thing Gwen had ever seen. white glow. trees were down— sometimes propped against one another. Gwen was standing in the eye of Superhurricane OscPearl. was lit in the cr ystalline. It was exquisitely clear. There was no rain or wind. th e leaves had been stripped from the broken and bent remaining trees. she saw a bright blue sky. Gazing upwar d. She cried for the terrible co ndition of her life right then and there. Above. It told her where she was. Everywhere. Standing. T he scene of awesome destruction.
” her mother ca utioned. “Rubber boots. “Have you been in the supermarkets lately? There’s nothing on the shelves. Her house was high up. “Nice boot s.” Maritza sat up on the couch looking al armed.” Carlos said. which is completely flooded. It was off the c oast of Boston now.” Tom turned pale.” he announced. in this water. There are lots of downed wires. get a pot from the kitchen.” Tom stood on the towels Carlos brought an d. “For one thing. Maritza. he saw a yellow blowup boat. encased in the plastered gauze of a cast and supported by a sling. “I think she want s to eat what’s there before it all goes bad. Besides.” Carlos added. The big maple in front of his house lay sideways in the brown torrent running down the street. “We can’t eat pancakes orever. The small craft w . Tell her to come on over here. Mrs. Water was sloshing inside the waders by the time Tom reached Carlos. guys. including s ewage.” Mrs. His bruised face instantly reminded Tom of the fight at th e high school. frigid water. She’d texted him after the bonfire to say she’d gotten home. Niki had said she understood. The truckers are rationing their trips because of the gas. And then OscPearl had begun movin g up the coast. there could be all sorts of nasty stuff. “Whatever.” Carlos told Tom. So if the power comes back on.” “Nice idea.” Tom volunteered. bobbing in the three feet or so of muddy water below.” Carlos’s mother c ame in.” “What’s she going to run it on…love?” Carlos’s mother asked. “Sewage?” Carlos nodded.” Tom said. He’s soaking the floo r.” Tom wondered how Niki was doing. “Joe. I have a little pancake mix left and some butter and syrup. “The dinghy is blown up if we need to get out of here. “ he figures the power will come back on once the lines are repaired. but I wouldn’t count on it. Gazing out the window. Forget it. Maritza. emptied his waders into the kitchen pot. th ose waders are filled with water. who’d have thought it?” “Now w e’re just like those snobs over on the water at Lake Morrisey.” Af ter collecting buckets from a closet. He could hardly believe it had only been five days ago. Besides. Everyone was hoping it would veer off toward the ocean there and spare the rest of New England from its rage. disrupting radio signals for hundreds of miles. 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. “Let’s go.” Mrs. Tom. “I bet t hose houses are floating around in the lake now. There could even be live electric current traveling through. Get some buckets. Electricity will run down the boots into the ground. Tom’s phone still wasn’t working. but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. “Carlos. I wouldn’t bet my life on them protecting you fr om getting zapped. “You’d better get out of this wate r. “And you’re not helping her?” “She sent me out to see i f I could buy a dehumidifier. It rose nearly to the top of his father’s old fishing waders.” Carlos’s fifteen-year-old sister.CHAPTER 11 Tom dropped down from his first-floor window. looking frazzled and tired.” “I’m just saying…what are we going to do?” Maritza replied. She’s trying to bail out our basement. Carlos’s father came into the room holdin g a hand pump. I ca n tell you that. Tom grinned. Hernandez said. teased from the couch where she was reading a fashion magazine. so she was probably all right. Tom followed Carlos and his father back to the kitchen. you could get fried. If you run short.” “Tha t’s sweet of you. come over to us.” “Sure. We had power before the storm. b ouncing lightly in his waders. He rnandez. From across the street.” he apologized. “Who ever thought we’d h ave waterfront property?” Carlos joked. as gently as he could. Carlo s hung out his first-story window and swung his left arm in greeting. He’d called her to apologize for leaving her stran ded. landing hip deep in filthy. Tom.” “I hope she’s right. He hadn’t expected to become involved in a fight when he left her to check ou t the situation. “They’re spilling all over the floor. find some towels. It was still considered a Cate gory Six hurricane. “Sorry. Its massive roots po inted toward an amazingly blue. crystal-clear sky. “That’s all the food you have in the house?” “Don’t give me that look. nothing’s open anywhere today. Tom boosted himself u p into Carlos’s window and Carlos helped pull him the rest of the way in.” Joe Hernandez replied. large enough f or four.” “My mom has some stuff still in the fridge. His right arm stayed stationary at his side. could you take Carlos and Tom back over to Tom’s house? Karen needs help bail ing out her basement. “Yeah.” “I’m grounded from electric. I can cook us up some breakfast on Carlos’s camping stove. which Tom ha d donned for the post-hurricane exploration. “You don’t know what’s floating around in here. How’s your mother?” “Not so great this morn ing. Herna ndez raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Please!” “We’re out of food!” “I’ve run out of my heart pills. Help me carry her. On instinct. “My grandmother’s stuck in our flooded base ment. Who knows what’s in there?” Carlos went out first and Tom followed him down. The boat rocked precariousl y as he hoisted the animal into it. That’s what neighbors do. “Mom is going to really appreciate t he help.as tied to the doorknob of the back door. The dog tried with futile movements to p addle away. their neighbors were standing at their open windows calling out for help.” A golden retriever that Tom didn’t recognize was being carrie d past the boat by the rushing torrent. 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. Mr. Tom rea ched out and clutched the big dog’s long. Tom. When they were out on the street.” Carlos’s father inst ructed. Tom rea lized immediately that the rush of water had increased by a lot. “Out the window.” Joe Hernandez said. “Thanks f or doing this.” “No problem. All around them. I co uld die without them. 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. but he was no match for the racing floodwaters. reddish fur. They help each other when times get tough. “Stay low in the dinghy. You don’t want to tip and land in that muddy water. He rnandez handed down the buckets and some oars before climbing down also. “Whoa! Tom!” cried Joe Hernandez. “What are you do ing?” . boys. untying and pushing off from the house.” Tom told Carlos and his father.
“I’ll take care of him. “Larry .” Tom explained. but still young. The dog shook himself dry.” Carlos’s father insisted. There was no tag.” Joe Hernandez put his back into the work of rowing. “We’ve got all these people to try to help.” his father replied.” Carlos suggested. Larry. spraying them all with the foul water. “Welcome ab oard. he looked a t the animal more closely and saw that the retriever was no longer a puppy.” .” he repeated.“He would have drowned. When Tom stopped ducking away from the shower. We can’t take on a dog right now. “That’s a funny name for a dog. He examined the coll ar the dog wore. turning the boat away from Tom’s house.” He patted the dog’s soaked fur. “Maybe the dog can help. first.” Tom insisted. “Maybe we’d better see about that woman’s grandmother. but the name Larry was stitched onto it. “A dog has to be fed.
Many of these oil-producing cou ntries have finally. claiming that just as high-oct ane gas produces more power. P erhaps it is already too late. The conclusions they are drawing all seem to point in one direction: heat. It flows logically from that. the world’s largest consum er of crude oil. really. 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. costing American lives.” Senator Rambling is calling for an antiwar rally in Washington by the end of the month. Withou t it. This war with Venezuela is a game of blin dman’s bluff. Oil i s still abundant and continues to be the best source of inexpensive fuel. in a wildly dramatic way. But now things have changed. saying: “The last t hing the oil suppliers want is for the American public. We have just seen.” Mr. to wean themselves from their addiction to oil. run out of what we have always known was a nonrenew able source of fuel. Rather than striving to regain the oil that feeds our current way of life—and continues to raise carbon levels to dangerous highs. t hough they don’t want anyone to know it. Those that have some remaining supply are near depletion. then we must look to carbon emissions as the underlying c ause. scientists at England’s University College . “This sort of panicky rhetoric undermines the current military effort to open oil fields in Venezuela and elsewhere. warmer ocean waters produce more powerful hurricane s. We import over thirteen billion barrels of oil a day. A senior analyst with the National Hurricane Center likened warm ocean waters to the fuel for a car. It’s time to stop the madness.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. London. our entire way of life will have to be revamped in a way most citizens wil l find unacceptable. what our lack of leadership and gra ssroots action is costing us. it has always been in the best interest of oil-producing countries to keep prices at a somewha t reasonable level. p olluting and warming our planet—we should be searching for cleaner alternatives. Rambling rebutted the president’s words. are busy studying the devastating superhurricane. but we must try. it makes us view the current fuel crisis in a new light.” President Jeffrey Waters responde d to Senator Rambling with harsh words. If indeed global warming is the culprit in the formation of this ruinous storm. To be more specific. that the current unavailability of gas that has so curbed our driving and general mobility could be a blessing in disguise. . Senator Thomas Rambling (D-MA) stated in a press release today: “As our state s truggles to recover from this horrific storm. Each day! For that reason. The re searchers speculate that ocean temperatures may be climbing even more rapidly th an atmospheric temperatures.
The BJK-Mart corporation explained that not only was t he high fuel price of trucking to blame. Cl osing her eyes. She needed to see. Her glasses fo gged. Niki had to admit he had the be st smile. In just one day. half sunk below the water. though she wasn’t yet sure. “All the roads a re flooded. Canada. only moving away from it t o rummage for something to eat. Niki let the spray of lake water stirred up by the Jet Ski hit h er face.” “I used my friend’s dinghy. more and more American troops wen t down to fight for oil. but it didn’t look awful. Every day. When they were close. and she wrapped her arms around his w aist. Tom returned her lau ghter. “How are you?” he called. The f amily’s Bayliner motorboat. and plus. Turning the hand throttle. Her mother was staying glued to the radio. The water vehicle seemed to be heading directly for her. I’ll give y ou a ride. Speeding aro und a jutting lakeshore bend. everything in the refrigerator and freezer was a melting mess. having been unable to shower for days since the power shortage took out the el ectric pump to the family well. But she could still see the boat sitting there below the surface. I’ll put it back when I’m done. After his rampage. “Hang on. “It was floating in s omeone’s yard. “Not n ow. A Russian nuclear submarine had been spotted off the coast of Nova Scoti a. Niki had sat with her for two hours that morning . was now completely submerged. He put his finge r to his lips. When Tom was in front of her. It was tempting t o jump into the flooded lake. had been force d to shut its gates when rioting broke out as customers fought over the sparse g oods left on the shelves. he idled the Jet Ski. “Tom?” she wondered aloud. after all. Tom sent them surging forward into the lake. And she felt disgusting . 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. “It got me here. Tom drove them out to the north side of the lake. but now she was ready for lunch and didn’t re lish the idea of cold chicken soup. I have this other thing to do. Niki was st ill staring out at the lake when she noticed someone crossing the water on a Jet Ski. The stove and microwave wer e electric. A teen boy was driving. Descending several steps until her bare feet hit the water.” he admitted in a confiding tone. shrugging in a way she found charming.” “How did you even get over to Marietta?” Niki asked. “I borrowed it. The floodwaters had risen to just below the five-foot-high platform.” “You f loated here on a dinghy?!” Niki cried. but their house was empty. The war in Venezuela had escalated. The water was muddier than usual with the contents from the bottom still swirling. Its bracing iciness made her feel alive. pointing to the Jet Ski. As she waved to him.” “Want to come up?” Niki offered. swinging her arm broadly. he set a path toward a wooded island out in the mi ddle of the lake.” he instructed. Getting off the Jet Ski. Connecticut. Niki wondered if he even realized there had been a hurricane.” “Okay. her father had taken to h is bed and hadn’t yet emerged. It was Tom. she snatched off her gl asses and stuck them in the front pocket of her jeans. in Danbury. Her breakfast had been a can of cold tom ato soup. She was hungry. “Where’d you get that?” she asked. and she took them off to wipe on her shirt. he pulled up to a rotted dock extending off the island. I wanted to see you . so nothing could be cooked. laughing in disbelief.CHAPTER 12 Niki stood on her back deck and looked down the hill into the floodwaters. Bolivia had sided with Venezuela. and was now more up-to-date on current events than she’d ever been in her life. obscuring her view of Lake Morrisey. It’s tied up back there at the empty house. Niki realized it was closer than she’d originally thought. 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. which hadn’t been too awful. It might be him. I have something else I have to do. “You’ll see.” Tom suggested.” she agreed. and she laughed with delight at the improbability of his driving out to see her on a Jet Ski. and there wa s no sense fighting the glasses. still tethered to the family dock. 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. she leaned out for a better look. and the fighting had spread. as though they might be able to actually outrun all the troub les of the world. The last BJK-Mart Superstore. too. almost happy. thanks. Lucky the ta nk still has gas. Contact lenses weren’t coming back into her life anytime soon. Tom offered .” “What do you have to do?” “Get on.
Then he pulled the Jet Sk i up into the bushes.” . They were a blur. “Did you think you were the only one whose family owns property on Lake Morrisey?” he asked in a teasing voice. A t its center was a tumbledown wooden storage shed. so she pulled out her glasses. stepping inside the shed b ehind him. Niki helped him pull it sideways out the shed door. “This is my family’s vacation estate. and he r bare feet sank into a muddy ooze as she gazed around at the trees and bushes.Niki a hand in climbing onto the dry part of the dock. “Where are we?” Niki asked. I used to camp out here with him when I was little. Tom nodded. intending to leave them on for just long enough to take in her surroundings. all tangled in vines.” he said. “That’s what you came here for?” Niki asked. Its one window was smashed. “No kidding? Does your family really own this island?” Niki asked. “Here’s one of the things. he pulled it off the two wooden sawhorses on which it had been sitting. “Partly. “Okay. its shingled roof nearly cras hed in by the heavy branch that lay on top of it.” Tom pushed at the shed’s jammed doorway until it gave way.” He walked around to the far side of the shed. He pushed through old camping equipme nt and boat oars. “It was m y grandfather’s. The entire i sland must have been no more than ten yards long and about eight yards across.” Niki stepped up to her ankles in frigid water. here’s another part. “What are you looking for?” Niki asked. the two of them struggling t o make it fit through the narrow opening. Gripping the top of a scratched orange canoe.
“I think you look very pretty in the glasses.” he confirmed. “He must belong to someone. “Does it sound crazy?” “Everything is crazy now.” Tom replied as he turned the boat over. she whipped off the glasses. did I tell you I have a dog now?” He told Nik i about the golden retriever he’d found swimming in the floodwaters. “Oh? Well. I’m going to drag the canoe home with me. they’re disgusting. “No. She’d completely forgotten sh e’d put them on. “Did you plan to sail it?” Niki asked. anchors.” After a few minutes more of searching. towels. This sailboat is too heavy. knocking out spider-webs with his h ands. He smiled sheepishly. and h e responds to it when I call him that. Tom took the glasses from her and gently placed them back on her face. But they’re not poi sonous. “Why do you want to bring it home?” “People are stranded all around by me.” 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.” she admitted. pulling out a long meta l pipe with nylon ropes wrapped around it. She’d never have thought it was so mething she’d ever do. sure he was just being nice. “Is it a rowboat?” she aske d. “Aw. though. Niki had never kissed a boy while wearing her glasses before. he laughed. unfurling them on the shed’s wooden floor. yeah. pu tting his arms around her. wishing she hadn’t spoken. It has to be fixed up . He used to take me out. .” Niki admitt ed.” “I’m not big on dogs. “First to an all-out fight between t wo high schools and now to a snake-infested island. “Don’t I take you to the nicest places?” he joked. but so far there’s no news. “Here it is. “The sail s are attached with them.” “Yeah.” Tom agreed. It’s got two sails—I think it’s called a s loop. All I know is that his collar says Larry.” “That makes sense.” Tom said. Right now it’s completely disassembled. I t’s funny on a dog. “Yeah. “They’re called halyards. they were kissing. I’ll have to come back for it. “They live all over the island. suddenl y worried that he’d like her less for not loving dogs.” Niki said. and I remembered these were here.” “What for?” she asked. though.” “You’re going to bring the canoe home on the Jet Ski?” she q uestioned. “The mast. “That was my plan. and you have to see.” “How do you know I—?” Niki’s hands flew to her face. still digging among the piles.Niki joined him and saw the bottom side of a small boat.” he said.” she said quietly when they broke from their kiss.” he remarked. “It’s the hull of my father’s old sailboat. did I say you look good in your glasses? I never knew you wo re them. Once I get back to my di nghy I can attach it and float the canoe behind me. and just about anythi ng anyone would ever need at a lake. By the way. “Not today. I figure that any kin d of boat that doesn’t need gas would be good to have. In the next second. gazing around the island. “I feel like I’m turning into someone else. I like him.” “What are those ropes for?” Niki asked. but he had no tags. I checked with the sheriff’s office to see if anyone’s looking for him. I suppose. “I’m not sure. and then kissed her again.” he explained. and I could sail it if I can find the other parts. he unearthed two dirty nylon sails.” “Like who else?” Tom asked.” “Snakes?” Niki asked in a small.” Tom said. “You look good in them. motors.” “I bet he’s nice. Suddenly. “Larry is an adorable name. Laughing. worried voice. Embarrassed. don’t you?” “Do you really think they’re all right?” Niki asked. “Everything’s changing so fast.” “Hey.
CHAPTER 13 Gwen threw all her weight against one of the two huge trees, the one on top of t he other that had fallen in front of the mine shaft doorway. It wouldn’t budge. Sh e screamed in frustrated defeat. She’d been pushing at the trees for at least a ha lf hour without any result. After the eye of OscPearl had passed, the storm had resumed, beating against the mine shaft with an even more terrifying ferocity th an before. Gwen had rushed back inside and had been there mere minutes before th e first tree crashed down and hit the second tree. She had cringed into a ball o n the ground, covering her head and ears. The two trees made a door that blocked the rain, and at first Gwen had been thankful for the additional protection, no longer fearing that her small space might flood. But now the storm was over, an d the trees were stopping her from leaving the mine shaft. Initially, she’d hoped she could wriggle out through the space on top, but she couldn’t even get her shou lders through. Gwen’s stomach rumbled and a dull ache of hunger was forming at its pit. Panic seized her, increasing the pain in her belly. What if she survived t he storm only to starve to death, trapped here in this old mining shaft? Even if she shouted for help, who knew how long it would be before anyone came by? If i t was weeks—and it could be—she’d be dead. The small space suddenly felt unbearably cl austrophobic. She had to get out. Calm down, she urged herself. Breathe. There h ad to be a way out. Searching around, Gwen saw a patch of wood about five feet s quare from side to side in the dirty rock floor—a trapdoor. Walking over, she real ized that it hadn’t been placed perfectly on the opening. And then a dim memory ca me to her. Luke, Rat, and other friends used to go down into the mine, leaving h er on top, usually with a boy named Tim and his sister, Tina. Luke always said t hey were too young to come down into the mine, and Gwen had been just as happy n ot to go. The dark, rocky descent made her think of a fearsome entry into an und erworld. As much as she would put on a brave face, she always sighed a deep brea th of relief when Luke reemerged. Gwen had asked Luke once if he could breathe a ll right when he was down in the mine. “Yeah, there’s air down there,” he’d answered. “It’s coming from somewhere.” If there was air, maybe there was another way out. Grippin g the trapdoor’s handle, Gwen put all her strength into pushing the door from atop the opening. The space between her shoulder blades cramped with the effort, and her biceps twisted in pain. She clamped her teeth together, contorting her face into a determined grimace until the door was pushed forward. Breathing hard, sh e stepped back to observe her work. The door wasn’t completely off, but she’d pushed it far enough for her to squeeze into the opening. Bending, Gwen peered into th e blackness and another memory came to her—the secret flashlight. Luke and his fri ends kept it stashed on a rock shelf behind the metal steps leading down into th e mine. Did she have the nerve to go down there? Glancing back anxiously at the tree-blocked doorway, Gwen shuddered at the idea. What was down there? But what other choice was there? Gwen sat at the edge of the trapdoor opening. Turning, s he lowered herself onto the metal ladder, feeling with her sneakers for the rung . Descending four more steps until she faced only dark rock, she groped through the ladder until her hand came to the heavy lantern-style flashlight she’d remembe red. Could the batteries still be good? Clicking on the switch, nothing happened . Then she remembered something else Luke had told her. He always stored batteri es separately. “They stay good as long as you don’t leave them inside the flashlight ,” he’d told her. Again groping blindly for the rock shelf, she came to a blister pa ck of C batteries. Score. Feeling her way down the long ladder, flashlight clutched under her left arm, ba tteries stuffed deep into the back pocket of her jeans, Gwen felt as though she were disappearing into a world of utter blackness. The shaft opening above took on a grayish glow, lit by the bit of sunlight that filtered into the shaft from the opening, but it was disappearing with every downward step she took. At the b ottom of the ladder, she sat cross-legged on the cold, damp rock, which instantl y soaked the seat of her jeans, and fumbled in the darkness with the bottom of t he flashlight. When it was off, she loaded it with the batteries, feeling the bo
ttom of each one with probing fingers to ascertain if it was going in the correc t direction. Batteries like this had become rarer and rarer—and more and more expe nsive—in the past couple of years, but she still remembered how to do this. Holdin g her breath in anticipation, she clicked to the ON position. Gwen blinked to ad just her eyes to the light as she took in her cavernous surroundings. The black and brown speckled rock was veined with bluish-gray lines. Stalactites hung from the rocky ceiling and dripped everywhere. There was a sound of rushing water co ming from somewhere, but she couldn’t tell where. When Gwen breathed out, her brea th formed a cloud of vapor. Swinging her flashlight all around, Gwen saw that th e mine continued on to her right and she headed that way. Along the way, she sca nned the walls with her flashlight beam, searching for anything that might indic ate that there was light or air coming in. After a while, Gwen’s feet ached and sh e felt sure she had walked at least five miles. This endless underground path se emed to lead nowhere in particular. And now she would have to go back the way sh e’d come—because there was no way she was going to sleep down here in this cold, wet , dark place. Throwing her arms wide in frustration, she swung around in a circl e. And suddenly, she froze midswing, because right in front of her was a door ma de of a highly polished stainless steel. Assuming it was locked, Gwen tried the handle just to be certain. And it opened. Pulling the door toward her, she stare d in at the improbable sight of a clean, ultramodern living room. “Hello?” Gwen call ed, stretching forward to see more of the room. “Anybody home?” The only reply was t he hum of the stainless-steel refrigerator. Drawn by intense curiosity and the p romise of finding food and water, Gwen stepped inside. The door shut effortlessl y, making no sound as it swung on silent, spring-loaded hinges. The room had no windows but was bathed in a pleasant, soft, whitish light from bulbs embedded in the ceiling. Gwen hoped this meant the power in Sage Valley had been restored. At the room’s center was a long, black counter space surrounded by high stools. On the right were couches covered in a tweedy, tan material and a smallish TV with about a 32-inch screen. A Ping-Pong table sat to the right of the couches.
she was gre eted with a vision of the windblown forest. They were set between two heavy blocks of some kind of metal. Thumbing through. their edges smoothed. and the water instantly r evived her. “Hell o? Anyone up there?” After waiting several minutes for a reply. How had everyone missed the warning? A low. and the staircase had brought her t he rest of the way. It seemed she’d gues sed correctly. but the shelves were lined with various books. Gwen read a blurb explaining the book’s subject. It seemed that the spinning plates were turning two fan belts. It was a whirring motor of some kind. Leaving the second room. In the ca binet. Deffeyes. she began to ascen d the stairs. 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. The room was nearly empty. the underground path she had been on had sloped upward gently. On the b ack cover. Pullin g open the refrigerator. she found a supply of green-tinted drinking glasses that looked as if the y had been made from the bottom of bottles. Gwen went to the bottom of the stairs. turning. A geophysicist named M . Gwen emerged into a room flooded in sunlight. Gwen laid the book back on the s helf. and The Green Potential of Magnets. Ju st as he’d foretold with the help of his complex mathematical formulas. This wasn’t an illusion—it was real. its downed trees nearly stripped of their foliage. Was thi s building set into the side of the hill? Going to the window. 1956? It seemed that this mess they were in the middle of now had been com ing for a long time. The second room was identical to the first. Putting down the glass. she went out to sear ch for the source of the resonance. she was deeply disappointed to find it empty. Gwen f ound a sign. She took one a nd turned on the filtered water tap. and Gwen went ri ght for the freezer. th e production of crude oil would begin to fall off and would never again rise.Directly behind the counter was an all stainless-steel kitchen. windowless room she assumed was a bed room. Pasted to the back of the third door. But what was this place? Th ere was no other window aside from the one that covered the entire wall. had predicted that oil production in the United States would reach its highest level in the 1970s. Gwen gulpe d down an entire glass of it. the other two counterclockwise. she pressed her c heek up to it. and then refilled a second. Apparently. bringing her just below the surface. It had worked—she’d found a way out. nothing but one long table on the high ly polished wooden floor.S. 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. WELCOME TO THE HEART OF THE WHIPPERSNAPPER 3 GREEN MODEL HOME— THE REVOLUTIONARY MAGNETIC GENERATOR . had been dependent on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Comp anies for their oil. humming sound d istracted Gwen from her thoughts. It was titled Hubbert’s Peak: the Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S. A winding staircase in the corner of the room appeared to lead to an upper floor. and after that. though there was an unfilled bookcase built into the wa ll. Conquering Lift and Drag in Wind Power. It was all movin g very fast. Straw Bale Insulation. but with all its parts exposed. She couldn’t remember anything ever looking a s delicious to her as the stream of crystal-clear water that ran out. two clockwise. Gwe n pushed open the first and found a small. peered to her right. It was also empty. since 1971 the U. There were three shut doors against the back wall. It was an updated edition from back i n 2003. Gwen saw that they had titles such as Building for a Greener Tomorrow. It seemed to be coming from the next room. Gwen turned back to the sign to find out some more about the Whippe rsnapper 3. King Hubbert. It had been nearly twe nty-four hours since she’d had anything to eat or drink. she saw it was filled with graphs and charts. Quickly perusing their spines. and Gwen took it down. He’d predicted this in 1956. scooping a handful of ice into her parched mouth and lettin g the wonderful cold and wet melt there. who was working for Shell. and saw nothing but rock. One book looked older th an the others. Four heavy plates spun.
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” “You found milk?” he asked hopefully. He untied the c anoe from the table. laughing. Tom saw that the brown floodwaters were just abo ut a foot below. even if you are a go od swimmer. “Listen.” Sage Valley had been offici ally declared a disaster area. The table had withstood the blast of the stor m. especially places south of them. His mother had gone down. and the golden retriever scampered in fro m the living room. but there were places. “Hey. yeah. He’d left her there al one in the basement. she’d started with thi s horrible coughing. And get me some cough syrup .” Downstairs.” “Okay. Tom had gr own completely attached to him. as the canoe rocked from side to side. the next day. Now that Larry was dry. They all want cash. catching her br eath.” he repeated to no one in particular. Do you have any other blankets?” His mother pointed to the top shelf of her closet. “Have you eaten anything yet?” Tom asked her.” “No one’s taking cards. let’s go find you some dog food. “Why no t?” “I don’t know. Tom. there!” he cautioned. “Come on. the mold is making my sister sick. But he’d have felt just as bad if he helped them and ignored his mother yet again. Tom hoped no one was looking for this dog right now. but Sage Valley was apparently lower on the list of places in need of immediate relief than others.” his mother replie d. As he spoke.” “I’ll be back soon!” he called to them. “I’ll b e back. “I had it dry. he whistled for Larry as he descended the deck steps and grabbed the canoe at the bow. which set off another fit of coughs. He turned and began to untie the canoe that he’d tethered to the picnic table anchored to the deck. and Tom leaned aside to let him leap into the canoe.” “Then take the cash. there’s not much food left. his words seemed to him shameful and cold. She needs to get out of the house. he’d taken the canoe out with Carlos and Carlos’s dad. She nodded. He’d figured she was all right and other people needed him mo re. so he figured there was little danger of it floating off now. Two hundred dollars.” There was a strong current that required him to hang on to the deck w hile he climbed in. he turned out to be a gorgeous animal with a thick. And then. which had been even harder hit. you can still get that dehumidifier.” Ste pping outside to the back deck. but he’d have to remember to buy onl y nonperishable items. “Whoa.” Tom told her. The dog came running. He counted the money in his pocket. The possibility of giving up Larry was something he didn’t want to consider. “You don’t want to land in the water again. to keep from being swept away. and he pulled down a woolen blanket to tuck around her. Grabbing t he oars from the table. “Mom. to try to bail out the basement. Or take my debi t card from my wallet. Neighbors instantly noticed him and opened their windows. Various groups offering aid had come in.” she a nswered. It’s cold in here. can I come in?” “Sure. “I have to do something right now. What a disgusting mess! His stomach rumbled. Guilt shot through him. That s hould be enough to stock them up for a while. . maybe by some miracle. can you take me to the doctor?” “I have money for food. “Some cereal. There’s money over there on my dresser. And now this morning. The racing water carried him out to the street without even using the paddles. Tom ruffled the fur that curled like a mane around Larry’s neck . he knocked. It’s just what I heard. Moving to her door. “O kay.” “Is the water still that high?” “It’s down bout a foot from yesterday. dropping it over the railing to the water below. once m ore. Can you go into town and see what you can fi nd? And. His mother was still in bed and lo oked pale. “Larry!” he called. re d coat. In only days. Can you buy some for me?” “Tom. buddy. 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. t rying to help more neighbors who were stranded. But then he had to stroke hard against the flow to turn the boat toward town.” Tom nodded.CHAPTER 14 Tom stopped in the second-floor hallway of his house to listen to the hacking co ugh coming from his mother’s bedroom. but it’s still high enough that the canoe is the best way to go. A Red Cross boat will probably be by soon. “I’ll take the canoe out and go into town. Be careful. Tom pulled open the refrigerator door.
dumbstruck with di sappointment. more satisfying— for having been cooked outdoo rs? He probably wouldn’t even notice. “Sorry to leave you to handle it all.” she said as she walked the bike to the puddle-dotted sidewalk. “Come in.” “Dad.” her father suggested. being Brock’s girlfriend had given her a sen se of where she fit in. taking the tray from her. who needed her medications refilled—and whose pharmacy hadn’t reopened since OscPearl swept through. a great kisser—better than Brock. now that she recalle d. she discovered that this was a question she couldn’t easily answer.” he said. not the war. Was it cheerleading? It did give her a sense of purpose—to her school. It was pleasant to think about Tom.” She ignored his criticism of the soup. to remember how his arms felt around her. facing away from Niki. thrilling to think of him coming across t he lake on the Jet Ski. With everything tha t had happened recently. but the sight of him lazing in bed. Is that true?” Niki ro lled her eyes and fought the urge to knock the tray over on him. “The lake was halfway to the back deck.” She hadn’t intended for her voice to sound as annoyed as it did.” “That would be a start. and Marietta is in big trouble.CHAPTER 15 Niki balanced the tray as she went up the steps to bring her father his lunch of canned chicken soup. you missed that. though she hadn’t particula rly wanted to think about it. “If things are so bad. But was that all she was? . using the last bit of propane left in the tank. Then she picked up the tray and walked out. I guess I should get out of bed. She still didn’t want to spend time dwelling on any of this—not the aftereffects of the hurricane. “What would be the point?” “The point is that Mom a nd I could use some help!” Niki shouted. “But what could I do about it all?” her father wondered aloud as he dragged the blanket back on. Marietta’s private gas tanker c an’t get through the floodwater. and no w we have no gas for the generator. “This is a little cold. Nothing leap t to mind.” “Go to the corner gas station and get s ome. wearing pajamas he hadn’t cha nged in three days. It was part of who she was. Niki could only stare at his back. 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 . really?” he said. “Oh. her voice rising ang rily.” “I suppose it’s understandable. Niki just wanted to be left alone to think about Tom. tranquilized. “Yeah. She didn’t have many close friends. Not being able to drive certainly chan ges your point of view about distance. certainly not her depressed. the pleasu re of thinking about him? Before Tom. not the gasoline short age.” Niki threw her hands into the air. the idea of crawling into bed and simply staying there had a certain appeal. or about the possibility of more superhurrican es tearing their way up the coast. groggy voice when she knocked at his bedroom door. These memories almost made everything else go away. “I used to think Grandm a lived close by. Her mother usually did this. too. No food. I guess I’ve had a sort of meltdown since losing m y job. unshaven.” he muttered. We still have no electricity. Niki didn’t want to spend ti me worrying about global warming. She was sick of hearing about all of it.” Niki had nodded. But not completely.” Niki said. So you can imagine what the other towns are like. “Thank you. Would the soup taste any different—smokier. to her team.” she informed him stiffly. was infuriating. “It’s just all too much to deal with. Niki. 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. She wondered if he’d appreciate the fact that she’d warmed it outside on the gas grill. “You two seem to be handling things.” Her father g azed at her blankly for a moment and then tossed his blanket aside. a real slammin’ hurricane. “Basically…we’re all going to die. He was a good kisser. “Your mother told me that storm I heard was a big hurricane. Brock’s kisses had been sort of slobbery. He had always seemed s o in control. “Oh. There’s no gasoline. she’d taken Niki’s bicycle for the four-mile trip. 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. It was too obnoxious t o even acknowledge. either.” Niki snapped. “I brought you some soup. When Niki’s mother had discovered she was out of gas. whom she was surprised to realize she didn’t think about m uch at all anymore. at least.” Niki grumbled begrudgingly. slurping his soup. out-of-work father. “It was a superhu rricane. Was it Tom or.” her father call ed in a sleepy. but she’d gone to see Niki’s grandmother. “S uddenly it seems like she lives far away.
. would she be just like her father. Niki couldn’t manage to put it out of her head. On ly. adrift and useless? Niki s uddenly realized her eyes were wet with tears. somehow.A cheerleader? Brock Brokowski’s girlfriend? Tom Harris’s girlfriend? If those thing s were taken away. This question was one more thing she didn’t particularly want to think about. and she quickly brushed them away .
“We’d better stow this thing. looking at the houses. Seeming to understand. I guess we’re the lucky ones. He stayed by Tom’s s ide as Tom dragged the canoe into some bushes. “Yeah. Curtin replied. I can’t even imagine how much it costs to se nd a package nowadays. but i t would have to do. Curtin. “Where is everybody?” Were any stores even open? He’d heard they were.” he told Larry as he got out of the canoe. moving forward in line. “Maybe that’s all it is. Tom felt incredibly awkward. “Got insurance?” Tom asked.” “Thanks. Brock knew he was involved with Niki.” Les grumbled. “She’s still living at Lak e Morrisey. The business district was at a higher elevation. “Aw. although there’s probably not much left. He had no reason to feel guilty. built before the day of t he superstores. The first store he came to was Maria’s Deli. She’s okay. “Aw. How are things at your house?” “Not so good. either. either: PIZZA OVENS OUT OF ORDER DUE TO FLOOD. His canoe made a rough. joining him at the back of the line. the water once again began to rise around them. HOPE TO REOPEN NEXT WEEK read the sign on the front door. which came to the tops of his legs. “I know mold grows fast in wet conditions and some people can get really serious respiratory conditions . It wasn’t a perfect hiding place. you’re welcome at my hous e anytime. splashing into the water. and my mom’s not feeling so good. Curtin agreed unconvi ncingly. closer to the valley’s rim. I thought it was just a head cold from standing in the water for so long.” Tom comp lained. Curtin said. pushing the canoe deep into them until only a bit of orange peeked through.” Tom said. man.” “Do they have electric over there yet?” Tom shook his head. Tom shrugged. He came to one where a very large tree had come down right on top of a red hybrid parked in the driveway. “No dogs!” the clerk behind the counter snapped. Larry. He took a pad and pen from the pocket of his corduroy sports jacket. A hand shot out to wave to Tom. By the time they wer e at the center of town. “I saved for t his since freshman year. Bro ck and Niki had broken up. Just the same.” “I know. come on. Remember. The water is sti ll much deeper than here.” “Great. I don’t want to worry you. and an uneasy expression came over his face. “I’ll go there now. “Yeah. “No.” Brock shook his head miserably as he surveyed the damage. And apparently. crushin g the roof on the driver’s side.” “Okay.” he lamented. A line of people wrapped itself all the way to the door. so it was less flooded. If not. “How’s it going with you?” “Hopefully bette r once I pick up this care package my sister sent. “Liste n. I hope. “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. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Give the kid a break. “Hey. just come over if you need help of any kind. Sucks.” Brock said.” Mr. I guess. taking the paper from him.” “I hope she doesn’t have th at. He was a quarter mile down the road. CLOSED—OUT OF EVERYTHING.” he said to the clerk. The pizzeria he came to nex t wasn’t open. but you should be aware of it. and the two of them left t he post office.” Mr. She spent too much time in the basement trying to bail floodwater.CHAPTER 16 “This is definitely weird. Everybody here is picking up packages. Mr. “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. Larry jumped out.” he answered.” “I’m desperately in need of food. I saw her a few days ago. the water was below his knees. than where Tom lived. and that g . “When do you think school will open again?” “Soo n. There were lights on in the post office.” “Thanks . scratching sound as it scraped the bottom of the road. but we’ve got no cell signals and even the landlines are down.” To m said. backing toward the door. “You know where I live.” Tom sympathized. going in the direction of the old A&P. and Tom had heard rumors that it was Brock who had br oken it off.” Tom said as he canoed into the center of the Sage Valley business district. and Tom wondered if he should have gone back fo r the canoe. Tom slogged through the water with Larry leaping along at hi s side. taking in the various kinds of damage they’d sustained.” Tom said. Mr.” “I hope the mold in your house isn’t getting to her. Okay. This is my cell phone number if we ever get electric and cel l phone service again. Curtin had worried him. Les. “I’m desperately in need of a paycheck. It was Mr. Tom recognized the vehicle. “Sorry about your car. Thanks. and now she’s coughing. Curtin. As they took the road back down into the valley. so he headed in.” Tom said.” Tom motioned for Larry to follow him. Brock Brokowski came around the tree and waved to Tom.” Tom said. Good to see ya. what the heck. or he wouldn’t have asked if Tom had seen her.” Mr.
“I have to get going. But if he was.as station that was getting fuel is shut down now. By the time Tom and Larry neared the grocery store. Then. pulling her little d aughter along by the hand.” “Man. Som ething about the scene wasn’t right. In her other arm. “Good luck with the car. but he couldn’t quite figure out what. white building was in sight at the far end of a midsized parking lot. what chance do we have? But y ou said Niki’s okay. The large. Tom noticed a vacuum machine about the size of a small car in the far corner of the lot. returning his attention to assessing the damage.” Tom told him.” “Thanks. she seems to be. This struck Tom as a hopeful gestu re. They were fighting.” Tom said instead. its orange hoses dangling. He knew that right no w most people couldn’t get their water-logged engines running. su ddenly. A young woman ran toward him. “if those rich people over there can’t get any help. A curse was hurtled through the air as if to seal his new un derstanding of the situation.” Brock said with a wave. considering that although there seemed to be about twenty people in front of the store. a man was knocked to the ground and Tom knew what was really happening. there were only three cars in the parking lot. too. which was spotted with large puddles but was othe rwise pretty dry. right?” “Yeah. she clutched a paper bag that looke d half full. and those who could start their cars couldn’t find gas to fuel them. why had he broken it off with h er? Tom didn’t know Brock well enough to ask. He started to cross the lot but stopped walking when he realized that people were milling outside the store. It sounded to Tom li ke Brock was still stuck on Niki. the wa ter was just below Tom’s knees. and assumed it had been us ed to suck up much of the water from the lot.” Brock said with a sigh . .
“What’s going on?” Tom asked the woman as she passed him. What am I supposed to do?” Larry barked at her as if giving a reprimand. “They’re fighting over the food.” Hector defended h . Those who haven’t been able to get any are attacking people as they come out with their bags. “You know what I have in here? Anchovy paste. “Good idea. pink tongue. “You’re lucky your bodyguard showed up. “She was going off to find some old mine shaft to live in to keep safe from OscPearl. He d idn’t get far before he was tackled to the ground by the guy he had punched. but—” “I know who you are. Hector. alarmed. The first man grabbed his groceries and began to run. fighting to get as much of it as possible. As he staggered ba ck.” he said once it seemed safe to stop and talk. Two police cars came into the lot. and then he shrugged. you—” Before the man could finish.” A gro cery clerk came to the door and quickly turned the inside dead bolt. After the kid stormed off. having just been pushed away from an abandoned grocery cart by another w oman. “I’m not sure there’s going to be a next time. locking the door. the other man was off the ground and running ba ck.” she reported. The store is nearly out and closing down.” Hector said w ith a small wave. Larry licked his face clean with his long. A heavy woman came flying betwee n them. Larry. Maybe he knew where Gwen had disappeared to. She loo ked like a nice.” “I saw her after that. “Let’s get out of here.” Hector inte rrupted him. and he walked towar d the front of the store. “Hey!” Tom sho uted at Hector’s attacker. skirting the wide puddles. Hector looked to Tom. deciding what he wanted to say. “That’s why I wanted to ask if you know where Gwen is. Listen. And canned corn. “You live behind Gwen. Hector was clutching his bag of groceries to his body while the other boy was trying to tear it away from him.” Hector just stood there panting as he hugged his brown bag of groceries. “And you let her go?” “I couldn’t really stop her.” Tom suggested to Hector after a quick check of the woma n. spraying Tom and Larry. With a nod of his head. 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. Tom saw t hat two boys about his age were shoving each other. I found him in the f lood. She had robbed so meone of their groceries? “Don’t look at me like that!” the woman shouted over her sho ulder at Tom. the only things left are the things that nobody ever really wanted. Tom suppos ed they would call it disorderly conduct. “You’re not getting my food . I remember. Angry. “Why don’t you get lost?” Tom countered. “Hi.” he told Tom. At least you used to before her house went up in smoke. “Get your own food.” Hector agreed.” “Get lost. While the two men wrestled on the ground. “This is Larry.” “Hey. Tom stared at her. One man punched another and sent him tottering backw ard so close to Tom that Tom had to leap out of the way. “But you escap ed? You’re okay?” he checked with the woman.” He shook his head. I’m Tom.” she said without stopping. “He’s a great-looking dog. “Thanks a lot. normal person. He was caught between his impulse to avoid the fighting at the groc ery store and intense curiosity.” the other boy snarled. sure. who seemed to be unharmed as she ran back into the fray of people fighting ov er the cart’s contents. without talking until they were far enough away to feel safe from the fighting. T he last thing they needed was to be picked up for fighting in public. He had to wonder how the jails were fu nctioning without power. He realized that one of them was the tall. their si rens screaming. “Yeah. th ree women and two men pounced on the spilled food. the kid glowered at Hector. They walked to the back of the par king lot. a mother with her small child. And pasta in the shape of unicorns. Next time I’m gonna mess you up.” Tom said. Hector gazed at him as though fi ltering his reply. though Tom knew it was probably only a reaction to her ag itated tone. I was able to grab this bag even t hough some spilled.” Hector revealed. shoving the boy away from Hector. aghast.” “How do you know where I live?” Tom asked. Mohawked kid he’d seen Gwen with that day he’d been talking to Carlos by his truck. “Thanks. his head bent as if he were a ram intending to butt horns with a rival. In the distance.” “Are you kidding me ?” Tom cried.” he said. we’ve never met and you don’t know me. sendi ng his food rolling out of the bag. “I think Gwen and I walked past your house one day and I figured it out. Tom signaled Hector to follow h im even farther out of the lot until they were on a quiet side road. I haven’t s een her since the fire. It didn’t look like the best moment to speak to him. and shouting ferociously. Tom ducked his head away and noticed that Hector did the same. His curious nature won out. Bas ically.” “Of course. a police siren sounded. “The kid is hungry. shouting voices snapped in the air as he came c lose to the front entrance.
and he wondered if Hector had caught it also. 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. Without a word. but I…you know…I assumed.imself. If she’d stayed with me. We can take it part of the way. how would she have survived? A mine shaft was probably good shelte r. aren’t you?” Tom checked. stowed his oars. right now. right?” “Did she tell you I was?” “No. “Yeah.” “I have a canoe. I went up to th e hills looking for her yesterday and the day before. There was no way she could hav e gotten into those. “No idea. OscPearl demolished our trailer. Tom’s thoughts focused on Gwen.” Tom had meant o be casual when he’d asked if Hector was seeing Gwen. He whistled fo r Larry. . After all. They were all standing knee-deep in water but the canoe co uld no longer move forward. they trudged up the muddy dirt road leading to the forest. I don’t know where else to look except in the forest some more. I’m living at the shelter in the bas ement of the elementary school. But he’d definitely dete cted a certain strain in his voice when he asked. and steadied the boat as Hector a nd Larry climbed out. “Do you think we should go look for her again?” he suggested. If she had been up here dur ing OscPearl.” He ctor said. “She has her own mind. it was none of h is business. Besides.” “She wouldn’t have said good-bye to you? You’re he r boyfriend.” “So where do you think she is?” Tom asked. He’d just been kissing Niki yesterday.” Tom said. really. Maybe she fou nd Luke and they went off somewhere. who had gone off to explore some tall grass. “Let’s go.” Tom tied the canoe to a tree. but they were boarded up from the outside. the cops or social services would have picked her up. “I think we should. I found a couple of mine s hafts.
Tom cast him a confused glance. Maybe he was just worried about her. But still… . I would be. “Why?” Hector asked as they n ared the trail leading into the hilly forest. Was he interested in Gwen? Niki was the one he was supposed to be involved with.” “Probably not.” Tom conceded.” Tom said. “I don’t know. “I’m not sure. wasn’t she? And he did like Niki. But he’d found himself thinking a lot about Gwen ever since the night of the fire when she’d run off. But it felt like somethin g more than that. Hector’s shifting eyes made him seem to be calculating how he wanted to ans wer before actually speaking. “I’m not sure you’re Gwen’s type. “W hat do you mean?” “I don’t think Gwen is all that into me—I mean. in that way. “Are you interested?” “In Gwen?” “Who else a re we talking about?” Tom realized he was avoiding the question.” he finally replied. Then a look of resignation came over his face.” Tom admitted to Hector. long time.” “Oh. “If i t were up to me.Again.” Hector grunted non committally. absorbing this new information.” “But you lik e her?” “Yeah. he’d thought of no other girl but her for such a long.
It’s made from all recycled and recyclable materials.” “Awesome. We were able to get into my mother’s car and just pray it didn’t turn over. and have social services put me in foster care? I don’t think so. “My trailer…like…just blew away. pushing her out o f the hug for closer scrutiny. Two.” Hector su ggested.” Hector reported. and it all runs on a magnetic generator that never costs any more th an its initial start-up cost. Solid forms were mo ving among the trees. “Not great. even the front isn’t intrusive. she pounded the button that caused it to slide open and raced into the forest. They wouldn’t be ab le to look in at her. At first.” “Were you there at the time?” Tom asked.” Tom murmured.” “What about you?” Gwen asked Tom.” Gwen confirmed.” Hector admitted. “Our house held. “I know.” “Oh.” “Maybe you should come to the shelter with me. Thanks. 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. The whole trailer park is demolished. I thought I was seeing a ghost.” she said.” Tom turned to look out at the forest. “It’s a solar panel. pointing toward the forest. yeah? Wh ere have you been living?” Hector asked. “The Whippersnapper Three features passive so lar design and natural cross-ventilation that eliminates the need for an air con ditioner. “You’re okay!” Then he gripped her arms.” Gwen told them. hugging her tight. “And that one-way glass. His Mohawk had flopped to one side and there were dark circles under his eyes. “I’m here! Over here!” Larry ba rked and ran to her first. One? No. startled. bu t at least it didn’t get far. too. The ro of just peeled right off. yeah! We were there.” “My house definitely wou ldn’t have lasted. Stepping back to look at them.” Gwen gasped. Gwen rubbed his head. “I’ll sh w you. “It doesn’t even matter that it burned. You. “It did turn on its side. There were two people out there. “and it got blown down the road. coming al ongside her. Yesterday she went outside through the camouflaged sliding door and knew that the window panel was made of mildly reflective one-way glass . pleased to me et you.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. It w terrifying. leading the way to the side door th at was set into a huge boulder. and his clothes were dirty. “You are okay.” Gwen add ed. all they’d see was more trees. and as long as they didn’t catch sight of themselves in the greenish reflection. “Yeah. I’m totally okay.” Gwen told them. The forms were coming toward her. “Hi.” Tom said. quickly brushing the wetness from her eyes. “Oh. “Hell. “Thank you for coming to find me. but before she could explain. Were they hikers? Forest rangers? No— Hector! Tom! Running to the side door.” Gwen’s eyes welled with happy tears. “Were we just out there? Is t his one-way glass?” “Yep.” “When did you become an expert on .” Gwen stepped ahead of him and knocked on the glass. Follow me. she decided they didn’t look all that great. “It’s me!” Hector exclaimed as he walked forward to inspect his image. Yes. inf used with the excitement of her outburst. “It’s the Whippersnapper Three. Hector and Tom ran to her. Gwen turned toward the reflective glass. Squinting for a better focus. “The what?” Tom asked. I guess it’s because we’re at the bottom of the valley. “For a second. 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. “What’s in there?” Tom asked. That was the most horrible day of my life.” Gwen realized. laughing. Hector was even worse. Better than you guys. her delight in seeing him making her forget any self-conscious inhib ition.” Gwen agreed. but the basement is flooded and so are the st reets. she went close to the window for a bet ter view. Gwen leaned back into the hug. Come on in. I have it good where I’m living. “How have you two been?” she asked. they might not realize there was anythin g there at all. Be sides.” Tom said. aren’t you?” Still laughing. “Yes.” “You were lucky it didn’t. “That’s terrible.” Tom said. Tom jumped back. knocking her back a few steps as he leapt on her. it seems. Tom’s bright eyes had a weary expression. “You would never even know this place was here. Getting up off the floor. “A lmost no impact on its environment.” “No kidding. too. Gwen embrace d him. as he walked into the room on the main floor. Hector threw his arms arou nd Gwen. gaping in wonder. as you saw. Someone had come out to look for her—two someones. amazed.” “Thank goodness. calling to them. It would’ve bee n washed out or blown away. man! What is that?” He ctor cried as Larry barked at the reflection. It has storm water retention.
” “So. “I’ve been reading those. do you have power here?” Tom asked. There’s not much else to do. taking in the Whippersnap per 3. “I t seems like someone just left this house as it was and never came back. plus all the sales brochures on this pla ce.all this?” Hector asked as he slowly turned in a circle. Gwen nodded. I don’t t hink anyone ever lived here. or someplace else far enough away tha t it would cost way too . It’s just a sales model home. Gwen pointed to the pile of books she’d taken from the bookshelves and stac ked on the floor. My best guess is that t he people who built it live in California.
“Sorry. but then we all just got used to it.” “At least somebody was thinking. “They’re grown in the air without dirt.” “I did a r eport on something like this last year in social studies.” Tom remarked. “I can’t believe I d . you know.” she added apologetically. there were some groups that had thought this might be a problem and had begun collecting seeds.” “Hydro what?” Hector a sked. “They were called terminator seeds because they didn’t renew themselves.” she answered. “You have to eat it plain because there’s no salad dressing or anything like that here. The panels must’ve been pretty thic k to withstand the storm—but obviously they did. Hector is s tanding by the herbs. “Are you kidding?” Hector said. taking his cel l phone from his jeans pocket.” Gwen con firmed. up in that container are hydroponic tomatoes and next to that. Gwen shook her head.” “This is awesome.” Hector added. It turns out that the GMOs don’t h ave the same nutritional value as the natural food had. All these seeds come from a natural seed bank in H olland. “So. “All I found was som e stale cereal for breakfast. staring up. but I just dumped the old fruit in the composting bin over there. I had it dry and I haven’t had anything since.” “A seed bank?” Hector questioned. “It’s to encourage you not to leave chargers p lugged in because they drain energy. “There was a lot of rotten fruit and vegetables when I first got up here ’cause no one had collected it. “It’s still below the outside walls. none of those. Gwen showed them to the basement kitchen .” Hector recalled excitedly. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been sort of forced to eat the good stuff. things like square tomatoes that would fit more neatly into shipping containers. too. “It’s nice and warm in here.” “There’s a c harger rack downstairs.” Hector said.” she said. fortunately. 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. it looked like we had allowed the big biotech compa nies to destroy all the world’s food. pointing to a large blue bin on the outsi de corner of the glass roof.much for them to move back right now.” “Are these plants genetically modified to grow insid e?” Tom asked. only now there were no m ore seeds left. “Farmers used to get their seeds from their crops.” “Yeah. cucumbers. “Every day they get sprinkled with storm water collecte d in that cistern. About thirty years ago. “Do you know how good t his tastes after eating nothing but powdered cheese and macaroni for days?” “It’s grea t.” Tom suddenly hit the table. I want to show you guys something.” Tom agreed.” Hector replied. They stepped into a greenhouse brightly lit b y natural sunlight pouring in. then a few years ago. either. I’ve read a whole pape r on what they’ve planted here. Maybe you can find one that fits your phone . But now they h ad to buy them from the company every year. It di dn’t seem like I was going to get anything else to eat.” Gwen agreed. “Didn’t the c ompanies make it so the fruits and vegetables completely died out each year?” “That’s right. just the top is open. “Those glass panels also work as solar heat. “You guys look like you’re hungry. “but the Whippersnapper Three comes with its own supply. so I guess some thing is heating it. Freaky. “Is it hard to get the seeds?” “Real hard. But come upstairs first. “Dig in. the way those peop le at the grocery store were acting.” Gwe n said.” Again.” When they’d filled s traw baskets with the food they’d picked. “There are some apple and peach trees at the far end in those pots.” Gwen said.” Gwen told him.” Gwen told him. They’re totally natural. He cursed softly. which is why I don’t think anyon e’s been here for at least a little while.” “I read about that. See?” Gwen explained. way freaky.” Gwen led them up a spiral staircase to the top floor. “The stuff I read was real interesting. Tom. plus there are heating units in the walls that are powered by the same ma gnetic generator that’s running the whole house. “The side walls use ultraviolet grow lights and those containers on the walls are hydroponics. Except. snapping off a twig of gre en basil and popping it into his mouth. You get used to it.” “How come these plants didn’t die if the place was abandoned?” Tom asked. At fi rst everybody was suspicious of it. Are you?” “Real hungry. smiling. Gwen pointed to spri nklers set into the glass. “See the way the roots dan gle down out of those holes? Every day a nutrient spray gives them food.” “You have power!?” Hector cried. “I didn’t bring my charger.” “Where’s the Twinkie plant?” Hector joked. “No. popping a hydroponic strawberry into his mouth. For a while. big biochemical companies started making genetically modified foods. “but isn’t it cool?” “How come we c ouldn’t see this from the outside?” Tom asked. Gwen nodded. Gwen pointed up.” Gwen offere d.” Gwen looked to Tom and Hector. “I suppose you’d have to build a house like this in a clearing to get the sun in here like this. There. snapping bright yellow cherry tomatoes from a plant.
” Tom added.” Gwen offered.” “Why didn’t I th ink of that?” Hector said.” Hector agreed. Gwen.” “Okay. “there’s a lot of food up there that people could use. I was supposed to go right back.” Tom agreed. “Since when are you such a saint?” Hector asked lightly. “If you have extra. “I thought you fo und people annoying.” “We have to find a way to get some of this food to them .” “You know . I w onder if you guys should tell them about this place.” “And have them duking it out i n the forest?” Hector questioned. .” “Way nuts. You can bring that to her.” “Thanks. some of my neighbors are completely out of food. which t he dog eagerly gobbled. shovelin g a forkful of lettuce into his mouth while he hand-fed Larry snap peas.” “People are annoying.id it again!” “What?” Gwen asked. “But I guess people get sort of crazy when they’re hungry. I’ll take it to the people in the shelter. “There’s a bottle o f acetaminophen in the medicine cabinet. e specially people with kids. “I’ll say I got it in town somewhere. 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. “I was supposed to bring my mother some groceries and medicine.” Gwen agreed. “If you could fill a bag.” “True that.” Gwen began thoughtfully. They were clobbe ring each other for a bag of groceries. She’s sick.” “I’ll go get her some veggies and fruit.” Gwen agreed. “You should have seen them.” Gwen said. “But little kids shouldn’t go hu ngry. It was nuts. and I’ve been gone for at lea st three hours.
” Hector continued. It’s pretty cool.“That’s not the way your mind works.” Gwen suggested.” “Exactly. “I don’t know if I’m really into that.” Gwen said.” . or only the end of the world as we’ve always known it?” Tom considered.” Tom admitted. It struck her that she had made the same quick judgments about Tom that she so deeply resented others making about her. “Is it just me. “It’s as though t he world is falling apart. crazy .” Hector agreed. “You could be right. “It’s the end of the world. 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.” “There’s something else I want to show you in the back of this place. Don’t worry.” Gwen agreed. Even though she had always liked hi m. neither. “No. looking bothered by what he was about to say. “Gwen.” “A kit for what?” Tom asked. “It’s a thing I’ve been building from some blueprints in a k it I found down here.” Hector said disapprovingly. “But we might have to do that. I haven’t been making whiskey. “Or maybe it’s ju st that everything about the way we live is going to have to change. He was a football player. “But is it the end of the world. I’ll show you. or does it feel like it’s the end of the world?” “Why should it be the end of the world?” Tom asked. “A still.” Hector decided. I’ve learned how to make alcohol for fue l—ethanol. “I have to ask you guys something. she’d assumed he wasn’t a person who would ever ask a question like that. Come on.” Gwen replied.” Gwen answered. not a deep thinker. and no one is in charge or even knows what to do abou t it. Gwen looked at him as though sudde nly seeing him in an entirely different way.” “Me. “Sort of. Gwen thought she understood what Hector was getting at. “Like back in t he days of prohibition when alcohol was illegal and they made whiskey in stills?” Hector asked quizzically.” “What? Are we going to have to walk everywhere and become farmers?” Hector asked. don’t tell me you’ve been out h ere getting blitzed every day. Gwen laughed. “I have no idea about tha t.” Gwen said. “No idea at all. Or at lea st ride bikes.
It’s late September. “Folks have told me about a person seen traveling a round Sage Valley in an orange canoe. Sage Valley residents have been pleasantly surprised to find gift baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables deposited at their front do ors. 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. Mayor Eleanor Crane tells us. and families with ch ildren more quickly than to other townspeople who are more able to find food for themselves. But they have n ot been totally overlooked. the citizens of Sage Valley are currently suffering from homelessness. 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. Badly needed pharmaceuticals are also in short supp ly. Desperately in need of s ervices but largely overlooked by agencies busy assisting even harder hit areas. flood-re lated respiratory diseases.” Ms. sick. “Perhaps this individual ha s a boat. hard slog to recovery after Superhurricane OscPearl dev astated much of their semirural town almost a week ago. resulting in a severely deplet ed supply of food and goods.” .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. s ince the baskets have found their way to the elderly. and therefore the se products have to be imported since it would be impossible to grow them locall y at this time of year.” Ms. “This must be someone with access to th e food markets at Hunts Point in the Bronx. and other sicknesses. plus an almost complete breakd own in their deliveries by rail and truck routes. Crane speculated. Sage Valley is a town that can be excused for feeling that their government and even their neighboring towns have completely abandoned them.
After chaining and locking it to a tre e.” Niki nodded and stopped to gaze at him a moment. so Tom is alive. handmade kayak. and other nearby towns weren’t as luck y. The gray wash of sk y above lent a somber. But Marietta. pulled the kayak up.” That was an excellent sign that he was getting back to his old self. Despite the difficulty. Her glasses fo gged and she wiped them on her shirt. Niki went down the steps to the wet dirt below. he’d seemed so crazy about her. The lake had gone down a little. she might be gone. but then the charcoal supply slowly dwindled down to a few chun ks. Standing. it would be another OscPearl situation. and handstand s had made her strong. not when it hadn’t yet recovered from the first one. Shore Road was eerily deserted—no cars at all. the floodwaters were receding enough for trucks to get through and bring in supplies. That’s an expensive. and coming bac k she would be dragging charcoal and water. and an orange life vest. If they merged. If they hadn’t had the battery-powered radio. and barefoot. 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. This morning. she didn’t rea lly mind going. In lower Westchester. but everything was still so wet. Manhattan was the first to light up. Everything had gone silent and wet. she headed up a dirt trail. “Do we have an oar for this kayak?” Niki called up to him. due to the necessity to conserve power. either. Had all that meant nothing? If he didn’t come to see her soon. cartwheels. As Niki began walking toward tow n. she had dragged the kayak off its stand of twin sawhorses and pulled it to the shoreline. Towns in Westchester and the Bronx had power. List ening hard.CHAPTER 18 Niki heard the story about the “mysterious benefactor” in the orange canoe on her mo ther’s radio. her thoughts wandered and she remembered the day she’d been stuck there with To . She made a note to he rself to also buy some batteries while she was in town.” he replied. Nik i decided. “Okay. almost ghostly gloom. It wasn’t easy. even though it would be miles. In five minutes. his face was covered in stub ble and his hair bent at odd angles. Her father appeared on the deck in his pajamas. What the reports had said seemed true to Niki: It was as if they had been for gotten. but years of handsprings. Returning to the kayak. Sage Valley. she’d been stuck in the house with no electricity for longer than she could stand. “Wear a life vest. And even that was getting more and more static. I will.” she agreed as she leaned i nto the highly polished. Niki began rowing across the lake. and thought. Why didn’t all this water just evaporate? Th e dark clouds overhead probably had something to do with it. Train tracks weren’t so flooded anymore. And there was a pervasive dampness in the air. the front still in the dirt. especiall y the wealthier ones. the back end afloat as the wat er lapped at its side. From there she could walk to town. 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. O r even into the city. “In that equipment chest over there. too.” her father shout ed. Niki ran back to the chest t o get the long oar with its paddles on either end. “Where are you going?” “We need fresh water and charcoa l. When Niki reached knee-high water on the other side. pointing to a rectangu lar cedar box behind the boat. Everyone agreed: The East Coast couldn’t take anoth er superhurricane. That was probably a good sign. she’d have gone total ly insane. “Okay. though i t was a mild amber version of its former illuminated glory. dipping her elbow in an effort to flip it hull-side up. The weather people said th ere were two more hurricanes brewing in the Caribbean. She’d taken some from the lak e and boiled it. Niki couldn’t detect even a single distant engine.” They’d drunk the last of their bottled water supply. It’s also in the chest. Maybe they’d gone to relatives closer to town. wooden kayak. though she wasn’t exactly sure where they were leaving to. Was he back from his stupor? He seemed to care if she was safe all of a sudden. stas hed the life vest in front of her. knowing it would bring her to Shore Road. though the water was choppier than she’d expected and the breeze stronger than she had guesse d. Okay. It was immediately exhilarating to be out on Lake Morrisey. Niki positioned herself low in the hull. The last time she’d seen him. and stowed the oar inside. “Take a chain and padlock with you. The glorious days r ight after the hurricane had turned gloomy once more. she got out. They said they were t oo isolated out here by the lake. and pushed off by digging the paddle into the ground. Most of her neighbors had left .
He’d lost that square football-player shape that Niki had always f ound so appealing. When she even thought of herself. why are you out here by yourself?” Brock asked brea thlessly when he reached her. 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. Wipin g mist from her glasses. Now. she felt she must have been a different pers on. the one with the swingy blunt haircut. she was still the perfect girl she’d always been. but it wasn’t her fi rst choice of what to wear. “Me? Why are you here?” Brock’s crew cut was longer and he was thinner. What were the chances of meeting Brock out here on the road li ke this? Her mind couldn’t make sense of it. But . Back in August. “Brock?” she asked. the perfect skin—a girl who understood the world and knew ex actly what she wanted from it. What is he doing out here? He started jogging toward her. In August. “Niki. she put them back on and peered at him. 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. Imagine. Just a little more than a month and a half had passed. Niki laughed darkly at how that image contra sted with the girl currently heading down the road. it would have been a dream come true. She knew those broad shoulders and his lumbering walk. in fact. but it di dn’t seem possible.m. 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. Niki knew what she was seeing was real. She still had some clean clothing left. It was as though it was a world away. captain of the cheer squad. Everything had been so different then . in glasses taped together with a Band-Aid! It was almost funny—nearly hilarious. Niki Barton. but now Brock was someone who seemed like he belonged in that o ld world she’d left behind. yet it seemed so long ago. This girl had unwashed hair pulled into a messy ponytail.
My little brother is real sick with some kind of pneumonia thing. water.” Brock warned.” she replied. furrowing her brow with dislike. “It’s not too bad anymore. The roads are pr etty passable now as long as it doesn’t rain again.” He shot a quick.” Brock remarked. “Since when do you hang out with Gwen Jones?” N iki demanded. if he weren’t sitting in a running vehicle. she would have been t hrilled that Brock had traveled so far to check on her. She’d have to wait to get him alone to find out.” “Where’d you get gas. “My family ne eds charcoal.” “Good luck finding any kind of batteries anyw here. why are you out on the road like this?” Before Niki could answer. “And this truck runs on it?” “I had to tinker with the engine a little. Did you drive here?” Brock asked. “I made it. How are you?” she said. Brock looked at her sharply. “Yeah. I made it in a still from corn. They have all these cots set up in the gym for sick kids. considering…” “ sidering what?” “You know…all this. not meeting her eyes.maybe she liked the look of this lankier Brock better.” “Whatever.” Niki said. going to the window. because that was how she felt. man?” Tom grinn d. I came out here to get it. “I can take you into town.” Tom allowed. but it wouldn’t have bee n easy. Another o ne came down and destroyed my car.” “Gwen Jones?” Niki qu estioned.” Niki dismissed the subject. “We’re fine. His words surprised and shocked her—but they pleased her. Niki wondered if it was possible to like t wo boys at one time. He used to charge a ton of money to do it. “I was. “I mean. If Brock wasn’t there.” Tom invited them. “Where’d that guy ever get ga s?” Brock wondered. “Hop in.” Tom replied. Rain splashed the windshield and Tom turned on the wipers. too?” Brock asked. He’d come all this way and hadn’t stopped by to see her. “That freaky Goth girl?” “She’s pretty cool w hen you get to know her. It was Tom’s old brown truck.” Niki’s heart raced as she tried to sort throu gh the whirl of emotions she was feeling. A tree fell on our roof during OscPearl. who showed me how to change the truck around. Niki recognized it immediately. the bike blew a flat about a mile back. I found this guy Artie. “Were you going into town?” Tom asked. “I’d have helped you. An uneasy silence settled as Tom contin ued down the road. “Okay. and Niki knew he’d caught the jealous resentment in her tone.” Niki clim bed into the truck beside Tom. My whole family is living in a shelter at Sag e Valley Elementary.” “I guess…in a way. Niki thought. But if Tom hadn’t come along. she wou ld have been happy to see Tom. and D batteries. the three of t hem staring into the gray road ahead. 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.” “Are you kidding?” Brock cried.” he said. Though maybe he had. . really glad. “Biked. “There’s none anywhere. worried glance at the sky.” A pang of disappointment ran th rough her. “But good strange. The hospital says he’s not sick enough for them to take him. So.” “Did he show y ou how to make the ethanol. “Muscle power. I wanted to see if you were okay. They continued on without talking. “I just think she’s strange.” “Yeah. irked by the way he’d defended the strange girl. “Is that your sailboat I see in the back?” Niki asked.” “What?” Niki would’ve thought Tom had totally lost it. “What are you talking about?” “It’s ethanol.” Tom told them. ea ger to be off it. She was glad to see Tom.” “How did you get all the way over here?” Niki asked.” she amended more mildly. “Unfortunately. leaning against the pas senger side door. As it was. Niki was dying to ask Tom if he had come to see her. all she felt was extremely uncomfortable. but he took pity on me and showed me how for nothing as long as I did the work. But it was better than walking all the way into the center of Marietta. “You guys okay?” he asked. is all. I d on’t know her that well. but he’s not goin g to get any better like that. impressed. This is awkward. too. but it d idn’t seem right with Brock sitting right there. “And how were you planning to drag all that stuff back?” Niki fle xed her bicep. and then Brock wedged in. “I’m all right. a flatbed truck appeared on the road coming from down by the lake and heading toward town. “The roads are passable now?” “I came the back way. Gwen Jones did. The truck pulled to a stop right by Niki and Brock. and she w asn’t sure why that should be. She couldn’t be sure yet. “I was coming to your house. up on Ridge Road. “No. Tom stuck his h ead out of the window.” “Sorry.
“Did you tell him you were?” “N o! He came up with that on his own. No longer was the place her special. she’s going to start giving workshops to people in Sage Valley on alter native fuels and all sorts of stuff like solar and wind power. Hector nodded.” “Hi. Tom. Hector. “Hector will show you. “I thought you liked Tom. Niki.CHAPTER 19 “Why are Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski here?” Gwen asked Hector. “Thanks.” Niki replied. She especia lly didn’t want Niki. “I searched them on the computer today. Curtin t o hold her workshops here. “You can’t even see it from outside.” “But not the same way you like Tom. “There’s food here?” Brock echoed enthusiastically.” Hector brushed off her comment. squeezing her tightly.” Hector per sisted. But it felt right. and I told him I wasn’t. “We should have them come here. “Yeah.” With .” Gwen repeated. He’s not my crush. Tom’s dream girl. “Now you’d better let go. and your face lights up every time you see him.” Tom said. That loss made her a little sad. The company was owned by some b illionaire’s son who said he was just ‘ahead of his time. The fac t that it wasn’t her secret spot anymore made her willing to open it up. t hey’ll all want to come. Curtin!” Tom said. “Wow! It’s like a secret hiding place. “And don’t call him a Neanderthal—but th t’s not even the point.” Gwen told him. She was staring i n alarm out the rain-streaked wall-length front window. “I had a feeling. “We can invite Mrs.” Gw en realized how changed Niki looked and begrudgingly liked her. “They’re Tom’s friends.” “Please. Niki. a little better. but she knew that wasn’t what Hector wanted to know. “What if the Whippersnapper people object? Or want their house back?” “They’re out of business. “Why wait for the power to turn on?” she said.” H ector grumbled. That’s what you get for cru shing on a Neanderthal football player type—you inherit friends like Niki and Broc k. heading toward the Whippersnapper 3 . searching for something new to invest in. Hector. Is that cool.” Gwen said. “I do like you.” “Once people find out there’s food here. The private-world quality of the Whippersnapper 3 had been breached in her mind when Niki and Brock came in.” “Who says I’m crushing on Tom?” Gwen challenged. “I thought you liked me.’ which is probably true.” “I will?” Hector questioned. “And listen to this: His wife is an environmental engineer.” Gwen protested. “Do you hate me now?” “Of course not.” she mumbled. I guess. “This is it. “I can’t believe yo u found this. with her new. because I hear your boyfriend com ing through the door with his pals. or what?” Gwen put her anger aside as a new thought made it seem suddenly less imp ortant. it could brin g all sorts of unwanted attention. Unbelievably cool. Hector . Hector met her gaze. I guess. and Brock wer e pushing their way through the wet foliage. her excitement growing. don’t you think?” Hector worried. starting now. She’s written up a grant to try to make the town a model of energy self-sufficiency.” “That’s not true.” she said.” He noticed Hector and Gwen and smiled. I don’t want Niki and Brock here. At least she looked like a human being instea d of a fashion doll now.” Gwen put her han d on his arm.” She held on. Hector joined Gwen at the window. and as soon as we have po wer again.” “You did? Thanks. but I don’t feel that way about you. “So you do like Tom. He might get the wrong idea.” Tom. “You’ve only been spying on the guy forever. hanging around.” “There are worse things than being friends. Hector looked up from the book on biofuels that he was reading cross-legged on the floor. “That might call too much attention to the place. “Well. “Who?” “Niki Barton and Brock Brokowski.” Gwen pulled away from Hector.” she said.” told them. “This is very awesome. le ss-perfect image. We’ll take good care o f the place until he comes looking for it. He already thou ght I was your boyfriend. “Even though I’m so much more your type . If everyone knew about the place. “Please. knowing how much her words hurt him and hating to cause him pain. but there was no going back. almost magical enclave to share with Tom a nd Hector. “And all footballers are Neanderthals.” It would be taking a big chance. “Sorry.” he said . and Brock stepped into the room. “I’m glad. he liked Niki. Keepin g the place to herself didn’t seem to matter anymore.” Gwen wrapped him in a hug. Gwen. looking do wn self-consciously. sure.” It occurred to her to sidestep the question by remarking that Tom wasn’t interested in her.” She forced herself to tell him the truth.” he admitted quietly. you’re a real—” “Friend…I know. “Hector. “Guess who we met on the way over here—Mr. “Cute glasses. you’re my b est friend. He’s in Australia now. Standing up.” Niki greeted her.” Gwen complained. “Go on upstairs.” Brock said with enthusiasm. Who goes charging around smashing i nto other huge guys just to catch a ball?” Gwen glanced up at Hector.” he mumbled. although she knew Hector was right.
” Gwen wasn’t sure how to respond. you found it. 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. Sorry. Hector led them upstairs to the garden. and he hadn’t meant any harm. and Niki’s like. “They’re your friends. . you know…whatever…you’re going out ith her and all…right?” “Sort of…in a way. Th ey just seemed so…lost. It was done now. “I should have thought about how you’d f eel. Gwen saw now how this quality might have its downside.nod to Niki and Brock. I guess. I didn’t think.” Tom said when they were gone. “You’re angry that I brought them. I mean.” Tom replied.” she said. “I understand. They’re not friends of yours and this is your place.
” Tom said thoughtfully. one hand gripping the boat’s main line. Now it was on the ramp leading into the river. Gwen was lost in its folds. “Just be prepared to run.” “You can’t go by yourself. especially not with you standing in it. “Who will tak e care of things here?” he asked. “You’re going to have to help me. she knew what he planned to do and it worried her. Don’t pull it tight or the sail could catch the wind and the boat take off without me. but the realization of what he’d j ust said stopped her.” It was nearly a minute before Gwen realized she was standing there simply grinning. He’d already kicked off hi s sneakers. the other shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare.” he told Gwen. I’ve felt kind of coo ped up here. Maybe Brock and Niki will help him. “Are you nuts?” Gwen replied. things are better. Gwen sighed. especially when he was s till trying to recall all his dad had taught him a long time ago about sailing. running around the side and hopping into the boat. The moment she let go of the sa il’s line. and I have to. preparing to argue with Tom. Tom threw his weight into pushing the boat forward. “Which i s the mast?” Gwen asked. “I can’t budge this. It occurred to Gwen that insisting on coming along with Tom might not have been the best idea she ever had. “You do?” she checked.” Gwen insisted .” Tom warned. They splashed into the icy river. “Which rope do I grab?” “It’s called a line. Pitching the ir bodies into the hull. “I’m a fast learner and you could show me what I need to know. “Go! Go! Go!” Tom shouted. its bow bobbing in the choppy water but its stern still on the cement. snapping in the wind. It’s a big deal—and a small boat. Ther e have got to be pharmacies open. but he pushed it aside. speak ing over the wind coming off the river. “So? What’s the difference? wen asked with a shrug. the water made his feet instantly numb. “But the sail?” Gwen reminded him. How would he feel about Brock and Niki being together while he was gone? However he felt. The mai nsail swung on its mast and bumped him. Inwardly. “Lower the centerboard!” he y . Down the river. “I think it would be great if you came along. That reminds me—get your life vest on. feeding more slack into the line.” he sai old it loosely. An inexperienced sailor on a ro ugh trip like this could get him into a lot of trouble.“Did you get the sailboat?” Gwen asked. surprised. setting in the one mainsail . it began to flutter wildly. positioning the centerboard. Tom was instantly at the rudder. pulling it hard with o ne hand while drawing in the main line with the other. but the expression of exasperation on his face compelled her to shrug it on over her shoulders. Tom rolled up his jeans.” Tom interrupted. Make sure it doesn’t whip around and clonk you in the head. “Isn’t that sort of sexist?” Gwen objected. It budged sli ghtly but not enough.” he told her.” Gwen insisted. tying in the lines.” “Would it be better to take the canoe?” “The sailboat is a lot faster than the canoe. and she didn’t want to wear it in front of Tom.” “I think I can do it. the boat slid abru ptly into the water. It had ta ken them over an hour to unload the boat and rig it. There was no sense worrying about it now. though.” Gwen agreed. I’m coming with you. she cringed at the look of frustration on his f ace. “Hang on to the rope that runs along the mast. “It’s in the truck. My mom has pneumonia and no pharmacy in town can fill her antibiotic prescription. With the two of them pushing. She looked at the center pole and the bottom pipe attached to it.” Gwen agreed. too. “And keep y our eyes on that sail. turning away so he wouldn’t see how disappoint ed she was by his answer. “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. “Yeah.” Gwen didn’t think the life vest was probably her best look. “You get in and I’ll push.” Tom gazed at her. pounding them b ack just to get clear before ducking away.” Gwen watched his face carefully for his reaction to this idea. push it forward!” Tom shouted to Gwen. “This?” “Yes! That’s it. “I always wan ted to learn to sail. “Somebody’s got to hang on to the sail’s line. She ran back and joined Tom in shovin g the back end of the sailboat. and there was no turning back.” he shouted. “Hector can do it. When he stepped out. and getting onto the river would be awesome.” Tom shouted to her. “I suppose so.” “We’re not even sailing yet. She was here. she couldn’t tell because he didn’t register any obvious emotion.” They were at the public dock space down on the Hudson.” “Okay. She grabbed the rope…line…whatever…nearest to the sail.” “Okay. “Okay.” Tom told her. do you?” “Don’t argue with me. The sail flapped violently. attaching the rudder. So don’t argue with—” “I’m not a rguing.” Gwen opened h er mouth to speak. I have a bunch of neighbors who need their medicine. “But you don’t know how to sail. so aking themselves.
“The what?” Gwen replied loudly just as the boat leaned heavily to th e right. pushing her windb lown hair from her eyes.” Gwen did as he said. Tom nodded his head toward a board jutting up from the center of the boat’s hull. knocking her back.” Tom explained as he continued to push the rudder to the right. “We’re in irons. That! Lower it!” Lunging to it.elled to Gwen. “Stay low!” Tom said. There’s an oar on the bottom of the boat. They sped ahe ad. “That stabilizes it. and gradually she felt the sailboat turn. Get up fron t left and paddle. “There. Slow ly he gave it some slack until it was . Gwen flattened her body ag ainst the bow and watched him pull in the line until the sail became tight. wildly out of control. for several yards before Tom was able to pull in the main line. Gwen f ound the lever that dropped the board down into the hull. “Whoa!” she shouted as the sail suddenly caught. racing them forward. so we can’t move forward. The boat instantly rig hted.” “What’s that?” “The wind is hitting us from both s des. in the middle of the boat. “Why aren’t we going? What’s wrong with this sail?” Gwen asked. She gripped the side of the hull to keep from going overboard. gripping the white rope.
she saw he was also lost in thought as he lay against the back of the sailboat. “Then we’d have to tack back and forth. Walking. and I’m happy we’re going there together. It was his father who had taught him to sail. How would they survive without it? It seemed so impossible to go on. Growing. Was this how it was going to be again? Sailing.full with wind but under control. The world was such a different place without oil. Gwen shifted to the back of the sailboat beside Tom. and then later I’ll let you try. it didn’t stop the oil from running out. Stretch ing forward. Gwen rem embered seeing Tom in his yard the night his father died. And no matter how hard they fought. “I heard Wes tchester is almost back. No fumes.” Adjusting her position for a more comfortable one restin g her back against the side.” Gwen said. she lost herself in watching the racing water spla sh against the boat’s side. What wasn’t made of plasti c these days? Looking back at Tom. she kissed him on the lips. some soldier from one side or the other was probably dying in this fight over oil. or maybe later. At that very minute in Vene zuela. Tom startled but then returned the kiss . Then what? No more gasoline engines. too. Maybe it was the end of the world—that world. getti ng into a more relaxed position.” “What if it was blowing into us?” Gwen asked. Does that sound crazy?” “A little.” “You are? Really?” T om nodded and kissed her again. his right hand holding the main line and his le ft on the tiller that controlled the rudder. which means it’s behind us. No hum of an engine. but I think I know what yo u mean. settling in to the hull. she gues sed. This was what it once was like: boats pushed by wind. all the oil would run out—like it or not. . but I’ll explain that later. white cloud mountains. pressing his lips into hers. “What should I do now?” she asked. On an impulse. no more concrete. It’s good that we’re together. Gwen thought a moment. in a way. his eyes on the sail but with a faraway look. “We did it. Gwen stretched her arms out and let the sun hit her cheeks and forehead. The sky above was clear with fat. “What was that for?” he asked when they pulled apart. Planting.” Tom replied. maybe even more so. Had that night seemed like the end of the world to him? It must have. He looked to Gwen and smiled. no more plastic.” “I don’t think we will.” Tom suggested. Not having plastic was as huge as not having gasoline. G lancing outside the sailboat. not at all like he was worried about this journey. “Because I have a feeli ng we’re going to the world that comes after the end of the world. Sooner. “Right now. The mercy of the river. we’re running with the wind .” Returni ng his smile. Righ t now all I have to do is make small adjustments in direction to keep the sail f ull. He seemed peaceful. I’m glad you came with me. “Just watch me and I’ll explain what I’m doing. The fate of the weather. Gwen slid into the hull. Was he thinking about his father now? Probably.” “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. “I hope we don’t have to go all the way to Manhattan. not sure how to put it into words.
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. magnetism.” . 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. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement. The fact that Venezuela felt it co uld not reveal its new vulnerability as it drops out as one of the last oil-prod ucing nations on earth demonstrates how the world is still clinging to outmoded notions about the status of oil-rich nations. since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years. 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. h ydrogen. “Like Texas. Thomas Rambling. Canada.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.” Senator Rambling. had this to say. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. Shame on them!” In response. and other renewable sources like corn oil.S. and the like. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. 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. sen ator from Massachusetts. solar. This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. Alaska. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. policy.
CHAPTER 20 Tom pulled the tiller for a hard turn. “Coming about,” he warned. Gwen ducked low, a s he’d instructed her to do whenever he gave that command. “Where are you going?” Gwen asked. “I want to see what’s happening. All these boats are going in there. Look.” Th ey’d come around a turn in the river and were suddenly amid many different sorts o f small craft: kayaks; canoes; sailboats of every kind, from large sloops to cat amarans, sailfish, and small fetches like the one they were on. There were rowbo ats and even people paddling smaller motorboats. “They all seem to be heading for that marina,” he pointed out to Gwen. “Something must be going on.” “Where are we?” Gwen a sked. Tom checked the map he’d spread out at his feet. “This must be Hastings.” “Finally !” Gwen said, and he knew how she felt. They’d been sailing for almost three hours a nd every marina and port they’d come upon had been flooded or abandoned. The low-l ying river towns had been hit the hardest by OscPearl. Many of the towns had ove rturned and sunken boats in their marinas, and harbor buildings with torn-off ro ofs and broken windows. It was frightening to see. As Tom sailed in closer to th e marina, he let out his main line and allowed his sail to flap, slowing the boa t. It was necessary because so many other boats were crowding in around him. “What’s going on here?” he asked a white-haired woman who paddled a blue kayak next to hi m. “Farmer’s market,” the woman replied. “Some folks went down to Hunts Point Market ear ly and brought up produce to sell. I heard it was all gone by five in the mornin g. But there are still soups, breads, ciders, and cheeses, too.” Tom’s stomach growl ed enthusiastically at the mention of those last foods. He’d changed his diet in t he last week. Never before had he eaten so many fruits and vegetables and actual ly enjoyed them, but a slice of bread and hunk of cheese suddenly struck him as too good to be true. “Is the town open?” he called to the woman as she glided forwar d away from him. “Don’t know,” she called over her shoulder. Dropping sail altogether, Tom and Gwen were able to tie the boat to the end of a dock that already held s everal other boats crowded and scraping against one another. Tom disconnected th e tiller and rudder as a safety precaution against anyone who might steal the bo at. Throwing the tiller and rudder onto the dock, Tom swung himself up and exten ded his hand to help Gwen. “This must be the only place with food for miles,” Gwen s aid. “It’s so crowded.” With Gwen beside him, Tom hurried up the narrow, sloping stree ts leading from the river until they came onto a more level street. When he foun d a small pharmacy, they went in and got to the end of a line that reached all t he way to the other end of the store. The first thing Tom noticed was that the s helves were only half filled with the supplies drugstores usually carried, such as shampoos, soaps, and the like. Gwen left his side and grabbed a basket, loadi ng it with necessities. Tom fished his money from his front pocket and began cou nting out his bills. He had the two hundred from his savings. They desperately n eeded toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, and so many other things he had once ta ken for granted. He just hoped he had enough money for it all. They still needed to load up on food supplies. Tom had other money besides the two hundred, but h is neighbors had given it to him to pay for their medicines. In his back pocket, he had the stack of prescriptions to be filled. “Thank heavens this place is open ,” said a man in his fifties who stood in front of them. “My wife could die if she s uddenly stops taking her heart pills. I rowed all the way down from Monroe.” He sw ung his right arm in a wide circle to work out the muscles. “I just pray they don’t run out before we get to the counter.” “If they do, is any other town below here ope n?” Tom asked. “I’ve heard that the towns south of here until Manhattan are pretty goo d because freighters are still coming into New York Harbor, but only about half as many are coming in because of the oil prices. Once you get south and east of the city, things get even worse. The Jersey Shore is just about washed away and so is Long Island.” “Where have all those people who were living there gone to?” Tom a sked. “Anywhere they can. The shelters in Manhattan are crammed full of them. Mayb e now that this war is over, things will get a little better.” “Why is that?” Tom want ed to know as the line inched forward a little. “The government has been shifting all the available oil to the troops. Maybe they’ll release some of it now,” the man explained. “And then will people go back to driving all over the place?” Tom wondere d. “I guess,” the man said. “People who can afford it will.” The man spoke about the ret
urn of inexpensive and abundant oil as if it were a good thing, but Tom wasn’t so sure. What would happen the next time there was a shortage if nothing changed no w? Maybe next time the oil would run out for good. By the time Tom was nearly to the front of the line, Gwen was back at his side holding her basket of supplies . “You might have to put some of that back if I don’t have enough money,” he warned he r. “Okay,” Gwen agreed as music began playing from the pocket of her sweatshirt. Pul ling out her phone, her eyes lit excitedly. “It’s Luke!” She clicked into the call. “Whe re have you been? Are you okay? I’m in Hastings. Hastings! Tom and I sailed down. No, I’m not kidding you. We sailed… okay…he sailed.” Gwen listened a while more and her smile slowly faded into an expression of distress. “Okay. All right, text me from now on—it will use less battery. Bye.” “What did he say?” Tom asked as Gwen put her phon e back in her pocket. He could see from her face that it wasn’t good news. “A group from Marietta attacked Sage Valley.” Tom gazed at her, unsure he’d heard correctly. It was too crazy. One town attacking another? “What kind of group?” he asked. “Who att acked Sage Valley? Why?” A sheepish expression came over Gwen’s face. “You caused it.” “Wh at? Me? What? How could I cause it?” What was she talking about? “Indirectly, it’s you . People saw the news about you delivering food, so a bunch of them came over to find where the food was coming from. They wound up breaking some windows and th ey got into a big brawl with some people from Sage Valley.” “We’d better get back ther e,” Tom said. He was thinking of his mother laid up in bed, and even of Larry. The Whippersnapper 3 could come under attack if people learned about it.
Then he turned to Gwen and said. I have a really weird feeling so mething bad’s going to happen. and get home.” he told the pharmacist. “Le t’s get this stuff. dark-haired woman pharmacist told him.” the tall. “Let me see w hat I can get you.” . “I can’t fill every one of these. grab some food.Tom had come to the front of the line and laid down his prescriptions.” “Okay.
” Niki showed him the picture from the Internet. she’d learned really fa st. Mrs. Curtin picked his cell phone off the desk and punched in a number. They were watching the informational DVD that Mary Curtin was showing to the twe nty people who were attending one of her workshops. A lot of the group members were fiddling w ith their phones while the video was explaining how to construct a small-scale w ind power turbine to supply energy to an individual home.” he told her. “Tom just called. Curtin said to the group.” Mrs. Curtin allowed them to do before the workshop officially started. People in town are fighting back and it’s getting bad . Niki hoped they hadn’t j ust come to the workshop to charge their phones. some were parents of h er friends on the cheer squad. “Too late. He told her it was foggy and he couldn’t exactly tell. He was there with a man w ho looked like he must be his father. The video was called Renewab le Energy: A Do-It-Yourself Guide. And listen to this—she even went to grad school wi th Ricky Montbank. People from Ma rietta are looking for the food they’ve heard we have here.” Mrs. who had been standing in a corner listening. or bought inexpensively from the car salvage and the recycle center. Curtin. and for long stretches of time distracted her from worrying about what wa s happening with Gwen and Tom. Cur tin agreed. as Mrs. raised his palms. “What do you think we should do?” she asked. others she’d simply seen around town through the ye ars. Th ere wasn’t much wind. Curt in was blown away by the place.” Mrs. “Be-what?” Niki questioned. Tom. but that th ey were hugging the shoreline so they didn’t veer to the far side of the river. Curtin asked. “I have the sliced hands to show for it. Tom told her about the fighting in Sage Valley an d advised her not to tell anyone else about the Whippersnapper 3. Sage Valley was still not back on the electric grid. the guy who owns the Whippersnapper Corporation. “I told you to wear gloves. She knew about a quarter of them.” Mr. He had sailed all the way down and needed a break. but it passed quickly. “We’re going to start by building small greenhouses from scrap glass and metal my husband and I have collected fro m the dump. Where are you?” There was a pause. but luckily the little they had was blowing north in their d irection. jo . “That. Curtin told the group.” “What’s going on?” Mrs. Curtin reminded him with a good-natured shrug. Curtin at the computer wat ching a YouTube video on installing solar panels. not far from the post office. It was a good thing Gwen had come with him since she’d been such a big help. It meant stuck. Good luck.” Niki t old him. so good to feel connected to the world around her again. “I want us to start small. Mr. you did. Carlos Hernandez. “Maybe yo u should sail the boat. “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. It was a welcome s ound. “Let’s have some of the fruit smoothies Hector made from the plants in o ur upstairs garden and then get started. “I’m calling the county sheriff’s department.CHAPTER 21 Niki sat beside Brock on the tan couch in the basement of the Whippersnapper 3. Niki looked the group over. See you soon. “Okay. But what are you saying about fighting? How can that be possible? Towns don’t attack each othe r.” He said Gwen was doing a great job. “Maybe I can find out what’s happening. She also recognized Tom’s friend.” Niki clicked off the call and blinked away the rising tears before they fell free. Getting off the couch. He was even able to send her a photo tak en from the Internet of brawling going on in downtown Sage Valley. He said he didn’t know a nd to ask the Curtins what they thought. a nd Niki could picture Tom gazing around the river embankments trying to ascertai n his location.” Mr. There were several teachers from school. and neither were most of the surrounding towns. He was afraid. he told her. The ringtone on Niki’s phone sounded and she looked down to see who it was. revea ling red lines.” he said. It was in his voice and the way he said Gwen’s name. It made Niki ner vous that so many people now knew there was electricity to be had out here in th e forest. “Hector contacted the Curtins about holding the workshops here. It was over betwe en them before it really began. Tom’s exact words rang in Niki’s ears and caused a tingle o f emotion below her eyes. Being here with Brock had been ple asant. though. Niki found Mr. It sounds like they’re l ooting and just going crazy. that the wind would die out altogether and they would be becalmed. she knew it. Gwen learned to sail faster th an anyone I’ve ever known. “Okay. They didn’t need a crowd of people here all desperate to recharge.” Tom told her what Luke had told Gwen.
“Someone hurled a rock through the f ront window!” he told them. “No.” “I’m not running like a coward. Curtin disagreed.” a woman said. Hector clamb ered down the stairs. it’s too dangerous. I don’t need to defen d it.” a man from the workshop o bjected.” Another sound of shattering glass made Niki jump. “I’ll go up there and try to talk to them.” Mr. “You can’t talk to a mob. “We have to stop them.” he volunteered. glass shattered.” “We have to fight them. “I’m going. Curtin.” Mr. Hector scrambled down the stairway and hurried toward the side door that led to the mining tunnel Gwe n had shown him.” Brock stood beside Mr.” said a white-haired woman. We can clim b up into the mine shaft. Cur tin reported. They’re in Sage Val ley to steal our supplies.” From upstairs. “Those solar panels are goi ng to cost a lot to replace. It can be locked behind us. “We can get out this way. Curtin suggested. “This isn’t my house. Curtin worried.” Mrs. but you can be safe there unti l these Marietta guys leave.” Mrs. “It’s those rich creeps from Marietta. The way out is blocked. “I’ll go with you. “Maybe we can talk to them calmly.” cried a man from the workshop. Niki told her what she knew.” another of the men disag reed as he found a large kitchen knife among the supplies. his face full of alarm. “I just get a busy tone. Carlos stood and joined Brock.ining them. . “I just heard about it on the web feed from my phone. “I can’t get through to the sheriff.” he said.
” Mr. More glass broke and now Niki could hear frantic. Niki stepped back in fear.” Brock disagreed. and the rest of the remaining nine from the Sage Vall ey workshop group followed. open the door and let anyone out who wants to leave. Mr. Curtin headed toward the stairs and started going u p. and Carlos went out behind him. ready to stamp ede in. Curtin raised his arms to se ttle the crowd. “They’ll see me as a neighbor. maybe. “No one will get killed or even hurt if we keep our heads. With his worried eyes still on t he stairs. Mr. Frightened. “They have electricity in here!” shouted a balding man in a sweatshirt and jeans as he k nocked the jagged shards of glass from the windowpanes with an ax. too.” Niki said. Brock squeezed it and kept walking with her. Niki ducked her head as a tremendous wind shook the trees. The Marietta peopl e outside were equally stunned by the sight. “Oh. They held clubs a nd chains in a successful effort to appear as menacing as possible. Broken glass lay all over the floor and people were starting to climb through the shattered front panes.” Hector reported from the top o f the stairs. On the first floor. “Just in time. letting o of her hand. Kicking away more sharp glass at the panes. Curtin turned toward her voice just as a rock hit him in the head. “I have a house in M arietta.“I’ll go with him. “That’s Gwen’s brother.” Niki said.” Hector pulled the door open and eleven people left quickly. “Come on!” Behind him were at least twenty people. Niki let him get a few paces ahead and then followed him toward t he window. A motorcyc le pulled up in front of the Whippersnapper 3 and a leather-clad male figure jum ped from his bike. some with rocks in their hands. It took a moment for Nik i to realize what was crashing through the woods toward them. she saw about ten other bikers. “and me and my buddies are here to make sur e you don’t. knocking him into his wife. You’ll get killed. “No way. still clutching Brock’s hand.” Niki said. Curtin implored as he went toward the bro ken window. “Remember to lock it shut from your side. “And mis s all this action? Never. When the rider pushed back the visor on his helmet. “Stay calm and there’s enough here for everyone. and did I mention the police are on their way?” Luke shouted over the thundering of the police chopper. Niki went ou t. Niki reco gnized him. “Those peo ple are throwing rocks. A line of blood gushed f rom his forehead. “You’re not going?” Brock asked Hector. “They’re almost in. “No—stay back here. Mary Curtin joined him.” “Well.” Luke said. surprised. . Niki took Brock’s hand. “I’m goi to help him.” Brock remarked. Maybe I’ll know some of the people and I can talk to them.” said the man with the kitchen knife. “That’s it!” cried the man with the kitchen knife.” he remin ded the last one out. ex cited voices coming from upstairs. the wail of police sirens could be heard. Looking to both sides. A police helicopter hovered just above the trees. “Please. “You people ar e invading private property.” In the distance. Brock looked at her. Hector. Her heart pounding with fear.” he replied. frozen where they stood. The sound of roaring engines came toward them. too. I’m not standing down here waiting to be killed.” “I’ll come with you. everyone.” “Then why haven’t you shared it already?” shouted a woman outside.” “Are you crazy?” a man from the workshop said. “We’re not going to j ust stand here and take this!” The people behind surged forward but then stopped a bruptly. calm down!” Mr.” she told Brock. Brock stepped out behind Luke.
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. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. We figured if he had food to deliver. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. I guess we got craz y. there must be more of it. We came intending to buy it.” .NORTH COUNTRY NEWS County Police Clamp Down on Civil Violence Connected to Severe Shortages Sage County police arrested eighty-one people recently in connection to outbreak s of civil unrest due to the fact that so many towns in Sage County have been wi thout electricity and other services since OscPearl decimated the area over two weeks ago. Our kids are hun gry and sick. speaking from the county ja il. medicine. but when we couldn’t find anything. 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. George Amos of Marietta.
Climbing the stairs to the garden ro om. People like Gwen and Tom weren’t going to be on that priority list.” he was saying to Mrs. Hector. a nd we’re going to load them up with the food. They’d sailed at least a do zen more times since then. she heard voi ces talking amiably.” Tom told her. Carlos. Outside her room. and we don’t want them humiliated by thi s. to make Sage Valley a completely energy self-sufficient town. “Okay. “He knows a dirt road around the back way up. “Yeah. and she swung herself out of bed to open it just eno ugh to let Larry wander in. causing him to startle. Marietta is a wreck. toothpaste.” Gwen commented to Tom. “They’re all upstairs getting r eady.” Niki explained. She found Tom across the garden r oom and waved to him. are you rea dy for today? Where’s Tom?” Gwen threw on a white terry robe as she followed Larry o ut the door. waved to them. the trash in the streets.” “How are they getting around the trees?” Brock asked. gazing around at the closed. the abandoned cars. Ricky? We just belie ve it’s the right thing to do. its ope n cart filled with baskets of produce. They were all riding new bicycles donated by Ricky Montbank’s company. Mary.” Gwen replied. Larry. Gwen found Niki. Curtin. razors.CHAPTER 22 Saturday morning. Next door. And until the area started using wind power or nuclear power or some other kind of power to fuel electricity. Gwen rolled over and gazed around her small bedroom in the Whi ppersnapper 3.” he said. was how they would survive. boarded-up stores. The town—and its citizens— would never be connected to the world in the same way again. “No kidding?” Gwen asked. The police would need it and the army would need it. “I feel like a pioneer traveling west. She’d been staying there with the Curtins ever since she and Tom re turned from their journey downriver two weeks earlier. They were seated at the table in front of what used to be the solar window. all right.” Gwen pulled her bicycle alongside Tom’s as they rode into Marietta.” Gwen told them.” “Yo u’re welcome.” There w as scratching at Gwen’s door. “But if you’re going to make Sage Val ley a showcase for green living. relenting. owner of the Whippersnapper 3. it would only be had by the very rich or the very powerful. just as reported. most of whom were also participants in Mary Curtin’s effort. Curtin said. Cur tin. each time having to go less and less far since towns closer to home were beginning to recover. wiping her glasses on her sweater.” “That’s not really why we’re doing it. “I’m glad to do it. We don’t want anyone to be embarrassed. Folks in Mariet ta are used to being on the winning side. she ruffled his fur. In his bike basket were some of the toiletries he and Gwen had picked up during their l ast trip down the river: shampoo. I’m letti ng you all stay here because the time is right to sell this kind of home. there would be a program of local farming as well. there were going to be some hard times. Hector. waving sleepily to the Curtins and Ricky Montbank. underwritten by a grant from Whippersnapper. hoping for a good day. “W ow. “I think what you want to do is remarkable. Beside him. I’m g oing to grab a bite and come right back. “Be right back. Brock. “You understand that. a horse sputtered.” “So no press. Brock and Niki were ahead of them. “Thanks.” “Oh. O nce spring came. Even if there was gas to be had. toilet tissue. and Mrs.” Mr.” Mrs. He smiled at her warmly as he returned the gesture. and so on. “We are pioneers traveling west . “Please. This. “Hey. We have a guy coming at nine with a bunch of horses. She knew it would be brisk out because t hey’d been checking the weather report frequently. Smiling. Tom nodded. Curtin told Gwen as she passed by. who was seated in back.” Ricky Montbank said. ultima tely. This event today will bring lots of attention to the company. and Tom filling baskets with fruits and vegetables from the garden room. don’t you.” Ni ki said. as were the nearly sixty or so other residents of Sage Valley. Hopefull y.” Hector teased. and my Whippersnapper Corporation is delighted to support it. “Nice of you to get up. Curtin requested. 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.” “Of course! Of course it’s the right thing. Ricky Montbank had p romised to have it replaced before the week was out. it would be sunny and cool. The robust and distinctly Australian tones of Ricky Montban k. poking him playfully. “Go have your breakfast and then we need help carrying these baskets out. “He has horses that can pull wagons. could be heard above those of Mr. As it drew ahead. you have to be more publicity oriented.” M .
It’s a gesture of goodwill. “Luke knows the guy who refitted your truck for ethanol. . Can you believe it?” “Yeah?” Tom asked. maybe something better—some thing like what was happening right then and there—was really possible after all.” “What if no one comes out?” a man on a bike asked. the one with the private fuel tanker. “They’re still hurti ng for food and supplies. Do you think they might want some help teaching it?” “You’d want to do that?” Gwen asked. as pioneers.” Gwen smiled at hi m.” Mr. the one people had flocked to just a month earlier. we’r e not taking any money for this. Be sure everyone gets a flyer telling them about our energy workshops and programs in town. Luke and his pals made a grand show of rid ing in with the Sage Valley group. Curtin said. and they’re teaching a workshop on how t o do it together down at Ghost Motorcycle. The crowd quieted to hear Mary Cu rtin yell out.. she noticed that people from Marietta had already realized wh at was going on and were streaming into the gas station area. The procession stopped at an abandoned gas station. Maybe the wor ld didn’t have to be a pit of greed and overconsumption. “They’ll come. “I think so. “I learned a lot when I converted my truck. It was exactly how she saw them. “Listen to this. Remember. helping the volunt eers from Sage Valley to set up their food and supply stands. “Start setting up your stands around this gas station.” Gwen said to Tom. int erested.” Gwen pointed out.” With a roar. 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. until it felt like it filled her. Looking around.
It was true—the world had ended. And now the new world was beginning. .
She lives in a valley in New York state. . and Distant Waves. including The Bar Code Tattoo. The Bar Code Rebel lion.ABOUT THE AUTHOR SUZANNE WEYN is the acclaimed author of many novels that delve into the worlds o f science fiction and history. Reincarnation.
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