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




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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


These threats were me t with calls for countersuits from Sage Valley parents. 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. the mayor o f Sage Valley. whose ch ildren and vehicles were injured. has instituted an emergency curfew. Several Marietta parents. For years. tempers flared over several incidents of gasoline siphoning. requiring Sage Valley students under the age of eighteen to be in their homes after eight o’cloc k. At this year’s event. suspected of instigating the siphoning.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS High School Brawl Results in New Teen Curfew Fighting erupted last night at Sage Valley High’s usually peaceful yearly homecomi ng bonfire. especially considering the general blackout condit ions that have occurred in Sage Valley. The window smashing was the catalyst for an all-out brawl between students from the two schools. threatened legal action. Eleanor Crane. “This is a sensible measure. Numerous arrests were made. In response.” . Frank Hoba rt. Several students re quired hospitalization from injuries sustained before county police arrived to s top the fighting. visiting alumni have joined with students to become reacq uainted and to celebrate the approaching football game between the Sage Valley T igers and the Marietta Mariners.


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


” Mr. it has always been in the best interest of oil-producing countries to keep prices at a somewha t reasonable level. If indeed global warming is the culprit in the formation of this ruinous storm. warmer ocean waters produce more powerful hurricane s. Each day! For that reason. The re searchers speculate that ocean temperatures may be climbing even more rapidly th an atmospheric temperatures. saying: “The last t hing the oil suppliers want is for the American public. This war with Venezuela is a game of blin dman’s bluff. really. It flows logically from that. in a wildly dramatic way. claiming that just as high-oct ane gas produces more power. that the current unavailability of gas that has so curbed our driving and general mobility could be a blessing in disguise. Rather than striving to regain the oil that feeds our current way of life—and continues to raise carbon levels to dangerous highs. Many of these oil-producing cou ntries have finally. the world’s largest consum er of crude oil. Those that have some remaining supply are near depletion. It’s time to stop the madness. We have just seen. To be more specific. the college’s Benfield Hazard Research Centre is attributing the never-before-seen fer ocity of OscPearl to the rise in sea surface temperatures that has been happenin g steadily over the last forty years—put even more plainly: global warming. Senator Thomas Rambling (D-MA) stated in a press release today: “As our state s truggles to recover from this horrific storm.” President Jeffrey Waters responde d to Senator Rambling with harsh words. but we must try. costing American lives. to wean themselves from their addiction to oil. what our lack of leadership and gra ssroots action is costing us. The conclusions they are drawing all seem to point in one direction: heat. then we must look to carbon emissions as the underlying c ause. t hough they don’t want anyone to know it.” Senator Rambling is calling for an antiwar rally in Washington by the end of the month. run out of what we have always known was a nonrenew able source of fuel. are busy studying the devastating superhurricane. But now things have changed. p olluting and warming our planet—we should be searching for cleaner alternatives. Rambling rebutted the president’s words. it makes us view the current fuel crisis in a new light. our entire way of life will have to be revamped in a way most citizens wil l find unacceptable. We import over thirteen billion barrels of oil a day. “This sort of panicky rhetoric undermines the current military effort to open oil fields in Venezuela and elsewhere. scientists at England’s University College . Withou t it.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. A senior analyst with the National Hurricane Center likened warm ocean waters to the fuel for a car. London. P erhaps it is already too late. . Oil i s still abundant and continues to be the best source of inexpensive fuel.


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

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

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

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.

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

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


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

. adrift and useless? Niki s uddenly realized her eyes were wet with tears. On ly.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. Niki couldn’t manage to put it out of her head. would she be just like her father. and she quickly brushed them away . somehow.


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

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

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

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

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


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

There’s not much else to do. Gwen pointed to the pile of books she’d taken from the bookshelves and stac ked on the floor.” “So. Gwen nodded. “I’ve been reading those. I don’t t hink anyone ever lived here.all this?” Hector asked as he slowly turned in a circle. My best guess is that t he people who built it live in California. do you have power here?” Tom asked. taking in the Whippersnap per 3. or someplace else far enough away tha t it would cost way too . “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. It’s just a sales model home.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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. Canada. and the Mid dle Eastern nations before it. The fact that Venezuela felt it co uld not reveal its new vulnerability as it drops out as one of the last oil-prod ucing nations on earth demonstrates how the world is still clinging to outmoded notions about the status of oil-rich nations.S. and other renewable sources like corn oil. since that has been the pattern of all oil-p roducing areas for more than a hundred years. Shame on them!” In response. 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.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. Alaska.” . h ydrogen. who has been cham pioning the antiwar movement.” Senator Rambling. 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. This fa ct should be no surprise to anyone. and the like. 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. sen ator from Massachusetts. had this to say. solar. After a week spent verifying their veracity and analyzing the impact of th e reports on U. policy. Thomas Rambling. Venezuela has gone from oil boom to bust. “Like Texas. magnetism.

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.

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


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

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

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


speaking from the county ja il. We came intending to buy it. close to approximat ely fifty citizens of Marietta township descended on the semirural town of Sage Valley—many of them on foot due to the current ongoing gas shortage—in search of muc h-needed food. We figured if he had food to deliver. In one of the most shocking displays of violence. but when we couldn’t find anything. and other goods that have been unavailable in Marietta since the hurricane struck. Our kids are hun gry and sick. there must be more of it. George Amos of Marietta. made this statement to the press: “We came because we read the article about t he mysterious guy in the orange canoe delivering fresh produce.NORTH COUNTRY NEWS County Police Clamp Down on Civil Violence Connected to Severe Shortages Sage County police arrested eighty-one people recently in connection to outbreak s of civil unrest due to the fact that so many towns in Sage County have been wi thout electricity and other services since OscPearl decimated the area over two weeks ago. I guess we got craz y.” . medicine.


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

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

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


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


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