In conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series I’m writing over on the Go Teen Writers blog, I’m posting the chapters for THIRST on my website. Subscribe by clicking here. And if you’ve just discovered THIRST, click here for a list of previous chapters, if you’d like to get caught up.
What did Eli find inside his house?
I wanted to yell out that I was home—see if anyone answered. But I didn’t want those guys on the street to hear me, so I spoke in my regular voice. “Mom? Liz? Sammy?”
I tried the light switches. Nothing. There weren’t a lot of windows in the front room of our house, so I dropped my pack and walked to the kitchen. Empty.
I found the junk drawer and Dad’s big flashlight, then headed down the hallway to the bedrooms. Lizzie’s was empty—bed made. She was a neat freak anyway, so that didn’t surprise me. Mom and Dad’s room was empty too. Their bed had been stripped down to the mattress, which was weird. I whistled for Sammy, my golden retriever, but he didn’t come running.
I pushed my panic down deep as I checked the rest of the house. No one was there. I found Mom and Dad’s bedsheets in the drier. She must have left in a hurry because she didn’t tend to leave such tasks unfinished.
I tried to stay calm, but my insides were twisting, and all the liquid was crawling north to my mouth and eyes. I ran into Mom and Dad’s bathroom and stood over the toilet. I breathed deeply, trying to stifle the nausea. The smell of bleach hit me, along with the faint smell of something fishy.
No. This was not happeing.
I shined the flashlight on the sink, thinking I’d try and wash my face. Someone had rubber-banded a Ziploc bag over the faucet. I opened the shower door. Same deal. A Ziploc over the showerhead.
I checked out the other bathroom and the kitchen sink. Every one had been wrapped in plastic. I found a note on the refridgerator whiteboard and shined the flashlight there as I read.
Seth & Eli,
They’re saying on TV that the water is dangerous. I turned off the water to the house. Be careful. Don’t shower. Don’t drink any water that isn’t bottled. There’s some in the pantry and storage shed. I pray this warning is not too late. We took ill and went to the hospital. Call when you get in. Hope to see you soon.
Hugs and tickles,
Mom (Phil. 4:19)
My eyes stung. I dug my cell phone out of my pocket. No service. I dropped it on the counter. My nausea returned full force. I slid down the island to sit on the kitchen floor and fought it back, taking deep breaths. Desperate prayers ran through my mind. God wouldn’t let all this happen. Would he? I begged him to keep Mom and Dad and Lizzie safe. And me. And Zaq and Logan and Jaylee. My thoughts spiraled out of control as I imagined everyone dead and me the last guy on the planet.
“Stop it,” I told myself. I needed to keep my head. I might not be out in the wild, but my survival training should apply here too. If I was going to make it through whatever this was, I needed to get my act together and fast.
Okay, so Reinhold’s S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L checklist. S: Size up the situation.
My health was fine. I didn’t seem to have ingested any contaminated water. I could sure use a bath, though.
I was in Phoenix. I shouldn’t stay here long. If people were shooting guns in my neighborhood and there were no cops, things would get ugly fast.
As far as supplies went, Mom said there was water in the pantry. I got to my feet and verified this. Sure enough, a half-empty flat of water bottles sat on the pantry floor. I dragged them into the kitchen and went out the patio door to the storage shed in the backyard, stepped around a couple dead squirrels—animals must have been drinking the water too. In the shed I found two more flats of bottled water—and after a lot of digging, the old corded phone. I carried it all inside. By the look of some of the food in the fridge, the power had been out for days. But I had plenty of packaged and canned food. I grabbed some cardboard boxes from the shed and filled them with nonperishables. I added a can opener. A few sets of silverware. A couple plates and bowls. How many?
I stopped. What was the matter with me? I was acting like a machine. I needed to find out if my mom and sister were okay. And my friends and their families too. I shook my head and got back to Reinhold’s list.
U: Undue haste makes waste. If Mom and Lizzie were okay, all this packing was a waste of time. I needed to think before I acted. Always. So I’d think all the way through Reinhold’s checklist, then see if I could track down my family. But I should keep pulling useful things from the shed while the sun was up. I didn’t want to have to leave the house after dark.
R: Remember where you are. I was home. In Phoenix. But it wasn’t the Phoenix I knew and loved. There were too many variables I had no control over. And Dad was stranded somewhere upstate. The most important thing about survival was locating a clean water source. This bottled water wouldn’t last me long. I needed to find more.
I suddenly understood what the gunshots were all about.
Which led me to V: Vanquish fear and panic. I went to my parent’s walk-in closet and got the rifles out of the safe. My dad had a Remington 30.06. Mine was a .243. Dad and I hadn’t gone hunting since the move. The guns were both unloaded, so I grabbed a crate of shells and hauled everything back to the kitchen. I felt safer already. I continued my checklist as I loaded each gun.
I: Improvise. I could do that. Though I sure didn’t want to shoot at anyone.
V: Value living. I certainly did. I was not about to go down without a fight.
A: Act like the natives. Where would the natives have dug up clean water? Not in the city—or the desert. I needed to get back to the country. North. To the wilderness.
I wondered what Reinhold and Kimama were doing right now. Chipeta’s note had said that she and Marcie were sick. I hope they hadn’t been drinking the bad water.
No, McShane, I reminded myself. Vanquish fear and panic, man. I looped my rifle over my shoulder and pulled my thoughts back where they should be.
L: Learn basic skills. I had plenty of basic skills. I even knew how to treat contaminated water. But until I had more information, I’d stick with the bottles.
I went back to collecting supplies, thinking over how I might find my family. I’d have to drive to the hospital. I assumed they’d gone to St. Joseph’s. Once I found Mom and Lizzie, we could drive north and look for Dad.
The lights suddenly flicked on. Music blared from down the hall. Lizzie’s room. Praise Jesus! I ran and shut off the music, then turned off all the lights but the living room lamp, which was really dim. Maybe I was being paranoid, but it would be dark soon, and I didn’t want anyone to see lights on here. Then again, if the power had gone out, there were probably lights on everywhere.
I closed the blinds that covered the patio door and turned on the light above the kitchen stove. That gave me enough light to see my supplies in the kitchen. I needed clothing. My favorite outdoors stuff was still in my pack, filthy. Would washing my clothes make me sick?
Aw, man! This was nuts. What could have happened to the water, anyway? Cholera? In the U.S.?
It occurred to me that I had power now. I ran to the living room and clicked on the TV. The sight of 265 channels made everything seem normal again. A lot of stations were running news. The same kind of news.
I found a station just starting up a new report and turned up the volume. A man and woman sat at a news desk, a HydroFlu graphic on the screen behind them.
The male reporter said, “Thanks for joining us for News 12 at 5:30, I’m Alan Andrews.”
“And I’m Carol Metzer,” the woman said. “HydroFlu spread like wildfire around the world over the past week, even in the United States. Health officials are working hard to try and stamp out the deadly disease. News 12’s Charles Rodriguez has more.”
The scene shifted to footage from China. A man voiced over footage of mobs of sick people. “Over the past month we’ve been closely following the outbreak of cholera in China. But HydroFlu—the pandemic that has ravaged the world—is in no way connected to the cholera outbreak in China. Just eight days ago on July 9th, the first reported cases of HydroFlu in the US came out of Kendall, Florida, a suburb of Miami. Since then, the pandemic has reached all fifty states. Over six million cases in the US have been reported. And at least sixty countries have acknowledged similar catastrophic numbers of infected, including Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and China, where it is believed to have originated. Heath officials are baffled as to how groundwater became infected worldwide.”
Eight days ago? Today was the 29th. This news was old. I sat down in the recliner and flipped to another channel.
A newswoman sat at a desk. “Only one week after the first reported case, the growing HydroFlu outbreak in Florida has now claimed at least two million lives. CBS medical correspondent, Dr. John Saul, has more from Miami.”
A man walked outdoors, weaving his way through dozens of people who were sitting on the ground in a parking lot, like the people by the mural in Flagstaff. He spoke into a microphone with a CBS logo on it. “Health officials confirm more than ten million people are sick with a new strain of bacteria that researchers have never seen before. The hospitals here are overflowing. I walked around the sides of this building, down around the back, in the parking lots, and courtyard. The sick are laid out all over in stretchers, cots, makeshift beds. In the hospital itself, patients are lying on the floor in the hallways and waiting rooms. Medical staff is completely overwhelmed. Many patients have IVs, some are just drinking fluids.”
The footage flicked to the face of a frazzled nurse. “People are being delivered to the hospital in the backs of pickup trucks, on the backs of motorbikes. Most can’t walk. We’re doing our best to try and help everyone, but it’s been very difficult. We can’t help people fast enough.”
I flipped channels again.
A male reporter in a studio. “A state of emergency has been declared in the US. One UNICEF representative said, ‘We cannot find an uncontaminated water source. No one can.’ The World Health Organization has released no official statement other than to warn people to stay away from all groundwater sources until an alternative can be found.
“The National Guard and the Red Cross are distributing bottled water to the public. Call the number at the bottom of the screen or go to www.hydroflu.com to find a clean water distribution area near you.
“The main concern at this time is stopping the spread of the disease. We asked the CDC what can be done to keep people safe.”
The scene went to a man standing in front of some office building, a dozen microphones around his face. He spoke in a firm voice. “People need to be informed so they can protect themselves. Watch the news. Stay alert. If you are symptomatic and feel you have been exposed to the bacterium, go to a medical center right away. Take care to avoid any water that isn’t bottled.”
I changed channels. Two men were sitting on chairs, facing each other.
One said, “HydroFlu is a terrible name. This is not the flu. It’s an aggressive bacterium that was deposited into our water in the wake of Comet Pulon.”
The other man said, “Does it really matter what we call it?”
“Yes!” the first man said, his face flushing. “It matters a great deal. People are confused by the HydroFlu nickname. They’re medicating themselves as if they have the flu, and that’s just not the case. This disease is very different. It is not passed from person to person like the flu. It’s a waterborne disease. If you do not ingest infected water, you cannot become infected. At all costs, abstain from drinking or bathing or even touching water until you receive further instructions. In the meantime, drink soda, juice, bottled water—anything canned or bottled is safe. The government, the CDC, and the World Health Organization are working around the clock to find a cure and determine how to purify infected groundwater.”
I switched back to News 12. Alan Andrews was now sitting with some guy in a navy suit.
“The question everyone is asking is…” Alan said, “is this the end of the world as we know it? What do you say, Congressman?”
“No question about it, Alan. With over three billion reported dead worldwide, even if those still living recover, the change in population is so drastic, the world will never be the same.”
Three billion reported dead?
A chill ran over me. This couldn’t be real. I didn’t want to hear about the world ending. But flipping to BBC was no better. “More street fighting in London as bottled water shortages continue.”
On CSNBC, a reporter stood in front of a protesting crowd. “People are dying literally hour by hour. Panic is widespread. The real concern is where to get safe drinking water. Here in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, hundreds are gathered outside this Red Cross distribution center, demanding water for them and their families. But there is no water here.”
A clunk across the house sent me leaping out of the recliner. The front door squeaked. I clicked off the TV and grabbed my rifle. I couldn’t see the front door from where I stood, so I held up the gun and gave my warning from the living room.
“Stop!” I said, heart thumping inside my ribcage. “There’s nothing for you in this house, so just turn around and leave, and you won’t get hurt.”
The door shut and footsteps crossed the foyer.
Trembling, adrenaline pulsing through me, I stepped into the walkway to the foyer, trained my rifle on the shadow, and flicked off my safety. “Come on, now,” I said, faking a deeper voice than I really had. “Don’t make me shoot.”
END OF CHAPTER
Gah! Who do you think is at the door?