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.
Eli and his friends have been arrested. What will happen to them now?
The Enforcers took away our protest signs. We were searched, handcuffed, and divided between the two vehicles, girls in Officer Harvey’s car, guys in with Officer Miller. The Enforcers drove us up the hill to the Champion compound.
Construction around the showers was well underway. They were not simply raising a couple of kiosks. They were building a full-on fence around the place.
“They really must want to keep people from sneaking into the showers,” Zaq said.
“They’d have to if they’re going to use them to keep people in line,” I said.
“I could scale that fence if I had a wetsuit and leather gloves,” Logan said. “Barbed wire couldn’t rip through either.”
“Yes it could,” Zaq said. “I was surfing in San Diego once and a scrap of barbed wire tangled around my leg. Stopped me in a hurry.”
“If we’re arrested, why bring us here?” I asked Officer Miller, the driver.
“Those are my orders. I’m to take you to Mr. Tracy.”
The Enforcers parked outside the front doors and led them into Tracy’s office. The man was sitting behind his desk, leaning back in his leather chair, hands folded over his stomach, talking softly with an Enforcer, who stood on the other side of the desk. The Enforcer was slender and very tall. If Tracy was Jack Skellington, the Enforcer was Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, thick, intimidating, and silent.
“Ah, our little troublemakers have arrived,” Tracy said, standing. “Come in, come in.” He chuckled, as if Eli and his friends had started a food fight in a school cafeteria. “I want you all to meet Captain Gary Kane. He is the head of our Enforcers. He and I have just worked out a system for bringing order to this place. Want to hear it?”
I didn’t, really. I just wanted to get out of there, contact Reinhold on the CB, and find a way to live anyplace else. “We didn’t mean to cause any disorder, sir,” I said. “The First Amendment gives us the right to peaceful protest, so that’s what we were doing. We recognize that you and your Enforcers have the right to uphold the law and punish lawbreakers, we just don’t think it’s constitutional to withhold water as punishment. It’s inhumane.”
“I see. ‘Water is a…’” Tracy gestured to Officer Miller, who was holding our signs. Miller held them up, and Tracy read from the one on the top of the stack, “‘A human right.’ That’s very profound. But here’s the thing. The United States of America died with ninety percent of the world’s population, so while I applaud your knowledge of the constitution, it no longer applies. Captain Kane and I, we make the laws around here. Water is what gets people to obey, so water is our great motivator, m’kay?”
“You can’t just declare our country dead,” Logan said.
“Who is going to stop me?” Tracy asked. “A half dozen teenaged fundamentalists? I don’t think so. In fact, I’ve brought you here for a reason. We’re going to make an example of you.”
“You’re going to put us in jail?” Logan asked.
“Jail… prison… the pen. Those all sound so… oppressive,” Tracy said. “The Champions want to keep things positive around here. They know that you all just got a little carried away. We all do. I’m sure you know that Loca Champion has been to rehab several times for his addiction to heroine. A little heroine is fun, but too much and you need to get help. No shame in that. Now, you kids, you’re addicted to complaining. Negativity. I get that you want to make a difference—I can respect that—but you’ve got to learn the rules first. And since we are still writing the rules, you need to learn trust. Your offense is minor—I could let you off with a warning—but since I mean to make examples of you so that people understand how things work around here, I’m checking you all in to rehab for twenty-four hours, where you can learn. That includes loss of water privileges for the time you’re there.”
“How is dehydrating us good for our health?” Hannah asked.
“So we can learn what?” I asked.
“What it means to be a resident of Safe Haven,” Tracy said.
Rehab turned out to be in the renovated city jail, which was a tiny building with two holding cells. They still had bars across the front of each cell, but I guessed that the pine bunk beds, the sage green wall paint, the framed poster of Loca and Liberte, and the brown suede chairs were all new.
The two cells were side-by-side facing a plain hallway that was also freshly painted and adorned with more posters of LLC, touting song lyrics. Like before, the girls went in one cell, guys in the other. The cells shared a center wall, which made it impossible to see the girls, though we could talk to each other easily enough.
We were brought out of our cells for group therapy, which was held in a room painted a dull blue. A circular table surrounded by chairs was the only thing in the room with the exception of a dozen LLC posters, three on each wall. Seeing them all together, I noticed the words weren’t merely song lyrics. I mean, most of them were, but it looked to me like they’d been carefully penned as propaganda.
“You are safe in the haven.”
“Rage right. Rage together.”
“We are survivors.”
“Party. Every. Day.”
“Glory to Safe Haven.”
“LLC will keep you safe.”
“Let there be peace, love, and techno.”
“We keep the peace.”
“No work here. Be beautiful and party.”
“Find joy in life.”
As we took our seats around the table, Lizzie whispered, “This feels like a dystopian novel.”
“That would be funny if this wasn’t really happening,” I said.
“Shut up,” one of the enforcers said. “You sit quietly until the counselor arrives.”
So we sat in silence, looking from each other. I wanted so badly to say something, but the enforcers had taken position right behind our chairs. There were only three of them, to our five, but they were wearing guns and tazers, and I really didn’t want to push my luck.
The door opened, and tiny blond woman breezed in. She was wearing a beige skirt suit and had purple shoes with spiky heels and so much makeup on her face she looked like a Barbie doll.
“I’m Carelle Lawler,” she said, “rehab counselor. I’m here to help you work past your issues.”
“Being oppressed is not an issue,” I said, “it’s a fact.”
“If you have something to say, you may raise your hand,” she said, “but do not speak unless spoken to.”
“This is crap!” Logan said, standing. “We haven’t done anything wrong. We don’t deserve to be here. You people don’t have a right to keep us prisoner when we didn’t even—”
Something clicked and Logan grunted, his face contorted in shock and pain. One of the enforcers had tazed him. When the clicking stopped, he tipped to the side and fell out of his chair. Zaq, Hannah, and I all jumped up at once, but the other two enforcers trained their tazers on us.
“Sit down,” Carelle said.
“I will have order in this room. You cannot grow and heal if you are being rebellious. And if you want to stay out of rehab, I suggest you pay attention and participate. Because if I don’t sign your dismissal, your sentence here will be lengthened. Safe Haven is not in the practice of putting dangerous residents on the street.”
So much wrong. There was so much I wanted to say. First, none of us needed healing! Second, Tracy hadn’t said anything about a shrink needing to dismiss us from our twenty-four hour sentence. Third, Safe Haven was barely a month old. It wasn’t in the practice of anything. And fourth, we were not dangerous residents.
“The Champions seek to create a place of freedom and joy,” Carelle said. “To succeed, they require people to get along with one another. No judging. No expressing hostile ideas.”
I raised my hand.
“Yes, Mr. McShane?”
“You want conformity.”
She pinned me with a fake smile. “We want kindness. Over the next two days, you will learn ways to react to all situations with kindness. You will learn to adjust your attitude. To be positive. Only then will I allow you to reenter society.”
So this was attitude rehab. Our little protest had been too much free thinking for these people. We could stay here, but only if we did exactly what they said.
I wished I’d gone with Reinhold.
I honestly couldn’t say that any of us did well in Tracy’s rehab. We pandered in our answers, telling the woman what she wanted to hear. I didn’t think she believed us for a second, but that didn’t seem to matter. This Safe Haven didn’t care what you believed. It cared about conformity. As long as we obeyed, we’d be “free” to go about our business.
We were released at the end of our twenty-four hours and went back to the apartment. Dad was relieved to see us and ticked when we told him everything that had happened. Shyla ran next door to tell Krista and Jaylee that we’re back.
“We’ve got to get out of this place,” Dad said. “I’ll check in with Reinhold and see what he’s found out. The sooner we leave this place, the better.”
The door opened and Jaylee came running in. She threw herself at me. “Eli!”
I caught her about the waist, but had to take a step back to keep my balance. She smelled like spicy perfume and tropical shampoo. She kissed me like we were married and I’d been sent gone for two years and had just returned from the front lines of a major war.
“I was so worried about you,” she said when she came up for air.
“Yes!” She whacked my arm. “No one knew were you’d gone to. We thought something terrible had happened until we saw you on the monitors.”
“Jay told everyone you were her boyfriend,” Krista said. “People were very sympathetic about you being in rehab.”
“Give me a break,” Zaq said. “Mr. Tracy said he could let us go with a warning, but he wanted to make examples of us. If you disagree with how they do things around here, you’ll get arrested and brainwashed.”
Jaylee whacked my arm again. “I told you you shouln’t protest.”
“What? No you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. The Champions are nice, and it was rude to protest them.”
“We weren’t protesting the Champions,” Hannah said. “We were protesting the fact that they—”
“Yeah, we know,” Krista said. “You don’t have to keep telling us. We’re not dumb.”
“I never said you were dumb,” Hannah said.
“Well, you all treat us like we are!” Jaylee yelled. “Why won’t you all just come to the parties and have some fun instead of complaining all the time? This isn’t school. It’s real life. And you guys are missing out.”
“Maybe Jaylee’s right,” Lizzie said.
“No, babe,” Zaq said. “They tried to brainwash us.”
“I know,” Lizzie said. “I’m just saying that maybe we should lay low for a while and see what Reinhold finds out. Try and stay out of trouble until then. Okay, Eli?”
“I’ll try,” I said. “But it’s not going to be easy.”
The next Monday, we rode to the Morning Party in the van and made our way up to the main stage. The new bathrooms had been finished, but the line was short as the majority of the crowd had already congregated around the main stage. I was happy to linger near the back, but Jaylee took hold of my hand and dragged me through the crowd toward the stage.
“I want to get a good spot, Eli,” she said.
And though I wanted to protest, I didn’t. I recalled my dad’s warning about being whipped. It was far too easy for Jaylee to talk me into things I didn’t want to do. Why did I let her? I was about to pull away and tell her I was going back to Zaq and the others when I heard it. That familiar guffaw that sent a shiver crawling up my spine.
Riggs. He was standing with a group of people his age, mostly girls who were dressed in shorts and tank tops.
Oddly, Jaylee didn’t say anything—acted like she didn’t see him, but she must have because she led me right toward him. She didn’t say anything to him or look his way. She stopped on his left, positioning herself between him and me with her back to him, then she grabbed the neckline of my T-shirt and pulled me down to kiss her. I jumped a little, surprised, and her hands slid around my neck and into my hair. My face burned; people were watching us. She let go, drew back enough that my eyes blurred hers into one.
“You’re getting good at this,” she whispered, then pulled me off balance. I tried to get my feet underneath me but failed and stumbled into her. She knocked back into Riggs, giggled without looking at him, then threw herself at me and kissed me again.
“Jaylee?” Riggs’s voice. “Oh, my gosh! Eli?”
Jaylee released me and whirled around. She gasped, acting all surprised. “Oh, hey, Riggs!” But rather than hugging him, as I expected she would, she slid her arm around my waist, tucking herself against my side.
His sunglass-shrouded gaze seemed to stare at us both simultaneously. He was still wearing his puka shell necklace and that made me hate him more than ever. I felt instantly bad for hating him, but I let myself indulge in the feeling regardless.
“How have you been?” Jaylee asked him.
“Good. I’m good. You been back to the Alpine yet?” he asked Jaylee.
“Not since that first time,” she said. “Too many creepers. Besides, Eli doesn’t like those places, do you, baby?”
That Jaylee had already seen Riggs here and kept it from me registered in the back of my brain about the same time as the realization that she’d dragged me over here so that Riggs would see us together. She was using me to make Riggs jealous. I couldn’t tell if it was working or not. He seemed to just be staring. Couldn’t really tell with him wearing the sunglasses.
“I have to go tell the others you’re here!” Jaylee said, and she took off through the crowd like a rabbit, leaving me behind.
I watched her go, feeling ticked off for so many reasons, the least of which was that she’d ditched me with Riggs, who wasted no time making things more awkward.
“So, you and Jaylee, huh?” Riggs said.
“Yeah,” I said.
He shook his head. “I don’t buy it.”
“No one’s asking you to,” I said, walking away.
I was almost back to Zaq and the others when the Morning Party theme music started and Tracy’s voice came over the loud-speakers. “Gooood morning, party fiends! How is everyone today?”
The crowd cheered.
I tried to tune it all out. If this were summer camp or spirit week at my high school, I could see acting like a bunch of happy, hyper people just wanting to have a good time. But our world had ended and Tracy and the Champions, who had a chance to keep it going, we’re trying to change everything in ways I very much didn’t like.
Tracy reminded us all that we were not to climb the mountain until the construction of the dam was completed. “It’s just too dangerous for y’all up there, m’kay?”
Too dangerous for us to find out what they’re doing.
Next came a video, shot like a docudrama, where Tracy was interviewing the Champions about their dreams for this place.
“We want this to be home for everyone,” Liberte said in her thick French accent.
“Not only that,” her brother added, “we want to help people who struggle.”
And then my face was on the screen, up close. I was in the group room in rehab, saying something, but the words had been drowned out by the video’s techno music score. The camera flashed from my face, to Carelle’s and back.
“Eli, you’re on the screen!” Jaylee said, grabbing my arm.
“Oh, gosh,” Lizzie said.
“No way,” Logan said. “None of us signed waivers.”
“Like they care about any laws but their own, Logan,” I said.
“Clearly you’re getting the help you need,” Zaq said.
The video went on to show people rocking out at concerts, eating together at some of the restaurants, then ended with Loca and Liberte, sitting side by side on a cheetah print sofa.
“If you know someone who is struggling to adapt to life here, the Rehabilitation Center is ready to help,” Liberte said.
“We want everyone to feel at home in this place,” Loca said. “If you need help, stop by the compound office and let us know. There is no shame… no judging. Let us help you find joy in life.”
“They’re going to let people check themselves into that place?” Zaq asked.
“They’re trying to build a positive reputation for the place,” Hannah said. “That way when people end up there, they won’t feel so bad about it.”
“They’ll probably be excited,” I said.
“Oh, cool. I saw this place on that video at the MP. I’m so happy to be here?” Lizzie asked.
“Something like that,” Hannah said.
“Shh,” Zaq said. “They’re talking about houses.”
I listened up.
“…called the Lottery Draw,” Tracy said. “As houses get cleared for habitation, residents will randomly receive a notification. Those winners will come down to LLC headquarters, get a tour of the available houses, and choose one. Totally free, totally random. There’s nothing you can do to increase your odds of getting chosen. We have twelve houses ready today. Twelve of you have been notified. Your badges should be lit up green.
I glanced to my wristband, surprised when I saw the bright green light glowing under the jellied white rubber. I held up my hand to Zaq and Lizzie. “Check it out.”
Jaylee squealed. “Eli! You won! You won a house!”
“Winners, make your way to the Champion’s front door,” Tracy said. “A van is waiting to give you a tour of the available houses. Do we have any winners here this morning? Let’s see those lights. Lift those bracelets up! Nice! We have a winner right there in the pink blouse. Congratulations. And you sir, there’s another. Hold them high!”
“Come on, Eli,” Jaylee lifted my arm in the air and waved her hand. “Here! We have a winner here!” She dragged me out of the crowd and toward the Champion’s house. Sure enough, there was a white van waiting by the front door. Three people with glowing wristbands were waiting to get in.
Behind us, from the sudden screams on the field, I knew that Loca and Liberte had taken the stage.
“Bonjour, bonjour, mes amis!” Loca yelled, his booming mic somewhat muted by our distance from the speakers.
“Just think, Eli, a house!” Jaylee said. “I would so love to live in a house. Do you know I never have? My whole life in that same apartment.”
We reached the van and Captain Kacy was there. “Only winners inside,” he said, waving Jaylee back.
“But I’m with him,” she said. “We’re going to live in the house together.”
I gaped at her, but she was too busy batting her eyes at Kacy to notice.
“That’s not my business,” Kacy said. “Only winners get in the van. The rest of you, get lost.”
Jaylee gasped. “Rude much?” she muttered, then to me, “Take pictures for me.” She shoved her cell phone into my hands.”
“You still carry this around? It doesn’t have service.”
“But it works for pictures,” she said. “Take lots, okay?”
I climbed in the van.
But as we drove away from the MP, I couldn’t help but wonder if this van might not be going to mystery houses at all but some sort of place where they make troublemakers disappear.
END OF CHAPTER
Where are they taking Eli? Do you think he’s going house hunting or somewhere else?