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.
Last week Eli found out that the Champions are trying to keep people away from the creek. What else might these opportunists try in regard to ruling over the people in Mount Crested Butte?
The next morning at breakfast, Reinhold and Kimama had already packed their things in his rig. They were ready to go. I kind of wished I was going with them.
No sign of Dad, so I went to check on him. I pushed open the door to the room he’d shared with Reinhold. He was sitting on the side of the bed, his back to me.
“Hey, Dad? Reinhold and Kimama are about to take off.”
He jumped at the sound of my voice, sniffed. “I’ll be right out.”
His voice had sounded funny, like he’d been crying.
My dad doesn’t cry.
“You okay?” I asked.
He sighed, and his posture sagged on his exhale. “I will be.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, and I could see that his eyes were bleary. “Just missing your mom.”
Mom was this constant ache that I’d shoved to the bottom of my heart to deal with later. Seeing my dad like this threatened to pull to the surface everything that I’d been trying to set aside. Her loss was too much for me to think about, but it must be even harder for Dad.
“I miss her too,” I managed, but those four words brought a rush of emotions up to my throat and head. I took a breath. “I’ll tell them you’re coming.”
And I went back to the living room.
“He’ll be out in a couple minutes,” I told Reinhold. “Can you wait?”
“Sure thing. I actually wanted to talk with you before we leave.”
Reinhold pulled me out onto the terrace. He slid the glass door shut behind him and crossed his arms over his wide chest.
“Why don’t you come with us up the mountain?”
The idea lightened my heavy heart. “Seriously?”
“You don’t want to be here. And don’t give me that sap about you and Jaylee because I ain’t falling for it.”
Now, hold on just a minute. Just like that my mood went from sorrow over Mom to hope at getting out of here for a couple days to total annoyance.
“This place is full of nutsos,” he said. “Put together they wouldn’t be able to survive a week in the wilderness, living off the land. You and me, we’re different. And this place…” He twirled his finger in a circle. “It can only get worse.”
I didn’t doubt that. “I have no intention of staying here long term,” I said. “It would be a lot of fun to go with you guys, but I don’t want to leave my dad to deal with all this and the kids too. You and Kimama don’t need me to hike up the mountain. I’d feel better staying here to help him out.”
“All right. Well, we’ll be back in a couple days, and if all goes to plan, we’ll all get out of this place for good. I got something else I want you to think about. Kimama is going to need a husband someday, and you’re my pick. I really think you two could make a go of it once she grows up a bit more.”
Whaa…? I gaped at him. “Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe this guy was offering me his daughter. I mean, how awkward can you get?
“You ever know me to bluff?”
“Uh… well… I… um…” I swallowed.
“Spit it out, boy.”
“I’m, uh, honored that you think me good enough… Um… I’ll have to… I need to think about it.” Was he crazy? “Pray about it,” I added.
“Great. You do that. It would help you get to know her better if you come with us.”
I hung my head. I had no desire to go with them. How was I going to say that, though?
“No worries, boy. You want to stay here with your dad and that’s fine. I can respect that.”
Thank you, Lord. I scrambled to say something positive and helpful. “I’ll make sure to monitor the radios so we can hear what you find.”
“Yeah, I s’pose that’ll work.” He slapped my shoulder and squeezed. “I’d better get going.” He went back inside.
I stayed put a bit longer, recovering from the shock of all that.
By the time I came back inside, Dad was in the kitchen making himself some eggs.
“Reinhold and Kimama took off,” he said.
“Eli, can we go now?” Jaylee asked. She was standing by the door, holding her shower caddy with two hands. Her duffel bag hung in the crook of one elbow, and her towel draped around her neck. Krista, Lizzie, Hannah, and Shyla were also standing around the entrance, ready for showers.
“We’ll go when Dad and the boys are ready,” I said.
“But Davis and Cree are still sleeping,” Jaylee said.
“If we don’t go soon, we won’t all get through before the MP starts,” Krista said.
I didn’t want the girls whining about showers when my dad was having a bad morning. “How about I take the girls up now?” I said to Dad. “That way you can take your time and we’ll meet you and the boys up there.”
Dad nodded. “Thanks, son. Let’s do that.”
We parked as close as we could and walked to the compound. There was hundreds of people in line for showers, which seemed odd. The closer we got, we found out that people were ticked off and looked more like an angry mob than lines for showers.
“What’s going on?” Jaylee asked a tan guy with spiky blond hair.
“Water is off in the showers, and no one is answering at the house,” he said.
The water was off? A flutter of panic tried to bloom in my gut, but I pushed in down. None of this mattered. Reinhold would find access to the creek from above and we’d move. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.
The girls, who take their showers very seriously, didn’t take surfer guy’s word for it. They dragged the rest of us through the mob, asking the same question over and over and getting similar replies. Some said the river had become contaminated and the Champions were likely trying to protect everyone. Others guessed a broken pipe or some alternate type of plumbing problem. Only when the girls entered one of the shower stalls together and turned the knobs, did the truth register in their minds.
“What do you think happened?” Lizzie asked Zaq.
“I’d buy the broken pipe story,” he said. “There are a lot of people taking showers every day. It probably overwhelmed the plumbing.”
“I agree,” Logan said. “And since they’re not plumbers, I bet they joined mismatched pipes when they put all this in. Galvanized steel can’t be joined with a copper pipe without a dielectric union. It corrodes and will leak. They should use brass.”
Where does he come up with this stuff?
“Let’s go sit on the lawn and wait for the Morning Party to start,” I said. I was pretty sure Logan Tracy would have something to say about the lack of water.
“What if there’s just no water left?” Jaylee asked me. “I need to wash my hair, Eli. It feels gross.”
“We could go back to the condo and heat up some of the drinking water,” Krista said.
“No one is wasting the drinking water on hair,” I said, incredulous that I would even have to make such an assertion after everything we’d lived through.
The Champions’ version of a wake-up call ended the debate. Rather that the military “Reveille” that frequented camps across the country, the Champions had remixed an instrumental version of “We Are Survivors” that sounded like a Mario Brothers video game. I headed over to the lawn with the mob, curious what they’d say about the showers. We congregated in front of the stage that had been built in the center of the grassy expanse.
When the song ended, Logan Tracy ran out onto the stage, microphone in hand. Applause burst forth, until a dozen Enforcers followed Tracy out. They divided in half and formed two lines, one on each side of the stage.
The crowd stood silent.
“Good morning, everyone!” Tracy yelled, and I winced at the unnecessarily high volume of the mic. “How are y’all this fine day?”
He received scattered applause. For most of this crowd, it was still pretty early—especially for those who’d partied late into the morning hours. Others were guarded, arms crossed, expecting an announcement that would end the so-called “good life” of this place.
I counted myself in with the latter.
“I’m sure y’all noticed there was no water this morning,” Tracy said. “I’m real sorry about that, but we needed to get everyone’s attention. Thing is, we’ve had too many rules broken lately. I need to remind everyone that y’all signed a contract agreeing to certain terms. We’ve kept our end of the bargain, and now we really need y’all to keep yours, m’kay? Going forward, the penalty for breach of contract will be the forfeiture of water privileges.”
Angry murmurs broke out among the crowd.
Tracy hurried on with his speech. “How long a person loses water privileges for depends on how badly that person violated the contract. We’ll have some construction here today that will change the way y’all enter the showers. There will now be two check-in stations on either side of the building. Y’all still need to show your pass to get in, but if you’ve been flagged as an offender, the Enforcers won’t let you in. We realize you can share a friend’s drinking water, and we really can’t stop y’all from doing that, but we can and will monitor the showers and withhold your daily water ration, m’kay?”
“Not m’kay,” I said to Zaq. “Water is a right.”
I wasn’t the only one objecting to this declaration. Around us, pockets of dissenters were getting louder.
“We hate doing this,” Tracy said. “We really do, but if the party life here is going to work, we need y’all’s cooperation. Our goal is to keep everyone safe. But we can’t do that when people are breaking rules.”
“What rules are people breaking?” someone yelled out.
“I don’t want to get into specifics,” Tracy said, “but y’all need to behave yourselves in town. No vandalism. No assault. No stealing. Be nice to each other and respect the establishments. Use your ration tags. Also, respect the boundaries and our construction workers. We need to keep the fences in place, and we need y’all to stay off the mountain, at least for now. This is all pretty obvious stuff. We’re doing what we can to make this place a safe home, and we need y’all’s help by being compliant, m’kay?” He paused for a full second, then dove right into a new topic. “A couple other things. Night parties are changing to three nights a week. We’re going to party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The Champions have been stellar in giving a concert every night, but they’re getting burned out. They need a chance to rest. And we love them, don’t we?”
Applause rang out.
“Yeah! That’s right. We want to make sure they’re getting the rest they need. So fewer parties, but they’ll be longer and wilder than ever. Mandatory morning parties will remain once a week on Monday mornings. Anyone who skips will lose water privileges. If you’ve got friends back in their beds asleep, make sure you tell them what’s going on. This party is the last freebie. From then on, we’’’ be taking away rations. We’re only asking y’all to wake up early one day a week. I know you guys can handle that, m’kay?
“Thank you very much for believing in us. The Champions and I, we love you all so much.”
He waved and people started to disperse. Our group clustered closer together.
“They can’t do this,” I said. “Water is a human right.”
“We should refer them to the UN’s resolution that explicitly states that the human right to water and sanitation is inclusive in the right to an adequate standard of living,” Logan said.
“I’m not sure these guys care about anything but their own laws,” I said.
“Your dad is going to flip,” Zaq said.
That much was true. I scanned the crowd for him, but didn’t see him.
“Are they going to turn the water back on now?” Jaylee asked.
“Shh!” Hannah said. “Tracy is saying something off the mic.”
People had crowded the stage and Tracy was leaning over the edge, answering questions. The Enforcers had moved up to the front of the stage, guarding the man like he was the president or something.
We inched closer to the stage, but Tracy suddenly spoke into the mic.
“Yeah, the showers will remain off today while the construction crews install the new kiosks. To those of you who’ve been following the rules, we’re real sorry about that. Y’all will get a coupon credit for a special meet and greet with the Champions.”
The remaining crowd went nuts, Jaylee and Krista included. Those two squealed and jumped up and down like two middle schoolers.
“Eli, I can borrow one of your baseball caps, right?” Jaylee asked me.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, confused by how a chance to meet the rock stars had made everyone forget that they came here for a shower.
“We should protest,” Hannah said. “Remind them that they asked us to comply to the laws of this country so they should too.”
That got my attention. I turned to where Hannah was standing with Shyla.
“We can get materials for signs at the drugstore,” she said. “I saw they had poster board there.”
“I’m in,” I said.
“Me too,” Lizzie said.
“And me,” Zaq said.
“You guys are going to get in trouble,” Krista said.
“We have the right to peacefully assemble,” I said. “It’s in the First Amendment.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Zaq said.
“Shotgun!” Logan yelled, taking off at a sprint.
Zaq, Lizzie, Hannah, and me parted ways with Jaylee and Krista and headed for my truck. Logan was waiting at the passenger’s side door. I unlocked the rig and we all piled in.
“You guys care if we take a little drive before making the signs?” I asked. “I’m curious about this fence we’re not supposed to mess with.”
“We saw them building it up the mountain,” Logan said.
“Yeah, but Tracy gave the impression it was in other places.”
I drove down Gothic Road, like we were leaving town. I slowed as I passed the Mt. Crested Butte Department of Water and Sanitation building. The parking lot was filled with vehicles, and construction workers were putting a chainlink fence around the place.
“Wonder why they want to keep people out of there?” I said.
“To keep people from trying to turn on water to the houses and condos maybe?” Hannah suggested.
That made as much sense as anything. I continued on, following the road. I’d just about left Mount Crested Butte in the dust when, up ahead where Glacier Lily Way and Washington Gulch Road forked off to the right, I saw the way out was totally blocked by construction equipment. Crews were working to set up chainlink fence that ran off both sides of the road.
I slowed my truck to a stop in the middle of the road. “They’re going to fence this place in?” I asked.
“Looks like,” Logan said.
“Gotta protect their water,” Zaq said.
I cranked the wheel and did a U turn, my right front tires bouncing through the ditch. I hightailed it north on Gothic, slowed through town, then drove on until I met a similar sight. Just past Prospect Drive, construction crews were putting up more fence. They were farther along on this end, and the sections of fence closest to the road had coiled barbed wire on top.
“What are they trying to do? Make a Berlin Wall of some kind?” I asked.
“That one didn’t last,” Hannah said. “This one won’t either.”
“Yeah, but it took twenty-eight years to fall,” Logan said.
It was stupid, comparing some chainlink and barbed wire to the Berlin Wall, but I shivered nonetheless.
I u-turned again and drove back to the Snowcrest. I parked, and we all walked to the drugstore. We bought poster board and markers and went back to the condo to create our masterpieces. Our five signs were not all that varied. We had: “Water is a Human Right,” “SAFE H2O 4 ALL,” “Clean Water for Everyone,” “Water & Justice 4 All,” and Logan’s “FREE WATER.”
When we were done, we walked to the southeast corner of Crested Mountain Lane and Crested Butte Drive and started our protest. It was only a little after eleven, so it was still pretty quiet. People should be coming out for food soon, though, and we’d put ourselves right on the path to the restaurants.
The first group of people stopped and talked to us. Hannah told them that it wasn’t right that the Champions would take away water as a punishment, that both US and UN laws say people have the right to water and sanitation. The pedestrians nodded in agreement, wished us luck, and went on their way.
“You guys are going?” Logan asked. “You’re supposed to join in the protest!”
“Maybe later,” one of the guys said, and the group continued on.
The next people to walk by were three teen girls. Their gazes latched onto Zaq and they started giggling. Lizzie gave them the spiel, but they just giggled harder. So Lizzie elbowed Zaq, who invited the girls to join our protest. At this, they shrieked, clutched each other’s arms and ran off, laughing and giggling like lunatics.
“Girls are nuts,” I said.
“Zaq distracted them with his face,” Logan said.
Lizzie slid her arms around Zaq’s waist and gave him a quick kiss. “Not only your face, babe.” Another peck. “You’re the whole package.”
I grimaced and went back to waving my sign.
Mostly, people walked by in groups of three or four. We had a few good conversations about this morning’s announcement, but no one else opted to joined our protest.
A trio of men came toward us. They looked to be in their mid-to-late twenties and were wearing T-shirts, baggy shorts, and flip flops. Hannah gave them the spiel, but this time it didn’t go well. One of the guys snorted and laughed through Hannah’s entire speech. A second gave her the “you’re a psychopath” wrinkled forehead and raised eyebrows. And the third said,
“You guys are lame. The Champions are just trying to help people. There’s a lot of people here. It can’t be easy. I think they’re doing the best they can.”
“Helping people is one thing,” I said, “keeping people prisoner is another. Do you know they’re building a fence around this place?”
“So what? Did they keep you from leaving?”
I hadn’t tried to leave. Maybe I should have.
“Thought so,” the guy said. “You’re all just a bunch of dumb kids. Go play some video games or something.”
“Water is a basic human right,” Hannah said. “It’s unconstitutional that any entity would attempt to force people to purchase, earn, or use it as a punishment.”
The guy shook his head and urged his friends to move along. “You guys need to chill out.”
“You guys need to stop being idiots!” Logan said.
The speaker straightened, stuck out his chest, and strode toward Logan, who jogged backwards until he was near enough to Zaq to duck behind him.
“Say that again, punk,” the guy yelled.
Zaq had a few inches on the guy. He held out both hands and said, “We don’t want any trouble.”
“Sounds like your baby brother wants some trouble. Better put a muzzle on him or this assembly won’t be so peaceful now, will it?”
No one said anything. We all waited and watched as the speaker backed off Zaq. His friends were a few yards away. They waited for him to catch up before they all three continued on.
Zaq spun around and punched Logan’s arm. “Don’t be stupid, Logan! You’ll get us all in trouble.”
“Sorry,” Logan said.
“There are two types of protests,” Hannah said, “peaceful ones and violent ones. I’m not interested in getting beat up and arrested.”
“None of us are,” Lizzie said.
Things went a little better after that. We had some good conversations, and a few people said they’d go by the drugstore after lunch, get materials, then come and join us. We were all feeling pretty good until two cop cars pulled up.
The doors on both opened, and four Enforcers got out. They didn’t speak at first, just ambled toward us. They all wore sunglasses, and the guy in the lead pushed his up onto his head as he came to a stop before us.
“What’s going on here?”
We all looked at each other. I stepped toward him, about to speak, when Hannah said, “Water is a basic human right. That the Champions would use it as a form of punishment violates the US constitution.”
“Is that so?” the officer said.
“They made everyone sign a contract that said we’d abide by the laws of this country,” Hannah said.
“That you would abide,” the officer said, “not that they would.”
“That’s not fair,” Logan said.
“We had a report that you guys have been hassling people,” a second enforcer said. “We called it in, and we need you all to get in the cars and come with us.”
END OF CHAPTER
Are they really being arrested? What do you think of the Champions withholding water as a punishment?