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.
Is Eli right to worry that Enforcers took Hannah away to work? Or is he overreacting?
Around four thirty that afternoon Hannah called us on the CB radio that Lizzie had left in Krista and Jaylee’s apartment.
“Can someone come and pick me up?” she asked. “They let me go but there was no one to give me a ride back.”
My sister reached the radio first. “This is Lizzie. We’ll come get you now. Over.”
The radio crackled again. “Can we get something to eat? I’m starving.”
Lizzie looked at me and Zaq, who were lounging on the couches in the living room. “We need to go get Hannah. And she wants to eat.”
“I could eat,” I said. Lizzie and Zaq had made us all a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches, but with our daily rations, we could get pizza or burgers.
Zaq jumped to his feet. “Let’s do it.”
In the end, only me, Zaq, Lizzie, and Logan went to pick up Hannah. I drove my truck to the condos and Lizzie ran up while the rest of us waited in the truck. Hannah came out with Lizzie, looking tired. Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail, but the part around her head was all frizzy and she had creases under her eyes.
Lizzie, who had been sitting shotgun on the ride over, climbed in back with Logan and Zaq, giving Hannah the seat up front.
Hannah climbed in and sighed. “Thanks so much for coming to get me. I was so frustrated until I remembered that Lizzie left Krista and Jaylee a radio. I thought I was going to have to walk back to the house.”
“Where is their hospital?” Zaq asked.
“There’s one down Gothic,” Hannah said. “It’s not far from here.”
“I can’t believe no one would drive you back to the house after they came for you there,” I said. “What are you hungry for?”
“Pizza,” Hannah said. “Then a chocolate ice cream cone. Rocky Road if they have it.”
How very specific. “You got it.” I steered out of the lot and turned toward The Secret Pizzeria.
Logan leaned over Zaq’s lap so that his head poked over the seat. “I would have come to get you, Hannah, ” he said. “Next time we’ll send you with a radio so you can call us when you’re done.”
“Will there be a next time?” I asked.
“Looks like it,” she said. “They had me working as a nurse. There are quite a few sick people, and they don’t have many qualified medical personnel to care for them.”
“What kind of sick?” Logan asked. “Plague sick?”
“I never saw the plague, so I wouldn’t recognize it,” Hannah said. “Most people had regular problems. I treated two sore throats, one nasty cough, a second degree burn from a guy who fell into a campfire, and three cases of seasonal allergies. There was a twisted ankle, an upset stomach, four cases of dehydration, and a guy whose back went out. There was another guy who had cancer and had just finished chemo two weeks before the plague hit. He really needed to see a specialist. There was a bipolar person looking for meds, an HIV guy who also needed meds, and five or six diabetics needing insulin.”
“Should you be telling us this?” Logan asked. “Isn’t all that doctor-patient privileged information?”
“I didn’t tell you who had what,” Hannah said. “I’m just talking about my day. That’s allowed.”
I parked on the street in front of the pizza place, and we went in and claimed a booth. With our combined credits, we were able to order three extra-large pizzas and sodas. I sipped my root beer while we waited.
“Do you think they’re going to start tapping other people for jobs?” Zaq asked.
“I don’t even remember what I put down,” Lizzie said.
“I put mechanics and hunting,” I said.
“I put being a lifeguard,” Zaq said.
“I put web design, graphic design, programming, and engineering,” Logan said.
“What engineering?” I asked.
“That’s what I was going to study in college.”
“I thought you were going to study video game design,” Hannah said.
“Well, sure, if I could. But that’s a very competitive field. Engineering would get me a job a lot faster.”
We talked more about careers, about the house, then moved on to Reinhold and what might have happened to him.
The pizza came, and we scarfed it down. It wasn’t just frozen pizzas anymore. They’d found someone to make real pizzas, and they were good. I wondered if the new chef had noted some kind of cooking ability on his hosing contract. How weird would that be? Picked up by the cops to make pizza?
When we were done, we decided to walk to the ice cream shop, since it was only a street away. The sidewalks were crowded. We’d eaten an early dinner, and now that we were ready for dessert, everyone else was just about to start in on dinner.
We turned the corner to the street the ice cream shop was on, and ran into Jaylee and Krista.
“You guys found Hannah!” Krista said, hugging Lizzie.
“We just had dinner,” Lizzie said. “What are you guys doing?”
“Going for pizza,” Krista said. “Jaylee won’t eat anything else.”
“I like pizza,” she said, looking just about everywhere but at me.
She was so pretty it made me ache. It shouldn’t be fair that some girls looked like Jaylee, especially when they were mean old wicked witches inside. Okay, so maybe I was overreacting a little, but then I saw the necklace she was wearing.
That dumb puka shell necklace.
She was wearing Riggs’s his necklace!
What did that mean?
I reached out and tugged on it. “What’s this?”
“A necklace,” she said, still not looking at me. “Riggs gave it to me.”
“Classy, Jay,” Lizzie said. “What did you wait two minutes after you and Eli broke up before moving on?”
“I haven’t moved on,” she said, glaring at Liz. “Riggs and I are just friends. Besides, Eli and I were never going to work out. You all knew it.”
No one said anything, as if they all agreed with that statement.
Then Jaylee grinned at me, her old self again. “It was fun, though, yeah, Eli?”
No, it was not fun. It had been torture, letting this girl mess with my heart. And the way she made it all sound like a game made me feel stupid, like there was something wrong with me because I felt so low about the whole thing.
This girl was twisted like that.
“Yeah, sure,” I finally said, walking on.
An engine revved nearby. Gunfire rang out, echoed with people’s screams. We all stared in the direction the sound had come from. An Army Jeep barreled around the corner, straightened out, and accelerated toward us. People on the sidewalks scattered, screaming as two men, standing in back of the Jeep fired automatic guns. A second Jeep rounded the corner behind the first.
“Run!” Zaq yelled.
We took off, back toward the pizza place, a dozen of others with us. Zaq darted into a tourist shop, and our group followed. We hid in the back of the shop, ducking under clothing racks. From where I crouched, I could just see out the wall of windows that faced the street. The first Jeep rolled past, gunmen spraying both sides of the street with bullets.
Glass shattered. I ducked down and squeezed my eyes shut, praying that someone would stop these madmen and that no one would die.
Engines continued to pass by the shop. I counted three, then risked a peek.
Jagged shards of glass rimmed the store’s window frames. Outside, an army van rolled to a stop. The back doors sprung open and a dozen men poured out, each packing a semi-automatic.
Most of them scattered, but two entered our store. The first walked right behind the counter.
“Out!” he yelled. “Come on!”
A middle-aged man stood slowly, hands lifted in surrender.
“Load all this in the van.” The gunman jerked the gun around the store, pointing at the racks of ski coats, sweatshirts, and T-shirts. “Move it!”
The clerk ran past him and grabbed an armful of North Face jackets off a rack. The second gunman followed him out of the store and to the back of the van, where two other gunmen stood guard.
Who were these guys?
Gunfire and screams sounded nearby. I wished I had my rifle. The clerk came back for a second armload of coats. The first gunman shouldered his gun and started filling a backpack with candy bars from the front counter.
Should I try and get his gun? I wanted to make eye contact with Zaq, see if we could make a plan, but I didn’t dare move for fear of behind discovered. If we stayed put, however, we’d get found eventually when the clerk emptied our clothing racks.
The clerk came back for trip number three. He’d cleared off one rack and started for the second, but the gunman yelled, “Hey!” distracting him.
“This one,” he said, gesturing to a Patagonia rack.
The clerk grabbed an armful of coats and carried them out, leaving behind a gap in the rack that totally revealed Lizzie, crouched and wide-eyed.
I reached through the T-shirts on my rack and waved at my sister but she didn’t see me. She stood, still crouched, and staring at the back of the first gunman, who had resumed filling his backpack with junk food. She lifted one leg over the metal bar on the bottom circle of the rack. Her foot reached the floor and she moved her weight to that leg and lifted out her back foot.
I held my breath. Hurry, hurry, Lizzie!
She had just set both feet outside the rack when the clerk returned. He stopped suddenly, staring at Lizzie. She put her finger over her lips and took one step away from the rack.
“Hey!” the gunman yelled. “Don’t move!”
The gunman circled my sister, gun trained on her. He was youngish—maybe late twenties. He looked her over, appeared to like what he saw, and motioned her toward the door.
“Get in the van. Take a load of coats with you.”
I popped to my feet at the same time as Zaq.
“She’s not going anywhere,” Zaq said. He was on the gunman’s right, so when the man turned his weapon on Zaq, his put his back to me.
“You going to stop me, big guy?” the gunman asked Zaq.
I needed a weapon, searched around me, and grabbed a blue and black Burton board off a snowboard display on the back wall. I crept toward the gunman, pulling back the board to strike. Zaq and Lizzie were cool and didn’t look my way, but the clerk spun toward me, gaping, and totally gave me away.
The gunman spun around just as I slammed the board against his face. He fell backwards into a rack of snow pants. Zaq was on him in seconds, ripped away his gun, and ejected the magazine.
“Is there a backdoor in this place?” I asked the clerk.
He nodded and led the way behind the counter. We all trailed after him, passed through a small storage area/office, and out a door that emptied onto a dirt road separating the store from the pizza place. The air smelled like oregano, yeast, and gunpowder.
The clerk stopped outside and looked both ways. I did too. Gunfire and screaming came from both directions. Too bad we couldn’t wait out here, but our gunman would likely follow any minute.
Zaq dropped the magazine in a dumpster. “Where to?”
I didn’t know, but with only two choices, I went right, away from the front entrances to the ski shop and the pizza place. This let us out on the backside of an apartment complex. We circled the building and peeked out around the front.
Two more army vans were parked on the street, and gunmen were herding people inside. Who were these guys and why were they kidnapping people?
“Stop right there!” someone yelled from behind us.
Our ski store gunman and his partner were running toward us. Only the partner held a gun, gripping it by the barrel.
“Run,” I yelled. “Go, go!”
Zaq and I pushed the girls ahead. The clerk was still with us, and he and Logan went next. Zaq and I brought up the rear as we all ran out onto the street in front. “Cut across to the bar!” I yelled from the back of the line.
Lizzie, who was in the lead, did what I’d asked, and sprinted across the first army van, Logan and Hannah on her heels. She stopped suddenly and lifted her hands above her head.
Zaq and I slowed to a stop just as two new gunmen stepped out from the other side of the van.
“Around back, folks,” he said. “We’ve already called shotgun.”
Lizzie, Logan, and Hannah backed up to us, and we all stopped together in a group. The gunmen pressed forward, and behind us, the gunmen from the ski shop arrived.
We were surrounded.
A chorus of sirens screamed over the distant gunfire as police cruisers sped upon the scene. The gunmen turned their weapons on the Enforcers and started shooting.
The Enforcers shot back.
The clerk took a shot to the neck and collapsed right in front of me.
“Run!” I yelled, pushing Lizzie back toward the bar.
We sprinted toward the building, reached the door, and found it locked. I ran around the side into an alley between the bar and the ice cream shop. The alley ended in a brick wall, so I sat down against the building and pulled my knees up to my chest. The others lined up along the wall on my right, everyone sitting like I had.
“We should be safe here,” I said, panting. “For now, anyway.”
Adrenaline pulsed in my head. That clerk! That could have been me. Lizzie. It could have been any one of us. Had I gotten him killed? Should I have ran the other way out of the store?
I could just barely see the street. Even with the wall acting as a partial barrier, the gunfire was deafening as the two sides shot each other up. Sitting there like that, my mind got a chance to calm down a little. I should go back out there and see if I could help that clerk. Or the people in the vans.
But walking into gunfire would be suicide. Right? I had to leave it to the Enforcers to do their job.
I didn’t much care for that plan, but what else could I do?
The gunfight ended with the sounds of squealing tires and sirens. None of us moved for quite some time. My heart was still thudding when my sister gasped.
“Is that your blood?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Zaq said.
I looked down the line and saw Lizzie on her knees before Zaq, who was looking quite pale. The right shoulder and sleeve of his white T-shirt was drenched red, and a stream of blood had wound its way down his arm where it was dripping off his elbow.
That wasn’t blood spatter. Hannah and I reached him at the same time.
“Go for the truck,” Hannah told me.
I sprinted away. The street looked like the aftermath of a warzone. There were clusters of people here and there, gathered around the wounded. I ran past the dead clerk and three dead gunmen, who were curiously missing their guns. I encountered no resistance. The rest of the gunman and the Enforcers were gone.
I drove the truck back for Zack and the others, then followed Hannah’s directions to the hospital.
“We need to start carrying our guns,” Logan said.
“You don’t have a gun,” I said. “And I can’t carry a rifle everywhere. It will freak people out. Better to just stay in the house until we figure out how to leave this place.”
“We took all those handguns, didn’t we?” Logan asked. “And you said I could have one.”
“No, I said I’d train everyone to use them. I’m not giving you one until you’ve been properly trained.” The idea of Logan packing heat terrified me almost as much as those mysterious gunmen.
We reached the hospital and all went in as far as the emergency waiting room, where Hannah told us to sit down. She walked Zaq past the counter.
“Excuse me,” one of the receptionists said.
“It’s me, Hannah Cheng. I’m a nurse here.”
“Oh, Hannah. Right,” the woman said. “I thought you’d gone home.”
“I did,” she said. “There were some gunmen in the downtown area. Get ready to receive a bunch more wounded.” She continued walking Zaq down the hall where she met a doctor.
“What have you got, Nurse Cheng?” he asked.
“Eighteen-year-old male sustained a single gunshot wound to his right shoulder. Airway is patent and he’s hemodynamically stable.”
“Bring him on back and we’ll take a look.”
Then they were gone.
“What did she say?” Lizzie asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Lizzie broke down, and I hugged her. “He’ll be fine,” I said, but I really had no idea.
“‘Patent airway’ simply means the airway is open or unblocked,” Hannah said.
“And what does ‘hemodynamic’ mean?” I asked.
“I said ‘hemodynamically stable.’ That meant he had stable blood flow. I’m really sorry you guys were so worried. I mean, it was a serious wound, and without prompt and proper treatment, he certainly could have died from blood loss or a resulting infection.”
“But you don’t think he will,” Lizzie asked.
“No,” Hannah said.
“Those words just sounded so… important,” Lizzie said.
“Doctor lingo,” Hannah said. “I’m really sorry I didn’t explain myself better.”
“It’s totally fine,” Lizzie said. “I’m just glad he’s going to be okay.”
We were driving back to the house, having left Zaq at the hospital overnight for observation. Hannah thought he’d be able to go home in a day or two. “Once they were certain the wound was healing and there was no sign of infection,” she’d said.
Two days later, Zaq was released. Hannah told us that there’d been twenty-eight people come into the hospital that had been injured in the attack, and that fourteen of those had been gunshot wounds, three fatal.
“Three people killed in this supposedly peaceful city,” I said. “We should try Reinhold again. We need to get out of here.”
“I tried him just an hour ago,” Dad admitted. “What I’d like to know is who those people were.”
“I heard an Enforcer tell a doctor that they were from outside the town,” Hannah said, “but that’s all I heard, and who knows if it was true.”
“Did anyone actually get taken?” I asked.
“One doctor said eight people,” Hannah said. “But I also heard a nurse say three people, another nurse said eighteen people, and an Enforcer said none. So there you go.”
None. Stupid Enforcers. “We need to know what’s going on,” I said. “If we knew, we could try and do something about it or at least protect ourselves.”
“We could check the CB frequencies,” Dad said, “but I bet they’re communicating digitally.”
“I could rewrite a CB to transmit and not receive,” Logan said. “If we could sneak it into Tracy’s office, we could listen in on them until the battery died.”
“Or until they found the CB.”
“Do it,” Dad said. “I like that plan a lot.”
It wasn’t until next week’s Morning Party that we found out what really happened with the gunmen—at least what the LLC peeps wanted us to believe. Loca and Liberte opened the party with a new song—a tribute to those who lost their lives or were taken by the warlords, they called them. After the song, Loca spoke to the crowd.
“We are grieved by this tragedy, saddened that these shooters forced their way past our blockades and committed violent atrocities against our populace. We have been trying to create a fence around this community to keep everyone safe. Our crews are working tirelessly to complete the fence. Until it is complete, we remain vulnerable to attack. We would ask that you remain indoors as much as possible. We also ask that all guns be turned in to Enforcers. There are two reasons for this. First, our officers need a bigger arsenal of weapons if they are to do their job well. Just as we’ve asked those of you with medical abilities to come forward, we would ask that those of you with weapons to donate them so that our Enforcers can stand up against any future attacks that might come against us.”
Who would be dumb enough to donate their guns to the Enforcers?
“Second, this is meant to be a peaceful city. Guns are a vehicle of death. Only in the hands of trained Enforcers can guns benefit our peaceful town. So we ask you, people of this community, to give up your desires to kill and let our enforcers protect you. Any who turn in a gun voluntarily by the Safe Day Deadline of next Wednesday will receive an extra week’s worth of rations. Any who are caught withholding weapons will be treated as a lawbreaker.”
“Lawbreaker!” I looked from Dad to Zaq.
“Shh,” Dad said.
I stifled a groan of frustration. No way was I giving up our guns. These people were on the fast track to creating a dictatorship. Dad and I exchanged several more glares as Tracy stepped forward to rave about the brave residents who would donate their guns to Enforcers, but it wasn’t until we were driving home in the truck that any of us voiced our opposition to the new gun law.
“We’re not turning in the guns,” I said.
“But, Eli,” Shyla said. “Loca said we have to.”
“Loca is wrong to say that. Loca is not the boss of us. He can’t simply declare himself the ruler of everyone. I didn’t vote for Loca for president. Did you?”
Shyla blinked her big eyes. “I’m too young to vote.”
“I know you like them,” I said. “And they’re talented musicians. But what they’re doing is wrong. It’s against the constitution for them to take our guns away.”
“The constitution means squat to those people,” Dad said. “They’re not even Americans. They’re French. And they’ve been given the opportunity to start their own nation. Can’t blame them for trying, but I don’t want to be a part of it.”
“Me either,” I said.
“But where else can we go?” Lizzie asked. “We need safe water.”
No one had an answer for that.
A week passed by in relative peace. At the next Morning Party, Mr. Tracy reminded residents to turn in all weapons before the Safe Day Deadline, so I went home and hid the gun safe in the attic under a bunch of empty suitcases. Then I hid a few other guns around the house. One handgun—unloaded—went in the drawer under the kitchen stove—under all the pans. A second handgun I put in a Ziploc bag and duct taped inside the toilet tank. A third I stuffed under the couch cushions. Dad wrapped his rifle in trash bags, and put it up a tree in the backward.
We did all this for a reason. I was a little worried that enforcers might remember some of our party had guns since I had a gun rack in the truck and had one in the cab when we’d first arrived here.
And I was right.
Thursday morning, bright and early, four Enforcers knocked on our door. It was Officer Harvey and his friends.
“We have a warrant to search the premises for illegal weaponry,” Harvey said.
“I don’t have any illegal weaponry,” I said. “The constitution of the United States gives its citizens the right to bear arms.”
Lizzie winced, and I knew she was worried I was going to end up arrested again, but I couldn’t just let these jerks barge in here and take whatever they wanted. When would it end?
Harvey made everyone sit in the living room, and he stayed to keep an eye on us while the other three Enforcers searched the place. The first to be found was the gun in the toilet tank. Yeah, I suppose that had been a cliché hiding place. Second, they found the gun in the kitchen. I’d thought those two had been better hidden that the gun safe, so I wasn’t surprised when two Enforcers carried that down into the living room.
“Check this out,” one said to Harvey. “There must be thirty guns in here.”
Maybe I should have tried harder on this gun hiding thing, but they hadn’t found the one in the couch cushions. Lizzie was still sitting on it. And no one had gone outside to search, so Dad’s rifle was likely safe in the trees.
“This many guns, Mr. McShane…” Harvey said. “You’re going to be in rehab for a long time.”
“You don’t have the right to take my things,” I said, standing. “You don’t have the right to make us live here. We want to leave. Let us take our stuff and go.”
“So you can join up with those deranged gunmen?” Harvey asked. “I don’t think so. Guns are for killing, and we’re not going to let anyone have that responsibility but us.”
“Guns are also for protecting myself and my family from people who would try to harm us, Enforcers included,” I said. “You take my guns, you give me no way to protect myself from people like you.”
“Obey the law and you have no reason to fear me,” Harvey said.
“I obey the laws of my country: The United States of America. Loca and Liberté Champion and Mr. Tracy don’t get to make laws for me.”
“They already did, Mr. McShane,” Harvey said. “Now, are you going to come peacefully or would you like to try the taser?”
“Why arrest only Eli?” Dad asked. “We all live here. Half these guns are mine.”
“This house is registered to Eli McShane,” Harvey said. “Therefore whatever is in this house belongs to Mr. McShane. He would do well to remember that in the future.”
Enforcer Harvey cuffed me, took me out to his police cruiser, and drove me to rehab. Again.
END OF CHAPTER
Arrested again. What will happen to Eli now?