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.
First of all, I’m a little stuck. Writing a book is always an adventure, and right now, my adventure has hit a rocky patch. I had a very busy weekend, yesterday was my birthday, and I’m on track to finish line edits on Maelstrom this Friday along with the rewrite of Broken Trust.
I can allow nothing to get in the way of finishing those two projects on time. *cue dramatic music and a close up of Jill typing away, brow furrowed in concentration*
All that to say, THIRST has again been pushed aside at a time when it really needs some quality one-on-one time. So today’s chapter isn’t so much a chapter as a couple scenes. It needs some help. And I’ve also realized I need to go back and plant some things that I had intended to have come out in this chapter. Overall, I’m feeling like I need something a little more exciting to happen in this chapter, but I don’t know what. I covet your ideas, readers. Feel free to post in the comments anything you would like to see happen before the big attempted Exodus by Eli and his friends.
Oh, and while I’m confessing, I also need ideas for what has delayed Reinhold. I have no idea what’s taking him so long on the other side of the mountain. If you have some fabulous theories, I’d love to hear them. Perhaps they will inspire me to figure out what’s going on with that fellow.
[Note of change: I had been planning to introduce “the Grid” in this chapter, but as I wrote, I realized I needed the Grid to already exist. So when I rewrite, I’ll be going back and planting the Grid early on. What is the Grid, you ask? The Grid is the new Internet—but just for the Safe Water Mountain Refuge (which I also renamed, btw). Everyone under LLC care will have access to the Grid and newly invented social media knock off sites.]
And now I will leave you with today’s installment:
Arrested again? What will happen to Eli now?
I spent a week being brainwashed by Carelle Lawler that “guns were evil” and I must “trust the Enforcers” to protect me. She made me chant these phrases again and again, and played them over the speakers in my cell at night. There was no point in arguing if I wanted to get out of this place, so I said whatever she asked me to. But me trusting Enforcers was not going to happen.
When they let me out, I came home and found that my dad and the others had been making a plan to get Logan’s modified one-way CB radio inside Tracy’s office. I was excited to do anything to fight against this place, so the next morning, we all went to the showers early, more to case the LLC mansion than to get clean.
We spent a week on reconnaissance, taking turns watching the LLC mansion, specifically the windows that were Tracy’s office. What we learned shattered all our hope. There would be no easy way to sneak inside this fortress. Loca and Liberté Champion’s fame daily inspired at least three obsessive fans to try and sneak a peek at one of them, and security was tight.
The property’s perimeter was surrounded by a sixty-inch high wrought-iron fence. Infrared cameras mounted on the outside of the house monitored the fence for thermal heat signatures regardless of time of day. Any movement in unauthorized entry points set off a perimeter alarm at both the gatehouse and somewhere inside—the kitchen, maybe? Eli could hear it, but he couldn’t tell where the interior alarm was located. He had been hoping to make the first story window into Tracy’s office his entry point, but he witnessed a fan try that very thing and—besides setting off the heat signature alarm—the intruder also triggered a fog screen at the window that sent her screaming away and clutching her eyes.
After the warlord attacks, the outer doors of the Champions’s house had been changed out, wooden or fiberglass doors replaced with those made from kevlar-lined, bullet-resistant steel. Also, it seemed that more Enforcers had been put on patrol duty at the compound.
Logan suggested I show up on the front porch and ask to see Tracy, but even if the guy did let me in, I didn’t see how I could plant the CB without him seeing me. I toyed around with the idea of making a scene at the next Morning Party, but—repeat offender that I was—the Enforcers would likely take me straight to rehab rather than stop in for a lecture at Tracy’s office.
We had reached an impasse and could think of no way to achieve our goal until Hannah returned from the hospital one day.
“I think I can get inside Tracy’s office on Monday,” she said.
“How?” I asked.
“A certain someone who lives in that house is ill,” she said. “Dr. Bayles asked me to accompany him there today for a check-up, and I’m to return every day this week for follow-up visits.”
“Who’s sick?” Logan asked.
“Can’t tell you that,” she said, “but I was thinking that I could try to plant the CB during the next Morning Party.”
“So it’s not Loca or Liberté, then,” Logan said. “Since they’ll be singing on stage at the party. Everyone is saying that Loca is sick.”
“I’m not telling you who I’m treating, Logan,” Hannah said.
“I know, but if I guess, will you nod or shake your head?”
“No, I won’t.” She turned back to me, annoyed. “Anyway, I think it might be our best chance.”
It sounded like it, but I didn’t want Hannah to risk herself. “There’s no way any of us could help you?” I asked.
“Nope. You’ll just have to trust me. A girl. And hope I don’t blow it.”
Her tone seemed offended. “I trust girls just fine,” I said.
She chuckled. “You don’t trust anyone just fine, Eli, and that’s okay. I get it. But I can do this. Please let me try?”
It had been a while since anyone had treated me like I was the boss of our little group. But things were different now, especially with my dad here. Who was I to refuse a good idea? It’s not like I had a better plan, or any plan at all. “This is great,” I said, trying to sound supportive. “One of us should probably skip the Morning Party to monitor the CB. In fact, once we get audio on that office, we need to set a schedule so that there is someone monitoring at all times.”
“Good idea,” Logan said. “I’ll set up my laptop to record so that whoever is on duty can record when they think something might be important. That way we’ll be able to play it back.”
“Genius,” I said, tapping his knuckles. “Do it.”
When the next Morning Party came, Lizzie insisted we all stand at the back of the lawn, circle up, and pray for Hannah as she attempted to plant the CB radio. This we did, but we were done praying before Tracy even took the stage. Lizzie made us start again, and while I admired her stamina, I was too nervous to focus on praying. I kept my eyes on the house’s front entrance, waiting to see Hannah come out, either alone or escorted by Enforcers.
Tracy came out, doing his whole spiel of reminders of the rules: no protesting, no guns, be kind, obey Enforcers. Then he moved on to calling this week’s winners for houses.
It wasn’t until midway through Loca and Liberté’s third song that morning that Hannah exited the house, alone. Relief flooded me, and I pushed through the crowd, making my way toward her. She made eye contact with me and smiled, but it was several minutes until I reached her.
“It’s done,” she yelled over the crowd.
Relief washed through me. “Let’s get back and start listening.”
That first day, nothing much came through the CB. Tracy made a phone call to Captain Kane to ask about offenders, to which the Enforcer captain replied that there’d been only three—far fewer now that the guns had been confiscated, as if owning a gun made people rebellious.
Two more days went by, and we got a hint of something big: a meeting in Tracy’s office on Thursday morning with Loca and Liberté Champion and Captain Kane.
Thursday morning we all crowded around the CB in the living room to listen. It took a while for everyone to arrive in Tracy’s office, then they moved into small talk.
“How is Barkley?” Tracy asked.
“Worse, I think.” This from Liberté. “He’s so thin and weak. My heart breaks just looking at him. He needs his meds.”
“Who is Barkley?” I asked.
“One of Liberté’s male dancers,” Lizzie said.
“Shh!” Logan hissed at me.
“Any word from the research team?” Loca asked.
“They sent a message through the Grid,” Kane said. “Made it to New Jersey. They’re trying to make sense of the pharmaceutical company, but it’s going to take time.”
“We should have sent Dr. Bayles with them,” Loca said.
“Barkley can’t do without Dr. Bayles right now,” Liberté said.
“We couldn’t risk our most experienced doctor to a trip that far away,” Tracy said. “There’s no way to know they’ll make it back.”
“They’ll make it,” Kane said.
“Besides, we only need to increase our supply of meds,” Loca added. “The pharmaceutical rep will do fine to help the team find what we need.”
“He’s got fifteen years in pharmaceuticals, working out of Dallas,” Tracy said. “He knows his stuff.”
“We’re going to need to learn how to produce everything eventually,” Kane said.
“Eventually, but not now,” Tracy said.
“I don’t like so many people milling around my house,” Liberté said. “I feel like I have no privacy.”
“Even after the increased security?” Kane asked.
“I still see them out my window all the time,” Liberté said. “Loca and I bought this land because we liked the ski resort, the view, and the small population. I don’t feel safe with so many people milling around all the time.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have invited us all up here,” I said.
Logan glared at me. “Shh!”
“We’ll find a way to get rid of them,” Tracy said. “They shouldn’t be bothering you.”
“But this is where you wanted the showers built,” Kane said.
“There weren’t so many people in my yard then!” Liberté said.
“People won’t need the showers forever,” Tracy said. “Once we get the dam up and running, we can work on redirecting the city water supply. Then people can shower in their own homes, and they won’t need to come here.”
“We want them to need us,” Loca said. “We just don’t want them on our property all the time.”
“Let’s post some showering hours,” Tracy said. “People can only shower from nine to five or something like that.”
“That sounds marvelous,” Liberté said.
“We don’t want to upset anyone, though,” Loca said. “Are people still trying to leave?”
“No one has challenged with force for a few weeks,” Kane said, “but people are still grumbling.”
“Let them leave if they want,” Liberté said. “Who needs the ungrateful leeches? Let them try and find a better place to live than here with us.”
“We can’t let them leave, darling,” Loca said. “If people go, we lose our work force. Who will clean this place? Who will hunt or grow food? Do you know how to hunt food? Because I don’t.”
“Vegetarians don’t hunt,” she said.
“We’ve been over this,” Loca said. “She knows what’s at stake.”
Liberté huffed. “Don’t talk about me like you’re my handler.”
“How many have refused task assignments?” Kane asked.
“Too many,” Tracy said. “You think we need to threaten rehab?”
“Not yet,” Kane said. “You just took their guns. Too much too soon and you’ll have riots.”
“We should do something, Libby and me,” Loca said. “You can record us working, then the people will see that everyone, even us, has to take jobs if we’re going to make this place work.”
“But we already have two jobs!” Liberté said. “We’re musicians and we’re the rulers of this place.”
“King Loca and Queen Liberté,” Tracy said.
“There’s no point in being musicians if no one is listening,” Loca said. “And no point being a king or queen if you have no people to rule.”
“That was well said, Loca,” Tracy said. “You’re so wise.”
“What a suck up,” I mumbled.
“But I don’t want to work,” Liberté said.
“If we’re going to make this work, we need to be seen out there, setting an example,” Loca said.
“Not for a whole shift, though, Liberté,” Tracy said. “Just long enough to get some footage we can use on the Grid.”
“You always wanted a movie, darling,” Loca said. “Be an actress. Play your role well. The people will love it.”
“It would be so much easier if I’m only acting,” Liberté said. “But I’d want to do something fun, like operate one of those soft ice cream machines.”
“Done,” Tracy said. “You’d be great at that, by the way, and your fans would love it. The Grid ads are pulling in great feedback on the two of you.”
“But not everyone is on the Grid,” Loca said. “How do we get everyone to participate.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Kacy said. “You could force them to go on the Grid to activate their credits. Until they do, no food, water, or showers.”
“Great,” Dad said. “More hoops to jump through.”
“That could work,” Tracy said.
“It won’t stop people from wanting to leave, though,” Kane said.
“He’s got that right,” I said.
“How can we convince them to stay?” Loca asked. “I don’t want this to turn ugly. This isn’t meant to be a prison camp.”
“Could have fooled me,” Zaq said.
“If we had something they needed,” Kane said.
“We have the water,” Tracy said.
“Yes, but they could try to look elsewhere for water,” Kane said. “Could be there are other safe water streams out there. Or they might simply decide to scavenge bottled water.”
“I’d rather not have perfectly healthy people dying off in the wilderness because they don’t like us,” Loca said.
“So what can we do?” Liberté asked. “I can’t believe there are people who don’t like us.”
“I have an idea, but I’m not sure…” Loca said. “It seems deceitful and a bit reckless.”
“I love it already,” Tracy said.
“Speak up, darling,” Liberté said. “We can’t read your mind.”
“We could get everyone hooked on something,” he said.
“Barkley won’t give up his pot,” Liberté said. “He’s running low as it is, and he needs it for the pain.”
“We can easily grow more,” Loca said.
“But not everyone smokes,” Kane said.
“Have the cooks put it in the food, like with brownies,” Liberté said.
This comment got a good laugh from those at the meeting and a round of groans from us at the house.
“Wait, why couldn’t we?” Loca said. “Not pot, though. Not something so obvious. Something addictive that they would crave and withdraw over. But not something that will turn them into weaklings. We need them physically able to work.”
“Nicotine,” Tracy said. “It’s the most addictive substance known to man.”
“It is not,” Loca said.
“No, he’s right,” Liberté said. “I read about it in Cosmo. It’s even more addicting that coke or heroine.”
Loca snorted. “I suppose that’s why you can’t manage to quit smoking.”
“It is, actually. I don’t like who I am when I try to quit. I get very irritable.”
“Not you,” Tracy said. “You’re always such a joy to be around.”
The conversation went on as the four of them discussed other ideas to keep all of us here. They came up with nothing better than their grand addiction scheme, and Kacy promised to contact his New Jersey team and ask them to look for Nicotine. The meeting fizzled after that as they talked about which songs to perform at next week’s party and how Liberté was going to get new clothing made.
Once they all left and Tracy’s office went quiet, we all sat around and tried to decide what to do next.
“They can’t keep us here,” I said.
“Loca doesn’t want this to be a prison camp?” Hannah said. “That’s exactly what it is.”
“It’s kidnapping,” Logan said. “It’s communism. It’s a dictatorship.”
“It’s nuts,” Dad said.
“That’s not all,” Hannah said. “There’s something I haven’t told you. It’s the real reason Dr. Bayles didn’t go on their scavenging trip to New Jersey.”
We all stared at Hannah, waiting for her to drop whatever bomb she’d been holding.
“There have been several patience come in to the hospital with similar symptoms. Dr. Bayles thinks it’s the HydroFlu.”
“How long has this been going on?” Logan asked.
“He just told me last night,” Hannah said.
I blew out a long and frustrated breath. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that we need to get out of this place soon if we’re going to survive.”
END OF CHAPTER
Uh oh. Is the HydroFlu back? Or is Dr. Bayles mistaken?