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.
Plans to escape go awry.
I spent the next few days working with my dad on our map of the town. We had been monitoring the Enforcer shifts at the different gates and had stumbled onto a pattern. Four Enforcers were on patrol at each gate with the exception of the night hours of midnight to six a.m. and the 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. lunch hours.
Night was our best option, though we still hadn’t agreed on whether we’d take the northern or southern gate.
“The south gate will put us on the road back to Durango,” Dad said.
“Yeah, but it will also take us through Crested Butte and past a more populated area. That leaves us open to the possibility of trouble from outsiders. If we go north, we can drive around the top edge of the mountain, set up a camp, and start looking at creeks that pour into the East River. Could be we find one with safe water and can live right in the shadow of the compound without them even knowing it.”
“They’d know,” Dad said.
“Well, maybe they wouldn’t care,” I said. “I know I’ve caused my share of trouble for them. I’m thinking if we can get out of here, they’ll write us off.”
“Good riddance, eh?” Dad said on a sigh. “You could be right. It’s a gamble. But everything is these days. My biggest concern is that going north traps us. We’d be at the end of the road with no way out.”
“We could hike to Ashcroft if we needed to,” I said. “That would get us to roads that lead to Aspen or basically anywhere. But, Dad, there’s no place to go anyway.”
“We’re completely isolated in this compound,” Dad said. “For all we know the government survived and has started to rebuild and we don’t have a clue.”
“Dad, the Champions don’t want to live in Colorado. They’d much rather be in a big city, close to a major airport and a lot more people to cheer at their concerts. Plus they’d want to get Liberté’s friend to a hospital rather than sending some scavenging team all the way to New Jersey. If the world was coming back, the Champions would be the first ones out of here.”
“You’re right, son. I forgot about the New Jersey trip. I will say that the northern gate has a lot less traffic. If we were able to get past it, it would take Enforcers longer to reach us.”
“Okay, so who goes out of the gates each day?” I asked, wanting to at least settle on the start of a plan before Hannah got home. “Enforcers and garbage men?”
“That’s it mostly. Some trucks have gone south, come back in with bigger trucks and scavenged supplies. None of the trucks go north. Not even the garbage guys go north. The closest landfill in in Gunnison.”
Looking at the map, I saw that he was right. We needed the garbage trucks. We could haul a lot inside one, and odds were high that no one would want to look in back. “If we take a garbage truck, maybe we could take it all the way around. Drive south out of Crested Butte, then take the 738 north as far as it goes. It would put us on the north side of the East River, but we’d still be really close.”
“That’s the way Reinhold was supposed to go,” Dad said. “I’m hesitant to take that same route when we haven’t heard back from him. Could be there is something that way that doesn’t want to be found, like those warlords.”
“But where else could we go, Dad?”
He studied the map and wrinkled his brow. “Maybe we could hike out. My guess is the fence doesn’t go all the way around the mountain.”
“Zaq and I hiked it weeks ago. It goes up as high as the Teocalli ski lift, runs south along the Horseshoe trail, then cuts across the Upper Park where it hits Aspen Park Road, which if follows to the switchback. Then it comes down the mountain to the west of Peakview Drive, then cuts west until it reaches Saddle Ridge Ranch Road.”
“So that’s out,” Dad said.
The door opened and Hannah came in. So much for presenting her with a perfected escape plan.
“Did you guys hear about Liberté?” she asked.
“Did she break a nail?” Zaq asked.
“She’s infected. It’s all over the Grid.”
We weren’t exactly Grid people in this house, but for this, I could make an exception. I opened Lizzie’s laptop that she’d left on the kitchen counter and refreshed it. “With the HyrdoFlu or the new thing?” I asked as the page loaded.
“The new thing,” Hannah said. “They’re calling it the Thin Plague because it thins the blood and kills the immune system.”
“And there’s no cure?” I asked.
“Not yet. Doctor Bayles wants to try an antiretroviral treatment.”
“That’s for HIV,” Zaq said. “What makes him think that would help?”
“The Thin Plague is bloodbourne,” Lizzie said. “Right?”
“Yes. Doctor Bayles thinks that people who were infected with the HIV virus who also contracted the HydroFly didn’t die because the two viruses mutated into one.”
“But now they’re dying,” I said.
“Liberté has HIV?” Logan asked.
“She got it from her friend Barkley Kipp,” I said, reading the article on the Grid.
“The dancer who was sick,” Lizzie said.
“That’s why they sent that team to Jersey,” Logan said. “They must have been looking for HIV meds.”
“I overheard Doctor Barkley talking on the phone,” Hannah said. “They lost contact with the Jersey team.”
“How does that happen?” Zaq asked.
“There are more people out there,” Logan said. “More warlords with guns. Anything could have happened.”
That was a scary thought.
I kept reading the article. “Hey, this says they’re putting together a Technology Research Team to go to Denver and find medical supplies that might prolong the lives of infected individuals.”
“They need antiretroviral,” Logan said. “For the HIV.”
“And the Thin Plague,” Lizzie said.
“There’s no guarantee the antiretroviral will work on the Thin Plague,” Hannah said. “It’s just a theory at this point.”
“See?” Logan said. “I told you something like this would happen.”
“When did you ever tell us that?” Zaq said. “No, don’t tell me because it wouldn’t be true anyway.”
“Why are you mad at me?” Logan asked.
“I’m not mad, I’m just tired of you acting like you know everything.”
“Well, excuse me for trying to be helpful. Someone has to have a—”
“I’m volunteering,” I said, loud enough to cut through Zaq and Logan’s random argument. Only when everyone looked my way did I continue. “This could be our way out.”
“That’s dumb, Eli,” Lizzie said. “Did you forget how badly you wanted to get out of Phoenix? Denver will likely be just as bad.”
“I wouldn’t be going to Denver,” I said. “If I can get outside the gate, I can sneak away from the team and find my way back here. On the other side of the fence. I can test the water north of the mountain and know for sure whether or not it’s worth the risk. If it is, then I can find some bolt cutters and work out the best place to cut through the fence. Then I come back in and take you all back with me.”
“I still can’t believe we can’t find any bolt cutters here,” Logan said.
“Keep looking,” I said, “but I’m going to sign up.”
“Me too,” Zaq said. “The more of us who sign up, the better the chances of one of us getting chosen, right?”
“Right,” I said. I clicked on the button that said “volunteer” and entered my log in information.
The Denver Technology Research Team members were to be announced at the next Morning Party. It was the first time I’d even been excited to attend one, besides the time we scoped out Champion House with hopes of breaking in. Before they announced the lucky ten souls chosen for the adventure to Denver, Tracy thanked all who had gone in to have their blood tested.
“The patience and kindness y’all showed our medical staff was so impressive. We are thrilled to have such wonderful citizens living in this community. Give yourself a hand.” He began to clap.
As the audience joined him, I began to realize how very naïve I’d been to think Tracy would choose me for anything but an all-expense paid visit to rehab.
Sure enough, after the applause had died down, Tracy let the joy fade from his face. “Unfortunately, not everyone here shares the same values. We had eighteen violators who did not appear for their blood test last week.
Someone booed, which caught on, and a chorus of negativity rang out.
“I understand how you feel,” Tracy said. “I was disappointed, to say the least, and decided that it was important for you all to know who is causing trouble in our little utopia.”
My cheeks burned as the faces of those who had not yet been tested for the Thin Plague flashed across the big screen.
Hannah put her arm around me and tugged my sweatshirt hood over my head. “Don’t want that eye suffering a relapse,” she said.
As the faces of violators flashed across the screen, I stood on the grassy lawn, surrounded by my friends. With each face that appeared, the crowd grew more agitated, booing and catcalling some nasty names. Most the people were old—my dad’s age or above. I appeared about halfway through. A few faces later I recognized Andy Reinhold followed by Kimama Reinhold. It hadn’t occurred to me that they’d still be on the Grid, but how would Tracy’s people know they were gone when we had been collecting their rations each day?
The slide show ended, and Tracy calmed the crowd by announcing the chosen ten for the Denver trip. None of our group was chosen. In fact, I recognized five of the ten names as Enforcers. I wondered if Tracy had scared up some new recruits of if the Enforcers would be shorthanded in the coming weeks. Perhaps this Denver trip would work to our advantage after all.
I pondered this as we left the field and headed for our truck. We had just passed through the gate when I heard my name.
I looked up and met Krista’s gaze. She was sitting on the hood of a red truck with some girl who wasn’t Jaylee and an Asian guy.
“Hey,” I said, nodding.
“He’s one of the violators!” she yelled, turning to knock on the windshield behind her.
The Asian guy slid off the hood and started toward me. He was shorter than me, but ripped. He walked slow, like his muscles actually weighed him down.
I doubted that was true.
The truck doors opened and two big dudes climbed out. A white guy with gauges as big as half dollars and a Samoan, who looked like he played for the NFL. All three were heavier than I was, muscular not fat, with bulging arms and massive shoulders.
Zaq pulled me to his other side, putting himself between me and the muscle. “Run ahead to the truck, Eli,” he said.
“I’m not running from anyone,” I whispered, annoyed. I wasn’t about to run away scared from anyone.
The guys stepped toward me. The first one—the Asian guy—batted Hannah aside. She stumbled from the force and ran into Lizzy. “Out of the way, ladies, before you get hurt.”
Lizzie ran around the guy and got all up in his face. “Excuse me, but who do you think you are to push around a girl?”
He shoved her this time, and she knocked into Zaq, who caught her around the waist and spun her behind him. “Is there a problem, man?” he asked.
I was always glad Zaq was on my side, but in moments like these he often made me look incompetent.
Asian guy pointed at me. “You’re hiding a violator. We don’t like his kind. We’re trying to get along in this place.”
“Then let’s go our separate way,” Zaq said. “We’re happy to get along.”
“I don’t think so,” Asian guy said, reaching out and slapping my cheek.
“Cut it out,” I said.
Zach put a hand against Asian guy’s chest, and the next thing I know both were blurring in front of my eyes, arms locked, spinning like wrestlers on a mat.
I inched back until I saw gauges guy coming at me. Desperation fueled a few punches, and I swung wildly. When my fists did manage to land, the impact was soft and weak. My knuckles stung, anyway, though I don’t think I did any damage.
Samoan came at me too, and as his fist graze my cheek, I think it shred some skin as it went. My dad darted in front of me and punched the Samoan in the jaw. The dude staggered, and Logan took that moment to assist by kicking in the back of his legs. The big guy’s knees buckled, but he managed to keep his feet and twist around to threaten Logan, who sprinted away like a scared Chihuahua.
For a brief moment, things seemed almost even, despite the fact that Logan had fled and I weighted a good fifty pounds less than anyone out there.
Zaq and my dad held their own, keeping the worst of the fighting away from me. Time passed by in a mess of bodies and hands and shoving and pain. Lizzy and Hannah helped here and there, kicking someone in the back, pulling hair, slapping ears. Dad knocked gauges guy flat, but he was getting up again. If Zaq and Asian guy hadn’t practically been throwing one another around, threatening to flatten anyone in their path, Lizzie probably would have started throwing punches. I heard someone yell Enforcers. Samoan guy elbowed Lizzie in the ear and sent her sprawling, which snapped Zaq away from Asian guy. I heard Zaq scream but I didn’t see what happened since Asian guy, suddenly abandoned, charge me.
Asian guy grabbed my arm. I swung around, trying to break his grip but he pinched my nerve and used his other hand to punch my face. I moved my head just in time to take a blow to the ear, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground shaking from another taser attack.
By the time I could move again, some Enforcer I didn’t recognize cuffed my hands behind me and shoved me into the back of a squad car. I was alone. I hadn’t been lucid enough to see what had happened to my dad and Zaq and the others. I felt some drool trickling from my mouth, but when I wiped it away with my shoulder, it was actually blood oozing off a fat lip. My face stung, and there was a sharp pain in my stomach that spiked if I moved too much.
I didn’t recognize the driver. “Where we going?” I asked, and my voice came out weak.
He didn’t answer.
The town was so small, it only took a glance out the window for me to know where we were headed. A few turns later the car stopped in the parking lot of the rehab facility.
I wonder if they offered cards for frequent visitors.
The driver got out and opened the back door, motioned to me. “Let’s go, kid.”
I sighed and wiggled my way out, which wasn’t so easy with my hands cuffed. Inside, rather than taking me to the booking room, he took me on a hike. We wound through a series of hallways, then went down a flight of stairs. On the basement level, a narrow hallway stretched out across the length of the building. An Enforcer was coming out of a door, and as we passed by, I saw inside. Guns. Lots of guns.
It looked to be where they were keeping the guns they’d confiscated. I glanced back over my shoulder at the door as the Enforcer pulled it closed. I didn’t see a lock. Nothing more than a key in a doorknob.
Wonder if Logan could pick it?
The Enforcer shoved me forward. We entered a plain, cinderblock room with a beat-up laminate table in the center and two chairs. The Enforcer made me sit behind the table. I perched on the edge of the chair to leave room for my hands. The Enforcer left me there. It seemed weird that I was down here all alone. I figured Carelle Lawler would come in at some point and lecture me, but this was a day of surprises. About five minutes later Mr. Tracy himself swept into the room. He shut the door and sat across from me.
“Mr. McShane,” he said. “You do cause a lot of trouble, you know?”
“I want a lawyer,” I said.
“Lawyers died with the rest of the world,” Tracy said.
“You can’t just change the law,” I said. “This is a free country.”
“Are we really going to do this again?” Tracy asked. “The United States of America was a free country. But it died. It’s history, like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. And the Safe Water Mountain Refuge is my territory. Here, I decide what’s law.”
“I thought Loca and Liberté were in charge,” I said.
“They’re figureheads, like the royal family of England. Here I’m the prime minister. The president. The Commander in Ch—”
His lip curled, but he managed to force a smile.
“Why am I down here?” I asked. “I’ve been here before. I know the drill. Put me in my cell and send Ms. Lawler in to try and brainwash me.”
“It’s not going to be so easy this time, Mr. McShane.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You missed your blood test and started a fight at the morning party.”
“I started the fight? You’re the one who flashed my face on the big screen. You practically begged people to go beat me up.”
“If the citizens of this town are upset at you, perhaps you should try a little harder to fit in. This is your third infraction, Mr. McShane. This time you will remain here for one week.”
“One week without water? I could die.”
“You will get one, eight ounce glass of water per day. You will get no food. The goal is to make you miserable enough that you will fall in line.”
“Look, you don’t want me here,” I said. “I don’t want to live here. Why should we continue to annoy each other? Open the gate and let me out. Then I won’t be your problem anymore.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Tracy said. “That’s too bad. Despite how much you annoy me, I can’t let you leave. One person gets to leave, then everyone wants to leave.”
“Gee, I wonder why? Maybe it’s because you’re a psychopathic dictator.”
“Next time you’re arrested, Mr. McShane, you will be sentenced to six months here. I promise you it won’t be pleasant.”
That sobered me. I didn’t doubt he was serious. But if we were going to break out of this place, I couldn’t get locked up for that long.
Tracy smiled. “From the look on your face, I see we understand each other. You will be transported to the medical center where you will be tested for the Thin Plague. You will cooperate fully. Then you will be brought back here to begin your week’s incarceration. Have a good day Mr. McShane.”
And he left me there alone, pondering my pathetic life in this place.
My wrists were burning from the handcuffs by the time the Enforcer led me into the medical center. We walked right through the waiting area. A nurse behind the counter nodded to the Enforcer and he took me right on back. One pro to being arrested: no waiting.
The Enforcer led me to a small exam room. He took off my cuffs, told me to put on the paper dress, and shut the door. I sat there for five minutes, thankful to have some alone time. Five minutes passed, and I got up, opened the door, and peeked into the hall. The Enforcer was standing just outside. He glared at me and pulled the door shut. I went back to the exam table, ignored the paper dress, and sat down on the crackly paper. Another five minutes passed before the door opened, and Hannah walked in. Her eyes met mine, widened. Other than that, she looked at her chart as if she didn’t know me.
“Mister, um… McShane. Let me inform you that this exam room is for criminals. Do not try anything. The Enforcer is right outside the door.”
Oh, so I was a criminal now? Wonderful.
“One blood test, coming right up,” she said. “Though you look like you could use a little more medical care than that. What happened to you?”
Ok-kay, weird. “Yeah, I got in a big fight. You should have seen the other guys. There were four of them, you know. None of us walked away.”
“Actually, the enforcer said everyone walked away but you.”
“Way to kick me when I’m down,” I said.
She smirked, which made me feel good, that I’d cracked through whatever act she was performing here.
“How are you feeling? You face hurt?”
“Any pain elsewhere?”
I wanted to say no, but the pain in my stomach put up a fight. “My stomach is a little sore.”
“Show me where.”
I sat up straight, winced, and ran my hand over the sore spot.
“Could be you have a cruised rib.” She picked up a blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around my arm. “You didn’t undress.” She smirked as she squeezed the ball and the cuff tightened.
I smirked back. “No, I didn’t.”
“At least take off your shirt, so I can listen to your heart and examine your ribs.”
I didn’t really want to take off my shirt in front of Hannah. I’d just gotten by butt kicked by a bunch of macho men. Did she need to rub it in? I didn’t have a logical reason to refuse, though, and I didn’t want anyone thinking I wasn’t cooperating with the staff here. Plus, the ache in my side was killing me.
I started to pull my shirt over my head, but halfway there pain shot through my side. I froze with my shirt tangled around my head and made a pathetic whimpering sound.
I felt Hannah’s hands on my back. She pulled the shirt the rest of the way off. I snagged it from her and held it balled up in my in my lap. “Thanks.”
She pressed the cold stethoscope against my back in several places, telling me to breathe in and hold it, then breathe out. She moved to my front and did the same on my chest. Then she asked me to lie down. I did, and the paper crumpled under me. I felt weird with my legs hanging off the end of the table at my knees. Hannah put her fingers against my stomach and pushed in several places. I tried to be tough, but she read my muffled grunts and pushed again in that spot.
“Whose side are you on, anyway?” I asked.
Another grin. “I think you have a bruised rib,” she said. “You should have an x-ray to make sure it isn’t broken.”
“I don’t want an x-ray.”
“Don’t be stupid, E— Mr. McShane. The technology is available. Use it.”
I said no more. She continued her examination, took my blood for the test, and the whole thing kind of impressed me. She was way smarter than me. I felt like a kid compared to all the things she knew. It didn’t help that my dad had fought that last battle far better than I had. It suddenly seemed ridiculous that my dad thought that she and I would make a good couple. What could I offer someone like her? A patient to practice on. That was about it.
It kind of made me sad. She was a pretty incredible person. I remembered how she’d pulled up my hood that morning, trying to help me hide my face. I didn’t know what to make of it. Did she like me? Or was she just mothering me, the way Lizzie did sometimes?
I was taken to the x-ray room, then brought back to the criminal exam room to wait wait wait. Hannah finally returned to tell me that two of my ribs were bruised, likely because that Samoan guy had Karate-chopped me in the gut. Hannah gave me some painkillers and sent me on my way as if we didn’t know each other at all.
The enforcer hooked my cuffs again and led me out. Some people were coming down the hall, so he moved me over to the right to wait. A nurse led a female patient past us. She was dressed in a paper gown and pink socks. Our eyes met.
It was Jaylee.
The Enforcer pushed me onward. I looked over my shoulder, but the nurse led Jaylee into an exam room. What was she doing here? She didn’t look sick. I hadn’t seen her face on the list of violators this morning, so she likely wasn’t here for a blood test.
Later. I’d ask Hannah tonight.
I turned back, shifted my cuffed hands and remembered I wasn’t a free man.
Fine. I’d ask Hannah in a week when I got home.
Stupid Tracy, anyway. As soon as I got out of here, I was planning my escape. I was more than done with this place.
END OF CHAPTER
Will Eli finally escape in the next chapter?