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.
Okay, so the ending is not coming together the way I originally planned. This isn’t uncommon for me when writing a first draft. I had to take some time to brainstorm what was broken with the story and how I could fix it. All that showed me that I’m going to need to make some significant changes in the rewrite to make this story build up to a major climax at the end.
Right now the book is kind of rambling along, and I don’t like that. Also, my antagonist doesn’t appear in the story until past the halfway point, which is strange, but I think the thing that bothers me most about THIRST is that it feels like two separate books. I have the “discovery of the Pandemic” story. Then I have a separate “arrive in Mount Crested Butte and try to make a life of it” story. We shall see whether or not editors agree with me on that later on. Perhaps it would be best to make it into two books. I don’t know…
For now, to finish these next two chapters, I’m going to write as if I’ve already made some changes, though I won’t actually make them until I go back to rewrite. The changes are:
So. As you read these last two chapters, pretend that you know the fence is electrified and that everyone got jobs when Hannah got hers. I will make all this so during the rewrite.
And now, on with the story…
Arrested again. What will happen to Eli now?
I had fasted before only a couple times in my life. The 30-Hour Famine was a favorite of my youth pastor. But going out food for a full week?
The week in rehab crawled by. Each day I desperately anticipated my small glass of water. Carelle Lawler’s obnoxious sessions didn’t help. When I was finally released, I felt like I could drink an entire lake and eat a herd of cattle.
I was released into the lobby of the rehab facility and bade to use a computer there to contact a ride. I sent everyone I knew a message on the Grid, and still it was another twenty minutes before Dad stopped the truck out front to pick me up. When he heard how Tracy had starved me, he nearly drove the truck to the Champion compound to give the man a piece of his mind.
“It doesn’t matter, Dad,” I said. “Tracy doesn’t care about right and wrong. He wants to be in control, and he wants everyone to obey without question.”
“It’s time to leave this place forever,” Dad said.
“I was thinking the exact same thing.”
We had barely stepped foot in the house and my dad started yelling for people to gather in the kitchen for a meeting. Everyone was home but Hannah. Once we’d all settled around the table and I was nursing a glass of apple juice and some crackers, my dad spoke.
“Eli and I are done with this place,” Dad said. “Who is with us?”
Hands shot up around the table. Unsurprisingly unanimous.
“It’s not going to be easy out there,” Dad said. “We’re going to be roughing it for a really long time. Maybe forever. That means hunting our own food. Living off the land.”
“What about water?” Logan asked.
“We don’t know for sure,” Dad said. “I figure on hiking north, looking for creeks coming off the mountain. I hope we’ll find one that’s clean. If not, we’re going to have to scavenge for a while and collect rainwater.”
“Maybe wait this place out,” I said. “At the rate they’re going, they might just kill themselves off.”
“They might,” Dad said, “but we can’t pin our survival on that hope.”
“Won’t they think to look for us by the river?” Zaq asked.
“Maybe,” Dad said, “but I don’t think they’ll waste too much time looking for us. They’ve got more important things to worry about. If we can get out of this place, we’ll be free.”
“Tracy will try and stop us,” I said, then filled them in on the conversation we’d had in the basement of the rehab facility. Then I told them about the guns I saw down there. “If we could get those guns, it would really help.”
Dad shook his head. “Not worth it. You get caught trying to get those guns, they lock you away for six months. We’ve got two guns left. Those will have to do for now. Once we’re settled, we can scavenge more.”
“So all we need is an exit plan,” Zaq said.
“Yeah, none of us got on the Denver trip,” Logan said. “How are we going to get out of here?”
“I still think the garbage truck is the best plan,” I said.
“And I agree,” Dad said. “Eli’s can pop the distributor cap on one of the trucks just before he leaves for the night. In the morning, when it won’t start, they’ll call me in to take a look. I’ll make up some complicated problem. They’ll rework the route for the day, leaving the truck behind for me to fix. I’ll drive it to the shop, but that night, I’ll steal it.”
“The house is too far away from the southern gate, so we’ll meet Dad at the public tennis court on Glacier Lily Way. There are no streetlamps there, so I’m guessing it should be deserted.”
“I thought we didn’t want to go south?” Zaq said.
“We don’t,” I said, “but we can’t think of a better way to get past the gates. We’ll just have to circle around the mountain and hike to the river from the other side.”
“What are you going to tell the guard at the gate?”
“They won’t ask anything,” Eli said. “The long distant drivers sometimes don’t leave until after dark.”
We sat around, hashing out all the details. Once we felt good about the plan, everyone split up to gather supplies. I ate a peanut butter sandwich, which gave me a stomachache, then took a nap. By the time I had slept it off and come downstairs looking for more food, the whole day had gone by.
Hannah, Lizzie, and Logan were in the kitchen making hamburgers. It smelled amazing.
I walked up to the counter, soundless, and helped myself to a slice of cheese.
“Ice cream,” Lizzie said. “And chocolate.”
“I’m going to miss video games,” Logan said.
“Doritos,” Hannah said. “I love Doritos.”
The things we’d be leaving behind when we moved into the woods. “I’m going to miss cheese,” I said. Unless we could figure out how to make it. Even if we did, it wouldn’t likely taste the same. “I bet we can still play video games, Logan. We just need to siphon gas and get a generator. Then we’ll have electricity.”
“How long will it take to scavenge the games I want, though?” Logan asked. “I should have brought my games from—”
The CB crackled. “This is Grizzly Adams to base. You got your ears on?”
I sprinted to the CB and yanked the receiver to my mouth, nearly pulling the unit off the table. “Yes! Hello, Grizzly Adams. This is base. Where are you? What took you so long?”
“Say ‘over,’” Logan said, standing right beside me.
“Over,” I added.
We stared at each other, waiting for the static to clear. It finally did. “That a story for another day. Calling to say that the original plan is good. I repeat. The original plan is good. You guys still in Alcatraz?”
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re ready to—”
“You have to wait until he says ‘over,’ Eli,” Logan said.
“Didn’t catch that, base. Please repeat.”
“Shh!” I said, turning my back on Logan. “We’re ready to find a new home,
I said. “Any recommendations?”
“It’s like anywhere else in the world. Best places are always on the water or in the hills.”
“He means by the river or in the mountains,” Logan said.
“Thank you, Sherlock,” I said.
“You going to stop by for a visit, Grizzly Adams?” I asked.
“No can do. I’ve made my home on the cliffs of paradise. You know where that is?”
I turned around and looked from Logan to Lizzie to Hannah. “What’s that mean?”
The girls shrugged.
Logan said, “He’s saying he lives in a paradise.”
“You copy that, base?” Reinhold asked. “Can you find my address?”
“Hold that thought, Grizzly Adams,” I said, then to the others, “Any other ideas?”
“He’s on a cliff, obviously,” Logan said.
“Maybe,” Hannah said. “He said the best places were on the water or in the hills, and cliffs would be in the hills.”
“Ha!” Logan said, as if Hannah agreeing with him was a pass for some kind of intelligence test.
“The ski map!” Lizzie ran into the kitchen and returned with the framed ski map that hung on the wall.
We all crowded around, scanning the colorful map for the words.
“Right there.” Hannah tapped the paper. “Paradise Cliffs.”
I pressed the call button. “We found you, Grizzly Adams.”
“Glad to hear that. You people serve your time yet?”
“Affirmative,” I said. “Our sentence is all most up. We’ll be sure and look you up fist chance we get.” I caught Logan staring at me. “Over.”
“Sounds like a plan, base. Catch you on the flip flop. Over and out.”
I set the receiver back in the cradle, then turned to the others. “There’s clean water outside this fence, just waiting for us.”
The girls squealed and hugged each other. Logan offered me a high five. I slapped his hand.
“It won’t be long now,” I said. “We’re almost home.”
At dinner than night, I started a small war when I told everyone that we should tell Jaylee and Krista about the plan.
“After Krista turned you in?” Lizzie asked.
“Yeah, Eli, that was so cold,” Zaq said. “I don’t think you can trust her.”
“I’m afraid I agree, son,” Dad said. “They might turn us in.”
“And even if they didn’t,” Hannah said, “they won’t want to leave. You know they won’t.”
I did know. “It just feels wrong to leave without telling them anything,” I said. “How about I just say we’re thinking of leaving soon, and see how it goes? If they act interested, I’ll tell them I give them more information once we know it. Then I’ll bring it back here for a vote. But if they don’t care, well, then I’ll know.”
No one objected to this plan, so I set off alone in my truck to visit the Snowcrest Condos.
No one answered. Considering it was prime party hours, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I decided to wait a while. I ran over to the restaurant and grabbed myself a milkshake to go, then sat in my truck, sipping it, savoring it.
Was this the last milkshake I’d ever have?
If we could find some cows… I wondered if any animals had survived the Pandemic. If we could find a cow or even a goat, we could have milk. Grains would be much harder to produce. I was pretty sure that flour and sugar would last a while if we could keep it in airtight containers, but once we ran out, we’d need to learn to grow our own or do without.
Do without sugar. Zaq might die.
I was so caught up in my reverie, I almost didn’t notice Krista entering the apartment with a takeout box. I pondered my next move and decided to talk to Krista first. She probably knew where Jaylee was.
I’d barely reached their door when it opened and Krista stepped out.
“Gosh!” She clapped her hand over her heart and scowled at me. “You scared me to death, Eli! Knock next time.”
“I was just about to.”
She looked me over, smirking. “Your face healed fast.”
“No thanks to you.”
“You got what you deserved, Eli. What do you want?”
“To talk to you and Jaylee.”
“I’m going out. Jaylee is resting.”
“That’s what I said.”
Had she looked through the peephole, saw it was me, and ignored me? Or had she been sleeping? “It will only take a minute,” I said, then plowed on ahead before she could try and brush me off again. “We’re thinking of leaving.”
Krista gave me a dirty look. “You can’t leave.”
“Well, we’re thinking of trying anyway,” I said. “We wanted to let you know and see if you were interested in coming with us.”
“You guys are crazy,” Krista said. “Why would you want to leave? This place is great!”
“I know it seems good now,” I said, “but the people in charge, they don’t have your best interests at heart. They’re in it for themselves. And it’s going to get worse.”
“I don’t think it’s bad, so worse wouldn’t mean much to me.”
“Where do they have you tasking?” I asked.
“At a clothing store.” She struck a pose. “I got this outfit there. Cute, huh?”
This was going nowhere fast. “Can I talk to Jaylee?”
“Whatever. Just be nice, okay. She doesn’t need your lectures.” She walked past me. I caught the door and turned around, but she was already halfway down the first flight of stairs. “Later, Eli!” she called, waving one hand above her head.
I took that as a no, she would not be joining us.
I found Jaylee on the couch, tucked under a pile of blankets. She looked awful. Her hair was tangled and frizzy, her eyes puffy and red.
“Hey,” I said.
“I’m not coming with you, so don’t ask.”
“You heard that?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to come, Eli. I mean, I wouldn’t have before, but now I would. Still, it doesn’t matter, so I’m staying here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m infected, Eli. With the Thin Plague.”
“What!” I lost my breath for a moment and sank onto the end of the couch. “How?”
“I caught it from Riggs who supposedly caught it from one of Liberté’s dancers.”
“Oh, Jaylee.” I didn’t know what else to say. I just sat there, arms pimpling with a chill that didn’t want to leave.
She burst into tears.
“Hey.” I swallowed my own sadness and scooted beside her. “Jay, I’m sorry.”
She threw herself at me, hugging me tight. I just held her while she cried. It was the saddest thing that ever happened to me. Sadder even then learning about my mom, helping Zaq deal with his family, or having a funeral service for Cree’s mom. All those people were dead. But Jaylee was still alive. She had to live each day knowing she was dying, knowing her choices had brought this upon her. It was too horrible to think about.
“How long do they give you?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Dr. Bayles says he doesn’t know much about this new strain, and that’s what I have. It seems to work faster than HIV or even AIDS. But it’s not the same disease either, really. It’s a new thing. But he says that since I didn’t have any health problems before, I might last longer than the other four.”
The first four Thin Plague deaths, she meant.
Again I fought back the emotions that threatened to undo me. Jaylee’s eyes met mine, saw the moisture growing there, and she started bawling again.
So I stayed with her for an hour or so and cried with her, prayed with her. And the weird thing was, she let me.
“You probably think I wasn’t listening all those years in youth group,” she said, “but I was. I know the truth. I’ve said all the right prayers. Me and God, we’re like this.” She held up two fingers, twisted. “So while you probably think, ‘Oh poor Jaylee is dying,’ just remember that I’m going to meet God before any of you perfect Christians get a chance to. I’ll be first this time.”
“We’re not perfect,” I said.
“But you try to be. You always try. And you never give up trying. And that’s what kept you alive longer than me. I’m glad you’re getting out of this place, Eli. You’re right to. The moment I found out I was infected, people stopped inviting me to parties. I don’t have any friends anymore. Because I got sick living their way. What does that mean?”
“That they were never very good friends to begin with.”
“Krista is. She takes care of me.”
“I’m glad. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”
She shook her head. “Krista needs me more than I need her. I’m hoping that my situation will knock some sense into her so she doesn’t end up like me.”
“That’s a good mission, Jay.”
“I think so.” She smiled, and I swear, I had never seen her more beautiful. It was a different kind of beauty, though. A pure beauty. Innocent. Vulnerable. Honest.
“Pray for us, Jay?” I asked. “If we get caught, Tracy is going to put me in rehab for six months.”
She squeezed my hand. “I’ll pray, Eli. And this time you’ll make it out.”
The next night as I left my shift, I removed the distributor cap and took it home with me, gave it to my dad. We had everything ready to go, and only when it was fully dark did we pack up the back of the truck. My glorious, powerful, amazing truck. I would miss it, but I supposed we could always find another truck someday if and when we needed one. Right now, we needed to get out of here and build ourselves a place to hole up for the coming winter. Colorado winters were not light, and we Arizonans were not used to the cold.
We still had the two walkie talkies that had been left in the vehicles, so I put those in my backpack. Dad had given me both guns, so the rest of my pack was filled with ammo.
At dusk, we drove over to the tennis court on the south side of town and got out while we waited. We didn’t have any tennis equipment, but Shyla, Davis, and Cree made a game out of walking along the while lines on the court. That, thankfully, kept them occupied and out of mischief.
We heard the dump truck before we saw it.
“Man,” Zaq said. “That engine is so loud.”
“Good,” I said. “It will hopefully muffle any noises we make riding in the back.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to ride in the back of a garbage truck,” Lizzie said.
We saw the truck then, stood in a group, watching it roll nearer. Dad pulled into the lot at the tennis court and circled around to park beside my truck. The door opened and he climbed out.
“We ready to do this?”
I looked from Zaq, to Logan, to Lizzie, to Hannah, then nodded. “We’re ready.”
Dad got back in the truck and activated the hydraulics to raise the tailgate. It reeked horribly, which was no surprise but still shocking to the senses. With six of us, we moved our gear from the bed of my pickup to the back of the garbage truck in two trips. I gave Dad his gun and one of the walkie talkies, which he clipped it to his front shirt.
“If you need anything, talk loud,” he said. “I can’t hear much in that cab.”
“I won’t need anything,” I said. “It’s going to be fine.”
“I hope so.”
Dad gathered us at the end of the garbage truck. We all linked hands, and he prayed that God would set us free and ultimately keep us safe.
We climbed inside the cargo box, and a few seconds later, Dad ran the hydraulics and the tailgate lowered. It was pitch black in there. Zaq held a flashlight, which kept Cree and Davis calm. And then we were off. Two right-hand turns and the truck sped along Gothic. None of us said a word. We just sat there, feeling the rumble around us.
When the truck slowed, I knew we were at the gate. I held my breath and prayed. “Please let us through, please let us through!”
I heard the muffled squawk of a megaphone but couldn’t make out the words. The truck accelerated, reeled to the left, then twisted in what felt like a major U-turn.
“What’s happening?” Shyla asked.
I pressed the button on the walkie talkie and yelled, “Dad? We okay?”
The walkie talkie crackled, and Dad’s voice broke through. “Half dozen squad cars at the gate. Told me to pull over.”
“How could they know?” Zaq asked.
The walkie talkie fizzled as Dad continued, “Something about tracking us. They’re probably tracking everyone.”
“How could they track us?” Lizzie asked.
I thought back to that other nurse, the one that had given me that vitamin shot. “I knew there was no such thing as a vitamin shot!”
Lizzie gasped. “Yes! That was weird.”
“Did you know about this, Hannah?” Logan asked.
“No,” Hannah said. “I never got a vitamin shot.”
“We need to get the trackers removed,” I said, “or we’ll never get out of here!”
“Can you do it, Hannah?” Lizzie asked.
“Conceivably, but I don’t know where the trackers were put or how they work. Dr. Bayles would know. He’s the only one who knows all the new medical procedures.”
“Then he’s the one who needs to take them out.” I pushed the button on my walkie talkie and yelled, “Dad, we need to go to the hospital to get these trackers out.”
“No,” Hannah said, grabbing my arm. “Dr. Bayles will be at Champions house tonight. All day he was bragging about being invited to dinner.”
“Change of plans, Dad!” I yelled into the walkie talkie. “We’re going to the Champion’s house to see Dr. Bayles.”
Dad didn’t answer, but the garbage truck swerved hard to the right, knocking me into Logan.
“I need to lose these cops,” Dad said. “I’m going to drive to Waste Management, park the truck with a bunch of others, and shut us in the garage. That should buy us enough time to get out and run. There’s a pickup out behind the garage with keys in the ignition. We’ll take that up to the Champions.”
We held on to each other as the garbage truck rocked around corners. Behind us, sirens wailed and the flashing red and blue lights somehow seeped in through the cracks in the truck and glimmered off the inside walls of the cargo box.
The tailgate started rising before the truck stopped. We paired off the kids: Shyla with Hannah, Davis with Lizzie, and Cree with me. Lights blinded us in a flash as the tailgate rose high enough to reveal the patrol cars on our tail. They first was about twenty yards back. I doubted we were going faster than thirty at the moment.
The truck turned sharply to the right and bucked over an indentation in the driveway. Dad accelerated and we shot inside a garage, the door already closing on the Enforcers.
“Go, go!” I yelled, and we scrambled from the back all at once.
We ran around the side of the truck toward my dad, who was holding open a door. I dragged Cree through the door, lifted him up into the tailgate of the truck parked there.
“Lay down!” I heard Dad say, and we all fell flat on our backs, except Cree, who lay on his belly, his head resting on my chest like a pillow.
The truck screamed to life and peeled away. I held Cree tight and prayed, waited, listening. The lights of Waste Management faded. Darkness fell over the bed of the pickup. I didn’t hear any sirens. Didn’t see any lights.
But they could track us. It wouldn’t be long until they found us again.
END OF CHAPTER
Will they make it to Dr. Bayles before Enforcers catch them?