THIRST: a weekly story blog

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Eli McShane, a young survivor, journeys toward Colorado and the rumored location of a clean water source.

In matters of life or death, what do you thirst for?

If you’ve just discovered the THIRST: weekly story blog, welcome! Click here for a list of previous chapters, if you’d like to get caught up.

I type one chapter per week in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series I’m writing over at If you’re an author, come join in the fun. Otherwise, enjoy the story.

Punctuation 101 is here!

Posted by on Oct 2nd, 2018 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen | 0 comments

Punctuation 101 is here at last! This is a book for fiction writers. This is a handy reference that you can keep close by so you don’t have to page through the massive Chicago Manual of Style, which I love, but that index alone is twenty-nine pages long! Trust me. I used it as a reference to check my facts as I wrote Punctuation 101, and I spent a lot of time trying to find things in that index…

Why write a book on punctuation? Well, it all started back in 2011 with an idea, then a series of blog posts on in 2012 and 2013. I saw so many of the same mistakes in the manuscripts of beginning writers, I wanted to lay out the rules in an straightforward and easy-to-understand way. The posts were a hit. And many of those teen bloggers said, “You should write this as a book, Jill!” And I thought, ooh. That would be a lot of work.


It was a lot of work! I would spend some time writing it, then I would get SO BORED of commas or semicolons or em dashes that I’d quit and work on something else. But every time this happened, I eventually went back. I’d poured too much time and effort into this project to just walk away. And while it was boring for me to write it and rewrite it again and again, I knew it would be a help to you all. Still, I needed to take some serious punctuation breaks throughout the year, because one can only take so much punctuation at a time, you know?

But I finished, and I am SO HAPPY! *dances* Punctuation 101 is here to stay. Grab your copy. Dog-ear the pages with rules you need to reference. (My trouble area is capitalization in titles. Who can remember all that? Seriously?) And then write your novel without worrying about the rules. Because we all just want to write stories, right? I know I do.


Punctuation 101: A Fiction Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right

Punctuation 101: A Fiction Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right

Genre: Writing
You don’t need to be an expert in grammar and punctuation to write great novels, but you do need to learn the basics. This handy reference book includes all the need-to-know punctuation rules for fiction writers, and it’s presented in a clear, user-friendly format with many examples for the visual learner—including some from popular novels. Are you tired of paging through massive style guides or scouring the internet for information on em dashes, colons, or which words to capitalize in a title? Punctuation 101 will save you time and energy, which you can spend writing your novel. More info →



Pre-order The Profile Match and Get a Vinyl Mission League Logo Sticker!

Posted by on Sep 14th, 2018 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen | 0 comments

To celebrate the release of The Profile Match (the final book in the Mission League series), I had some stickers made!

I will mail one to anybody who pre-orders a copy of The Profile Match. If you’ve already pre-ordered, click here and fill out the form: I pre-ordered. Send me a sticker!

You can pre-order in the following places:


Paperback Copies

I only have paperback copies available for pre-order from my author store. They’re listed at a special pre-order price of $10, which is about $5 off the regular $14.99 price. I will autograph these, so if you would like the autograph personalized, be sure to write me instructions in the note section when you check out.

Order The Profile Match in paperback from Jill’s Author Bookstore!


Ebook Copies

You can pre-order the ebook from these etailiers:






Once you’ve pre-ordered, click here and fill out the form: I pre-ordered. Send me a sticker!



The Profile Match Cover Reveal

Posted by on Aug 31st, 2018 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen | 0 comments

Ahh! Here it is! The cover for The Profile Match, the FINAL book in the Mission League series. 😭
Spencer looks so adorable in his tux with his bow tie a little crooked . . .
He has to dress up WAY too much in this book. Plus, I was thinking he needed to wear a suit on at least ONE of these book covers, right? I mean, James Bond almost always wears a suit. I’m just saying . . .
Gah! I can’t stop looking at it.
Let’s look at all six together.
Now let’s look at the full cover.
Ahh . . . okay, moving on.
Much gratitude to Kirk DouPonce for making six covers (!) for this series and to Jeremy Gwinn for modeling as Spencer. What a gift they’ve both been to me.
I’m SO EXCITED to finish Spencer’s story. Spencer was my very first character ever from my very first novel. You know, the novel everyone tells you is the one you learned on and you should put it in a drawer. The first book in this series, The New Recruit, was my sixth published novel. I just couldn’t let go of Spencer. I kept hearing his sarcastic voice saying, “You put me in a drawer, I’ll get out on my own.” And so it’s been FOURTEEN YEARS of writing this fellow. He should be married with kids by now. But I’ve kept at it, squeezing in one of his books where I could. He has been very patient. And I’ve finally reached the end of his tale. I’m so proud of him and how much he’s grown. If you read The New Recruit, you will know what I mean. One of my favorite book reviews ever said this of Spencer: “[He] looks at life in an interesting manner as an unbeliever and there was one line where he basically calls a girl unattractive and I was ready to wring his neck. But it passed and he ended up respecting that same girl, which elevated him again in my book.” Yeah . . . that’s my boy. 😂
The release date is October 15, 2018.
Here is the summary:
When Spencer Garmond’s friend is kidnapped, the young Mission League agent-in-training decides he’s had enough. Determined to stop the criminals he suspects are responsible, he petitions the Los Angeles Field Office to give him the lead on the case. Now he’s investigating his favorite actress, the movie director who pretended to be his dad, and even his own uncle. Weird much?
As he struggles to find the connections between this unlikely group of suspects, he uncovers a clue that could create a worldwide scandal. When the Field Office steps in, Spencer realizes he’s not really in control of the investigation at all. Can Spencer trust God to bring about justice, or will his need to be in control jeopardize the very people he’s trying so hard to protect?
The Amazon pre-order link is:
I have put the ebook on a pre-order sale for $2.99 for the month of September. In October, I will raise the price. FYI, this will probably be the lowest price I’ll sell this book, since it’s the last in the series. So if you want an ebook copy, best pre-order it early to save.
And here is the link to add the book on Goodreads:
What do you think of the cover?

What Are Storyworld Shorts?

Posted by on Oct 2nd, 2017 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen, Podcasts | 0 comments

What Are Storyworld Shorts?

I started a new website.

You might have seen my countdown to October 4, 2017. Well, this is what I’ve been working so hard on. I created a writing website primarily to host my YouTube videos and podcast versions of those videos to make it easier for listeners to find them.

What are Storyworld Shorts?

They are short writing videos or podcasts in which I teach lessons on the craft of writing. I will post one new video and podcast a week. Over the years I have posted sporadic YouTube writing videos, and I loved it. I always wanted to do so more regularly, so this is something I’ve been wanting to do for a loonnnggg time!

Storyworld Shorts are by nature short. Over time, the episodes will build upon one another and eventually give you a thorough understanding of how to write a novel. Some of the topics/series I will discuss in weeks to come are:

-How to come up with a great idea
-Creating compelling characters
-Different types of plots
-How to outline and plan your novel
-How to add themes to your story
-Tackling a major rewrite
-How to edit your book

I’ll also be doing a monthly Q&A Live video, in which I’ll answer listener questions.

To learn more and to watch the first video, visit

There’s a Teen Track at This Year’s OCW Fall One-Day Conference in Portland, OR

Posted by on Sep 19th, 2017 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen | 0 comments


I have been invited to teach two workshops for teens at the fall Oregon Christian Writers one-day conference in Portland on October 21. This will be a really neat opportunity for teens who love to write. We’re going to learn about how to create characters, plot a novel, and how the publishing industry works. The conference is offering a special rate of $20 for writers under the age of twenty, which is a really great deal. (The non-member adult price is $75.) Please help spread the word to teen writers in the Portland/Vancouver area. We are going to have so much fun. You can see the full schedule online at


“Don’t miss it! @OregonWriters is hosting a Teen Track, led by @JillWilliamson at this year’s fall conference.”

Click to Tweet this!


Here are the descriptions of my two workshops:

“What Every Character Needs.” (Teen Track, part one)
A great character can live in a reader’s mind forever. These are the kinds of characters we want in our books. In this class, we’ll go through a step-by-step process to help you create authentic characters that your readers will never forget. We’ll discuss character backstory, motivation, tags, archetypal roles, interactions with other characters, and tools to help you keep track of it all.

“Secrets of a Great Plot.” (Teen Track, part two)
What is a plot, anyway? What is its purpose? And what makes that three-act structure so successful? Are there other ways to create a strong story? In this class, we’ll discuss the secrets of a great plot, look at some alternative plot structures, and talk about the different ways to keep things moving when your story is too short, seems to have stalled, or is just plain boring.

I hope to pack the place with teen writers, so feel free to help me spread the word. Here is a link to my teen flyer. Print and share with as many as you can. Thanks so much!

THIRST: Chapter Twenty-Four. . . Will Eli and friends make it to Dr. Bayles before Enforcers catch them?

Posted by on Aug 10th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 10 comments

THIRST Chapter 24In 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.


More confessions. I’m having a VERY rough week. Too much going on. Trying to get kids ready to start school and stuff too. King’s Blood is due Sunday. Going on a day trip Thursday. Will be at two writer’s conferences next week. All that to say, I did the best I could with this chapter. It needs help and love. But this was always a first draft experiment, so I knew it wasn’t going to be beautiful. Please also keep in mind that I finished this in the wee hours of the morning and did not have time or the ability to keep open my eyes long enough to spell check it. So there are likely many typos. I will fix these later.

Thank you for your grace. I appreciate you, readers!

With that, here is the final chapter of THIRST! Will Eli and his friends make it to Dr. Bayles before Enforcers catch them?


Chapter 24


What we were doing was insane. I knew that. But the alternative was to spend six months in rehab—likely longer now that we were about to bust into the Champion’s residence with guns.

A couple blocks away, Dad pulled off the road and around to the side of the pickup bed. “What’s the plan? We can’t exactly waltz into Champion House on a good day, and two guns isn’t going to be enough power to face off with all the Enforcers who work there.”

“If you drive around back, I can lure him out,” Hannah said.

“How?” I asked.

“He has been asking to spend time with me,” Hannah said slowly. “I’ve always turned him down, but I’ll say I’ve had a change of heart and want to talk.”

“Eww,” Logan said.

“It’ll work,” Hannah said. “Trust me. I’ll bring him out to the truck, then you guys have to take it from there.”

“Where are we going to take him?” I asked. “And how is he going to operate or whatever?”

“I have a bag of medical supplies in the back that I stole from the hospital,” Hannah said.

“Then we take him with us,” Dad said. “If we can get past the fence, they might not find us. Chances are they wouldn’t monitor outside the fence.”

“But how to get past the fence?” I asked.

“This truck has a toolkit,” Dad said. “It’s got everything I need.”

“Which is…?” I asked.

“Cable cutters and some thick, lineman’s electrical gloves.

“You’re going to cut through the fence?”

“That’s right I am.”

Seemed like as good a plan as any, so we climbed back into the truck and Dad drove up to Champion House. This time Hannah and I got in the cab with my dad.

My heart was throbbing. Adrenaline pounded in my ears. It was dark, and Dad took the delivery driveway that went around back of the house. He parked close enough to the back entrance so that it wouldn’t look strange, but far enough back that the back of the pickup with Zaq, Lizzie, and the kids would be out of the porch lights.

“Wait here,” Hannah said, getting out.

“What if someone comes out to talk to us?” I asked.

“No one will,” Hannah said. “They don’t patrol outside the fence. How about you guys get out of the cab. I’ll pretend this is my truck and start to get in the driver’s seat. When he—”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You drive a Waste Management truck?”

“He won’t notice.”

“Yes, he will.”

“When he starts to get in the passenger side, you guys sweep in with your guys and look scary.”

I frowned, thinking this just about the dumbest plan I’d ever heard. Hannah walked away then, and my Dad didn’t stop her. The engine ticked as it cooled down, which made me think of the seconds on a clock tick, tick, ticking as Enforcers tracked us to this very spot.

“This is a dumb plan,” I said.

“It’s all we’ve got, son,” Dad said. “We should get out. And we’ll need Zaq’s help to nab Dr. Bayles.”

It suddenly seemed beyond insane. We were going to kidnap this man. Point a loaded gun at a person to make them come with us. I pulled aside the sliding window on the back of the cab.

“Hey, Zaq,” I said. “Get out. You’re muscles are needed.”




We argued about what to do. Dad wanted us out of sight around the back of the truck, but I thought that was too far and would give Dr. Bales time to react before we could reach him. Zaq volunteered to jump out of the bed, but Dad was worried he’d get hurt. We settled on Zaq in the bed with the rifle. He’d stand and point it. Dad got behind the truck, and I hunched down on the floor of the passenger’s side with the handgun.

It was not a good fit for my legs.

It seemed like Hannah took forever. I started to worry that they’d arrested her or Dr. Bayles had coerced her to stay for dinner. I pictured her at a fancy table seated between Loca Champion and Tracy, laughing at something Tracy had said.

Where did I come up with this stuff?

I set the handgun on the seat. Then decided to hold it. The cold metal and how heavy it was started to freak me out. Handguns were for killing.

I reached out to set it back on the seat when I heard voices drawing near.

Laughter. Hannah and some guy.

I gripped the gun and aimed it at the door.

“It’s nice that your roommate loaned you her truck, but we can take my car,” the man said. “It’s a Lexus.”

“This will be faster,” Hannah said, opening the driver’s side door.

The passenger’s door creaked open. I tensed, ran my thumb over the safety to make sure it was on.

The doctor was so busy looking at Hannah, he didn’t see me until he kicked me in the leg. He frowned, looked down, and his forehead wrinkled up.

“What is going on—” He stiffened, lifted his hands in the air.

“Back up,” Dad said. He was holding the rifle against Dr. Bayles’s back. Zaq must have handed it to him.

Dr. Bayles backed away from the truck. “I demand to know what—”

“Shhh,” Dad said. “One more word and I hit you with my gun. Eli, get out.”

I squeezed out from my hiding place in a very ungraceful like manner. I climbed out of the truck and Dad prodded the doctor forward.

“Get in the middle,” he said.

The doctor got in and started scooting. Hannah, I saw, had gotten in the bed. She was currently sitting beside Lizzie, rummaging through a backpack.

“Cover me, Eli,” Dad said.

I stood in the open doorway, pointing the handgun at the doctor. Dad handed Zaq the rifle and ran around and got in the driver’s side.

“Cover him through the back window,” Dad told Zaq. “Eli, you sit right beside him.”

Great. I was still the handgun man.

Soon we were on the road again.

“Why doesn’t Hannah have a tracker?” I asked the doctor.

“That’s what this is about? The trackers? Why do you care?”

“We don’t want to be tracked,” I said. “Why doesn’t Hannah have one?”

“Because she’s smart enough to know she’s been injected with one. We didn’t inject trackers into any of the doctors or nurses.”

Dad drove around the U at the bottom of Summit Road. In the distance, a riot of police lights were headed their way.

“Hold on!” Dad yelled.

He slowed and drove right off the road. There wasn’t much vegetation at the foot of this high desert mountain, and Dad drove right over the steppe, four-by-fouring his way around the sides of two condo buildings.

I watched in the rear-view. It looked like the cop cars were going to continue on to the Champions, but then one stopped and turned slowly off the road.

Dad had a great head start, though. On the other side of the condos, he picked up speed in a parking lot, then turned onto Hunter Hill Road. He followed that to Snowmass.

No sign of the cop car. We’d lost him, it looked like.

“They’ll be expecting us to go for the gate again,” Dad said. “So we take another path.”

“What path?” I asked. “The north gate?”

“Well go to the fence. Same place Logan got shocked. But we need to split up. I’ll drop you at the bottom of the slope. Run over to Waste Management, see if the garbage truck is still there. If so, drive it to the fence. I’m going to lure them away.

“I don’t want to split up.”

“I’ll be fine. Trade guns with Zaq. He and Lizzie stay with me. You take the kids.”

Just past the hospital, he drove into the lot at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort and wove his way through the alley roads that outlined each resort. He stopped outside the snowboard rental shop, and I slid out, holding my gun on Dr. Bayles.

Zaq got out and I told him the plan. We switched guns, and before I was ready, Dad, Zaq, Lizzie, and Dr. Bayles were driving down Crested Butte Way. I could hear the sirens, could even see them flashing in the dark sky, but I didn’t know where they were.

“Is that a helpcopter?” Logan asked.

I heard it too. “Come on,” I said. “We need to get out of sight.”

Logan with Davis, Hannah with Shyla, and me with Cree, we each grabbed a kid’s hand and jogged around another set of condos toward Whetstone and the Waste Management building.




“I can’t believe it’s still here,” I said. “Keys too.”

“That’s what you get when you make Enforcers out of untrained civilians,” Logan said.

“They were too busy chasing us,” I said. “And why would we come back for this truck?”

“Can we all ride up front this time?” Shyla asked, pinching her nose.

“Yes we can,” I said. “But first let’s get some of our stuff out of the back in case we don’t have time again.”

We rearranged, piled in, and I steered away. We were golden all the way to Gothic. Then I figured we had maybe five minutes before someone saw a mysterious dump truck heading north.

Try thirty seconds. I swear, even with ten Enforcers on the trip to Dallas, Enforcers were trailing after our garbage truck like bees chasing a pot of honey.

“Papa Bear to Cub, come in.” The walkie talkie squawked.

“Logan, answer that. It’s my dad.”

“I hear you loud and clear Papa Bear,” Logan said. “This is Chewbacca Slim. What the word? Over?”

“Chewbacca Slim?” I asked.

“It’s my call sign,” Logan said. “It’s a cool name.”

“Change in plans,” Dad said. “We’ve got too many enforcers in the way to keep the plan going. Head back to our old homestead and take the Gunsight trail.”

“Tell him okay,” I said.

“Affirmative, Big Daddy, over and out,” Logan said.

What followed next can only be described as a car chase. Through the tiny town of Mount Crested Butte, some two dozen Enforcer cars chased one big blue dump truck. We headed north on Gothic, but I could see a major roadblock in the distance. Thankfully, I was able to veer right on Cinnamon Mountain Road and wind through the back streets just a bit. Cinnamon Mountain Road to Anthracite Drive, to Winterset Drive, and back onto Gothic.

No sign of the road block ahead. I whooped. “They set up that road block too early.”

It was tempting to just keep going on Gothic and try for the main gate, but my dad and the others were back by our old house and I didn’t want to risk losing them. I took a sharp right onto Prospect Drive and punched the gas. The dump truck took a moment to pick up speed, but once it got going, it really cruised.

Gunsight Pass crossed Prospect Road just before the second major switchback. I slowed some as I ran down through the ditch. Inside the cab, we rattled about inside the cab, and I had to slow down to fifteen on the narrow dirt trail.

I bounced through the rutted trail, and when I came to a copse of thick spruce trees, the branches of which scraped the sides of the truck, I stopped .

“Get out, quickly. I’m leaving this to block the road.”

We exited into a tangle of branches. I heard the Enforcer cars behind, still revving their engines over the rutted trail.

I swung the tent over my shoulder and pulled Cree with me. My heart was beating so fast I could hardly breathe. I saw the fence up ahead, saw that it had been cut open. Beyond the curling, severed wires I could see Lizzie, and Zaq with the rifle trained on Dr. Bayles.

Where was my dad?

I handed Cree’s hand off to Hannah’s free one. “Get through!” I yelled. “Hurry!”

Hannah and Logan ran ahead, but I turned around, gun gripped at my side, scanning the land behind me for Enforcers, my dad, anything else that might be a problem. The empty police cruiser.

A helicopter.

It was on the ground, hidden by the backside of the copse of trees I’d driven through. It looked empty. No pilot. No passenger. Enforcers were working their way through the trees. They’d be here soon enough. Where was my dad? We needed to get out of here.

“Stop right there, Mr. McShane.”

The voice pulled my gaze back to the police cruiser. Mr. Tracy was standing behind it with Jaylee, a gun trained on her head.

What? How!

“You look surprised.” Tracy grinned, then lifted a walkie talkie up for me to see. “I found this in my office. It didn’t take my techs long to repair it. Then I heard everything you said. Payback isn’t so great, is it?”

“What are you doing with Jaylee?”

“She’s the one you like, isn’t she?” Tracy asked. “I remembered she had wanted to go along with you when you searched for your house. You were going to leave her behind?”

“I told him I didn’t want to go,” Jaylee said.

“Oh, but I can see it in his eyes, girl. He wanted you to come.”

“What is the matter with you?” I asked, sickened that he would haul Jaylee out of her house to try and use her against me. “Am I really that big of a threat to you?”

“Everyone accepts me. Everyone but you and your little group. You think you’re better than me, but you’re not. And I will make you submit.”

I saw my dad then. He was behind Tracy, creeping closer. I kept talking, hoping to further distract the man. “How are you going to do that? You going to shoot Jaylee? You think—”

Dad lunged at Tracy and grabbed his arm. “Go, Eli! Now!”

Jaylee screamed ran toward the enforcers. “Help!” she cried. “Please help me.”

I wasn’t leaving my dad. I trained my gun on the men, but they were too close for me to take a shot.

“Eli, go!” Dad yelled.

I couldn’t go without him. Was he nuts?

A gun fired.

Not mine.

My heart jolted. Both men went down. I ran toward them just as Enforcers crested the hill.

“Catch!” Dad pitched something at me over the cruiser. I had to jump to the left to catch it.

The walkie talkie.

Dad stood up, hooked Tracy’s arm around his neck. “Elias McShane, don’t make this a waste,” he said. “You go take care of your friends. I’ll catch up soon. I promise.”

“Dad, come on. You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do, Eli. And you have to go. Now.”


“I love you, kid. Now, get out of here.”

“Dad, please.”

He hobbled toward the first Enforcer, waved one hand. “Hey! I need some help here.”

I turned, picked up the tent, and ran.




We hiked just inside the trees by the East River. We’d used the walkie talkie to call Reinhold and tell him what happened, but he didn’t want to talk over the radios. Instead we made plans to meet in a few days. We only had the one six-man tent, but it was a chilly night and a pile of eight bodies packed like sardines wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

Lizzie had finally stopped crying, but only because she’d fallen asleep. She said she didn’t blame me, but I wasn’t so sure. Dad had only stayed behind to wait for us. And then he’d sacrificed himself for me.

Where was he right now? Had Tracy died? If so, what would they do to my dad?

“We need some logging blades,” Zaq said, drawing me back into conversation.

Everyone was asleep but the two of us. We talked about how we might try and build a house. Zaq thought logs were the way to go, but I’d rather find some lumber. Not that I knew how to build with lumber.

I wanted to talk about going in to get my dad back, but I knew what Zaq would say. I’d just have to wait and see. Dad would find us eventually, right? It had to be a lot easier for one guy to break out than nine people.

“I want to marry your sister,” Zaq said.

That got my attention. “Are you nuts?”

“No. I talked to your dad about it once. He seemed to think it was a good idea.”

“He did?”

Zaq’s voice went soft. “You think it’s a bad idea?”

“No. That’s not what I meant. I just… How? It’s not like there’s any churches or anything.”

“I’m asking for your blessing, Eli. And I’m trying to ask if you will marry us.”

Me?” The fool was exhausted. That had to be the problem. Tomorrow morning, I doubt he’d remember this conversation.

“Lizzie’s got a Bible. You could wing it okay. Plus, well, you’re el presidente, man. There’s no one higher. Will you lead us?”

“I guess.”

“That’s it?”

I sighed. Oddly, I wasn’t scared. I felt safe in the forest by the river. Out here, I knew what to do. “Yeah, I’ll lead us,” I said. “But not by myself. This isn’t going to be like Tracy. We’re a team. And I need every one of you to help me.”

“You got it, boss,” Zaq said.

It was the first time in a long time that Zaq calling me boss didn’t bother me. I could do this. We could do this. Together.

The [Temporary] End


Jill here. I realized at 1:32 this morning that I completely forgot Dr. Bayles!!! and the trackers in their arms. [Gah! So sad.] Clearly I am too tired to be writing climactic endings to books. THIRST needs a lot more work. Welcome to the world of rough drafts! Stories have never come out perfect for me on the first try. Rewrites are magical.

Also, I’ll likely write an epilogue of some kind for the final book. I’m not sure what exactly I want to show yet or how far in the future the epilogue will go. Just know that there will be one. But it’s very late. And I need to go to bed. So it will have to wait for the rewrite.

Thanks so much everyone for hanging in there with me and reading along! I apologize for the very messy last few chapters. They need a lot of work, and I’ll get to rewriting them eventually. Probably not until late this year or early next. I’ll keep you posted here on my website.



THIRST: Chapter Twenty-Three. . . Arrested again. What will happen to Eli now?

Posted by on Aug 2nd, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 8 comments

THIRST Chapter 23

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:

  1. Pretend that the characters have already tried to sneak past the chainlink fence that now encloses the town. They found out that the Enforcers also wove two strands of ElectroBraid through the chainlink. This, while not a deadly amount of current, was still enough to deter Eli and his friends from attempting to get through the fence.
  2. When Eli is arrested and taken in to get his blood tested, just before his x-ray he will see a second nurse, who gives him some kind of shot. This is set up for something that will pay off in this chapter. J
  3. Hannah is the only character I gave a task to, since she had been in med school and my first draft required the help of doctors and nurses. In the rewrite, I will instead give everyone tasks (aka jobs). Here are the jobs I’ve planned so far:
    1. Mr. McShane (Eli’s dad) will work as a mechanic.
    2. Zaq will work as a lifeguard at the Champion’s swimming pool parties.
    3. Lizzie will work as a seamstress in repairing and designing costumes for the Champions.
    4. Logan will work as a computer tech on the Grid.
    5. And Eli will be tasked as a garbage man, which is sort of a punishment from Mr. Tracy, since Eli keeps getting in trouble. But you, the reader, will have seen Eli work a day on the job and get to know some of the drivers. Eli is not a garbage truck driver. He’s one of those guys who rides on the back and dumps individual trash cans into the back.

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?


Chapter 23



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?

It sucked.

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.”

“She’s here?”

“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.

We’d escaped!

But they could track us. It wouldn’t be long until they found us again.






Will they make it to Dr. Bayles before Enforcers catch them?


THIRST: Chapter Twenty-Two. . . Plans to escape go awry

Posted by on Jul 26th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 4 comments

THIRST Chapter 22In 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.


Chapter 22


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.

Hannah nodded.

“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.

“Hey, Eli!”

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—”

“The dictator?”

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?”

“Not really.”

“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.





Will Eli finally escape in the next chapter?


Broken Trust Cover Reveal

Posted by on Jul 20th, 2016 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog, Novel Teen | 18 comments

Pardon this interruption of THIRST chapters for a special announcement.

Calling all Spencer fans!

You’ve all been waiting SO PATIENTLY for Broken Trust, the third full-length novel in the Mission League series. I had planned for Broken Trust to release last year. Then life happened. Major. I’ve noticed that life doesn’t really care about my plans. It does what it wants.

Spencer waited patiently at first. Then he started to get mad. “Tell my story, Jill!” he said. “You promised!”

“But, Spencer. Life happened,” I told him.

“So? You left me with a torn ACL. Therapy is only supposed to take 9-10 months. This is getting ridiculous.”

That was fair.

So I worked on Broken Trust little by little. And finally. FINALLY I managed to finish the book. Broken Trust is now with the editor. (Yay!) She will send it back as soon as she can. Then I will publish it!

Spencer says you will not be disappointed. He promises action and adventure. In Alaska.


And this cover to get you all excited.



THIRST: Chapter Twenty-One . . . Is the HydroFlu back?

Posted by on Jul 19th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 6 comments

THIRST Chapter 21In 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 the HydroFlu back?


Chapter 21


Two days after Hannah told me about the resurgence of the HydroFlu, Zaq and I went to the market to grab some supplies. We found the place packed.

“You know what’s going on?” I asked the clerk as we checked out.

“Someone died from the HydroFlu,” he said. “I guess it happened over at the hospital, but it’s kind of freaked everyone out. People are using all their credits to stock up.”

Zaq grabbed a handful of candy bars beside the register and tossed them on the pile. At my raised eyebrows, he said, “What? I’m stocking up.”

As I drove the truck out of town, the traffic was thick. People everywhere carrying bags.

“This is bad,” Zaq said. “We’ve got to get out of this place before it implodes.”

“I know,” I said. “But how?”

“Steal a bulldozer. Drive right over the chainlink and barbed wire.”

I laughed. “If we’re stealing vehicles, let’s just steal a police car and pretend to be Enforcers.”

“Oh, sure. That’s be no problem. I say we put Logan on the case. He can hotwire, you know.”

It felt good to laugh, but the situation was grim. That night, we sat around the dinner table trying to come up with a legitimate plan, but we had none.

The rest of the week passed by in a restless state of boredom. According to Hannah, it was getting worse in town. Three more had died of the HydroFlu, and people were going crazy thinking the pandemic was back. I wanted to do something to get us out of here, but I didn’t know what. I kept vigil beside the CB, trying for Reinhold every half hour. Nothing. What had happened to him and Kimama?

At the next Morning Party, Tracy made an announcement that didn’t help matters. At all.

“It’s been a rough week for our little community,” he said, “but we are determined to keep as many people safe as possible. That’s why we’re going to need your help. In the next week, everyone needs to drop by the hospital to be tested for infection.”

“What!” I yelled.

Everyone in the crowed started talking at once. The dull roar drowned out whatever else Tracy was saying. Something about numbers on the Grid.

A few seconds later, a siren went off. People scattered on the front left side of the crowd. A police car was parked there. I could just see an Enforcer standing behind the open driver’s side door, holding a bullhorn to his mouth.

“Let’s have some quiet here so Mr. Tracy can give everyone instructions. Quiet please!”

Shockingly, people quieted down.

“Thank you, officer,” Tracy said. “I know this is scary, y’all.” He set his hand over his heart like he was about to say the Pledge of Allegiance. “I’m scared too. But if we are going to stand a chance of stopping this thing before it gets out of control, everyone needs to get tested as soon as possible. Now, we’ve posted a schedule on the Grid and assigned everyone appointments based on the first letter of your last name. Names starting with A through B get tested today. C through F go tomorrow. Like I said, the whole week’s schedule is up there, m’kay? If you’re scheduled to task during that time, it’s okay to take time off to get tested.”

I snorted. “Who’s going to cover for everyone suddenly leaving their jobs?”

“What if we miss our day?” someone yelled out.

“Anyone who misses their test will spend a day in rehab,” Tracy said. “Please follow the schedule on the Grid. By next Morning Party everyone should be tested.”

“This is incredible,” I said. “They’re going to put us in jail if we don’t get tested?” I wished Hannah was here. I’d love to hear what she thought about all this. She was probably at the hospital, waiting to receive a hoard of people with last names A-C.

I wasn’t about to be tested, but I really didn’t want to go to rehab. Again.

On the way home, I vented about it to my dad. “Seriously. How do we even know there is a virus? This could just be their way of getting us addicted to nicotine or whatever so we’ll want to stay here.”

“Four people have died from something, Eli,” Lizzie said. “I don’t think they’re trying to drug us. Besides, they said they’d sneak the nicotine into our food or something.”

“They also said they didn’t have any yet,” Zaq added. “They were going to tell their scavenging team to see what they could find.”

“Yeah, it’s too early for that conspiracy, Eli,” Logan said. “This virus is legit.”

“Fine,” I said. “Even so, I’m not going in. We know Hannah is capable, but she wasn’t yet licensed as a nurse. What’s to say the rest of the people working at the hospital even know what they’re doing? For that matter, what’s to say their needles are clean? I could go down there perfectly fine and walk away with the HydroFlu.”

“Maybe they won’t have to take our blood to find out,” Lizzie said. “Maybe a urine sample will work.”

“Blood cultures are done for bacterial infections,” Logan said.

“Oh what do you know, Logan?” Zaq snapped.

“Hey,” Dad said. “Let’s everybody calm down, okay? Remember who the enemy is here. We’re on the same team. Team Freedom, okay?”

“Sorry, man,” Zaq said to Logan.

“No problem,” Logan said.

No one spoke the rest of the way home.

When Hannah came home that night, she confirmed what Logan had said. “The HydroFlu cannot be tested with a urine sample.”

“Was it a total madhouse today?” I asked, imagining people freaking out and protesting and causing general chaos for the hospital staff.

“It really wasn’t bad. People are scared, but they all want the assurance that they’re healthy. We can give them that assurance.”

“In three to five days,” I added. “Who is checking all these tests, anyway? Is there enough qualified people? What happens if someone makes a mistake?”

“We’re doing the best we can, Eli,” Hannah said. “The hospital has a lab, and the staff there will be checking the blood samples.”

“How many people live here, anyway?” Zaq asked.

“One thousand seven hundred thirty-nine,” Hannah said.

“How very accurate,” Logan said.

“I heard Dr. Bayles say so,” she said.

“And how many looked sick today?” I asked.

“A couple,” Hannah said. “But that doesn’t mean anything. We tested two hundred seventy-three people today. It will take a few days for the lab to run all those tests.”

“I just don’t get how the HydroFlu cropped up again,” I said. “Maybe someone turned on the water in one of the houses.”

“Or maybe the river is finally going bad,” Logan said. “And if that’s the case, we’ll all die eventually.”

Logan!” Lizzie threw a pillow at him. “Can’t you at least try to be positive?”

“Actually,” Hannah said, “I don’t think this is the same virus as before. I think it’s something new. HydroFlu was waterborne. What we’re testing for is bloodborne. Dr. Bayles is keeping everything really hush hush, but I’ve been able to pick up a lot of clues. Plus the four people who died were also sick for other reasons. My guess is that whatever we’re testing for kills a little more slowly than the HydroFlu did, if you’re healthy. If we can figure out what it is or at least how it is transmitted, we can hopefully stop the disease from spreading.”

“If it’s bloodborne then it spreads like hepatitis or HIV,” Logan said. “With all the parties going on around here, I bet a lot of people are infected.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Lizzie said. “I hope that’s not it.”

“It’s typical for partiers to be careless,” Logan said. “They think nothing will ever hurt them.”

“Not everyone is partying though,” I said. “I’ve studied the crowd at Morning Parties. “I’d say half of the seventeen hundred people Hannah mentioned are under the age of thirty. I only went to a couple of the night parties with Jaylee, but I didn’t see too many old folk there.”

“Good,” Logan said. “Let the sinners kill each other off.”

Logan!” three of us said at once.

Lizzie scowled at him. “What a terrible thing to say.”

“Sure, like the rest of you weren’t thinking the same thing,” Logan said. “If all Tracy’s minions die, who will he have to boss around?”

“Everyone is someone, Logan,” Lizzie said. “Besides, Jaylee and Krista and Riggs are some of those partiers. You want them to die? God loves them all, and he wants everyone to know that.”

“They don’t care about God,” Logan said. “The just wanna have fun.”

Lizzie growled and stood. “I’m done with this discussion. If you guys want to talk about ways to help the problem, come get me, otherwise leave me out of it. Oh, and by the way, I’m going in Thursday to get tested. I understand protesting water punishments, but this is different. This is serious, and I don’t think we should be messing around or causing trouble.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Dad said.

“It could be dangerous,” I added.

“I got tested today,” Hannah said.

The room went quiet then. My heart sank. If Hannah sold out, so would everyone else.

“I’ll go with you on Thursday, Liz.” This from Zaq.

See? It was happening. Dad and I were losing them.

“They can test me if they want,” Logan said. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

“Have fun with all that guys. They’ll just have to test me in rehab, I guess, because I’m not going in voluntarily.”

I mean, seriously. At this point, all I had left was my pride. No one was going to take that from me.




Thursday came and went. Zaq and Lizzie were about to leave to go to the hospital and get tested when my dad brought Cree downstairs.

“Cree and I are going to come with you guys,” Dad said.

What?! I stood up from where I’d been lying on the couch. “I thought you were with me on this, Dad.”

“In principle, I agree with you, son. But Cree is a child. And I put myself down as his guardian when we checked in here. In this place, he is Cree McShane. I just don’t feel right making a choice that might get him put in rehab or anywhere apart from me. I claimed Shyla and Davis as mine too, so I’ll take them in on Saturday since they have the last name Taylor.”

“They wouldn’t put kids in rehab,” I said.

“You sure about that, son? Because I’m not.”

No. I wasn’t sure about anything in this place. I hadn’t realized my dad had put himself down as all three kid’s guardians. It made me feel like I had dropped the ball. I had been acting like a man, but the moment I was with my daddy again, I let him do the adulting and I went back to being a kid.

“If these kids get parted from us, we might never get them back,” Dad said.

“Fine,” I said. “I get it. But I’ve been to rehab. I can handle it.” See? I even sounded like a whiny adolescent.

“I understand what you’re doing, Eli,” Dad said. “If it wasn’t for the youngsters, I’d be with you.”

That, at least, made me feel a skosh better, but as I watched Dad drive my truck away with Zaq, Lizzie, and Cree inside, I felt like I was all alone.

That night, Hannah found me sitting on the deck, starting at the mountain.

“The hospital is still open for another two hours,” she said. “There’s still time for you to make it.”

“I’m not letting them poke me with a needle.”

“You’ll be fine. The nurses are very professional.”

“That’s not the point. It’s the principle. I know I’m not sick. I haven’t done anything that would make me sick. I’m a responsible person. One of, like, ten that live in this place, apparently. I should have the right to abstain from testing.”

“You’re mad at the rest of us for getting tested.”

“Yes, I’m mad. I thought we were in this thing together.” I hated how whiny I sounded. I guess I’d taken my role as emotional adolescent to heart.

“We are in this together,” Hannah said. “But you’ve already been to rehab three times. Don’t you think it would be easier to get out of this place if you weren’t ‘A Number One’ criminal around this place?”

I started laughing. Couldn’t help it. “Me. Eli McShane. ‘A Number One’ criminal.”

“You know what I mean.”

I sighed. “Yeah, I hear you. I just can’t do it.”

We stared at the mountain in silence for a bit. A mosquito buzzed near me, and I slapped at it in a panic. “Can mosquitos transport bloodborne viruses?”

“No,” Hannah said. “Mosquitoes aren’t built like a hypodermic needle. They actually have several channels in the appendage they use to bite. They inject saliva through one, suck blood up another. Any virus in blood they consume would be digested and destroyed.”

Man. “You’re really smart, you know that?” I said.

“So are you, Eli. But let me ask you this. You want us to leave this place. But where will we go? I’m not saying this place is ideal. It’s not. But they do have a clean water source. And they have the resources to get food, medical supplies, law enforcement. Can you do all that for us?”

Anger rushed through me at her attack—took me off guard. “Didn’t I do all that already on the ride here?”

“I’m not trying to take away what you did before,” she said. “You’re incredibly smart and brave. And I’m really not trying to be mean, here. I’m simply asking you to consider how you would provide for your own community. Because if you and your dad lead our little group out of this place, you guys need to have a plan that’s better than ‘We’ll figure it out.’ Because Cree and Shyla and Davis deserve better than that.”

“I’m not so sure I agree with you,” I said. “Yes, we need to know we can get safe water, but the rest? Loca and Liberté and Tracy… They clearly have a plan, and their plan is not in Cree, Davis, or Shy’s best interest. It’s all about holding on to their way of life. They need fans. A crowd to sing to. A people to rule. And they’ll risk who they must to hold on to that. So, yeah, I think my ‘We’ll figure it out’ plan is a whole lot better than staying here to be minions to a couple of narcissistic rock stars.”

Silence reigned for a few minutes, and I slapped away three more mosquitos.

“You could be right, Eli,” she said.

Her saying that surprised me. “I don’t want to be right,” I said. “I’d much rather live in this house than have to build my own out in the woods somewhere. And I certainly don’t want to be in charge of an entire community. It sucked coming up here. I hated having people depend on me. It was scary.”

“See? That’s what I like about you. You’re honest to a fault, and you don’t care how that makes you look.”

“What people think of me doesn’t matter,” I said. “You can’t build a nation on giving people everything they want.” Could you? Most the people here seemed happy to live off Loca and Liberté’s charity and live by their rules. But history had proved over and over what happens with that type of economic system. “It’s supposed to be fair and equal, and at first it looks that way. But at some point, it will crash. At some point, the people will realize it’s not fair. That they have no say. That it’s nothing more than slavery. They must do what the leaders say. They can have no ideas of their own apart from what the leaders decree is acceptable. They must conform. They become a slave. Maybe a well-dressed, well-fed slave who gets invited to every party, but they’re still slaves. And that’s the worst part. Loca and Liberté… they make it sound like they care about everyone, but you heard what they said. They need people to rule. This disease cropped up again, and did they cancel their night parties? No. Even though their ongoing party atmosphere is a breeding ground for contamination, they say, party on. That tells me everything I need to know about them. They don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

And I wasn’t going to let their desire for fame destroy our lives.




“Let’s go to the night party,” Dad said.

We had just finished dinner, and I was helping clear the table. “Seriously? Why?”

“I’ve been wanting to check out the security there to get an idea of the numbers of Enforcers they’ve got working for them. I’ve heard people say that the parties get so wild, they often have to call every Enforcer to work just to keep things from getting out of hand.”

Interesting. “Maybe we should try to escape during a night party, then,” I said.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Dad said. “I’ve been compiling a list of Enforcers names. If we can figure out how many there are and find out how many work the night parties, we’ll have a good idea of how many we’d face trying to leave.”

I dropped the paper plates into the trash. “I’m in.”

“Me too,” Hannah said.

“And me,” said Logan.

“Someone needs to stay with the kids,” Lizzie said. “Zaq?”

“You want me to stay? By myself?”

“I was thinking we could both stay,” she said.

“You’re actually going to watch the kids, though, right?” I asked.

Lizzie shot me a dirty look. “Yes, Eli.”

“I don’t know, Dad. Maybe we should ask the kids to watch them.”

“Just go,” she said, throwing a pillow at me.

We ran out of the house laughing.




“Thirty minutes to concert time!” the DJ called out over the beat of the music.

A sea of bodies writhed in the darkness. Shirtless men moved through the crowd, blinking bicycle safety lights strapped across their chests. Dancers surged around them as they passed something to the crowd.

“What are they giving out?” I yelled.

“I’ll go see.” Hannah slipped into the crowd and started dancing, which totally took me off guard. She looked like she belonged in the scene. Logan hadn’t been lying all this time. Hannah was a beautiful girl. And right now she looked like she was on some kind of techno band’s music video.

“I’m going to circle around to the right,” Dad said. “It looks like there is a cluster of Enforcers over by the stage exit. I want to count them. Come with me, Logan?”

Logan, who had also been starting after Hannah, jerked his head toward my dad. “Huh?”

“I could use another set of eyes,” Dad said. “Will you help me?”

“Sure, Mr. McShane,” Logan said, moving to follow my dad.

To his credit, he only looked back once. I wondered why dad had taken him along. Logan had never been his favorite person.

I found Hannah in the crowd. She had danced her way right up to the nearest guy with flashing lights. She yelled in the guy’s ear, then leaned back and smiled, said something else. The guy threw back his head and laughed, then withdrew whatever he was peddling and handed her some. She nodded a thanks and turned back.

Hannah made it halfway when what looked like a Harley biker grabbed her. She elbowed him and moved away, but the guy came after her again. I heard her yell something. The words “Get lost” I think. The next thing I knew I was pushing my way through the mob, headed for them. When I arrived, the guy had ahold of Hannah’s wrists and appeared to be trying to force her to dance. He was about my height but twice my width and swathed in black leather and denim. I grabbed his wrist and pressed my thumbnail into the top of his hand, between the bones, then pulled Hannah’s hand away from his.

“Excuse me!” I yelled, releasing his hand. “But I don’t think the lady likes you!”

He let go of Hannah and shoved me, two hands to my chest. I knocked back into Hannah, both of us falling against the mob like dominoes.

The crowd was too thick to fall, though, and it also pushed back. I felt myself propelled toward the Harley guy again, saw his fist a moment before it smashed my eye.

The events immediately following that were confusing at best. My face felt like it split in two. I fell. Someone stepped on my hand. I couldn’t find my feet. Couldn’t get them to move. Someone tugged at my sleeve. A girl yelled in my year. Something about being okay. Everything was dark and loud.

I felt hands grab my legs and arms. Lift me. The crowd parted as I was carried into open space.

The thought crossed my mind that the Harley guy might have knocked me out.

Oh, man. How embarrassing.

“He looks okay.” Dad’s voice. “Eli?”

“He might have a concussion.” Logan.

“Eli, can you look at me?” Hannah.

“Hannah okay now?” Me. I said that. Classy.

“Eli, I’m fine,” Hannah said. “Can you look at me? Look into my eyes?”

Eyes. They rolled around in my head but I couldn’t find anything to focus on.

“Let’s get him out of here,” Dad said.

Then I was on my feet, stumbling between two bodies. My legs moved from instinct alone. And the more I walked, the more my head cleared. The pulsating music faded some, which eased the ache in my head. I squinted. Focused straight ahead. Logan waving people out of the way. Looking back, eyes wide and worried. We walked by cars and trucks. A parking lot. No, this was the street. We were leaving the LLC compound. Dad had his arm around my waist. So did Hannah. My arms had been slung over each of their shoulders.

I suddenly realized just how terribly pathetic I was. I seized control of my body and tried to stop, to get away from them. I could walk on my own, for Pete’s sake. I wasn’t a baby.

But they only grabbed me tighter and continued to compel me forward. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the backseat of the truck next to Hannah. Dad was driving. Logan sitting shotgun but hanging backwards over the seat to stare at me.

“What was it?” I asked, coming back to myself.

“Hey, Eli,” Hannah leaned in front of me, looking into my eyes. My left eye, anyway. My right one was closed. I reached up and felt puffy and foreign skin. “You got punched in the face.” She smiled. Smiled! It’s wasn’t really funny, was it? And why wouldn’t she answer my question.

“What did that guy give you?” I asked again. “The guy with the lights.”

“Oh,” she said. “Ecstasy out of a TicTac container. He also said he had tina, whatever that is.”

“Crystal meth,” Dad said.

“Drugs? Really? For free?” Logan asked. “That’s crazy!”

“Not exactly free,” Hannah said. “They scanned my lanyard.”

“So they can keep track of which people use and which don’t?” I asked.

“That’s good information,” Dad said. “They can see who can be controlled by their addictions and who can’t.”

“It sucks,” I said, annoyed. Not that I need a last straw, but this is it. “Our new government is handing out meth and ecstasy in the midst of an outbreak. They’re idiots.”

“It is pretty irresponsible,” Hannah said. “Do you think it’s related to their plan to get people addicted so they stick around?”

“No,” I said. “Those shirtless guys have been here from the start. They were at the night parties I went to with Jaylee. I just didn’t know what they were doing.”

“They see no problem in handing out recreational drugs,” Dad said. “To them, they’re just being good party hosts. Helping people have a good time.”

“You think this is a problem, Hannah?” Logan asked.

“Absolutely it’s a problem,” she said. “Those are two very dangerous drugs. People can die.”

“They don’t seem to care about that,” I said.

But I did.




Back at the house, I let Hannah nurse me a little. She made and ice pack for my eye, then sat up with me in the living room, talking. We talked about all kinds of things. My home in Phoenix. Her home in San Francisco. My mom. Her parents. School. Hobbies.

“What would you do if we could get out of here?” she asked me.

“We don’t even have to go far,” I said. “The clean water creek runs down into the East River. We could set up a village right before the rivers meet. With access to the water, we’d have everything we needed. We could scavenge for medical supplies. We could even take a trip to Denver and look for some books on natural remedies. I had a great one in my truck before it was stolen. Dad knows how to garden. He used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers for my mom in a little greenhouse out back of our house. Mom called it her salsa garden. We’d need a big garden, though. We’d need to plant a lot and store it in a cellar for winter. Winter would be the hardest, but we could hunt.”

“Vegetarians in summer and carnivores in winter?” Hannah asked.

“If we had to, why not? People lived like that for centuries. No reason we couldn’t.”

In my injured state, it never occurred to me to wonder where everyone else had gone. Especially Logan, who usually hovered around Hannah like a shadow. It was just the two of us, sitting in the living room. Hannah asked me a ton more questions, and I talked and talked. I don’t know what possessed me, but it was like I’d been holding it all in for so long I just needed to get it out. All my ideas. All my plans. I really believed that life would be better outside this place. Sure, we might not have access to restaurants or the Grid or concerts or drugs. But we didn’t need any of that.

No one did.




I must have fallen asleep, because I woke the next morning sitting in the same chair, a blanket tucked over me. I still couldn’t see out of my right eye. After I got over my confusion of the time and day, I remembered last night. Then I was just plain embarrassed.

What had I said to Hannah last night, anyway?

I had talked. A lot.

I went into the bathroom to see what I looked like and wished I hadn’t. My right eye was the color of a plumb and swollen just as big. It didn’t really hurt, but I wondered if my eye was okay underneath. I tried and failed to force my eyelid open. Whatever.

I wandered through the house, but it was totally empty, so I went out back and found my dad watching the kids play with a ball.

“Where is everyone?” I asked.

“Went into town to get our daily food ration. We figure we should hoard as much food as possible if we’re going to try and leave.”

That made good sense. “Where did you go last night?” I asked.

“Hannah was taking good care of you, so I went to bed. But not before encouraging Zaq and Lizzie to challenge Logan to a game of Trivial Pursuit.”

Logan felt he was the king of TP, and I instantly saw through my dad’s innocent comment. “You left me alone with her on purpose?”

“I’m sorry, did you require a chaperone? Some sort of babysitter?”

I scowled. “That’s not what I meant. I was not myself last night. I think I talked to her nonstop for over an hour. I might have told her my eighth grade locker combination.”

“Good,” Dad said. “It’s about time you paid attention to a real woman.”

My cheeks blazed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I thought I was perfectly clear. She likes you. This is a good thing. And she likes you even more after you tried to help her last night.”

I snorted. “Tried.”

“You don’t have to win the battle to win the war, son,” Dad said.

I rolled my good eye, but the phrase played over and over in my head. We’d tried a lot of things so far. Lost a lot of battles. But the war wasn’t over. In fact, the time had come to plan the final battle.

A battle I intended to win.





Are you ready for Eli’s final battle?