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 www.GoTeenWriters.com. If you’re an author, come join in the fun. Otherwise, enjoy the story.


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

Posted by on Jul 12th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 8 comments

Thirst Ch 20In 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.

Confession time:

First of all, I’m a little stuck. Writing a book is always an adventure, and right now, my adventure has hit a rocky patch. I had a very busy weekend, yesterday was my birthday, and I’m on track to finish line edits on Maelstrom this Friday along with the rewrite of Broken Trust.

I can allow nothing to get in the way of finishing those two projects on time. *cue dramatic music and a close up of Jill typing away, brow furrowed in concentration*

All that to say, THIRST has again been pushed aside at a time when it really needs some quality one-on-one time. So today’s chapter isn’t so much a chapter as a couple scenes. It needs some help. And I’ve also realized I need to go back and plant some things that I had intended to have come out in this chapter. Overall, I’m feeling like I need something a little more exciting to happen in this chapter, but I don’t know what. I covet your ideas, readers. Feel free to post in the comments anything you would like to see happen before the big attempted Exodus by Eli and his friends.

Oh, and while I’m confessing, I also need ideas for what has delayed Reinhold. I have no idea what’s taking him so long on the other side of the mountain. If you have some fabulous theories, I’d love to hear them. Perhaps they will inspire me to figure out what’s going on with that fellow.

[Note of change: I had been planning to introduce “the Grid” in this chapter, but as I wrote, I realized I needed the Grid to already exist. So when I rewrite, I’ll be going back and planting the Grid early on. What is the Grid, you ask? The Grid is the new Internet—but just for the Safe Water Mountain Refuge (which I also renamed, btw). Everyone under LLC care will have access to the Grid and newly invented social media knock off sites.]

And now I will leave you with today’s installment:

Arrested again? What will happen to Eli now?

 


Chapter 20

 

I spent a week being brainwashed by Carelle Lawler that “guns were evil” and I must “trust the Enforcers” to protect me. She made me chant these phrases again and again, and played them over the speakers in my cell at night. There was no point in arguing if I wanted to get out of this place, so I said whatever she asked me to. But me trusting Enforcers was not going to happen.

When they let me out, I came home and found that my dad and the others had been making a plan to get Logan’s modified one-way CB radio inside Tracy’s office. I was excited to do anything to fight against this place, so the next morning, we all went to the showers early, more to case the LLC mansion than to get clean.

We spent a week on reconnaissance, taking turns watching the LLC mansion, specifically the windows that were Tracy’s office. What we learned shattered all our hope. There would be no easy way to sneak inside this fortress. Loca and Liberté Champion’s fame daily inspired at least three obsessive fans to try and sneak a peek at one of them, and security was tight.

The property’s perimeter was surrounded by a sixty-inch high wrought-iron fence. Infrared cameras mounted on the outside of the house monitored the fence for thermal heat signatures regardless of time of day. Any movement in unauthorized entry points set off a perimeter alarm at both the gatehouse and somewhere inside—the kitchen, maybe? Eli could hear it, but he couldn’t tell where the interior alarm was located. He had been hoping to make the first story window into Tracy’s office his entry point, but he witnessed a fan try that very thing and—besides setting off the heat signature alarm—the intruder also triggered a fog screen at the window that sent her screaming away and clutching her eyes.

After the warlord attacks, the outer doors of the Champions’s house had been changed out, wooden or fiberglass doors replaced with those made from kevlar-lined, bullet-resistant steel. Also, it seemed that more Enforcers had been put on patrol duty at the compound.

Logan suggested I show up on the front porch and ask to see Tracy, but even if the guy did let me in, I didn’t see how I could plant the CB without him seeing me. I toyed around with the idea of making a scene at the next Morning Party, but—repeat offender that I was—the Enforcers would likely take me straight to rehab rather than stop in for a lecture at Tracy’s office.

We had reached an impasse and could think of no way to achieve our goal until Hannah returned from the hospital one day.

“I think I can get inside Tracy’s office on Monday,” she said.

“How?” I asked.

“A certain someone who lives in that house is ill,” she said. “Dr. Bayles asked me to accompany him there today for a check-up, and I’m to return every day this week for follow-up visits.”

“Who’s sick?” Logan asked.

“Can’t tell you that,” she said, “but I was thinking that I could try to plant the CB during the next Morning Party.”

“So it’s not Loca or Liberté, then,” Logan said. “Since they’ll be singing on stage at the party. Everyone is saying that Loca is sick.”

“I’m not telling you who I’m treating, Logan,” Hannah said.

“I know, but if I guess, will you nod or shake your head?”

“No, I won’t.” She turned back to me, annoyed. “Anyway, I think it might be our best chance.”

It sounded like it, but I didn’t want Hannah to risk herself. “There’s no way any of us could help you?” I asked.

“Nope. You’ll just have to trust me. A girl. And hope I don’t blow it.”

Her tone seemed offended. “I trust girls just fine,” I said.

She chuckled. “You don’t trust anyone just fine, Eli, and that’s okay. I get it. But I can do this. Please let me try?”

It had been a while since anyone had treated me like I was the boss of our little group. But things were different now, especially with my dad here. Who was I to refuse a good idea? It’s not like I had a better plan, or any plan at all. “This is great,” I said, trying to sound supportive. “One of us should probably skip the Morning Party to monitor the CB. In fact, once we get audio on that office, we need to set a schedule so that there is someone monitoring at all times.”

“Good idea,” Logan said. “I’ll set up my laptop to record so that whoever is on duty can record when they think something might be important. That way we’ll be able to play it back.”

“Genius,” I said, tapping his knuckles. “Do it.”

 

****

 

When the next Morning Party came, Lizzie insisted we all stand at the back of the lawn, circle up, and pray for Hannah as she attempted to plant the CB radio. This we did, but we were done praying before Tracy even took the stage. Lizzie made us start again, and while I admired her stamina, I was too nervous to focus on praying. I kept my eyes on the house’s front entrance, waiting to see Hannah come out, either alone or escorted by Enforcers.

Tracy came out, doing his whole spiel of reminders of the rules: no protesting, no guns, be kind, obey Enforcers. Then he moved on to calling this week’s winners for houses.

It wasn’t until midway through Loca and Liberté’s third song that morning that Hannah exited the house, alone. Relief flooded me, and I pushed through the crowd, making my way toward her. She made eye contact with me and smiled, but it was several minutes until I reached her.

“It’s done,” she yelled over the crowd.

Relief washed through me. “Let’s get back and start listening.”

 

****

 

That first day, nothing much came through the CB. Tracy made a phone call to Captain Kane to ask about offenders, to which the Enforcer captain replied that there’d been only three—far fewer now that the guns had been confiscated, as if owning a gun made people rebellious.

Two more days went by, and we got a hint of something big: a meeting in Tracy’s office on Thursday morning with Loca and Liberté Champion and Captain Kane.

Thursday morning we all crowded around the CB in the living room to listen. It took a while for everyone to arrive in Tracy’s office, then they moved into small talk.

“How is Barkley?” Tracy asked.

“Worse, I think.” This from Liberté. “He’s so thin and weak. My heart breaks just looking at him. He needs his meds.”

“Who is Barkley?” I asked.

“One of Liberté’s male dancers,” Lizzie said.

“Shh!” Logan hissed at me.

“Any word from the research team?” Loca asked.

“They sent a message through the Grid,” Kane said. “Made it to New Jersey. They’re trying to make sense of the pharmaceutical company, but it’s going to take time.”

“We should have sent Dr. Bayles with them,” Loca said.

“Barkley can’t do without Dr. Bayles right now,” Liberté said.

“We couldn’t risk our most experienced doctor to a trip that far away,” Tracy said. “There’s no way to know they’ll make it back.”

“They’ll make it,” Kane said.

“Besides, we only need to increase our supply of meds,” Loca added. “The pharmaceutical rep will do fine to help the team find what we need.”

“He’s got fifteen years in pharmaceuticals, working out of Dallas,” Tracy said. “He knows his stuff.”

“We’re going to need to learn how to produce everything eventually,” Kane said.

“Eventually, but not now,” Tracy said.

“I don’t like so many people milling around my house,” Liberté said. “I feel like I have no privacy.”

“Even after the increased security?” Kane asked.

“I still see them out my window all the time,” Liberté said. “Loca and I bought this land because we liked the ski resort, the view, and the small population. I don’t feel safe with so many people milling around all the time.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have invited us all up here,” I said.

Logan glared at me. “Shh!”

“We’ll find a way to get rid of them,” Tracy said. “They shouldn’t be bothering you.”

“But this is where you wanted the showers built,” Kane said.

“There weren’t so many people in my yard then!” Liberté said.

“People won’t need the showers forever,” Tracy said. “Once we get the dam up and running, we can work on redirecting the city water supply. Then people can shower in their own homes, and they won’t need to come here.”

“We want them to need us,” Loca said. “We just don’t want them on our property all the time.”

“Let’s post some showering hours,” Tracy said. “People can only shower from nine to five or something like that.”

“That sounds marvelous,” Liberté said.

“We don’t want to upset anyone, though,” Loca said. “Are people still trying to leave?”

“No one has challenged with force for a few weeks,” Kane said, “but people are still grumbling.”

“Let them leave if they want,” Liberté said. “Who needs the ungrateful leeches? Let them try and find a better place to live than here with us.”

“We can’t let them leave, darling,” Loca said. “If people go, we lose our work force. Who will clean this place? Who will hunt or grow food? Do you know how to hunt food? Because I don’t.”

“Vegetarians don’t hunt,” she said.

“We’ve been over this,” Loca said. “She knows what’s at stake.”

Liberté huffed. “Don’t talk about me like you’re my handler.”

“How many have refused task assignments?” Kane asked.

“Too many,” Tracy said. “You think we need to threaten rehab?”

“Not yet,” Kane said. “You just took their guns. Too much too soon and you’ll have riots.”

“We should do something, Libby and me,” Loca said. “You can record us working, then the people will see that everyone, even us, has to take jobs if we’re going to make this place work.”

“But we already have two jobs!” Liberté said. “We’re musicians and we’re the rulers of this place.”

“King Loca and Queen Liberté,” Tracy said.

“There’s no point in being musicians if no one is listening,” Loca said. “And no point being a king or queen if you have no people to rule.”

“That was well said, Loca,” Tracy said. “You’re so wise.”

“What a suck up,” I mumbled.

“But I don’t want to work,” Liberté said.

“If we’re going to make this work, we need to be seen out there, setting an example,” Loca said.

“Not for a whole shift, though, Liberté,” Tracy said. “Just long enough to get some footage we can use on the Grid.”

“You always wanted a movie, darling,” Loca said. “Be an actress. Play your role well. The people will love it.”

“It would be so much easier if I’m only acting,” Liberté said. “But I’d want to do something fun, like operate one of those soft ice cream machines.”

“Done,” Tracy said. “You’d be great at that, by the way, and your fans would love it. The Grid ads are pulling in great feedback on the two of you.”

“But not everyone is on the Grid,” Loca said. “How do we get everyone to participate.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Kacy said. “You could force them to go on the Grid to activate their credits. Until they do, no food, water, or showers.”

“Great,” Dad said. “More hoops to jump through.”

“That could work,” Tracy said.

“It won’t stop people from wanting to leave, though,” Kane said.

“He’s got that right,” I said.

“How can we convince them to stay?” Loca asked. “I don’t want this to turn ugly. This isn’t meant to be a prison camp.”

“Could have fooled me,” Zaq said.

“If we had something they needed,” Kane said.

“We have the water,” Tracy said.

“Yes, but they could try to look elsewhere for water,” Kane said. “Could be there are other safe water streams out there. Or they might simply decide to scavenge bottled water.”

“I’d rather not have perfectly healthy people dying off in the wilderness because they don’t like us,” Loca said.

“So what can we do?” Liberté asked. “I can’t believe there are people who don’t like us.”

“I have an idea, but I’m not sure…” Loca said. “It seems deceitful and a bit reckless.”

“I love it already,” Tracy said.

“Speak up, darling,” Liberté said. “We can’t read your mind.”

“We could get everyone hooked on something,” he said.

“Barkley won’t give up his pot,” Liberté said. “He’s running low as it is, and he needs it for the pain.”

“We can easily grow more,” Loca said.

“But not everyone smokes,” Kane said.

“Have the cooks put it in the food, like with brownies,” Liberté said.

This comment got a good laugh from those at the meeting and a round of groans from us at the house.

“Wait, why couldn’t we?” Loca said. “Not pot, though. Not something so obvious. Something addictive that they would crave and withdraw over. But not something that will turn them into weaklings. We need them physically able to work.”

“Nicotine,” Tracy said. “It’s the most addictive substance known to man.”

“It is not,” Loca said.

“No, he’s right,” Liberté said. “I read about it in Cosmo. It’s even more addicting that coke or heroine.”

Loca snorted. “I suppose that’s why you can’t manage to quit smoking.”

“It is, actually. I don’t like who I am when I try to quit. I get very irritable.”

“Not you,” Tracy said. “You’re always such a joy to be around.”

The conversation went on as the four of them discussed other ideas to keep all of us here. They came up with nothing better than their grand addiction scheme, and Kacy promised to contact his New Jersey team and ask them to look for Nicotine. The meeting fizzled after that as they talked about which songs to perform at next week’s party and how Liberté was going to get new clothing made.

Once they all left and Tracy’s office went quiet, we all sat around and tried to decide what to do next.

“They can’t keep us here,” I said.

“Loca doesn’t want this to be a prison camp?” Hannah said. “That’s exactly what it is.”

“It’s kidnapping,” Logan said. “It’s communism. It’s a dictatorship.”

“It’s nuts,” Dad said.

“That’s not all,” Hannah said. “There’s something I haven’t told you. It’s the real reason Dr. Bayles didn’t go on their scavenging trip to New Jersey.”

We all stared at Hannah, waiting for her to drop whatever bomb she’d been holding.

“There have been several patience come in to the hospital with similar symptoms. Dr. Bayles thinks it’s the HydroFlu.”

Lizzie gasped.

“How long has this been going on?” Logan asked.

“He just told me last night,” Hannah said.

I blew out a long and frustrated breath. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that we need to get out of this place soon if we’re going to survive.”

 

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

 

Uh oh. Is the HydroFlu back? Or is Dr. Bayles mistaken?

 

THIRST: Chapter Nineteen . . . Is Eli right to worry that Enforcers took Hannah away?

Posted by on Jul 5th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 3 comments

Thirst Ch 19

In conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series I’m writing over on the Go Teen Writers blog, I’m posting the chapters for THIRST on my website. Subscribe by clicking here. And if you’ve just discovered THIRST, click here for a list of previous chapters, if you’d like to get caught up.

 

Is Eli right to worry that Enforcers took Hannah away to work? Or is he overreacting?

 


Chapter 19

 

Around four thirty that afternoon Hannah called us on the CB radio that Lizzie had left in Krista and Jaylee’s apartment.

“Can someone come and pick me up?” she asked. “They let me go but there was no one to give me a ride back.”

My sister reached the radio first. “This is Lizzie. We’ll come get you now. Over.”

The radio crackled again. “Can we get something to eat? I’m starving.”

Lizzie looked at me and Zaq, who were lounging on the couches in the living room. “We need to go get Hannah. And she wants to eat.”

“I could eat,” I said. Lizzie and Zaq had made us all a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches, but with our daily rations, we could get pizza or burgers.

Zaq jumped to his feet. “Let’s do it.”

In the end, only me, Zaq, Lizzie, and Logan went to pick up Hannah. I drove my truck to the condos and Lizzie ran up while the rest of us waited in the truck. Hannah came out with Lizzie, looking tired. Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail, but the part around her head was all frizzy and she had creases under her eyes.

Lizzie, who had been sitting shotgun on the ride over, climbed in back with Logan and Zaq, giving Hannah the seat up front.

Hannah climbed in and sighed. “Thanks so much for coming to get me. I was so frustrated until I remembered that Lizzie left Krista and Jaylee a radio. I thought I was going to have to walk back to the house.”

“Where is their hospital?” Zaq asked.

“There’s one down Gothic,” Hannah said. “It’s not far from here.”

“I can’t believe no one would drive you back to the house after they came for you there,” I said. “What are you hungry for?”

“Pizza,” Hannah said. “Then a chocolate ice cream cone. Rocky Road if they have it.”

How very specific. “You got it.” I steered out of the lot and turned toward The Secret Pizzeria.

Logan leaned over Zaq’s lap so that his head poked over the seat. “I would have come to get you, Hannah, ” he said. “Next time we’ll send you with a radio so you can call us when you’re done.”

“Will there be a next time?” I asked.

“Looks like it,” she said. “They had me working as a nurse. There are quite a few sick people, and they don’t have many qualified medical personnel to care for them.”

“What kind of sick?” Logan asked. “Plague sick?”

“I never saw the plague, so I wouldn’t recognize it,” Hannah said. “Most people had regular problems. I treated two sore throats, one nasty cough, a second degree burn from a guy who fell into a campfire, and three cases of seasonal allergies. There was a twisted ankle, an upset stomach, four cases of dehydration, and a guy whose back went out. There was another guy who had cancer and had just finished chemo two weeks before the plague hit. He really needed to see a specialist. There was a bipolar person looking for meds, an HIV guy who also needed meds, and five or six diabetics needing insulin.”

“Should you be telling us this?” Logan asked. “Isn’t all that doctor-patient privileged information?”

“I didn’t tell you who had what,” Hannah said. “I’m just talking about my day. That’s allowed.”

I parked on the street in front of the pizza place, and we went in and claimed a booth. With our combined credits, we were able to order three extra-large pizzas and sodas. I sipped my root beer while we waited.

“Do you think they’re going to start tapping other people for jobs?” Zaq asked.

“I don’t even remember what I put down,” Lizzie said.

“I put mechanics and hunting,” I said.

“I put being a lifeguard,” Zaq said.

“I put web design, graphic design, programming, and engineering,” Logan said.

“What engineering?” I asked.

“That’s what I was going to study in college.”

“I thought you were going to study video game design,” Hannah said.

“Well, sure, if I could. But that’s a very competitive field. Engineering would get me a job a lot faster.”

We talked more about careers, about the house, then moved on to Reinhold and what might have happened to him.

The pizza came, and we scarfed it down. It wasn’t just frozen pizzas anymore. They’d found someone to make real pizzas, and they were good. I wondered if the new chef had noted some kind of cooking ability on his hosing contract. How weird would that be? Picked up by the cops to make pizza?

When we were done, we decided to walk to the ice cream shop, since it was only a street away. The sidewalks were crowded. We’d eaten an early dinner, and now that we were ready for dessert, everyone else was just about to start in on dinner.

We turned the corner to the street the ice cream shop was on, and ran into Jaylee and Krista.

“You guys found Hannah!” Krista said, hugging Lizzie.

“We just had dinner,” Lizzie said. “What are you guys doing?”

“Going for pizza,” Krista said. “Jaylee won’t eat anything else.”

“I like pizza,” she said, looking just about everywhere but at me.

She was so pretty it made me ache. It shouldn’t be fair that some girls looked like Jaylee, especially when they were mean old wicked witches inside. Okay, so maybe I was overreacting a little, but then I saw the necklace she was wearing.

That dumb puka shell necklace.

She was wearing Riggs’s his necklace!

What did that mean?

I reached out and tugged on it. “What’s this?”

“A necklace,” she said, still not looking at me. “Riggs gave it to me.”

“Classy, Jay,” Lizzie said. “What did you wait two minutes after you and Eli broke up before moving on?”

“I haven’t moved on,” she said, glaring at Liz. “Riggs and I are just friends. Besides, Eli and I were never going to work out. You all knew it.”

No one said anything, as if they all agreed with that statement.

Then Jaylee grinned at me, her old self again. “It was fun, though, yeah, Eli?”

No, it was not fun. It had been torture, letting this girl mess with my heart. And the way she made it all sound like a game made me feel stupid, like there was something wrong with me because I felt so low about the whole thing.

This girl was twisted like that.

“Yeah, sure,” I finally said, walking on.

An engine revved nearby. Gunfire rang out, echoed with people’s screams. We all stared in the direction the sound had come from. An Army Jeep barreled around the corner, straightened out, and accelerated toward us. People on the sidewalks scattered, screaming as two men, standing in back of the Jeep fired automatic guns. A second Jeep rounded the corner behind the first.

“Run!” Zaq yelled.

We took off, back toward the pizza place, a dozen of others with us. Zaq darted into a tourist shop, and our group followed. We hid in the back of the shop, ducking under clothing racks. From where I crouched, I could just see out the wall of windows that faced the street. The first Jeep rolled past, gunmen spraying both sides of the street with bullets.

Glass shattered. I ducked down and squeezed my eyes shut, praying that someone would stop these madmen and that no one would die.

Engines continued to pass by the shop. I counted three, then risked a peek.

Jagged shards of glass rimmed the store’s window frames. Outside, an army van rolled to a stop. The back doors sprung open and a dozen men poured out, each packing a semi-automatic.

Most of them scattered, but two entered our store. The first walked right behind the counter.

“Out!” he yelled. “Come on!”

A middle-aged man stood slowly, hands lifted in surrender.

“Load all this in the van.” The gunman jerked the gun around the store, pointing at the racks of ski coats, sweatshirts, and T-shirts. “Move it!”

The clerk ran past him and grabbed an armful of North Face jackets off a rack. The second gunman followed him out of the store and to the back of the van, where two other gunmen stood guard.

Who were these guys?

Gunfire and screams sounded nearby. I wished I had my rifle. The clerk came back for a second armload of coats. The first gunman shouldered his gun and started filling a backpack with candy bars from the front counter.

Should I try and get his gun? I wanted to make eye contact with Zaq, see if we could make a plan, but I didn’t dare move for fear of behind discovered. If we stayed put, however, we’d get found eventually when the clerk emptied our clothing racks.

The clerk came back for trip number three. He’d cleared off one rack and started for the second, but the gunman yelled, “Hey!” distracting him.

“This one,” he said, gesturing to a Patagonia rack.

The clerk grabbed an armful of coats and carried them out, leaving behind a gap in the rack that totally revealed Lizzie, crouched and wide-eyed.

I reached through the T-shirts on my rack and waved at my sister but she didn’t see me. She stood, still crouched, and staring at the back of the first gunman, who had resumed filling his backpack with junk food. She lifted one leg over the metal bar on the bottom circle of the rack. Her foot reached the floor and she moved her weight to that leg and lifted out her back foot.

I held my breath. Hurry, hurry, Lizzie!

She had just set both feet outside the rack when the clerk returned. He stopped suddenly, staring at Lizzie. She put her finger over her lips and took one step away from the rack.

“Hey!” the gunman yelled. “Don’t move!”

Lizzie froze.

The gunman circled my sister, gun trained on her. He was youngish—maybe late twenties. He looked her over, appeared to like what he saw, and motioned her toward the door.

“Get in the van. Take a load of coats with you.”

I popped to my feet at the same time as Zaq.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Zaq said. He was on the gunman’s right, so when the man turned his weapon on Zaq, his put his back to me.

“You going to stop me, big guy?” the gunman asked Zaq.

I needed a weapon, searched around me, and grabbed a blue and black Burton board off a snowboard display on the back wall. I crept toward the gunman, pulling back the board to strike. Zaq and Lizzie were cool and didn’t look my way, but the clerk spun toward me, gaping, and totally gave me away.

The gunman spun around just as I slammed the board against his face. He fell backwards into a rack of snow pants. Zaq was on him in seconds, ripped away his gun, and ejected the magazine.

“Is there a backdoor in this place?” I asked the clerk.

He nodded and led the way behind the counter. We all trailed after him, passed through a small storage area/office, and out a door that emptied onto a dirt road separating the store from the pizza place. The air smelled like oregano, yeast, and gunpowder.

The clerk stopped outside and looked both ways. I did too. Gunfire and screaming came from both directions. Too bad we couldn’t wait out here, but our gunman would likely follow any minute.

Zaq dropped the magazine in a dumpster. “Where to?”

I didn’t know, but with only two choices, I went right, away from the front entrances to the ski shop and the pizza place. This let us out on the backside of an apartment complex. We circled the building and peeked out around the front.

Two more army vans were parked on the street, and gunmen were herding people inside. Who were these guys and why were they kidnapping people?

“Stop right there!” someone yelled from behind us.

Our ski store gunman and his partner were running toward us. Only the partner held a gun, gripping it by the barrel.

“Run,” I yelled. “Go, go!”

Zaq and I pushed the girls ahead. The clerk was still with us, and he and Logan went next. Zaq and I brought up the rear as we all ran out onto the street in front. “Cut across to the bar!” I yelled from the back of the line.

Lizzie, who was in the lead, did what I’d asked, and sprinted across the first army van, Logan and Hannah on her heels. She stopped suddenly and lifted her hands above her head.

Zaq and I slowed to a stop just as two new gunmen stepped out from the other side of the van.

“Around back, folks,” he said. “We’ve already called shotgun.”

Lizzie, Logan, and Hannah backed up to us, and we all stopped together in a group. The gunmen pressed forward, and behind us, the gunmen from the ski shop arrived.

We were surrounded.

A chorus of sirens screamed over the distant gunfire as police cruisers sped upon the scene. The gunmen turned their weapons on the Enforcers and started shooting.

The Enforcers shot back.

The clerk took a shot to the neck and collapsed right in front of me.

“Run!” I yelled, pushing Lizzie back toward the bar.

We sprinted toward the building, reached the door, and found it locked. I ran around the side into an alley between the bar and the ice cream shop. The alley ended in a brick wall, so I sat down against the building and pulled my knees up to my chest. The others lined up along the wall on my right, everyone sitting like I had.

“We should be safe here,” I said, panting. “For now, anyway.”

Adrenaline pulsed in my head. That clerk! That could have been me. Lizzie. It could have been any one of us. Had I gotten him killed? Should I have ran the other way out of the store?

I could just barely see the street. Even with the wall acting as a partial barrier, the gunfire was deafening as the two sides shot each other up. Sitting there like that, my mind got a chance to calm down a little. I should go back out there and see if I could help that clerk. Or the people in the vans.

But walking into gunfire would be suicide. Right? I had to leave it to the Enforcers to do their job.

I didn’t much care for that plan, but what else could I do?

The gunfight ended with the sounds of squealing tires and sirens. None of us moved for quite some time. My heart was still thudding when my sister gasped.

“Is that your blood?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Zaq said.

I looked down the line and saw Lizzie on her knees before Zaq, who was looking quite pale. The right shoulder and sleeve of his white T-shirt was drenched red, and a stream of blood had wound its way down his arm where it was dripping off his elbow.

That wasn’t blood spatter. Hannah and I reached him at the same time.

“Go for the truck,” Hannah told me.

I sprinted away. The street looked like the aftermath of a warzone. There were clusters of people here and there, gathered around the wounded. I ran past the dead clerk and three dead gunmen, who were curiously missing their guns. I encountered no resistance. The rest of the gunman and the Enforcers were gone.

I drove the truck back for Zack and the others, then followed Hannah’s directions to the hospital.

“We need to start carrying our guns,” Logan said.

“You don’t have a gun,” I said. “And I can’t carry a rifle everywhere. It will freak people out. Better to just stay in the house until we figure out how to leave this place.”

“We took all those handguns, didn’t we?” Logan asked. “And you said I could have one.”

“No, I said I’d train everyone to use them. I’m not giving you one until you’ve been properly trained.” The idea of Logan packing heat terrified me almost as much as those mysterious gunmen.

We reached the hospital and all went in as far as the emergency waiting room, where Hannah told us to sit down. She walked Zaq past the counter.

“Excuse me,” one of the receptionists said.

“It’s me, Hannah Cheng. I’m a nurse here.”

“Oh, Hannah. Right,” the woman said. “I thought you’d gone home.”

“I did,” she said. “There were some gunmen in the downtown area. Get ready to receive a bunch more wounded.” She continued walking Zaq down the hall where she met a doctor.

“What have you got, Nurse Cheng?” he asked.

“Eighteen-year-old male sustained a single gunshot wound to his right shoulder. Airway is patent and he’s hemodynamically stable.”

“Bring him on back and we’ll take a look.”

Then they were gone.

“What did she say?” Lizzie asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

Lizzie broke down, and I hugged her. “He’ll be fine,” I said, but I really had no idea.

 

****

 

“‘Patent airway’ simply means the airway is open or unblocked,” Hannah said.

“And what does ‘hemodynamic’ mean?” I asked.

“I said ‘hemodynamically stable.’ That meant he had stable blood flow. I’m really sorry you guys were so worried. I mean, it was a serious wound, and without prompt and proper treatment, he certainly could have died from blood loss or a resulting infection.”

“But you don’t think he will,” Lizzie asked.

“No,” Hannah said.

“Those words just sounded so… important,” Lizzie said.

“Doctor lingo,” Hannah said. “I’m really sorry I didn’t explain myself better.”

“It’s totally fine,” Lizzie said. “I’m just glad he’s going to be okay.”

We were driving back to the house, having left Zaq at the hospital overnight for observation. Hannah thought he’d be able to go home in a day or two. “Once they were certain the wound was healing and there was no sign of infection,” she’d said.

Two days later, Zaq was released. Hannah told us that there’d been twenty-eight people come into the hospital that had been injured in the attack, and that fourteen of those had been gunshot wounds, three fatal.

“Three people killed in this supposedly peaceful city,” I said. “We should try Reinhold again. We need to get out of here.”

“I tried him just an hour ago,” Dad admitted. “What I’d like to know is who those people were.”

“I heard an Enforcer tell a doctor that they were from outside the town,” Hannah said, “but that’s all I heard, and who knows if it was true.”

“Did anyone actually get taken?” I asked.

“One doctor said eight people,” Hannah said. “But I also heard a nurse say three people, another nurse said eighteen people, and an Enforcer said none. So there you go.”

None. Stupid Enforcers. “We need to know what’s going on,” I said. “If we knew, we could try and do something about it or at least protect ourselves.”

“We could check the CB frequencies,” Dad said, “but I bet they’re communicating digitally.”

“I could rewrite a CB to transmit and not receive,” Logan said. “If we could sneak it into Tracy’s office, we could listen in on them until the battery died.”

“Or until they found the CB.”

“Do it,” Dad said. “I like that plan a lot.”

 

****

 

It wasn’t until next week’s Morning Party that we found out what really happened with the gunmen—at least what the LLC peeps wanted us to believe. Loca and Liberte opened the party with a new song—a tribute to those who lost their lives or were taken by the warlords, they called them. After the song, Loca spoke to the crowd.

“We are grieved by this tragedy, saddened that these shooters forced their way past our blockades and committed violent atrocities against our populace. We have been trying to create a fence around this community to keep everyone safe. Our crews are working tirelessly to complete the fence. Until it is complete, we remain vulnerable to attack. We would ask that you remain indoors as much as possible. We also ask that all guns be turned in to Enforcers. There are two reasons for this. First, our officers need a bigger arsenal of weapons if they are to do their job well. Just as we’ve asked those of you with medical abilities to come forward, we would ask that those of you with weapons to donate them so that our Enforcers can stand up against any future attacks that might come against us.”

Who would be dumb enough to donate their guns to the Enforcers?

“Second, this is meant to be a peaceful city. Guns are a vehicle of death. Only in the hands of trained Enforcers can guns benefit our peaceful town. So we ask you, people of this community, to give up your desires to kill and let our enforcers protect you. Any who turn in a gun voluntarily by the Safe Day Deadline of next Wednesday will receive an extra week’s worth of rations. Any who are caught withholding weapons will be treated as a lawbreaker.”

“Lawbreaker!” I looked from Dad to Zaq.

“Shh,” Dad said.

I stifled a groan of frustration. No way was I giving up our guns. These people were on the fast track to creating a dictatorship. Dad and I exchanged several more glares as Tracy stepped forward to rave about the brave residents who would donate their guns to Enforcers, but it wasn’t until we were driving home in the truck that any of us voiced our opposition to the new gun law.

“We’re not turning in the guns,” I said.

“But, Eli,” Shyla said. “Loca said we have to.”

“Loca is wrong to say that. Loca is not the boss of us. He can’t simply declare himself the ruler of everyone. I didn’t vote for Loca for president. Did you?”

Shyla blinked her big eyes. “I’m too young to vote.”

“I know you like them,” I said. “And they’re talented musicians. But what they’re doing is wrong. It’s against the constitution for them to take our guns away.”

“The constitution means squat to those people,” Dad said. “They’re not even Americans. They’re French. And they’ve been given the opportunity to start their own nation. Can’t blame them for trying, but I don’t want to be a part of it.”

“Me either,” I said.

“But where else can we go?” Lizzie asked. “We need safe water.”

No one had an answer for that.

 

****

 

A week passed by in relative peace. At the next Morning Party, Mr. Tracy reminded residents to turn in all weapons before the Safe Day Deadline, so I went home and hid the gun safe in the attic under a bunch of empty suitcases. Then I hid a few other guns around the house. One handgun—unloaded—went in the drawer under the kitchen stove—under all the pans. A second handgun I put in a Ziploc bag and duct taped inside the toilet tank. A third I stuffed under the couch cushions. Dad wrapped his rifle in trash bags, and put it up a tree in the backward.

We did all this for a reason. I was a little worried that enforcers might remember some of our party had guns since I had a gun rack in the truck and had one in the cab when we’d first arrived here.

And I was right.

Thursday morning, bright and early, four Enforcers knocked on our door. It was Officer Harvey and his friends.

“We have a warrant to search the premises for illegal weaponry,” Harvey said.

“I don’t have any illegal weaponry,” I said. “The constitution of the United States gives its citizens the right to bear arms.”

Lizzie winced, and I knew she was worried I was going to end up arrested again, but I couldn’t just let these jerks barge in here and take whatever they wanted. When would it end?

Harvey made everyone sit in the living room, and he stayed to keep an eye on us while the other three Enforcers searched the place. The first to be found was the gun in the toilet tank. Yeah, I suppose that had been a cliché hiding place. Second, they found the gun in the kitchen. I’d thought those two had been better hidden that the gun safe, so I wasn’t surprised when two Enforcers carried that down into the living room.

“Check this out,” one said to Harvey. “There must be thirty guns in here.”

Maybe I should have tried harder on this gun hiding thing, but they hadn’t found the one in the couch cushions. Lizzie was still sitting on it. And no one had gone outside to search, so Dad’s rifle was likely safe in the trees.

“This many guns, Mr. McShane…” Harvey said. “You’re going to be in rehab for a long time.”

“You don’t have the right to take my things,” I said, standing. “You don’t have the right to make us live here. We want to leave. Let us take our stuff and go.”

“So you can join up with those deranged gunmen?” Harvey asked. “I don’t think so. Guns are for killing, and we’re not going to let anyone have that responsibility but us.”

“Guns are also for protecting myself and my family from people who would try to harm us, Enforcers included,” I said. “You take my guns, you give me no way to protect myself from people like you.”

“Obey the law and you have no reason to fear me,” Harvey said.

“I obey the laws of my country: The United States of America. Loca and Liberté Champion and Mr. Tracy don’t get to make laws for me.”

“They already did, Mr. McShane,” Harvey said. “Now, are you going to come peacefully or would you like to try the taser?”

“Why arrest only Eli?” Dad asked. “We all live here. Half these guns are mine.”

“This house is registered to Eli McShane,” Harvey said. “Therefore whatever is in this house belongs to Mr. McShane. He would do well to remember that in the future.”

Enforcer Harvey cuffed me, took me out to his police cruiser, and drove me to rehab. Again.

 

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

 

Arrested again. What will happen to Eli now?

 

THIRST: Chapter Eighteen . . . Where are they taking Eli?

Posted by on Jun 28th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 5 comments

Sorry I’m a day late on this! I turned in King’s Blood on Sunday night (yay!), so I wasn’t able to write this until yesterday, which put me a day behind. Thanks for your patience.

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.

 

Where are they taking Eli? Do you think he’s going house hunting or somewhere else?

 


Chapter 18

 

Shockingly, they actually did drive us all around to a bunch of houses.

Of the eight of us, (I changed it to eight from last week’s twelve) I was the youngest by far. Most of the people looked somewhere between their twenties and middle-aged. We were each given a slip of paper that listed eight address and were told to rank our top four. The guide—a lady in a fancy brown suit—told us that she’d do her best to make us all happy.

First they drove us to two houses off of Summit Road that were across the road from each other. They were really close to the LLC compound. Everyone went nuts over the places, but I didn’t think they were that amazing. Then we drove out Gothic and down a bunch of side streets where we found the next three houses. These were what you might find in almost any city across America. Suburban, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath homes with tiny yards. Some were newer than others, but all were nice inside. We were told that each house came furnished.

While the houses had indoor plumbing, it was turned off. There was a port-a-potty in each yard, which our guide told us was temporary.

“Once the dam is complete, the Champions plan to re-route the water to all the houses. It’s a major project, though, and might take a year or more to complete.”

After that, we went north and stopped at a house on Cinnamon Mountain Road. At 3986 square feet, it had four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a great room, and a wet bar. People freaked out over the place, and I couldn’t help but think this much space would be enough to fit everyone in our ragtag family.

The seventh house was even better. A bit farther north on Gold Link Drive, coming in at 4200 square feet, the five bedroom behemoth looked more like a log cabin hotel resort. It had massive windows overlooking the mountain, quick access to National Forest hiking trails, and bathrooms and balconies in each room. Everyone went nuts over the place, so I knew there was no way I’d to get it.

I got really caught up in the fun of it all and had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t want to live in this town with these people who felt they could do whatever they wanted and we’d all fall in line.

We all piled back into the van and drove to the last house. It was way on the north side of the mountain at the far end of Prospect Road. With three bedrooms, two baths, and 2300 square feet—which included a two-car garage—it was smaller than some of the other houses we’d seen. Several people said the place was ugly outside compared to the other houses and too far away from the LLC compound. It was built into a steep hill. The ground level was stone masonry around the two-car garage. The next two stories were sided in pine. A porch wrapped around the front of the second story, and unless you entered through the garage, you had to climb a full flight of stairs to reach the front door. Everyone complained about this, as if walking a flight of stairs was too much work. The inside was nice but a little outdated. It smelled old. Our tour guide said the house had been built in the 80s.

I liked it.

As we drove back toward the LLC compound, everyone was talking about which place was their favorite. I wasn’t sure if people were being honest or not. I mean, we were competing with each other for these houses. Most people were stuck on the first two that were near the LLC compound and the mansion of a house on Gold Link Drive. While I had no plans to stick around this place long term, I would much rather live in a house than in the condos, and if I could get one close to the mountain, that would be ideal. I had no desire to be close to the LLC compound, but since everyone was obsessed with Gold Link Drive, I chose Prospect Drive as my number one. It was perfect for my needs, and the fact that no one else seemed to want it made me hopeful that I’d actually get it.

We got back to the compound, and our tour guide told us to wait while she took our slips of paper inside. It took forever for her to come back out. My guess is they were rocking off between seven people having chosen Gold Link Drive as their number one.

She finally came back with a shoebox of keys. I wondered about all the families that had lived in these houses. I knew some of the places were vacation homes or rentals for skiers, but not all. They owners had likely died like the rest of the world, and LLC had sent their people in to clear out all the owners’ worldly belongings so that their homes could be given to perfect strangers. So weird.

Gold Link Drive went to a middle-aged guy who looked like working out was his life. He pumped his fist in the air while several others in the group shot death glares his way.

When the guide handed me the keys to Prospect Drive, I was relieved. She had me sign for the keys, then they told me I was free to move in.

I went back to the condo and told everyone about the house. Jaylee and Krista weren’t here, of course.

“Can we go see it?” Dad asked.

“Sure,” I said. “We can move out there. Why don’t you guys pack up and we’ll take a load out after lunch?”

Everyone agreed and took off to pack. I went next door.

Jaylee answered and grinned when she saw me. “Well?”

“I got a house,” I said, dangling the key in front of her face. “Want to go see if before everyone else?”

“Yes.”

She snatched the key out of my hand and took off past me, running down the stairs. I chased her all the way to my truck. We got in and I drove north on Gothic Road.

“It’s really far out here,” she said, watching the houses we passed by. “You think that’s why they are giving these away?”

“Don’t know,” I said.

“Is it big? Tell me about it.”

So I did. And I told her nothing about any of the other houses. Jaylee would never have chosen Prospect Drive. So the less she knew about the other houses, the better.

We arrived, and Jaylee jumped out before I had fully stopped the truck. I heard her squeal, which made me feel good. I shut off the truck and joined her where she stood before the garage, looking up.

Eli's House“I like that deck,” she said. “Race you up the stairs.”

She took off. I chased her but let her win.

She slapped the front door. “Ha! I beat you.” She fiddled with the keys. “Which one opens the door, I wonder.”

I snatched the keys from her hands and held them behind my back. “Hold on, I want to ask you something.”

She smirked and set one hand on her hip. “What?”

I was suddenly nervous. This girl had always made me nervous, but what I was about to say… it could go badly. I hoped it wouldn’t. “You really want to live here with me?”

She narrowed her eyes. “I already told you I did.”

“Yeah, but this place is big enough for everyone. We’ll all live here. But I was thinking—”

“You want to share a bedroom.” She reached out, grabbed the waistband of my jeans, and pulled me toward her. She slid both hands around my waist, slipping them up under the bottom of my T-shirt where her fingernails lightly scratched my lower back.

My cheeks burned. “Actually, I was thinking we should get married.”

She looked up at me, her eyes huge.

I swallowed, wondering what she was thinking.

She burst into laughter.

Nice. That’s just what a guy wants to hear after he proposes. “Come on,” I said.

“I’m sorry, Eli. I just did not expect you to say that!”

I took a deep breath, thankful the asking part was over, but still nervous about the answer part. Was she going to answer? “Well…?”

“Married. Eli? Why?”

“I’m not going to live with a girl before I’m married. I’m just not.”

“My mom never got married, and she has always been fine.”

“Really.” The woman had always treated her apartment like a bed and breakfast. Whichever guy she was currently hooking up with got to move in until she dumped him.

“I don’t expect you to understand—your parents were always so loyal or whatever. But I think that’s boring.”

“It’s boring to fall in love with someone?”

“Uh… no. It’s boring to vow to stay in love with someone forever. You can’t know that you’ll even like them a month from now, so there’s no point in making promises you can’t keep.”

“It’s a vow. It’s not supposed to be easy all the time.”

“Because you stop loving each other, and then comes the guilt, and that’s when divorce happens. Why do that to each other? Be together if you want to. And when you don’t, move on.”

“I’m not like that,” I said. “I want one person to be mine. And I’ll be hers. That’s how it should be.”

“So says your parents and Pastor Scott and thousands of years of archaic traditions.”

“I like those traditions.”

“Well, I don’t.”

I backed up to lean against the porch railing. “Okay. So, I guess that’s a no.” I’d gotten my answer. Now what?

“Don’t be mad, Eli,” Jaylee said. “It’s not a big deal. We’ve only been dating a few weeks. You’re moving a bit fast for me.”

Maybe he was.

“And you know what? I’ve been trying to do things your way. I really have. But you haven’t even tried to do anything I want to do. That’s not really fair.”

The statement hit hard. She was right. I’d been asking her to change, but I hadn’t been willing to change anything about myself. Not that I would, either. And that did sound unfair.

Hannah’s warning came back to me. Perhaps Jaylee and I were just too different.

“We should get back,” I said. “The others will be waiting.”

She turned her head away and stuck her nose in the air. “Not until you smile.”

Really? Everything was a game to this girl. “Jaylee, let’s just go.”

She folded her arms and sat on the porch, cross-legged. “Nope. Not until we make up.”

What? “I asked you to marry me. You said no. I think we’re done here.” I should have seen this long ago, and I felt really stupid all of a sudden. Embarrassed.

“Break up? You’re breaking up with me?” She sounded totally shocked.

“Let’s just say it’s mutual.”

“Mutual? You’re such a bore, Eli.”

“And you’re mean,” I said. “Look, if it makes you feel better, tell everyone you dumped me, okay? I don’t really care.”

But I so did. I jogged down the steps and climbed into the van. Jaylee stayed up on the balcony for a while. She finally stood up and made her way down to the truck. She got in, slammed the door.

“I’m dumping you,” she said. “You’re a jerk.”

I released a slow breath and started the truck. It was weird. I’d been in love with Jaylee for years. I’d spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like to be her boyfriend. Reality paled in comparison, which as I drove back to the condo and Jaylee glared out the passenger’s window, shocked me. I had wanted this for so long, but I’d never really understood what it would look like. I think, deep down, I’d always believed that I could save her. That if she would just get to know me, she’d realize that we were meant to be and she’d stop making reckless choices and stop drinking and clean up her life.

But she didn’t want to. And at the moment, I really didn’t care anymore.

 

****

 

Three blocks from the condo, I stopped at a red light and someone knocked on my driver’s side window.

I jumped, saw that it was Riggs, and rolled down the window.

“Hey, losers,” he said. “You really get a house or what, Eli?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Dude, you should have a party, man. That would be sweet.”

“Eli doesn’t party, Riggs,” Jaylee said. “He’s too good for all that.”

“Well, sure he is.” Riggs reached in and patted my shoulder. “You’re one of the good ones, man.”

I was starting to think he was a little drunk.

Someone honked behind me. The light had turned green. “See you later, Riggs,” I said, stepping on the gas.

He held onto the window and ran alongside the truck. “Hey, wait! Whoa! You guys should come meet my friends. We’re going for cupcakes.”

“Some other time,” I said.

But Jaylee was already climbing out of the cab. She shut the door and stepped back from the truck without a word.

I nodded to Riggs and drove on.

Good riddance, right?

Right.

 

****

 

When I got back to the apartment, I found the door wide open. Stuff was piled by the door. Lizzie was wiping down the counters with some Clorox wipes. I should probably go pack my own stuff, but I just didn’t feel like it. I came in and sat down at the table. My sister didn’t see me, she just kept cleaning. I wondered where everyone else was. Didn’t hear any voices. It wasn’t until I leaned back in my chair and the wood cracked that Lizzie looked up.

“Eli.” She stopped cleaning. “Where’s Jaylee?”

I slouched down. “With Riggs.”

She nodded. “Well, this stuff is ready to load. Hannah and Shy are next door, packing their stuff. The guys went for sandwiches. They’re getting them to go. We weren’t sure when you were coming back.”

I stood up, glad to have something to do. “I’ll start loading the truck.”

By the time the guys returned with lunch, I had loaded the pile by the door. We crowded around the table and ate sandwiches while I told them all about the houses I’d seen that morning and why I picked the one I did. Krista criticized me for it, and I almost hoped she’d tell Jaylee.

We didn’t have anything more than we’d come with, so we moved to my new house in one trip. Then we went back out and used up our daily food rations at the market, stocking up on supplies. It would be nice to be able to cook our own meals, though we’d have to be careful about dishes since water was still scarce.

We stayed up late that night playing board games. There was lots of laughter, and I started to feel better. The girls all went to bed, and us guys went out onto the deck.

“This was a perfect night,” Logan said. “She likes me, don’t you think so, Zaq? Me and Hannah? She volunteered to be on my team.”

“Yeah, I don’t know, man,” Zaq said. “It was just Pictionary.”

“We did good together, though. I guessed everything she drew.”

“Because she’s a good artist,” I said. “She didn’t guess half the things you drew.”

Logan ignored that. “I’ve been thinking of what Reinhold said about us all need to pair off and procreate. Repopulate the world.”

“He didn’t mean right now,” Zaq said. “He was talking long term.”

“Still, you and Lizzie. Eli and Jaylee. And Hannah and me. Right?”

“You can cross me and Jaylee of that list,” I said.

“Why?” Logan asked. “What did you do?”

“Why do you assume it was my fault?” I asked. “She’s always liked Riggs.”

“Oh,” Logan said.

“But, Eli,” Zaq said. “Riggs doesn’t stick with anyone. If they hook up, it won’t last.”

“I’m not waiting around for Riggs to dump her,” I said. “Hannah was right. You were right, Zaq. Jaylee and I are just too different.”

“No worries, Eli,” Logan said. “You can go for Krista, instead.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Pretty sure Krista has her heart set on any of the guys in that condo at the foot of the stairs,” I said.

Logan groaned. “Then fix it, Eli. Fix things with you and Jaylee.”

“I’m not fixing it,” I said. “I’m done.”

“But, Eli.”

“Don’t worry about me, Logan. Reinhold wants me to marry Kimama, so I’m all set.”

Zaq and Logan stared at me, mouths gaping. Then they glanced at each other and cracked up.

I don’t know if they thought I was joking or not, but I’d had enough talk about girls. “You guys do what you have to do, but I’m going to focus on getting us out of this place. That’s all I care about right now.”

 

****

 

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, Lizzie ran up and gave me a hug. “How are you? I made you some pancakes. Come and eat.”

She dragged me to the table and pushed me into a chair. Logan and Zaq were playing war across from me. Hannah was sitting in the living room with Shyla and Davis. No sign of my dad or Cree.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“It’s eleven thirty, Eli. You slept in. It’s no wonder, considering.”

“Considering what?”

“Krista came by this morning to give me some stuff I forgot. She and Jaylee are going to keep living in the condo. I can’t believe it, Eli. I’m just so sad for you.”

“What are you talking about? Because Jaylee doesn’t want to live here?”

“Because you asked Jaylee to marry you? She said no? You guys broke up?”

I stared at my sister, felt every eye in the room fix on me. My face burned. “It was mutual,” I said.

Zaq put down his cards. “You proposed? Seriously, man?”

I shrugged. “Pancakes ready yet?”

Lizzie brought me a paper plate with three steaming pancakes on it. I picked up the butter knife, cut off a slab of butter, and slathered it onto the top pancake.

“Why didn’t you say anything last night?” Zaq asked.

“Didn’t feel like it,” I said, reaching for the syrup.

“She’s a moron,” Zaq said.

I squeezed my frustration into the syrup bottle and ended up drowning my pancakes. “I’m the moron. We’re too different. Everyone said so.”

“Being different isn’t the problem,” Zaq said. “You guys want different things.”

I set the bottle of syrup down on the table with a thud. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to spend the day on the radios, trying to get in touch with Reinhold. It’s weird that he hasn’t checked in.”

“I hope something didn’t happen to him,” Lizzie said.

“He could have gotten bitten by a rattlesnake,” Logan said. “That’s the only venomous snake on the mountain.”

“How would his getting bit keep him from using the radio?” I asked. “How would it keep Kimama from using the radio?”

“Maybe he passed out and—”

The doorbell rang.

We went silent, staring at each other. Who could that be?

Jaylee, perhaps. She realized she was wrong to reject me and had changed her mind. Well, I wasn’t going to forgive her so easily. I got up and walked to the door. Opened it.

Two Enforcers stood there. It was Officer Harvey and a guy named Bell. Below, they’d parked their police car beside my truck.

“Hey,” I said.

“We’re looking for Hannah Cheng,” Officer Harvey said.

Hannah? I suddenly grew suspicious. “What did she do?”

“Is she here or not?” Harvey asked. “One of her roommates gave this as her new address. You know you’re supposed to report a new address with LLC headquarters.”

“I didn’t know,” I said. “I’ll be sure that we all do that today.”

Hannah stepped up beside me. “I’m Hannah Cheng. How can I help you?”

“You’re to come with us, miss,” Harvey said.

“On what charge?” I asked.

“You’re not being arrested,” Harvey told her. “When you filled out your application to live here, you acknowledged having medical training. There is a growing need, so we’re bringing in anyone with medical training for a meeting.”

“Let me get my shoes,” Hannah said, walking away.

That left me with the enforcers. Hannah was a generous person. I knew she’d happily go with these guys if she thought she might be able to help someone. Problem was, I didn’t trust these guys or the people who pulled their strings. It wasn’t my choice, though, and Hannah returned momentarily, shoes on, and left with the enforcers.

I stood in the doorway, frowning as the police cruiser sped away, kicking up a plume of dust on the dirt road. This was just the beginning. Soon they’d find “jobs” for all of us. Jobs that didn’t pay. We’d have to do them in exchange for the housing, food, and water that LLC provided. Freedom was important to me, and I didn’t like being forced into a new way of life. I should get to choose. To vote. To have a say. It was time to get in touch with Reinhold and get out of this place. The sooner, the better.

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

Is Eli right to worry that Enforcers took Hannah away to work? Or is he overreacting?

 

THIRST: Chapter Seventeen . . . Arrested!

Posted by on Jun 20th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 14 comments

Thirst Ch 17In 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.

 

Eli and his friends have been arrested. What will happen to them now?

 


Chapter 17

 

The Enforcers took away our protest signs. We were searched, handcuffed, and divided between the two vehicles, girls in Officer Harvey’s car, guys in with Officer Miller. The Enforcers drove us up the hill to the Champion compound.

Construction around the showers was well underway. They were not simply raising a couple of kiosks. They were building a full-on fence around the place.

“They really must want to keep people from sneaking into the showers,” Zaq said.

“They’d have to if they’re going to use them to keep people in line,” I said.

“I could scale that fence if I had a wetsuit and leather gloves,” Logan said. “Barbed wire couldn’t rip through either.”

“Yes it could,” Zaq said. “I was surfing in San Diego once and a scrap of barbed wire tangled around my leg. Stopped me in a hurry.”

“If we’re arrested, why bring us here?” I asked Officer Miller, the driver.

“Those are my orders. I’m to take you to Mr. Tracy.”

The Enforcers parked outside the front doors and led them into Tracy’s office. The man was sitting behind his desk, leaning back in his leather chair, hands folded over his stomach, talking softly with an Enforcer, who stood on the other side of the desk. The Enforcer was slender and very tall. If Tracy was Jack Skellington, the Enforcer was Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, thick, intimidating, and silent.

“Ah, our little troublemakers have arrived,” Tracy said, standing. “Come in, come in.” He chuckled, as if Eli and his friends had started a food fight in a school cafeteria. “I want you all to meet Captain Gary Kane. He is the head of our Enforcers. He and I have just worked out a system for bringing order to this place. Want to hear it?”

I didn’t, really. I just wanted to get out of there, contact Reinhold on the CB, and find a way to live anyplace else. “We didn’t mean to cause any disorder, sir,” I said. “The First Amendment gives us the right to peaceful protest, so that’s what we were doing. We recognize that you and your Enforcers have the right to uphold the law and punish lawbreakers, we just don’t think it’s constitutional to withhold water as punishment. It’s inhumane.”

“I see. ‘Water is a…’” Tracy gestured to Officer Miller, who was holding our signs. Miller held them up, and Tracy read from the one on the top of the stack, “‘A human right.’ That’s very profound. But here’s the thing. The United States of America died with ninety percent of the world’s population, so while I applaud your knowledge of the constitution, it no longer applies. Captain Kane and I, we make the laws around here. Water is what gets people to obey, so water is our great motivator, m’kay?”

“You can’t just declare our country dead,” Logan said.

“Who is going to stop me?” Tracy asked. “A half dozen teenaged fundamentalists? I don’t think so. In fact, I’ve brought you here for a reason. We’re going to make an example of you.”

“You’re going to put us in jail?” Logan asked.

“Jail… prison… the pen. Those all sound so… oppressive,” Tracy said. “The Champions want to keep things positive around here. They know that you all just got a little carried away. We all do. I’m sure you know that Loca Champion has been to rehab several times for his addiction to heroine. A little heroine is fun, but too much and you need to get help. No shame in that. Now, you kids, you’re addicted to complaining. Negativity. I get that you want to make a difference—I can respect that—but you’ve got to learn the rules first. And since we are still writing the rules, you need to learn trust. Your offense is minor—I could let you off with a warning—but since I mean to make examples of you so that people understand how things work around here, I’m checking you all in to rehab for twenty-four hours, where you can learn. That includes loss of water privileges for the time you’re there.”

“How is dehydrating us good for our health?” Hannah asked.

“So we can learn what?” I asked.

“What it means to be a resident of Safe Haven,” Tracy said.

 

****

 

Rehab turned out to be in the renovated city jail, which was a tiny building with two holding cells. They still had bars across the front of each cell, but I guessed that the pine bunk beds, the sage green wall paint, the framed poster of Loca and Liberte, and the brown suede chairs were all new.

The two cells were side-by-side facing a plain hallway that was also freshly painted and adorned with more posters of LLC, touting song lyrics. Like before, the girls went in one cell, guys in the other. The cells shared a center wall, which made it impossible to see the girls, though we could talk to each other easily enough.

We were brought out of our cells for group therapy, which was held in a room painted a dull blue. A circular table surrounded by chairs was the only thing in the room with the exception of a dozen LLC posters, three on each wall. Seeing them all together, I noticed the words weren’t merely song lyrics. I mean, most of them were, but it looked to me like they’d been carefully penned as propaganda.

“You are safe in the haven.”

“Rage right. Rage together.”

“We are survivors.”

“Party. Every. Day.”

“Glory to Safe Haven.”

“LLC will keep you safe.”

“Let there be peace, love, and techno.”

“Be gratifiable.”

“We keep the peace.”

“Trust LLC.”

“No work here. Be beautiful and party.”

“Find joy in life.”

As we took our seats around the table, Lizzie whispered, “This feels like a dystopian novel.”

“That would be funny if this wasn’t really happening,” I said.

“Shut up,” one of the enforcers said. “You sit quietly until the counselor arrives.”

So we sat in silence, looking from each other. I wanted so badly to say something, but the enforcers had taken position right behind our chairs. There were only three of them, to our five, but they were wearing guns and tazers, and I really didn’t want to push my luck.

The door opened, and tiny blond woman breezed in. She was wearing a beige skirt suit and had purple shoes with spiky heels and so much makeup on her face she looked like a Barbie doll.

“I’m Carelle Lawler,” she said, “rehab counselor. I’m here to help you work past your issues.”

“Being oppressed is not an issue,” I said, “it’s a fact.”

“If you have something to say, you may raise your hand,” she said, “but do not speak unless spoken to.”

“This is crap!” Logan said, standing. “We haven’t done anything wrong. We don’t deserve to be here. You people don’t have a right to keep us prisoner when we didn’t even—”

Something clicked and Logan grunted, his face contorted in shock and pain. One of the enforcers had tazed him. When the clicking stopped, he tipped to the side and fell out of his chair. Zaq, Hannah, and I all jumped up at once, but the other two enforcers trained their tazers on us.

“Sit down,” Carelle said.

We sat.

“I will have order in this room. You cannot grow and heal if you are being rebellious. And if you want to stay out of rehab, I suggest you pay attention and participate. Because if I don’t sign your dismissal, your sentence here will be lengthened. Safe Haven is not in the practice of putting dangerous residents on the street.”

So much wrong. There was so much I wanted to say. First, none of us needed healing! Second, Tracy hadn’t said anything about a shrink needing to dismiss us from our twenty-four hour sentence. Third, Safe Haven was barely a month old. It wasn’t in the practice of anything. And fourth, we were not dangerous residents.

“The Champions seek to create a place of freedom and joy,” Carelle said. “To succeed, they require people to get along with one another. No judging. No expressing hostile ideas.”

I raised my hand.

“Yes, Mr. McShane?”

“You want conformity.”

She pinned me with a fake smile. “We want kindness. Over the next two days, you will learn ways to react to all situations with kindness. You will learn to adjust your attitude. To be positive. Only then will I allow you to reenter society.”

So this was attitude rehab. Our little protest had been too much free thinking for these people. We could stay here, but only if we did exactly what they said.

I wished I’d gone with Reinhold.

 

****

 

I honestly couldn’t say that any of us did well in Tracy’s rehab. We pandered in our answers, telling the woman what she wanted to hear. I didn’t think she believed us for a second, but that didn’t seem to matter. This Safe Haven didn’t care what you believed. It cared about conformity. As long as we obeyed, we’d be “free” to go about our business.

We were released at the end of our twenty-four hours and went back to the apartment. Dad was relieved to see us and ticked when we told him everything that had happened. Shyla ran next door to tell Krista and Jaylee that we’re back.

“We’ve got to get out of this place,” Dad said. “I’ll check in with Reinhold and see what he’s found out. The sooner we leave this place, the better.”

The door opened and Jaylee came running in. She threw herself at me. “Eli!”

I caught her about the waist, but had to take a step back to keep my balance. She smelled like spicy perfume and tropical shampoo. She kissed me like we were married and I’d been sent gone for two years and had just returned from the front lines of a major war.

“I was so worried about you,” she said when she came up for air.

“You were?”

“Yes!” She whacked my arm. “No one knew were you’d gone to. We thought something terrible had happened until we saw you on the monitors.”

“Jay told everyone you were her boyfriend,” Krista said. “People were very sympathetic about you being in rehab.”

“Give me a break,” Zaq said. “Mr. Tracy said he could let us go with a warning, but he wanted to make examples of us. If you disagree with how they do things around here, you’ll get arrested and brainwashed.”

Jaylee whacked my arm again. “I told you you shouln’t protest.”

“What? No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did. The Champions are nice, and it was rude to protest them.”

“We weren’t protesting the Champions,” Hannah said. “We were protesting the fact that they—”

“Yeah, we know,” Krista said. “You don’t have to keep telling us. We’re not dumb.”

“I never said you were dumb,” Hannah said.

“Well, you all treat us like we are!” Jaylee yelled. “Why won’t you all just come to the parties and have some fun instead of complaining all the time? This isn’t school. It’s real life. And you guys are missing out.”

“Maybe Jaylee’s right,” Lizzie said.

“No, babe,” Zaq said. “They tried to brainwash us.”

“I know,” Lizzie said. “I’m just saying that maybe we should lay low for a while and see what Reinhold finds out. Try and stay out of trouble until then. Okay, Eli?”

“I’ll try,” I said. “But it’s not going to be easy.”

 

****

 

The next Monday, we rode to the Morning Party in the van and made our way up to the main stage. The new bathrooms had been finished, but the line was short as the majority of the crowd had already congregated around the main stage. I was happy to linger near the back, but Jaylee took hold of my hand and dragged me through the crowd toward the stage.

“I want to get a good spot, Eli,” she said.

And though I wanted to protest, I didn’t. I recalled my dad’s warning about being whipped. It was far too easy for Jaylee to talk me into things I didn’t want to do. Why did I let her? I was about to pull away and tell her I was going back to Zaq and the others when I heard it. That familiar guffaw that sent a shiver crawling up my spine.

Riggs. He was standing with a group of people his age, mostly girls who were dressed in shorts and tank tops.

Oddly, Jaylee didn’t say anything—acted like she didn’t see him, but she must have because she led me right toward him. She didn’t say anything to him or look his way. She stopped on his left, positioning herself between him and me with her back to him, then she grabbed the neckline of my T-shirt and pulled me down to kiss her. I jumped a little, surprised, and her hands slid around my neck and into my hair. My face burned; people were watching us. She let go, drew back enough that my eyes blurred hers into one.

“You’re getting good at this,” she whispered, then pulled me off balance. I tried to get my feet underneath me but failed and stumbled into her. She knocked back into Riggs, giggled without looking at him, then threw herself at me and kissed me again.

“Jaylee?” Riggs’s voice. “Oh, my gosh! Eli?”

Jaylee released me and whirled around. She gasped, acting all surprised. “Oh, hey, Riggs!” But rather than hugging him, as I expected she would, she slid her arm around my waist, tucking herself against my side.

His sunglass-shrouded gaze seemed to stare at us both simultaneously. He was still wearing his puka shell necklace and that made me hate him more than ever. I felt instantly bad for hating him, but I let myself indulge in the feeling regardless.

“How have you been?” Jaylee asked him.

“Good. I’m good. You been back to the Alpine yet?” he asked Jaylee.

“Not since that first time,” she said. “Too many creepers. Besides, Eli doesn’t like those places, do you, baby?”

That Jaylee had already seen Riggs here and kept it from me registered in the back of my brain about the same time as the realization that she’d dragged me over here so that Riggs would see us together. She was using me to make Riggs jealous. I couldn’t tell if it was working or not. He seemed to just be staring. Couldn’t really tell with him wearing the sunglasses.

“I have to go tell the others you’re here!” Jaylee said, and she took off through the crowd like a rabbit, leaving me behind.

I watched her go, feeling ticked off for so many reasons, the least of which was that she’d ditched me with Riggs, who wasted no time making things more awkward.

“So, you and Jaylee, huh?” Riggs said.

“Yeah,” I said.

He shook his head. “I don’t buy it.”

“No one’s asking you to,” I said, walking away.

I was almost back to Zaq and the others when the Morning Party theme music started and Tracy’s voice came over the loud-speakers. “Gooood morning, party fiends! How is everyone today?”

The crowd cheered.

I tried to tune it all out. If this were summer camp or spirit week at my high school, I could see acting like a bunch of happy, hyper people just wanting to have a good time. But our world had ended and Tracy and the Champions, who had a chance to keep it going, we’re trying to change everything in ways I very much didn’t like.

Tracy reminded us all that we were not to climb the mountain until the construction of the dam was completed. “It’s just too dangerous for y’all up there, m’kay?”

Too dangerous for us to find out what they’re doing.

Next came a video, shot like a docudrama, where Tracy was interviewing the Champions about their dreams for this place.

“We want this to be home for everyone,” Liberte said in her thick French accent.

“Not only that,” her brother added, “we want to help people who struggle.”

And then my face was on the screen, up close. I was in the group room in rehab, saying something, but the words had been drowned out by the video’s techno music score. The camera flashed from my face, to Carelle’s and back.

“Eli, you’re on the screen!” Jaylee said, grabbing my arm.

“Oh, gosh,” Lizzie said.

“No way,” Logan said. “None of us signed waivers.”

“Like they care about any laws but their own, Logan,” I said.

“Clearly you’re getting the help you need,” Zaq said.

The video went on to show people rocking out at concerts, eating together at some of the restaurants, then ended with Loca and Liberte, sitting side by side on a cheetah print sofa.

“If you know someone who is struggling to adapt to life here, the Rehabilitation Center is ready to help,” Liberte said.

“We want everyone to feel at home in this place,” Loca said. “If you need help, stop by the compound office and let us know. There is no shame… no judging. Let us help you find joy in life.”

“They’re going to let people check themselves into that place?” Zaq asked.

“They’re trying to build a positive reputation for the place,” Hannah said. “That way when people end up there, they won’t feel so bad about it.”

“They’ll probably be excited,” I said.

“Oh, cool. I saw this place on that video at the MP. I’m so happy to be here?” Lizzie asked.

“Something like that,” Hannah said.

“Shh,” Zaq said. “They’re talking about houses.”

I listened up.

“…called the Lottery Draw,” Tracy said. “As houses get cleared for habitation, residents will randomly receive a notification. Those winners will come down to LLC headquarters, get a tour of the available houses, and choose one. Totally free, totally random. There’s nothing you can do to increase your odds of getting chosen. We have twelve houses ready today. Twelve of you have been notified. Your badges should be lit up green.

I glanced to my wristband, surprised when I saw the bright green light glowing under the jellied white rubber. I held up my hand to Zaq and Lizzie. “Check it out.”

Jaylee squealed. “Eli! You won! You won a house!”

Had I?

“Winners, make your way to the Champion’s front door,” Tracy said. “A van is waiting to give you a tour of the available houses. Do we have any winners here this morning? Let’s see those lights. Lift those bracelets up! Nice! We have a winner right there in the pink blouse. Congratulations. And you sir, there’s another. Hold them high!”

“Come on, Eli,” Jaylee lifted my arm in the air and waved her hand. “Here! We have a winner here!” She dragged me out of the crowd and toward the Champion’s house. Sure enough, there was a white van waiting by the front door. Three people with glowing wristbands were waiting to get in.

Behind us, from the sudden screams on the field, I knew that Loca and Liberte had taken the stage.

Bonjour, bonjour, mes amis!” Loca yelled, his booming mic somewhat muted by our distance from the speakers.

“Just think, Eli, a house!” Jaylee said. “I would so love to live in a house. Do you know I never have? My whole life in that same apartment.”

We reached the van and Captain Kacy was there. “Only winners inside,” he said, waving Jaylee back.

“But I’m with him,” she said. “We’re going to live in the house together.”

I gaped at her, but she was too busy batting her eyes at Kacy to notice.

“That’s not my business,” Kacy said. “Only winners get in the van. The rest of you, get lost.”

Jaylee gasped. “Rude much?” she muttered, then to me, “Take pictures for me.” She shoved her cell phone into my hands.”

“You still carry this around? It doesn’t have service.”

“But it works for pictures,” she said. “Take lots, okay?”

I climbed in the van.

But as we drove away from the MP, I couldn’t help but wonder if this van might not be going to mystery houses at all but some sort of place where they make troublemakers disappear.

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

Where are they taking Eli? Do you think he’s going house hunting or somewhere else?

 

THIRST delayed due to conference

Posted by on Jun 14th, 2016 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog | 2 comments

Hello, readers. Well, I tried. I really did. But life happened and there just weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I had to prepare for my talks at this year’s amazing One Year Adventure Novel conference, so my regular night for writing my THIRST chapter was taken, so I tried to write it on the plane, and while I made a good effort, I did not finish. So I am forced to confess I failed you. I am sorry. Alas, I am only human with no time stopping or time traveling ability–no clones, either, sadly. Just me with too much on my plate this week. So, THIRST will return next Monday. We will find out what happened to Eli and friends after they were arrested.

Thanks for your patience.

Jill

THIRST: Chapter Sixteen . . . Things Begin to Change

Posted by on Jun 6th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 4 comments

Thirst Ch 16In 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.

 

Last week Eli found out that the Champions are trying to keep people away from the creek. What else might these opportunists try in regard to ruling over the people in Mount Crested Butte?

 


Chapter 16

 

The next morning at breakfast, Reinhold and Kimama had already packed their things in his rig. They were ready to go. I kind of wished I was going with them.

No sign of Dad, so I went to check on him. I pushed open the door to the room he’d shared with Reinhold. He was sitting on the side of the bed, his back to me.

“Hey, Dad? Reinhold and Kimama are about to take off.”

He jumped at the sound of my voice, sniffed. “I’ll be right out.”

His voice had sounded funny, like he’d been crying.

My dad doesn’t cry.

“You okay?” I asked.

He sighed, and his posture sagged on his exhale. “I will be.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, and I could see that his eyes were bleary. “Just missing your mom.”

Mom was this constant ache that I’d shoved to the bottom of my heart to deal with later. Seeing my dad like this threatened to pull to the surface everything that I’d been trying to set aside. Her loss was too much for me to think about, but it must be even harder for Dad.

“I miss her too,” I managed, but those four words brought a rush of emotions up to my throat and head. I took a breath. “I’ll tell them you’re coming.”

And I went back to the living room.

“He’ll be out in a couple minutes,” I told Reinhold. “Can you wait?”

“Sure thing. I actually wanted to talk with you before we leave.”

Reinhold pulled me out onto the terrace. He slid the glass door shut behind him and crossed his arms over his wide chest.

“Why don’t you come with us up the mountain?”

The idea lightened my heavy heart. “Seriously?”

“You don’t want to be here. And don’t give me that sap about you and Jaylee because I ain’t falling for it.”

Now, hold on just a minute. Just like that my mood went from sorrow over Mom to hope at getting out of here for a couple days to total annoyance.

“This place is full of nutsos,” he said. “Put together they wouldn’t be able to survive a week in the wilderness, living off the land. You and me, we’re different. And this place…” He twirled his finger in a circle. “It can only get worse.”

I didn’t doubt that. “I have no intention of staying here long term,” I said. “It would be a lot of fun to go with you guys, but I don’t want to leave my dad to deal with all this and the kids too. You and Kimama don’t need me to hike up the mountain. I’d feel better staying here to help him out.”

“All right. Well, we’ll be back in a couple days, and if all goes to plan, we’ll all get out of this place for good. I got something else I want you to think about. Kimama is going to need a husband someday, and you’re my pick. I really think you two could make a go of it once she grows up a bit more.”

Whaa…? I gaped at him. “Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe this guy was offering me his daughter. I mean, how awkward can you get?

“You ever know me to bluff?”

“Uh… well… I… um…” I swallowed.

“Spit it out, boy.”

“I’m, uh, honored that you think me good enough… Um… I’ll have to… I need to think about it.” Was he crazy? “Pray about it,” I added.

“Great. You do that. It would help you get to know her better if you come with us.”

I hung my head. I had no desire to go with them. How was I going to say that, though?

“No worries, boy. You want to stay here with your dad and that’s fine. I can respect that.”

Thank you, Lord. I scrambled to say something positive and helpful. “I’ll make sure to monitor the radios so we can hear what you find.”

“Yeah, I s’pose that’ll work.” He slapped my shoulder and squeezed. “I’d better get going.” He went back inside.

I stayed put a bit longer, recovering from the shock of all that.

By the time I came back inside, Dad was in the kitchen making himself some eggs.

“Reinhold and Kimama took off,” he said.

“Eli, can we go now?” Jaylee asked. She was standing by the door, holding her shower caddy with two hands. Her duffel bag hung in the crook of one elbow, and her towel draped around her neck. Krista, Lizzie, Hannah, and Shyla were also standing around the entrance, ready for showers.

“We’ll go when Dad and the boys are ready,” I said.

“But Davis and Cree are still sleeping,” Jaylee said.

“If we don’t go soon, we won’t all get through before the MP starts,” Krista said.

I didn’t want the girls whining about showers when my dad was having a bad morning. “How about I take the girls up now?” I said to Dad. “That way you can take your time and we’ll meet you and the boys up there.”

Dad nodded. “Thanks, son. Let’s do that.”

 

****

 

We parked as close as we could and walked to the compound. There was hundreds of people in line for showers, which seemed odd. The closer we got, we found out that people were ticked off and looked more like an angry mob than lines for showers.

“What’s going on?” Jaylee asked a tan guy with spiky blond hair.

“Water is off in the showers, and no one is answering at the house,” he said.

The water was off? A flutter of panic tried to bloom in my gut, but I pushed in down. None of this mattered. Reinhold would find access to the creek from above and we’d move. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.

The girls, who take their showers very seriously, didn’t take surfer guy’s word for it. They dragged the rest of us through the mob, asking the same question over and over and getting similar replies. Some said the river had become contaminated and the Champions were likely trying to protect everyone. Others guessed a broken pipe or some alternate type of plumbing problem. Only when the girls entered one of the shower stalls together and turned the knobs, did the truth register in their minds.

“What do you think happened?” Lizzie asked Zaq.

“I’d buy the broken pipe story,” he said. “There are a lot of people taking showers every day. It probably overwhelmed the plumbing.”

“I agree,” Logan said. “And since they’re not plumbers, I bet they joined mismatched pipes when they put all this in. Galvanized steel can’t be joined with a copper pipe without a dielectric union. It corrodes and will leak. They should use brass.”

Where does he come up with this stuff?

“Let’s go sit on the lawn and wait for the Morning Party to start,” I said. I was pretty sure Logan Tracy would have something to say about the lack of water.

“What if there’s just no water left?” Jaylee asked me. “I need to wash my hair, Eli. It feels gross.”

“We could go back to the condo and heat up some of the drinking water,” Krista said.

“No one is wasting the drinking water on hair,” I said, incredulous that I would even have to make such an assertion after everything we’d lived through.

The Champions’ version of a wake-up call ended the debate. Rather that the military “Reveille” that frequented camps across the country, the Champions had remixed an instrumental version of “We Are Survivors” that sounded like a Mario Brothers video game. I headed over to the lawn with the mob, curious what they’d say about the showers. We congregated in front of the stage that had been built in the center of the grassy expanse.

When the song ended, Logan Tracy ran out onto the stage, microphone in hand. Applause burst forth, until a dozen Enforcers followed Tracy out. They divided in half and formed two lines, one on each side of the stage.

The crowd stood silent.

“Good morning, everyone!” Tracy yelled, and I winced at the unnecessarily high volume of the mic. “How are y’all this fine day?”

He received scattered applause. For most of this crowd, it was still pretty early—especially for those who’d partied late into the morning hours. Others were guarded, arms crossed, expecting an announcement that would end the so-called “good life” of this place.

I counted myself in with the latter.

“I’m sure y’all noticed there was no water this morning,” Tracy said. “I’m real sorry about that, but we needed to get everyone’s attention. Thing is, we’ve had too many rules broken lately. I need to remind everyone that y’all signed a contract agreeing to certain terms. We’ve kept our end of the bargain, and now we really need y’all to keep yours, m’kay? Going forward, the penalty for breach of contract will be the forfeiture of water privileges.”

Angry murmurs broke out among the crowd.

Tracy hurried on with his speech. “How long a person loses water privileges for depends on how badly that person violated the contract. We’ll have some construction here today that will change the way y’all enter the showers. There will now be two check-in stations on either side of the building. Y’all still need to show your pass to get in, but if you’ve been flagged as an offender, the Enforcers won’t let you in. We realize you can share a friend’s drinking water, and we really can’t stop y’all from doing that, but we can and will monitor the showers and withhold your daily water ration, m’kay?”

“Not m’kay,” I said to Zaq. “Water is a right.”

I wasn’t the only one objecting to this declaration. Around us, pockets of dissenters were getting louder.

“We hate doing this,” Tracy said. “We really do, but if the party life here is going to work, we need y’all’s cooperation. Our goal is to keep everyone safe. But we can’t do that when people are breaking rules.”

“What rules are people breaking?” someone yelled out.

“I don’t want to get into specifics,” Tracy said, “but y’all need to behave yourselves in town. No vandalism. No assault. No stealing. Be nice to each other and respect the establishments. Use your ration tags. Also, respect the boundaries and our construction workers. We need to keep the fences in place, and we need y’all to stay off the mountain, at least for now. This is all pretty obvious stuff. We’re doing what we can to make this place a safe home, and we need y’all’s help by being compliant, m’kay?” He paused for a full second, then dove right into a new topic. “A couple other things. Night parties are changing to three nights a week. We’re going to party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The Champions have been stellar in giving a concert every night, but they’re getting burned out. They need a chance to rest. And we love them, don’t we?”

Applause rang out.

“Yeah! That’s right. We want to make sure they’re getting the rest they need. So fewer parties, but they’ll be longer and wilder than ever. Mandatory morning parties will remain once a week on Monday mornings. Anyone who skips will lose water privileges. If you’ve got friends back in their beds asleep, make sure you tell them what’s going on. This party is the last freebie. From then on, we’’’ be taking away rations. We’re only asking y’all to wake up early one day a week. I know you guys can handle that, m’kay?

“Thank you very much for believing in us. The Champions and I, we love you all so much.”

He waved and people started to disperse. Our group clustered closer together.

“They can’t do this,” I said. “Water is a human right.”

“We should refer them to the UN’s resolution that explicitly states that the human right to water and sanitation is inclusive in the right to an adequate standard of living,” Logan said.

“I’m not sure these guys care about anything but their own laws,” I said.

“Your dad is going to flip,” Zaq said.

That much was true. I scanned the crowd for him, but didn’t see him.

“Are they going to turn the water back on now?” Jaylee asked.

“Shh!” Hannah said. “Tracy is saying something off the mic.”

People had crowded the stage and Tracy was leaning over the edge, answering questions. The Enforcers had moved up to the front of the stage, guarding the man like he was the president or something.

We inched closer to the stage, but Tracy suddenly spoke into the mic.

“Yeah, the showers will remain off today while the construction crews install the new kiosks. To those of you who’ve been following the rules, we’re real sorry about that. Y’all will get a coupon credit for a special meet and greet with the Champions.”

The remaining crowd went nuts, Jaylee and Krista included. Those two squealed and jumped up and down like two middle schoolers.

“Eli, I can borrow one of your baseball caps, right?” Jaylee asked me.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, confused by how a chance to meet the rock stars had made everyone forget that they came here for a shower.

“We should protest,” Hannah said. “Remind them that they asked us to comply to the laws of this country so they should too.”

That got my attention. I turned to where Hannah was standing with Shyla.

“We can get materials for signs at the drugstore,” she said. “I saw they had poster board there.”

“I’m in,” I said.

“Me too,” Lizzie said.

“And me,” Zaq said.

“You guys are going to get in trouble,” Krista said.

“We have the right to peacefully assemble,” I said. “It’s in the First Amendment.”

“Let’s get out of here,” Zaq said.

“Shotgun!” Logan yelled, taking off at a sprint.

Zaq, Lizzie, Hannah, and me parted ways with Jaylee and Krista and headed for my truck. Logan was waiting at the passenger’s side door. I unlocked the rig and we all piled in.

“You guys care if we take a little drive before making the signs?” I asked. “I’m curious about this fence we’re not supposed to mess with.”

“We saw them building it up the mountain,” Logan said.

“Yeah, but Tracy gave the impression it was in other places.”

I drove down Gothic Road, like we were leaving town. I slowed as I passed the Mt. Crested Butte Department of Water and Sanitation building. The parking lot was filled with vehicles, and construction workers were putting a chainlink fence around the place.

“Wonder why they want to keep people out of there?” I said.

“To keep people from trying to turn on water to the houses and condos maybe?” Hannah suggested.

That made as much sense as anything. I continued on, following the road. I’d just about left Mount Crested Butte in the dust when, up ahead where Glacier Lily Way and Washington Gulch Road forked off to the right, I saw the way out was totally blocked by construction equipment. Crews were working to set up chainlink fence that ran off both sides of the road.

I slowed my truck to a stop in the middle of the road. “They’re going to fence this place in?” I asked.

“Looks like,” Logan said.

“Why?”

“Gotta protect their water,” Zaq said.

I cranked the wheel and did a U turn, my right front tires bouncing through the ditch. I hightailed it north on Gothic, slowed through town, then drove on until I met a similar sight. Just past Prospect Drive, construction crews were putting up more fence. They were farther along on this end, and the sections of fence closest to the road had coiled barbed wire on top.

“What are they trying to do? Make a Berlin Wall of some kind?” I asked.

“That one didn’t last,” Hannah said. “This one won’t either.”

“Yeah, but it took twenty-eight years to fall,” Logan said.

It was stupid, comparing some chainlink and barbed wire to the Berlin Wall, but I shivered nonetheless.

I u-turned again and drove back to the Snowcrest. I parked, and we all walked to the drugstore. We bought poster board and markers and went back to the condo to create our masterpieces. Our five signs were not all that varied. We had: “Water is a Human Right,” “SAFE H2O 4 ALL,” “Clean Water for Everyone,” “Water & Justice 4 All,” and Logan’s “FREE WATER.”

When we were done, we walked to the southeast corner of Crested Mountain Lane and Crested Butte Drive and started our protest. It was only a little after eleven, so it was still pretty quiet. People should be coming out for food soon, though, and we’d put ourselves right on the path to the restaurants.

The first group of people stopped and talked to us. Hannah told them that it wasn’t right that the Champions would take away water as a punishment, that both US and UN laws say people have the right to water and sanitation. The pedestrians nodded in agreement, wished us luck, and went on their way.

“You guys are going?” Logan asked. “You’re supposed to join in the protest!”

“Maybe later,” one of the guys said, and the group continued on.

The next people to walk by were three teen girls. Their gazes latched onto Zaq and they started giggling. Lizzie gave them the spiel, but they just giggled harder. So Lizzie elbowed Zaq, who invited the girls to join our protest. At this, they shrieked, clutched each other’s arms and ran off, laughing and giggling like lunatics.

“Girls are nuts,” I said.

“Zaq distracted them with his face,” Logan said.

Lizzie slid her arms around Zaq’s waist and gave him a quick kiss. “Not only your face, babe.” Another peck. “You’re the whole package.”

I grimaced and went back to waving my sign.

Mostly, people walked by in groups of three or four. We had a few good conversations about this morning’s announcement, but no one else opted to joined our protest.

A trio of men came toward us. They looked to be in their mid-to-late twenties and were wearing T-shirts, baggy shorts, and flip flops. Hannah gave them the spiel, but this time it didn’t go well. One of the guys snorted and laughed through Hannah’s entire speech. A second gave her the “you’re a psychopath” wrinkled forehead and raised eyebrows. And the third said,

“You guys are lame. The Champions are just trying to help people. There’s a lot of people here. It can’t be easy. I think they’re doing the best they can.”

“Helping people is one thing,” I said, “keeping people prisoner is another. Do you know they’re building a fence around this place?”

“So what? Did they keep you from leaving?”

I hadn’t tried to leave. Maybe I should have.

“Thought so,” the guy said. “You’re all just a bunch of dumb kids. Go play some video games or something.”

“Water is a basic human right,” Hannah said. “It’s unconstitutional that any entity would attempt to force people to purchase, earn, or use it as a punishment.”

The guy shook his head and urged his friends to move along. “You guys need to chill out.”

“You guys need to stop being idiots!” Logan said.

The speaker straightened, stuck out his chest, and strode toward Logan, who jogged backwards until he was near enough to Zaq to duck behind him.

“Say that again, punk,” the guy yelled.

Zaq had a few inches on the guy. He held out both hands and said, “We don’t want any trouble.”

“Sounds like your baby brother wants some trouble. Better put a muzzle on him or this assembly won’t be so peaceful now, will it?”

No one said anything. We all waited and watched as the speaker backed off Zaq. His friends were a few yards away. They waited for him to catch up before they all three continued on.

Zaq spun around and punched Logan’s arm. “Don’t be stupid, Logan! You’ll get us all in trouble.”

“Sorry,” Logan said.

“There are two types of protests,” Hannah said, “peaceful ones and violent ones. I’m not interested in getting beat up and arrested.”

“None of us are,” Lizzie said.

Things went a little better after that. We had some good conversations, and a few people said they’d go by the drugstore after lunch, get materials, then come and join us. We were all feeling pretty good until two cop cars pulled up.

The doors on both opened, and four Enforcers got out. They didn’t speak at first, just ambled toward us. They all wore sunglasses, and the guy in the lead pushed his up onto his head as he came to a stop before us.

“What’s going on here?”

We all looked at each other. I stepped toward him, about to speak, when Hannah said, “Water is a basic human right. That the Champions would use it as a form of punishment violates the US constitution.”

“Is that so?” the officer said.

“They made everyone sign a contract that said we’d abide by the laws of this country,” Hannah said.

“That you would abide,” the officer said, “not that they would.”

“That’s not fair,” Logan said.

“We had a report that you guys have been hassling people,” a second enforcer said. “We called it in, and we need you all to get in the cars and come with us.”

 

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

 

Are they really being arrested? What do you think of the Champions withholding water as a punishment?

 

No THIRST This Week: Happy Memorial Day!

Posted by on May 30th, 2016 in A weekly story blog, Jill Williamson's Blog | 0 comments

The kids are home today, so rather than ignore them by working non-stop, I’ve decided to take this day off from THIRST in order to steal away a little fun time with my family. I’m sorry to make you all wait an extra week to find out what will happen to Eli. The time will go by quickly, I assure you. Enjoy your holiday!

Until next week!

JillSignature

THIRST: Chapter Fifteen . . . Is Riggs really in town?

Posted by on May 23rd, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 2 comments

Thirst Ch 15In 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 Riggs really in town? And if so, what might that mean for Eli and his new girlfriend?

 


Chapter 15

 

“We don’t know for sure that Riggs is here,” I said. “Someone might have the same car.”

Jaylee points to the pewter skull hanging from rearview mirror.

Well, nuts. “Someone might have stolen his car.”

Eli! Why would you think such horrible things about Riggs?”

Because I’m a horrible person, apparently. I just looked at her, unable to form any words that might make me look better.

Dad and Reinhold kept walking, so I did too.

“You guys are just going to leave?” Jaylee called after us. “Can’t we wait and see if he shows up?”

“It’s late,” Dad said. “And we should get these little ones in bed.”

Good point, Dad! I turned around but kept walking backwards. “Plus if he’s here, we’ll run into him eventually.” Then I turned back and jogged to catch up with the others.

Unfortunately Jaylee didn’t come with. At the end of the block, I looked back and saw that she and Krista had climbed up on top of the roof of the Evoque. I hadn’t even realized Krista had stayed behind.

“What are you guys doing?” I yelled.

“We’re going to wait,” Jaylee yelled. “We’ll catch up with you guys at the condo.”

Her words made my chest tight. “Dad?” I asked, trying to look like I didn’t care. “We shouldn’t just leave them, should we?”

“We’re not their parents, Eli,” Dad said. “I’ve already given it to you guys straight. You’re all adults now. You’ve got to make your own choices. I can’t help it if the girls would rather test fate than play it smart.”

So we left them there. It was so hard for me to just walk away like I didn’t care, because I really did. But I wasn’t going to go back and sit on Riggs’s Evoque, either.

We reached the vehicles, and I climbed into my truck. We’d only brought three vehicles this time—left the van back at the condo—but no one got in my truck but me. Whatever. I didn’t need friends. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay in this place. It felt so weird, to have concerts and dance around like this was some kind if party. I get that people are sad and could use cheering up, but the way the Champions talked, it was like they were living in a dream world, pretending nothing bad had happened. And that just felt wrong to me. Because bad stuff happened. And I wasn’t about to forget it.

I couldn’t.

I started my truck and waited for Dad to pull out. The passenger’s door opened and Hannah climbed in.

“Hey,” she said, pulling the door shut behind her. “Mind if I ride with you? Logan is attempting to rap the lyrics to Bon Bon Breakfast. It’s just a little much for me right now.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, Logan can be a little much sometimes.”

Dad’s truck pulled out into the road, so I did too. In my rearview, I saw Reinhold follow me.

“So you like Jaylee, huh?” Hannah asked.

Wow. Nosy much? I glanced at her but didn’t say anything.

“I thought I had you all figured out, but I didn’t see that one coming.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged. “What do you like about her?”

The question took me back in time and I smiled. “Everything.”

“Really? You can’t give me one specific thing?”

“Uh, she’s gorgeous.”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “I didn’t peg you as the shallow type, Eli.”

“I’m not shallow.”

“So tell me what you like about her beyond the physical.”

“Why? Why do you care?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I don’t know, I’ve just liked her forever. Since the fifth grade. She’s always been so confident and strong and fun to be around. Her whole demeanor sometimes blows me away. I wish I could be so confident.”

“Okay, I can see that. That’s a much better reason that her being gorgeous. But what else? What do you have in common?”

“What is this? You think I need a shrink or something? Is the idea of me and Jaylee that far-fetched?”

“Yes, actually, but not the way you’re thinking. I don’t think she deserves someone like you. You’re smart. She’s not. I just want to get inside your head, understand your choice.”

It was like she’d complimented me and insulted me at the same time. I stopped behind Dad, waited for him to turn, then rolled up to the stop sign, looked both ways, and followed. I didn’t disagree. Jaylee was smarter than most people gave her credit for, but that was all an act she put on to mess with people.

“Since when does love make sense,” I said.

“You love her? Why? You guys have nothing in common that I can see. Nothing. Is there a past friendship that I don’t know about here? Did you guys used to build treehouses in the woods as kids or something?”

“No. Why are you doing this?”

“You remember me telling you about Shen, right?”

That ticked me off. “I’m not rebelling against my dad.”

“It’s not always about rebelling. Sometimes it’s just an illogical obsession.”

I couldn’t believe Hannah was lecturing me. “Jaylee is not an obsession.” Which was a lie. I’d been obsessed with her since fifth grade. I’d just admitted as much.

“I just don’t want to see you get hurt, Eli, and she looks like the type who wounds sweet guys like you. But I guess getting hurt is how people learn, so maybe it needs to happen.”

How people learn? “Ouch.”

“Sorry. That sounded mean. I don’t mean to be a jerk.”

“Yeah, well, you failed. You might think we’re totally wrong for each other, but I say opposites attract. You don’t even know Jaylee. She needs stability in her life. I can be that for her. I won’t give up on her.”

“That’s my point, Eli. I know you won’t give up.”

I wanted to yell at her. To tell her where she could take her opinions of my love life and what she could do with them. I mean, who asked her, anyway?

Not me.

But we’d reached the condos, so I just parked the truck and got out, leaving her behind. I checked my watch. It was ten thirty. I sighed, wondering how long it would take Jaylee and Krista to get back here and trying to decide what to do with myself while I waited.

 

****

 

I was sitting on a bench outside the Snowcrest, watching the road when I heard Jaylee’s giggle. I jumped to my feet and scanned the darkness until I saw them, cutting across the parking lot from the restaurants.

Anger and relief warred in my chest. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to yell.

I checked my watch. One forty-five.

Krista saw me first and elbowed Jaylee, who looked up and gasped.

“Eli!” She jogged over to me and gave me a childish hug, patting my back softly like she was trying to be cute.

I played the role of tree and didn’t move.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Waiting for you. An hour ago I drove back up the hill. The Evoque was still there, empty. No sign of you guys. So I came back here.”

“Oh, Eli…” Jaylee’s bottom lip poked out and she batted her eyes. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I was worried.”

“We we’re fine. Riggs never showed, so we started walking back. And we met some people and hung out with them awhile at the Brown Lab Pub.” She bobbed up and kissed me. Her breath stank of alcohol and cigarettes.

I didn’t know Jaylee smoked.

“Don’t they card at these restaurants?” I asked.

“Not here,” Krista said.

“Not anymore, anyway,” Jaylee added. “The Champions changed the legal drinking age to sixteen.”

“What!” I said. “They made us sign a contract that said we’d adhere to the laws of America. They can’t just go changing the laws.”

“Teens who want to drink always found a way,” Krista said. “The new law will keep them from doing in secret and making more trouble.”

“The legal drinking age of twenty-one has to do with maturity,” I said. “Letting teens drink in public doesn’t change the fact that most of them are irresponsi—”

“Yo!” someone yelled. “Yo, Lime-a-Rita!”

Jaylee spun around and waved to a group of guys who looked to be in their early twenties. “Hi!” she yelled, then softer asked Krista, “That guy with the gauges, what did he drink?”

“Bourbon. Neat.”

“Right.” She waved again. “Hi, Bourbon!” Then blew him a kiss and laughed.

That was it for me. I’d reached my limit. I walked past Krista to the entrance to the Snowcrest.

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such an old man, Eli.”

I pulled open the door to the lobby. “Yeah, well, I doubt Mr. Bourbon would have saved you from those creeps in Phoenix,” I said.

Jaylee just stood there, looking from me to Krista.

“Let’s go talk to them,” Krista said. “Real quick. Just to say goodnight and tell them where we live.”

“Wait here one minute?” Jaylee asked me, wincing. “We’ll come right back.”

I didn’t wait. I went inside, heard the door whoosh shut behind me, walked up the stairs slowly, straining to hear if anyone was following me.

Please let her follow.

I made it to the second floor before I heard the door open and footsteps running up the stairs. I paused on the landing between the second and third floors, and glanced back. Jaylee had caught up. She took hold of my arm with both hands, hugged it. “Why didn’t you wait?”

“I’ve been waiting for three hours!”

“You’re mad.”

“I thought something had happened to you. But you were just off drinking with some random guys, who are way too old for you.”

Her eyes lit up. “You’re jealous!”

I pulled away and stomped up last flight of stairs.

Jaylee chased after me. She got in my way and pushed me toward the wall opposite the stairs. She set both hands against my chest and whispered, “Don’t be jealous.” Then she kissed me.

It was a good kiss too. She was really putting a lot of effort into trying to make it up to me, and while I tried to enjoy the moment, all I could think of was Hannah’s warning that this would never work out.

 

****

 

I woke up early. I have an internal alarm that rarely lets me sleep in. So even though I was tired from staying up so late, I was up by eight, roaming around the condo, bored out of my mind. Dad, Reinhold, Logan, and Kimama were up too. We decided to hike up the mountain and see if we could find access to the creek outside of the Champions’ property. I asked Zaq if he wanted to go, but he said he’d rather sleep. When I came back out, Lizzie had come over in her PJs to see why Kimama had never come back. When Lizzie heard where we were going, she begged us to wait for her. She’d just ran back to her condo to change when Zaq came out into the living room. He was wearing a pair of sweatpants and no shirt, his arms crossed over his muscular. swim-team chest, like hugging himself was a better way to warm up than putting on a shirt. His hair was sticking up, and he had pillow creases on his cheek.

“Did I hear Lizzie?” he asked sleepily.

“She going to come with us,” I said.

He perked up. “Then I’m coming too.” And he shot back into the bedroom.

My best friend would rather hang out with my sister than me, and my girlfriend would rather party with strangers. Welcome to my life.

“I’m going to go wait outside,” I told my dad. “See you down there.”

The cool summer air felt good in my lungs. It was quiet out this early. I wondered how many survivors had partied late into the night. How was I going to build a future in a place like this? Were there any families with kids around? Was there a tame side of town?

Maybe I was an old man, like Krista said. Was that so bad? I had a lot of people depending on me to make good choices. Could Cree and Shyla and Davis grow up normal with Loca and Liberté Champion as their commanders in chief?

When the group came outside, I was annoyed to see Hannah with them. I walked between my dad and Reinhold and tried to keep my distance. I’m sure she knew how late Jaylee and Krista came in last night, and I didn’t want any more lectures from her. I really didn’t need to worry because Logan was following her like a hound dog. It rather pleased me that she couldn’t escape from him this time by trying to hide in my truck.

I caught my dad eyeballing Zaq and Lizzie, who were holding hands. I wondered if he’d given them his peer lecture on being adults in this new world and making their own choices.

Somehow I doubted it. I figured a father-son relationship was a little different from a daddy-daughter one, but I also didn’t doubt that Zaq one of the only people on the planet that my dad might approve of for his only girl.

We walked over to the ski resort and began our hike at the bottom of the main ski lift near the Grand Lodge. A short hike up the grassy ski and snowboarding slope and across the mountain bike trail we came to a dusty service road. We followed it for a while, short cut a few steep slopes, but they tired us out quickly and we decided to keep to the road, which ran along the south side of the mountain. There were beautiful purple wildflowers all over the place. It crossed my mind to pick some for Jaylee, but she’d probably think it was dumb.

The road switched back to the north, but Dad continued on a narrow trail to the south that forced us to walk single file, putting Kimama right behind me. She’d been having a conversation with Hannah and Logan about last night’s concert, and now I could hear everything they said.

“It didn’t sound like music to me,” Kimama said. “Just noise.”

“People like that,” Hannah said. “Techno is fun to dance to.”

“Did you know there are different types of techno music?” Logan asked. “There’s hardstyle, jumpstyle, breakbeat, rave, electrohop…”

“You white people,” Kimama said. “You’re all so eager to conform.”

“I’m Asian,” Hannah said. “My parents are Chinese.”

“Do you speak Chinese?” Kimama asked.

“Not really,” Hannah said. “I know a few words.”

“…electronica, trance, club, drum and bass, ambient, speedcore…”

“I am proud of my Ute heritage,” Kimama said. “I can speak Ute too.”

“But your dad is white. Are you proud of your white heritage too?”

That shut Kimama up for a bit, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Did you know that every race on earth stemmed from one of Noah’s three sons?” Logan asked. “Some anthropologists believe that the Chinese people were the descendants of Ham.”

My smile grew.

Hannah went on, “I think it’s great that you want to maintain your identity in your Ute culture. Do it. But I don’t think it’s right for you to worry about what everyone else is doing or not doing. You live the way you want to live and teach your customs to your children someday. But I’m not wrong to consider myself an American with an American heritage. And my parents weren’t wrong to raise me how they thought was best. Sure, I might not speak fluent Chinese or know much about China, but my parents gave me an education and helped me become a doctor. And that’s not nothing. I’m thankful for it.”

“If you lived in harmony with your family, that is success,” Kimama said.

A moment of silence passed but for our steps crunching through the forest grass and leaves, then Hannah said, “Thank you.”

Up ahead, Dad and Reinhold were discussing the terrain. We were high enough now to get a good look at the town below. That meant it would be another half mile at least before we were above the Champions’ compound.

We reached the creek long before then. It seemed to come down out of the mountain on a diagonal from north to south.

“We sure this is the same one?” Zaq asked.

I spotted a deer taking a drink upriver on the other side and pointed. “Looks like it to me.”

“Why couldn’t we build our own settlement up here?” Reinhold asked. “Or even farther up.”

“Let’s see what the land looks like up here,” Dad said, and he started upstream.

We wove our way around bushes and tree branches. The sky was clear and the sun was making me warm. I pulled off my hoodie and tied it around my waist. We were approaching a cliff, and I could hear the rushing of a waterfall. The trees had grown taller and thicker here, so we slowed to fight our way through.

We exited in a small clearing on the shore of the plunge pool. The falls weren’t overly high, but the water was coming down hard and fast and my first thoughts were how much fun it would be to dive in.

But we were not alone. Two dozen men were gathered on the upper ledge, sitting on the ground eating. They wore the brown uniforms of the Champions’ Enforcers. Behind them was a bulldozer, a heap of freshly dozed soil, and stacks of aluminum fencing.

One of the Enforcers saw us and scrambled to his feet. The next thing we knew, five of them were pointing rifles our way and everyone was screaming.

“We don’t want any trouble!” Dad yelled. “We’re just hiking the mountain.”

“The mountain is private property,” one of the Enforcers yelled.

“No one owns an entire mountain,” Zaq said.

“Our guns say differently, kid,” an Enforcer said.

“Actually, lots of people own mountains,” Logan said. “It just depends what acreage is for sale. And I think some people from Vermont own the resort.”

“Well, the Champions own it now,” an Enforcer said.

“Did they buy it?” Logan asked. “Because I—”

“Shut up, Logan,” Zaq said.

“Let’s get out of here, guys,” Dad said, turning around.

“About face, people,” Reinhold said. “We’re leaving.”

“Spread the word to any other hikers that this mountain is off limits,” someone yelled after us.

We didn’t answer. Not even Logan, thankfully.

“It ain’t right,” Reinhold said as we dug our way back through the thick forest. “They don’t have any right to keep people away from that crick.”

“They’ve got an awful lot of Enforcers on their side,” Zaq said.

“With rifles,” Lizzie added.

“Still ain’t right,” Reinhold said.

“Looked like they’re fencing the thing in,” I said.

“Aluminum fencing is mostly used for industrial purposes,” Logan said.

“Looked like they might be going to build a dam,” Dad said. “That would give them complete control of the creek water.”

Reinhold muttered some kind of Ute curse under his breath. “I bet you’re right, Shane. That’s exactly what them hippies are doing.”

A chill flashed over me. “That’s not fair! Why should they get to control it?”

“They’ve got fame on their side,” Dad said. “And because of their wealth, they came out of the Great Pandemic with a lot more resources than any of us. Plus they were here first, so they had a head start in staking a claim.”

“It’s still not fair,” I said.

“Life has never been fair, son,” Dad said. “It’s even less so now. We’re going to have to find a way to make the best of this.”

“Not me,” Reinhold said. “I’m not going to let a couple of hippie rock stars dictate my life.”

“You going home?” I asked.

“Not just yet.” He turned and gazed up to the mountain peak. “If they were building a dam, it’s not very high up. I’d like to hike up the other side of this mountain and see just how much of the crick they’re not using.”

“That’s a long ways on foot,” Zaq said.

“The summit is only 12,162 feet,” Logan said. “Just over eleven miles. They could climb it in probably five hours.”

“I’d drive around to the other side first,” Reinhold said. “Leave my rig at the bottom and climb from there.”

“Maybe we should all go,” Dad said.

“No,” Reinhold said. “We don’t know how many more pilgrims will come this way. I don’t want to risk you all losing your place in the condo. Kimama and I will take a drive tomorrow. See what we can make of it. I’ll take one of the radios. You should be able to hear me when I’m on this side of the hill.”

 

Photo by Chris Segal

Photo of the town of Mount Crested Butte by Chris Segal

 

That was all that was said until we reached the bottom. We then went by the Woodstone Grill, ordered a bunch of sandwiches To Go, and took them back to the apartment. Jaylee, Hannah, and Kimama went to their condo to wash up, which me and Dad laid out the food buffet style on the kitchen counter.

The kids were up in our place, watching some Disney Channel show. When the food was ready, I went next door to check on Jaylee. I knocked and Lizzie opened the door.

“I’m not ready yet,” she said. “Can’t you wait two minutes to eat?”

“I was just going to check on Jaylee,” I said.

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” She opened the door wider and yelled, “Incoming boy!”

I caught sight of Hannah pulling plates out of a kitchen cupboard. She paused to watch me as I passed through the living room.

I knocked on the door to the master bedroom, then cracked it open. “Jaylee?” I whispered.

When no answer came, I opened the door all the way, squinting as the sunlight from the living room filtered in.

The bed was empty.

I took three steps into the bedroom, strained to listen for any noise coming from the master bath. Nothing. I checked. The bathroom was empty.

Nuts.

I went back to the kitchen where Lizzie was piling silverware onto the stack of plates. “They’re not here,” I said. “Jaylee or Krista.”

Lizzie sighed. “They probably went for lunch. Let’s ask the kids if they know where they went.”

I helped them carry the plates and silverware next door. And while they were laying the dishes out by the food, I asked the kids.

The kids didn’t know. No one knew.

Whatever.

I really didn’t want to be a jerk, but the world had just ended and Jaylee and Krista were treating this place like spring break in Florida. I get that things had been stressful and sad. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have some fun. But we shouldn’t be partying it up nonstop. We needed to be smart. We needed to make a plan that ensured we’d live through the year and maybe even longer. The Champions were working on some big time plans with their Enforcers. But, frankly, I didn’t want the Champions planning out my life, thank you very much. I could—and would—take care of myself.

 

****

 

Jaylee and Krista were gone all day. They came in around eight thirty, all excited. They’d met some girl at dinner who knew Riggs from the concert two nights ago. They were home to change for tonight’s dance party op on the Champions’ lawn.

“Another party?” Zaq asked. “Are they going to have them every night?”

“I hope so,” Krista said. “Do you know how much tickets cost for their concert when they came to Phoenix?”

“Over a hundred for the worst seats in the place,” Jaylee said.

“Yeah.” Krista kicked off her shoes and picked them up with two fingers. “And we get to go for free.”

“Before you go, I want to tell you a story,” Kimama said. “It won’t take very long.”

“Did something happen to you guys today?” Jaylee asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “We hiked up the mountain and met some Enforcers with guns. They’re building a fence around the creek so that the Champions can keep everyone away.”

“That’s smart, right?” Krista asked. “That will keep people from contaminating the water.”

“If they control the water, they control us,” Hannah said.

“Control us how?” Jaylee asked. “They’re giving us everything.”

“Until they run out,” I said. “Then they’re going to make us work.”

“They will not,” Krista said. “The Champions say we all need to enjoy life.”

“They chased us away with rifles,” Logan said. “I didn’t find that particularly enjoyable. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves living in Orwell’s Manor Farm.”

“Logan,” Jaylee said. “I don’t even want to know what that means.”

“Yeah, well, it’s people like you that end up one of the pigs while I get sent to the glue factory.”

“Can I tell my story yet?” Kimama asked.

“Yes, please,” Jaylee said. “We really need to get going.”

“Okay.” Kimama smiled, but it quickly vanished in trade for a somber expression. “A Cherokee grandfather told his grandson. ‘A terrible fight between two wolves is going on inside me. One wolf is evil and ugly. He is angry, hateful, envious, at war with everyone, greedy, filled with self-pity, depressed, guilt-ridden, a liar, selfish, and arrogant. The other wolf is beautiful and good. He is peaceful, kind, loving, hopeful, humble, just, fair, generous, compassionate, thankful, and wise. This same fight is going on inside you, my grandson, and inside every other human as well.’ The grandson paused in deep thought over what his grandfather had said. He finally asked, ‘Grandfather, which wolf will win?’ The elder Cherokee answered, ‘The wolf you feed.’”

Kimama stopped and looked from one of us to the next, arms crossed as if she had just imparted a great wisdom to us all. I’d heard that story before, but I didn’t think her method was going to work with Jaylee and Krista—at least not when there was a concert to go to.

“So?” Kimama asked. “What do you think?”

“It’s good,” Jaylee said. “It makes me think of how the Champions are taking care of us all. They’ve given us places to live, food, water, and showers. We’d all be dead if it wasn’t for them.”

“No,” Logan said. “We had food and water enough to last a few months, right Eli?”

“Sure,” I said. “We’d have been fine.” For a while.

“Well, anyway,” Jaylee said. “We can live longer here a lot longer. The Champions are good wolves. That’s my point.”

“Kimama’s point was that both wolves live inside each of us,” Hannah said.

“Right, so the Champions are feeding the good wolf along with the rest of us,” Jaylee said.

“Can we go now?” Krista asked, walking to the front door.

“You coming with us, Eli?” Jaylee asked.

I didn’t want to, but maybe it would be better than sitting out in the parking lot all night.

“Yeah, we could use a lift,” Krista added. “Jaylee said you could probably drive us.”

“No,” I said. “I’m beat. I’m going to bed.”

Eli!” Jaylee gave me her best pout, but I wasn’t falling for it.

“Be smart,” I said, then walked into the living room. I didn’t turn around until I heard the door slam shut.

“The Champions might seem like they’re feeding the good wolf,” Kimama said, “ but building that dam says otherwise. So what if the Champions are acting like they’re feeding the good wolf, but they’re really feeding the bad one?”

“Then we’re all in a lot of trouble,” I said.

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

Are Eli and Kimama overreacting? Does Eli need to stop freaking out and enjoy life a little? Pretending you know nothing about what’s to come, Safe Lands readers, how would you be acting? If say, Katy Perry or Lady Gaga was in your town offering free concerts every night, would  you go?

 

THIRST: Chapter Fourteen . . . What did Eli and his friends find in Crested Butte?

Posted by on May 16th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 9 comments

THIRST Ch14aIn 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.

Before you start reading, I need to tell you a couple things. First, last week was my last pre-written chapter. As I mentioned before, I had started writing this book back in 2012. But I’d only made it as far as Chapter 13. So this week is all new material, and it’s not quite as smooth as what came before. So bear with me as I am now posting totally new material (in rough draft form)! Secondly, I deleted the last few paragraphs of Chapter 13 and re-did them here at the start of Chapter 14. I found that my summary didn’t work for what I needed to set up. So if you start reading and think to yourself… “Didn’t we already do this?” The answer is, “Yes. But then I went back in time and erased that, and now this is the way it REALLY went down.” *grin*

So… What did Eli and his friends find in Crested Butte? Let’s find out.

 


Chapter 14

 

The city of Gunnison had been ravaged. As we cruised through town, I didn’t see one store that hadn’t been looted. Every window seemed to be broken, every door hanging open, and every few block yards we’d see a body on the ground. Reinhold, my dad, Zaq, Hannah, and I made it three steps into the lobby of the Gunnison Valley Heath Center when I saw this would be ten times as horrible as I’d imagined. Dad sent Zaq back out to warn the others to wait in the vehicles. With Hannah in the lead, we made quick work of the place. She seemed to know exactly where both the drugs and the medical supplies would be kept. There were plenty of medical supplies to help ourselves to, but Hannah seemed to think that someone had already picked over the drugs. Still, we left the place each carrying a heaping box. We put the stuff in the back of Reinhold’s truck since he had packed light, thinking the rumors of clean water were bunk and he’d be back home tomorrow.

We then made the half-hour drive north to Crested Butte. There were actually two towns up here. The historic mining town of Crested Butte dated back to 1800s. Less than two thousand people lived there, and the houses and layout reminded me of the old west. Three miles north at the base of the mountain sat the smaller, ski resort town of Mount Crested Butte. It was nothing but fancy hotels, spas, a few elite hotels, and expensive retail shops and restaurants for those rich enough to stay at the foot of the ski slope. It had about seven hundred locals. Mount Crested Butte had none of the glitz and glamour of Aspen—which was only about fifteen miles north physically, ten minutes by plane, yet over a hundred miles by car—but the smaller ski resort was well-known for its extreme ski and snowboarding terrain and an extremely laid back culture.

All these facts came from Logan, who was again riding with me. Oh, and this this gem too: “Did you know they call people who ski this mountain Crusty Butts?”

Charming, huh? The closer we got, the more signs we saw pointing the way to the “LLC Compound” and “Safe Water For All.”

I dared hope it could be true.

The city of Crested Butte looked no better than any other, though I didn’t see one dead body. We also saw the first signs of civilization in a long while. There were people here—work crews, sweeping up glass and picking up trash.

Weird.

Three miles north, Mount Crested Butte was even cleaner. I saw two shops with broken windows, but they had been boarded up and a third store had construction workers out front replacing the glass. All the other cities we’d passed through so far had been destroyed by the Great Pandemic, but Mount Crested Butte seemed to be recovering. I didn’t see any trucks packed with supplies. I didn’t see anyone toting guns, either. It seemed wrong somehow, after everything we’d been through.

There wasn’t much to Mount Crested Butte. Maybe three dozen buildings. The mountain looked bare, the surrounding forest thin. When we reached the city center of the ski resort town, some construction workers stopped us at a roadblock.

A chill crept up my neck. I remembered the man at Target hitting me with the rifle, stealing my truck. These men looked harmless, though. None carried a weapon. One of the workers approached, so I rolled down my driver’s side window.

“Looking for the compound?” the man asked.

“Yes we are,” I said.

He glanced at the van behind me. “Y’all from Arizona?”

“Phoenix,” I said.

“We’ve had a few from there. I heard it got pretty bad.”

“Yeah.” I wasn’t here for small talk. “So how does this work? The mountain really have safe water?”

“A creek, actually. It comes down out of the mountain right behind the Champion’s compound. Continues down the mountain and joins the East River.”

“Why isn’t the creek contaminated like everything else?” I asked.

“What do I look like? A scientist? Follow the signs on up to the Champion compound. Don’t go wandering anyplace else unless you’re told to. People live and work in this town. We’ve got a no looting policy here and Enforcers working to keep it so.”

“Enforcers?” I asked.

“It’s what the Champion’s call their bodyguard staff.”

Sounded a little overkill. “What are you guys building here?”

“A fence. We’ve had trouble with some local warlords trying to loot the place. We want to keep them out and keep our people safe.”

“No one died here?”

“Oh, plenty of people died. But we took care of the bodies. We’ve got safe water and plenty of room for survivors. We’ve worked hard to clean up the town so we can all move on with the rest of our lives.”

Sounded too good to be true. I thanked the man and drove on. I followed the signs as they directed me through the ski resort area and to a road that turned south along the bottom of the mountain. The buildings fell away and soon we’d entered a forested, residential area. The farther I went, the more trees stretched between each residence and the fancier they got.

Empty vehicles lined both sides of the narrow street. I felt like I was trying to find parking for some major house party.

I failed to find parking before I reached a black iron gated entrance. I stopped and got out, taking my keys with me in case Logan got any bright ideas. My dad followed suit and joined me at the gate. Beyond, a gray stone mansion sat back on a grassy lawn like its own version of the White House. Tents and people covered the lawn like some kind of festival was going on. The drive circled around a rose garden and working fountain, passed by the front door, then ran right back to the front gate. A gaggle of kids were playing in the fountain.

Playing in the water.

“It really is safe,” I said to my dad.

“Seems to be.”

As we stood watching the children play, a man approached from the guardhouse and spoke to my dad.

“How many you got?”

“Thirteen,” Dad said. “We’ve got four vehicles.”

“You all family?”

“You could say that.”

“Don’t know that they can put you all together. I’m assuming you all want to stay together.”

“We’d like to, yes.”

“Go ahead and park right out front. Ask for Mr. Tracy.”

“We’re going to live here?” I asked.

“The house is full,” the guard said. “You’ll likely be put in a hotel to start. There’s a task force working to clear the houses, then we will start assigning those.”

Clear the houses. I shuddered.

Dad and I hopped back into our vehicles. The guard went back to his station, and a moment later the iron gate slid open on wheels, rattling as it went.

We followed the driveway that circled around the fountain. I couldn’t help but watch the kids as they played in the water, running and splashing and shrieking and laughing. I wanted to stop the truck and tell them to get out of there, tell them the water might hurt them. But apparently it was safe.

It all seemed too good to be true.

We parked outside the front doors, which were oversized and made of black iron that matched the gate. This place was like some kind of modern castle. Everyone climbed out and we let ourselves in.

The spacious foyer had dark, hardwood floors and a ceiling that stretched three levels above our heads. A staircase wrapped up the left-hand wall. Gaudy cream and gold carpets ran up the middle of the steps and stretched down the center of the foyer’s floor. Archways stood on both side walls. The one on the left seemed to be some sort of formal sitting room with fancy chairs and a matching sofa, all with carved wooden legs. I didn’t get a good look through the right archway before a woman stepped out to greet us. She was tall, had bushy auburn hair, wore a pink suit, and black high-heeled shoes.

“I’m Jennie,” she said. “Are you here to see Mr. Tracy?”

“Yes,” Dad said.

“Right this way.”

She herded us into what appeared to be an office that was filled with a variety of black leather furniture. A man came into view, sitting behind a glossy black desk. He stood as we gathered around his desk. He looked to be Indian or Middle Eastern and wore a three-piece black suit with white pinstripes. He was Jack Skellington skinny too, though his head seemed a bit small. He had cropped hair, thick eyebrows, and bulging eyes.

“Hi, there. I’m Logan Tracy. Why don’t you all sit down.” His voice was nasal and reminded me of that guy Chris Tucker from those cop movies with Jackie Chan.

Mr. Tracy leaned against his desk and folded his arms. “What a great looking group of young people. We’re so glad you found us. I hear it’s brutal out there.”

“It’s not pleasant,” I said.

“I promise that if you stay here, we will keep you safe,” Tracy said.

“How can you promise that?” Reinhold asked from the back.

Tracy’s fish eyes latched onto Reinhold and he stood up. “Oh, I didn’t see you back there, sir. These your kids?”

“Do we look like his kids?” Hannah asked.

“Okay, okay. My bad,” Tracy said, holding up his hands. “Here’s how it works. The safe water comes from a creek on the back of the Champions’ property. It’s the only water you can drink. It’s the only water you can touch. They’ve disconnected their house from the city water and pumped in the safe water from the creek. No one else has access to this water. We will set you up in hotels and eventually houses, but the water has been turned off. You cannot shower anywhere but here. You cannot drink any water but ours. If you turn on the water in the hotels or the houses and die, that’s not our fault. If you want to stay, we’ll need you all to sign a waiver, agreeing to our rules and releasing us from liability should you choose noncompliance.”

Was this guy for real?

“You’re a lawyer?” Dad asked.

“Consider me the Attorney General of this place. It’s my job to make this place run smoothly and to keep everyone safe. Now, if you’ll all sign the waiver, we can get you processed.”

He snapped his fingers and Jennie came running. She handed each of us a single sheet of paper. I read it. It was a bunch of legal mum I jumbo. We each got three meals a day, five showers a week, and four gallons of drinking water a week. We had to adhere to the “Laws of America,” whatever that meant. And we had to attend a mandatory “Morning Party” every Monday at ten a.m. where we would get updates on the water and housing situations.

Basically, we had to agree to their rules or get out. No trying to re-connect the old water. Oh, and we couldn’t sue them for any reason.

Like the city courthouse was still open for business or something.

I watched Dad for cues, but he scratched his name at the bottom and handed the paper back to Jennie. So I signed as well. All of us did, even Reinhold, who I had expected would abstain. But really, there was nothing on that paper that scared me. I didn’t have a problem agreeing to it.

“Welcome, all of you, to the LLC Safe Haven,” Tracy said. “We’re glad to have you as part of our populace. Jennie will get you set up with housing. And if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting.” He walked past us and out the door.

Jennie gave us instructions on how to get back to the downtown area, like I might get lost or something. “I put you all in the Snowcrest Condominiums, m’kay?” she said, then read from a card in her hand. “People say the Snowcrest has the best view of any hotel in Mount Crested Butte due to its slightly elevated and central location. It has easy access to the pedestrian footbridge, charming shops, and gourmet restaurants.”

“The restaurants are open?” Zaq asked.

“Oh, yes. Everything is open, except the hot tub in your condominium, of course, since there is no water to fill it. Now, I’ve given you rooms 33 and 34 at the Snowcrest. Both are three bedroom, two bath units. They each sleep eight. Obviously you can divide yourself however you like, m’kay, but I figured the seven men could sleep in one, and the six women could sleep in the other. The master bedroom and second bedroom each have a queen bed and the third bedroom has two twin beds. Also the living room has a sofa sleeper.” She handed my dad two sets of keys on plastic rings.

“That’s it?” Dad asked. “No charge?”

“No charge. It is the Champions’ honor to take good care of you all. Also, here are your vouchers,” she said, handing out lanyards with plastic tags on the end. “You must activate them online before you can use them. If you don’t have computer access there are computers you can use in the lobby of the Snowcrest. You cannot eat, take your showers, or claim your drinking water without your voucher. So be careful not to lose it, m’kay?”

“You’re going to feed everyone three meals a day for free?” Reinhold asked.

“Not me,” Jamie said. “The Champions are doing this for us all.”

“How do you have Internet access?” I asked.

“The Champions’ staff is technologically savvy. The vouchers use the same technology that is used for backstage passes at LLC concerts across the—excuse me! Don’t touch that, please.” She pushed past us and strode toward where Jaylee and Krista were admiring some award statues on a shelf on the wall.

“What do you think?” Dad asked Reinhold.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “They can’t feed all of us forever. At some point, they’re going to start asking us to earn our keep. And I didn’t see anything about that on their contract.”

“Let’s go see this hotel,” Dad said. “I don’t mind taking advantage of their hospitality for a day or two.”

Reinhold grunted, but followed us out.

We caravanned back to town and found the Snowcrest Condominiums. We went ahead and split it up just as Jenny had suggested. Dad said he preferred that the boys and girls be in separate rooms, and I wasn’t going to argue. They guy’s condo had brown furniture, a round woodstove in the center, and hotel bedspreads in red and blue geometric 90s prints.

Once we unpacked our vehicles and registered all our vouchers in the lobby, we went back to the Champion compound to shower. The shower building had been built behind the mansion. It was a single story beige building with a long line of people waiting. We got in the end of it, and the guy in front of Zaq told him there were only four shower stalls inside.

This was going to be a long wait.

As we inched our way closer, Krista started freaking out.

“I don’t want to shower,” she said. “What if we all die? How do we really know this water is okay?”

Jaylee gestured to a girl who’d just exited a stall, her hair wrapped in a pink towel. “She looks okay to me. Don’t be such a baby.”

“No one died right away,” Krista said. “It took three to five days.”

“You’re being stupid,” Jaylee said.

But Krista continued to whine and was still whining when I went in to take my shower. The water inside was lukewarm, which reminded me of taking showers at campgrounds. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

When I came out, there was no sign of the girls. I figured they were inside, so I looked around and spotted Zaq, who was sitting on one of the rocks that lined the back of the lawn.

I sat down next to him and put my bundle of dirty clothes at my feet, suddenly wondering if our vouchers had provisions for doing laundry.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Lizzy,” Zaq said.

No, I didn’t want to talk about this. “It’s fine,” I said.

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have kept it from you. We shouldn’t have.”

We. I gritted my teeth. “Lizzy is pretty great,” I said.

“The greatest,” Zaq said.

“Which means you’ll treat her better than Bekah?” Bekah was Zaq’s previous girlfriend, and their breakup had gotten War of the Roses out of control.

“Of course,” Zaq said.

Silence stretched between us.

“Bekah is probably dead,” he said.

A strange thought. “Most everyone is.”

“Think we can really live here like this? It feels like camp.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. How long can it last before they run out of food? I didn’t see any fields or livestock.”

“I’m starving,” Zaq said, tugging on the voucher around his neck. “Wonder what these get us to eat?”

 

****

 

Once everyone had showered, we took our laundry back to the condo, then went looking for food. It looked as if the Champions were trying to keep the local restaurants open. We ended up at a place called The Secret Pizzeria, which oddly seemed to be serving up random grocery store frozen pizzas. I got the impression that whoever had run this place before the Great Pandemic was no longer around. After our meal we wandered around the downtown area. It was strange to see groups of people and not want to point a gun at them. One man passing out flyers said that there would be a concert tonight back up on the Champion compound lawn. Jaylee and Krista squealed and I knew I wasn’t going to get out of it.

 

****

 

Don’t get me wrong. I like music just fine. But I’d never been to a concert, and I wasn’t impressed. From the reaction of the crowd, it appeared that Loca and Liberté Champion were putting on a good show, but I didn’t see what the thrill was. The bass was so loud, I couldn’t hear the words. The people were screaming so loud, I couldn’t hear myself when I spoke to Zaq. And the techno beat made every song sound the same. Sadly, due to Jaylee’s indoctrination on the ride up, I recognized most every song. They played Fast Lane, Rage Right, Bon Bon Breakfast, Everywhere Love, Brown Sugar Night, and then the siblings gave a short speech.

“Hello, residents of Safe Land, USA!” Loca yelled. “Oh, my. You are all just so beautiful. I am so happy to see you all smiling and waving your hands and looking so beautiful and healthy!”

The crowd went wild over his French accent.

“Yes! Yes! We did it!” Liberté yelled. She had a thick French accent as well, but her voice was nasal and high-pitched. “We survived the end of the world! And we will continue to survive as long as we stick together.”

More cheers.

“But we’re not going to just sit around and be bored,” Loca said. “We’re going to party. Every. Day.”

More screaming. They sure knew how to work the audience.

“Because we’ve got a lot to party about,” Liberté said.

“Because we … are … survivors!” Loca yelled.

The crowd went nuts, jumping and screaming as the siblings began to sing the song We Are Survivors.”

I had a headache.

Somehow—and I really don’t know how I managed it—but I survived the night. On our way out, as we walked along the roadside past the long line of parallel parked vehicles to the van, Jaylee, who’d pleasantly been holding my hand, jerked away and started running ahead.

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she yelled.

A few steps later, and I saw why. She was jumping up-and-down next to a silver Evoque. When I reached her, she threw both hands around my neck and squealed. “Riggs is here!”

 

 

evoque

Is that Riggs’s fancy Range Rover?

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

 

Say it’s not so! Is Riggs really in town? And if so, what might that mean for Eli and his new girlfriend?

 

THIRST: Chapter Thirteen . . . Will Eli answer? If so, who will he say was his last crush?

Posted by on May 9th, 2016 in A weekly story blog | 2 comments

 

THIRST Ch13bIn 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.

 

 

Will Eli answer? If so, who will he say was his last crush?

 


Chapter 13

 

Zaq may as well have punched me in the gut. I couldn’t believe I’d just thought he was worthy of my sister.

Zaq,” Lizzie warned.

“Yeah, my bad,” Zaq said. “I’ll ask something else.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Jaylee said. “He has to answer. Go ahead, Eli. Who did you like?”

I stared at her, speechless, wishing I would say anything at all. It suddenly seemed extremely warm in the house and I wished I could escape outside where the night was sure to be cool.

Jaylee’s eyes narrowed. “Is it someone here?”

I shook my head. What I wouldn’t give for ten seconds with Bilbo’s magic ring. I’d slip it on and run for the front door.

“It is, isn’t it?” Jaylee squealed, likely delighted at the thought of discovering some juicy gossip.

“Hey, Jaylee,” Zaq said. “I was just messing with him. It’s no one you know.”

Yes. Thank you. I relaxed a bit. Next question, please.

“Then why is he afraid to say?” Jaylee asked. She pushed to her hands and knees and crawled toward me, slowly.

I couldn’t look away. I wanted to, but I’ve already mentioned how pretty she was. And the way she was staring at me… I wondered if she had some kind of supernatural ability to immobilize people with her eyes.

She reached me and sat back on her ankles. “Is it Krista?” she whispered. “Krista’s cute.”

I glanced at Krista, who was looking at the floor in front of her. “No.”

“Hannah? You saved her from those bad men. That’s pretty romantic.”

I could feel everyone staring at us. But my gaze was locked on Jaylee. Her left eye. Her right eye. Her eyebrows. Her nose. The freckles across the tops of her cheeks. The curve of her lips.

What had she said?

Her eyes widened a little, showing all the whites around her brown irises. “Is it me?”

If I’d thought it was hot before, I wasn’t prepared for the way my cheeks started to burn.

She gasped. “Awww! Eli!”

I closed my eyes, cursing my biology. I should have just made up some random name. No one would have known.

The thing is, I knew Jaylee too well. She would act all cute about this, but she’d be patronizing me. Until she got bored of it.

I heard movement and opened my eyes. Everyone was standing. Hannah and Lizzie were creeping up the stairs, while Zaq ushered everyone else into the kitchen.

Oh, no. Don’t leave! I shot Zaq a pleading look. He motioned at Jaylee, and mouthed something.

Yeah right. No way could I make a move. I wasn’t like Zaq. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I couldn’t even speak.

“I guess you won the game,” Jaylee whispered.

“I guess.” Oh, good. I said something. And it was coherent.

“So…” She poked out her bottom lip. “You got a little crush on me?”

This time the heat that flashed over me was fueled by anger. I glared at her. “Why you gotta be like that? Just forget about it, okay?” I made to stand up, but Jaylee grabbed my arm.

“Wait.” She ran her fingers down to my hand and laced her fingers between mine. “You’ve always been my friend, Eli. You know I like older guys.”

Here we go. I could feel the smack down coming.

“But it’s not like there are a lot of single guys around here right now. And you’re cute and sweet and smart. So we could give it a try, if you want to.”

Give it a try? What did that mean? I didn’t want her pity. I didn’t want to be her last resort.

But then she kissed me. And I didn’t know what to do. I felt so awkward and embarrassed and clueless and thrilled. I also thought I might have been having a heart attack.

Before I could decide what to do about this, it was over.

Jaylee leaned back and licked her lips. “Now that was fun.”

 

****

 

The next morning over a breakfast of bruised apples and squishy bananas, Reinhold and Dad told everyone that they’d decided we should drive up to Mount Crested Butte to see about the Champion rumor.

“Once we know for sure, we can decide what to do,” Dad said.

“And along the way we can stop and scavenge more supplies,” Reinhold added.

“Can I open up a can of applesauce?” Jaylee said from the pantry.

“Put that down and get over here,” Reinhold said. “We’ve got to eat what’s going to go bad first. Save the canned stuff for when the perishables are all gone.”

Jaylee huffed and flopped down at the table. She was wearing a purple tank top and had a pair of black sunglasses perched on top of her head. She took an apple wedge from the bowl in the center, tapped it on the table top, then scanned the faces until her gaze locked on mine. She smiled, blinked at me a few times, then moved to sit beside me.

“Good morning,” she whispered in my ear, sliding her hand over my leg under the table. I jumped and grabbed her hand in mine. Man! She was the gutsiest girl I’d ever known.

“There’s lots of good land up around Crested Butte,” Reinhold said. “If there’s a fresh water source, we should just build our own place.”

“Is there a hospital there?” Hannah asked.

“No,” Reinhold said. “They airlift people out. Nearest hospitals are Gunnison or Montrose. There’s one up in Aspen. And we’ve got one down in Cortez. Why you ask?”

“It would be wise to stock up on some hospital supplies,” Hannah said.

“Smart girl,” Dad said. “Don’t think any of us have thought of that yet.”

“Smart girl,” Jaylee whispered. She let go of my hand and laid her arm on the back of my chair, scratching the back of my head. It was hard to pay attention with her touching me.

“Zaq and I scavenged the pharmacy at Walgreen’s,” Lizzie said. “We got all kinds of stuff that Zaq thought would be useful.”

“That’s great,” Hannah said. “But there are some things only hospitals will have.”

“But the hospitals are going to be really bad,” I said. “Hannah, remember Cree’s mom? Imagine that times… How many dead in the hospital in Phoenix, Liz?”

“Too many. Hundreds.”

Jaylee fed me an apple slice. How very… awkward. I chewed it some, then said, “Thank you.”

“We’re going to need medical supplies as some point,” Hannah said. “I’d rather be prepared than have to rush out in an emergency.”

“I agree,” Zaq said.

“Then we swing by Montrose Memorial and Gunnison Valley Health on our way up,” Reinhold said.

“Great,” Dad said. “Eat and clean up. Then let’s hit the road.”

People did just that. When it was just me, Jaylee, and Cree left at the table, Jaylee got up and sat sideways on my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck. She wasn’t choking me or anything like that, but I still found it difficult to breathe.

“Baby, I know you got some applesauce from Walgreen’s,” she said softly, her nose almost touching mine. “That still in the back of your truck?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Did you see how she just called me baby? I liked the sound of that.

“Can you get some for me? I’m hungry and I can’t eat this stale fruit.”

“Applesauce is made from mashed apples, Jaylee,” Logan said, carrying his sleeping bag past the table and toward the door.

“He’s right,” I said.

“So? It tastes better than these browned slices.”

She wasn’t nearly as pretty when she was complaining. I pushed her off my lap and stood, thinking I needed to grab my sleeping bag and get out to the truck before Logan started packing things poorly. Jaylee hugged me around the waist and buried her face against my chest.

“Jaylee, I’ve gotta pack my—”

She raised onto her tiptoes, grabbed my face, and kissed me, doing so thorough a job of it that when she stopped I was dazed and breathless.

“Please?” she said. “I’m so hungry.”

“One can of applesauce coming right up,” I whispered, though I didn’t want to do it. Why couldn’t she understand how serious things were? And if I let her play me on day two of our… maybe it was a relationship, was I setting myself up for a life of being bossed around?

Probably.

I decided to give her an order back, even things up a bit. “Go clean up your bed and bring your stuff out to the truck.”

“Okay!” She gave me one last peck on the lips and jogged off.

Kimama walked by then. “Be careful, Eli. The Coyote is a trickster. He is toying with her, and now she is toying with you.”

Gee. Thanks for ruining my moment, kid. “Whatever.” I stumbled to the den, rolled up my bag, and carried it to the front door. Zaq met me at the bottom of the stairs.

“You mad at me?” Zaq asked.

I grinned, my lips still buzzing from Jaylee’s kisses. “Nah, man. We’re cool.”

“Good. I’m glad it worked out.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Outside, my dad and Logan were standing at the back of my truck, not packing, thankfully. Logan was regaling my father with his theory on Comet Pulon.

I slipped into the space between them at the back of the truck, pulled out Logan’s sleeping bag, and put it back the way I had it. I felt relieved and a little guilty. Being a control freak was like that.

“You could be on to something, Logan,” Dad said. “Do me a favor and ask Reinhold if he wants me to take his generator in my van or put it in his truck.”

“Sure,” Logan said, running toward the house.

The question made me look at my Dad. Obviously a generator should go in the back of a truck. There was no room in the van for it.

Dad was staring at me, and I knew by the serious tilt of his eyebrows that he’d gotten rid of Logan on purpose. “How long this thing with Jaylee been going on?”

My stomach roiled. “Since last night.”

Dad chuckled a little too long and let it dwindle in a sigh. “Okay. You be careful with her. She’s a wild one.”

I studied my shoes and sighed. “I know.”

“Not sure you want a wild one?”

I looked back to Dad. “I don’t know. She wants me to give her some applesauce from our stash since Reinhold told her she couldn’t have any of his.”

Dad nodded. “I saw that.”

“Oh.” I hung my head. The idea of my dad watching me get played made me feel twice as stupid. “I told her I’d get her some.” The confession felt good, at least.

“Guess you’d better do it, then.”

Really? “But I agree with Reinhold. We need to be smart about the food.”

Dad grabbed my shoulder at the base of my neck. “Listen up, son. You’re a smart man. You need to trust your instincts. If your instincts says one thing, and a woman talks you into another thing with absolutely no logic, you know what you are?”

“Stupid?”

A nod. “Some call it whipped. You want to spend the next fifty years of your life being bossed around by someone half as smart as you are?”

“I guess not.” But I couldn’t help who I loved, right? These things just happen. Opposites attract or whatever.

“Keep in mind, Eli,” Dad said, “she’s only going to look like that for another five to ten years, depending on what having a few kids does to her body. You should choose your mate based on more than her looks.”

Blasted cheeks burning again.

“Give it a try if you want, but don’t let her change who you are. If she stops pushing and accepts you for you, you’ve got a winner. If she won’t, well, at least you tried, right?”

I could live with that. “Right.”

“Good talk, son.”

“So you’re okay with this?” I’d never had a girlfriend before.

“This is a new world, Eli. In this world, you’re a man. You’ve got to make your own choices. Are you asking me who I’d pick if I were you?”

“No.” Dad would probably tell me to pick Kimama.

“Good,” Dad said. “I try not to boss around my peers.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome.” He walked back into the house, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I’d felt stupid when I came out here, but I didn’t feel stupid now. A little scared, maybe, since I knew I had to stand up to Jaylee, but I wasn’t going to let her play me.

At least I hoped I wasn’t.

 

****

 

We took four vehicles north. Zaq’s van, my new truck, Dad’s van, and Reinhold’s truck. Kimama and Shyla rode with Reinhold. Logan wanted to ride with me until he saw that Jaylee and Krista were riding with me, then he and Davis got into the van with Zaq and Lizzie. That left Hannah and Cree, who got into Dad’s van.

We headed out from Reinhold’s place in a caravan. Reinhold took the lead, then Zaq, then me, and Dad followed in back.

Krista sat alone in the back. Jaylee sat shotgun, but scooted over into the middle of the bench seat, right beside me. It made me feel like a man, until about five miles down the road when Jaylee turned her shade-covered eyes on me and asked,

“Where’s my applesauce?”

Suddenly the man was gone and I was a little boy again. Moment of truth, Eli. Man or boy? What was it going to be? “Sorry, Jay,” I said, my pulse racing. “Since we don’t know where we’re headed, it’s better to save it. I brought you these, though.” I grabbed the baggie of the browning sliced apples from breakfast that I’d tossed up on the dashboard. Leftovers were gold these days, and we weren’t leaving anything behind.

Jaylee tipped down her head so she could see me over the top of her sunglasses. Her eyebrows raised in two sculpted arcs. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope,” I said. “We’ve all got to play by the same rules if we’re going to survive.”

“One plastic dish of applesauce won’t starve anyone.”

“That’s not the point,” I said. If we let everyone do what they want, it’ll be trouble. We’ve got to have rules if we’re going to survive.”

“Your dad caught you, didn’t he?” she said, her tone nasty. “He told you no, and all this is what he said to you.”

“No, it’s how I feel.” Dad had just backed me up.

“Sure, Eli. Whatever.”

She plugged her iPhone into the USB port and Vivre La Vie Dixième by Loca and Liberté Champion blared over the speakers. The truck had a nice sound system. But after three times through the playlist, I sort of wished the truck had no sound system at all. I’d never liked LLC, which was what people called Local and Liberté Champion’s musical duo. It was so… techno and girly. I preferred rock, real instruments over synthesizers. English lyrics were also a plus.

Jaylee fell asleep, leaning against me like a pillow, which made it difficult to steer with both hands, so I put my right arm on the back of the seat and steered with my left. It was awkward but totally worth it. I had wanted to kill Zaq for his question last night, but he’d been right. What good had it been for me to keep my feelings a secret? All I’d had to do was speak up. And look how it turned out. I’d got what I wanted. Jaylee Jennings was my girl!

At some point Krista lay down in the back seat. I wondered if she liked LLC or if she hoped that by going to sleep, she could avoid a fourth tortuous time through the playlist.

When Vivre La Vie Dixième came on again, I carefully lifted my arm off the back of the seat and turned down the volume.

Jaylee sat up straight and yawned. “Where are we?”

“A half hour outside Montrose,” I said.

For a few miles we sat silent, listening to the now soft sounds of Vivre La Vie Dixième. Then Jaylee reached up and started playing with my ear.

“How long have you liked me, Eli?”

Her touch sent a chill up my arms. “Since Mr. Miller’s class.”

“Fifth grade! Are you serious?”

“Yep. You wore your hair in braids with different colored rubber bands that matched your outfit. I thought it was cute.”

“Hair ties.”

“Whatever.”

“I can’t believe you’ve liked me that long. Didn’t that bother Rachel?”

“Who?”

“Rachel Moss. Wasn’t she your girlfriend?”

She knew about Rachel? “That was a date. I’ve gone on three actual dates, but I’ve never, you know, ‘gone out’ with anyone.”

She messed with my ear again. “So are you going out with me now?”

I laughed but it sounded weird. Too high and nervous. “I don’t know.”

“I say yes.”

I couldn’t believe it. Jaylee Jennings was my girlfriend. I tried to be cool about it. “Okay, then I say yes, too.”

Jaylee unbuckled her seatbelt, got up on her knees, and kissed my cheek. That seemed kind of sweet until she kept doing it, working her way back to my ear, then down to my neck. Her warm tongue on my throat shocked me so bad I made the truck swerve across the road.

“Jaylee, stop.”

She giggled and I got back in my land behind Zaq’s van, hoping my dad hadn’t noticed that.

But Jaylee wasn’t done messing around. She rained kisses all over the side of my face. When I felt her teeth on my earlobe and almost drove off the road.

“Jaylee, come on.”

She giggled and peeled up my T-shirt, scratching her fingernails over my chest.

Strangely, that didn’t bother me nearly as much, but it was still distracting. “Jaylee, cut it out.”

Then she grabbed the waistband of my jeans.

Jaylee!” I hit the brakes and pulled off onto the side of the road, a cloud of dust billowing around the truck. She was still messing with my pants, so I grabbed her hands and brought them up to my chest, squeezing them. “You need to stop. Please.”

She giggled and tried to kiss me.

“Are you serious? Jaylee, come on!” I looked in the rearview mirror. My dad had stopped the van behind me and was out the vehicle, walking our way. I pushed her away just as Dad knocked on my window with the back of his knuckles.

I rolled down the window. “Hey, Dad.”

“Everything okay in here?”

“Can I ride with you, Mr. McShane?” Krista asked.

“Sure,” Dad said.

Krista got out of the truck.

“Me too!” Jaylee climbed out too. Once she was standing in the ditch, she looked back in the cab. “See you, Eli.” She slammed the door, making me jump.

“You okay, son?”

My heart was pounding, thudding in my ears: womp, womp, womp. “I’m fine,” I lied. Or maybe I was fine now that Jaylee was out of the truck. That girl was nuts.

“You want me to have Hannah and Cree come ride with you?” Dad asked.

“No. We’re almost to Montrose. Let’s save the musical chairs after the hospital.”

“You want to be alone.”

I managed to swallow my nerves. “Yes, please.”

“You got it.” Dad slapped the side of my door and walked back to the van.

I set my forehead on the steering wheel and took a few deep breaths. Apparently the word “wild” wasn’t enough to describe Jaylee Jennings. Add “experienced” to the list. She was experienced and I was not. But that was no big deal, right? I mean, if I was going to marry this girl, I’d figure out all that stuff then. I could ask my dad. I could learn.

Just not while I was driving.

 

END OF CHAPTER

 

 

Tune in next week to see what Eli and the gang find in Crested Butte, Colorado.