But first things first. First, to escape this shell, this egg in which I have gestated, all eyes will be on the fire, all eyes blinded by the smoke, and when I walk out of here, out into your large world with its billions, no one will even see. It's the beauty of light, don't you see, Sam? It reveals, but it also distracts and blinds. It's even better than darkness. (Chapter Twenty-Seven | 1 Hour, 29 Minutes)
You didn't make me responsible. You don't have that power. This—he held up his hands, and light glowed from his palms—this made me responsible. Having power made me responsible. I had the power and you had the brains. So we were chosen. That's the way it works, isn't it? People who can have to help those who can't. The strong defend the weak from the strong. I don't think you invented that, Astrid; all you did was make me see it. Well, I see it. There it is. The FAYZ gave me this light, and the FAYZ made it necessary. And now the light isn't helping, is it? Now that monster is going to walk into town and kill people I care about and people I love.
But first things first. First, to escape this shell, this egg in which I have gestated, all eyes will be on the fire, all eyes blinded by the smoke, and when I walk out of here, out into your large world with its billions, no one will even see. It's the beauty of light, don't you see, Sam? It reveals, but it also distracts and blinds. It's even better than darkness.
You didn't make me responsible. You don't have that power. This—he held up his hands, and light glowed from his palms—this made me responsible. Having power made me responsible. I had the power and you had the brains. So we were chosen. That's the way it works, isn't it? People who can have to help those who can't. The strong defend the weak from the strong. I don't think you invented that, Astrid; all you did was make me see it. Well, I see it. There it is. The FAYZ gave me this light, and the FAYZ made it necessary. And now the light isn't helping, is it? Now that monster is going to walk into town and kill people I care about and people I love. (Chapter Twenty-Six | 2 Hours, 56 Minutes)
Caine’s a guy who needs to win. He needs to win before he poofs. Or he needs to win before I poof. The point is, he’s not going to just accept us freeing all these kids from Coates and taking over Perdido Beach,” Sam said. “So we need to be ready. And we need to be ready for something else, too: tomorrow is my birthday.” He made a wry face. “Not a birthday I’m exactly looking forward to. But, anyway, we need to decide who takes over for me if…when…I step outside.”Several of the kids made sympathetic or encouraging noises about how Sam maybe wasn’t going to blink out, or maybe it would be a good thing, an escape from the FAYZ. But Sam hushed them all.“Look, the good thing is, when I go, so does Caine. The bad thing is, that still leaves Drake and Diana and other bullies. Orc…well, we don’t exactly know what’s going on with him, but Howard’s not with him. And Lana…we don’t know what happened to her, whether she left or what.”The loss of Lana was a serious blow. Every one of the Coates refugees adored her for the way she had healed their hands. And it was reassuring to think that she could heal anyone who was injured.Astrid said, “I nominate Edilio to take over if…you know. Anyway, we need a number two, a vice president or vice mayor or whatever.”Edilio did a double take, like Astrid must be talking about some other Edilio. Then he said, “No way. Astrid’s the smartest person here.”“I have Little Pete to look after. Mary has to care for the prees and keep them out of harm’s way. Dahra has responsibility for treating anyone who gets hurt. Elwood has been so busy in the hospital with Dahra, he hasn’t dealt with Caine or Drake or any of the Coates faction. Edilio’s been up against Orc and Drake. And he’s always been brave and smart and able.” She winked at Edilio, acknowledging his discomfort.“Right,” Sam said. “So unless someone has an objection, that’s the way it is. If I get hurt or I ditch, Edilio’s in charge.”“Respect to Edilio,” Dekka said, “but he doesn’t even have powers.”“He has the power to earn trust and to come through when he has to
Caine has Drake and Orc, Panda and Chaz, and I hear Mallet has made peace with him. And maybe a half dozen other guys.”“Are you afraid of them?” Astrid asked him.“Yeah, Astrid, I am.”“Okay,” she said. “But you were scared of going into a burning building, too.”“You don’t get this, do you?” Sam demanded with enough heat that Astrid took a step back. “I know what you want, okay? I know what you and a bunch of other people want. You want me to be the anti-Caine. You don’t like the way he’s doing things and you want me to go kick him out. Well, here’s what you don’t know: even if I could do all that, I wouldn’t be any better than him.”“You’re wrong about that, Sam. You’re—”“That night when I first used the power? When I hurt my stepfather? How do you think I felt?”“Sad. Regretful.” Astrid looked at his face like the answer would be written there. “Scared, probably.”“Yeah. All that. And one more thing.” He held up his hand and inches from her nose squeezed his fingers into a tight fist. “I also felt a rush, Astrid. A rush. I thought, oh my God, look at the power I have. Look what I can do. A huge, crazy rush.”“Power corrupts,” Astrid said softly.“Yeah,” Sam said sarcastically. “I’ve heard that.”“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I forget who said it.”“I make a lot of mistakes, Astrid. I don’t want to make that mistake. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be Caine. I want to…” He spread his arms wide, a gesture of helplessness. “I just want to go surfing.”“You won’t be corrupted, Sam. You wouldn’t do those things.” He had moved back. She moved to close the distance.“How can you be so sure?”“Well, two reasons. First, it’s not your character. Of course you felt a rush from the power. Then, you pushed it away. You didn’t grab at it, you pushed it away. That’s reason number one. You’re you, you’re not Caine or Drake or Orc.”Sam wanted to agree, wanted to accept that, but he felt he knew better. “Don’t be so sure.”“And reason number two: you have me
The coolly logical part of her brain noted almost sardonically that Edilio had a superpower after all: being Edilio.
Female say Pack Leader stop,” Pack Leader said angrily.“What?” Caine could make no sense of it till he saw Diana striding up, dark hair flying, eyes furious.“I told this filthy beast to stop,” Diana said, barely controlled.“Stop what?” Caine demanded.“They’re still attacking the kids,” Diana said. “We’ve won. Sam is dead. Call them off, Caine.”Caine turned his attention back to the battle between Drake and the monster. “They’re coyotes,” Caine said coldly.Diana flew at him. “You’ve lost your mind, Caine. This has to stop. You’ve won. This has to stop.”“Or what, Diana? Or what?” Caine demanded. “Go get Lana. I’m hurt. Pack Leader, do what you want.”“Maybe this is why your mother abandoned you,” Diana said savagely. “Maybe she could see that you weren’t just bad, you were twisted and sick and evil.
The balance of this world is not upset by accident. It is not upset by those who blunder accidentally into wrong. Evil comes when those who know better, who have seen the pain they cause, nevertheless cause more pain.
Find Sam Temple. Tell him you escaped.”Jack gulped and bobbed his head.“Better yet, find that girl, Astrid.” Diana recovered some of her mocking attitude. “Astrid the Genius. She’ll be desperate to save Sam.”“Okay. Okay.” He steeled himself. “I better go.”Diana touched his arm. “Tell them about Andrew.”Jack froze with his hand on the key. “That’s what you want me to do?”“Jack, if Sam blinks out, Drake will turn on me, and Caine won’t be able to stop him. Drake is stronger than before. I need Sam alive. I need someone for Drake to hate. I need balance. Tell Sam about the temptation. Warn him that he’ll be tempted to surrender to the big jump, but maybe, maybe, if he says no…” She sighed. It was not a hopeful sound. “Now: go.
What’s up, Albert?”“Well, I’ve done inventory at Ralph’s, and I think if I had a lot of help, I could put together an okay Thanksgiving dinner.”Sam stared at him. He blinked. “What?”“Thanksgiving. It’s next week.”“Uh-huh.”“There are ovens at Ralph’s, big ones. And no one has taken the frozen turkeys. Figure two hundred and fifty kids if pretty much everyone from Perdido Beach shows up, right? One turkey will feed maybe eight people, so we need thirty-one, thirty-two turkeys. No problem there, because there are forty-six turkeys at Ralph’s.”“Thirty-one turkeys?”“Cranberry sauce will be no problem, stuffing is no problem, no one has taken much stuffing yet, although I’ll have to figure out how to mix, like, seven different brands and styles together, see how it tastes.”“Stuffing,” Sam echoed solemnly.“We don’t have enough canned yams, we’ll have to do fresh along with some baked potatoes. The big problem is going to be whipped cream and ice cream for the pies.”Sam wanted to burst out laughing, but at the same time he found it touching and reassuring that Albert had put so much thought into the question.“I imagine the ice cream is pretty much gone,” Sam said.“Yeah. We’re very low on ice cream. And kids have been taking the canned whipped cream, too.”“But we can have pie?”“We have some frozen. And we have some pie shells we can bake up ourselves.”“That would be nice,” Sam said.“I’ll need to start three days before. I’ll need, like, at least ten people to help. I can haul the tables out of the church basement and set up in the plaza. I think I can do it.”“I’ll bet you can, Albert,” Sam said with feeling.“Mother Mary’s going to have the prees make centerpieces.”“Listen, Albert…”Albert raised a hand, cutting Sam off. “I know. I mean, I know we may have some great big fight before that. And I heard you have your fifteenth coming up. All kinds of bad stuff may happen. But, Sam—”This time, Sam cut him off. “Albert? Get moving on planning the big meal.”“Yeah?”“Yeah. It will give people something to look forward to.
I want my mom,” a little boy cried out suddenly.Every voice fell silent. The boy had said what they were all feeling.Caine hopped down from the car and went to the boy. He knelt down and took the boy’s hands in his own. He asked the boy’s name, and reintroduced himself. “We all want our parents back,” he said gently, but loudly enough to be overheard clearly by those nearest. “We all want that. And I believe that will happen. I believe we will see all our moms and dads, and older brothers and sisters, and even our teachers again. I believe that. Do you believe it, too?”“Yes.” The little boy sobbed.Caine wrapped him in a hug and said, “Be strong. Be your mommy’s strong little boy.”“He’s good,” Astrid said. “He’s beyond good.”Then Caine stood up. People had formed a circle around him, close but respectful. “We all have to be strong. We all have to get through this. If we work together to choose good leaders and do the right thing, we will make it.”The entire crowd of kids seemed to stand a little taller. There were determined looks on faces that had been weary and frightened.Sam was mesmerized by the performance. In just a few minutes’ time, Caine had infused hope into a very frightened, dispirited bunch of kids.Astrid seemed mesmerized too, though Sam thought he detected the cool glint of skepticism in her eyes.Sam was skeptical himself. He distrusted rehearsed displays. He distrusted charm. But it was hard not to think that Caine was at least trying to reach out to the Perdido Beach kids. It was hard not to believe in him, at least a little. And if Caine really did have a plan, wouldn’t that be a good thing? No one else seemed to have a clue.
Sam, can you, you know, like burn that concrete off her hands?”“No. I can’t aim that precisely.”“I don’t even know what can be done,” Edilio said as he fed the girl another microscopic bite of food. “You try and break that stuff off with a sledge hammer or something, or even a hammer and a chisel, it’s going to really hurt. Probably break every bone in her hands, man.”“Who would have done this to her?” Lana wondered.“That’s a Coates Academy uniform,” Astrid answered. “We’re probably not far from there.
Help me,” the girl pleaded softly.Sam knelt beside her. He recoiled in shock. “Bette?”The left side of Bouncing Bette’s face was covered in blood. There was a gash above her temple. She was panting, gasping, like she had collapsed after a marathon and was trying with her last ounce of energy to crawl across the finish line.“Bette, what happened?”“They’re trying to get me,” Bette cried, and clutched at Sam’s arm.The three dark figures advanced to the edge of the circle of light. One was clearly Orc. No one else was that big. Edilio and Quinn moved into the garage doorway.Sam disengaged from Bette and took up a position beside Edilio.“You want me to beat on you guys, I will!” Orc yelled.“What’s going on here?” Sam demanded. He narrowed his eyes and recognized the other two boys, a kid named Karl, a seventh grader from school, and Chaz, one of the Coates eighth graders. All three were armed with aluminum bats.“This isn’t your business,” Chaz said. “We’re dealing with something here.”“Dealing with what? Orc, did you hit Bette?”“She was breaking the rules,” Orc said.“You hit a girl, man?” Edilio said, outraged.“Shut up, wetback,” Orc said.“Where’s Howard?” Sam asked, just to stall while he tried to figure out what to do. He’d lost one fight to Orc already.Orc took the question as an insult. “I don’t need Howard to handle you, Sam.”Orc marched right up to Sam, stopped a foot away, and put his bat on his shoulder like he was ready to swing for a home run. Like a batter ready for the next fastball. Only this was closer to T-ball: Sam’s head was impossible to miss.“Move, Sam,” Orc ordered.“Okay, I’m not doing this again,” Quinn said. “Let him have her, Sam.”“Ain’t no ‘let me,’” Orc said. “I do what I want.”Sam noticed movement behind Orc. There were people coming down the street, twenty or more kids. Orc noticed it too, and glanced behind him.“They aren’t going to save you,” Orc said, and swung the bat hard.Sam ducked. The bat whooshed past his head, and Orc rotated halfway around, carried forward by the momentum.Sam was thrown off balance, but Edilio was ready. He let loose a roar and plowed headfirst into Orc. Edilio was maybe half Orc’s size, but Orc was knocked off his feet. He sprawled out on the concrete.Chaz went after Edilio, trying to pull him off Orc.The crowd of kids who had come running down the street surged forward. There were angry voices and threats, all aimed at Orc.They yelled, Sam noted, but no one exactly jumped into the unequal fight.
Guys, he’s hurt bad.”The blonde scrambled to him. She tore the wounded boy’s shirt open. A river of blood ran down his chest.“Oh, God, no,” the blonde cried.Lana pushed her aside and laid a hand against the pumping wound. “He’ll live,” Lana said. “I’ll fix him.”“What do you mean, you’ll fix him?” the blonde demanded. “We need stitches, we need a doctor. Look at how he’s bleeding.”Lana said, “What’s your name?”“Astrid, what does it matter? He’s…” She stopped talking then and leaned in close to see. “The bloodflow is slowing.”“Yeah. I noticed that, too,” Lana said dryly. “Relax. He’ll be fine. In fact…” She tilted her head to get a better look at him. “In fact, I’ll bet when he’s not covered in blood, he’s cute. Your boyfriend?”“That’s not what it’s about,” Astrid snapped. Then, in a low voice, like she didn’t want the others to hear, she said, “Kind of.
...you have me,” Astrid said.“Do I?”“Yes.”That drained the anger and frustration from him like someone had pulled a plug. For a long moment he was lost, gazing into her eyes. She was very close. His heart shifted to a deeper rhythm that vibrated his whole body.There were just inches between them. He closed the distance by half, stopped.“I can’t kiss you with your little brother watching,” he said.Astrid stepped back, took Little Pete by the shoulders, and turned him so he was facing away.“How about now?
Now, who else speaks for Perdido Beach?”Bouncing Bette said, “Sam Temple here went into a burning building to rescue a little girl. He can speak for me, anyway.”There was a murmur of agreement.“Yeah, Sam is a hero for real,” a voice said.“He could have died,” another voice seconded.“Yeah, Sam’s the guy.”Caine’s smile came and disappeared so quickly, Sam wasn’t sure it had happened. For that millisecond it was a look of triumph. Caine walked straight up to Sam, open and forthright, hand extended.“There are probably better people than me,” Sam said, backing away.
We’re not going to give in. We’re going to fight.”“Got that right,” a voice cried out.“First thing we need to have clear: there’s no line between freak and normal here. If you have the power, we’ll need you. If you don’t, we’ll need you.”Heads were nodding. Looks were being exchanged.“Coates kids, Perdido Beach kids, we’re together now. We’re together. Maybe you did things to survive. Maybe you weren’t always brave. Maybe you gave up hope.”A girl sobbed suddenly.“Well, that’s all over now,” Sam said gently. “It all starts fresh. Right here, right now. We’re brothers and sisters now. Doesn’t matter we don’t know each other’s names, we are brothers and sisters and we’re going to survive, and we’re going to win, and we’re going to find our way to some kind of happiness again.”There was a long, deep silence.“So,” Sam said, “my name is Sam. I’m in this with you. All the way.” He turned to Astrid.“I’m Astrid, I’m in this with you, too.”“My name is Edilio. What they said. Brothers and sisters. Hermanos.”“Thuan Vong,” said a thin boy with yet-unhealed hands like dead fish. “I’m in.”“Dekka,” said a strong, solidly built girl with cornrows and a nose ring. “I’m in. And I have game.”“Me too,” called a skinny girl with reddish pigtails. “My name’s Brianna. I…well, I can go real fast.”One by one they declared their determination. The voices started out soft and gained strength. Each voice louder, firmer, more determined than the one before.Only Quinn remained silent. He hung his head, and tears rolled down his cheeks.“Quinn,” Sam called to him.Quinn didn’t respond, just looked down at the ground.“Quinn,” Sam said again. “It starts fresh right now. Nothing before counts. Nothing. Brothers, man?”Quinn struggled with the lump in his throat. But then, in a low voice, he said, “Yeah. Brothers.
As Sam came to a panting stop, a jet of orange flame burst from a high window.Several dozen kids were standing, watching. A crowd that struck Sam as very strange, until he realized why it was strange: there were no adults, just kids.“Is anyone in there?” Astrid called out. No one answered.“It could spread,” Sam said.“There’s no 911,” someone pointed out.“If it spreads, it could burn down half the town.”“You see a fireman anywhere?” A helpless shrug.The day care shared a wall with the hardware store, and both were only a narrow alley away from the burning building. Sam figured they had time to get the kids out of the day care if they acted fast, but the hardware store was something they could not afford to lose.There had to be forty kids just standing there gawking. No one seemed about to start doing anything.“Great,” Sam said. He grabbed two kids he sort of knew. “You guys, go to the day care. Tell them to get the littles out of there.”The kids stared at him without moving.“Now. Go. Do it!” he said, and they took off running.Sam pointed at two other kids. “You and you. Go into the hardware store, get the longest hose you can find. Get a spray nozzle, too. I think there’s a spigot in that alley. Start spraying water on the side of the hardware store and up on the roof.”These two also stared blankly. “Dudes: Not tomorrow. Now. Now. Go! Quinn? You better go with them. We want to wet down the hardware—that’s where the wind will take the fire next.”Quinn hesitated.People were not getting this. How could they not see that they had to do something, not just stand around?Sam pushed to the front of the crowd and in a loud voice said, “Hey, listen up, this isn’t the Disney Channel. We can’t just watch this happen. There are no adults. There’s no fire department. We are the fire department.”Edilio was there. He said, “Sam’s right. What do you need, Sam? I’m with you.”“Okay. Quinn? The hoses from the hardware store. Edilio? Let’s get the big hoses from the fire station, hook ’em up to the hydrant.”“They’ll be heavy. I’ll need some strong guys.”“You, you, you, you.” Sam grabbed each person’s shoulder, shaking each one, pushing them into motion. “Come on. You. You. Let’s go!
Have you seen Sam?” Mary asked.“What do you want with Sam?”“I can’t take care of all those littles with just John to help me.”Howard shrugged. “Who asked you to?”That was too much. Mary was tall and strong. Howard, though a boy, was smaller. Mary took two steps toward him, pushing her face right into his. “Listen, you little worm. If I don’t take care of those kids, they’ll die. Do you understand that? There are babies in there who need to be fed and need to be changed, and I seem to be the only one who realizes it. And there are probably more little kids still in their homes, all alone, not knowing what’s happening, not knowing how to feed themselves, scared to death.”Howard took a step back, tentatively lifted the bat, then let it fall. “What am I supposed to do?” he whined.“You? Nothing. Where’s Sam?”“He took off.”“What do you mean, he took off?”“I mean him and Quinn and Astrid took off.”Mary blinked, feeling stupid and slow. “Who’s in charge?”“You think just because Sam likes to play the big hero every couple years that makes him the guy in charge?”Mary had been on the bus two years ago when the driver, Mr. Colombo, had had his heart attack. She’d had her head in a book, not paying attention, but she had looked up when she felt the bus swerve. By the time she had focused, Sam was guiding the bus onto the shoulder of the road.In the two years that followed, Sam had been so quiet and so modest and so not involved in the social life of the school that Mary had sort of forgotten that moment of heroism. Most people had.And yet she hadn’t even been surprised when it was Sam who had stepped up during the fire. And she had somehow assumed that if anyone was going to be in charge, it would be Sam. She found herself angry with him for not being here now: she needed help.“Go get Orc,” Mary said.“I don’t tell Orc what to do, bitch.”“Excuse me?” she snapped. “What did you just call me?”Howard gulped. “Didn’t mean nothing, Mary.”“Where is Orc?”“I think he’s sleeping.”“Wake him up. I need some help. I can’t stay awake any longer. I need at least two kids who have experience babysitting. And then I need diapers and bottles and nipples and Cheerios and lots of milk.”“Why am I going to do all that?”Mary didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know, Howard,” she said. “Maybe because you’re really not a complete jerk? Maybe you’re really a decent human being?”That earned her a skeptical look and a derisive snort.“Look, kids will do what Orc says,” Mary said. “They’re scared of him. All I’m asking is for Orc to act like Orc.”Howard thought this over. Mary could almost see the wheels spinning in his head.“Forget it,” she said. “I’ll talk to Sam when he gets back.”“Yeah, he’s the big hero, isn’t he?” Howard said, dripping sarcasm. “But hey, where is he? You see him around? I don’t see him around.”“Are you going to help or not? I have to get back.”“All right. I’ll get your stuff, Mary. But you better remember who helped you. You’re working for Orc and me.”“I’m taking care of little kids,” Mary said. “If I’m working for anyone, it’s for them.”“Like I say, you remember who was there when you needed them.” Howard turned on his heel and swaggered away.
Has Orc shown up here?” But neither Caine nor Diana answered. Both were staring at Drake, who sauntered toward them, all his cockiness restored, no longer the ragged scarecrow who had wept when he saw the melted stump of his hand lying on the tile floor. “Drake,” Caine said. “We thought you were dead.”“I’m back,” Drake said. “And better than ever.”The red tentacle unwrapped itself from around his waist, like a python releasing its victim.“Like it, Diana?” Drake asked.The arm, that impossible bloodred snake, coiled above Drake’s head, swirled, writhed. And then, so fast that the human eye could barely register the movement, it snapped like a bullwhip.The sound was a loud crack. A mini–sonic boom.Diana cried out in pain. Stunned, she stared at the cut in her blouse and the trickle of red from her shoulder.“Sorry,” Drake said with no attempt at sincerity. “I’m still working on my aim.”“Drake,” Caine said and, despite the blood, despite Diana’s wound, he grinned. “Welcome back.”“I brought some help,” Drake said. He extended his left hand, and Caine shook it awkwardly with his right. “So. When do we go take down Sam Temple?
Why, so we can look for some little kid who probably doesn’t even know he’s missing?”Again Sam resisted the surge of anger. As mildly as he could he said, “Brother, nobody is making you come.”“You saying I shouldn’t?” Quinn took two quick steps and grabbed Sam’s shoulder. “You saying you want me to leave, brah?”“No, man. You’re my best friend.”“Your only friend.”“Yeah. That’s right,” Sam admitted.“All I’m saying is, who died and made you king?” Quinn asked. “You’re acting like you’re the boss here. How did that happen? How come I’m taking orders from you?”“You’re not taking orders,” Sam said angrily. “I don’t want anyone taking orders from me. If I wanted people taking orders from me, all I had to do was stay in town and start telling people what to do.” In a quieter voice Sam said, “You can be in charge, Quinn.”“I never said I wanted to be in charge,” Quinn huffed. But he was running out of resentment. He shot a dark look at Edilio, a wary look at Astrid. “It’s just weird, brah. Used to be it was you and me, right?”“Yeah,” Sam agreed.In a whining voice Quinn said, “I just want to get our boards and head for the beach. I want everything to go back to how it was.” Then in a startling shout he cried, “Where is everyone? Why haven’t they come for us? Where. Are. My. Parents?
Anna and Emma just poofed.”“What?”“I was standing there. I was watching them. I was holding Anna’s hand when it happened.”Astrid rose and without really thinking about it wrapped her arms around Sam like she did when she was trying to comfort Little Pete.But unlike Little Pete, Sam responded to her touch by awkwardly hugging her back. For a moment his face was in her hair and she heard his ragged breathing close to her ear. And it seemed like they might do it again, the kissing thing, but then, both at once, they pushed away.“She was scared,” Sam said. “Anna, I mean. She saw Emma disappear. They were born just six minutes apart. So, first Emma. Then Anna, waiting for it. Knowing it was coming.
Lana's going through them one at a time. Healing them. She's amazing.Sam thought he heard something extra in Edilio's voice. She's cute too, huh Edilio?Edilio's eyes went wide and started blushing. She's just...you know...Sam slapped his shoulder. Good luck with that.You think she...I mean, you know me, I'm just... Edilio stammered his way to a stop.Dude, let's see if we can stay alive. Then you can ask her out or whatever.
Sam?”“Yeah.”“I was on the school bus that day. Remember?”“Vaguely,” he said, and laughed. “My fifteen minutes of fame.”“You were the bravest, coolest person I’d ever known. Everyone thought so. You were the hero of the whole school. And then, I don’t know. It was like you kind of just…faded.”He resented that a little. He hadn’t faded. Had he? “Well, most days the bus driver doesn’t have a heart attack,” Sam said.Astrid laughed. “You’re one of those people, I think. You go along in your life just sort of living. And then something goes wrong and there you are. You step up and do what you have to do. Like today, the fire.”“Yeah, well, to tell you the truth, I kind of prefer the other part. The part where I just live my life.”Astrid nodded like she understood, but then she said, “That’s not going to happen this time.
More than two dozen kids lined a low railing around the gazebo. They were all tied to it by a rope leash that gave them no more than a few feet of movement. Neck to rail, like tethered horses. Each of the kids was weighed down by a concrete block that encased their hands. Their eyes were hollow, their cheeks caved in.Astrid used a word that Sam had never imagined coming from her.“Nice language,” Drake said with a smirk. “And in front of the Pe-tard, too.”A cafeteria tray had been placed in front of each of the prisoners. It must have been a very recent delivery because some were still licking their trays, hunched over, faces down, tongues out, licking like dogs.“It’s the circle of freaks,” Drake said proudly, waving a hand like a showman.In a crusty old wheelbarrow to one side, three kids were using a short-handled shovel to mix cement. It made a heavy sloshing sound. They dumped a shovelful of gravel into the mix and stirred it like lumpy gravy.“Oh, no,” Lana said, backing away, but one of the Coates kids smashed her behind the knee with his baseball bat, and she crumpled.“Gotta do something with unhelpful freaks,” Drake said. “Can’t have you people running around loose.” He must have seen Sam start to react because he stuck his gun against Astrid’s head. “Your call, Sam. You so much as flinch and we’ll get to see what a genius brain really looks like.”“Hey, I got no powers, man,” Quinn said.“This is sick, Drake. Like you’re sick,” Astrid said. “I can’t even reason with you because you’re just too damaged, too hopelessly messed up.”“Shut up.
What’s up, Sam?”“What birthday?” he panted.“What?”“What birthday, Anna?”It took a while for her to absorb his fear. It took a while for the reason for his fear to dawn on her.“Fifteen,” Anna said in a whisper.“What’s the matter?” Emma asked, sensing her twin’s mood. “It doesn’t mean anything.”“It doesn’t,” Anna whispered.“You’re probably right,” Sam said.“Oh, my God,” Anna said. “Are we going to disappear?”“When were you born?” Sam asked. “What time of day?”The twins exchanged scared looks. “We don’t know.”“You know what, no one has blinked out since that first day, so it’s probably—”Emma disappeared.Anna screamed.The other older kids took notice, the littles, too.“Oh, my God!” Anna cried. “Emma. Emma. Oh, God!”She grabbed Sam’s hands and he held her tight.The prees, some of them, caught the fear. Mother Mary came over. “What’s going on? You’re scaring the kids. Where’s Emma?”Anna just kept saying, “Oh, my God,” and calling her sister’s name.“Where’s Emma?” Mary demanded again. “What’s going on?”Sam didn’t want to explain. Anna was hurting him with the pressure of her fingers digging into the backs of his hands. Anna’s eyes were huge, staring holes in him.“How far apart were you born?” Sam asked.Anna just stared in blank horror.Sam lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. “How far apart were you born, Anna?”“Six minutes,” she whispered.“Hold my hands, Sam,” she said.“Don’t let me go, Sam,” she said.“I won’t, Anna, I won’t let you go,” Sam said.“What’s going to happen, Sam?”“I don’t know, Anna.”“Will we go to where our mom and dad are?”“I don’t know, Anna.“Am I going to die?”“No, Anna. You’re not going to die.”“Don’t let go of me, Sam.”Mary was there now, a baby on her hip. John was there. The prees, some of them, watched with serious, worried looks on their faces.“I don’t want to die,” Anna repeated. “I…I don’t know what it’s like.”“It’s okay, Anna.”Anna smiled. “That was a nice date. When we went out.”“It was.”For a split second it was like Anna blurred. Too fast to be real. She blurred, and Sam could almost swear that she had smiled at him.And his fingers squeezed on nothing.For a terribly long time no one moved or said anything.The littles didn’t cry out. The older kids just stared.Sam’s fingertips still remembered the feel of Anna’s hands. He stared at the place where her face had been. He could still see her pleading eyes.Unable to stop himself, he reached a hand into the space she had occupied. Reaching for a face that was no longer there.Someone sobbed.Someone cried out, other voices then, the prees started crying.Sam felt sick. When his teacher had disappeared he hadn’t been expecting it. This time he had seen it coming, like a monster in a slow-motion nightmare. This time he had seen it coming, like standing rooted on the railroad tracks, unable to jump aside.
The fool says 'I never intended to kill. I meant only to wound.' But I tell you that if you prick a finger with a poisoned thorn you may not claim innocence when the heart dies. Do not plant a weed and pretend surprise when it grows to strangle your garden. For, I tell you that hate is to kill, for from hatred grows death as surely as life grows from love. Therefore do not nurture hatred, but love, even for those who hate you in return. Hatred wins many battles, and yet love will triumph.
He’s becoming useless. Worse than useless,” Sam said. Then, relenting, he said, “We’ll get past it.”“You mean you and Quinn?”“Yeah.”Astrid considered just keeping her mouth shut, not pushing it. But this was a talk she needed to have with Sam sooner or later. “I don’t think he’s going to get over it.”“You don’t know him that well.”“He’s jealous of you.”“Well, of course I am so terribly handsome,” Sam said, straining to make a joke of it.“He’s one kind of person, you’re another. When life is going along normally, you’re sort of the same. But when life turns strange and scary, when there’s a crisis, suddenly you’re completely different people. It’s not Quinn’s fault, really, but he’s not brave. He’s not strong. You are.
Um, people.”It wasn’t hard to get their attention. They gathered around. Even the littlest ones toned down their giggling, at least a bit.“First of all, thanks to Albert and his helpers for this meal. Let’s give it up for the true Mac Daddy.”A round of hearty applause and some laughter, and Albert waved sheepishly. He frowned a little too, obviously conflicted about the use of the “Mac” prefix in a way that was not approved in the McDonald’s manual.“And we have to mention Lana and Dahra, because without them, there would be a lot fewer of us here.”Now the applause was almost reverential.“Our first Thanksgiving in the FAYZ,” Sam said when the applause died down.“Hope it’s our last,” someone shouted.“Yeah. You got that right,” Sam agreed. “But we’re here. We’re here in this place we never wanted to be. And we’re scared. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that from here on, it will all be easy. It won’t be. It will be hard. And we’ll be scared some more, I guess. And sad. And lonely. Some terrible things have happened. Some terrible things…” For a moment, he lost his way. But then he stood up straighter again. “But, still, we are grateful, and we give thanks to God, if you believe in Him, or to fate, or to just ourselves, all of us here.”“To you, Sam,” someone shouted.“No, no, no.” He waved that off. “No. We give thanks to the nineteen kids who are buried right there.” He pointed at the six rows of three, plus the one who started a seventh row. Neat hand-painted wooden tombstones bore the names of Bette and too many others.“And we give thanks to the heroes who are standing around here right now eating turkey. Too many names to mention, and they’d all just be embarrassed, anyway, but we all know them.”There was a wave of loud, sustained applause, and many faces turned toward Edilio and Dekka, Taylor and Brianna, and some toward Quinn.“We all hope this will end. We all hope we’ll soon be back in the world with people we love. But right now, we’re here. We’re in the FAYZ. And what we’re going to do is work together, and look out for each other, and help each other.” People nodded, some high-fived.“Most of us are from Perdido Beach. Some are from Coates. Some of us are…well, a little strange.” A few titters. “And some of us are not. But we’re all here now, we’re all in it together. We’re going to survive. If this is our world now…I mean, it is our world now. It is our world. So, let’s make it a good one.”He stepped down in silence.Then someone started clapping rhythmically and saying, “Sam, Sam, Sam.” Others joined in, and soon every person in the plaza, even some of the prees, was chanting his name.
Sam,” Astrid yelled. “Quick.”Sam thought he was too far gone to respond, but he somehow started his feet moving again and went up to where Little Pete was standing and Astrid kneeling.There was a girl lying in the dirt. Her clothing was a mess, her black hair ratty. She was Asian, pretty without being beautiful, and little more than skin and bones. But the first thing they noticed was that her forearms ended in a solid concrete block.Astrid made a quick sign of the cross and pressed two fingers against the girl’s neck. “Lana,” Astrid cried.Lana sized up the situation quickly. “I don’t see any injuries. I think maybe she’s starving or else sick in some other way.”“What’s she doing out here?” Edilio wondered. “Oh, man, what did someone do to her hands?”“I can’t heal hunger,” Lana said. “I tried it on myself when I was with the pack. Didn’t work.”Edilio untwisted the cap from his water bottle, knelt, and carefully drizzled water across the girl’s cheek so that a few drops curled into her mouth.“Look, she’s swallowing.”Edilio broke a tiny bite from one of the PowerBars and placed it gently into the girl’s mouth. After a second the girl’s mouth began to move, to chew.“There’s a road over there,” Sam said. “I think so, anyway. A dirt road, I think.”“Someone drove by and dumped her here,” Astrid agreed.Sam pointed at the dirt. “You can see how she dragged that block.”“Some sick stuff going on,” Edilio muttered angrily. “Who would do something like this?
You sound like a college freshman taking his first philosophy class way too seriously, but that's good.
Listen, Sam, and everyone, you need to know something so it won’t freak you out: Pack Leader can speak. I mean, human words. Like Smart-Girl Barbie there was saying, he’s some kind of mutant or whatever. I know you think I’m probably crazy.”She had Hermit Jim’s tin cup now and used it to scoop up another helping of wonderful, wonderful pudding. Blondie—Astrid—was opening a can of fruit cocktail.“What do you know about the FAYZ?” Astrid asked.Lana stopped eating and stared at her. “The what?”Astrid shrugged and looked embarrassed. “That’s what people are calling it. The Fallout Alley Youth Zone. FAYZ.”“What does that mean?”“Have you seen the barrier?”She nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’ve seen the barrier. I touched the barrier, which, by the way, is not a good idea.”Sam said, “As far as we can tell, it goes clear around in a big circle. Or maybe a sphere. We think the center is the power plant. It seems like a ten-mile radius from there, you know, twenty miles across.”“Circumference of 62.83 miles, with an area of 314.159 square miles,” Astrid said.“Point 159,” Quinn echoed from his corner. “That’s important.”“It’s basically pi,” Astrid said. “You know, 3.14159265…. Okay, I’ll stop.”Lana hadn’t stopped being hungry. She took a scoop of the fruit cocktail. “Sam, you think the power plant caused it?”Sam shrugged, and then he hesitated, surprised. Lana guessed that he felt no pain in his shoulder. “No one knows. All of a sudden every single person over the age of fourteen disappears and there’s this barrier and people…animals…”Lana slowly absorbed this new information. “You mean all the adults? They’re gone?”“Poof,” Quinn said. “They ditched. They blinked out. They vacated. They took the off-ramp. They cut a hole. They emigrated. Adults and teenagers. Nothing left but kids.”“I’ve done all I can to strengthen the door,” Edilio announced. “But all I have is nails. Someone can break it in eventually.”“Maybe they didn’t all ditch,” Lana said. “Maybe we did.”Astrid said, “That’s definitely one of the possibilities, not that it makes any real difference. It’s effectively the same thing.