I've always liked Belgian waffles, but I must say, I didn't think I would one day be having Belgian waffles in Belgium! I just sort of POOF found myself there and there I was with a gigantic Belgian waffle in my hands, standing on a sidewalk in Belgium!
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
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.
How do we stop them?” Edilio asked. He raised his head, and Sam saw the distress on his face. “How do you think we stop them? When your fifteenth birthday rolls around, the easy thing is to take the poof. You gotta fight to resist it. We know that. So how are we going to tell kids this isn’t real, this Orsay thing?”“We just tell them,” Astrid said.“But we don’t know if it’s real or not,” Edilio argued.Astrid shrugged. She stared at nothing and kept her features very still. “We tell them it’s all fake. Kids hate this place, but they don’t want to die.”“How do we tell them if we don’t know?” Edilio seemed genuinely puzzled.Howard laughed. “Deely-O, Deely-O, you are such a doof sometimes.” He put his feet down and leaned toward Edilio as if sharing a secret with him. “She means: We lie. Astrid means that we lie to everyone and tell them we do know for sure.”Edilio stared at Astrid like he was expecting her to deny it.“It’s for people’s own good,” Astrid said in a low voice, still looking at nothing.“You know what’s funny?” Howard said, grinning. “I was pretty sure we were coming to this meeting so Astrid could rank on Sam for not telling us the whole truth. And now, it turns out we’re really here so Astrid can talk us all into becoming liars.
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.
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.