Authors: Michael Grant
A Gone Novel
For Katherine, Jake, and Julia
SAM TEMPLE WAS on his board. And there were waves.
THE ROOF WAS on crooked. The blistering bright sun stabbed…
LANA ARWEN LAZAR was on her fourth home since coming…
COATES ACADEMY WAS quite a bit the worse for wear.
“BULLETS ARE FAST. That’s why they work,” Computer Jack said…
“LOOK, ALBERT, DON’T tell me we have a problem and…
“PULL OVER HERE, Panda,” Drake said.
ORSAY PETTIJOHN STOOD transfixed. Two kids, the first human beings…
IT WAS MORNING. The buses were in the square. Edilio…
“SHE WAS IN my dreams, in my head. I saw…
“MOTHER MARY WANTS to draft two more kids,” Astrid told…
THE ARGUMENT WITH Astrid about Albert’s club had not been…
SAM KNOCKED AT the front door. He didn’t usually do…
“SHE’S BEEN LIKE this ever since.” Bug—the visible Bug—waved his…
SAM TOOK THE list from Astrid. He scanned the first…
SHE DIDN’T WANT to cut off her hair. She liked…
DIANA FOLLOWED JACK from the McClub. It was a relief…
PATRICK FIGURED IT was all a party. His master was…
THEY DROVE THE SUV through the hole in the fence,…
BRIANNA HAD NOT found Sam on the road to the…
JACK STRAINED AGAINST the door.
JACK WOKE TO pain.
“THEY’LL HAVE SOMEONE on the gate,” Sam said. “It’s just…
SAM WISHED CAINE would come out after him. That would…
DUCK HAD ARGUED with himself all the way home. Hunter’s…
“WHAT IS IT you want, Caine?” Sam’s voice, calling from…
THE PICKUP TRUCK’S battery was dead. It had been sitting…
“WE CAN WAIT him out,” Edilio said to Sam. “Just…
CAINE HAD FALLEN asleep, exhausted, on the plant manager’s couch.
COME TO ME. I have need of you.
BUG WAS LEERY now. Sam’s people knew about him. They…
HUNTER WAS HUNGRIER than he would have thought possible. He’d…
EDILIO DROVE THE creepy little mutant, Bug, and the girl…
TWENTY-ONE HOURS WITH no food. Not a bite.
DRAKE CREPT TO the hole in the exterior wall. The…
THE JEEP BLEW through the gate. Edilio drove straight to…
EDILIO’S HANDS WERE gripping the wheel so tightly, his fingers…
DUCK ZHANG WAS having a fine time if you set…
THE SUN WAS sinking into the sea. Shadows were lengthening…
DUCK WAS SO high up, he could see smoke rising…
DRAKE WAS FIRST up the trail. He was limping, one…
DRAKE’S WHIP HAND spun Diana like a top.
THE MINE SHAFT was collapsed.
KIND OF LIKE the first time, Duck thought.
CAINE STOOD IN darkness.
IT WAS LATE the next day before Edilio could bring…
SAM TEMPLE WAS
on his board. And there were waves. Honest-to-God swooping, crashing, churning, salt-smelling, white-foam waves.
And there he was about two hundred feet out, the perfect place to catch a wave, lying facedown, hands and feet in the water, almost numb from cold, while at the same time his wet-suit-encased, sunbaked back was steaming.
Quinn was there, too, lolling beside him, waiting for a good ride, waiting for the wave that would pick them up and hurl them toward the beach.
Sam woke suddenly, choking on dust.
He blinked and looked around at the dry landscape. Instinctively he glanced toward the southwest, toward the ocean. Couldn’t see it from here. And there hadn’t been a wave in a long time.
Sam believed he’d sell his soul to ride just one more real wave.
He backhanded the sweat from his brow. The sun was like
a blowtorch, way too hot for this early in the day. He’d had too little sleep. Too much stuff to deal with. Stuff. Always stuff.
The heat, the sound of the engine, and the rhythmic jerking of the Jeep as it labored down the dusty road conspired to force his eyelids closed again. He squeezed them shut, hard, then opened them wide, willing himself to stay awake.
The dream stayed with him. The memory taunted him. He could stand it all so much better, he told himself, the constant fear, the even more constant load of trivia and responsibility, if there were still waves. But there had been no waves for three months. No waves at all, nothing but ripples.
Three months after the coming of the FAYZ, Sam had still not learned to drive a car. Learning to drive would have been one more thing, one more hassle, one more pain in the butt. So Edilio Escobar drove the Jeep, and Sam rode shotgun. In the backseat Albert Hillsborough sat stiff and quiet. Beside him was a kid named E.Z., singing along to his iPod.
Sam pushed his fingers through his hair, which was way too long. He hadn’t had a haircut in more than three months. His hand came back dirty, clotted with dust. Fortunately the electricity was still on in Perdido Beach, which meant light, and perhaps better still, hot water. If he couldn’t go for a cold surf, he could at least look forward to a long, hot shower after they all got back.
A shower. Maybe a few minutes with Astrid, just the two of them. A meal. Well, not a meal, no. A can of something slimy was not a meal. His hurried breakfast had been a can of collard greens.
It was amazing what you could gag down when you got hungry enough. And Sam, like everyone else in the FAYZ, was hungry.
He closed his eyes, not sleepy now, just wanting to see Astrid’s face clearly.
It was the one compensation. He’d lost his mother, his favorite pastime, his privacy, his freedom, and the entire world he’d known…but he’d gained Astrid.
Before the FAYZ he’d always thought of her as unapproachable. Now, as a couple, they seemed inevitable. But he wondered whether he’d have ever done more than gaze wistfully from afar if the FAYZ hadn’t happened.
Edilio applied a little brake. The road ahead was torn up. Someone had gouged the dirt road, drawn rough angled lines across it.
Edilio pointed to a tractor set up to pull a plow. The tractor was overturned in the middle of a field. On the day the FAYZ came the farmer had disappeared, along with the rest of the adults, but the tractor had kept right on going, tearing up the road, running straight into the next field, stopping only when an irrigation ditch had tipped it over.
Edilio took the Jeep over the furrows at a crawl, then picked up speed again.
There wasn’t much to the left or right of the road, just bare dirt, fallow fields, and patches of colorless grass broken up by the occasional lonely stand of trees. But up ahead was green, lots of it.
Sam turned in his seat to get Albert’s attention. “So what is that up there, again?”
“Cabbage,” Albert said. Albert was an eighth grader, narrow-shouldered, self-contained; dressed in pressed khaki pants, a pale blue polo shirt, and brown loafers—what a much older person would call “business casual.” He was a kid no one had paid much attention to before, just one of a handful of African-American students at the Perdido Beach School. But no one ignored Albert anymore: he had reopened and run the town’s McDonald’s. At least he had until the burgers and the fries and the chicken nuggets ran out.
Even the ketchup. That was gone now, too.
The mere memory of hamburgers made Sam’s stomach growl. “Cabbage?” he repeated.
Albert nodded toward Edilio. “That’s what Edilio says. He’s the one who found it yesterday.”
“Cabbage?” Sam asked Edilio.
“It makes you fart,” Edilio said with a wink. “But we can’t be too choosy.”
“I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if we had coleslaw,” Sam said. “Tell you the truth, I could happily eat a cabbage right now.”
“You know what I had for breakfast?” Edilio asked. “A can of succotash.”
“What exactly is succotash?” Sam asked.
“Lima beans and corn. Mixed together.” Edilio braked at the edge of the field. “Not exactly fried eggs and sausage.”
“Is that the official Honduran breakfast?” Sam asked.
Edilio snorted. “Man, the official Honduran breakfast when you’re poor is a corn tortilla, some leftover beans, and on a good day a banana. On a bad day it’s just the tortilla.” He
killed the engine and set the emergency brake. “This isn’t my first time being hungry.”
Sam stood up in the Jeep and stretched before jumping to the ground. He was a naturally athletic kid but in no way physically intimidating. He had brown hair with glints of gold, blue eyes, and a tan that reached all the way down to his bones. Maybe he was a little taller than average, maybe in a little better shape, but no one would pick him for a future in the NFL.
Sam Temple was one of the two oldest people in the FAYZ. He was fifteen.
“Hey. That looks like lettuce,” E.Z. said, wrapping his earbuds carefully around his iPod.
“If only,” Sam said gloomily. “So far we have avocados, that’s fine, and cantaloupes, which is excellent news. But we are finding way too much broccoli and artichokes. Lots of artichokes. Now cabbage.”
“We may get the oranges back eventually,” Edilio said. “The trees looked okay. It was just the fruit was ripe and didn’t get picked, so they rotted.”
“Astrid says things are ripening at weird times,” Sam said. “Not normal.”
“As Quinn likes to say, ‘We’re a long way from normal,’” Edilio said.
“Who’s going to pick all these?” Sam wondered aloud. It was what Astrid would have called a rhetorical question.
Albert started to say something, then stopped himself when E.Z. said, “Hey, I’ll go grab one of these cabbages right
now. I’m starving.” He unwound the earbuds and stuck them back in.
The cabbages were a foot or so apart within their rows, and each row was two feet from the next. The soil in between was crumbled and dry. The cabbages looked more like thick-leafed houseplants than like something you might actually eat.
It didn’t look much different from a dozen other fields Sam had seen during this farm tour.
No, Sam corrected himself, there
something different. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but there was something different here. Sam frowned and tried to work through the feeling he was having, tried to decide why he felt something was…off.
It was quieter, maybe.
Sam took a swig from a water bottle. He heard Albert counting under his breath, shading his eyes with his hand and multiplying. “Totally just a ballpark guess, figuring each cabbage weighs maybe a pound and a half, right? I’m thinking we have ourselves maybe thirty thousand pounds of cabbage.”
“I don’t even want to think about how many farts this all translates to,” E.Z. yelled over his shoulder as he marched purposefully into the field.
E.Z. was a sixth grader but seemed older. He was tall for his age, a little chubby. Thin, dishwater-blond hair hung down to his shoulders. He was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt from Cancún. E.Z. was a good name for him: he was
easy to get along with, would banter easily, laugh easily, and usually find whatever fun there was to be found. He stopped about two dozen rows into the field and said, “This looks like the cabbage for me.”
“How can you tell?” Edilio called back. E.Z. pulled one earbud out and Edilio repeated the question.
“I’m tired of walking. This must be the right cabbage. How do I pick it?”
Edilio shrugged. “Man, I think you may need a knife.”
“Nah.” E.Z. replaced the earbud, bent over, and yanked at the plant. He got a handful of leaves for his effort.
“You see what I’m saying,” Edilio commented.
“Where are the birds?” Sam asked, finally figuring out what was bothering him.
“What birds?” Edilio said. Then he nodded. “You’re right, man, there’ve been seagulls all over the other fields. Especially in the morning.”
Perdido Beach had quite a population of seagulls. In the old days they had lived off bits of bait left by fishermen and food scraps dropped near trash cans. There were no more food scraps in the FAYZ. Not anymore. So the enterprising gulls had gone into the fields to compete with crows and pigeons. One of the reasons so much of the food they’d found was spoiled.
“They must not like cabbage,” Albert commented. He sighed. “I don’t honestly know anyone who does.”
E.Z. squatted down before the cabbage, rubbed his hands
in preparation, worked them down beneath the leaves, down to cradle the cabbage. Then he fell back on his rear end. “Ow!” he yelled.
“Not so easy, is it?” Edilio teased.
“Ah! Ah!” E.Z. jumped to his feet. He was holding his right hand with his left and staring hard at his hand. “No, no, no.”
Sam had been only half listening. His mind was elsewhere, scanning for the missing birds, but the terror in E.Z.’s voice snapped his head around. “What’s the matter?”
“Something bit me!” E.Z. cried. “Oh, oh, it hurts. It hurts. It—” E.Z. let loose a scream of agony. The scream started low and went higher, higher into hysteria.
Sam saw what looked like a black question mark on E.Z.’s pant leg.
“Snake!” Sam said to Edilio. E.Z.’s arm went into a spasm. It shook violently. It was as if some invisible giant had hold of it and were yanking his arm as hard and as fast as it could.
E.Z. screamed and screamed and began a lunatic dance. “They’re in my feet!” he cried. “They’re in my feet!”
Sam stood paralyzed for a few seconds, just a few seconds—but later in memory it would seem so long. Too long.
He leaped forward, rushing toward E.Z. He was brought down hard by a flying tackle from Edilio.
“What are you doing?” Sam demanded, and struggled to free himself.
“Man, look. Look!” Edilio whispered.
Sam’s face was mere feet from the first row of cabbages.
The soil was alive. Worms. Worms as big as garter snakes were seething up from beneath the dirt. Dozens. Maybe hundreds. All heading toward E.Z., who screamed again and again in agony mixed with confusion.
Sam rose to his feet but went no closer to the edge of the cabbage field. The worms did not move beyond the first row of turned soil. There might as well have been a wall, the worms all on one side.
E.Z. came staggering wildly toward Sam, walking as if he were being electrocuted, jerking, flailing like some crazy puppet with half its strings cut.
Three, four feet away, a long arm-stretch away, Sam saw the worm erupt from the skin of E.Z.’s throat.
And then another from his jaw, just in front of his ear. E.Z., no longer screaming, sagged to the ground, just sat there limp, cross-legged.
“Help me,” E.Z. whispered. “Sam…” E.Z.’s eyes were on Sam. Pleading. Fading. Then just staring, blank.
The only sounds now came from the worms. Their hundreds of mouths seemed to make a single sound, one big mouth chewing wetly.
A worm spilled from E.Z.’s mouth.
Sam raised his hands, palms out.
“Sam, no!” Albert yelled. Then, in a quieter voice, “He’s already dead. He’s already dead.”
“Albert’s right, man. Don’t do it, don’t burn them, they’re staying in the field, don’t give them a reason to come after us,”
Edilio hissed. His strong hands still dug into Sam’s shoulders, like he was holding Sam back, though Sam wasn’t trying to escape any longer.
“And don’t touch him,” Edilio sobbed. “
, God forgive me, don’t touch him.”
The black worms swarmed over and through E.Z.’s body. Like ants swarming a dead beetle.
It felt like a very long time before the worms slithered away and tunneled back into the earth.
What they left behind was no longer recognizable as a human being.
“There’s a rope here,” Albert said, stepping down at last from the Jeep. He tried to tie a lasso, but his hands were shaking too badly. He handed the rope to Edilio, who formed a loop and after six misses finally snagged what was left of E.Z.’s right foot. Together they dragged the remains from the field.
A single tardy worm crawled from the mess and headed back toward the cabbages. Sam snatched up a rock the size of a softball and smashed it down on the worm’s back. The worm stopped moving.
“I’ll come back with a shovel,” Edilio said. “We can’t take E.Z. home, man, he’s got two little brothers. They don’t need to be seeing this. We’ll bury him here.
“If these things spread…,” Edilio began.
“If they spread to the other fields, we all starve,” Albert said.
Sam fought a powerful urge to throw up. E.Z. was mostly
bones now, picked not quite clean. Sam had seen terrible things since the FAYZ began, but nothing this gruesome.
He wiped his hands on his jeans, wanting to hit back, wishing it made sense to blast the field, burn as much of it as he could reach, keep burning it until the worms shriveled and crisped.
But that was food out there.
Sam knelt beside the mess in the dirt. “You were a good kid, E.Z. Sorry. I…sorry.” There was music, tinny, but recognizable, still coming from E.Z.’s iPod.
Sam lifted the shiny thing and tapped the pause icon.
Then he stood up and kicked the dead worm out of the way. He held his hands out as though he were a minister about to bless the body.