Read The 8th Continent Online

Authors: Matt London

The 8th Continent (9 page)

THE CONCRETE CURB RUSHED UP AND STRUCK DIANA
IN THE EVERYWHERE. SHE HAD UNDERSTOOD
THE
metaphor but had not expected Mister Snow to literally throw them out of Winterpole Headquarters.

“Vesuvia, are you all right?” Diana asked. She had seen her friend land on her head.

“No. I am not all right. I am in the worst imaginable pain.”

Diana scrambled over to Vesuvia and began checking her for broken bones. “Oh my goodness. What's wrong?”

“My beautiful haircut,” Vesuvia wailed. “Look at it. I have a split end!” The little CEO pulled her pink plastic jacket over her head and wept. “I can't believe this! No one has ever treated me with such disrespect. I am outraged!”

Diana sighed. She should have known better than to worry. Vesuvia's skull was harder than a robot's. Instead, she focused her concerns on what her mother would say when she found out Mister Snow had thrown them out of her office. She would probably freak out about such a blemish on her spotless record. It was always about how things affected
her
. Maybe that was why it was surprisingly easy for Diana to get along with Vesuvia. Experience.

Her friend continued her rant. “I am going to call Bradley and make sure this Mister Snowflake is banned from all Condo Corp properties.”

Diana pushed her thoughts from her mind and focused on the matter at hand. How were they going to figure out what the Lanes were up to?

“Bradley? I am hopping mad. No—a hop is too little. I am leaping mad. Pole-vaulting mad. I am . . . What? The board met without me? Get Billingsley on the phone right now!”

Something caught Diana's eye. Out in the parking lot, a big green Dumpster gleamed in the afternoon sunlight like an emerald on the asphalt. She remembered the words that Mister Snow had said back inside Winterpole Headquarters. That all information pertaining to the Lane family had been “discarded.” Would Winterpole be dumb enough to simply “discard” the Lane family file in a public Dumpster?

Vesuvia screamed into her phone. “Winterpole is so stupid you could use its head as a flotation device. . . . Well, I know organizations don't have heads. They have leaders but not heads like I meant. Literal heads. Shut up, Bradley. You know what I mean.”

Diana figured they
would
be dumb enough—or at least beholden to some fifty-year-old rule that all documents must be discarded in the public Dumpster. While Vesuvia verbally abused her telephone, Diana crossed the parking lot and peered into the trash.

She returned to the curb a moment later with a stack of documents bound with a couple of rubber bands. The papers were a little crumpled and bespeckled with coffee grounds. Still, their sheer existence made Diana quite happy.

“I cannot
believe
he had the nerve to throw me out. No one throws Vesuvia Piffle anything! Except perhaps a party, with little pink cupcakes and a cotton candy machine and one of those bouncy castles.”

“Hey, Vesuvia, look at this.” Diana hefted the big stack of papers.

“You're right,” Vesuvia said into her phone. “That is an excellent idea. I'd like pink strawberry cotton candy. And don't get me a bouncy castle that looks like a castle. I want a double bouncy castle, shaped like New Miami!”

“Vesuvia!” With each failed conversation, it took less time before Diana started shouting. “This is very impor- tant! It's about the Lanes.”

“Money? I'm not paying for a stupid cotton candy machine. Call Daddy. He takes care of all that boring stuff.”

Diana hurled the stack of papers in Vesuvia's direction. “Here, catch!”

The stack of papers struck Vesuvia in the chest and knocked her onto her butt, sending her phone spinning in a little circle on the ground beside her. Diana held her breath, waiting for the inevitable Vesuvia eruption, but none came, because now that Vesuvia was sitting, she couldn't help but look at the papers, which had landed in her lap. The cover sheet read:
Lane Enterprises, George Lane, Family & Associates.

“This is amazing!” Vesuvia hugged the stack of papers in pure jubilation.

“I know!” Diana grinned triumphantly.

“Where did you find this?”

“Can you believe it? In the trash.”

Vesuvia's smile melted into pure horror. She shrieked so loudly Diana had to cover her ears. “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Grossest! Nastiest! Boil my hands! YUCK! EW! THE GARBAGE!” She kicked the papers from her lap and crawled away.

“Just look at it, Vesuvia.”

“It was in the garbage, Diana. I hate garbage! How could you give that to me?” She fanned out her clothes and stomped her feet and spun around in a circle, shaking away the germs.

Diana pressed the issue. “You have to look at it. It's important. It's the information you were looking for about the Lanes.”

“What?!” Vesuvia spun on her heel and snatched the stack of papers from Diana's hand. “Give that to me!” She ripped off the rubber bands with a snap and flipped through the pages, Diana reading over her shoulder. The papers detailed the incident in the computer room and an outline of the information that Rick and Evie Lane had gathered there. There were several references to a Doctor Evan Grant, a former colleague of the Lanes' father. Apparently he had developed a chemical substance called the Eden Compound, which converted trash into dirt and other organic materials.

Vesuvia snorted and began to crumple up the paper. “Boring. It's just some nerdy science stuff.”

“Vesuvia, wait!” Diana smoothed out the paper. “Look. This Doctor Grant must be who the Lanes are looking for. With this Eden Compound, Rick and Evie could transform the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into a real island. That's how they're going to build their eighth continent. I can't believe it.”

“I know!” Vesuvia said. “I can't believe they thought they would ever build the continent. It's obvious that I am going to kidnap this doctor man and force him to make New Miami on Trash Island. Then the eighth continent will be mine!”

“No, I mean I can't believe Winterpole just left this information in the garbage Dumpster.”

A look of recognition dawned on Vesuvia's face. She was still holding the stack of papers, the stack of papers that until just a few moments ago had been in the trash. Her face wrenched up in disgust, her screams setting off half the car alarms in the parking lot.

THE SHORT GRASS FELT SOFT BETWEEN EVIE'S TOES, LIKE A SPONGY CARPET. THE SUN WARMED
the top of her head, and she inhaled the ocean breeze. There was nothing quite like going for a walk on your own continent.

The untapped, beautiful land filled her with joy and triumph. This was her continent. She had built it. No one could take that accomplishment, or this land, away from her.

“Evie! Eeeeeeeevieeeeeeeee! Come play with us!”

She turned to the sound of the voice. Her father was waving at her from across the green field. Her mother and Rick were doing cartwheels and blowing dandelions and climbing trees. What fun!

Her sprint across the field took no time at all. She leaped into her father's arms, and he spun her, and they laughed.

“I am so proud of you, my darling.” His smile was as warm as the sun. “I knew you could do it.”

“I built a kingdom!” she giggled. It felt so good to have given the world a place as tranquil and trash-free as the eighth continent. But really, she was happy to have a safe haven where she was the boss, where Winterpole and her wicked schoolmates were not allowed.

Evie stood on her tiptoes to give her dad a kiss on the nose, but she stopped short.

“What is it, honey?” her father asked.

Something oozed from her father's nostril. Blood? No. It was black ichor, and when it touched his lips it stained them dark, and he gagged.

“Dad! Something's wrong.”

“I don't feel well.” Her father stumbled and dropped to his knees. “Evie, help me!”

“I don't know what to do!”

“You never did know anything. You're useless,” he said with hate in his eyes. And then he transformed into a Dad-shaped pile of garbage.

New waves of trash surged from the pile until it was the size of a house, a monstrous beast with broken televisions for eyes, teeth of rusted sheet metal, and rotten food for hands. It enveloped her mom and brother with one swipe.

Then the monster went for her. It had her mother's face, and when its mouth closed around Evie's head, she screamed.

She was still screaming when she snapped awake in her bed from the horrible nightmare.

Evie combed damp hair from her face, gasping for breath. Her favorite pajamas were soaked with sweat.

She got out of bed, put on a clean T-shirt, and crept downstairs to the kitchen. She needed water or a cup of milk. Something to get the taste of garbage out of her mouth.

The light was on in the kitchen. She entered cautiously. The dark marble countertops were spotless. The stainless steel saucepans, hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers, were even more stainless than usual.

“Oh. Evelyn. I didn't see you there.”

Evie jumped at the voice, still a little shaken from the awful dream, then searched for its source. Her mother was on the floor, scrubbing the tiles with her gloves, which were covered with little bristles, like hand-shaped toothbrushes.

“Sorry, Mom. I just wanted some water.”

Her mother stood and took off the gloves. “Let me get it for you.” She poured the water through Dad's homemade quintuple-filtration system. When Evie drank it, the water tasted cleaner than any she'd ever sipped.

Melinda watched as her daughter drained her glass. “Bad dream?”

“How did you know?”

“When you were a baby, your ears would get red whenever you had a nightmare. And right now your ears are stop signs.”

Evie covered her ears, embarrassed.

“Oh, don't do that. They're beautiful.” She tucked a lock of hair behind Evie's right ear. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Evie shook her head. “Are you still mad about Dad and the eighth continent and everything?”

Her mother sighed. “Yes, I'm still mad.”

A few days ago, when her mother had found out about the family's attempt to create their own continent, no questions were needed to determine her feelings. Rick and Evie had been grounded so quick they got whiplash. Mom shared her fury with everyone. With Dad for breaking Winterpole's rules, with Evie for her crazy continent-building scheme, even with Rick, whom she was never angry at, for going along with them. “I can't believe you kids are following in your father's footsteps,” she had said. “Well, at least I can't believe
Richard
is following in his footsteps. Evelyn's behavior isn't terribly surprising.” The only member of the Lane family she wasn't mad at was 2-Tor, whose programming prevented him from lying, and so he had spilled the birdseed about everything that had happened.

But now things seemed . . . okay. Evie downed the final drops of water as her mother said, “I've always loved your father for his vision. I wanted the world clean. He wanted it free of trash. It was the same dream. Our methods, by contrast, could not be more different. You learn to accept the people you love for who they are, even if they make you crazy.”

Evie nodded. “Rick is so timid it drives me nuts.”

“And you're so brazen it drives
him
nuts. But you still love each other.”

“Mom . . .” Evie hesitated. She had a question that required an answer, but she was afraid to ask in case it made her mother even angrier.

“What is it, honey?”

Deep breath. “You always seem so disappointed in me, but you never get that way with Rick. How come? Is it because I'm always getting in trouble, and you don't see any of yourself in me?”

Her mother sighed. “First of all, Rick's good behavior mystifies me too. Sometimes I wonder if the hospital didn't give us a well-behaved robot by mistake. As for your question, quite the opposite is true. I see so much of myself in you that whenever you talk I remember all the crazy stuff I did when I was your age, but my heart aches at the same time. You just don't have the experience I do. You don't understand what it means to be focused and have ambitions. I want you to make something of yourself, honey, but you are never going to do that if you're running around all the time on these silly adventures away from school.”

Evie thought, but did not say, that her adventures were anything but silly. Her adventures were how she wanted to make something of herself. Her mother really didn't get it. Evie was not going to grow up and sit behind a desk all day; she was going to stay a kid and make the world a cleaner, awesomer place. She wished she could find a way to show her mom how important the eighth continent was. Maybe then she would understand.

They sat silently in the kitchen for a long time. At last, her mother said, “Do you know why I like clean things? It's because you can see things for what they are. Clean things can't hide behind dirt or in garbage. When something is clean, it has no secrets. Your father is different. He thinks mess fosters ingenuity. I guess that's a fancy way of saying that when you're messy, sometimes you make happy accidents. But sometimes you make very bad accidents, like when you sneak into an international security agency and tamper with their official documents.”

“So I guess I'm still grounded,” Evie said sourly.

“Most certainly.” Her mother nodded, her lips hinting at a smile. “And Richard too. I'm sure someday he will find a way to cope, but I think it's good for him to stew for now. Builds character.”

Evie snickered. “He almost fainted.”

Her mother's mouth crinkled into a smile. “Listen, honey. I'm off in the morning to a very important meeting about the future of Cleanaspot.”

“Where is it?”

“Barbados.”

“Barbados is nice.”

“I agree.” Her mother put an arm around Evie's shoulder. “But what would also be nice is if you could please behave while I'm gone.”

Evie looked away.

“Please, Evie, for me.” She gently squeezed her daughter's chin. “And do try to keep your father out of trouble.”

Evie nodded.

“Promise?”

“I promise,” she answered. But secretly, she could not help but think that the best way to help her father, and make something of herself, was to build the eighth continent.

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