Wednesday, April 29
“No. Jon. No.”
Jon Evans sat upright in his bed. It was Gabe, he told himself. Gabe must have had a bad dream. He listened for Carrie, Gabe’s nanny, to calm the little boy. He waited to hear Lisa run down the hallway to soothe her son.
But Carrie was quiet. Lisa was quiet. The house was quiet.
It wasn’t Gabe he’d heard. It was Julie.
How long had he known her? A month, six weeks. But he’d been haunted by her for two and a half years.
Jon knew better than to believe in ghosts. Billions of people had died in the past few years. There’d be no room for the living if all the dead were ghosts. And if there were ghosts, there were others Jon would prefer to be haunted by. His father, who died of exhaustion and hunger on the way to Sexton, Tennessee. Jon would welcome his ghost.
But it was Julie’s voice he heard in his sleep. Julie who cried out to him in panic, in anger, her accusations too real, her death too unforgivable.
If the moon’s orbit hadn’t been pushed closer to the earth, Jon would never have met Julie. He’d be a senior in high school, living with Mom back in Pennsylvania. His parents had been divorced long before, but Dad and Lisa and Gabe would be in Springfield, close enough for the occasional visit.
But the moon’s orbit had changed, and the world as everyone had known it had changed in horrific ways. Billions had died from tsunamis, famine, and epidemics.
Dad was one of those billions. His death came a hundred miles before Jon and his family had reached Sexton. They were all half-starved by then, and had neither the strength nor the tools to bury him.
Julie hadn’t died like that. Julie died because of what Jon had done. Of the billions of dead, only Julie was his own. Only she would haunt him.
Jon got out of bed and walked to the window. It had rained all day, and the wind was from the south. The volcanic ash, which ordinarily covered the sky, had thinned as it sometimes did when rain and wind cooperated. Jon could see the pale outline of the moon, ominous and engorged, dominating the night.
Tomorrow, Jon hoped, the air would be clear enough to see the sun. And one day, the sun might appear on its own, not dependent on rain and the direction of the wind. He would wake up, the world would wake up, and the sun would be warm and glowing. Nothing would be so bad anymore.
But the billions would still be dead. Dad would still be dead. And Julie would still haunt his dreams.
Thursday, April 30
Jon didn’t know what time it was when he woke up, but it didn’t matter. It was still nighttime, hours to go before he ordinarily awoke.
Sometimes when he woke up in the middle of the night, he’d go downstairs, knock on Val’s door, and tell her to get up and make him something to eat. He might not even be hungry. It was more the comforting sensation of knowing there was food; there was always enough food. Even after two years of living in Sexton, Jon still needed the reassurance. And Val, a grub just like Carrie, would know better than to complain. Without her job as a domestic, there’d be no food for her.
But this time, Jon went downstairs to the kitchen by himself. Maybe a glass of goat’s milk would be enough, he thought. He still hadn’t developed a taste for it, but it was better than nothing.
To his surprise, he saw Lisa sitting at the kitchen table. She looked up and smiled. “Couldn’t sleep either?” she whispered.
Jon nodded. “I thought I’d get a glass of milk,” he said. “Is there enough?”
“Quiet,” Lisa said. “Val’s sleeping.” She got up, found him a glass, and poured him some milk. “There’s enough for our breakfast,” she said. “Val can pick some up at the market tomorrow.”
Jon sat down and drank the milk. “You okay?” he asked.
Lisa nodded. “I’m glad we have this chance to talk,” she said so softly Jon almost couldn’t hear her. “It’s the evaluation.”
“Do you have a date yet?” Jon asked. Everyone in Sexton got evaluated regularly. Those who weren’t pulling their own weight were made to leave the enclave. The rest were allowed to stay for another three years.
“Not yet,” she replied. “Jon, I’m not supposed to know this, so keep this to yourself, but Gregory Hughes is in charge of my evaluation.”
“Tyler’s father?” Jon asked, and Lisa nodded. “But that’s good, right?” he said. “Tyler’s my friend. That’s got to help.”
“I think so, too,” Lisa said. “It’s like what your father used to say. It never hurts to be friends with the boss. Not that Tyler’s your boss. Of course he isn’t. It’s just, well, don’t pick any fights with him. Just go along with whatever he says, at least until the evaluation is over. Promise me, Jon.”
“No problem,” he said. “I don’t fight with him anyway. I promise.”
“Thank you.” Lisa sighed. “I know I must sound crazy, but I don’t know what I’ll do if I fail the evaluation.”
“You won’t fail,” Jon said. “Go to bed, Lisa. You need your sleep.”
“So do you,” she said. “Leave it for Val to clean up. She’s the only one who gets enough sleep around here.”
Friday, May 1
Sexton University, where Jon’s high school was located, had been built to withstand tornadoes. No one had worried about earthquakes, but it turned out the buildings could withstand them also. A good thing too, since in the two years Jon had been in Sexton, there were no tornadoes but a dozen or more quakes.
At the first rumble they all knew what to do. The students and teachers in the various grades left their classrooms and sat on the hallway floor. They were supposed to cover their heads with their arms, but no one bothered. Even the teachers looked relaxed.
But the new girl, Sarah, was clearly upset. This was her first day at school, and from the looks of it, this was her first earthquake. At least her first one in Sexton. Jon didn’t know what the earthquake situation was where she used to live.
He inched over to her. “It’s okay,” he said. “We get them all the time. It’ll be over in a minute.”
“All the time?” she asked.
“Well, not all the time,” he said. “My little brother, Gabe, doesn’t like them either.”
“How old is he?” Sarah asked.
“Three,” Jon said.
“Great,” she said. “I have the maturity of a three-year-old.”
Jon laughed. “He’s a very mature three-year-old,” he said.
“Rise and shine,” Mr. Chandler, their chemistry teacher, said. “Earthquake over.”