Authors: Peggy Eddleman
ALSO BY PEGGY EDDLEMAN
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by Peggy Eddleman
Jacket art copyright © 2014 by Owen Richardson
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Eddleman, Peggy, author.
The Forbidden Flats / Peggy Eddleman.
p. cm.—(Sky jumpers; Book 2)
Summary: When an earthquake causes the deadly band of air that covers the post–World War III Earth to begin to sink over the town of White Rock, twelve-year-old Hope must lead a team through the Bomb’s Breath and across the Forbidden Flats to obtain the mineral which will save the town.
ISBN 978-0-307-98131-8 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-307-98132-5 (lib. bdg.)—ISBN 978-0-307-98133-2 (ebook)
1. Survival—Juvenile fiction. 2. Dystopias—Juvenile fiction. 3. Quests (Expeditions)—Juvenile fiction. 4. Adventure stories. [1. Science fiction. 2. Survival—Fiction.
3. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.E2129Fo 2014 813.6—dc23 2013035051
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I found a foothold on the rough bark of a tree trunk and climbed up in search of Ameiphus. The plants were a lot harder to spot now, since the freezing winter temperatures turned the normally round green leaves as brown and crinkled as the bark they grew on. I swung my leg onto a branch where one was rooted right next to the trunk. The most important part—the whitish mold in the center where all the leaves came together—was still visible. I pulled a flat rock out of my pocket to dig the Ameiphus loose.
Sitting on a branch this high up, on the outside of the mountain crater my town lived in, gave me the best view of the Forbidden Flats. They stretched on as far as I could
see. Unlike the last time I saw them—when the bandits attacked four months ago—they were no longer covered in snow. Now they were covered in mud, with tiny grasses and weeds shooting up everywhere. Mr. Allen, my history teacher, said that before the green bombs of World War III, most of this area was farmland that helped to feed an entire nation of people. The weeds and grasses kind of looked like crops—I wondered if springtime back then looked much different.
“Hope!” Brock yelled from the tree next to me as he pushed the dark hair off his forehead. “Staring at the scenery isn’t part of our plan!”
I shook myself out of my surroundings-induced stupor and held out the Ameiphus to where it wouldn’t hit any branches. Then I dropped it into the bag Aaren clutched down below.
“Got it!” Aaren called. “We’re at seventeen!” I could see his grin even from my height.
I spied another Ameiphus plant a little higher, so I climbed up to it. White Rock’s council had decided we should find more Ameiphus and process it into the medicine that cured Shadel’s Sickness, because people outside our town needed it as much as we did. Not only would it make a valuable trade product, but White Rock would be less of a target if everyone wasn’t so desperate for it.
The small forest inside White Rock barely provided enough Ameiphus for our town. But the area outside of our ten-mile-wide crater was covered in forests, too. Dr. Grenwood figured that at least half would get the ideal amount of sunlight for Ameiphus to grow. The best time to harvest was in fall, but she found a way to salvage a lot of the Ameiphus that had been frozen over the winter.
Crews had been coming out here for weeks, gathering what they could. Brock, Aaren, and I went to the council to convince them that we were old enough to leave the protection of our valley and help search. Of course they said no when
asked, but luckily for us, adults loved Aaren and he could talk them into anything. Today they let us join the six others who searched the forest floors as we climbed the trees. Our plan was to gather so much Ameiphus that they’d want to send us out here all the time.
Which meant I needed to climb more than gawk. I found a clump of Ameiphus in the crook where almost every branch met the trunk. I dropped it into Aaren’s bag and climbed higher. Before long, I was up so high that Aaren looked like a little squirrel, running around to catch the Ameiphus as Brock and I let go of each one.
“I’m going to get more than you!” I shouted to Brock.
“Not a chance,” he said, dropping another clump into Aaren’s bag.
A bird landed on the branch next to me and cocked his head to the side. I glanced up. I was at least forty feet high already, but the tree went on for a dozen more. I didn’t have to worry about climbing high enough that my head would be in the Bomb’s Breath, the fifteen-foot-thick band of invisible but deadly air that covered our valley and everywhere else in the world. None of the other people with us were willing to go high enough up the mountain to be anywhere near it, especially since there weren’t any warning fences outside our crater. But I wasn’t sure if any of the higher branches would hold me.
“I got another.” Brock wasn’t in sight, but I could hear the smirk in his voice.
Whatever. I could find more than him if I could get down more quickly than I got up. I swung from my branch to get to the one below me.
“Careful!” Aaren’s warning reached me right when I realized that my feet couldn’t touch the branch below me.
I made the mistake of looking down to see how far I was from the next branch, but I couldn’t see it—I only saw my feet, flailing high above the ground. For the first time ever, the height made me dizzy. I held on tightly with one hand and inched the other along the branch toward the trunk. A few of the people who searched close to us must have seen me, because I heard their shouts of concern
along with Aaren’s and Brock’s. I kept reaching out with my foot, trying to catch the trunk, but every time I missed, I swung back and forth and had a harder time holding on. Then everything went quiet. Brock, Aaren, the others—even the birds seemed to hold their breath. I hooked my foot around the trunk, then pulled myself close enough to hug it with my legs. Relief exhaled out of me.
“You okay?” Aaren shouted.
“I think so.” I shifted my shaking hands along the branch toward the trunk with more caution than I’d used since we left White Rock two hours earlier. My arms trembled so much, it felt like the entire tree was shaking.
I heard screams from Brock in a tree to my right, along with screams from everyone on the ground. Then I noticed it wasn’t actually me that was shaking—it was the tree! The branches swayed as if in a gale-force wind, yet there was no wind at all.
“Hope!” Aaren’s terrified voice me made me freeze. I peered down in horror to see what could make my tree move so violently, when I noticed it wasn’t only my tree. It was
Before long, Brock joined Aaren on the ground, and they both looked as if they couldn’t decide whether to run for their lives or stay to save me. I made myself look away from them and focus on moving my hands along until I
got to where I could grab hold of the tree trunk. A terrible rumbling echoed off the mountainside, and all our attention jerked to an area one hundred feet to the west, where the earth ripped open as easily as tearing paper. And the crack was traveling in my direction!
I scrambled down the trunk as quickly as I could manage. I grabbed the branches, not even caring that they were ripping up my hands. Getting to the ground fast was all that mattered. My foot slipped and I slid, my cheek scraping the trunk, until I hit a branch.
“You’re halfway here!” Aaren yelled. “You can make it!”
I stretched my foot to another branch farther below. Twenty feet more, and I’d be on the ground. Just twenty feet. A loud
sounded all around me and my tree gave a sudden lurch, then swayed, and I knew the split in the ground had reached its roots. The roaring was so loud, I could barely hear anything else. I stayed hugging the trunk with one arm and caught hold of a branch above my head with the other as it began to topple.
Trees cracked and branches broke and people screamed and my heart beat in my ears like the booms that sounded through the depths of the mountain as the tree fell closer and closer to the ground. I tightened my grip and squeezed my eyes shut, but my stomach still knew I was dropping fast.
The tree stopped so suddenly in midair that my legs lost their grip on the trunk and my hands were nearly ripped off the branch. I opened my eyes to see that the trunk had landed against another massive tree that still stood, keeping mine from falling all the way to the ground.
Below me, Brock and Aaren yelled, “Hope, jump!”
I couldn’t. A voice inside me screamed
All I could do was clutch the tree with every bit of strength I had.
“Jump! We’ll catch you!” I wasn’t sure who said it—Brock and Aaren both stood five feet below my legs with their arms outstretched.