Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
“You scared me to death.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He wiggled his
fingers and motioned to my gun which was still pointed at his chest. “You know
we’re pacifists, right?”
“So, you keep saying.” I tightened my hold. “Just so you know.
I’m a good shot.”
“I don’t doubt that. Let’s look at the fact that I don’t have a
weapon. If I wanted to hurt you, would I have come empty-handed?”
“You’re hands could be your weapon.”
“I’m not here to hurt you, Zoe, I promise.”
“What do you want then?”
“Just to make sure you’re okay. Are you going to put that thing
I lowered the gun and sat cautiously on the edge of the cot.
“Do you mind if I sit?” He motioned to the other end. I nodded
and slid my gun under my pillow. Taylor’s gaze rested on my hiding spot for a
moment and I shifted uncomfortably. He looked back at me. “I want you to know
that I don’t care that you’re a GAP.”
I pulled back, a little more than surprised. “I thought that
was, like, the biggest sin or something.”
“It isn’t sin, it’s science. I believe everything is spiritual,
including science. And if God gives us the ability to learn and increase
knowledge then we can and should make good use of it.”
He sounded just like Noah.
He rubbed the scruff on his chin. “If we can expand our life
span to do so, why not?”
Okay maybe not like Noah.
“You really believe that?” I asked.
He stared hard at me. “Any guy would be lucky to spend two
hundred years with you.”
I felt fireworks in the stall, or maybe it was just the
tingling heat that exploded in my body. There were some serious hormones
shooting off in the barn tonight. Taylor Blake slid closer.
I remembered the way his lips had felt on mine in the snow bank
and by the look on his face I was sure he was remembering it, too. He leaned in.
My eyes fluttered, and my throat grew dry. My heart bounced around like a
rubber ball in a box, thudding loudly in my ears.
Part of me really wanted to kiss Taylor Blake again, but a
bigger, reasonable part of me knew it would be a stupid,
do. I turned my head before he could reach me.
He slumped before recovering.
“I’m here to milk the cows.” His voice was warm and breathy against
my neck and at that moment I wasn’t so sure how strong I’d be if he persisted.
I was flushed and light headed. I might have stopped breathing.
The mooing of the cows suddenly crescendoed, and Taylor slowly
“I have to go,” he said. “They get irritable when I’m late.”
I was suddenly pretty irritable myself. I apologized silently
I was still emotionally recovering from my encounter with
Taylor Blake when Celia Galloway walked in. Did she know that Taylor had been
alone in this stall with me? Was that why she was here?
Good thing Simon and Hannah had slipped away earlier.
I wasn’t sure if I should sit or stand, so I remained seated.
She leaned against the door, weathered hands clasped in front of a stained
apron. Her bonnet was tied firmly under the lose skin on her chin. Stray
strands of gray hair peeked out.
I couldn’t read the expression on her face. I expected a stern
scowl that warned of a looming chastisement, but instead her eyes looked
“Hello,” I said, since it didn’t seem like she was going to
Her expression softened. “Hello.”
“Did you need to tell me something?” I probed.
“Oh, no. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
Okay. “I’m fine, under the circumstances. Noah and I will be
out of your way, first thing.”
“There’s no hurry to leave.”
Really? “I’m being shunned.”
“Yes, I know.”
I waited for more, perplexed by this strange woman’s behavior
and curious as to her motivation.
“Your family must be really worried about you,” she continued.
Even though my parents didn’t love me as much as they had Liam,
they’d still be upset by my disappearance. They wouldn’t like that they didn’t
know where I was or what I was doing. Especially Alison. It would provoke all
her control issues.
“Yeah, probably,” I answered.
“How is your mother?”
I found it a strange question, but she was probably relating to
Alison, being a mother herself. “Not well,” I said. “My brother died recently.
She took it really hard.”
Mrs. Galloway looked horror-stricken. She probably couldn’t
imagine what it would be like to lose Taylor. “I’m so sorry,” she choked out.
Mrs. Galloway seemed a little unhinged, and quite honestly, she
freaked me out a bit. I didn’t know how to get rid of her, but maybe I could
get her to tell me about Taylor. My curiosity about him had spiked, by like, a
“How did you end up becoming guardians to the Blake kids?”
Mrs. Galloway straightened and breathed in deeply through her
nose. “Mr. Galloway’s sister and brother-in-law were their parents. They died
tragically in a car accident. Taylor and Hannah were asleep in the back seat
and were just bruised and scratched up some. Mr. Galloway was their only
surviving relative. We didn’t have children so it made sense that we should
Car accident and not carriage? That must mean they weren’t part
of the commune.
“Sounds awful,” I said. “When did this happen?”
“Taylor was four and Hannah two. They are both very intelligent
and well-mannered. A blessing to me.” She straightened abruptly. “I must go.”
She took two steps to the stall door but turned to say one last, strange thing.
“Zoe, I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you.”
I couldn’t help but think, as I sat up against the barn wall,
that being shunned was the best thing that had happened to me so far at the
commune. The good ones visited and the ones I didn’t like didn’t. I didn’t miss
Dorothy or Hannah and especially not Rebecca. Nor any of the guys besides Noah
Where was Noah, anyway? He said he’d come back. Did they have
him roped up somewhere, too?
I made use of the outhouse—the one provision I was allowed—then
settled in under my covers for the night. Despite all the animal noises and bad
smells, I predicted a good sleep. I’d missed a night’s rest and was exhausted.
I fell into a coma-like state, and dreamed.
I’m swimming in our eternity pool, overlooking the ocean in
Sol City. Liam is there, diving into the deep end. His head pops through the
clear water and he wipes his hair back off his face. His eyes sparkle with
laughter and he smacks the surface with his hand, spraying me with water. I
laugh back and splash him in return.
Zoe? he says. I miss you.
I miss you, too, Liam.
Someone shook my shoulder and I startled awake for the second time
“It’s me.” Noah crouched beside the cot.
“Noah? Where have you been?”
“I need to show you something.”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
I’d been sleeping in my dress and a winter coat, needing every
layer to keep warm. I tied on my ugly bonnet, anything to save my ears from the
blistering cold, and stuffed my hands into the coat pockets.
Outside, the moon reflected off the snow, and I felt exposed.
Noah made footprints ahead of me and I concentrated on matching his stride to
avoid getting wet feet.
My breath escaped in frosty puffs. “Where are we going?”
I was starting to wonder if Noah was planning a wintery
type ending for us when he stopped behind the shed and started
digging in the snow.”
“What are you doing?”
He pulled up a mat revealing a hatch in the ground. He tugged
it open and waved for me to go inside.
My jaw dropped but I was too cold to argue. Whatever was down
there was bound to be warmer than what was going on out here.
I followed narrow, cement steps into what I thought at first
was a cellar. Tiny panel lights lit the room and I raised an eyebrow at Noah. “This
looks an awful lot like technology.”
He closed the hatch. “There’s more to Finn Ranger than meets
I was stunned. “This is his? I don’t understand.”
“Rebecca has a health condition requiring drugs you can’t get
at the local pharmacy. Some science whiz-kid set him up so he could print his
“It was the beginning of a slippery slope for him. He needed
internet connection to do the research, and next thing, he’s reading news
“How did you find this?”
“Finn showed it to me. Turns out, he’s a fan of my blog.”
I burst out laughing. The irony and hypocrisy was just too
Noah logged in and pulled up his blog. “He wanted me to keep
posting while we were here.”
He gave me a wry look. “Yes and no.”
“What do you mean?”
“He wanted me to go all religious fanatic against humanoids and
technology. When I didn’t blog to his standards, he…well… I don’t know. It
looks like I fell asleep while I was logged on…”
“Sleep deprivation is a cult tactic to control members,” I
said, patting him on the back.
He flashed me an embarrassed smirk. “He posted something
“He posed as you?”
“Yeah. Check it out.”
God hates humanoids! And Gaps! All technology must be destroyed,
or God’s wrath will be poured out and Satan given free rein on the earth,
starting with Marley, Oregon.
Repent ye or Burn!
I couldn’t be more stunned. “Please tell me you deleted that.”
“Of course. This is a copy. But look at the comments.”
I peered over his shoulder and skimmed the text.
You’ve been hacked, man…
Take this crap down…
Whoever the hacker is, he’s got a point…
What’s he got against Marley…
I was stunned. “He gave away our position.”
Noah nodded gravely. “We have to get out of here.”
“Have you checked the weather forecast?”
“Apparently the weather is breaking today.” Noah shoulders
slumped. Then he turned back and started tapping. “Also, there’s this.” Our
pictures sprung up on the screen.
“Oh,” I said as I read the news report. There was a plea from
my father. His anguish was hard to miss.
I frowned. Did I really do the right thing?
Noah read my mind. “Zoe, they had you drugged up. They changed
your personality, the essence of who you are. Your parents were in on it.”
“Why are you showing me this?”
Noah’s gaze dropped to the ground and he spoke softly. “I felt
like you needed to be reminded of the reality of our situation.”
Right. Stay away from Taylor Blake.
“I’m sorry I let my guard down, Zoe. If they find us, it’ll be
because of me.”
Noah took me back to the barn, but instead of leaving for the
house, he climbed in the cot and spooned in behind me. It felt so good to press
up against him again. Warm and comfortable. I fell asleep in seconds.
Noah’s rustling out from behind me stirred me awake.
I wiped my eyes as they adjusted to the faint light of dawn
“I’ll get my things,” Noah said. “Get ready to go.”
The cool breeze that replaced Noah as he left sent me into a
fit of shivering. I changed out of the dress into my frosty jeans, my cold
fingers fumbling with the zipper. My bag was already packed so there wasn’t
much left for me to do but use the outhouse.
Before I could leave, I heard the barn door squeak, and
tip-toed to the wall to peek through the crack.
It was Rebecca. Her long, dark braid hung down the back of her
winter jacket. She picked up a tin pail and a three-legged stool and headed for
I was desperate to use the bathroom and padded quietly behind
her, hoping she wouldn’t see me. No such luck. She laid her dark, tired eyes on
me and scowled as they scanned my jeans.
“Heathen,” she muttered.
I ignored her and rushed out. They must be expecting us to
leave today. I hurried to the outhouse and back, stopping briefly to wash my
hands in the snow. They burned with the cold and I swore. If all went well
today, I’d never have to use a toilet that didn’t have a flusher ever again.
Rebecca stood when she saw me. She made a strange face with
wide eyes and a twisted mouth. I was about to tell her to get over it, thinking
she was going to rant over my clothes, but instead she collapsed and flopped on
the dusty, wooden floor.
I ran ankle-deep through fresh snow to the house yelling for
help and slammed the kitchen door open. “Something’s wrong with Rebecca!”
It was like the walls came alive as the guys who were still at
the table jumped up and approached the door, scooting past me.
Finn, Mr. Galloway, Philip and Simon. And Taylor who actually
squeezed my hand as he brushed by. I looked for Noah, but didn’t see him.
“He’s in the shed,” Hannah said, noticing. She broached the
window along with Dorothy who was twisting a T-towel in her hand. They stared
hard toward the barn.
“Does this happen often?”
Hannah spoke without looking at me. “Every once in awhile. God
always heals her.”
Clearly, my duty was done, so I headed back to the barn,
intending to grab my bag and meet Noah at the car. Hannah decided to follow me
and we reached it at the same time as Finn. I knew he’d just come from the shed.
He ignored me as he hurried by, carefully holding a glass of
water in hand. I followed him in. Mr. Galloway was praying. Simon held
Rebecca’s hand and Philip stroked her hair.