Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
Senator Vanderveen had a lot to say about it, too. Apparently
the disappearance of this granddaughter wasn’t enough to take him out of the
race. His campaign for the presidency was going strong. He ran with this
nation-wide feeling of discontentedness and professed lofty promises, that if
he were elected, he would bring about the change the people coveted and
It made me sick and a little frightened that he might actually
succeed in swaying the people to believe his lies. I renewed my determination
to do whatever I could to prevent that from happening.
Finn snorted loudly, waking himself. “I don’t hear no typing,” he
said. “Get moving. I ain’t got all day. And don’t forget to add that everyone
who deals with humanoids is buying a ticket to hell!”
Um, maybe not.
My pulse jumped as I logged in. When the window when live, I
typed: Hey fellow protesters. Life off the grid is the hope of the future.
Don’t make friends with Big Brother. It’s time to ditch the chip. Control your
own destiny or be controlled!
Did that sound anarchist enough? Enough to satisfy Finn? Tough
if it wasn’t.
Senator Vanderveen can not be trusted. DO NOT give him your
vote! He doesn’t have you or this country in his best interests. He is out for
I logged off quickly, remembering how fast they’d found me last
time I’d blasted the senator. They must have a program that trolled the
internet for any sign of dissent against the senator. Especially if it was
attached to my blog.
“Short and sweet today, Finn,” I said, but he was still asleep.
All those secret middle-of-the- night bunker treks were taking their toll.
It was getting dark earlier and I had to navigate my way back
to the house with the light of the stars, elated that they were out. The dark
sky meant the snow clouds were gone. We could leave at first light, and I felt
a burst of relief and anticipation. I wanted to go and I wanted to go
I managed to pull Zoe aside to let her know before she headed
up to bed.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” We didn’t have a choice anymore, as far as I was
concerned. I didn’t trust Finn and there was always Grant to worry about. “Do
you think you can sneak out without being caught?”
Zoe nodded and whispered, “I can’t wait to put on my jeans
“Good. Gather your things and meet me in the shed as soon as
the girls are snoring.”
I lay on my back with my hands tucked under my head. While I
waited for the guys to get in bed and fall asleep, I thought about our next
move. Should we continue to go east? Or South? Southeast, maybe south enough to
get out of the cold but still farther from LA.
Where to exactly? And what would we do when we got there? My
chest constricted with the weight of the unknown and the fact that I was
responsible for Zoe’s welfare. If I were on my own, things would be easier.
Thing was, I wouldn’t be here if I were on my own.
Soon a deep quiet settled on the house. I gathered my things
and sneaked away, avoiding the creaky boards I’d identified over the last days.
If the guys heard anything, they’d just think I was off to the
outhouse. Besides, we weren’t being held hostage. Zoe and I could leave if we
I was tempted to grab a jacket, but I didn’t want to be accused
of stealing anything. Instead I’d put on every shirt I’d owned, one on top of
the other and my hoodie. I left some money in the egg basket in the kitchen,
enough to easily cover the cost of the food Zoe and I had eaten while here, and
to atone for the inconvenience we’d caused. Then I slipped out the door,
sucking in the cold air and jogged to the shed and eased the doors open.
I waited inside the car, shivering uncontrollably, rubbing my
hands along my thighs, trying to get warm. “Come on, Zoe, where are you?”
Finally, I spotted her figure rushing toward me in the dark.
I stepped out as she was tossing her things into the back seat.
“We need to push it to the end of the drive,” I said. “I don’t
want to wake them by starting the engine.”
I slipped the gear into neutral and we pushed the car out.
“It’s freezing,” she said.
“I know. It’ll warm up once we’re driving.”
I wanted to push the car right to the road, but it was just too
“Get in,” I shouted.
I started the engine, thankful for the charged battery, and we
coasted down the drive.
“It feels great to be in jeans again.” Zoe’s teeth chattered.
My eyes darted to her. “It’s nice to see you in jeans again.” I
flashed her a half-frozen grin. “I missed seeing your … ”
Her eyebrows shot up. “My what?”
She smacked my arm and I laughed.
Until the wheels started spinning underneath us. The treads on
the tires were less than sufficient for the winter conditions and I’d managed
to get us hung up on a patch of ice. I spun the steering wheel,
overcompensating and the next thing I knew we fish-tailed into a bank.
“Are we stuck?” Zoe asked.
“Can you drive?”
“I can drive a maglev pod.”
“You just have to steer.”
I hopped out to push, and Zoe scooted over to the driver’s
“Go easy,” I shouted over the spinning tires. I put my weight
into the back end of the car, but it wouldn’t budge. I let it roll back and
forth but it just seemed to dig itself deeper into the trenches.
“Problem?” I turned sharply to the male voice that appeared
from behind and groaned.
“Finn. We were just…”
“Just insulting me and my hospitality again by sneaking out in
the middle of the night without so much as a thank-you.”
“I know it looks like that…”
“It looks like that because that’s what it is.”
I waited for Angry Finn to explode in the manner I’d witnessed
earlier, but it appeared that at this moment we were getting Cordial Finn.
“Now, don’t be foolhardy,” he said. “You really going to let
that girl freeze to death? Leave the car and get to bed. You can go in the
I felt like an idiot.
“Finn,” I called out, but he was already halfway to the house and
my words were lost in the wind that stirred up from the north.
Zoe stepped out of the car. Even in the dim light from the
interior I could see that her lips were blue. She slammed the door and crossed
her arms tightly around her chest. I hurried to her side and wrapped my arms
around her shoulders. We huddled together as we headed back to the house, tails
firmly between our legs.
“We’ll leave in the morning,” I said. “For sure.”
Except we’d missed our window of opportunity. Another weather
system came in on the wind and dropped three more inches of snow.
Just after dawn, Finn called everyone to the kitchen. The guys
looked blurry-eyed with unshaven faces and wore their shirts half-tucked. The
girls wore rumpled dresses covered with heavy, hand-knitted sweaters and
bonnets tied crookedly over loose, unbraided hair. Zoe was back in costume. She
yawned without covering her mouth. She caught me looking at her and rolled her
I thought Finn might be taking the opportunity to publicly
chastise Zoe and me for our misbehavior the night before.
It was worse than that.
Finn cleared his throat. “Family, we have a serious situation.”
He paused to allow for a low questioning murmur. “The Lord woke me early this
morning and spoke to me. He made me aware of a horrible betrayal against our
good faith and the fellowship of this community. He told me we have a
genetically altered person in our midst.”
A stunned silence descended on the room before each head slowly
turned toward Zoe.
“GAPs, as you know, are an abomination and can’t be trusted,” he
I took an angry step forward. “Is this because of last night?”
Finn’s face grew hard. “Silence!”
Ike shifted in front of me, his posture daring me to make a
move or to say another word.
“Heathen,” Rebecca muttered
Zoe scoffed. “You can’t prove it.”
“We’re leaving as soon as the weather breaks,” I said, despite
Ike’s threatening glare.
“So be it,” Finn said calmly. “Until then the GAP must be
removed from the main house. Let it be declared that today begins the shunning
of Zoe Morgan.”
Shunned. Shunning. Shun.
Such a weird-sounding word. I never thought I’d ever need to
use it, especially not concerning me. If my
were correct—and I
could never be sure if what I recalled were images and conversations I’d
actually experienced or if they’d been planted— but if my memories
correct, I’d never been anything closed to shunned. I was always liked, envied
The commune folks had exiled me to the barn. I was kept warm by
heavy, homemade quilts and stinking animal body heat. My nose eventually
adapted to the irritating odor of manure and mold. And if I held my hand over
my mouth, I’d stop choking on the flecks of hay and who knew what else was
flying around in the dust. Finn had ushered me into a small stall in the back
that had a narrow cot set up along the far wall. The look he left me with was
nothing like the friendly host persona he’d presented all this time, and it
gave me the chills. Noah had come with me, but Finn made him leave shortly
afterward. He mouthed that he’d be back before exiting the barn.
I wished he would’ve stayed, but I understood that we had to
keep these crazy people appeased until the weather cleared. And honest to god,
I was happy to be away from them despite the cold. No more kitchen-slumming for
I huddled in my blankets. If there were a God, then surely the
weather would clear tomorrow so that Noah and I could get the hell out of this
hell hole. I wanted flush toilets, lavender shampoo and all the satanic gadgets
in the world I could possess. Like my ComRing, a computer, and my MagLev pod
car. Oh, how I missed that.
I groaned into my pillow. My life was a living nightmare.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry but the tears erupted anyway.
I found myself longing for Liam and the carefree days of our childhood. I missed
the ocean and surfing and just hanging out. I missed
I even missed my dad. Strangely, I felt nothing for my mother,
which wasn’t fair to her, since my dad was just as guilty as she was for
ruining my life.
I absolutely hated my grandfather. And Jackson. I wished now I
would’ve shot him dead.
Thankfully, I still had Noah. He was good and kind, and he’d
shown me the truth about my life.
. I didn’t deserve a
guy like that. And I knew I was destined to screw things up with him because I
was wrecked, broken, and messed up so badly.
Finn was right when he’d called me evil. I
Evil with a capital “
.” I was attracted to Taylor Blake. Arrogant,
conceited, stupid Taylor Blake. A guy I barely knew, who’d made no sacrifices
to help me.
What was wrong with me?
I wouldn’t blame them if they burned me at the stake before
this was over.
They’d made me take all my things, which wasn’t much, just a
small bag with a few items of clothing and sundry personal-hygiene items.
And my gun, which they didn’t know about. I traced my fingers
under the feather pillow where I had placed it. Caressing the handle brought me
a twisted form of comfort.
The barn door squeaked and my grip tightened around the gun. My
heart knocked against my ribs and I wondered if I were truly safe out here.
I strained to see who it was through the cracks in the wall of
my stall and let out a little breath when I recognized the happy, newly
betrothed couple. Simon’s arm was wrapped around Hannah’s shoulders. He took a cursory
look around, not seeing me hidden behind the walls of my stall. Then he pushed
Hannah’s golden braids back and leaned in for the kiss.
I felt like such a peeping Tom but I couldn’t pull my gaze
away. For religious kids, they knew how to lock lips. When they came up for air,
Simon took Hannah’s hand and led her to the ladder up to the loft. Which,
unfortunately, was just above me.
I should’ve said something and maybe I would’ve but since I was
I didn’t bother.
And maybe they didn’t care. Or at least he didn’t.
I felt myself blush as I heard them tumble in the hay. I didn’t
want to imagine what was going on up there. They made an effort at being quiet,
but they were obviously unaffected by the cold.
Then I heard Hannah’s muffled voice. “If Finn catches us, we’re
dead, you know?”
“He won’t catch us.”
“Simon, I don’t want to ruin our wedding night.”
“We won’t go that far, I promise. I just need to be near you.”
Silence and then more rolling in the hay. I doubted that Simon
was keeping his promise.
Not much I could do but lie quietly on my cot. I pressed my
gloved hands against my ears and let my mind roam back to the time with Noah
just a few days ago when I’d tried the same thing with him and he’d so
graciously pushed me away.
Simon’s voice drifted down. “I love you, Hannah.”
“I love you, too.”
For some reason, hearing them declare their love made my throat
All the excitement and lack of sleep had exhausted me. I’d nodded
off for a while but was startled awake by a light tapping on the stall door. My
eyes shot open and my hand whipped out the gun from under my pillow. I aimed it
at the intruder.
“Whoa,” my visitor said. The silhouette held his hands up in surrender.
I recognized his stature and his voice. “Taylor? What are you