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First pages

Letter 1

 

Dear Bianca,

 

Bet you never thought you’d hear from me, huh? Well, it’s kind of a surprise to me, too. Not that I don’t like you or anything—you’re my only sister and all, well, my only sibling when it comes right down to that—but you’re just not around. Mom and Dad arranged it so I can’t forget you and I think of you sometimes, but probably not as much as I should. I probably wouldn’t have thought of you today, either, but—well, I’ll get to that.

Mr. North says I should make this report honest, thorough, detailed, and in order. I hope he’s, like, prepared for the consequences of that. It probably won’t be pretty—but if I’m going to be famous (as I will), I can’t afford to pussyfoot around. Only the truth to you, Bianca, I swear it.

You see, Mom and Dad moved to Califia Springs on short notice last week because the city hired Dad to make sure the new part of the town they’re building is, like, compatible with the older part. In case you’ve forgotten, Dad’s a civil engineer/city planner and we move around a lot. A real lot. Sure, I’m used to that, but it’s a bitch and a half when it happens three weeks before the end of term. If I had any friends to leave behind, it might have been painful. Fortunately I was spared that. The life of a destined-to-be-famous person is a noble but lonely one.

Dad and Mom signed me up at Califia Springs Charter School, which has the unquestioned best reputation in town. Sounds impressive, huh, till you realize there are just two high schools in Califia Springs, and Reagan High is a public school with a less than stellar rep. I mean, we have parents with some standards, right?

The other thing you should know is that CalSprings Charter is, like, oh-so-snooty about its supposed superiority. San Alonzo High, where I just came from, is looser on the extracurriculars. As long as you filled your academic slate (which I of course did, straight A’s), they didn’t much care. I had a pro-forma debate club on top, but all you had to do is show up and talk to get credit for it.

But for top honors at CalSprings, they insist on a passing credited extracurricular. “Good grades need good citizenship,” says one clause in their charter. Damn it, I earned good grades, but even with the last-minute transfer they won’t make allowance. Without a passing extracurricular, I couldn’t get more than a solid A- for my whole damn year of academics.

People have gotten famous with less, of course. But they didn’t have my standards. I’ve always been straight A. So I had to sign up for an extracurricular.

Trouble is, this late in the year, my choices were limited. Debate was full to bursting, as was Life Lessons. Lit Club had room, sort of, but they’ve already done their full year of reports and there isn’t time to catch up if I also want to sleep anytime in the next few weeks. Sci Club might have been a breeze, but its work was already done and it was closed to new entrants. StuGov had adjourned for the year, and Yearbook just went to bed. Chess Club, of course, would have me, even though they were mostly through their annual tournament, but of course they’re, like, the perennial Losers’ Society; I can’t imagine anything more boring than sitting and watching nerds battle it out for last place in the social hierarchy.

So that’s how I ended up in Mr. North’s classroom for Explorers Club. They still have one assignment left this year, an all-day excursion tomorrow. As long as I participate and don’t screw it up beyond redemption, I’ll pass. That means I get my A’s and save my academic record. Hooray!

I have to admit, I don’t consider myself in any way an explorer. Oh sure, explorers can become famous. Everybody knows Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, and Marco Polo. But guys like them become famous for what they discover, not for who they are. I want people to know the name Tamara Ruben for who I am, not for something I happen to find.

So anyway, back to the report. There I was in Mr. North’s classroom this afternoon—it’s Friday, May 24—at three-fifteen p.m. waiting to get started. I had my permission form all signed and ready to hand in, but Mr. North wasn’t there yet, so it gave me a chance to look over my fellow explorers.

There are ten kids in the club besides me, five girls and five boys, so I shift the balance onto the girls’ side. Since I was the new kid I was odd girl out and there was a sort of social distance. Finally, one girl came over to introduce herself. She was pretty and well-dressed and short, even for a girl, but bursting with self-confidence—some might call it arrogance. What some guys call “perky,” if you’re into that sort of thing.

Along with her came this guy, tall and well-built. She wore him as an accessory, like an expensive bracelet.

She held out her hand and we shook, and she said she was Linda Wu, junior class vice president. Her boyfriend, she said, without giving him a chance to speak for himself, was Burke Hastings, captain of the football team. Does that tell you all you need to know?

So I told her I’m Tamara Ruben, and I’d been sophomore president two schools ago, before I decided high school politics was kind of a useless game I didn’t need to play.

She flashed a smile that, so help me, looked sincere, and said, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll be friends. Can I call you Tammy?”

So okay, this is going to sound bitchy. I’m normally very polite, Bianca, really I am. I could win medals for my decorum, if they ever gave medals for that sort of crap. But I just don’t take insults well. Just five seconds ago I’d told this Linda Wu my name, and now she thinks she has the right to change it! So I stepped right up into her personal space and said, “My name is Tamara Ruben, maybe ‘Tamara’ if I ever allow you to be familiar, and someday you’ll brag that you heard it directly from my own lips. I am not, never have been, and never will be, a ‘Tammy.’”

I guess she’s sensitive or something, because she backed away like I’d taken a swing at her. I guess she’s not used to people talking to Linda Wu, junior class vice president, that way.

Then she turned and walked away until there were, like, three rows of chairs between us. Burke Hastings stared at me a sec, then followed after her like the proper adornment he was. I sat down at one of the student desks, still steaming.

I sat there a few seconds until I saw another kid sidling up. This one was black with badly cut hair, and glasses that looked two sizes too big for him. His clothes looked like brand-new hand-me-downs. His teeth were… unfortunate, like you’d be taking your life in your hands if you tried to kiss him.

He asked me what happened with Wu, so I told him the short story in all its details. “I am not a ‘Tammy,’” I repeated for him.

He looked at me earnestly and said, “I never thought you were.”

This mollified me a bit, so I asked him what his name was. “Warren Jefferson.”

I shook his hand. “Pleased to meet you.” Before we could do any more talking, Mr. North entered the room, and our attention went to the front.

Mr. North is a big black man, sort of reminds me of James Earl Jones except his voice is a little higher and squeakier. Still, despite that and his suit, which was a little frayed, he has a commanding presence—or he would, if he wasn’t so sick. Bad cold or flu would be my guess. His eyes were rheumy and his body was wracked with coughing fits every few minutes, but he kept soldiering on despite everything. He looked about as pale as I can imagine a black man looking.

The first thing he did was have me stand up and introduce myself to the rest of the club. Linda Wu, I noticed, was pointedly looking at her boyfriend while I did it, but like, what could you expect? There was one other girl who didn’t really look at me, either, but it wasn’t through animosity or anger or anything. She was just… well, she didn’t seem completely attached to this world. She had a white shirt and a gray skirt, with stringy black hair that didn’t look so much combed as sculpted. She had a notebook out on the desk in front of her and was scribbling in it—and, looking back on it, I hadn’t noticed her paying attention to anything since I came in. Her complexion was sort of pasty, and for some reason my mind decided to call her The Gray Girl. She wasn’t offensive, just not completely in the present. Eerie.

So anyway, after Mr. North introduced me and collected my permission form, he turned to club business. He told us, between coughing fits, that our expedition tomorrow will be to someplace called Stanyan Hill. This drew immediate groans from almost everyone, which led me to think they’d been there before. Maybe too many times before. Well, when you’re in a town out in the California desert, I don’t imagine there’s a wealth of places to go exploring.

When the groans died down, Mr. North held up his hands and said he knew they’d been to Stanyan Hill maybe a few too many times before, so he was going to shake things up a little this time. We were going to write contemporary reports—honest, thorough, detailed and in order—about our experiences there. Somebody, I didn’t see who, commented what sort of “experiences” could you have at a picnic ground, and that drew a couple of snickers, but Mr. North either didn’t hear it or, more likely I think, didn’t want to dignify it with a response.

Since I was the new kid, it fell to me to ask whether there was a specific form we had to follow, and he said no, we were free to tell our experiences the way we thought best—log, journal, whatever—as long as it was honest, detailed, thorough, and in order. Originality of expression was always welcome.

Before we broke up, he gave me a hand-out he’d given the rest of the club previously of suggested supplies to bring along:

flashlight

toothbrush/toothpaste

aspirin/ibuprofen

insect repellant

sunscreen

hat

first aid kit/antibiotic/bandaging/snakebite kit

canteen

snack

field glasses/binoculars

pocket knife

matches/lighter

candle

rope

blanket

handkerchief

scissors

gloves

sturdy shoes or boots

hand lotion & soap

towel

deodorant

lip balm

tissues/wet wipes

nail clippers

hair brush/comb

dental floss

necessary medicines

feminine napkins/supplies

mouthwash

plastic or folding cup

sun glasses

sweater or wind breaker

traveling utensils/chopsticks

trash bags

sewing kit

bungee cord

batteries

compass

measuring tape

tongs

What was this, I wondered, an afternoon outing or an expedition into the Amazon rainforest? I could see the usefulness of everything on the list, but still—WTF?

When I got home and told Mom and Dad about the assignment, Dad got very thoughtful. He disappeared into his bedroom and I heard the sound of closet-rummaging. Then he came out with a scuffed old knapsack and a plastic box about one foot square and three inches thick. It looked so klunky it just had to be low tech.

Dad explained the knapsack was the one he’d hiked around Europe with during a summer break when he was in college, and he’s told me repeatedly it was the best time of his life. The box was a voice recorder prototype he was given some time ago. It doesn’t have any special apps, but it recharges in ordinary daylight and it records what you say. (It’s what I’m dictating this letter into right now, in fact, like a practice run.) An engineering friend who worked at the company that made it gave it to him to alpha test, but he never really did that and it just sat in his closet all this time. It’d be just right, he said, to record my impressions of what I see tomorrow.

I thought of a zillion possible objections. The thing is, like, really bulky; it’ll take up a ton of room in my/Dad’s knapsack. Seems pretty heavy, too. And I don’t need anything solar-rechargeable; I’ll only be gone one afternoon.

But I’ve learned from long experience that when parents want to help you, humoring them avoids a lot of problems. They mean well, and as long as it doesn’t actively get in my way I can smile and say sure and figure out some way to make it work.

Hence, this letter. I don’t think you’ll mind being used to further my academic career. It’s a worthy cause, after all. The battery on this thing had an almost nonexistent charge after being stored in a dark closet for years, but I’m dictating this with my desk lamp shining on it, and I’ll keep the lamp shining overnight. I’m used to sleeping with a light on. Dad gave me a basic orientation, and the machine seems pretty simple. Maybe a little too simple; I can’t seem to find any edit functions. But at least it records just fine. Meanwhile, Mom’s running around like crazy on a scavenger hunt through the house trying to find as many of the items on my list as possible.

So anyway, tomorrow I’ll write you the real report. I’ll fill you in on all the details of our thrilling trip to Stanyan Hill, wherever the hell that is. Honest, thorough, detailed, and in order, my new mantra. I only hope it’ll be, like, moderately fun, too. Right now, I’ve got to go pack all the stuff Mom’s finding into my backpack.

Talk to you tomorrow. Your sister,

Tamara

Letter 2

 

Dear Bianca,

 

I think there’s a special hell designed specifically for kids: the school bus field trip. Claustrophobic, overheated (winter or summer), noisy, smelly, filled with people you either don’t know or don’t like—and worst of all, boring. You’re trapped in a rattling, bumpy contraption with no hope of escape. Little wonder we all love it so much.

So anyway, I showed up in front of the school promptly at 7:30, as requested. So did the other ten ExClub members. I guess, despite the general bitching about how boring Stanyan Hill is, nobody wanted to pass up a chance at all that fresh air and sunshine. Well, personally, I don’t give a crap about fresh air and sunshine. I just want the club credit. Silly me.

I’m wearing my blue and white blouse, the short-sleeved one with the open neck, plus casual-fit blue jeans, sturdy half boots, and Dad’s knapsack. I’ve got one of Dad’s old fishing caps on, too, to protect my scalp from sunburn. I packed myself a pair of PBJs for lunch, along with a fruit juice pack. Mom tossed in a bag of apple chips. Have to have something healthy, after all.

Dad’s a very efficient packer. I guess he learned it while hiking in Europe. Everything Mom was able to find from that list got packed into the knapsack, along with this recorder. Just my luck, huh?

Mr. North showed up shortly after the rest of us, looking even sicker than he did yesterday. I was torn. My motherly instincts, such as they are, felt so sorry for the poor man I wanted him to cancel this excursion and go home to bed. But on the other hand, I need the credit for this club, and the outing’s necessary to save my academic rating.

The school bus arrived a few minutes after Mr. North, and the whole club boarded. Mr. North stood at the front and took roll. He was coughing so bad I’m sure we’ll all end up with the plague. When everyone was aboard, he signaled the driver and off we excursed to Stanyan Hill.

We distributed ourselves throughout the bus more or less evenly. Linda Wu and her boyfriend sat together, along with another girl in the seat behind them who looked to be one of Wu’s cronies. I sat alone at first, but then Warren Jefferson came over and sat beside me. He’s wearing a pair of black jeans and a gray tee-shirt with red lettering that reads:

EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

AND USUALLY THAT REASON IS PHYSICS

How could I diss anyone with a shirt like that, so I accepted his presence with a friendly grin. He nattered about the weather and his previous field trips. Harmless stuff, so I just let him talk and didn’t bother to interrupt.

I noticed The Gray Girl seated by herself two rows behind us at the very back of the bus. She had her notebook out and was jotting something down in it. That seemed to be taking Mr. North’s dictum about writing a contemporary report very seriously.

I asked Warren about her, and he said she’s always like that, absorbed in her notepads and little else. He said her name is Jennifer Penney, and the snottier kids call her “Jenny Penney.” That made me wince. I wondered who was crueler—the kids who gave her that nickname, or the parents who gave her a name so susceptible to perversion.

Warren wondered whether she might be autistic, but I told him no. I’d been around some autistic kids when I assisted in a Special Ed class at one school a couple years ago, and Jennifer Penney wasn’t at all like them. They couldn’t break out of their special world. I can see Jennifer’s aware of her surroundings, and just doesn’t care. She has her own personal universe in her notebooks, and she’s perfectly content. The rest of the world just isn’t important.

I wondered to myself why she chose to join ExClub. But that’s none of my business, so I let it go. I did ask Warren about the girl sitting with Wu and her boyfriend. He said that was Julia Layton, and she’s indeed one of Wu’s lackeys. Her father’s a retired naval commander, and she has impossibly snooty standards. Well, so do I, when it comes to that.

Warren’s kind of a gossip-girl, ’cause he gave me the rundown on our fellow explorers even though he admitted he didn’t know them all that well. One of the boys with a serious, brooding look, is Donny Nakamura. Kind of cute, I guess, if you’re not put off by clinical depression. He had ear buds and was listening to something on his phone.

The other two boys were sitting and talking together. Jim diCamillo is skinny with wire-frame glasses and light brown hair that falls down over his forehead. Warren thinks his dad’s some kind of salesman. The boy with him is Mike Vasconsuellos, with black hair and, well, not exactly fat but boxy-looking. His face is more pocked than most kids our age, but I’d rank him as both earnest and honest. I trusted him at first glance. His family runs a food truck, Warren tells me.

The other two girls on the bus were busy on their phones, either texting or talking to friends. Serena Swann is impossibly tall and lanky, a black supermodel in the making. She didn’t so much walk as flow from place to place, like a silky ghost. She’s so physically perfect I could hate her instantly, except I don’t hate people without provocation.

Warren’s voice took on a different tone when he talked about her. Methinks he has a crush on her. Hopeless, of course—but isn’t that what crushes are?

Compared to Serena, Kim Trudlow looks positively stocky, though taken on her own she had a perfectly normal figure and a lovely face. Spiky black hair, bushy eyebrows, and at first I thought she looked entirely too serious for her own good. Then her friend on the phone said something to make her laugh, and she was transformed. I decided I liked her, after all.

The bus ride was nearly two hours. Warren told me that the Indian name for Stanyan Hill translated as something like “Mountain of the Lesser Gods,” and after that we ran out of trivial things to say, so he suggested a game of chess. Before I could decline, he whipped out his phone and had a game set up.

I was trapped. Truth is, Bianca, I’m lousy at chess. I know how all the pieces move, of course, but plotting moves and strategies way in advance is just not one of my talents. I know, I know, all famous people are supposed to be, like, smokin’ chess geniuses, so this is a handicap I’ll just have to overcome. Sometime. But that’s something for the future.

After just a couple of moves it was obvious I’m a blithering idiot at the game, and I’m sure it was almost painful for Warren to watch. And yet, I could see he was dumbing down his game so he wouldn’t embarrass me too badly. As we played, it slipped out that he was a finalist in the Chess Club tournament, which didn’t surprise me in the least. He did manage to string things out so it took him almost half an hour to beat me—mostly because I took so long between moves, trying to figure what to do next. Then, before I could back out of it, he tricked me into a second game.

I contrived to lose that one even faster, then begged off any more by saying I needed to dictate some notes. He accepted that—a little disappointed, I think—and went off to give me some privacy.

So here I am, telling you about a stupid school bus trip. I’ll write more when I actually have something to say. We’re almost there, so I’ll put this dumb machine away.

Your sister,

Tamara the Explorer

Letter 3

OMG. We are screwed. Totally, royally screwed. I might almost say “raped,” but rape might at least have some element of the personal about it. This is just cold, implacable fate.

We’re all going to die here, unknown and alone except for the eleven of us. And it’s all my fault. And these aren’t even the people I’d have chosen to die with.

Okay, Tamara, calm down. Breathe a little bit. Focus. This isn’t the time or the place to panic. Even though it truly is, like, the perfect time and the perfect place.

Damn. I just tried to edit that stuff out, and I can’t. What kind of crappy software did they put in this recorder, that doesn’t have, like, an edit function?

Yeah, I know, it was supposed to be an alpha test. Doesn’t make me feel any better about it. Maybe it does have an edit feature, but I sure as hell can’t find it.

Okay, so I’ll just sit here and dictate this letter into my recorder. If the Voices let me. It beats screaming, or tearing my hair out. Or crying. God knows, no crying. How would it look to posterity if I spend my last hours, or days, crying?

Posterity? What posterity? Posterity will never even know I existed. I’ll be just one of eleven high school kids who vanished on a field trip. Period. Not even a footnote to history.

Breathe some more, Tamara. Calm down. You might as well do this report the way you decided to write it, before everything went to hell. I may die, but I’ll die doing what I promised myself I would. Be true to yourself, girl.


Dear Bianca,

 

This morning began beautifully, sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky. Perfect weather for a catastrophe.

(Stop it, Tamara! In order. Keep things in order.)

So anyway, we reached Stanyan Hill. Lesser gods, indeed. Turns out to be, like, a big mound of dirt and scrub in the desert, surrounded by flatter land with even more dirt and scrub. Its base is maybe two hundred yards at its widest point, and I’d guess it’s two, maybe three hundred feet high, with a rounded, weathered top that makes it look almost ashamed of itself for sticking out of the ground so conspicuously. If it were much bigger, geologists might have explored it more thoroughly as some kind of desert anomaly, but as it is, I guess it’s mostly fit for high school kids to climb around on.

I spread some sun screen on my arms and face as I listened to Mr. North cough his way through a canned safety lecture on how to behave ourselves. Stay in groups, good ol’ buddy system. He was finally facing up to how sick he was, and he wouldn’t leave the bus to come along with us. He and the driver would stay back here while the rest of the club went out unsupervised to climb over the face of the hill on our own.

Warren asked if I’d be his buddy, and looking over the other prospects I figured he was as good a bet as any. Most of the other people seemed to already have grouped themselves in some arrangement or another, probably echoing patterns from previous trips. Without any formal discussion—or any discussion at all, really—Jennifer Penney tagged along after Warren and me. She was never exactly “with” us, but she moved in the same direction and was never out of our sight. Every so often she’d stop and scribble in her notebook, as though some monumental insight suddenly struck her. Then she’d finish her thought and catch up with where we were going.

As to that—Warren asked if there was any specific formation or site I wanted to see, and I just shrugged. I know nothing about this place other than lesser gods seem to claim it, so everywhere was just as new as everywhere else. He said there was one spot he liked from previous trips, sort of a ledge about halfway up the eastern side of the hill, and it had a beautiful view of the desert spread out in front of you. That worried me for a second, because “ledge” sort of implies a cliff face, which in turn implies rock climbing. I don’t do rock climbing. But Warren assured me it was a fairly gentle slope up, and this ledge was just a level place before the rise started again. I said why not, so he began leading me up the hill.

Okay, so the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill went through my head, except the scansion doesn’t work at all when you substitute “Warren” and “Tamara.” I tried not to think about the part where Warren fell down and broke his crown and Tamara came tumbling after.

And Jennifer Penney came up right along with us.

Okay, so by now you’ve probably guessed I’m not the rugged outdoorswoman type. We passed scruffy-looking plants and bushes, but I have no idea what they were. We walked past boulders and outcroppings, and I had no idea what they were, either. We could have been passing untold mineral wealth, ours for the taking. If so, someone else would get rich off it, not me.

It did make me realize how pathetic this report was going to be. I’d have no specifics about what I was seeing. Maybe the good thing is it made me decide that, if I go on any further explorations, I’ll try to learn more about biology and geology, so I can comment more intelligently next time.

Yeah, next time. Right. Fat lot of next times there’s going to be.


So anyway, we made it up to Warren’s ledge. Maybe the slope of the hill was a little steeper than I estimated, because it took us over an hour. I keep myself in reasonably good shape—not a gymnast, maybe, but I bike a lot—but I was definitely winded when I got up there. I was also feeling a little weird in a way I couldn’t identify. Not headache-y, not dizzy, not nausea. I’d almost say it was like double vision, but things had a single distinct edge. Just eerie. I tried not to let anything show.

Warren waved at the panorama laid out before us. The desert did look nice, and we were around on the other side of the hill so we didn’t have the sight of the bright yellow school bus to remind us of mundane things. I saw why he liked this spot.

A couple minutes later, Jennifer Penney joined us on this lookout point. She wasn’t breathing hard at all. I hated her for that. She didn’t even spend much time looking over the landscape. She just sat down, cross-legged on the ground, took a notebook out of her backpack, and began scribbling in it without a word to us.

Whatever.

It had been a long time since breakfast and the climb made me hungry, so I twisted around to get one of the sandwiches out of my backpack. As my head moved, I thought I saw a movement in the wall of hill behind us. I’m afraid I made a little surprised squeak—very embarrassing for someone as sophisticated as I am—and called Warren’s attention to the area. At first he didn’t see anything, and I was starting to think my mind was playing tricks on me. Then he aid, “What the hell is that?” and took a step closer.

There was an opening in the hill, and as Warren and I both stepped closer to look at it, he said, “It’s a cave. I don’t remember that being there.” So it wasn’t just my imagination.

I don’t remember seeing any movement, but Jennifer Penney was there, too. Standing right beside us. She was looking at the cave, too, not saying a word, then raising her notebook and scribbling frantically into it.

Warren took out his phone and showed me pictures of the way the ledge looked last time he was here. No cave that I could see. Then he put his hands around his mouth and called out, “Hey, everybody, I think we found something.”

I was barely paying attention. The back of my neck itched. Only it wasn’t the neck itself, it was more like inside my skull. And I could remember seeing the cave open up, like a door sliding silently to the left, like someone said “Open sesame” or something. And now the itch. And Jennifer Penney was scribbling even more frantically.

A couple other ExClub members shouted back, wondering what we’d found, and Warren gave a brief description of the cave. Within minutes, everyone was headed our way. I guess this was the most exciting thing people could imagine on Stanyan Hill. Given how bored everybody sounded yesterday, they all reacted like we’d offered them free ice cream cones. Their choice of flavor.

To distract myself while we waited for people to show up, I had one of my PBJs and some sips of my juice pack. Warren took out his phone and snapped a picture of the opening, then unpacked a sandwich from his own pack—looked and smelled like chicken salad. Jennifer just scribbled.

I just finished my sandwich as the first kids arrived, and naturally it was Linda Wu, Burke Hastings, and Julia Layton. Behind them were other kids, too, and pretty soon the whole club was standing there, looking at the cave mouth and gobbling like turkeys at the sight. The ledge hadn’t seemed particularly small when I first got there, but it was getting pretty crowded now.

I hadn’t realized it, but one of the unwritten duties of junior class v.p. was being boss of the ExClub excursion. Or maybe it was being in charge of caves and other unexplained phenomena. Whatever, she was almost instantly leading the discussion.

Was Warren really sure the cave hadn’t been there before? He was, and he happily showed her the photos, before and now, to prove it.

Had the cave mouth previously been blocked by some kind of boulder that rolled away in , oh, maybe an earthquake or something? Well, there was no boulder on the ledge with us, and a quick look down the hill showed nothing in that direction, either, that could have covered the opening. Wu didn’t bother with the hypothesis that the boulder might have rolled up the hill.

I didn’t mention my suspicion that I’d seen the cave slide open. I was already the new kid, and Wu didn’t like me anyway. No point making myself out to be a raving loony this early in the excursion. After all, the day was still young.

Meanwhile, my neck was really starting to bother me. You know how a fly will suddenly go crazy and start buzzing hopelessly against a window pane? It was like that, except down the neck of my blouse. Except this was inside the back of my skull, and the fly, like, really, really wanted to get out.

I hadn’t even realized I’d moved close to the opening until Wu sharply told me to get away from there, and I saw that my feet were almost inside the cave mouth. I heard my own voice saying, “It’s silly for us to argue here when we can just go inside and see for ourselves.”

Did I really say that? I always thought I was more level-headed.

We argued a little, with the other kids just watching us. Then she tried the ultimate argument, resorting to a Higher Authority. She pulled out her phone and tried calling Mr. North. (Of course she had his number programmed in.) But there was no answer.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

STEPHEN GOLDIN has written science fiction and fantasy professionally for over 50 years, and has published more than 40 novels and numerous short stories. His works range from space opera (the Agents of ISIS series, Scavenger Hunt, and Assault on the Gods) to military sf (The Eternity Brigade) to epic fantasy (the Arabian Nights-style Parsina Saga) to absurdist fantasy (Polly!, Quiet Post). He has a degree in Astronomy from UCLA and has worked as a civilian space scientist for the U.S. Navy.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Andre Norton's classic YA novel GALACTIC DERELICT is one of my favorite books of all time. The concept of being trapped on a ship out of the distant past, bound on an interstellar journey to unknown worlds, inspired my sense of wonder and helped set me on a path to becoming an sf writer.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because there are stories in my head that I'd like to hear as much as the reader would, and characters that I'd like to meet and know better. By talking about these people and telling their stories, I make new friends. New people and new stories are the basis for lasting new friendships.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
The list is long, and they inspire me for different reasons, but my writing is indebted to, among others, Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, Robert Sheckley, Clifford D. Simak, Terry Pratchett, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, L. Frank Baum, Lester del Rey, Harry Harrison, and oh, so many more!

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Science Fiction & Fantasy
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