Gone – Chapter Four
6,586 / 50,000 words. 13% done!
Elizabeth Wakefield was starting to think that it might be aliens.
Their path towards town hall had veered slightly as they had become preoccupied with the curved look of the sky. It was hard to follow something that was largely transparent, but they found themselves heading towards Larson’s Lot, the home of the infamous Dead Man’s Cave, which nearly earned its name after Aaron Dallas, Ken Matthews and a bunch of others tried to bully a bully during a rainstorm.
There they found a curious sight. The fence that surrounded the lot had been neatly severed in half. The fence sagged apart at the bisection, showing fresh light wood underneath the layers of creosote. There didn’t seem to be any reason for the fence to have fallen apart—and if it had been natural erosion, the edges wouldn’t be so neatly hewn.
There was a faint shimmer in the air between the two halves, like very clear glass.
Amy moved forward and before Elizabeth could stop her, she reached out a hand to touch the shimmer. She immediately yelped and snatched her hand away, cradling it to her chest.
“Amy, are you ok?” Elizabeth asked.
Amy gave her a rueful nod. “Yes, I’m fine. It gave me a shock, but it doesn’t hurt too bad now.” Then she looked triumphant. “We are under a dome.”
“There’s a shiny patch in the air that gives you an electric shock,” Elizabeth agreed. “But it doesn’t mean there’s a dome.”
“Maybe not,” Amy said. “But I think we are.”
“Maybe we should follow the shimmer,” Julie said. “Maybe it’s less of a dome and more of a wall—there might be a gap or something?”
Elizabeth felt rather slighted that her subordinates were coming up with theories and suggestions that were better than her own—she had nothing at the moment. She was far better with ghosts or jewel thieves or movie stars, to be honest. It was part of why she was so adamant that it wasn’t aliens: she didn’t know anything about aliens.
“Yes, let’s follow it,” she said. She pulled out a notepad. “And we’ll make notes on any anomalies we find!”
There! She was leading again!
Jessica made a point not to be the one stuck pushing the shopping cart when they arrived at Sweet Valley Mart. It was far more fun to run down the aisles picking up delicious snacks than dully maneuvering the cart. It appeared that the rest of the Unicorns had exactly the same idea. There was a quick and nearly violent tussle that eventually left Ellen with the cart, while everyone else scattered down the aisles.
It was nice to be in a shop without other shoppers, without people staring at her expecting her to cause havoc (she had never lived down that whole egg thing that Rick Hunter caused). It was as if the store only existed to cater to the Unicorns. Which was, as far as Jessica was concerned, exactly as it should be.
She managed to tuck her arm through Janet’s and steer her down the chips and dips aisle. It was frustrating that Lila had stolen her party idea and even more infuriating that she had taken her heels idea, but if she could somehow wow Janet now, maybe she could claw it all back.
“I think the party should have a theme,” Jessica said. All parties should have a theme, really.
“What a good idea, Jessica,” Janet said. “What theme do you think?”
Jessica grabbed a few bags of Cheez Doodles to stall for time. “Well,” she said, glancing around for ideas, but it was hard to be inspired by rows of nothing but food. There wasn’t a single human being around. Wait. There were no adults. “Since all the adults are gone, we’re the adults now, aren’t we?”
“So I suggest that we dress in adult clothes—heels, the boys in suits, the girls in dresses. We’re the grownups now,” she finished with a brilliant smile.
“I think that’s an excellent theme,” Janet said approvingly. Then frowned. “But don’t say ‘grownup’, it’s very childish, and that reflects badly on the Unicorns.”
“Of course,” Jessica said. “But you like my theme?”
“I love it!” Janet said. She glanced around. “Get some onion dip! I love that stuff.”
Jessica wrinkled her nose. “But won’t that give us bad breath?”
Janet glared at her. “No. Any Unicorn worth their salt will be carrying breath mints.”
“Sorry, Janet,” Jessica muttered, glancing around to see if the aisle they were in carried breath mints. When she looked back, Janet was gone. Jessica stamped her foot in frustration. She had been doing so well, and now she had nearly ruined things.
She quickly loaded up on more chips, onion dip, and then perused the aisles until she found mints. To be on the safe side, she grabbed enough for every Unicorn to have a pack in their purse. After all, Lila would be paying, since she was pretty sure the Unicorn treasury had been wiped out when Janet had suggested they all buy matching purple leg warmers to wear with their Booster uniforms.
She got back to the cart and dumped her stash in there.
“Ooh, onion dip,” Ellen said. “I love that stuff!”
“You got onion dip?” Janet’s tone was icy cold, and her glare was even cooler.
Jessica faltered. “… yes? You said…”
“Jessica, use your brain! Onion breath? Do you want everyone to think the Unicorns are stinky? Think! Your actions reflect badly on the Unicorns!”
Jessica gaped at her in shock. “But you said…” she pointed helplessly down the aisle she’d just come from. “I have breath mints…”
“Breath mints?” Janet repeated.
Jessica had clearly crossed a line—a line she had been invited to cross only two seconds ago by a far more kind version of Janet—and she needed to scramble back over it. Maybe this was a test. Maybe Janet was looking for her successor next year when she went to Sweet Valley High. Maybe if Jessica did amazingly well here, she would be the president of the Unicorns. She could just imagine Lila’s face when Janet announced…
“Breath mints? I’ll have you know, Jessica,” Janet screeched, “that I take my oral hygiene very seriously!”
Jessica knew that. She’d had to dress as a giant tooth to prove it once. And she was not willing to do that again. She needed to pull things back. “I’m sorry, Janet. I’ll get rid of the dip. But at least we still have my theme—that’s going to be perfect, right?”
“You know, the one we just talked about in the chips aisle?” Jessica said, but it came out as a question rather than a statement.
Janet frowned. “But I haven’t been in the chips aisle. I’ve been stood here with Ellen the whole time.” Janet gave Ellen a winning smile. “She came up with a wonderful theme. She suggested ‘We’re the Adults Now’, isn’t it just terrific?”
Jessica didn’t have time to even growl in frustration, because suddenly there was a burst of heat that knocked the three of them off their feet.
Almost immediately, the fire alarm started blaring, and through her daze, Jessica heard her friends’ screams.
Elizabeth couldn’t believe her eyes.
They had followed the shimmery wall, occasionally forcing Julie (she was an extra after all) to touch it and check it still gave shocks, and they had ended up running parallel to the center of town, where several streets met in front of town hall, and there were several shops, including Sweet Valley Mart and Madame André’s dance studio.
Elizabeth decided that meeting back at town hall could wait, because what they had found was just amazing. The shimmering wall bisected Valley Road. On one half stood Elizabeth, Amy and a rather wobbly Julie.
On the other side stood everyone else. Everyone who should have been inside Sweet Valley. She saw lines of parents, older and younger siblings, teachers—even the people who didn’t even rate a mention in the books, like janitors and people of color (there was quite a lot of overlap in those two categories in Sweet Valley).
As the three sixth graders came into view, the adults surged forward in excitement.
Elizabeth spotted her mother slumped on the ground near the barrier—clearly she had collapsed due to being overcome with emotion. Elizabeth’s heart went out to her wonderful mother.
She couldn’t help but run forward calling, “Mom! I’m here! Mom!”
She heard Amy and Julie calling similar sentiments.
Then all three of them bounced off the barrier and let out howls of pain as even the brief contact with hit shocked them. Elizabeth felt the current fizz through her and fell to the ground shuddering. Her skin tingled and dark shapes bloomed in front of her eyes.
But after a moment, the pain receded. She took a couple of deep breaths and steadied herself. Then she got to her feet, careful to avoid the barrier. She offered her hand to Amy and helped her up.
Julie still twitched on the floor.
Elizabeth gazed at her. “Maybe we shouldn’t have made her be the only one to test the barrier over and over?”
Amy nodded. “At least it wasn’t Maria Slater. That would have had unfortunate implications.” She turned her attention to the barrier again. “Look, I guess my mom’s reporting on the situation.”
Elizabeth looked in the direction Amy was pointing and she could see Dyan Sutton with a microphone standing in front of a camera. “I can’t hear what she’s saying.”
“I can’t hear anything at all from their side,” Amy said. “You’d think it would be noisy—look at how many people are there.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth had been carrying her notepad and pen when she hit the barrier. She saw them on the ground and grabbed them. She flicked to a blank page and quickly scribbled a note and held it up.
Once again, the adults surged forward, then looked disappointed.
On reflection, “Hi, Mom!” probably wasn’t the greatest opener. Especially because her mother was still slumped on the ground. She must be so heartbroken, Elizabeth thought.
She flipped to another page and wrote, “What is going on?” and held it up again.
This prompted Dyan to move closer to the barrier and—Elizabeth assumed—give live updates regarding Elizabeth’s notes.
There was a ripple in the crowd and eventually a woman pushed to the front. It took her a moment to place her, but it suddenly clicked that it was Mrs. Pervis, Lila’s housekeeper. She had her own note, and held it up. It read very simply:
“Where is Lila?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. How on earth was that helpful? Still, it would probably be quicker to answer the question and ask her own. She quickly scribbled, “With my sister. At town hall.” Then she held up her “What’s going on?” sheet.
Mrs. Pervis scribbled on her sheet very quickly, and then held it up.
“Big dome. Almost everyone stuck outside it.”
That was worrying. And it was really beginning to sound like aliens. She’d never hear the end of it from Amy if that was the case.
She was considering what to write next when she heard shouts and screams from behind her.
Then Amy asked, “Do you smell smoke?”
Ooh lots happening now. I think it’s good I’ve never read the Gone series because I’m just enjoying this as a Sweet Valley novel with no idea what will happen next.