Gone – Chapter Three

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The Unicorns made their way to Lila’s house in a roundabout way, stopping to check their own houses. Jessica had considered going with Elizabeth, but Lila had given Jessica a supercilious look and said, “We can talk about my party on the walk home,” and Jessica had known that she couldn’t let her best friend take complete control of the party. Lila might be hosting, but it was Jessica’s idea.

“I think a party is a wonderful idea,” Janet said, with an approving smile in Lila’s direction. “I think this whole situation has reflected very well on the Unicorns. I’m taking charge and my team is organizing a party to keep everyone’s spirits up.”

Jessica felt somewhat slighted about being referred to as Janet’s “team”. She was a member of the Unicorns, but Janet had made it sound as if she was the president of a company, and the rest of the Unicorns were just her workers. Well, if that was the way things were, Jessica was getting a promotion! “I think we should wear high heels!” she suggested.

Before anyone could react, Ellen abruptly blurted, “There’s something wrong with the sky!”

This was the second time on the walk home that Ellen had said something stupid. The first was when she pointed out the amount of cars that were idling in the middle of the road, some nose-to-nose. As if they cared about cars. They weren’t boys, after all.

Janet frowned at Ellen. “What a silly thing to say.”

“No look!” Ellen pointed at the sky. “Do you see how the clouds are kind of… bending?”

Jessica looked up and she could see what Ellen meant. It was the same effect as if she was looking up a road on a very hot day. The air kind of shimmered. The clouds seemed to be slanted, as if she was gazing at them through a funhouse mirror.

Lila rolled her eyes and turned back to Janet. “And we should wear heels.”

“What a fantastic idea!” Janet gushed while Jessica seethed.

With every step, Elizabeth’s trepidation rose. The entire town was quiet. Occasionally they did hear the odd voice, but it only ever turned out to be their fellow classmates. There were no adults. There didn’t seem to be anyone in town who didn’t go to Sweet Valley Middle School.

As they crested a hill they saw that three cars had collided at an intersection. Without a word to Amy and Julie, Elizabeth started running towards the crash. She heard their footsteps quicken, and they moved in unison to the crash.

Elizabeth tried to remember what little first aid she knew—try not to move them if the injuries are bad, reassure them, keep them warm and calm—but as she arrived at the cars, she realized that there was no need. There was nobody in any of the cars. She saw a baby seat in the back of one of the cars, and was relieved to see that it was empty too.

“Now I really do think it’s aliens,” Amy said. “There’s no sign of injuries. You’d think there would be blood or something, but there’s nothing. It’s as if the aliens took them while they were driving and the cars kept going until they crashed.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “It can’t be aliens. It’s never been aliens. We’ve had ghosts and jewel thieves and movie stars, but never aliens in Sweet Valley.”

“Ghosts, jewel thieves or movie stars didn’t do this,” Julie said.

Elizabeth tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Still,” she said. “I wish we’d brought Maria Slater instead of you. She was part of my plucky girl detectives squad. And I’m still honestly not sure who you are beyond being the girl we have lunch with every day.”

Julie opened her mouth to respond, but Elizabeth waved her off. “We should move on. I think we should go to my house first.”

It wasn’t far to Calico Drive and Elizabeth rushed through the front door and into the attractive split-level house. There was no sign of her mother, father or brother anywhere. She went from room to room, hoping to see some sign of her family, but there was nothing out of the ordinary except a broken bottle in the middle of the kitchen. Elizabeth cleaned up the mess, careful to pick up the clear glass shards and wipe up the liquid, which smelled a lot like nail polish remover to Elizabeth. She wondered if it had anything to do with the disappearance of all the adults. She peered at the label, trying to read it despite the rips in the label. “Voka,” she murmured. “Curious.”

Even though she knew it was futile, she went to the phone and started calling everyone in her mother’s phone book. She wasn’t sure who “A.A.” was, but since they were listed first, she started there. No answer. She wasn’t surprised but she was disappointed.

Things were starting to get scary now. She remembered the time she had been a model student. Her fellow classmates had made so many infractions to the rules that she barely had time to correct them all, and—despite the fizz of superiority each exchange gave her—she hadn’t liked being the responsible one. It had been exhausting. She had been delighted to be a kid again.

Without an adult, would Elizabeth have to take on the role of the only adult in Sweet Valley?

Jessica was getting irritated. It seemed abundantly clear to her that there were no adults in the town. In fact, there wasn’t anyone in the town. Belinda Layton had insisted that they go to her house next because her younger brother, Billy (who had been given her name at birth, and Belinda had been shamed into not making a fuss about it), would be home with her mom, and if Mrs. Layton had vanished, then Billy would be home alone.

Janet had grudgingly bumped the Layton home visit up above Ellen and Mary, but still insisted they go to her house first.

It had all been for nothing though. There was nobody home in any of their houses. No Howells, no Laytons, no brothers, big or small. Nobody.

And Jessica couldn’t understand why everyone was insisting that they check their own homes. It seemed very clear to her that the entire town had vanished. And since it had, then the party at Lila’s was going to be a rager.

“I think we should stop checking houses and go straight to Sweet Valley Mart to buy snacks for the party,” Jessica said.

For the first time all day, nobody spoke over her. Nobody interrupted. Then Janet gave her a full smile, and Jessica basked in the attention.

“I think that’s a very good idea, Jessica.”

Lila waved her away. “It’s a very middle-class idea,” Lila said grandly. “Mrs. Pervis can pick up anything we need.”

“Mrs. Pervis is a grownup.” Jessica couldn’t help the smug tone that crept into her voice—she sounded just like Elizabeth! “She won’t be there.”

Lila paled. “But what if we don’t have the food I like? Surely Mrs. Pervis wouldn’t leave me?”

“I guess you’ll have to cook your own dinner tonight, Lila.” Jessica couldn’t hide her smile.

Lila’s eyes widened. “But I don’t even know where the kitchen is!”

“So, Sweet Valley Mart then?” Jessica said.

That was more like it.

Elizabeth and her two friends were making their way to the town hall when Amy stopped suddenly and pointed at the sky.

“Do you see that?” Amy asked.

“See what?” Elizabeth and Julie replied in unison.

“The sky looks wrong. It’s kind of…” Amy tilted her head slightly. “Slanted?”

Elizabeth looked up and she could see what Amy was saying. “How odd.” Elizabeth squinted at the sight of it.

“It’s like the sky is…” Amy brought her hands up to face height and drew a half-circle in the air. “Like we’re looking at it through curved glass.” She shaded her eyes to get a better look. “I really do think it’s aliens. What if we’re under a dome? I read another amazing book about a whole town that got stuck under a dome, and everyone got really hungry, and some guy cooked meth—I don’t know what that is, but I think it’s some kind of s’more—and he accidentally blew up the town, but the smoke couldn’t get out, and everyone nearly died.”

“How is cooking meth anything to do with aliens?” Elizabeth asked in exasperation. “And I’ve told you, it’s not aliens.”

“Well, in this book, the dome had been made by aliens.” Amy looked around. “Think about it, Elizabeth. Ghosts and jewel thieves and movie stars couldn’t put a town under a dome.”

Elizabeth glared at her best friend. “It’s not aliens.”