Authors: Alan Tucker
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult
A Measure of Disorder
Book One of the Mother-Earth Series
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialog are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright ©2010, 2012 by Alan Tucker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address MAD Design, Inc., 212 Fair Park Drive, Billings, Montana 59102.
ISBN 978-0-9826864-0-9 (ebook)
For Corey and Rea
All the magic stems from you
For maps, news, reviews and other fun stuff, please visit:
This project has fluttered around in my mind for years and it took the efforts of many people to make it more than a series of disjointed thoughts in my cluttered head.
First, I must thank my family for putting up with a muttering raving lunatic — and those were my good days!
My alpha and beta readers were outstanding and without their support and encouragement, this book would never have happened. Linda, Andrea, Kay, and Logan, your efforts are much appreciated, and especially Mercedes whose unwavering enthusiasm gave me the resolve to finish. I thank you all.
My long-time friend and editor, Stace Johnson needs to be thanked for turning my mess into a nearly error free finished product. For those seeking similar services, he can be found at
. Any errors or miscues still hiding in the book should be attributed solely to me!
The bus lurched forward after a loud protest from the transmission. “If you can’t find ‘em, grind ‘em!” someone shouted amid laughter and conversational chaos.
Jenni barely managed to keep her head from banging on the seat in front of her.
Man, I hate the bus,
“Good catch,” Sara Wilson said, giggling next to her.
Jenni laughed in return and gave her best friend a playful punch in the shoulder.
Morning sunlight warmed her face, and Jenni heard birds chirping, even over the din inside the bus. Green and full trees lined the streets near the school and the smell of freshly cut grass mingled with diesel fumes. They had less than a month left of eighth grade and everyone was primed for summer vacation.
Jenni bent down and rummaged through her denim book bag. She had packed all the essentials for the field trip: her MP3 player, digital camera and cell phone. She’d also packed some snacks, an extra jacket, her science notebook, a couple of pens, and the lunch her mom had made. A lock of brown hair slipped out of a barrette and into her eyes as she found her bag of red licorice.
She sat up and fought with her always troublesome hair.
“Here, let me,” Sara offered and pulled a small brush out of her purse. Jenni turned her head so Sara could work her magic.
Jenni never knew what to do with her hair. She was trying to grow it out again after cutting it short in frustration a couple of months before. Now it was at that awkward, in between length and impossible to deal with.
Seems like I’m always “in between.”
Just an average, grade B, nobody
. She had tried a few sports and done okay, but not great. She did okay in school, but not great. There was nothing remarkable about her looks. Mousey hair, brown eyes and a small build didn’t stand out in a crowd.
Jenni didn’t want to be average. She wanted to be someone special.
“There,” Sara said with a flair, “how’s that?”
Jenni looked in the pocket mirror Sara produced and smiled at what she saw.
Not half bad!
Sara was always creative with her hair and clothes. “Thanks. What would I do without you?”
Sara looked up through her wire-frame glasses and put a finger to her cheek, “Hmm, probably die of embarrassment!”
Jenni laughed. “Licorice?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Sara said with a broad grin, showing braces with multicolored rubber bands.
Jenni repacked the candy and pulled out her MP3 player. She and her science class had a date with the National Forest in the mountains outside Boise, Idaho, where they lived. Jenni was just glad not to be stuck in a hot classroom for the day.
Music from her player shoved aside the noise of the bus and she glanced around at her classmates. She’d spent the last two years or more with most of them, but what did she really know about any of them? Carrie played in the band, Marco was good in school, Vic liked soccer — she could go on — but Sara was the only one she really spent time with. The only one she shared secrets with.
Her eyes landed on Brandon Thom, sitting two rows up, with a couple of his jock buddies. Brandon was as close to a Greek god as could be found here on Earth. He was the star player in every sport and had been on the honor roll since preschool. Jenni stared dreamily at his brown hair with blonde highlights as he joked with his friends. His broad shoulders and muscular arms shook with laughter and Jenni let herself wonder what it would feel like to be wrapped up in them.
“Earth to Jenni Kershaw, come in please.” Sara poked her in the ribs. Jenni jumped and blushed brightly. “Out of our league, sister,” Sara sighed, noting the direction of Jenni’s gaze.
“I know, but a girl can dream, can’t she?”
“Most definitely,” Sara responded, “and delicious dreams at that!”
Jenni giggled. “You are so bad!”
The shaggy mop of dark, curly hair belonging to Todd Blakely rose up from the seat behind Jenni and Sara. He sucked some yogurt from a tube and leaned in between them. “You girls got room for me in your group?”
“No!” Jenni and Sara said together.
“Aren’t you working with Denny?” Jenni asked.
“Yeah, but he’s so busy drawing cars all the time —”
The bus turned onto a gravel road, hitting a huge bump and lifting them out of their seats. A massive dollop of Todd’s yogurt landed in the middle of Jenni’s lap.
She looked down in disbelief, and Todd snickered behind her.
“Oops,” he said. Sara put her hand on his forehead and shoved him back in his seat.
“Does anyone have a napkin?” Jenni asked.
“Wardrobe malfunction, Kershaw?” Across the aisle, Alisha Hester, otherwise known as Miss Perfect, laughed with a voice the boys considered angelic. Fingernails on a chalkboard was more pleasant in Jenni’s opinion. Alisha’s tall, slender figure was decked out in designer jeans and an expensive, trendy top that showed enough skin to make guys drool, but stay within the dress code. Her blonde hair and makeup were flawless, as usual, and she wore a small diamond stud in her nose that probably cost more than a year’s worth of Jenni’s allowance. “It’s okay, Jenni. Those bargain rack pants needed a splash of color.”
Misses Not-Quite-Perfect Maggie Worth and Lori Parsons, laughed just long enough not to draw attention from Alisha. The moment of amusement gone, the three returned to their previously scheduled gossip.
Jenni’s attempt to fry the three of them with laser eye-beams failed, as it always did, but it made her feel better to try.
Sara rescued her with a tissue and helped Jenni clean up.
The bus finally bumped to a stop at a small campground. There were ten fire pits spread out in a large semicircle, bordered by a low log fence. The students piled out and stretched their legs, greeted by fresh, crisp air. Pine trees surrounded the campground and filled the foothills rising toward mountains in the west. Birds chirped and sang again after the noise of the bus had startled them quiet.
“Everyone gather ‘round,” their teacher, Ms. Pap, known to everyone outside her classroom as Judy Papplebaum, announced. She wore a thick khaki button up shirt, a pair of faded jeans with some sturdy hiking boots and a wide-brimmed floppy hat. Roger Kain, a student teacher who had been working with their class for the last six weeks, stood next to her. He was tall — at least a couple inches over six feet — with dark hair and a healthy tan. Bright white teeth flashed in a smile that melted many hearts in the class every time they saw it.
“We’re going to hike up that path,” Ms. Pap said, pointing to her left, “about a mile and you can start collecting samples. Everyone ready?”
Nods, smiles, and several grumbles answered her while everyone shouldered their bags and followed up the trail in a line. Two mothers had come along to chaperone, and they fell in at the back, chatting with each other.
Much as she loved her, Jenni was glad her mother hadn’t decided to come. Teresa Osorio, Marco’s mother, seemed pretty cool though, and he didn’t mind having her along. Carrie Minch’s mom, Kathy, was another story. She was a short, heavyset woman who wore a summer dress with a bright floral print and white sandals with two-inch heels. Carrie was clearly embarrassed by her and stayed as far away as possible.
About twenty minutes later, the group crested a short rise and looked out on a small blue lake set in a valley of wildflowers of many colors. The purpose of the field trip was to gather a number of plant samples to identify and report on the following week.
A small stream gurgled nearby, runoff from the lake, which headed in the general direction of the campground. The hills on either side of the valley were covered in pine trees much larger than those closer to the road. Birds and insects chirped, buzzed and flew everywhere.
Ms. Pap and Mr. Kain moved among the students, handing out papers. “This is Lake MacElroy, and these are maps of the area,” Ms. Pap said. “You have an hour or so before we’ll meet for lunch on the east shore of the lake. The spot is marked on your map.” She held one up and pointed to an “X” on the page. “Remember to mark the locations of any samples you take and don’t leave the valley. Any questions?”
Everyone shuffled into groups and fanned out around the lake. Jenni and Sara were joined by a small, shy girl named Tori Griffin, who was their lab partner in class.
They wandered through the bushes and flowers, Jenni snapping pictures with her camera, and Sara and Tori snipping and bagging flowers and small plants. The cloudless day warmed, forcing the girls to remove their jackets and sweaters. Talking and laughing, they eventually made their way to the lunch site marked on the map, stomachs rumbling in anticipation.
Ms. Pap had chosen a spot where the trees were close enough to the lake to provide shade from the last of the morning sun. Fish jumped, snatching bugs, and a chorus of birds sang to them while everyone sat on logs and rocks, eating their lunches. Todd and Denny were the last to find their way there; Todd walked with a half-eaten bologna sandwich and Denny munched on an apple.
“Ah, good, that’s everyone isn’t it, Mr. Kain?” Ms. Pap asked and sat down.
“Yes, ma’am. Everyone accounted for.” Mr. Kain sat down cross-legged and unwrapped a large sub sandwich.
No one talked much except for Mrs. Minch who complained about the bugs. And the sun. And the dirt. She had come early and had already finished her lunch. Carrie sat miserably next to her mother, features downcast while she ate a sandwich. Jenni wondered why in the world Mrs. Minch had come on a nature hike when she obviously didn’t like being outdoors.
Jenni ate some potato chips and turned her attention to the lake. The water was a perfect mirror for the sunlit western side of the valley. She then noticed tendrils of light mist creeping up from the shoreline.
“Hey, let’s count up and see how many more samples we need to get,” Sara said with her mouth full of cookie.
Jenni scooted closer and Tori got out her map, which had their sample location notes. A quick count showed they were only two short of what was required.
“Well, that won’t take long,” Jenni said while trying to stifle a yawn. “Wow, I’m tired all of a sudden.”
“Fresh air and a big lunch I guess,” Sara added with a yawn of her own. Tori nestled down using her pack as a pillow.
Jenni glanced around their picnic site and saw many others had decided to have a quick siesta. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to catch a few Zs,” she said, maneuvering her bag into a comfortable position. As she closed her eyes, she saw more mist, this time curling around the trees behind them.
she thought, as she drifted off.
Jenni woke and stretched, feeling refreshed. Around her, others did the same while some continued to nap. She saw wisps of mist dissipating around the picnic area as she sat up. Some of her classmates and Ms. Pap looked perplexed, as if they hadn’t intended to sleep, but had anyway.
Sara and Tori woke and sat up with surprised looks on their faces. Jenni shrugged, “Weird, huh?”
“Very,” Sara said.
“Class!” Ms. Pap announced, checking her watch. “You have some time to finish up before we need to leave, but don’t stray too far. I have a horn,” she said, holding up a canister air horn, “that I’ll sound when it’s time to head back to the bus. Please come straight in when you hear it.”
“Let’s get our last two clippings and maybe we’ll have time to explore a little bit before we have to go,” Jenni said while she stretched once more and picked up her bag.
The three girls headed to the north side of the lake to find their final samples.
Tori stopped and pointed. “Doesn’t that cloud look like a dinosaur?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“Cool!” Sara said. “It really does.”
Jenni thought, noticing more clouds besides Tori’s dinosaur,
the sky was clear before. We didn’t sleep that long — did we?
They continued walking along the edge of the lake. As Jenni looked around, everything seemed brighter, the colors more vivid, than before.
“Whoa,” Jenni heard Sara say off to her right. “Guys, come look at this.”
Sara had moved a few yards away from the shore and stood before a large leafy bush. As Jenni and Tori jogged over, Sara pointed to some fruit that dangled from its branches. They were the size of big plums, deep blue in color, and grew in clusters of three or four. Leaning in closer, Jenni saw the skin also had swirls of dark red and maroon.
“Have you ever seen anything like that before?” Sara asked.
Tori shook her head and Jenni answered, “No. Never.”
Jenni took her camera out and snapped a couple of pictures. Sara found her clippers and snipped a branch with a few leaves and the fruit, while Tori made notes on their map about the plant and its location. Sara placed the sample in an empty sandwich bag, like the others they’d collected, and carefully put everything back in her pack.
“I’m sure Ms. Pap will know what it is,” Jenni said. “Let’s go find one more then we can go back and show it to her.”
Sara and Tori nodded and they resumed walking.
Jenni untied the sweater she had around her waist and stopped to put it in her bag. A flash of orange and red caught her eye on the ground and she crept over for a closer look. A flower stood by itself in a patch of dark green grass. It was a vibrant orange with red and pink blotches on the petals and shaped like a daffodil, only bigger than any she’d ever seen. She stared at it for a few seconds, then called Sara and Tori over to look.
“It’s beautiful,” Tori said, wide-eyed.
Jenni brought her camera out again and snapped a shot. “Do you think we should take it? I haven’t seen any others.”
“Me either,” Sara said, shooing a large fly away from her face. “I don’t want to clip it if it’s the only one around.”
The fly buzzed lazily toward the flower. Suddenly, the petals expanded and a small red tendril shot out from the center of the bloom and snatched the fly out of the air. Tendril and fly disappeared into the flower.
Jenni yelped and jumped away from the plant, her friends following suit. The three took a few more steps back and huddled together, staring at the beautiful, seemingly innocent flora.
“You guys saw that, right?” Jenni asked with a tremor in her voice. Sara and Tori both nodded. “Okay, so I’m not insane, but what the heck is going on here?”
A sound blared in the distance from the direction of the picnic site. Ms. Pap was blowing the air horn for everyone to return. The girls took one more look at the fly-eating flower, then grabbed their things and hustled back to the group.
Ms. Pap blew the horn several more times before they made it back. Everyone looked nervous or upset, and many, including Jenni, Sara, and Tori, were out of breath.
“Head count please, Mr. Kain,” Ms. Pap said, wrapping a bandage around the forearm of Deena Martz, another girl from the class. Deena’s hazel eyes were wide with fear, and she was pale beneath her long dark hair. She sniffled a couple of times and took big, shuddering breaths, trying to calm herself down.
“What happened?” Jenni asked, looking at Deena’s arm. The wrap was already seeping blood from a nasty wound.
“Something bit her in the forest behind us,” Ms. Pap answered. Then she said louder to the group, “Everyone pack up, we’re heading back to the bus.”
“Looks like we’re all here,” Mr. Kain reported. “No other injuries.” Jenni thought he was going to say something more, but he didn’t.
Ms. Pap adjusted Deena’s dressing. “Roger, check your cell phone and see if you have coverage; mine doesn’t.”
Mr. Kain pulled his phone from a small pocket on the side of his pack and flipped it open. “No, nothing.”
They helped Deena to her feet, and Ms. Pap folded up the first aid kit and slung her pack over one shoulder. “Let’s get moving — quickly, but don’t run. Also, if you have a cell phone, please check to see if you have any signal. If you do, come see me or Mr. Kain. Head south along the shore here and we’ll cross the stream and get back to the trail.”
Jenni found her phone and turned it on as they followed the edge of the lake. It chirped through its startup and then flashed a “No Signal” message. No one else had anything either.
“Too far up in the mountains,” Sara said as she put away her phone. “We never get anything when we go camping in the summer either.”
“Does the other side of the valley seem farther away than before?” Tori asked, looking across the lake.
It did. Jenni shivered slightly when she gazed across the water. The mountains in the distance looked bigger, menacing in her imagination. Something very strange was going on, and she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
The class moved rapidly around the lake, except for Mrs. Minch, who twisted her ankle and nearly fell when the heel of her shoe got caught between some rocks. She refused to walk barefoot, so Mr. Kain had to take her arm and help her along.
They stopped short at the stream.
What had been a small, babbling brook, no more than six feet across, was now more accurately called a river. It was at least forty feet to the other side, though it didn’t look very deep. Because of some rocks and a couple of large tree branches stuck in the middle, it looked passable, but not without some work.
Ms. Pap, still helping Deena, was the last to join them and stare at the transformed waterway. Her mouth fell open in amazement.
Mrs. Minch babbled something about being lost in the wilderness and plopped down on a small boulder by the edge of the river. Carrie sighed and went over to quiet her.
Mr. Kain walked back to where Ms. Pap stood and said, “I don’t understand. There was no other outlet from the lake. This wasn’t here this morning!”
“I know,” Ms. Pap said, worried, “but whatever’s going on, we need to get Deena to a doctor.” She looked around at the class. “Take Brandon and one of the other boys with you, cross the river and find the trail to the campground. The bus driver should be able to reach someone on his radio and call for help. If not, maybe there’s something in the bus we can use as a litter to carry Deena back down there.”
Jenni looked at Deena, whose brow was wet with sweat and she shivered now and then. She certainly didn’t appear up to crossing the river without help.
Mr. Kain nodded and turned to the group. “Brandon, you and Todd are coming with me down to the bus.”
“What about the rest of us?” Mrs. Minch piped up. “What are we supposed to do?”
“Just wait here until we get back. The three of us can go quicker than the whole group and Deena needs attention as soon as possible.” Mr. Kain stepped into the river, testing rocks as he went. Brandon and Todd secured their packs and followed him.
Mrs. Minch took a breath for a retort but Carrie cut her short. “Mom! Would you relax? You’re not helping.” Mrs. Osorio moved over to calm Mrs. Minch and they talked quietly.
Jenni guided Sara a couple steps away from the others and said, “This is crazy. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but Deena doesn’t look too good. My dad said there aren’t any poisonous snakes up here; what do you think bit her?”
“Maybe there’s worse things out here than snakes … or carnivorous flowers.”
Mr. Kain, Brandon and Todd reached the far side of the river, each dripping to various degrees, but safe. They then headed into the trees.
Ms. Pap helped Deena sit down and pulled a water bottle out of her pack. Deena sipped gratefully and then rested on the sand at the river’s edge. The rest of the group found places to sit and collect their thoughts. Mr. Kain returned to the far side of the river a couple of minutes later and called across.
“The trail is gone!”
Ms. Pap digested this information before replying. “Follow the river down the hillside! You shouldn’t be able to miss the campground!”
Mr. Kain gave her a thumbs up and jogged back to where Brandon and Todd were waiting in the trees. Once again, the three disappeared from view.
Jenni looked back at her friends. Sara had pulled out her MP3 player and was listening to music with her eyes closed. Tori had her back to the group and stared out at the lake. Jenni got up and stepped to where Ms. Pap sat with Deena’s head cradled in her lap.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Jenni asked, crouching near her teacher.
Ms. Pap exhaled and said, “Deena’s resting quietly for now. Why don’t you go around and take an inventory of what we have available from everyone? Food, water, tools — anything else you think useful. I don’t know what’s going on here but we’d best be prepared.”
“We found some fruit earlier — from a bush,” Jenni offered.
Ms. Pap’s eyes widened. “Did you eat any of it?”
“Good. Make sure you don’t. Some wild fruits and berries can be poisonous.”
Jenni nodded. “Got it. I’ll go work on a list of supplies,” she said and went back to where her bag lay. She found her notebook and a pen. Turning to a blank page, she drew three columns, and labeled them: Food, Water, and Other. After digging through her bag, she wrote down two cereal bars, one bag of red licorice, one banana and half a bottle of water on her list. Jenni got up and worked her way through the class while they waited for Mr. Kain and the others to return.
They had a decent amount of food and water, Jenni thought, at least enough to last until tomorrow, but she didn’t come up with many other useful items. Matt Durston had a small GPS device that was supposed to work anywhere in the world, but it wasn’t displaying any information. That hadn’t helped Jenni’s anxiety in the least. Charles, Will, Zoe, and several others had portable communication devices of one type or another: mini laptops, video games, cell phones — all of which worked, but had no signals from an outside source. The twins, Nate and Ethan, each had pocket utility knives, which Jenni added to her list. Mrs. Osorio had packed a small camping cookware kit. It folded out into a miniature pot and frying pan, and had a single set of silverware.
Her last stop brought her to Alisha, Maggie, and Lori. They had set themselves up on a fallen tree that had been stripped of its bark, making it a comfortable bench compared to the rocks and other logs that were available. The three girls sat with their heads together, whispering and giggling occasionally.
Jenni steeled herself and stepped up to them. “Alisha, I’m making a list of our food and water and stuff. What do you guys have?”
Alisha glanced up briefly. “Buzz off, Kershaw.” Maggie and Lori tittered.
Jenni suppressed a growl. “Alisha, Ms. Pap asked me to take an inventory of our —”
“I don’t care if she crowned you Queen of the Geeks,” Alisha snapped. “What’s mine is mine. Not yours or anyone else’s. Go away.” Alisha turned away and put her over-priced MP3 player’s buds in her ears.
Jenni didn’t bother asking Maggie or Lori — Alisha had just stated their opinion for them and they were too shallow to form their own. Jenni spun on a heel and walked back to Ms. Pap.
Deena was still sleeping, her head in Ms. Pap’s lap. Jenni sat down quietly next to them. “Okay, I’ve got a list,” she said. “Alisha and her pals wouldn’t tell me what they had though.”
Ms. Pap briefly looked over the items and nodded. “Thank you, Jenni. I’ll have a talk with Alisha later, but this will do for now.” She glanced at her watch. “The boys should be back soon I would think.”
“Okay, but I still don’t understand why the GPSes and stuff don’t work. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, this is what they’re for, right?”
“Yes. My understanding is they should work, even out here. We’re not
far from —”
They noticed movement across the river. Mr. Kain and the boys ran to the bank and picked their way back across to the group. Todd slipped on a mossy rock about halfway and fell into the cold water. Brandon and Mr. Kain grabbed his arms and helped him up. Any other time, Jenni would have laughed at his misfortune — he was soaked head to toe and shivering — but she was too anxious about their predicament.
The three made it across and sat down near Ms. Pap and Deena. Mr. Kain and the boys were breathing hard and had a few cuts and scrapes on their arms and faces.
“It’s gone,” Mr. Kain said, trying to catch his breath. “We followed the river for a few hundred yards. It ends in a waterfall with a drop of at least a couple hundred feet down into a gorge … with another river at the bottom.” He paused and Ms. Pap stared in shock. “We scouted west along the edge of the gorge for at least a quarter-mile and it just keeps going. The bus, the campground, the road — everything’s gone.”