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Authors: Michael Buckley

Undertow

BOOK: Undertow
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Contents

Title Page

Contents

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright © 2015 by Michael Buckley

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

www.hmhco.com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Buckley, Michael, 1969–
Undertow / Michael Buckley.
pages cm
Summary: A sixteen-year-old girl is caught in an epic clash of civilizations when a society of undersea warriors marches out of the ocean into modern-day Coney Island.
ISBN 978-0-544-34825-7
[1. Survival—Fiction. 2. Love—Fiction. 3. Coney Island (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction. 4. Fantasy.]
I. Title.
PZ7.B882323Un 2015
[Fic]—dc23 2014038317

Cover illustration © 2015 by Shane Rebenschied

Cover design by Lisa Vega

eISBN 978-0-544-34862-2
v1.0515

For Howard and Sylvia Johnson,
who invited me into their home on the water

Chapter One

Y
ou can hear them coming from blocks away,
a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string. As they grow closer it becomes a buzz in your inner ear, like hornets building a nest in your brain. By the time they reach your street, when they are right outside your window, the sound is unbearable: a rogue wave of moans and shrieks that rises higher and higher into a great crescendo of terror, the stuff of nightmares. You can't sleep through it. There is no pillow in the world big enough to block out their howls. Just pull the blankets up over your head and wait for them to pass. They will. They always do.

I am not without fear, but my curiosity gets the best of me every time. I leap from my bed, pull up my blackout blinds, press my face against the windowpane, and squint hard before they melt back into the shadows. Like most nights, I am too late. They're here and then they're gone, like lightning bolts stabbing at the flesh of night. The only evidence they were here at all is the ragged wound in the peace and quiet.

But there's still plenty to see. From not far behind comes a mob of men and boys armed with bats and booze, our neighborhood's self-appointed guard dogs. They bark threats and give chase. And then, to close the show, here come the police with their lights and squealing squad-car tires. An amplified voice demands that everyone clear the streets, while a helicopter hovers overhead, poking into backyards and abandoned lots with its frantic spotlight. I hear a gunshot.
Pop!
Then more.
Pop! Pop!

It's after curfew in Coney Island.

“You should be asleep,” my mother says. She's a silhouette in the yellow light of the hall. “Tomorrow is going to be a crazy day.”

“They're on the run tonight,” I explain.

She nudges some space next to me at the window and gazes into the now-empty street. Her shoulders and neck muscles tighten into knots. Her breathing is heavy. She uses her thumb to dig into the meat of her palms. I don't like this version of her—this jittery deer ready to sprint for cover at the slightest sound. I miss my happy mom, my bouncy, flip-flops, cutoff-shorts mom. My Summer Walker, version 1.0.

With a snap the blackout blind comes back down, and she shoos me toward my bed. “They're probably scavenging. How's your head?” she asks.

“It's an F4, but it feels like it's going to be an F5 soon.”

Mom flinches. I have been getting migraines since I was a toddler, and somewhere along the line we started categorizing their shapes and sizes like hurricanes. F1 is the ever-present storm in my gray matter. An F5 is a motherf'r, on-the-floor, curled-up-in-a-ball, puking, sobbing, wanting-to-throw-rocks-at God state of emergency.

“You've wound yourself up over tomorrow,” she scolds.

“How can I not wind myself up over tomorrow?” I cry.

“Why is this place so hot?” she says, then rushes out of my room. I follow and find her frantically twisting the knobs on our apartment's sole air conditioner, a prehistoric, broken-down dinosaur my father purchased before I was born. Each night in the raging, humid heat of Coney Island it clings to life, wheezing out puffs of air one might describe as toasty. Mom pushes something, and the machine breaks into the hacking fit of an old chain smoker. She quickly turns another knob, and it kicks and spits before settling back into its usual fluttering rattle.

“We have money for a new one,” I say.

“That money is for emergencies,” she whispers.

“Mom, the emergency happened three years—”

“I'll run a bath.”

“I think I just need some—”

Boom!
The F5 has arrived. The pain is a sucker punch to the temple, an explosion that feels like the plates of my skull have just expanded and then fallen back down into a jumbled mess. Heat spreads across my face, a forest fire in my frontal lobe. It sweeps down my neck and burns down the base of my spine. I fall to my knees, hands on my ears, doing everything I can to not vomit.

“Mom,” I squeak.

She's pulling on my arm, trying to get me up on my feet again, but then—
boom!
—I'm on my back. I can barely remember where I am, who I am.

“Don't panic, Lyric! Just breathe.” She crawls onto the floor and wraps herself around me like she's trying to shield me from hand-grenade shrapnel. Her arms are strong. They whisper and soothe.
I am your mother. I will take care of you.

“I hate my brain,” I whimper through snot and tears.

“I know.” She repeats it over and over again.

When I can stand, she helps me into the bathroom. I sit on the edge of our claw-foot tub and watch cold water gather around the rusty drain. When it's full, she helps me out of my clothes and steadies me. Stepping into it is like easing into a cup of frozen yogurt: creamy, cold, comforting. It takes a while to adjust to the temperature, but it's the only thing that helps. When I can stand it, I nestle down, deep as I can go.

“I miss the beach,” I say as I close my eyes for a moment, flying off to the shoreline, where she and I would sit for hours as the Atlantic's roar scared off my pain. It eased the agony without fail, like nature's morphine, but we're not allowed to go to the beach anymore, not since they arrived.

“I miss it too.” Each word is interwoven with guilt. She blames herself for what has happened to our neighborhood—the fighting, the martial law, the hate.

“Where's Dad?” I say, hoping he wasn't one of the cops down in the street.

She dips a washcloth into the water, wrings it out, then lays it over my eyes. “At the precinct. Mike wants everyone to go over the plans for tomorrow one more time. There are a lot of moving parts with the FBI and all those soldiers. But they'll be ready. Don't be worried.”

“I'm not,” I lie.

“Things will get better. You'll see.” Now
she's
lying.

I sink down farther, completely submerging myself. It's down here where I feel most safe, where the headaches retreat, where the roar of the water drowns out the thrum.

Chapter Two

I
hear her tapping her foot, her impatient sighs,
her orchestra of little noises demanding I start my day, but I refuse to open my eyes. I was up all night with a migraine, an anxious mother, and a father pacing back and forth until he wore a path in the carpet. If I open my eyes, I have to accept that it is Monday morning,
the
Monday morning all of Coney Island and I have been dreading for months.

“Lyric Walker, I know you're awake. Get your butt out of that bed.”

“Go away.”

I slide farther under my sheet and curl in on myself all roly-poly-like, hoping she will see my resolve and go to school without me. If I can just get small enough, she will have to give up, right?

“We've got to get you ready,” she says as she rips off my cocoon. When I scramble for pillows, she snatches them away too. There's nowhere to hide, and when she turns off my sound machine and pulls up my blackout blinds, I surrender. I'm going to school.

“I hate you, Bex Conrad,” I growl.

“Blame the Big Guy. He told me to wake you up,” she says as she turns her attention to my dresser drawers. She peers inside each one, digging for buried treasures she's overlooked the hundred or so times she's already gone through them. Bex covets my clothes—all of them—because, one, I have the best clothes, and two, her mom is a screwup who can't hold a job and wouldn't give two thoughts if Bex wore a paper sack to school. Today, however, she's fierce, wearing a black miniskirt and a Hello Kitty T-shirt that's easily two sizes too small for her. She's got on the Mary Janes she swiped from under my bed last month that add a couple of inches to her already tall-ass frame. Her hair is clean and sleek, her makeup sick. Everything about her shouts, “Jealous, much?” Which means she is not here at this ungodly hour for my clothes.

“Tammy let him back in the house?”

She shrugs. Tammy is her mother in the loosest form of the word. “Him” is the devil incarnate—her stepfather, Russell.

“What does he have to do before she's had enough?”

“I guess something worse than assault and battery,” she says flippantly.

I frown. Bex's problems are hidden by walls made of jokes and smiles. Even after all this time, I am rarely allowed inside.

“Bex, I—”

She finds a black bangle I bought at a yard sale and slips it onto her wrist. Then she takes a peek in the mirror. “This is now mine.”

“Bex, seriously. Are you okay? Is he still drinking?”

“Where are all your sexy clothes? You have to look hot.”

“Bex, don't change the subject.”

“We might be on TV.”

Bex continues rummaging through my things. She has said all she's going to on the subject. She'll share when she's ready and not a moment sooner.

“Let's skip school,” I say.

“They're arresting everyone who tries.”

“My dad's a cop.”

“You think the Big Guy won't arrest you?” She laughs, then opens another drawer. “Where are the skirts, Lyric? Where are the tank tops? Are you Amish all of a sudden?”

“Who cares what we wear? No one is going to notice us. Not today.”

Bex stops and stares at me with a mix of horror and bewilderment. “They'll notice us! There will be cameras everywhere, and I guarantee you we will both be on some website like Hot Girls of Fish City dot-com. Unless you try to pull the little-matchstick-girl look again, which I am here to prevent.”

I lumber to the window and cringe at what I see below. News trucks are parked up and down my street, each with a massive satellite dish mounted on its roof. Reporters spring from them like jack-in-the-boxes and charge across the road with camera operators in tow. They claim their inch of the sidewalk and prep for their “live at the scene” reports. There are a few news choppers buzzing around in the sky too. The whole world is looking into our fishbowl today.

Bex abandons my dresser and moves on to my closet, where an enormous overstuffed backpack blocks the door. It's the kind you take for climbing mountains, and it's packed tight. When she tries to shove it aside, it topples over, nearly taking her with it.

“Will you do something with this, already? It's always in the way. What the hell is in it?”

“Just some stuff I'm going to donate to Goodwill,” I lie.

“Hey! I get first dibs on everything,” she says with mock offense. She goes to work on the zipper before I pull it away.

“It's just socks and underwear.”

“You're donating used socks and underwear to the poor?”

With all the bull I shovel every single day, I should be getting pretty good at it, but I'm a total amateur when I have to lie to Bex. I wish I could tell her the truth about everything, like what is in the backpack, at the very bottom, loaded and ready, just in case. It would be nice to tell someone—I would feel a lot less lonely—but the truths I keep from her, and everyone else, are just too burdensome to share. They're the kind that stand on your neck and won't let you up.

BOOK: Undertow
10.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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