Excerpt of THIRTEEN
Jack’s eyes snapped open. His heart was beating so hard he was sure he saw a heart shaped object protruding from his chest. The light flicked on and his mom flew into the room, phone in hand, scanning for the source of the noise. Mom get out of my room, he thought.
“What’s that?” Her dark hair was disheveled from sleep and her brown eyes wide with panic. “It sounds like gunfire.”
“Gunfire?” Jack sprang out of bed.
The hollow bursts echoed through the early morning air, louder than any of the alarm clocks still waiting to wake the sleeping neighborhood. He could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire as he stared out the window, seeing only the backyard and the tall green fence of trees. Everything looked the same. Nothing was different. Still, something was happening.
The sound wave moved through him turning his muscles to jelly. He forced himself to swallow only to find his mouth was full of dry hot air. It took a minute for him to realize it was hanging open, and he promptly shut it.
Fear nipped at the edges of his consciousness, yet excitement and curiosity were front and center. What was going on out there?
“Well, you’re not going out till it’s over. I’ll let the school know you’re going to be late,” his mom said. She was dialing the phone when the lights went out. “Damn it! Give me your cell phone.”
“But you have a phone,” Jack said.
“It needs power to work. The receiver is plugged into the landline. Just give me your cell phone.”
“You took it away from me last night, remember?”
A bitter taste washed through Jack’s mouth at the mention of the phone his mom confiscated after the cops had brought him home. It was no big deal—he hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, as usual, she’d overreacted and wouldn’t listen to his side of the story.
“Ah, yeah, right. Forgot. Um, it’s still downstairs.” She paused for a moment, looking at the dead handheld phone. “Where’s that radio your dad got you when you went camping last summer?”
“Just where is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You never know,” she said. “I need it. Now.”
She opened the closet door. Anger slipped through Jack’s mind, telling him she had no right to go through the stuff in his closet. It was his stuff, private stuff. He shoved her out of the way, bent down, and started digging. Pushing aside old clothes and some broken toys until he found the red metal battery-operated radio. He used to listen to music on it before he got an iPod and then the radio ended up pushed into the great abyss called his closet, which held everything that didn’t matter anymore.
His mom turned the dial to find a station, but the only thing coming through the speakers was static. Then, suddenly, a voice filled the room.
“There are confirmed reports of gunfire at all Canada–US border crossings, and traffic is not moving. If you are on your way to the border, turn around until the situation has been resolved, for your own safety. The US Border Authority is being reinforced by local law enforcement and is not under direct attack.
“The gunfire seems to be directed at Canadian Border Officials and not the US. We’ve tried to contact information sources in Canada, but all lines are down. As we get more information, we will let you know what is happening.”
“Okay, I guess we’ll just stay inside till the police sort it out and Hydro gets the power back up,” his mom said. She stared out the window with a blank look on her face, her knuckles white from gripping the radio so tightly.
Jack’s mind was racing with all the possibilities. Maybe there was a shootout between two gangs? Or maybe the border officials were trying to stop a drug smuggler?
He knew that if anyone got the action onto YouTube, it would definitely go viral and get a million hits. It would be sick if he got the footage.
“Mom, where’s the video camera?” he asked.
She turned to look at him, blinking her eyes as if she were just waking up. “Hmm?”
She looked back at the window toward the border. “I’m sure the police have everything under control. I’ll call the school with your cell.” Then she turned around and walked out of his room. “Hungry? Let’s get breakfast.”
“Uh, Mom, the video camera?”
From down the hallway, she yelled, “Just get away from the window and come downstairs!”
He found some black clothes on his floor, gave them a whiff and got dressed. He’d find the camera after breakfast. Maybe Aiden would want to go too. He’d call him. Well, as long as his mom would let him have his phone.
Why had the police shown up the night before? His whole body was tense, his teeth were clenched, and his skin felt too tight as he made his way downstairs. His dad would have let him stay out late ’cause he understood that Jack was old enough to do what he wanted. It wasn’t fair that he had to live in the ’burbs with his mom.
When he entered the kitchen, his mom set a box of Crunchy Os cereal on the counter, followed by the milk jug. He made himself a bowl before trying to connect to the Internet. No luck. Frustrated, he slammed the laptop closed and listened to the radio repeat the same thing over and over again while his mom paced back and forth in the kitchen with his cell phone. Just the sight of his phone reminded him how unfair she’d been about the whole thing. It wasn’t his fault, but did she believe him? No. She believed Constable Prevoe.
“Your cell phone isn’t working,” she said.
“Let me see it.” Why couldn’t his mom ever figure out electronics? “There’s no bars.”
“What are they shooting at?” She was absently biting her nails as she paced around the kitchen, tidying up. In the span of a couple minutes, she’d moved the saltshaker into four different places. Jack wished she’d just sit down, because she was making him nervous.
No service. None of his devices were going to be contacting anyone. How was he going to find out what was going on without any Internet or cell service?
“Hey, Mom, can I go see what’s going on outside?”
“I said no.”
“What part of ‘no’ don’t you get? Sit down away from the window and read a book or something.”
He got it, he just didn’t like it. All she did was dictate and treat him like a child. He wasn’t a kid anymore, though. He was thirteen. He slouched down in a chair beside the fireplace with his iPod, swiping the screen to find a game.
He’d died for the umpteenth time in half an hour. This was one of the easiest games he had, but he couldn’t get past the third level. The sound of gunfire was distracting, and curiosity was eating away at his nerves. All he wanted to do was check out the situation at the border. Except he couldn’t, ’cause the warden had him under lock and key. Maybe he could sneak out of—
The house shook, the walls vibrated, and the windows rattled like they were about to shatter into a thousand pieces.
“Earthquake!” Jack yelled. He dove under the kitchen table just as the shockwaves of a second explosion moved through the walls and into his body. Curling up into a ball, cradling his head in his arms, his eyes closed tight, Jack winced when he felt his mom’s warm body covering him, shielding him.
The air went still. It was silent. Time slowed down.
All he could hear was his mother’s breathing along with his own heartbeat pulsing in his ears. Fear oozed into every cell of his body, and he shook uncontrollably before his mom gave him a reassuring squeeze. It didn’t work.
Another explosion jarred the whole house.
His mom held him tighter, too tight—not like he was about to complain, though. He felt comforted, just like when he was small and she held him after he scraped his knee. Rolled up in a ball with his mom protecting him, he willed the explosions to end.
“Don’t worry, Jack. I’ve got you,” his mom said.
Yeah, but who had her?
A third explosion. They stayed there under the table, waiting for the sound of the next explosion to rip through the house.
An eerie stillness filled the air. It was as if time had stopped and even the dust was afraid to move. He took a deep breath in and let it out. Then another, and another. Nothing moved. The house was so still. His ears rang.
“Jack, I think it’s over.” His mom pushed herself off him.
Shell shocked, he crawled out from under the table feeling weak and shaky. He bent down and gave his mom a long hug followed by a quick peck on the cheek. He knew he should thank her for sheltering him, for holding him, for not letting him go outside, but the words were stuck in his throat. That would be like admitting he needed her, admitting he couldn’t take care of himself, admitting she’d been right.
So he said “Love you” instead.
She smiled, tears welling up in her eyes, and hugged him back. “I love you too, my sweet boy.”
Jack settled back into the reading chair beside the fireplace and watched her looking out the window toward the border. Not that she could actually see it from there. A mixture of warm emotions swirled around his belly, motivating him to go and hug her again, but he ignored them and picked up his iPod instead.
He couldn’t concentrate. He was waiting for the next explosion, waiting for a sign that it was over, waiting to know if it was safe, waiting for the next blast…