Gone Page 2

Sam Temple kept a lower profile. He stuck to jeans and understated T-shirts, nothing that drew attention to himself. He had spent most of his life in Perdido Beach, attending this school, and everybody knew who he was, but few people were quite sure what he was. He was a surfer who didn’t hang out with surfers. He was bright, but not a brain. He was good-looking, but not so that girls thought of him as a hottie.

The one thing most kids knew about Sam Temple was that he was School Bus Sam. He’d earned the nickname when he was in seventh grade. The class had been on the way to a field trip when the bus driver had suffered a heart attack. They’d been driving down Highway 1. Sam had pulled the man out of his seat, steered the bus onto the shoulder of the road, brought it safely to a stop, and calmly dialed 911 on the driver’s cell phone.

If he had hesitated for even a second, the bus would have plunged off a cliff and into the ocean.

His picture had been in the paper.

“The other two kids, plus the teacher, are gone. All except Astrid,” Sam said. “That’s definitely not normal.” He tried not to trip over her name when he said it but failed. She had that effect on him.

“Yeah. Kind of quiet in here, brah,” Quinn said. “Okay, I’m ready to wake up now.” For once, Quinn was not kidding.

Someone screamed.

The three of them stumbled into the hall, which was now full of kids. A sixth grader named Becka was the one screaming. She was holding her cell phone. “There’s no answer. There’s no answer,” she cried. “There’s nothing.”

For two seconds everyone froze. Then a rustle and a clatter, followed by the sound of dozens of fingers punching dozens of keypads.

“It’s not doing anything.”

“My mom would be home, she would answer. It’s not even ringing.”

“Oh, my God: there’s no internet, either. I have a signal, but there’s nothing.”

“I have three bars.”

“Me too, but it’s not there.”

Someone started wailing, a creepy, flesh-crawly sound. Everybody talked at once, the chatter escalating to yelling.

“Try 911,” a scared voice demanded.

“Who do you think I called, numbnuts?”

“There’s no 911?”

“There’s nothing. I’ve gone through half my speed dials, and there’s not anything.”

The hall was as full of kids as it would have been during a class change. But people weren’t rushing to their next class, or playing around, or spinning the locks on their lockers. There was no direction. People just stood there, like a herd of cattle waiting to stampede.

The alarm bell rang, as loud as an explosion. People flinched, like they’d never heard it before.

“What do we do?” more than one voice asked.

“There must be someone in the office,” a voice cried out. “The bell went off.”

“It’s on a timer, moron.” This from Howard. Howard was a little worm, but he was Orc’s number-one toady, and Orc was a glowering thug of an eighth grader, a mountain of fat and muscle who scared even ninth graders. No one called Howard out. Any insult to Howard was an attack on Orc.

“They have a TV in the teachers’ lounge,” Astrid said.

Sam and Astrid, with Quinn racing after them, pelted toward the lounge. They flew down the stairs, down to the bottom floor, where there were fewer classrooms, fewer kids. Sam’s hand on the door of the teachers’ lounge, they froze.

“We’re not supposed to go in there,” Astrid said.

“You care?” Quinn said.

Sam pushed the door open. The teachers had a refrigerator. It was open. A carton of Dannon blueberry yogurt was on the floor, gooey contents spilled onto the ratty carpet. The TV was on, with no picture, just static.

Sam searched for the remote. Where was the remote?

Quinn found it. He started running through the channels. Nothing and nothing and nothing.

“Cable’s out,” Sam said, aware it was kind of a stupid thing to say.

Astrid reached behind the set and unscrewed the coaxial cable. The screen flickered and the quality of the static changed a little, but as Quinn ran the channels there was still nothing and nothing and nothing.

“You can always get channel nine,” Quinn said. “Even without cable.”

Astrid said, “Teachers, some of the kids, cable, broadcast, cell phones, all gone at the same time?” She frowned, trying to work it out. Sam and Quinn waited, like she might have an answer. Like she might say, “Oh, sure, now I understand.” She was Astrid the Genius, after all. But all she said was, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Sam lifted the receiver on the wall phone, a landline. “No dial tone. Is there a radio in here?”

There wasn’t. The door slammed open and in rushed two kids, fifth-grade boys, their faces wild, excited. “We own the school!” one yelled, and the other gave an answering hoot.

“We’re going to bust open the candy machine,” the first one announced.

“That’s maybe not a good idea,” Sam said.

“You can’t tell us what to do.” Belligerent, but not sure of himself, not sure he was right.

“You’re right, little dude. But look, how about we all try and keep it together till we figure out what’s going on?” Sam said.

“You keep it together,” the kid yelled. The other one hooted again, and off they went.

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