Oct 27, 2016

{Guest Post + Chapter Preview and Giveaway} Earth Shift by Timothy A. Pipes


Fifteen years have passed since a devastating global event wiped out most of humanity and civilization, leaving behind little technology that still works. It is 2046, but for thirteen year-old Ethan, it might as well be 1846 as he lives in New Haven; a small settlement in what used to be central California. Life is simple and the residents live off the precious crops and livestock they managed to hang onto. The seasons have largely returned to normal in the last five years and thankfully, life is no longer simply about survival. For Ethan however, the past is about to return and survival will be only one challenge among many, if those he loves are to survive.

 What happens after the world ends?  What then?
After writing my first book, Bay of Deception, a mystery set on the Monterey Peninsula, I began thinking about what story I would like to tell next.  I decided to try my hand at the young adult genre, and spent some time considering the kinds of novels I enjoyed as a young man.  I remembered that I appreciated the ‘journey’ type novels such as The Hobbit, Hyperion and others.  I also knew how much I admired the Harry Potter books, because they were equally rewarding to adults as well as teens.  It wasn’t long after this thought process,  that I began writing my latest novel, Earth Shift.

   Most dystopian novels tend to focus on the ‘big event’ which has destroyed, and/or transformed our world, leaving the aftermath to a quick clean-up chapter that vaguely offers hope to the reader.  I’ve read many a novel, which serves up such fare,  though I’ve enjoyed them, they all left me to wonder...what comes next?  What comes after the world, as we know it, ends?

Earth Shift answers this question by following  the lives of three individuals have who survived a global catastrophe in different ways; we discover how each has managed for the last fifteen years.  It is a story of survival, identity, and courage, which sheds light on what makes us human, and what will we risk or sacrifice for those we love.


Chapter One


“Go away old man,” Ethan said wearily to the figure he sensed to his left, not bothering to look.
His words, though not unkind, were matter-of-fact in their tone, due as much to the mid-day heat as his ill feelings toward the old man. He continued digging into the hillside, his eyes searching for the whitish crystalline rocks described in the book. It was supposed to be fairly common around these hills, according to the old books he’d read, but he’d never seen even one small sample in his years of exploring in and around New Haven.
“Having a bad day, Ethan?” The old man asked patiently, stepping around to his right.
He knew that no dust stirred under the old man’s feet, nor would a single pebble be brushed aside. Somehow, when he was little, he hadn’t noticed this which only added to his current irritation.
Using the beat up old shovel he’d borrowed from Tobin, his neighbor, he went on digging despite his troublesome thoughts and resisted the urge to comment or vent at the old man. After a few more minutes of working with the bent and rusted shovel, he sighed, rose to his feet and glanced at the bright sun now directly overhead. After digging at various locations in and around the nearby hills throughout the morning, he was forced to admit that despite what he’d read, quartz wasn’t going to be found with just a hand shovel. If it was common in these parts, then it must be in pockets or veins deep in the ground.
Frustrated, he turned to the slightly amused figure before him.
“Why would I want to talk to a ghost?” He asked.
Brushing the dirt off his pants, he walked past the old man he’d once called grandfather, the shovel perched on his shoulder like an old rifle.
“Hey,” his grandfather called after him. “Don’t blame me you didn’t find any quartz.”

He began the two mile walk back to New Haven along the stretch of road which the old ones called Cachuma Highway. The name meant nothing to him, but he was glad for the level surface to walk on, despite the occasional rusted metal hulks that littered the roadside. He kicked a rock off the road into the nearby weeds, which sent several birds into the air.
That was another thing about the old man, he mused. How had he known that he was looking for quartz? He hadn’t mentioned it to him or anyone else and yet somehow he’d known. He knew the old man hadn’t appeared in the library, when he’d found the book on local geography.
A thousand yards away, he saw the cutoff which would take him to the main road and ultimately back to New Haven. In reality, the road to home was simply a rough dirt path kept clear by the passing of horses and wagons that cut through the fields surrounding their township.
Walking down the middle of the asphalt and the faded double yellow line, he tried to recall exactly when the old man first appeared to him as a small child. This thought was interrupted by the sight of Hodge and his pack of jerks coming his way, though still a-ways off. He was tempted to take a detour into the forest, but wasn’t about to run from the bully and yet knew he’d likely pay for it. Ten minutes later, Hodge called out his typical greeting for him as they neared.
“Hey, golden turd!” the beefy teen shouted as his group approached.
Two boys took up positions behind him, while the remaining two stood each to a side of their leader, easily the largest member of his cadre. Wearing beat up old jeans and a t-shirt faded beyond any actual color, Hodge was as tall as some adults in New Haven. Blonde, with close cropped hair, Hodge’s face was rounded and splotched with acne. His nose was small for someone so large and his eyes were set just a little too close. The smallest kids would sometimes dare to call him Hog but eventually all the kids, large and small learned not to antagonize Billy Hodge. All but him, of course.
“Whatcha’ doing out here, all alone?” Hodge asked, leaning into his face. “A kid could get hurt, if he’s not careful.”
He did his best to ignore the too familiar smirk as the other boys laughed at their leader’s lame joke. Though not muscular, Hodge was quite burly and a full head taller than Ethan, who’d always been on the lean side. Even alone, Hodge could and had roughed him up several times over the last two years. With his four buddies with him, he was easy pickings for Hodge and all knew it. He sighed and resisted the urge to retort.
“Well,” Hodge stepped closer, his sour breath washing over him in the day’s heat.
“Just out looking for some rocks, William,” he replied, using Hodge’s formal name.
“My name’s Billy, Freckle Fart,” Hodge said, bumping against him. “Use that name again and I’ll drop you here and now.”
Hodge now looked down at his dirty hands, squinting, “What kind a rocks?”
Suspicion shown in Hodge’s eyes which flickered toward his brow, then back again as a waft of B.O. hit him, the urge to turn away even stronger.
“Quartz,” He sighed, aware this was not going to end well. “I read that quartz had been found around here in the past.”
From the look on Hodge’s face, he could have told him a carburetor or a microchip, for all it meant to the bully, and suddenly Hodge sneered at him.
“I think you’re lying, golden turd,” Hodge stared at him, suspiciously. “You’re out looking for gold or somethin’ like that. Why you waste your time reading those stupid books is somethin’ I can’t figure out. “
“Well, if you could read ….” The words were out before he could stop them, and realized he’d just given Hodge what he’d wanted all along; a reason to beat him good.
“I. Read. Just. Fine.” As each word was spit out with menace, Hodge’s beady eyes became thin slivers of hate as he gripped Ethan’s striped t- shirt in his fist.
“Course,” the bully grinned wickedly at him while keeping a firm grip on his t-shirt. “I punch much better’n I read.”
He barely saw the large fist as it rocketed toward him and several minutes later, he was retching his guts out on the side of the road as the group of boys walked away laughing, patting their leader on the back as they went.

It could have been worse: he got away with only a black eye, a split lip and what seemed about twenty gut punches. The other boys had mostly stood by, opting to simply observe their leader’s handiwork and for that, he was grateful. Randy Cawhill had kicked him one last time in the stomach as Hodge and his group left, laughing contentedly as he disgorged what’d he’d eaten that morning. Rising to his feet though still bent at the waist, he worked on breathing regularly for a few minutes until he was certain what remained of breakfast would not make an appearance.
Standing straight, he looked up into the sympathetic eyes of the old man.
“Your mouth’s quicker than your brain, Ethan,” he said dryly. “I’d work on that.”
He laughed painfully at the ghost, his stomach muscles tightening into a knot.
“Tell me something I don’t know. Yeah, maybe I gave Hodge an excuse but he can do what he wants and nobody does anything about it ‘cause his dad’s lead councilman.”
“Talking to me again, I see,” the ghost quipped with a smile
Scowling, he turned toward the camp, “Don’t get used to it,” he said and resumed walking toward New Haven.

Forty or so minutes later he approached the two large wooden gates of New Haven and though he’d cleaned himself up in a nearby creek, Mr. Palmer the entry guard for today let out a whistle as he neared.
“Still getting on Billy’s bad side I see, Ethan?” The tall, bearded man remarked as he walked through the gate.
“Hodge has a good side?” He responded. “Let me know how to find it and I’m sure we’ll become best friends. “
“Billy’s not a bad kid, Ethan,” Mr. Palmer replied, his eyes flicking toward his forehead. A brief unease passed over the guard’s face as he set his rifle down, leaning it against his hip. “You just got to find a way to connect with him.”
“Yeah?” he laughed bitterly, grimacing as he did so. “I’d say Hodge connected with me today, just a little too well.”
Mr. Palmer lifted his rifle, placing his right arm under the stock and allowed the barrel to hang toward the ground.
“Yes,” the guard said, chuckling. “I would have to agree with you there.”

Walking by the Sheriff’s office, he saw his reflection in the window and halted, then stepped closer for a better look. With a grimace, he now took in the shiner Mr. Palmer had remarked on just minutes before and knew with a sinking feeling that his step-father, Cam, would surely notice and stir up trouble with Hodge’s father. After eying it from various angles and touching it gingerly, he looked at the damage to his clothes, most of which were salvageable, though his t-shirt was torn and would likely become a rag, thanks to Hodge.
Patched more than a few times, his jeans would also need mending as well. His shoes, though a lost cause, would likely stay in service simply because there were no new ones available. All clothes, but especially shoes were passed on person to person as they were outgrown. He’d gotten these from Wayne Ferguson, and they still had several years to go before simply falling apart.
He could see that his jet black hair looked a bit wild, not helped by its length, which reached almost to his shoulders. Stepping closer to the window, he saw something small and brown poking out just above his ear. He reached up and running his fingers through the dark strands, produced the inch-long twig. He saw his reflection in the window and though he was darker than most everyone else in New Haven, (except his mother, of course) he seemed a bit pale.
He turned away, but a flash caught his eyes in the reflection and with a groan suddenly understood why Hodge and Mr. Palmer had kept glancing at his brow. He leaned in and saw a glint of light just above his right eye. Great, he thought. Now I’ll get even more teasing from the other kids. For the thousandth time over the last year, he wished the strange pinpricks on his temples didn’t reflect light. Discouraged, he left the Sheriff’s window behind and trudged dejectedly toward home.
Two days later, his bruised right eye had faded to a dull grey-blue and surprisingly, little had been said other than to be careful about running into things. He replied that he usually tried to avoid low hanging fists but his step-father either didn’t hear or decided to let his smart remark go. Which was strange and now he recalled how pre-occupied his parents had seemed over the last few days. He decided to listen in on their conversations, but other than hushed whispers like, ‘Running low and ‘Almost up,’ he could make no sense of it.

The following morning his teacher, Ms. Jones, asked him to stay in during lunch, causing Hodge to glare at him as he left with the other kids.
“I didn’t call you in about your black eye or your split lip.” Ms. Jones began matter-of-factly, sorting through papers as he took a seat near her desk. “You manage to come out okay each time, if a little worse for the wear.”
This statement was followed by a shake of her head which sent her brown shoulder length hair swaying. “I called you in about your new...addition.”
Confused, he noticed the old man standing a few feet away, pointing at his own forehead. He’d learned the hard way not to acknowledge him around other people and pulled his attention back to his teacher.
“When your, ahh…‘birthmark’ appeared on your left temple last year,” Ms. Jones continued, “I was mystified, but eventually the other students let it go and I thought that was the end of it.” She hefted the sorted stack of papers and placed them in a wire basket on the desk’s edge.
“When you appeared this year with a similar gold-tinted mark on the opposite temple, I admit I thought you were looking for attention. However...” Ms. Jones usual clipped tone stretched this last word noticeably as she sat back against her squeaky wooden chair, her full attention now on him.
“...I have been assured by Dr. Minah that whatever your gold spots are, they are not your doing. Quite frankly, Dr. Minah’s not sure what they are and seems a little concerned.”
He saw the old man slide into a nearby desk, one much too small for him, and yet he fit somehow. He again returned his attention to Ms. Jones to find a quizzical look on her face, but after another pause, she went on.
“It’s clear your hair won’t hide the new…mark forever, Ethan,” she said, once again all business. “So how should we handle this one with the other kids?”

It was strange knowing more than most adults, and yet this had been true for him for a long time. That wasn’t supposed to happen and yet too often, he felt like the older person. Sitting in Dr. Minah’s office, New Haven’s doctor, he listened as she dealt with the Pelinski boys: two seven-year-old twins the adults jokingly referred to as Twisted Dennis and Evil Dennis. It sounded like one, or perhaps both boys had been stung, probably a scorpion from the sound of their sniffling, behind the door. Both had been stung several times in the last year and they still hadn’t learned to avoid them. They’d been known to toss the arachnids at each other, and occasionally, other kids.
He’d asked his mother about the names given to the two boys and why the adults chuckled at the nicknames a couple of years back. She’d pulled out some old boxes and handed him an ancient comic with a little blonde kid who had a knack for trouble. Compared to what the Pelinski twins got up to-teasing and sometimes hurting small animals, so the comic book kid had seemed fairly normal.
The door to Dr. Minah’s office opened suddenly and she peered out at him smiling. He felt a familiar flush wash over him and jumped up too quickly, nearly tripping in the process.
“Be right there,” he called out, glad she hadn’t seen his near face plant. “Just got to get my books.” Gathering them up, he remembered once again that Dr. Minah had a separate exit for patients, and knew the Pelinski boys were free to cause even more havoc.
Dr. Minah sat on a wheeled stool waiting, her chestnut brown hair almost to her waist, most of which flowed over her now faded whitish-gray doctor’s coat. He guessed she was perhaps thirty years old and as he’d grown older, noticed more and more of her qualities; her laugh, her soft skin and he admitted only to himself, her jeans. He found himself looking forward to his doctor visits and when Ms. Jones had suggested he go see Dr. Minah after their lunch talk, well, he hadn’t exactly objected. As he descended the school steps, the other kids streamed up into the school room after lunch and his friend, Josh, had asked him where he was going. With a slight grin, he’d said to see Dr. Minah, and Hodge and his toady Randolph, appeared just then, both giving him a look of hate and envy.
Dr. Minah rolled toward him as he scooted onto the padded bench. Nearly level with him, she pulled out her stethoscope, fitted the two ends into her ears and placed the metal disk onto his back, lifting his shirt to do so. He felt several fingers move the stethoscope to various places on his back, pausing to listen and hoped his beating heart did not give him away. She moved the circular metal piece to his chest and he was sure his heart sounded like a wooden mallet on a hollow metal barrel.

“Your heart sounds normal to me, Ethan, and quite strong for a young man.” A slight smile appeared on Dr. Minah’s lips as she set the stethoscope aside on the bench, and he felt his face burn slightly.
“Now,” she said briskly, her eyes intense as she brushed his hair aside. “Let’s have a look.”
Rolling closer, Dr. Minah reached over and pulled out a magnifying glass from a shelf nearby, their faces only six or so inches apart. Gently holding his jaw with her left hand, Dr. Minah scanned his new mark from various angles with the magnifying glass, then rolled her stool to the right and looked at his left temple briefly, before returning to the new one.
“Well,” she said, rolling away from him. “It’s just like the other two. In fact,” she ran fingers through her hair, absently. “...it looks exactly like the other two.”
He felt a slight loss as Dr. Minah rolled away from him; her nearness had felt…really nice. His heart had begun to pound almost painfully as she’d moved from one freckle to the next and he now felt slightly dizzy. He took several deep breaths to clear his head.
“What do you mean?” He asked, scooting backward on the padded bench. “That doesn’t sound good, the way you say it.” The old man now stood by the entrance, leaning against the wall.
“To be honest, Ethan, I’m not sure,” Dr. Minah said, placing the magnifying glass back on the shelf above her desk.
She turned back toward him, her face thoughtful for a minute, then spoke, her voice quiet in the small office.
“I was barely nineteen when the Shift happened, Ethan. I had dreams of becoming a real doctor and my parents planned to send me to a real medical school. But, of course, that didn’t happen.”
A sad smile appeared on her face. “A lot of things didn’t happen after that, and a lot of terrible things did.”
Sighing, she sat back down beside him.
“I’m New Haven’s doctor because like you, I loved books. When the world as we knew it ended, I understood that doctors, those that survived, would be needed more than ever. When I arrived here, Doctor Lilly took me under her wing and taught me all she knew. When she died, I took over and learned not to look too hard at the past. It tends to haunt people.
She caught his eye and looked intently at him.
“I know this is all ancient history and you were only a baby when it happened. But I lived through it and wasn’t much older then you are now. I struggled those first terrible years after the Shift and only my books and Doctor Lilly got me through it. She helped me discover my place in this new world.”
He returned her gaze and waited; could feel her working up to what she wanted say.
“I’m telling you all this, Ethan,” her look became almost ominous. “Because I’ve collected a lot of medical textbooks over the last twelve years, and I’ve never read about anything like what you have.”
She sighed, a look of frustration and guilt upon her face as she continued.
“To be truthful, Ethan-It’s clear to me that your…freckles, aren’t natural. But what they are…I just don’t have the knowledge to even hazard a guess.” Dr. Minah’s hand ran through her long hair, then stood and walked around behind her desk and again he felt the loss of her closeness.
“Whatever those are,” Dr. Minah sat down, then gestured toward his forehead. “They’re not produced by your body, that much is clear. “
He furrowed his eyebrows, his own guilt beginning to bother him, but she went on, unaware.
“Nature always prefers variation, Ethan. Just as your right hand or foot are slightly different from your left hand and foot; no plant or leaf is identical to those around it.”
Her own eyes furrowed now as she stared at him, keenly.
“I don’t have the tools to look at your gold marks on a molecular level, Ethan, but based on their seemingly identical appearance, I would say they were engineered.”

“What did Dr. Minah say?” His mother asked as he walked through the front door. He could hear her in their small kitchen, probably nursing the stove along in hopes of getting it to work properly for the evening meal.
“The same,” he called out, heading toward his bedroom.
Throwing the new books onto his bed, he pulled off his soiled t-shirt before selecting a fresher one. Though faded and patched, it was still usable. Walking into the kitchen, he gave his mother a quick hug before pulling a few cookies from the jar atop the wooden counter.
He placed half a cookie in his mouth, “She said she’s not sure what they are, but that I seem okay, so I shouldn’t worry about it.”
Her attention still on the ever finicky stove, he wandered back toward his room.

He sat on his lumpy bed and brooded about Dr. Minah. He felt bad about not telling her what the gold freckles were, mostly because he didn’t really know that much himself. If he told her what he did know, that would only produce more questions and he knew he didn’t have many more answers to give.
“Don’t worry, Ethan,” the old man appeared in the corner of his room. “We’re fortunate she doesn’t have the background to understand. It would only complicate things for you and me if she did.”
He listened for his mother but heard nothing. He had given in bit by bit and started talking to the old man, but found him as tightlipped as ever.
“When,” he half whispered now, a tinge of anger to his voice. “Are you going to tell me why I have them and what they’re really for?”
“Why…” a wide smile appeared on the old man’s face. “How about June 2ndth?”
He sat up abruptly, his cookies spilling onto the bed and several books onto the floor. “That’s… that’s my birthday!”
“Yes,” the old man said off-handedly, stepping toward him, his foot disappearing into one of the fallen books. “That’s only one month, three weeks, two days from now. I believe the two remaining leads should appear by then.”


With a bucket of water perched beside him, Ethan lifted the dripping rag and slopped it onto the foot-wide solar panel; one of fifty-six he had to wash on this rooftop before moving over to the next to wash an equal number of panels. Enrique had broken the news that morning about starting this most dreaded of jobs and now here he was, cleaning the first solar panel of many, many more to come.
“You know the drill, Ethan.” Enrique had responded as they’d stood talking in the repair room. The older man stood trying to gently pry up one of four receptors, which comprised one solar panel. “These little babies are New Haven’s source of heat and light when the sun goes down and in winter, when the sun goes away for weeks at a time. They only work effectively if the sunlight can be processed by the receptors. Build-up of dirt, dust and birdsh..,” the older man hesitated. “…Bird crap, prevent a full storage by summer’s end.”
“Yeah, but…” was as far as he got when Enrique gave him, “The Look.”
“Ethan, are you my assistant?” The question was rhetorical, he knew.
“And what does my assistant do each summer?”
A dull silence pervaded the repair room as he sat looking at the cluttered bench piled with debris. Finally, he answered, though with a sour tone.
“Wash and clean every solar panel on every roof in New Haven.”
“Well then,” Enrique said, turning back to his work. “You’d best get started.”

Three buckets of fresh water were needed for each roof’s worth of solar panels, depending on the accuracy of the local crows in their dive-bombing. Wiping the rag over each black receptor panel until clean wasn’t hard and in fact, it was the dullness of the task that he chafed at. What was difficult was hauling the bucket up the ladder with clean water, and then hauling the polluted water down before dumping it in one of the grey water troughs nearby. Repeat as necessary. By lunch time, he’d managed to clean only three roofs and could feel the sun slowly baking him. He’d started at the southwest corner of New Haven, not far from the well, so getting the water wasn’t so bad initially, however making his way down the row of one-story houses, his walk to and from the well took longer and longer.
Arms aching, he carefully set down the fresh bucket of water onto the slightly angled roof so it didn’t begin sliding. Looking up, he noticed the old man standing nearby on the roof’s edge. Though not exactly bored, the old man didn’t seem terribly interested in his work or what it took to haul up endless buckets of water.
It had been well over a month since they’d discussed his “birthday surprise,” as the old man had started calling it. Dipping the rag into the bucket, he squeezed it several times to rinse the grime and crap free. He listened for footsteps below, cleared his throat once and then slowly began on the next panel.
“How old was I when…I could first see you?”
The old man turned, “You’d just turned three. In fact, I do believe it was your birthday.”
“Why then?” he asked, dipping the rag in the bucket again. “Why three years old? Why not seven? Or ten?”
The old man looked down at the panel he’d just finished.
“You’re fishing, Ethan when you should be washing,” he said with a wry smile. “And frankly, I don’t think Enrique will be impressed with your cleaning skills.”
With that, the old man stepped off the roof’s edge and dropped out of sight an. Sighing, he began cleaning the next panel. He remembered how two years before, the old man had done this same stunt. Back then, he’d cried out in dismay and expected to see his grandfather lying injured below. Instead, he found an empty dirt path. That little trick had convinced him the old man wasn’t real, no matter what he claimed.

Exhausted, he came home to find his mom on the couch, asleep. His step-father had ridden over to Parksville the day before, and was not due back from making his circuit to the four nearby towns for another day or so. As one of four councilmen, Cam had to take his turn doing “sit-downs” once a month with the other communities’ leaders, and that usually meant at least a lunch or dinner and several hours of heated discussions. Cam had done his turn two months ago but for some reason he was off once again, probably because Billy Hodge’s father had worked a deal. Which meant it was up to him to care for his mom, who never slept during the day unless she wasn’t feeling well. He had to admit, this occurred more often lately than it used to. Sitting quietly beside her, he gazed at her and saw the furrowed lines; her forehead glistening with sweat as she licked her lips and it occurred to him she might be thirsty.
“Mom,” he whispered. “You okay…you need anything?”
Full blooded Mohave Indian with a flowing mane of long black hair, he’d occasionally heard his mother described as “exotic” and he was never sure how to take that. She had something; a natural beauty that others noticed. Some older people had once told him his mom was a mixture of Selma Hayek and Frieda Kahlo. Though neither name had meant anything to him, he’d understood they were complimenting her. But to his stepfather, he knew she was more than just a pretty face, a phrase his stepfather would use only when he was around.
Thirty-eight and just over five and a half feet, his mother was a fierce woman with a will to match any man and more than a match for Cam. Though not to be crossed, his stepfather was a gentle man. His mother was like a storm in her moods, lightning, thunder, a soft gentle summer rain or a murderous winter squall. Most days she was a firm breeze reminding you to keep on her good side. In a fight, he’d probably bet on his mother no matter the opponent, simply because she would never give up. At his touch, she stirred but didn’t wake, speaking softly at first, then with growing force.
“G’ away, Brent…leave me and Ethan ‘lone. We don’t need you. Tell my father …. tell him; he’ll never see Ethan again.”
An arrow seemed to pierce his heart and he tried not to jump at her words but still moved enough to awake her with a start, rising to her elbows,
“What…. Ethan,” her eyes slowly regained focus. “What…. happened?”
Pasting on a smile, he rested a hand on her arm, which seemed clammy to him. “Nothing Ma, you were just talkin’ in your sleep.” He squeezed her arm and hoped she couldn’t sense his shock.
“Oh… okay,” she said, settling back down into the couch. “How was work?” she asked sleepily and closed her eyes once again.
“Oh, good,” he lied, his smile brittle as she drifted off again.

Sitting on his bed, his mind raced through what his mother had uttered in her sleep and still he couldn’t make sense of it. He’d known his father’s name was Brent and that his parents had separated about six months before the End, but she’d always said his Dad had walked out, and she’d had to raise him alone because his father had been too selfish to stay.
The old man sat on what looked like an ancient rickety chair, seemingly taking up most space in his small room though he knew it was no more solid than his grandfather. He stared at the weathered downcast face that looked as if his grandfather had lost his best hunting dog. Finally, he took the bait.
“What…. why’re you looking all down in the mouth?” He said impatiently, wishing he could just sit and think.
It took several minutes before the old man would answer. “She was true to her word,” he answered, flatly.
He waited for more but none came. “Who was true to her word? What are you talking about?”
The old man gestured lazily toward the door, “Your mother, Anadelia.”
Real pain now spread over the old man’s face and as he turned back to him, he said in little more than a whisper.
“She was true to her word; I was never able to see you again, nor hold you or her in my arms.” A ringing silence filled his bedroom and he barely caught the old man’s last words prior to vanishing before Ethan’s astonished eyes.
“I will not repeat my mistake.”

Three days later, Cam returned from his “Sit-downs,” and by then his mother wasn’t any better. He’d tried to get her to see Dr. Minah or tell him what she was feeling, but to no avail. She’d just said to wait till Cam returned, and he was reduced to making sure she got plenty of rest and food. Though sore from four days riding, Cam immediately left to get Dr. Minah.
He’d read through two more books on geology over the last few days and now sat waiting as Dr. Minah saw his mother for a second day in a row. He’d been asking questions since Cam returned with Dr. Minah and only vague answers were forthcoming. With the third book in his lap and little interest in opening it, he sat on the bench near the front door, and waited, hoping the doctor would appear. The book lay unopened an hour when he heard footsteps approach behind the door.
The tortured creak of the door’s old hinges confirmed his suspicions and a haggard-looking Cam and an equally weary Dr. Minah emerged into the bright sunlight. He stood as they walked by, but neither acknowledged him as they conferred nearby in hushed tones. He tried to hear their conversation and once, Dr. Minah and Cam glanced in his direction but only the words, “limited options” floated to him on a gust of wind.
A few minutes later, Cam gave Dr. Minah a hug and returned, leading him into the house and the main room. Cam sat heavily onto the old sofa, rubbing his face as he sat opposite him in their creaky rocker.
“Ethan…your mom. She’s...very sick.”
He had guessed as much since Dr. Minah had spent the better part of the afternoon tending to her but from the look in Cam’s face and his tone, it was more serious then he’d feared. He cleared his throat.
“From what?” he said, trying to keep his voice steady but failing.
“A condition called diabetes,” Cam replied with a hint of anger. “Something that was treatable and manageable. But now…” Suddenly all fight left his step-father, who slumped against the dented cushions.
“We can’t make any more of the medicine that she needs to…”
He sat very still, waiting for Cam to finish. Finally, he spoke, all concern for his voice level gone.
“Needs it to what?” he croaked, near tears.
“To live, Ethan,” Cam said, wiping away his own tears. “To live.”

A day later, he’d learned the key facts about diabetes. What it was. What it did to the human body; the sure buildup of sugars without insulin and the damage this ultimately did to the body’s organs. He read the condition was largely treatable as Cam had said. But with everybody within a thousand miles living with late 1800s technologically, producing insulin was not possible. Like solar cells, you could maintain them, but you could not make new ones and insulin made before Earth Shift was the result of relatively advanced biotechnology; something no longer found on this continent.
He’d been up most of the previous night asking Cam questions, trying to find a solution. What about Parksville? Did they have any insulin, or how about Zion, or Fort Wayne or the town just over the mountains, Hollyvale? Did they have any or how about the outlying areas, what about them?
Patiently, Cam explained how the council, Dr. Minah and even Brother Keston, New Haven’s founder, had used their influence to obtain insulin for his mother. But there were others with diabetes in the other six communities who needed it as well and always they were faced with an ever dwindling supply. Somehow Cam had come back with a limited supply so his mom was okay, for now.
Out of concern for her, he’d buried his anger at being kept in the dark. Truth was, he felt deceived by those closest to him, and though he knew they were trying to protect him, he was nearly fourteen and felt he should have been told.
As Cam attended to his weakened mother, he spent the next few days channeling his anger into finding an answer; first speaking with Dr. Minah about his mom’s condition. She side-stepped his anger by explaining her condition clearly and about doctor-patient confidentially. It seemed a weak excuse since he was her son, but he let it go, mostly because she’d allowed him to read her only medical book on diabetes but only if he agreed to do so in the waiting room. So he read ‘Living with Diabetes” the entire day, watching patients come and go, their eyes upon his unmoving form as he scanned the pages for any signs of hope.
Meanwhile his mother was feeling better and the next day was actually moving around the house, the insulin dealing with the build-up of sugars in her system. Something he knew was all too temporary.

“Hello, Ethan” the old man stood next to his bed that night. “I’ve got some good news.”
He scowled, feeling drained and frustrated from the long day’s studying. His mother’s throaty laugh reached through the wall, followed by Cam’s booming guffaws and he wanted to be alone to enjoy the sound of his parent’s laughter. He needed to think about how to get more insulin, not the latest news about his stupid freckles that only brought him trouble.
“I’m tired, “he said, closing his eyes as a wave of emotion threatened to take his voice. “My mother’s sick and I need to help her…I don’t want to talk right now.”
A minute passed in silence and he cracked open an eye to find the old man sitting on his bed, a foot away. A sigh escaped the old man and he opened his other eye and found a too-satisfied expression on the old man’s face.
“Oh…well in that case, I guess you’re not interested in finding enough insulin to last the rest of your mother’s life.”

The next day, he made his way down to Dr. Minah’s office in the hopes of asking some questions, but found that she’d ridden over to Zion to help with the delivery of a baby. He’d been to Zion a few years ago, and found himself surrounded by a very different community from New Haven, most noticeably in their dress. He’d read about the Amish and the Quakers, (two groups he thought were probably unaffected by the Shift and Zion was a community somewhere in-between. Women and girls wore only dresses, men wore pants and long-sleeved shirts and usually an outer coat. Technology was prohibited and anything metal or plastic was forbidden and buried as they found it.
Brother Royce had founded the community not long after Earth Shift, and he’d found plenty of people willing to believe God had punished mankind for their technological sins and most of them had joined Zion. If New Haven was at an 1800s level, Zion was going backwards in what it accepted and though few voiced it, many found it a hard way to live after having implanted phones, robotic maids and gardeners, wall-sized TVs and endless virtual playgrounds. From the few facts his step-father had told him on the way back, any serious health conditions were difficult and often as not, ended tragically. Reading the sign on her door, he silently wished Dr. Minah luck and decided he’d come back tomorrow.
Walking back to his house, he recalled the very strange, sleepy conversation he’d had with the old man as he whispered his questions, hoping his parents’ laughter would drown out his voice, asking the one question that opened it all up.
“How do you know about the insulin?”
The old man paused and shot him a shrewd look. “If I tell you that, it will only stir more questions in you.”
He thought for a minute before answering, “Is that any different than most of our talks?”
A smile snuck onto the old man’s face. “Fair enough,” he said and somehow pulled a bright metal chair out of thin air and sat down on it.
“I know it,” his grandfather began, “because you know it.” He opened his mouth to speak but the old man held his hand up. “Hold your questions and when I’m done, I’ll be happy to answer them all.”
Frustrated, he sat back against his headboard, stifling twenty questions as he did so.
“I know about the issue, because you know about it,” he continued.
“Anadelia was, and is my daughter and she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at sixteen. I was the one who took her to her doctor’s appointments, helped her with her injections and watched her diet. I’ve known for some time that New Haven’s insulin supply was running low by observing your mother’s condition over the last few weeks. She has grown steadily weaker and more sickly. That night she blurted your father’s name, I knew I had to take steps to help her, whether she wants it or not.”
He heard all of this which only generated more questions, as predicted.
“Are you really my grandfather?”
A mixture of pain and sadness revealed the truth before the words could.
“I was,” he said finally, voice hollow.
“I held you when you were born, bought your first crib, spent many hours just holding you. I don’t know how many stuffed animals I bought you, until we discovered you were allergic to something in the fake fur. Nine months before the end, your mother closed off all contact with me and three months later, did the same with your father. When Earth Shift happened, I lost contact with you and her until your third birthday. For the next several years I simply observed you and your mother as you lived in New Haven.”
“Through…me?” He asked after a moment’s hesitation and the old man nodded.
“Go ahead, Ethan…ask the question I see in your eyes.”
“What are you?” He finally spoke the words, not knowing how else to say it.
“Tell me,” his grandfather shot him a questioning look. “Have you ever heard of an old world company called Xerox?”


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