Awake by Egan Yip - HTML preview
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t was late in the morning when they decided to head for the closest city, called Korgen, which was about twenty miles away. Kevin had explained to everyone that the city was probably thebest place to begin the investigation.
While waiting in the passenger’s seat of the red sedan, Andrew was having seconds thoughts. He didn’t have a problem with going to the city. But he did have a problem with how they were going. Did Kevin really know how to drive? Then again, Andrew thought, the roads were empty. There was nothing to hit. They should be okay.
“All right, let’s do this!” Kevin buckled himself into the driver’s seat. He adjusted the rear-view mirror and, as he did so, he caught sight of Genesis and Luna in the backseat with their seatbelts on. “Is everyone ready? All toilet, sand and grass business done with?” Nobody responded. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Before we go,” said Andrew, “try some of this.” Andrew handed Kevin a travel mug.
“Oh, what’s this?” Kevin eagerly took a big gulp. His eyes as wide as can be, he spat whatever he drank all over the dashboard. It was hot and bitter. “BLEACK!” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
Andrew looked apprehensively at Kevin. “Ahhhh! I should’ve warned you that it was still hot!”
His red eyes full of tears, Kevin stared back at Andrew with a look of contempt, his burnt tongue sticking out. Tongue dangling, he sputtered, “Wuht ith dith?”
Andrew said, “Coffee from my house. My mom left some near the coffee maker. I thought you’d realize it was hot because it was in a travel mug.”
Kevin slowly recovered from the pain, but his tongue was still numb. “Oh, coffee. Well, I couldn’t really taste much of anything except…pain. What’d you put in it?”
“Um…nothing. My mom always drinks it like that.” Kevin lifted up the mug, looking at it. “She drinks it black?”
“It’s more effective that way. You already missed a day of sleep. You should drink it all.”
Kevin groaned, “I suppose.” Then he looked at Andrew and grinned mischievously. “I drink half, you drink half.”
Andrew frowned. “You’re the one driving. You need it most.”
Kevin said, “That’s true, but I’m not doing this alone. You agreed to come along. I don’t want you falling asleep on me. We both have to stay awake for as long as we can.”
Andrew reluctantly nodded. After Kevin drank half the mug, he passed it to Andrew. Andrew hesitated. His eyes closed, he slowly downed the coffee, grimacing the entire time. It was the bitterest thing he had ever tasted. He couldn’t comprehend how his mom could drink it so easily every morning. Maybe it was something she had to get used to.
Once they were done with the mug, it was time to begin. Andrew set the GPS to direct them to Korgen. Kevin turned on the ignition and checked the fuel gauge. The gas tank was almost full.
Kevin mumbled, “So the first thing is to check mirrors…which I did. Now I have to back up…so I should put it in reverse.” He examined the gearshift on his right side and moved the lever down. “Now…time to GO!” One hand on the wheel, he excitedly slammed his foot on the gas. There was a loud whir and squeal as the car backed out the driveway in a matter of seconds.
Andrew screamed. Looking ahead as everything zoomed out, Kevin was shaken speechless and he quickly hit the brakes. The sharp stop of momentum jolted them in their seats, smashing the back of their heads against the headrest. The tires shrieked as the vehicle came to a sudden, vicious halt. Gulping air, they exchanged frightful glances. Kevin looked through the back window. They were only a few inches away from plowing into the neighbor’s garage door.
Terrified, Andrew said, “Are you sure you know how to drive?”
Sweat streaming down his cheeks, Kevin chuckled nervously, “Of course. I just got a little carried away.” Kevin glanced into his rear-view mirror. The animals were no longer in the backseat. “The dog and cat! They’re gone!”
Andrew loosened the buckle, shifted around and peered into the back of the car. Curled up on the floor, Genesis was whimpering like a pup. Her back arched and her puffed up tail frozen in place, Luna was firmly attached to the back of the driver’s seat by way of her claws, looking like she was defying gravity.
Andrew said, “They just decided to get into a safer position.”
Much to everyone’s relief, Kevin was able to drive moderately well. He learned quickly. But he seemed to have a bad habit—if you could call it that—of wanting to hit things. There were a few near-death incidents, but everyone was okay for the most part. The sides of the car were banged up, but he hadn’t made any direct collisions.
While staring out the side window, Andrew tried to keep his cool. It was unsettling to see no one on the roads, especially so late into the morning. Going down an empty highway that was usually jammed with traffic didn’t just feel strange—it also felt really scary.
When they reached Korgen, Andrew noticed the city streets packed with parked cars along the side. It was widespread, just as Genesis had said. Aside from the noises of their car engine and tires, the city was silent. There were no planes or blimps in the sky, no honking of horns and no bustling crowds of pedestrians. Andrew looked to the distant factories, seeing no sign of smoke from their stacks.
Andrew could feel the despair and fear clawing at his chest once again. This was real. After seeing no one for miles, he thought it might as well be the end of the world. The only hope for mankind’s survival rested upon two teens, a dog and a cat. He would’ve never guessed. There was no hope. They were all doomed.
Andrew saw someone walking along the sidewalk. “Look, there’s somebody over there!”
Kevin parked the car and ran out. Andrew tagged along. To their utter astonishment, it was their classmate, Katie Evans. She was wandering the streets by herself.
“Oh great,” she said to them, “You guys again.”
“Never expected to see you here,” said Kevin.
“Likewise,” said Katie, attempting to go around them.
“Wait!” shouted Kevin.
Annoyed, Katie stopped and looked at them, glaring. “What do you want?”
Kevin said, “You’ve found out about the sleeping thing too, right? We should stick together and solve this problem.”
Katie had a serious look on her face before she began a mocking laughter. “Are you guys stupid? I thought you were idiots, but I never thought you’d be brain dead.”
Kevin scowled. “What’s stupid?”
“Everything,” she said, laughing. “It’s like you guys are playing a little kid’s game. You want to save the world? Give it up. Life ain’t that easy. It’s just not that simple. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just forget it and enjoy life while you can.”
“But don’t you want to save your family and friends?”
Katie grinned. “No. Who needs such worthless crap?”
Kevin was stunned by her reply. “You don’t mean that.”
Katie laughed. “Of course I do! This is the best thing that’s happened to me! I’m glad this whole world is screwed up. Everyone’s better off dead. And it’s especially great that all the adults are dead. They’re all just selfish scum.” Katie walked up to a car that was parked by the curb. “And now look at them. They got what they deserved.” She kicked the car with all her might, leaving a slight dent and shoe mark. “See that? This car…they probably treasure it more than their kids. But now, they’re all so pathetic. Sleeping to death.” She kicked the car again. “Ha! This is great! No one can stop me. There’s no lame adult telling me what to do with my life.” She smiled and then proceeded to kick over a metal trashcan. “I can do anything!” The trashcan was empty. She picked it up. “Anything at all.” Then she tossed it into the window of a store and the broken glass scattered. “All the work they did was for nothing! If they’re dead, what good is all this junk?”
Kevin grabbed her arm. “Stop that!”
She glared at him. “You think they care? No one will arrest me. No one will press charges. Why? Because they’re all dead.”
Kevin screamed at her face, “They’re not dead! They’re still breathing! And as long as I’m still breathing, I’ll do all I can—” Katie punched him across the cheek. He fell to the ground, his lip bleeding.
Taken aback, Kevin touched his lip and gazed at his bloodstained fingers. “Ouch…”
Katie sneered, “If you care so much, go do all you can. Go waste your time. But I’ll tell you right now…you can’t even save yourself.” Walking away, she told him, “Oh, and if you ever touch me again…a bloody lip will be the least of your worries.” Then she turned away and jeered, “What a wimp. So pathetic.”
Kevin got back up and was about to charge at her. “WHY YOU—”
Fearing what might happen, Andrew held Kevin back. “Just forget about it! It’s okay!”
Kevin struggled a bit and then pushed Andrew aside, exhaling bitterly. “Yeah, you’re right. Can’t let her get to me. It’ll just waste my energy. Let’s go look around. Maybe we’ll find someone with some actual common sense.”
They returned to the car and continued to scour the streets for people. Kevin found a police precinct not too far down the block. He parked in the middle of the road, and then he left the rear windows open, making it easier for Genesis and Luna to hop in and out of the car. He also left the doors unlocked; he thought no one was around to steal the car anyway.
As they walked into the building, Genesis said, “Will we find help here?”
Kevin replied confidently, “Whenever a great crisis arrives, the first stop should always be the police station!”
“I sure hope so. I’m banking on the fact that some officers have night shifts.”
There was an officer sitting behind the front counter. He was fair-skinned, fit and clean-shaven. He seemed to be really busy. Phone held up to his ear, the officer was working at the computer with one hand and flipping through sheets of paper with the other, searching frantically for something. He was too engrossed in his work to notice that the boys had entered the room.
“Excuse me,” said Kevin, approaching him.
Startled, the officer jumped out of his seat and nearly dropped the phone and papers. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Don’t sneak up on me like that! Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Seriously, what’s with kids nowadays? No respect for authority.”
Kevin said, “Sorry about that, but we’ve got a problem—”
“A problem?” As if he wanted to get things off his chest, the officer blurted out, “You’re darn right we’ve got a problem! It’s not just any problem…it’s a MAJOR problem! No one’s been coming in since six o’clock last night. All over the country it’s the same thing.” He gestured down the hall. “There’re even a few guys sleeping on their desks. Nothing I do can wake them up. I’m the only one left.” The officer tried to hide his worry by forcing a grin, but Kevin could see that the man was deeply concerned over the matter.
“So you don’t know what’s wrong?” asked Kevin.
The officer sunk into his chair. “We’re still trying to figure that out. At first we thought it was just coincidence—like a few isolated cases of a strange coma. But by the time we realized it was widespread, it was too late. I’m trying to maintain contact with whoever I can get a hold of: police departments, fire departments, hospitals…but some of them aren’t even responding anymore.”
“There’s no government plan for something like this?”
“A contingency plan for widespread coma? I’m sorry, kid, but it’s not like we know the source of this problem. There’s nothing we can do. We do have some kind of plan, but it’s really more of a desperate maneuver. Some emergency personnel are currently taking the leaders of the country to a secret facility where they’ll be cared for while still unconscious. We’re also trying to pool together any remaining research teams in hopes they’ll discover a way of solving this gigantic mess.” The officer stared at the kids for a moment, deep in thought. After a short silence he said, “You know what? I’m going to take you kids there. I don’t think this problem is going to resolve itself and it isn’t safe for you kids to stay here.”
“There?” Andrew sounded confused.
The policeman explained, “All the survivors are gathering in several locations: New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. We’re closest to Houston, so we’ll go there and meet—” A thick hardcover book fell on the officer’s head in mid-sentence. Having taken a blow to the head, the policeman wobbled, and then fainted on his desk. The boys gaped at him.
“That was rather anticlimactic,” Andrew remarked.
Kevin looked up at the ceiling above the officer’s head. A ceiling panel had been moved out of place. Kevin frowned. “I doubt he’ll wake up now. I’ve never heard of books falling out of ceilings.” Kevin pondered over the situation. “Must be a book sniper.”
Raising a brow, Andrew repeated, “A book sniper?”
His face darkening, Kevin turned to Andrew and said in a low growl, “A man who lurks in the shadows…waiting for the right moment to strike…then—BAM—when you least expect it, you get knocked out by a five-inch thick dictionary.”
Andrew said stoically with a hint of sarcasm, “Sounds absolutely terrifying.”
Genesis ignored them and barked, “There’s something up there, Luna. Chase it down.”
“I know, I know. I was just about to do that. Don’t be giving me orders, mutt!” Luna jumped up onto the counter and licked her lips. “I smell a rat.”
Luna leapt into the gap between the ceiling panels. As she disappeared from their sight, Kevin heard a loud caterwaul followed by some bangs and thumps. It sounded like a major scuffle was going on overhead. The ceiling boards began to shake and crack, causing some dust to fall. The commotion above moved around in circles. One of the ceiling panels gave way and Luna landed safely on her feet. She had a small gray rat in her mouth.
The rat squeaked, “Please spare me! I didn’t mean any harm!”
Luna snickered and tossed the rat at the wall. The rat fearfully huddled in the corner. Luna swaggered toward it. Then the cat extended her claws and held them up to rat’s throat. Gleaming in the light, her claws looked razor sharp, like tiny daggers.
Luna began interrogating the culprit. “Where did you come from? Who do you work for? How long have you been monitoring us? Why are you trying to stop us?”
“Wha-what?” Blood draining from his face, the rat said, “This is all one big mistake! I don’t work for anyone, honest! I’m not trying to stop you from doing anything!”
Luna said icily, “Then why’d you knock out the policeman? What is your objective?”
“Look, Miss, I’m just a hungry rat trying to get in the fridge. He was the only guy left in this place. What was I supposed to do? Take my chances? He’d be sure to come after me with a gun. I swear, I didn’t mean any harm!”
Luna’s green eyes narrowed, appearing almost fiendish. “Well, Mister rat. We have a predicament. You completely messed up our plans.” She examined her claws, licking each one carefully. “Now tell me, rat, how can you make up for the damage you’ve done?”
Arms and legs fanned out against the wall, the rat squeaked, “I know it’s my fault, but what can I do? Please, please forgive me. Let me go and I promise I’ll never do anything bad again!”
Luna smiled. “I find it interesting to see you rats on the move. You’re already invading the humans’ territory openly. Do you know about the problem the humans are facing?”
“You mean the sleeping?”
“Well, everyone knows that. Even—” The rat shut up, clasping a paw over his mouth.
Luna drew closer, her fishy breath flowing into the rat’s face. “Even what?”
The rat suddenly looked guilty of something. “Listen, there is something I can do, I think. If it’s information you want, I can take the kids down. But only if you promise not to hurt me.”
“Down?” His eyes widening, Genesis also drew near and said, “You mean—”
“Yes,” said the rat, “I can bring the kids to see the Nexus.”