January

(Book #1 of Countdown)
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About The Book

COUNTDOWN
It's 1999.
Party like there's no tomorrow.
Pray that there will be.
JANUARY
On New Year's Day, it happens:
Over six billion people die within twenty-four hours.
The stunned survivors are left to fend for themselves in a world where chaos reigns. A world with no rules, no order...and no adults.
Because the only people left are teenagers.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
187 Puget Drive
Babylon, Washington
11:56 p.m.

"This is where it gets really crazy...."
Ariel Collins picked at the label of her empty beer bottle. She'd never been so bored. She was so bored, she thought she was going to die or something.
I can't believe Jez hasn't shut up yet.
No, actually she could believe it. Jezebel Howe hardly ever shut up. Ariel just couldn't believe she was wasting New Year's Eve, 1998 -- the biggest New Year's Eve of her entire seventeen-year-old life -- listening to this garbage. Why couldn't she be somewhere else? Babylon was the worst. It wasn't even a real town. It was a suburb -- a suburb of Seattle, no less. And as far as cities went, Seattle was pretty lame, too.
"...so this guy guns the car up to like eighty five, right?" Jezebel was saying. Her porcelain face glowed blue in the flickering light of the muted TV. "Meanwhile Brian is totally freaking out. He's all like, 'Slow down, man! We're gonna get killed. Or worse! We're gonna get arrested!'"
Jack laughed. Again. It didn't matter that he had heard the same dumb story at least a billion times already. It didn't matter that Jezebel was only telling the story to rag on Ariel's boyfriend, who happened to be passed out on the floor. Of course not. Jezebel was saying something that she thought was funny. Somebody in this living room had to provide the laugh track. And who better than her cheesy, twenty-year-old meathead boyfriend, Jack Grant?
"Anyway, I'm chilling in the backseat," Jezebel went on. She brushed her dyed black hair behind her ears, then dramatically eased back into the sofa -- as if an actual demonstration of "chilling" were crucial to everyone's understanding of what happened. "But I'm starting to get nervous. You know that way Brian has of making people nervous -- "
"Does anybody want more beer?" Ariel interrupted.
For an instant Jezebel's expression soured. Then she smiled again. "Can't you wait, like, ten seconds?"
"I'm thirsty," Ariel said. She pushed herself off the worn carpet and glanced at Brian, sprawled in a heap beside the beer-splattered coffee table. At least she had him. Even when Brian Landau was wasted, he was still hot. Of course, he didn't get wasted that often. So it was all the more cute when he did. That tousled blond hair, that ratty flannel shirt, those gorgeous blue eyes -- closed now, obviously, due to massive amounts of alcohol and boredom...Ariel couldn't help but smile. She gently kicked the bottom of one of his Timberland boots.
"Psst, Bri," she whispered. "Wake up, sweetie. It's almost midnight."
Brian groaned. He sounded vaguely ill.
"So can I finish?" Jezebel grumbled.
Ariel rolled her eyes. "Oh, please do," she begged sarcastically. She stepped over Brian and headed for the kitchen. "I can't wait to hear what happens next. Did you all die?"
Jack snickered from the couch. "You're just embarrassed because your wuss boyfriend was the one who freaked out."
Ariel paused. She stared at him blankly. One word always leaped to mind when it came to Jack. Thick. That pretty much captured everything about him: his skull, obviously -- but also the way he talked, his chest, his neck...even his hair. He looked as if he had brown steel wool glued to the top of his head.
"Jack, it's amazing," she said. "Those workouts are doing a lot more than making your muscles freakishly big. They're also reducing the size of your brain." With that she pushed through the swinging kitchen door -- and nearly slammed into her brother, Trevor.
"Jesus!" she hissed angrily. "What are you doing here?"
Trevor didn't say anything. He just stared at her.
Ariel shuddered, then sidestepped him and opened the refrigerator. Eww, she thought. Her own brother gave her the willies. Her own brother! Did anybody else have that kind of problem? The scary thing was that she and Trevor looked so much alike, too. It was undeniable. He was two years older, but they could have been twins. They both had the same hazel eyes, the same straight brownish blond hair, the same slender frames...yuck. She couldn't think about it anymore. It was too depressing.
"I think Brian's had too much to drink," Trevor remarked.
"How would you know?" Ariel muttered. She grabbed a beer (her fifth? her sixth? She lost track after Brian suggested they both slow down) -- then slammed the refrigerator door. "And why would you even care?" she asked. "You hate his guts, remember?"
"He's passed out on the rug," Trevor said simply. "I don't want him to puke on it."
Ariel turned and glared at him. Trevor always spoke in the same creepy, dull monotone. He sounded more like a machine than a person. But that would make sense. He spent his entire life staring at a computer screen. Oh, well. She twisted the cap off the bottle. It opened with a satisfying thock.
Here's to the year 1999, she silently toasted. The cap clattered to the floor. May Whoever's-up-there grant me everything I want.
She started guzzling.
Trevor sneered. "Dad's gonna kill you when he comes home."
"Look, why don't just go hang out with your geeky engineering-school friends or something?" Ariel suggested, pausing in midgulp. A few drops of beer spilled on her chin. She wiped them away with the sleeve of her gray wool sweater. "It's gotta beat hiding out in here and spying on us."
Trevor's jaw tightened. "I'm not spying. I came home to make sure you guys didn't trash the house -- "
The door burst open.
Jezebel strode into the kitchen, looking annoyed. She went straight for the refrigerator. She didn't even acknowledge Trevor's presence. Trevor, as usual, just stared at her. He might as well have been drooling.
"I think I will have a beer," Jezebel mumbled to nobody in particular.
"Tired of telling the same old story, Jez?" Ariel teased. She raised the bottle to her lips again.
"Nobody was listening," Jezebel stated glumly. Her long black dress swished as she moved. Jezebel owned at least a dozen black dresses, and they were all exactly the same. It was par for the course, though. The girl had discovered silver jewelry, the color black, and Marilyn Manson a few years before -- and it had been all downhill from there.
"Maybe that's because Jack's heard the story before," Ariel muttered. "And Brian is totally out of it."
Jezebel laughed shortly. She snatched a beer off the shelf. "He looks happy, though, doesn't he?"
Ariel shrugged. "I'd be happy, too, if I'd had eighty beers."
Jezebel cast her a glance before closing the refrigerator door. "Looks like you're on your way. Is that your seventy-ninth?"
Trevor chuckled. Ariel pretended to ignore him. This conversation was none of his business anyway.
"Jezebel, please," she said dryly. She took another sip. "You sound like Brian did before he passed out."
"And that's bad?" Jezebel asked with an innocent smile. She opened her own bottle.
Ariel raised her eyebrows. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You tell me," she replied in an easygoing tone, meeting Ariel's gaze. "I've never been able to figure you two out anyway. He's so nice and sweet and responsible -- well, except for tonight -- and you're so..." She swallowed some beer. "Besides, there must be a reason you're in here avoiding your boyfriend and getting sloshed with him." She jerked a thumb at Trevor.
Ariel laughed again, as casually as ever. If Jezebel actually thought she could provoke some kind of reaction with a cheap little jab like that...well, she was very, very wrong. "Funny," Ariel said. "I was just thinking the same thing about you and Jack. I've never been able to figure out why a hip goth-rocker like you would fall for such a jackass. Is it because he laughs at anything you say?"
Jezebel's smile didn't budge a millimeter. She didn't even blink.
"You know what, Ariel?" she asked sweetly. "I'm glad we're finally having this conversation. One of my New Year's resolutions is to be more open and honest with my best friend."
"Hey, Jezebel," Ariel whispered, leaning close. "We're not best friends. We're just two chicks who look good together in a crowd, remember?"
Jezebel glowered at her. Ariel suppressed a giggle. Now they were having some fun. Moments like these were what made hanging out with Jezebel so worthwhile: the crazy, tense times when neither of them knew who was bluffing -- the times when both of them pushed and pushed....
"You're drunk," Jezebel mumbled, turning away.
Ariel laughed delightedly. "Of course I am. It's New Year's Eve, babe!" She started singing in a loud, out-of-tune voice. "And tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety -- "
"You guys!" Jack called from the living room. "Get in here! The countdown is starting!"
"Whoopee," Jezebel muttered. She trudged back through the door. Trevor followed.
Ariel allowed herself another little laugh. Jezebel was all flustered and out of sorts. Well, she should have known better than to play her little mind games right now. They were here to get trashed -- not to make feeble attempts at being deep and disturbing. She glanced at the clock. Whoa. It really was midnight. She couldn't quite believe it. Where had all the time gone? Maybe she was tipsier than she thought.
"Seven...six...five..."
Ariel stepped back into the shadowy living room. Jezebel and Jack were huddled around the TV, beers raised, counting along with a taped show of thousands of people who were actually having fun somewhere. Trevor stood off to the side, watching Jezebel. Poor Brian was still crashed on the floor. Ariel leaned forward to nudge him.
"Three...two..."
Then she froze.
"Jesus!" she whispered.
The living room curtains glowed with a reddish light -- a light so bright that it made her squint. She stood up straight and blinked...
And then the light was gone.
Nobody said a word.
"Christ -- what the hell was that?" Jack demanded after a moment.
it took Ariel a second to realize that the TV wasn't on anymore. Neither was the kitchen light. The low hum of the heater had stopped. She glanced around the room until her eyes came to rest on the only source of light she could find: a sliver of the moon, poking through a crack in the curtains.
"The power's out," Trevor said.
Ariel shook her head, then sighed. "Thanks, genius," she mumbled.
Well...whatever the flash was, it was over now. Except for the fact that they had no light, no heat, and no power.
Great. What a party.
Next year she would make sure to be somewhere else.

Copyright © 1998 by Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc. and Daniel Ehrenhaft

About The Author

Daniel Parker is the author of over twenty books for children and young adults. He lives in New York City with his wife, a dog, and a psychotic cat named Bootsie. He is a Leo. When he isn't writing, he is tirelessly traveling the world on a doomed mission to achieve rock-and-roll stardom. As of this date, his musical credits include the composition of bluegrass soundtrack numbers for the film The Grave (starring a bloated Anthony Michael Hall) and a brief stint performing live rap music to baffled Filipino audiences in Hong Kong. Mr. Parker once worked in a cheese shop. He was fired.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (January 2014)
  • Length: 144 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481425865
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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