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Authors: Jonathan Mary-Todd

Shot Down

BOOK: Shot Down
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Text copyright © 2012 by Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

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Main body text set in Janson Text LT Std 55 Roman 12/17.5. Typeface provided by Adobe Systems.

Mary-Todd, Jonathan.

Shot down / Jonathan Mary-Todd.

p. cm. — (After the dust settled)

Summary: When a bullet knocks Malik and the Captain's hot-air balloon out of the sky, landing them in the Kentucky wilderness, they are chased by man-hunters who believe hunting the weak is their post-apocalyptic duty.

ISBN 978–0–7613–8329–1 (lib. bdg. : alk. paper)

[1. Survival—Fiction. 2. Hunting—Fiction. 3. Kentucky—Fiction. 4. Science fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.M36872Sh 2012

[Fic]—dc23
2012006864

Manufactured in the United States of America

1 – PP – 7/15/12

eISBN: 978-1-4677-0015-3 (pdf)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3071-6 (ePub)

eISBN: 978-1-4677-3072-3 (mobi)

To my boyhood dog, Macbeth—
the events of this book
do not reflect the depths
of my affection

CHAPTER ONE

A

fter something shot through the Captain's hot air balloon and we started sagging toward the ground below, I tried to remember the
Gene Matterhorn Wilderness Survival Guidebook
Path of Action in a Crisis. It came to me right before I hit the water. Or maybe right after. In a crisis, these things are hard to keep track of.

Step One: Scope Out the Scene.

I spat back the foamy water that had started to fill my mouth and looked around in every direction. High hills formed walls around us. Tree branches split off above me and reached out like veins across the sky. The river's current slid me forward 'til I grabbed a fallen log.
Rocks ahead
, I thought.
Hold on
.

Step Two: Take a Personal Health Check.

“Captain!” I shouted, the taste of river water fresh on my tongue.

My mind spun, and I rubbed a free hand along my shaved head. No cuts, no blood. I shouted for the Captain again.
It's crucial to determine your own well-being before attempting to help others
, the guide says. No noticeable wounds would have to be good enough.

I looked again and saw the Captain ten or twelve arm's lengths back. He was floating facedown in the water, half-hidden by his blue overcoat. I took my arms off the log and swam back his way, pushing against the current.

My arms burned by the time I dragged the Captain's huge frame onto shore. A small whine drifted out of his mouth—breath. I started pushing down on his chest, trying to remember as I went how many times the guide said to do it. The Captain didn't move.

I spat out more river water and lowered my mouth down onto his damp orange beard. Two breaths into his mouth—nothing. It wasn't 'til I started pumping his chest again that the Captain opened his eyes. He coughed up water, bubbling like a pot at boil, and then heaved forward, panting for air.

“Ack!” he said. “I just about bought the farm there, didn't I?”

“What?”

“Figure of speech—ah, never mind. I forget sometimes you grew up in the middle a' nowhere.” He shook his head, his beard flinging water in all directions, and leaned back against a clump of grass. “Thanks for the, eh, life-savin', by the way.”

Step Three: Inventory Your Remaining Resources

Together we walked up and down a stretch of riverbank, gathering what we could from the balloon crash. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a compass—cracked, the little arrow in the center bent. Useless.

A dozen steps away from where I'd lugged the Captain out of the river, I spotted a red-and-brown lump. My backpack. It had hit the ground when the balloon crashed, or maybe dropped out while the craft plummeted, but there was nothing inside that would've broke. Mostly clothes, a couple blankets, my worn copy of the Matterhorn guide.

The Captain shouted up ahead, “I found the food bags! The sack with the jerky got tore open, but you can look forward to dried leeks tonight, as per the usual.” He started humming to himself and stuffing the stray snaps of jerky into his wet pants pockets.

The humming stopped as the Captain reached a clearing away from the riverbank. “Ah jeez,” he murmured and dropped to his knees. “It's toast.”

Inside a circle of ash trees, strung across twigs and dirt patches, were the ruins of his hot air balloon. The basket we had flown in—smashed. The reinforcements on the bottom were bent or in pieces. I stepped over a dented length of aluminum for a closer look.

The Captain looked up at me, pink-eyed. “I'm not sure there's any fixin' this,” he said. “I can't even find my tools...”

A hiss grew louder and louder as I looped around the wreckage. Not like a snake's—steadier. I pushed back some shrubs with my foot and found the round white canister that had let us fly.

“Captain! The propane burner's over here.”

“Well for goodness' sake, Malik, get away from there!” he shouted. He rose and moved to drag me away. “That thing could blow at any minute.”

I took a few steps back. “Will it do that?”

The Captain heaved his soaked overcoat atop the burner. “Err. It might. You'd think it woulda already, if it was gonna, but then again...Gah! A thing like that's irreplaceable.”

For a moment we stood and listened to the burner's muddled hiss.

“Should we duct tape it?” I asked.

“Yeah.” The Captain nodded. “Let's duct tape it.”

After I'd cautiously patched up any place where a leak might be, the Captain prepared to wrap up the burner in the balloon's envelope, the big tarp up top that fills with hot air. That was also too valuable to leave behind, the Captain said. He settled on tucking one inside the other.

As I was shoving the tape back in my bag, the Captain swore some curse I didn't recognize under his breath. He coughed for my attention and then stretched out a piece of the envelope in front of me. His hands shook: light shone through a circle-shaped tear.

“I didn't wanna call it 'til I knew for sure,” he said, “but this's gotta be a bullet hole. Rifle fire, I'm guessin'.”

Step Four: Make a Plan.

I took a long look at the hole. I asked why, like the guide suggested. Someone made a mistake, maybe, and fired a shot off on accident. Or, more likely, someone wanted to keep outsiders away. That was the story at a lot of places.

But for a plan? A real plan? I couldn't think of anything except hiding and hoping a better plan came to mind.

CHAPTER TWO

I

met the Captain in a place called Des Moines. It was north of the Kentucky hills where we crashed, and colder too. I'd arrived there while heading away from the Frontier.

The Frontier Motel was where I spent my youngest years. Most of my clothes, my blankets, I'd taken from there. Even
Gene Matterhorn's Wilderness Survival Guidebook
had spent years sitting in the motel common room.

My mother had stopped at the Frontier before I was old enough to even read. I barely remember the first year or two. They were the days when the world stopped working.

People were worried, my mother would say. She'd always mention how people's phones didn't work all the sudden. The motel was a place where people could stop and rest before they got where they were going. When everyone started to panic, my mom got off the road.

At the motel she got news of fighting in the east, bad storms all over. Some people headed back out, hoping to learn more. My mother stayed. Since I left the place, I've met different people who were sure of different things about what happened.

The Captain says he thinks it might've been aliens. But he also built his own hot air balloon in the middle of a city.

The Frontier was a safe place, away from whatever storms were out there. Nothing around it but trees and a gravel road. After a while, my mom and some of the other families that'd stopped decided to build a life there. I learned to hunt, learned to cook, and learned not to go very far. It wasn't 'til sickness hit the place, when I was fourteen, that everyone set out.

When I met the Captain in Des Moines, he'd seen some dark things too. He was living as a warrior and a mechanic, fighting off attacks, hunger, the cold. By the time he put his balloon together, I was ready to see the rest of the world. What was left of the world. We floated south, aiming to help people when we found them. Just looking for signs of life.

The Des Moines winter had turned into a gentle southern spring by the afternoon we got shot down. The Captain sat in the balloon's basket with his legs crossed, tying fruit along a string to dry out in the sun.

“So you never heard a' pretzel-style?” he said.

“What's that?” I asked.

“The way I'm sittin'. When I was a kid, I guess we called it Indian-style, but in yer adult life you realize that certain things like that tread on people's sen-suh-tivities,” the Captain said. “Pretzel-style means yer legs are sorta shaped like a pretzel. It's a food.”

“Growing up we ate deer and green beans. Then we ate more deer and green beans. I never had a pretzel.”

BOOK: Shot Down
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ads

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