Authors: Danielle Paige
Dorothy Must Die
The Wicked Will Rise
No Place Like Oz
The Witch Must Burn
The Wizard Returns
About the Author
Books by Danielle Paige
About the Publisher
For Mom, Dad, Andrea, Sienna & Fiona
I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday—one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.
I was informed of my trashiness on the playground by Madison Pendleton, a girl in a pink Target sweat suit who thought she was all that because her house had one and a half bathrooms.
“Salvation Amy’s trailer trash,” she told the other girls on the monkey bars while I was dangling upside down by my knees and minding my own business, my pigtails scraping the sand. “That means she doesn’t have any money and all her clothes are dirty. You shouldn’t go to her birthday party or you’ll be dirty, too.”
When my birthday party rolled around that weekend, it turned out everyone had listened to Madison. My mom and I were sitting at the picnic table in the Dusty Acres Mobile Community Recreation Area wearing our sad little party hats, our sheet cake gathering dust. It was just the two of us, same as always. After an hour of hoping someone would finally show up, Mom sighed, poured me another big cup of Sprite, and gave me a hug.
She told me that, whatever anyone at school said, a trailer was where I lived, not who I was. She told me that it was the best home in the world because it could go anywhere.
Even as a little kid, I was smart enough to point out that our house was on blocks, not wheels. Its mobility was severely oversold. Mom didn’t have much of a comeback for that.
It took her until around Christmas of that year when we were watching
The Wizard of Oz
on the big flat-screen television—the only physical thing that was a leftover from our old life with Dad—to come up with a better answer for me. “See?” she said, pointing at the screen. “You don’t need wheels on your house to get somewhere better. All you need is something to give you that extra push.”
I don’t think she believed it even then, but at least in those days she still cared enough to lie. And even though I never believed in a place like Oz, I did believe in her.
That was a long time ago. A lot had changed since then. My mom was hardly the same person at all anymore. Then again, neither was I.
I didn’t bother trying to make Madison like me anymore, and I wasn’t going to cry over cake. I wasn’t going to cry, period. These days, my mom was too lost in her own little world to bother cheering me up. I was on my own, and crying wasn’t worth the effort.
Tears or no tears, though, Madison Pendleton still found ways of making my life miserable. The day of the tornado—although I didn’t know the tornado was coming yet—she was slouching against her locker after fifth period, rubbing her enormous pregnant belly and whispering with her best friend, Amber Boudreaux.
I’d figured out a long time ago that it was best to just ignore her when I could, but Madison was the type of person it was pretty impossible to ignore even under normal circumstances. Now that she was eight and a half months pregnant it was really impossible.
Today, Madison was wearing a tiny T-shirt that barely covered her midriff. It read Who’s Your Mommy across her boobs in pink cursive glitter. I did my best not to stare as I slunk by her on my way to Spanish, but somehow I felt my eyes gliding upward, past her belly to her chest and then to her face. Sometimes you just can’t help it.
She was already staring at me. Our gazes met for a tiny instant. I froze.
Madison glared. “What are you looking at, Trailer Trash?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Was I staring? I was just wondering if
were the Teen Mom I saw on the cover of
It wasn’t like I tried to go after Madison, but sometimes my sarcasm took on a life of its own. The words just came out.
Madison gave me a blank look. She snorted.
“I didn’t know you could afford a copy of
.” She turned to Amber Boudreaux and stopped rubbing her stomach just long enough to give it a tender pat. “Salvation Amy’s jealous. She’s had a crush on Dustin forever. She wishes this were her baby.”
I didn’t have a crush on Dustin, I definitely didn’t want a baby, and I absolutely did not want Dustin’s baby. But that didn’t stop my cheeks from going red.
Amber popped her gum and smirked an evil smirk. “You know, I saw her talking to Dustin in third period,” she said. “She was being all flirty.” Amber puckered her lips and pushed her chest forward. “Oh, Dustin, I’ll help you with your algebra.”
I knew I was blushing, but I wasn’t sure if it was from embarrassment or anger. It was true that I’d let Dustin copy my math homework earlier that day. But as cute as Dustin was, I wasn’t stupid enough to think I’d ever have a shot with him. I was Salvation Amy, the flat-chested trailer-trash girl whose clothes were always a little too big and a lot too thrift store. Who hadn’t had a real friend since third grade.
I wasn’t the type of girl Dustin would go for, with or without the existence of Madison Pendleton. He had been “borrowing” my algebra almost every day for the entire year. But Dustin would never look at me like that. Even at forty-pounds pregnant, Madison sparkled like the words on her oversize chest. There was glitter embedded in her eye shadow, in her lip gloss, in her nail polish, hanging from her ears in shoulder-grazing hoops, dangling from her wrists in blingy bracelets. If the lights went out in the hallway, she could light it up like a human disco ball. Like human bling. Meanwhile, the only color I had to offer was in my hair, which I’d dyed pink just a few days ago.
I was all sharp edges and angles—words that came out too fast and at the wrong times. And I slouched. If Dustin was into shiny things like Madison, he would never be interested in me.
I don’t know if I was exactly interested in Dustin, either, but we did have one thing in common: we both wanted out of Flat Hill, Kansas.
For a while, it had almost looked like Dustin was going to make it, too. All you need is a little push sometimes. Sometimes it’s a tornado; sometimes it’s the kind of right arm that gets you a football scholarship. He had been set to go. Until eight and a half months ago, that is.
I didn’t know what was worse: to have your shot and screw it up, or to never have had a shot in the first place.
“I wasn’t . . . ,” I protested. Before I could finish, Madison was all up in my face.
“Listen, Dumb Gumm,” she said. I felt a drop of her spit hit my cheek and resisted the urge to wipe it away. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. “Dustin’s mine. We’re getting married as soon as the baby comes and I can fit into my aunt Robin’s wedding dress. So you’d better stay away from him—not that he’d ever be interested in someone like you anyway.”
By this point, everyone in the hallway had stopped looking into their lockers, and they were looking at us instead. Madison was used to eyes on her—but this was new to me.
“Listen,” I mumbled back at her, wanting this to be over. “It was just homework.” I felt my temper rising. I’d just been trying to help him. Not because I had a crush on him. Just because he deserved a break.
“She thinks Dustin needs her help,” Amber chimed in. “Taffy told me she heard Amy offered to
him after school. Just a little one-on-one academic counseling.” She cackled loudly. She said “tutor” like I’d done a lap dance for Dustin in front of the whole fourth period.
I hadn’t offered anyway. He had asked. Not that it mattered. Madison was already steaming.
“Oh, she did, did she? Well why don’t I give this bitch a little tutoring of my own?”
I turned to walk away, but Madison grabbed me by the wrist and jerked me back around to face her. She was so close to me that her nose was almost touching mine. Her breath smelled like Sour Patch Kids and kiwi-strawberry lip gloss.
“Who the hell do you think you are, trying to steal my boyfriend? Not to mention my baby’s dad?”
“He asked me,” I said quietly so that only Madison could hear.
I knew I should shut up. But it wasn’t fair. All I’d tried to do was something good.
“I didn’t talk to him. He asked me for help,” I said, louder this time.
“And what could he find so interesting about you?” she snapped back, as if Dustin and I belonged to entirely different species.
It was a good question. The kind that gets you where it hurts. But an answer popped into my head, right on time, not two seconds after Madison wobbled away down the hall. I knew it was mean, but it flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to even think about it.
“Maybe he just wanted to talk to someone his own size.”
Madison’s mouth opened and closed without anything coming out. I took a step back, ready to walk away with my tiny victory. And then she rolled into her heels, wound up, and—before I could duck—punched me square in the jaw. I felt my head throbbing as I stumbled back and landed on my butt.
It was my turn to be surprised, looking up at her in dazed, fuzzy-headed confusion. Had that just happened? Madison had always been a complete bitch, but—aside from the occasional shoulder check in the girls’ locker room—she wasn’t usually the violent type. Until now.
Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones.
“Take it back,” she demanded as I began to get to my feet.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amber a second too late. Always one to take a cue from her best friend, she yanked me by the hair and pushed me back down to the ground.
The chant of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” boomed in my ears. I checked for blood, relieved to find my skull intact. Madison stepped forward and towered over me, ready for the next round. Behind her, I could see that a huge crowd had gathered around us.
“Take it back. I’m not fat,” Madison insisted. But her lip quivered a tiny bit at the f-word. “I may be pregnant, but I’m still a size two.”
“Kick her!” Amber hissed.
I scooted away from her rhinestone-studded sandal and stood up just as the assistant principal, Mr. Strachan, appeared, flanked by a pair of security guards. The crowd began to disperse, grumbling that the show was over.
Madison quickly dropped her punching arm and went back to rubbing her belly and cooing. She scrunched her face up into a pained grimace, like she was fighting back tears. I rolled my eyes. I wondered if she would actually manage to produce tears.
Mr. Strachan looked from me to Madison and back again through his wire rims.
“Mr. Strachan,” Madison said shakily. “She just came at me! At us!” She patted her belly protectively, making it clear that she was speaking for two these days.
He folded his arms across his chest and lowered his glare to where I still crouched. Madison had him at “us.” “Really, Amy? Fighting with a pregnant girl? You’ve always had a hard time keeping your mouth shut when it’s good for you, but this is low, even for you.”
“She threw the first punch!” I yelled. It didn’t matter. Mr. Strachan was already pulling me to my feet to haul me off to the principal’s office.
“I thought you could be the bigger person at a time like this. I guess I overestimated you. As usual.”
As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. Madison lifted her hand from her belly to give me a smug little wave. Like she knew I wouldn’t be coming back.
When I’d left for school that morning, Mom had been sitting on the couch for three days straight. In those three days, my mother had taken zero showers, had said almost nothing, and—as far as I knew—had consumed only half a carton of cigarettes and a few handfuls of Bugles. Oh, and whatever pills she was on. I’m not even sure when she got up to pee. She’d just been sitting there watching TV.
It used to be that I always tried to figure out what was wrong with her when she got like this. Was it the weather? Was she thinking about my father? Was it just the pills? Or was there something else that had turned her into a human slug?
By now, though, I was used to it enough to know that it wasn’t any of that. She just got like this sometimes. It was her version of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and when it happened, you just had to let her ride it out. Whenever it happened, I wondered if this time she’d be
So when I pushed the door to our trailer open an hour after my meeting with the principal, carrying all the books from my locker in a black Hefty bag—I’d been suspended for the rest of the week—I was surprised to see that the couch was empty except for one of those blankets with the sleeves that Mom had ordered off TV with money we didn’t have.
In the bathroom, I could hear her rustling around: the faucet running, the clatter of drugstore makeup on a tiny counter. I guess she’d ridden it out again after all. Not that that was always a good thing.
“Mom?” I asked.
“Shit!” she yelped, followed by the sound of something falling into the sink. She didn’t come out of the bathroom, and she didn’t ask what I was doing home so early.
I dropped my backpack and my Hefty bag on the floor, slid off my sneakers, and looked over at the screen. Al Roker was pointing to my hometown on one of those big fake maps. He was frowning.
I didn’t think I’d ever seen America’s Weatherman frown before. Wasn’t he supposed to be reassuring? Wasn’t it, like, his job to make us feel like everything, including the weather, would be better soon? If not tomorrow then at some point during the extended ten-day forecast?
“Hey,” Mom said. “Did you hear? There’s a tornado coming!”
I wasn’t too worried about it. They were always predicting disaster around here, but although nearby towns had been hit a few times, Dusty Acres had always been spared. It was like we had cliché to shield us—Tornado Sweeps Through Trailer Park, Leaves Only an Overturned Barbecue. That’s something that happens in a movie, not in real life.
My mom emerged from the bathroom, fussing with her hair. I was glad to see her vertical again, freshly scrubbed with her face all done up, but I had to wince at the length of her skirt. It was shorter than anything I owned. It was shorter than anything Madison Pendleton owned. That could only mean one thing.
“Where are you going?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. “For three days, you’re one step away from a coma and now you’re heading to the bar?”
It was no surprise. In my mother’s world, there were only two pieces of scenery: the couch and the bar. If she wasn’t on one, she was in the other.
She let out an accusatory sigh. “Don’t start. I thought you’d be happy that I’m back on my feet again. Would you rather I just lie on the couch? Well, you might be content to mope around the house all day, but
of us have a life.” She fluffed up her already teased hair and began looking for her purse.
There were so many things wrong with everything she’d just said that I couldn’t even begin to process all the ways it was infuriating. Instead, I decided to try the sensible argument. “You’re the one who just told me there’s a tornado on the way. It’s dangerous. You could get hit by a tree or something. Won’t Tawny understand?”
party, Miss Smarty-Pants,” Mom said, as if that explained things. Her bloodshot eyes lit up as she spotted her purse lying on the floor next to the refrigerator and slung it over her shoulder.
I knew there was no point arguing when she got this way. “You need to sign this,” I demanded, holding out the slip of paper Strachan had given me. It was to show that she understood what I’d supposedly done today, and what the consequences were.
“I got suspended,” I told her.
It took her a few seconds to react, but when she did, her face registered not surprise or anger, but pure annoyance. “Suspended? What did you do?” Mom pushed past me again to get to her keys. Like I was just a thing that was in the way of something she wanted.
If we lived in a regular house, with one and a half bathrooms, I wondered, would she still hate me this much? Was resentment something that grew better in small spaces, like those flowers that Mom used to force to bloom inside in little vases?
“I got in a fight,” I said evenly. Mom kept staring. “With a pregnant girl.”
At that, Mom let out a long, whistling sigh and looked up at the ceiling.
“That’s just great,” Mom said, her voice dripping with something other than motherly concern.
I could have explained it to her. I could have told her exactly what happened; that it wasn’t my fault. That I hadn’t even hit anyone.
But the thing is, at that moment, I kind of liked having her think I’d done something wrong. If I was the kind of girl who got in fights with pregnant girls, it meant it was on her. And her stellar lack of parenting skills.
“Who was it?” Mom demanded, her plastic purse slamming into the counter.
She narrowed her eyes but not at me. She was remembering Madison. “Of course. That little pink bitch who ruined your birthday party.”
Mom paused and bit her lip. “You don’t see it, do you? She’s already getting hers. You don’t need to help it along.”
“What are you talking about? I’m the one who was suspended.”
Mom flung her hand out and gripped the air, mimicking a pregnant belly. “I give her a year. Two tops before she’s got a trailer of her own around the corner. That boy she’s with won’t stay. And she’ll be left with a little bundle of karma.”
I shook my head. “She’s walking around like she’s God’s gift. Like she and Dustin are still going to be prom king and queen.”
“Ha!” Mom hooted. “Now. But the second that kid comes, her life is over.” There was a pause I could drive a truck through.
For a split second, I thought of how things used to be. My
Mom. The one who’d dried my tears and challenged me to a cake-eating contest at that fateful birthday party. “More cake for us,” she’d said. That was when I was nine. After Dad left, but before the accident and the pills. It was the last time she’d even bothered remembering my birthday.
I didn’t know what to do when she acted like this. When we were almost having a normal conversation. When she almost seemed like she cared. When I almost saw some glimmer of who she used to be. I knew better but I leaned into the kitchenette counter anyway.
“One second, you have everything, your whole life ahead of you,” she said, fluffing her hair in the reflection from the stove. “And then, boom. They just suck it all out of you like little vampires till there’s nothing left of you.”
It was clear she wasn’t talking about Madison anymore. She was talking about me. I was her little vampire.
Anger pricked in my chest. Leave it to my mother to turn any situation into another excuse to feel sorry for herself. To blame me.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. “You’re right. I’m the one who ruined your life. Not you. Not Dad. The fact that I’ve been taking care of you every day since I was thirteen—that was just my evil scheme to ruin everything for you.”
“Don’t be so sensitive, Amy,” she huffed. “It’s not all about you.”
“All about me? How could it be, when it’s always about you?”
Mom glared at me, and then there was a honk from outside. “I don’t have to stand here and listen to this. Tawny’s waiting.” She stormed to the door.
“You’re just going to leave me in the middle of a tornado?”
It wasn’t that I cared about the weather. I wasn’t expecting it to be a big deal. But I wanted her to care; I wanted her to be running around gathering up batteries for flashlights and making sure we had enough water to last through the week. I wanted her to take care of me. Because that’s what mothers do.
Just because I’d learned how to take care of myself didn’t mean I didn’t still feel panic setting in every time she left me like this—all alone, with no clue when she’d be back, or if she’d ever be back at all. Even without a tornado on the way, it was always an open question.
“It’s better out there than in here,” she snapped.
Before I could think of a good enough retort, she was gone.
I opened the door as she slid into the front seat of Tawny’s Camaro; I watched as Mom adjusted the mirror to look at herself and saw her catch a glimpse of me instead, just before the car vroomed away.
Before I could have the satisfaction of slamming the door myself, the wind did it for me. So maybe this tornado was coming after all.
I thought of Dustin and his wasted scholarship, and about my father, who’d left me behind just to get out of here. I thought of what this place did to people. Tornado or no tornado, I wasn’t Dorothy, and a stupid little storm wasn’t going to change anything for me.
I walked to my dresser, pushed up flush against the kitchen stove, and opened the top drawer, feeling around for the red-and-white gym sock that was fat with cash—the stash of money I’d been saving for an emergency for years: $347. Once the storm cleared, that could get me bus tickets. That could get me a lot farther than Topeka, which was the farthest I had ever gone. I could let my mother fend for herself. She didn’t want me. School didn’t want me. What was I waiting for?
My hand hit the back of the drawer. All I found were socks.
I pulled the drawer out and rifled through it. Nothing.
The money was gone. Everything I’d spent my life saving up for. Gone.
It was no mystery who’d taken it. It was less of a mystery what she’d spent it on. With no cash, no car, and no one to wave a magic wand, I was stuck where I was.
It didn’t matter anyway. Leaving was just a fantasy.
In the living room, Al Roker was back on TV. His frown was gone, sort of, but even though his face was now plastered with a giant grin, his jaw was quivering and he looked like he might start crying at any second. He kept chattering away, going on and on about isotopes and pressure systems and hiding in the basement.
Too bad they don’t have basements in trailer parks, I thought.
And then I thought: Bring it on. There’s no place like anywhere but here.
I had to admit it looked a little scary outside: the darkening sky stretched out over the empty, flat plain—a muddy, pinkish brown I’d never seen before—and the air seemed eerily still.
Usually on a day like today, even with bad weather, the old guy next door would be out in the yard, blasting old-fashioned country songs—the kind about losing your car, losing your wife, losing your dog—from his ancient boom box while the gang of older kids I never talked to would be drinking neon-colored sodas from little plastic jugs as they sprawled out on the rusty green lawn furniture and old, ratty sofa that made up their outdoor living room. But today, they were all gone. There was no movement at all. No kids. No music. No nothing. The only color for miles was in the yellowed tops of the dried-out patches of grass that dotted the dirt.
The highway at the edge of the trailer park, where cars normally whizzed by at ninety miles an hour, was suddenly empty. Mom and Tawny had been the last car out.
As the light shifted, I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection in the window and I saw my face, framed by my new pink hair. I’d dyed it myself and the change was still a shock to me. I don’t even know why I’d done it. Maybe I just wanted some color in my stupid, boring gray life. Maybe I just wanted to be a little bit more like Madison Pendleton.
No. I didn’t want to be anything like her. Did I?
I was still studying my face when I heard squeaking and rustling, and turned around to see my mom’s beloved pet rat, Star, going crazy in her cage on top of the microwave. Star has got to be the world’s laziest rat—I don’t think I’ve seen her use her wheel a single time in the last two years. But now she was racing frantically, screaming her gross little rat screams and throwing herself against the sides of her home like she was going to die if she didn’t get out.
This was new.
“Guess she abandoned both of us, huh?” I tried to ignore the twinge of triumph I felt at this. I’d always had the sneaking suspicion that Mom loved Star more than me. Now she couldn’t be bothered with either of us.
The rat stared right at me, paused, and then opened her mouth to reply with a piercing squeal.
“Shut up, Star,” I said.
I thought she’d stop after a second, but the squeal just kept coming.
Star didn’t stop.
“Fine,” I said when I couldn’t take it anymore. “You wanna come out? Fine.” I unlatched the top of her cage and reached in to free her, but as I wrapped my hand around her body, she thanked me by sinking her tiny teeth into my wrist.
“Ow!” I yelped, dropping her to the floor. “What’s wrong with you?” Star didn’t answer—she just scurried off under the couch. Hopefully, never to be seen again. Who even keeps a rat as a pet?
Suddenly the door of the trailer swung open.
“Mom!” I called, running to the open door. For a split second, I thought maybe she’d come back for me. Or, if not for me, then at least for Star.
But it had just been the wind. For the first time, it occurred to me that the impending tornado might not be a joke.
When I was twelve, when it all first started, I didn’t get it at first. I thought Mom was actually changing for the better. She let me skip school so we could have a pajama day. She took me to the carnival in the middle of the school day. She jumped on the bed. She let us eat pizza for breakfast. But pretty soon she wasn’t making breakfast at all, she was forgetting to take me to school, and she wasn’t even getting out of her pajamas. Before long, I was the one making breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
The mom I’d once known was gone. She was never coming back. Still—whoever she was now—I didn’t want her out there on her own. I couldn’t trust Tawny to take care of her in a disaster. More than that, I didn’t want to be alone. So I picked up my phone and punched in her name. No service. I hung up.
I went to the door, still open and creaking back and forth on its hinges, and took a step outside to scan the horizon, hoping I’d see the red Camaro zooming back down the highway. A change of heart.
As soon as I put my foot on the first stair outside the trailer, I heard a whooshing noise as a plastic lawn chair flew through the air toward me. I hit the ground just in time to avoid getting beaned in the face.
Then, for a moment, everything was still. The lawn chair was resting on its side a few feet away in the dirt like it had been there all along. It began to drizzle. I thought I even heard a bird chirping.
But as I hesitantly got to my feet, the wind started back up. Dust swirled and stung my eyes. The drizzle turned into a sheet of rain.
The sky just overhead was almost black and the horizon was a washed-out, cloudy white, and I saw it, just like in the movies: a thin, dark funnel was jittering across the landscape and getting bigger. Closer. A low humming sound, like an approaching train, thrummed in my ears and in my chest. The lawn chair shot up into the air again. This time, it didn’t come back down.
Slowly, I stepped backward into the trailer and yanked the door closed, feeling panic rising in my chest. I turned the deadbolt and then, for good measure, pulled the chain tight, knowing none of it would do any good.
I pressed my back to the wall, trying to keep calm.
The whole trailer shook as something crashed against it.
I had been so stupid to think this might be a joke. Everyone else was gone—how hadn’t I seen this coming?
It was too late now. Too late to get out of town—even if I’d had the money to do it. I had no car to get to a shelter. Mom hadn’t even thought to ask Tawny to drop me off somewhere. I was trapped here, and whichever way you sliced it, it was my mother’s fault.
I couldn’t even lie down in the bathtub. We didn’t have a bathtub any more than we had a basement.
Al Roker’s voice on the TV had been replaced by the buzz of static. I was alone.
“Star?” I squeaked. My voice barely made it out of my chest. “Star?”
It was the first time in my life that I’d been desperate for the company of my mother’s rat. I didn’t have anyone else.
As I sank onto the couch, I couldn’t tell if I was shaking, or if it was the trailer itself. Or both.
My mom’s stupid Snuggie was rancid with the stench of her Newports, but I pulled it over my face anyway, closing my eyes and imagining that she was here with me.
A minute later, when something snapped on the right side of the trailer, everything pitched to the side. I gripped the cushions hard to keep from falling off the couch. Then, there was another snap, and a lurch, and I knew that we’d come loose from our foundation.
My stomach dropped and kept dropping. I felt my body getting heavier, my back plastered to the cushions now, and suddenly—with a mix of horror and wonder—I knew that I was airborne.
The trailer was flying. I could feel it.
Dreading what I would see, I peered out from under the blanket and toward the window, squinting my eyes open just a crack to discover my suspicion had been right: Pink light danced through swirling clouds. A rusted-out car door floated by as if it were weightless.
I had never been on a plane. I had never been higher than the observatory, the tallest building in Flat Hill. And here I was now flying for the first time in a rusty old double-wide.
The trailer bounced and swayed and creaked and surfed, and then I felt something wet on my face. Then a squeak.
It was Star. She had made it onto the couch and was licking me tenderly. As her soft squeaks filled my ear, I let out a breath of something like relief just to have her here with me. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Mom was probably on her third drink by now, or maybe huddled with Tawny in the basement of the bar, a stack of kegs to keep them happy for as long as necessary. I wondered what she would do when she got back—when she saw that the trailer was gone, and me along with it. Like we were never here. Would her life be better without me in it?
Well, I had wanted to be gone. I’d wanted it for as long as I’d known there was anywhere to go. I wanted other places, other people. Another me. I wanted to leave everything and everyone behind.
But not like this.
I scratched my index finger against Star’s furry spine and waited for the falling part. For the crash. I braced myself against the cushions, knowing that my tin-can house wasn’t going to protect me when we hit the earth. But the crash didn’t come.
Up and up and up we went. More white-pink light, more pink clouds, and every kind of junk you could imagine all swirling around in the surreal air blender: an unbothered-looking Guernsey cow. An ancient, beat-up Trans Am. An old neon service-station sign. A tricycle.
It was like I was on the world’s most insane amusement park ride. I’ve never liked roller coasters. Going up would be fun if you didn’t have to think about what always came next.
When I came to, the first thing I saw was the spongy gray floor of the trailer above me. Star was scampering around my achy body like it was a racetrack, trying frantically to wake me. It took me a second to realize that I was lying on the ceiling.
Light streaked through the dirty windows—normal, bright, white light again, not the blushy pink I’d seen during the tornado or the watercolor brown just before it.
I was alive. And someone was talking to me.
“Grab my hand,” he was saying. “Step lightly.” I turned my head and looked up to see a torso leaning in through the open door, half-in, half-out, and an arm reaching for me. It was a he, silhouetted by light pouring in from behind. I couldn’t make out his face.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Just take my hand. Try not to make any sudden movements.”
From my side, Star squeaked and scrambled into the pocket of my hoodie.
I rose slowly to my feet and dusted myself off. Nothing seemed to be broken. But everything hurt like I was a rag doll that’d been thrown around in a giant tin can. When I took a step, the double-wide lurched beneath me. I rolled back on my heels, trying to get my balance, and it rocked with even more menace. I stopped.
“Just two steps and you’re home. Hurry,” he said. The distance between his hand and me seemed farther than two steps. I wanted to move again. But I didn’t.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t panic. Just move.”
I took another step, careful not to upset the equilibrium, and then another. I put my hand in his.
As my skin touched his, I saw his face, and I felt electricity shooting through my body. His eyes were the first thing I noticed: They were emerald green with flecks of something I couldn’t even describe to myself, and they seemed to be glowing, almost floating in front of his face. There was something about them that seemed almost alien.
Was he a rescue worker? And if so, how far from home was I, exactly?
“Am I dead?” I asked. It certainly seemed possible. Likely, even. It was hard to believe that I had survived any crash.
“Of course not. If you were dead, would we be having this conversation?”
With that, he gave my arm a sharp, strong yank and pulled me through the tipped doorway. We fell backward, tumbling onto the ground outside.
I scrambled quickly to my feet and turned around to see that I was standing on the edge of a deep ravine. My poor little trailer was barely holding on, teetering on the precipice.
The chasm was more like a canyon: it was as wide as a river and stretched on for as far as I could see in either direction. The bottom was all blackness.
“What the . . . ?” I whispered.
My trailer heaved, and then, with a final, aching creak, it lurched backward, letting go.
“No!” I screamed, but it was too late. The home that had once been mine was spinning down and down and down into the hole.
I kept expecting to see it crash and shatter into a million pieces, but it just kept on falling as I stood there watching it disappear into the abyss.
It was gone without even a sound. I had almost gone with it.
Everything I owned was in there. Every piece of ugly clothing. Every bad memory.
I was free of all of it.
“I’m sorry about your house,” my rescuer said. His voice was soft, but it startled me anyway. I jumped and looked up to find that he was standing at my side. “It’s a miracle you made it out. A few inches to the left and you’d have gone straight into the pit. Lucky, I guess.” The way he said it made it sound like he thought it had been something more than luck.
“Did the tornado do that?” I asked. I stared back into the pit, wondering how far down it went. Wondering what was down there. “I didn’t know tornadoes made giant holes in the ground.”
“Ha. No.” He laughed, but he didn’t seem to think it was all that funny. “The pit’s been here for a long time now.” He didn’t elaborate.
I turned to face him, and when I saw him standing there in the pale, blue-gray sunlight, my breath caught somewhere beneath my ribs. The boy was probably my age, and about my height, too. He was slim and sinewy and compact, with a face framed by dark, shaggy hair that managed to be both strong and delicate at the same time.
His skin was paler than pale, like he’d never left home without sunscreen or like he’d never left home period. He was part rock star, part something else. I couldn’t put my finger on what the something else was, but I knew that it was somehow important.