Chapter OneAt Deaths's Door
Judd raised his hands and knelt with the
others. Melinda pointed her gun around and
tried to support Felicia, who was pale and
almost unconscious, her head hanging.
"On your faces!" Melinda shouted.
Charlie, Vicki's weird friend, wandered in,
holding a candle. His eyes grew large when
he recognized the two Morale Monitors. "I
didn't know the water was bad, I promise!"
"On the floor!" Melinda yelled.
What had Conrad and Lionel told Judd
about the girls? He knew they were fiercely
loyal to the Global Community and their
leader, Commander Blancka. Vicki said she
thought the GC had turned on them and
wanted them dead. Judd watched for his
chance to surprise them.
"You don't have to do this," Vicki said.
"We're not going to hurt you."
"Shut up!" Melinda shouted. She stared
at Vicki. "You guys all look weird. What
happened to your hair?" Melinda let go of
Felicia, and the girl fell to the floor. Mr. Stein
was still kneeling with his hands folded in
Melinda fired into the ceiling, and plaster
fell. "I said, on the ground!"
Nine of us, two of them, Judd thought. If we
rush Melinda, we can overpower her, but some-one
might get killed.
Judd caught Lionel's eye. Lionel clenched
his teeth and shook his head. Vicki crawled
toward Felicia and put a hand on her neck.
"Touch her and you die!" Melinda said,
pointing the gun at Vicki.
Judd lurched forward, but Melinda quickly
put the gun in his face. "You want it first,
Mark grabbed Judd's ankles.
"Stop," Vicki said. "I feel a pulse." She put
an ear over Felicia's face. "Hardly breathing.
Help me get her to a bed."
Mr. Stein moved to help.
"Leave her alone!" Melinda shouted. She
fired another bullet into the ceiling, sending
the kids scrambling.
"She's dying," Vicki said. "There may not
be much time."
Melinda brushed dirty hair from her face.
"Why would you help her?"
Vicki lifted Felicia's shoulders. "Put her in
my room. It's closest."
Melinda didn't move.
"Judd, get hot water from the stove and
some rags," Vicki said. "Conrad, drinking
water. A lot of it."
"Not him," Melinda said, pointing to
Conrad. She nodded to Shelly. "You."
"I'll get blankets, too," Shelly said.
Judd shoved a pot of water over the fire on
the ancient stove. The schoolhouse still had
"The rest of you stay here," he heard
Melinda say from the other room. She called
out, "And if you guys try to run, I'll shoot
Judd gathered rags and opened a drawer,
where he found a heavy rolling pin. He
banged it against his palm.
* * *
Vicki feared Felicia was near death. Mr. Stein
helped prop up her head.
"If she drank from the well," he said,
"there is nothing we can do. The Scriptures
say thousands will die from Wormwood."
Melinda barked orders in the other room.
Shelly brought water and blankets. Vicki
tried to get Felicia to drink, but she didn't
respond. "If we can get her to drink, it might
wash out some of the poison."
Judd brought the warm water and rags to
Vicki's room, and Vicki cleaned Felicia's face.
She grabbed the rolling pin from him. "You
want to get us killed, Judd?"
"We have to do something," he said.
Vicki tossed it under the bed. Melinda
"If we can't get Felicia to drink clean
water," Vicki said, "well . it doesn't look
Melinda ordered the others into the next
room. Judd glanced at Vicki on his way out.
"Why are you doing this?" Melinda asked
"She's sick. Why are you doing this?"
Melinda laughed. "I'm taking every one
of you back. You're enemies of the Global
"So are you," Vicki said.
"What? I've been loyal to the GC since the
day I signed on as a Morale Monitor."
"Then you don't know?" Vicki said.
"The GC is after you. I'm surprised they
haven't killed you already."
Melinda stared. "You're lying. Why would
they be after us?"
Felicia coughed and gagged, turning in the
bed. She grabbed her stomach and screamed,
"Make it stop! Make it stop!"
Vicki tried to hold her down, but Felicia
clawed at Vicki's face. "Help me!" Vicki
"Felicia, it's me," Melinda said as she
helped Vicki. "Try to drink some good water."
"I don't want a drink!" Felicia screamed.
She writhed and fell back, unconscious
Vicki felt for a pulse. Felicia's heart was
"I have to get her to a hospital," Melinda
"Impossible," Vicki said. "She'll be dead
before you get to the main road. And if the
GC finds you, you'll be dead too."
Melinda stared out the window.
"Did you drink from the well?" Vicki said.
Melinda shook her head. "I had the cup to
my mouth when she fell and started shaking."
"Wormwood," Vicki muttered.
"The comet's name," Vicki said. "The Bible
predicted it would fall and poison the water.
It also said people would die."
Melinda rolled her eyes. "That's right,
you're part of the cult."
Vicki ignored her. "It happened, didn't it?"
Melinda stared at Felicia.
"Did she drink a lot?" Vicki said.
Vicki handed Melinda a drink of fresh
water. "You have to be thirsty."
Melinda eyed it warily. "How do I know
it's not poisoned?"
Vicki grabbed it, took a drink, and handed
Melinda sipped the water, then drank
deeply. Vicki said, "How did you find us?"
"You came back for the dog. The GC
planted a chip in his neck that sends out a
signal. Felicia and I grabbed the locator and
"You were in GC headquarters?" Vicki said.
"We wanted to find you guys bad."
"What took so long then?"
"We lost the signal, but we spotted Lionel
at a pay phone. We tried to follow him, but
he was too fast. Took us a couple of days to
find this place."
"The GC didn't see you?" Vicki said.
Melinda squinted. "How did you know the
GC are after us?"
"Commander Blancka's been killed by the
GC," Vicki said. "People who had anything
to do with the Morale Monitors are being
Vicki dripped water into Felicia's mouth.
"My guess is that the GC wanted to erase any
evidence that we ever existed. Didn't want to
Melinda looked away. "They did come after
us. We saw them whack Blancka and figured
we'd be next. I thought if we could catch Stein
or any of you, we'd prove our loyalty."
"And save your own skin."
"Exactly," Melinda said. She stuck her head
in the next room and pointed to Shelly. "I
saw rope outside. Bring it in here. And don't
get any ideas about running if you care about
Felicia spat water. Her eyes were red and
hideous. Her skin, pale when she had
arrived, now looked green.
What a terrible way to die, Vicki thought.
"I can't breathe," Felicia gasped.
"Drink more water," Vicki pleaded. "It's
the only thing-"
Felicia grabbed Vicki's arm. "I can feel it
going through me," she wheezed. "It's like
acid, eating me up."
Vicki screamed for Judd. Melinda let him
"You know CPR, right?" Vicki said.
Judd felt Felicia's wrist.
"She has a pulse," Vicki said. "It's her
"Do something!" Melinda said.
Judd put his mouth over Felicia's and blew
hard. The girl's cheeks puffed out.
"No good," Judd said. "Airway's blocked.
Or maybe her throat's tightened up."
"What can we do?" Vicki said.
"I'm not sure," Judd said. He pulled out his
pocketknife. "Hand me that ballpoint pen."
Judd took the pen apart, then leaned over
Felicia, his hands shaking.
Mr. Stein pushed past Melinda, knelt, and
tilted Felicia's head. "Put the pen in the boiling
water, Judd; then sterilize the knife over
the fire. Hurry!"
Melinda looked over Mr. Stein's shoulder.
"Is she going to be okay?"
"It may only prolong her agony," Mr. Stein
said, "but we have to try." He shouted for
Judd to return. "There's no time. She's turning
Judd rushed back with the pen and knife.
Mr. Stein made a small cut at the base of
Felicia's throat. Vicki wiped away the blood
as Mr. Stein inserted the pen.
"You're going to kill her!" Melinda
As Mr. Stein blew through the pen, Judd
said, "She'll die if we don't get her some air."
Vicki put a hand on Melinda's shoulder.
She jerked away, scowling, then went to
check on the others. Color returned to
Felicia's face as Vicki watched her lungs fill.
Vicki knelt by her ear. "Felicia, I don't
know if you can hear me, but I have to tell
you something. God loves you. He died for
you so you could live with him. If you can
hear me, pray this with me-"
"Get away!" Melinda shouted as she ran
back in, pushing Mr. Stein away as well.
Felicia opened her eyes and stared at
Melinda. The pen-tube in her neck looked
eerie. She tried to take a breath, but her lungs
didn't fill. Then came a horrible gurgling
Mr. Stein felt the girl's wrist. He stood and
left the room. Judd followed.
"What?" Melinda said. "What happened?"
Vicki looked away and covered her mouth.
Mr. Stein returned with a sheet. He pulled
the pen from Felicia's neck and draped the
sheet over her body.
Vicki couldn't hold back the tears.
* * *
"You can't," Lionel said, grabbing Judd's arm.
"The gun might go off and kill somebody."
"I've had about fifteen chances to knock
her down," Judd said. "I know I can do it."
"But you can't be sure."
"Then let's both get her."
Lionel shook his head. "You heard Vicki
talking to her. She's getting through. Don't
blow it now by going all macho."
"And if she comes in here and blows you
and Conrad away, you'll wish I had."
* * *
Vicki wiped her eyes.
"What did you say to her?" Melinda said.
"I wanted her to know God loves her."
Melinda's eyes glazed. "You still think
there's a God after all that's happened?"
"After all that's happened, I can't believe
Melinda pulled Vicki to her feet. "Get in
there with the rest of them."
From the corner of her eye, Vicki saw
Judd fly through the doorway. "No!" she
screamed, as the gun went off.