Jack plunges into a space-time–bending game of survival with no way out. The rules are shrouded in secrets. But one thing he learns fast: Trust no one. After centuries of abuse, the earth is dying, and it's up to Jack to reverse the decline before the Turning Point, when nothing will ever be the same again.
Beaten into shape by a ninja babe and a huge telepathic man's best friend, Jack hurtles across the ocean to save the future from the present and to solve the mystery of his purpose. Exactly who, or what, is Firestorm, and what does it have to do with Jack? And what comes next when everything you have ever known turns out to be wrong?
In the first book of the Caretaker Trilogy, readers are taken on an electrifying, fast-paced adventure of hunting truth, all in the name of staying alive.
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By David Klass
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2007 David Klass
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHalloween week in Hadley-by-Hudson. Senior year of high school. Nine in the evening. Had enough sentence fragments? My English teacher said they are a weakness of mine. But I still like them. They generate pace. You want pace? I'll give you pace. You want weird? Stick around, my friend.
The air pinching colder. Winter coming on fast, winding up to clobber us. A month from now it will be bitter, bitter, and you can feel the coming chill in the north wind. You can smell it in the rust and smoke of the colored leaves. Stock up on the Kleenex. Nostril-clogging chill. Wind the scarves tight. Get out last winter's mittens. Halloween decorations going up on doors and windows. Black cats crouching. Witches soaring on broomsticks. This is gonna get weird fast, but not the way you think.
Here's what I thought. I thought I was living in the most normal little town in America, having the most normal senior year a guy could have. First name? Jack. How's that for normal? Last name? Danielson. Pretty standard stuff, huh? Occupation? High school senior. Hobbies? Chicks, flicks, and fast cars, roughly in that order.
Oh, and I left out sports. Very important. When you're a guy in a town like Hadley with a tough public high school, it helps to be a jock. So I'm luckythat way. Six feet two. Muscles. Starting running back on the football team. Straw-colored hair, piercing blue eyes, and above-average brain power, except when I do something really stupid. Did I mention a winning smile?
Winning smile is often directed at one P. J. Peters. The "P" could have been for "pretty" as they come. Or "pert." Or "perspicacious." Look that one up in the dictionary, my friend. Sometimes "pretentious." Always "pleasing." The "J" could have been for "jousting," because we're always testing each other. Or "joker." No one could make me laugh like P.J. Or "jubilant" when she accomplished something really important.
So we're at the Hadley Diner on a night we've both accomplished something important. P.J. has won a local art contest for a pen-and-ink drawing of her great-grandmother, who is ninety-four. There were adult artists in the competition, so for a high schooler to win is pretty hot stuff.
I just rushed for three hundred and forty yards. New school record. New league record. Not a bad day's work. We defeated our archrival school. Guys are giving me high fives. Slapping me on the back. "Way to go, Jack. You the man. You the one."
Neon signs flashing out front. DINER. IF YOU'RE HUNGRY, WE'RE OPEN. Red leather seats. P.J. nestled close, reminding me not to get a swelled head. "You're still a bozo," she says.
"Mr. Bozo to you," I tell her back. "Let's have a little respect, Miss da Vinci."
A man walks by our table. Tall. Gangly. Adam's apple sticking out of throat like it wants to be plucked. He's just eaten. Heading for the door. Passes all the high school kids. Doesn't glance at us. That's curious 'cause we're making mucho noise. Maybe he doesn't like kids.
Then he turns his head and looks. Right at me. For a half second. Not at anyone else. Just me. Like he knows me. And I see his eyeballs roll around in his head. Now they look like normal eyes. Now the pupils disappear. Something flashes. Like a flashbulb. Or a computer scanner. A sudden burst of white light that turns silvery. Then the light is gone and I blink and he's gone, too.
"Did you see that?" I ask P.J.
"That guy's eyes? They just flashed."
"He was here a second ago. His eyes got weird."
"I think you'd better lay off mind-bending drugs."
Then we're out in my car, parked at the lookout. Hudson River flowing by. Big autumn moon hanging in the sky like a swollen sex gland. I'm thinking this is the night. But P.J. has other ideas. "Come on," I plead. "There'll never be a better time."
"I'm not ready."
"P.J., you're ready. And you're killing me."
"You look pretty healthy."
"Yeah, I scored four touchdowns today."
"It's fate. This is my day to score."
Wrong thing to say. Mood starting to fracture big-time. "So you're comparing my virginity to a football field?"
"No, P.J., I was just joking-"
"But you view our intimacy through a sports analogy? First base, second base, you want me to spread my legs like football goalposts? Is that it?"
"P.J., it's a beautiful night. We're seniors. I love you. The guys on the team give me all kinds of grief-"
"That we don't go all the way? You talk to them about us?"
Again, wrong thing to say. "No. Yes. Never. But-"
End of story. "Put it away. Back in your pants."
"But, P.J., there'll never be a better time."
"Put that sucker away and let's go home. There'll be lots of better times. I promise. Soon."
"Have you ever heard of blue balls? It's a medical condition. Can be terminal."
She gives me a sweet kiss on the side of the cheek. "You are such a pathetic dumb puppy."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"There. I knew you could zip it up. Let's go."
"You'll never know what I suffer."
I take her home. We kiss. Gets intense. A curtain moves. P.J.'s dad peers out. I wave. P.J. waves to him and gets out of my car. I sit there and watch her walk to her house and disappear inside as the big front door shuts.
She's so beautiful. So smart. So much fun. She'll pick her moment. Girls know about these things. They operate on instinct. Just be patient, Jack.
I drive home with my blue balls.
Dad is waiting there. And Mom. He doesn't look happy. "So I heard about the game. Congratulations."
"Thanks, Dad. It was great."
"Maybe too great," he says.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Dad paces. Mom stands still. Both look worried.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I try again. "Am I missing something here?"
"I've told you that it's not good to stand out too much," Dad says. "You show people up. Make enemies. People get jealous."
"Who's getting jealous?" I ask. "This was one of the best nights of my life. Everyone at the diner was slapping me on the back. Nobody was jealous. Everybody was happy for me. Except you." My voice getting louder. "What kind of fatherly advice are you handing out here? Fail intentionally? Don't try my best?"
Dad looks pained. Mom chimes in. "It's just better to fit in sometimes," she says. "Your father loves you, Jack. He wants what's best for you."
"And that's why he tells me not to do my best on math tests? Not to do my best on science projects? Not to set records in track? Not to score too many points in football games? It sounds like he wants what's mediocre for me."
"The thing is, it was on TV," Dad says.
"Yeah. I saw it at the diner. Local sports news. Why exactly is that a problem?"
"Exposure," Dad says. "Attracts bad elements. Did you see anything tonight?"
"What kind of anything are we talking about?"
"Anything strange," he says. "Nutty high school sports fans. Sex-crazed groupies. Whatever." He's trying to make a joke out of it. "Now that you're a big shot, you'd better keep an eye out."
"No, I didn't see anything strange," I tell him. Until I got home, that is. And my parents gave my big night the body slam. For no good reason. But I don't say this. I just think it. Then I remember. "Yeah, there was something weird."
They both look kind of interested. "I was at the diner with P.J., and this guy looked at me, and I swear for a second his eyes disappeared and something flashed. But nobody else saw it, so I must have been dreaming-"
Dad grips me by the shoulders. "Did he say anything?"
"But he looked right at you?"
"Yes? What's the big deal-"
"How tall was he?"
"Very tall. Maybe an inch taller than you."
"When you saw the flash, did it change color?"
"Kind of," I say. "White to silvery. Do you know this man? Dad, what's going on?" He's holding me tightly, freaking me out.
"We're gonna go for a drive," he tells my mom.
"Now?" I ask. "It's after eleven. Where are we going? The police? I don't get it."
"Go," Mom says. Which is weird, too. Then she hugs me. And my mom is not a touchy-feely kind of mom. "Goodbye, Jack," she whispers. For a second I think there's a tear sliding down her cheek.
"Will somebody tell me what the hell's going on?" I request.
"In the car," Dad says. And he throws on a jacket and marches out into the cold darkness, so I follow him. After all, he is my dad.
Chapter TwoTwo-lane highway. Dark and empty. Curves and straightaways above the mile-wide band of black-rippling Hudson. Full moon flashing in the sky like a cautionary sign: dANGER AHEAD. OBEY SPEED LIMIT. SLOW DOWN! Dad going faster. Way over the legal fifty-five. Pedal to the metal. Sixty. Seventy. "I'm not your father," he says.
"What? Dad, slow down! You're going to kill us!"
"Listen to me, Jack. I'm not 'Dad.' No, don't argue. Just listen. We don't have much time. Sorry, I do love you, but I am not your father."
Something in his face. In his tone. Maybe it's the speed of the car. I believe it even though I'm still fighting against it. "This is a joke, right? Some sort of test? Game?"
"No joke. No test. No game." He's driving like a pro. I've never seen him even push a speed limit in his life. Dad's a gentle guy. Meek. Law-abiding. Cautious. Where did he learn this?
"Dad, are you saying Mom was cheating ...?"
"I'm not 'Dad.' Mom is not your mother. Not me. Not her. None of it. Damn it, hold on!"
Tires screech. Car nearly flies into an oak tree. I prepare to die. Dad wins the battle with the road. Drives on.
My fingers are gripping the armrest. I can barely get the words out. "You're saying I'm adopted?"
"No," he said. "It's more complicated than that. No time to explain. That light you saw in the diner turned silvery?"
"Yes, but who cares-"
"You were marked. That's how they're finding us."
"I need to unmark you," Dad says. Driving with one hand now. At this speed it's suicide, but he's doing it. Rooting around in a black bag on the seat. Where did that bag come from? Pulls out a little metal cube. Camera? Never saw it before. Highpitched whine. Greenish flash. Strange sensation all over my body. As if an outer layer of skin is being removed, tugged off, the way you peel off sunburn. It's painful. Very. I yell.
"Sorry," he says. "It's your only chance."
"Chance to do what?"
"We are counting on you," he says. "Never forget that. You are our beacon of hope."
"Hope for what?"
"There they are!" he gasps. "They came so quickly."
I look around. Don't see anyone.
Dad jerks the wheel. Car skids wildly and jackknifes off the highway onto a narrow road. Scratch that, not a road. More like a path. Dark. Bumpy. Not well paved. Also not lighted. But apparently not dark enough for Dad's purposes because he switches off his lights. We career forward into Stygian blackness. Look that up, my friend, but not right now. No time for anything now. Except to hold on. My God, is it steep! Are we still on the path? How can this car not turn over?
"DAD, YOU'RE GOING TO KILL US. STOP!"
But he's looking back. Through the rear window. Half-turned. So I look back, too. Lights behind us. Not cars. Motorcycles, I think. Less than a half mile away. "Can't outrun them," Dad says. "Got to stand and fight."
FULL BRAKE. Bone-jolting torque. Screeching grinding howl as if the car is a wounded beast and we're inside it. Stench of burning rubber. Car spinning wildly. Rolls over. Never been in a car that rolled over before. Not fun. Then everything stops.
Dad clambers out. Helps me. Something is burning. In the flame I see him clearly. Is this my gentle, caring dad? He's got a gun in one hand. Binoculars in the other. Scanning the road. "Go," he says to me. "Now. Go."
"Where?" I ask.
"The river," he says. "Jake's Marina. There's a boat at the end of pier three. Key under the cushion on the driver's chair. Go now."
"I'm not going anywhere," I say, scared out of my mind but very sure where I belong. "Whatever's happening, my place is here with you."
He puts his hand on my shoulder. Bends and kisses me on the forehead. For one second he's Dad again. How I will cherish that kiss. Then he looks at me. Eyes burning with purpose. "Listen, son. There's no time for me to explain this. Everything you believe is the opposite of what is true. I am not your father. Mom is not your mother. Your friends and schoolmates were for you to hide among. They go through life without purpose. You have a purpose. You are our beacon of hope. You must survive. And they are coming here now to kill you."
He fires the gun. Wide, sweeping tracer pattern. Not bullets. I don't think lasers. But something searing and hissing and deadly erupts out of the muzzle.
"Go find the boat," he says. "I'll hold them off. Get away. That's your destiny."
"I'm not going anywhere, and there's no way you can make me go. So just forget it."
He looks at me. "No time to argue." He lowers the gun. And shoots off his own foot! Intentionally! I see him gasp, and he buckles and almost goes down. His toes are gone. Half the foot is gone. Blood. Bone. He looks back at me and raises the gun to his head. "Next shot I blow out my brains. Do you want to see it, or will you go?"
I take a step away. Don't even know what I'm doing now. Mind roiled with fear and confusion.
"Go!" he says. "For years I've told you to hide your abilities. Now you must use them all. Fly, my boy, fly like the wind. And take this." He hands me a long knife.
Incoming fire rakes the ground in front of us. A rock is vaporized. Dad fires back.
I run. And that's one thing I have always been able to do. Fastest runner in my class. In my grade. In my school. In my town. In my county. I'm off downhill, arms pumping, legs churning, while behind me I hear more incoming fire and I think I hear a shrill scream of agony. Dad? Don't think it. Just run.
Sliding down rocks.
Tumbling down sandy cliffs.
Even motorcycles can't make it down this.
To the shores of the Hudson.
Two hours ago I was making out with P.J. with this river providing the romantic setting. Now I'm running along the clay bank, feet sticking into two inches of muck.
Look back. Fire on the hillside.
Look forward. Jake's Marina. All dark and quiet. Scale the fence. Barbs at the top. Swing over and don't get stuck. Boats rocking on the night tide. Wavelets breaking on wharf logs. Minnows in moonlight.
Something coming over the fence behind me. A black shape. Then another one.
Run past pier one. Past pier two. To pier three. Fifty yards long. Half a football field. I dash down it. This is my day to score. I fly like the wind. No one can run this fast.
Black shape running faster. Gaining on me. Silver blade whizzes by my ear. Throwing knife? I see the black boat at the very end. Sleek craft. Built for speed. I leap to the deck. Run to the driver's chair. Rip off the cushion. There's the key. Stick it in. Switch it on. Deafening roar. This thing's got power! Boat starts to move. Then stops. Forgot to cast off mooring rope.
Dark form leaps from the pier at me. Black robe flaps in wind. I see it coming. Flying at me. Are those teeth or claws? No time to think. I dodge to one side and raise the knife Dad gave me. One strong thrust. Sickening thud. Man-bat-thing impaled. I lower my arm in horror and creature slides off knife, sinks into river, and Hudson swallows it.
That's the good news. Bad news is more black shapes coming fast. I cut mooring rope with knife. Jump to chair. Look back as I hit gas. Two black forms leap out at me. I stand and hurl knife at them. Roar. Boat explodes out into river. I glance back again. Two black ghouls hurtle over water and then lose momentum and altitude till they splash down. Into the drink. The rest of the shadowy figures collect on the end of the pier like a frustrated evil army.
I've made it. But why? For what? Where am I going? Everything I love has been left behind. I steer the boat out into the middle of the river and head south.
I put my head in my hands. And I weep for my father and my mother and P.J. and my teammates and for everything that was but now is not and never will be again.
Excerpted from Firestorm by David Klass Copyright © 2007 by David Klass. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions for Firestorm: The Caretaker Trilogy, Book 1
1. Gisco: It's not that I'm from the future. It's that we're from the future . . . We were both born almost
a thousand years from now.
Jack: "I know that what Gisco just said must be true . . . I just never admitted it to myself before
. . . I AM OF THEIR PLACE AND TIME! I am of them . . . I come from a future that is blank to me, yet
the only thing I know is a present that I am not truly a part of . . . My parents are dead. And they
weren't really my parents. All my friends are gone. I have nothing tying me to anything." [pp. 81–82]
Teens often feel confused about who they are; they feel that they don't belong in the time and place
they are in. In Firestorm that is certainly true for Jack. In his case, it goes further than a feeling.
Jack is from a different time and place; he truly doesn't know who he is.
Talk about your own feelings as an outsider. Does Jack ever act out or articulate how you feel? Cite
examples. How do you fit in with your friends, parents, teachers, and other adults?
2. "I just rushed for three hundred and forty yards. New school record. New league record. Not a bad day's
work . . . A man walks by our table . . . Then he turns his head and looks. Right at me . . . I see his
eyeballs roll around in his head . . . Something flashes. Like a flashbulb. Or a computer scanner. A
sudden burst of white light that turns silvery. Then the light is gone and I blink and he's gone, too." [p. 4]
A single act by Jack exposes him to the perils from which his family had tried to protect him. Why do
you suppose he defied their wish for him not to excel, not to stand out? Why did he want to become
the hero of the game?
3. Gisco tells Jack his pursuers are able to anticipate his moves by profiling him. You can profile him,
too. Based on what you've read, create a psychological profile of Jack. Cite passages from the novel
that help you come to your conclusions. Continue to add details as you read other books in the
trilogy. Compare your profile with those of other people in your reading group. What characteristics
did you all identify? What were the points of difference?
4. Firestorm is a fantasy and has many aspects that define the genre, including time travel, the struggle
between good and evil, a quest, and a prophecy.
· What is the prophecy in Firestorm? In most fantasies the prophecy both sets the stage and
moves the story into the future. It often serves as the motivation for the main character's
quest. How is the prophecy different in Firestorm?
· There are actually two interrelated quests in Firestorm. What are they?
· Compare Firestorm to other fantasies you have read or seen in movies or on television. How
does Firestorm hold up?
5. It is clear that David Klass lays blame for the environmental disaster that befouled the world on
economic and political forces that profited from the destruction of the environment. He must have
had real institutions and people in mind. What or who do you think they are? What or who do you see
as the polluters and profiteers placing their own self-interests above the welfare of the planet?
6. David Klass writes about the Turning Pointthat point in time when the earth's environment can
only fall into irreversible disaster. Is this Turning Point just a plot device in the novel, or is it a reality
for our planet? People debate this issue on the front pages of newspapers all the time. Where do
you stand? Do you believe that there is a point of no return? Research the subject to see what others
have written for and against the idea. Present your arguments to your group and debate the issue.
7. In Firestorm, David Klass questions the reliability of the institutions entrusted with the responsibility
of protecting the earth's natural resources. How did the system break down? Do you see any parallels
with present-day situations?
8. Throughout the novel there are many references to literature Jack has read in school. He thinks
about the second stanza of the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade," by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
[pp. 70–71] Read the entire poem with your group and discuss why Jack thought of it and how it relates
to his situation.
Literature is very important to Jack. Keep a running list of the literary references Jack makes in the
book. As you read the other books in the series, expand your list. One of Jack's references might
intrigue you enough to read the book or poem noted. Think about Jack's taste in literature; do you
and Jack agree on what makes a memorable book?
9. What remains unresolved in the novel is the true nature of Firestorm and its origins. What do you