"Nothing to Fear" is an episode inspired by The Rule of Three, the opening novel in Eric Walter's trilogy of the same name about the terrifying challenges faced by an ordinary suburban kid, his family, and his neighbors, in the first days and weeks and months after a viral catastrophe causes the world to go dark. Sixteen-year-old Adam Daley is taking his girlfriend, Lori, on a picnic in his homemade ultralight aircraft—one of the few computer-free machines that still works. He wants to celebrate a surprise anniversary only he knows about (the first time he saw her at a junior high basketball game). But soon, this attempt at a normal date away from the fortified safety of their neighborhood feels increasingly risky. As their gripping misadventure unfolds, it is a reminder for Adam and Lori that there is nothing in particular for them to be afraid of, because in their world there is everything to fear.
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About the Author
Eric Walters, a former elementary school teacher, is a bestselling children’s author in Canada. He is the founder of Creation of Hope, which provides care for orphans in the Makueni district of Kenya. His recent books include The Rule of Three series and Nothing to Fear.
Read an Excerpt
Nothing to Fear
By Eric Walters, Thom Tenery
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Eric Walters
All rights reserved.
My eyes opened. It was still dark but not so dark that there weren't some faint glimmers of light coming in under the edges of the blinds on my windows. Instinctively, I rolled over and reached for my phone and then stopped myself. There was no point. No messages, no texts, no reception, no screen, no power. No point. My phone was nothing more than a paperweight and nothing less than a reminder of what my world had devolved to.
Instead I reached for my gun. It was right beside the phone. It was cool and clean and felt as natural in my hand now as the phone once had back then. Both made a statement. Both were used as a form of communication. Different messages for different times.
I made sure the safety was on — it was. Funny — it being called the safety. Sometimes the only way I was truly safe was when it was off. Safety involved the ability to shoot if you needed to. Really it was the un-safety.
It was off, or on, or whatever, but at least the pistol wouldn't accidently fire in this position. We'd had more than enough incidents of somebody accidently discharging one of their weapons. So far nobody had shot themselves or anybody else, but it always caused the alarm to be raised. Was somebody trying to get over the walls of our neighborhood? Were we being attacked? Now I always waited for the second shot before reacting.
I climbed out of bed. I was already dressed. That was as much part of the routine as having a pistol. It was important to always be ready. I held the gun out in front of me and aimed it at the wall, at an invisible, imaginary adversary. I didn't need much imagination to picture what that could be. Just outside our walls were people — thousands and thousands of people — hungry and desperate and armed. People who not only wanted but needed what we had inside the walls of our neighborhood. I'd seen the terrible things desperation could drive people to do to try to get those things. I'd also been part of terrible things we'd done to keep what was ours.
I looked at the gun once more. This pistol in my hand, and the weapons in the hands of the guards on our walls, were the only things stopping the chaos that ruled out there from flooding over our walls and drowning us in that same desperation.
So many thoughts, so many images, so many memories were all crowded inside my head. I couldn't let them win today. This wasn't the time. Today wasn't about any of that. It was about happiness and trying to pretend that everything was normal. At least as much normal and pretend as I could summon up.
I put the pistol into the shoulder harness. I had things to do.
Quietly I opened my bedroom door. There was enough light coming in through the skylight at the top of the stairs for me to navigate. All the other bedroom doors were closed. My brother and sister and mother were all still asleep. I started down the stairs, moving as silently as possible to not wake them. Let them sleep. It was an escape — well, most of the time.
I heard a noise and stopped midstep. Somebody was downstairs. It could be my mother, who might have gotten up early to get ready for a patrol, even though I knew she wasn't normally on duty until this afternoon. Definitely had to be her. But maybe not. I pulled my gun out of its holster and in the same motion my thumb flicked off the un-safety. I held the weapon down by my side. From there I could easily swing it up. It would take a split second longer but that was the time I'd need to think and not just react if it turned out to be a false alarm. The only thing I could think of that was worse than having one of us shot was one of us doing it.
I edged down the stairs, staying close to the side carefully avoiding the fifth and third steps which both creaked noisily. I'd thought about trying to fix them so they wouldn't cry out but then I'd realized that I actually liked having them announce anybody coming up the stairs.
The kitchen windows faced the east and the rising sun. Coming down the hall I was in darkness moving into light. I was almost invisible.
Slowly, slowly I inched forward, pressed against the wall. And then I heard my mother's voice. She was softly singing. I couldn't make out the words or the tune — she was such a terrible singer — but it sounded so good in my ears.
Quickly I holstered my gun and then deliberately made a loud coughing sound. I wanted to announce my entrance. I wasn't the only one carrying a gun.
"Good morning," my mother said as I entered the room.
"Morning. You're up early."
"Actually I've been up since two. There was some trouble on the walls."
"What sort of trouble?" I asked anxiously.
"Nothing serious. Some suspected suspicious activity in the darkness, but nothing came of it."
"And they couldn't just handle it by themselves?" I asked.
"It's better to react to a false situation than not react to a real situation."
"I guess you're right," I admitted.
"Speaking of situations, are you still planning on going out?"
"That's why I'm up." I knew she was worried. "We'll be fine, Mom."
"I just wish you'd be willing to take an away party with you."
"Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I figure that having eight or nine armed guards along just might spoil the magic of my date with Lori," I joked.
"Could you at least take Herb along?"
"Again, a senior citizen coming with us isn't quite the way I'd pictured this happening. Besides, it's a two-seater so unless I leave Lori behind there's no room for Herb."
"You could take your car," she said.
"That would be more dangerous than having Herb along ... you know that."
Slowly she nodded her head. "Parents worry. It's part of our job. Especially now." She came over and gave me a big hug. I was too old to be chaperoned but not too old to like being hugged.
"We'll be fine. I checked out the spot from above and Herb sent an away party there yesterday to sweep the area," I said.
"I should have known Herb would take care of that. Still, you aren't going out on your date without protection, right?"
For a split second my mind went in a completely different direction before it snapped back to where it should be. "I have my pistol and we have a rifle and shotgun. Lori is a better shot than I am."
"Farm girl," my mother said, in explanation.
"We also will be wearing body armor and we're within walkie-talkie range. Besides, I won't touch down if I see anything that even remotely worries me. I won't take chances. That's part of the reason we're leaving so early."
"It is early, but I'd better get to bed and get some sleep before the day begins."
She gave my hand a squeeze and left. It was time for me to leave, too. Quickly I slipped on my shoes and then my body armor. I grabbed the bag from the kitchen counter. I'd packed it the night before. I stopped and took a rifle and a shotgun out of the stand behind the door. I remembered when all the stand used to hold was umbrellas and an occasional baseball bat that had found its way into the house. I unlocked the door and stepped out, closing and securing it behind me.
The air was fresh and cool. The sky was clear and the wind calm. Perfect weather for what we were going to do. I hurried around the corner of the house and —
"About time you showed up."
I jumped backward in shock.
It was Lori.
"Jeez!" I said, trying to recover some level of residual coolness.
"Nice hang time on that jump," she said with a smile. "But I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I'm just glad you're here and ready," I said.
"You told me to be here at dawn. Besides, I've been up for an hour already milking the cows."
That's right, I'd forgotten about the cows. It was much easier to forget them than the chickens — that rooster woke me up at least every second morning.
It was still strange to think about all the farm animals now being raised in our neighborhood. As strange as it was to have crops growing in all the front and backyards, the playground, the school yard, and the park. I don't know what we would have done if Lori's family hadn't agreed to move off the farm and join us. There still was barely enough food, but without them, hunger would have been starvation.
Lori was wearing a white T-shirt, a pair of jeans, sneakers, and body armor. She was the only person I knew who could make body armor look good. She could make practically anything look good.
"Here, let me help you," Lori said as she took the shotgun and rifle from me. She tried to take the bag as well.
"Sorry, that you can't have ... at least for a while." I paused. "It's a surprise."
She smiled again. "I love surprises."
"I love some surprises." There were a whole bunch of surprises I didn't want to have happen today.
"Put the weapons in the rack while I go through the preflight checklist," I said.
I tied the bundle in place between the seats. I double-checked my knots. I didn't want to lose what was inside. Next I unhooked the harnesses and cords tethering my little ultralight to the ground. As I got ready, I couldn't help but smile. It was like opening a cage and letting a bird fly free.
Maybe it was more like I was releasing myself from a cage. Staying within the walls of the neighborhood felt safe but claustrophobic. Most of the residents hardly ever left and even then only for short trips. My plane allowed me to travel far and wide into the world that surrounded us. The sky was mine. Alone above the chaos. Safe. Well, at least safer.
I mentally went through the checklist in my head. I told myself I didn't need to check the fuel level because I'd filled it from a can in the garage last night. But then I checked it anyway. Never again would I risk almost running out of fuel. My first flight had almost been my last and I wouldn't be repeating that mistake. There were so many possible new mistakes that we couldn't afford to make the old ones again.
I checked the struts and wires and manually worked the flaps. All good. Next I inspected the nuts and bolts holding the wings on and the engine in place. All snug.
It felt good to know that nothing had been shaken loose by the vibration of the engine and propeller or the jolts of the landings or stresses of the turns. The tires looked good but I gave them all a kick just to make sure. A blown tire on either a takeoff or a landing would be nothing short of a disaster.
My plane was in good shape. We were ready.
"It's all fine," I said as I pulled the blocks out from in front of the wheels.
Lori climbed into the passenger seat and I climbed in behind the stick. I clicked my harness and then reached over and gave her harness a little tug just to make sure she was tightly secured. She leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek and I felt myself melt.
"What was that for?" I asked.
"Maybe it was because you checked my harness, or maybe it was because you were so sweet to prepare this little surprise ... whatever it is ... or maybe just because. Do I need a reason to kiss my boyfriend?"
"Good." She leaned over again and gave me a full kiss and the rest of the world seemed to dissolve and all I could think of was her, the girl I'd dreamed about for so long. When so much in the world had changed this was the constant. When there was so much that was uncertain and dangerous and scary, she was certain and safe.
Still, it was a little scary to be so in love with her. As we both put on our helmets and headsets so we could talk, I let that thought bounce around inside my head and my heart. I knew that's how I felt about her but I'd never said anything. She'd never said anything either. But that was how she felt about me, too ... wasn't it?
"What's wrong?" Lori asked. "You're sitting there staring into space. Why aren't you starting the engine?"
"Um ... just going through my checklist one more time," I lied. "Better safe than sorry." It definitely would be safer just to not use that word.
I flipped the ignition switch, fed in the fuel, and pushed the starter. The engine caught immediately. I powered up the propeller and we rolled forward and bumped out of my driveway and into the road. There was virtually no wind so it didn't matter which way I choose for takeoff. I applied the left brake and we swung around in that direction and then we taxied up the street. Reaching the end, I hit the left brake again and spun us completely around so that I was facing back down the street, the whole runway ahead of me, my neighbors' houses lining both sides of the road.
I revved the engine and then released both brakes. We started along the street and I opened up the fuel completely and we quickly picked up speed. The tires rumbled and rumbled, shaking us harder and harder until suddenly all the vibrations stopped as our wheels lifted off the pavement. I pulled back on the stick hard and we zoomed upward, easily clearing the houses at the end of the street. Soaring over the rooftops we could see the strange patchwork of fields — lush and full and almost ready for harvest — and then in seconds we came up to the wall. The guards waved at us and Lori waved back.
I banked hard to the left so that I was on the inside. I'd made a habit of always doing a circuit around the whole neighborhood before going any farther. It was smart to do a shakedown of the equipment while I was close enough to do an emergency landing if I needed to, but also I just liked to look down at our home.
The walls surrounded the entire neighborhood. We'd started building them in the days and weeks after the power went off and all hell had broken loose all across the town, the state, the country. Over the last couple months we'd made them stronger and higher, and on all sides the bushes and trees and any obstructions had been cleared away to create open space. Herb called it a kill zone. I hated him calling it that, but of course that's what it was. Within the wall were close to sixteen hundred people. Swimming pools were full — filled with rain runoff that had been carefully collected from the rooftops of houses. Lush green crops filled every open piece of land that wasn't paved over, including front and back yards of every house. Light reflected off the dozens of greenhouses that had been built from scavenged windows of houses and apartments and car windshields. Beneath the glass more crops were springing up.
"It's really something, isn't it?" Lori said.
"It always impresses me."
"So where are we going?" she asked.
"Again, it's not a surprise if I tell you. Just wait."
I broke off the bank, hit the flaps, and went almost due south. That wasn't the direction we were going to be heading but I wanted to keep our real location a surprise as long as possible.
Within seconds the view beneath us changed. Order was replaced by disorder. The blackened remains of burned houses stood out as smudges on the ground. Abandoned cars, most likely stripped and vandalized, littered the roadways. We'd done some of the stripping ourselves. Our away teams had taken windshields for greenhouses and drained gas tanks of their fuel.
"There's the high school," Lori said.
It was coming up quickly, just off to her side of the ultralight. From this height it all looked normal. You couldn't tell that windows had been smashed and the packed parking lot was filled with more immobilized vehicles.
"That's where it all started," Lori said.
For a second I thought she meant the two of us before I realized she meant the computer virus. We'd been at school when it'd hit.
"Yup. That's where we were when the world changed."
And it had been the world. In an instant every computer in the world had been corrupted and destroyed and everything that had computers or was controlled by computers or was somehow related to computers — cars and trucks and planes and ships, telecommunication systems, electrical grids, water supplies, and everything related to them — had all stopped working. In one microsecond the world was set back a hundred years.
I started banking to the west, curving around and leaving the school and my mother's old police station behind, using Dundas Street as my guide. Below, people were starting to emerge. People on foot and some on bikes.
"I'm always amazed at how few people I can see from up here," Lori said.
"It's early. Most are still asleep, inside buildings."
"There's a moving truck and a car up ahead on Dundas," Lori said, pointing in their direction.
"More vehicles now than there were before," I said. "People are going into junkyards and fixing up old wrecks, precomputer vehicles."
Excerpted from Nothing to Fear by Eric Walters, Thom Tenery. Copyright © 2014 Eric Walters. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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