The Last Stop

The Last Stop

by Michael H. Burnam


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The Last Stop asks the question: What happens when Evolution ends? It’s Ender’s Game meets Close Encounter of the Third Kind - a character-driven action packed drama first set in a high school suffused with emerging sexuality and a strict pecking order, followed by wild flying saucer rides to the dark side of the moon, and then to a city under the ice on Europa where seemingly anything is possible. Mature Sci-Fi devotees will appreciate The Last Stop's hardcore science and philosophy. Young adult readers will enjoy its fast-paced action, stunning visual imagery, three-dimensional characters, teenage protagonists and just the right dash of humor. Who says a feelgood story can’t be classic Sci Fi?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785351174
Publisher: Lodestone Books
Publication date: 01/29/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Dr. Michael Burnam, MD is a cardiologist and scientist, and inventor of one of the world's first heart attack tests. Besides writing, he enjoys active sports, fishing with his sons, theater and music, and bouncing writing ideas off his wife Jessica.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Stop

By Michael H. Burnam

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2015 Michael H. Burnam
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78535-118-1


The car shot up Highway 395 through the Owens Valley with Mount Whitney looming to the west.

"Damn!" David slumped back against the car seat. Even though he was sixteen, the same age as his best friend, he looked small for his age. His expression was perpetually brooding and nervous, the poster boy for "deer in the headlights." He handed the Game Boy to Mickey. "So close!" Mickey was the larger of the two, slightly chubby (big boned, his mother said) and more outgoing, although not by much. "Which level did you die?" He started another game of Zombie Attack.

"Twelve. All I needed was eight more kills to upgrade to the mini-gun. With that bad boy, you can really mow them down!" Mickey frowned. "I can't get past level Four."

"How many heads did you chop off? You need ten to upgrade to a ..."

Mickey pushed the Game Boy back at him. "This game's disgusting!"

David smirked. "You're only saying that because you suck at it."

"F you."

Mickey's mother Jerry turned around and gave them both the evil eye. Her real name was Jeanette, but she preferred to be called Jerry. "Five more minutes to Independence," said Jerry. "You can get out and stretch your legs."

Mickey's mood instantly brightened. "And stand on the bridge," he said.

"And take a pee," chimed in David with a pained expression.

Five minutes later, they could see a stand of cottonwood trees up ahead and Mickey's father Max began slowing the car. It was a hot summer morning in the small California town of Independence, a dot on the map at the end of the 110-mile stretch from Los Angeles through the Mojave Desert. For as long as Mickey could remember, his family had taken the same summer vacation, a camping trip to a resort called Twin Lakes in the High Sierra Mountains. Max always referred to it as a "camping" trip, but their destination was really a cabin with all the amenities. For several years Mickey's best friend David had come along.

Max pulled into the grounds at the edge of town and parked under a tree. Off to the side, an old wooden bridge with a rickety railing spanned a creek whose water originated as snow melt in the High Sierra Mountains that filled the horizon. As soon as the car stopped, Mickey jumped out, smiling at the bridge, and started running toward it.

David hung back and then ran toward one of the restrooms, the usual green-painted affair with a hovering swarm of flies around it.

Max caught up with his son in the middle of the bridge. He was a tall man with broad shoulders, and always had a loving smile. When caught off guard, his eyes sometimes looked wistful. Locking arms, they stared in silence at the swiftly flowing water. "Even though there's nothing here but this old bridge, my dad always loved this place," Max said. "It took me a while to understand why."

Mickey gazed up at his father. "I remember standing on the bridge with Papa."

Max brought his hand to the corner of his eye and turned away. "Last time the three of us were here together, you were five years old."

"Papa showed me how to dunk a line in the creek. Didn't catch anything." He stared at his father, could sense the emotion welling up in him, and it made him feel ... safe.

Max's eyes glistened. He turned his back. "I remember."

Jerry stood beside the car looking fondly at her husband and son. After a few minutes, Mickey and Max walked back to the car. Max still had his hand on his son's shoulder. David observed the two of them, and for a moment his face darkened.

Although the closest of friends, in some ways, the boys were opposites. Mickey was a fisherman, happy to sit for hours on the bank of the lake next to his father dunking a line waiting for "the big one." David had trouble sitting still for more than five minutes and preferred to hike. Both were well above average in intelligence and excelled in school, and both were considered nerds by their peers and socially shunned. This was one of the reasons why they hung out, that and the fact that they lived directly across the street from each other. But their friendship was more than proximity and a shared social stigma. They both had the same "moral compass" — Mickey's came from his parents, and David ... well, it wasn't from his home environment, far from it. Maybe for him, trying to be a good person was just instinctual.


Their final destination was a rustic cabin on the shores of a secluded lake ringed by snow-capped mountains. Actually there were two lakes connected by a small isthmus, not so creatively named "Twin Lakes." They drove to a resort on the larger of the two, the upper one not surprisingly named Upper Twin Lake. Mickey's family had been vacationing at the resort for three generations. From Independence it would take another couple of hours to get there. But after Bishop, the highway would ascend on the infamous Sherwin Grade that had caused more than a few cars to overheat. Only forty miles farther down the highway from Independence, Bishop was the logical place to stop, fill up the tank, and check the coolant level before making the ascent. Nevertheless, family tradition demanded a picture taken on the bridge over Independence creek, even though the creek was small and the bridge was ordinary. None of that mattered. Some things were more important.

Around five o'clock, they pulled into the resort and picked up the keys to the cabin from the general store. Mickey's pulse always quickened when he first saw the lake, a blue jewel set in a crown of snow-capped peaks. That scene was also one of his life's waypoints, like standing on the bridge in Independence. He sensed it was important to be in such a place from time to time, a place where the sky was bigger, and one could hear the sibilant rustle of the wind through the pines. His world too often became a small strip of time and place that spanned the distance between home and school, between adolescence and manhood. There's so much more to being alive, as his father often reminded him, and it's too easy to lose sight of it. His dad was right; it was important to be there, even for a little while. Mickey rolled down the window and inhaled the cold sweet air.

They drove through the campground to the cabin. After arriving, everyone piled out of the car and Max and Jerry started unpacking. The boys made an attempt to look busy while standing around. His face just visible over the top of one of the boxes, Max smiled at his son. "Mom and I'll unpack. Why don't you two go stretch your legs? Take your rods and try off the main road just past the marina. Mickey knows the spot — there's a big red boulder next to a fallen tree. Usually good for a few fish in the late afternoon."

David shrugged. He didn't much care for fishing.

"I think we'll hike over to Horsetail Falls," said Mickey, after glancing at his friend and gauging his mood.

David nodded back at him.

"Do what you want," said Max. He continued unpacking the car. "But take your jackets and some insect repellant."

The two boys grabbed their lightweight jackets and started walking toward the trail leading up to the falls. After a few strides, Mickey stopped and turned around. Before he could say it, his father tossed him a can of insect repellant. Max shook his head, and then disappeared through the front door of the cabin.

The trail to Horsetail Falls swung around the lake, and then, where the creek emptied into the lake, veered steeply up the mountain. Most people stopped hiking at the bottom and gawked at the falls flowing down from high above. It was a thirty-minute hike to the creek without starting up the mountain. Since time was limited before dinner, the trailhead, not the falls, was the boys' destination. They walked along easily, enjoying stretching their muscles and seeing the familiar sights.

About thirty minutes later, the boys reached the far end of the lake within sight of the falls. They could taste the mist in the air and hear the sound of crashing water. It was an hour before dusk. That end of the lake flattened out into a small marshy area fed by runoff from the falls. It was thickly carpeted with tall reeds only cut by a single well-worn path. It wasn't possible to fish amongst the reeds, and a lot of bugs were always hovering around, so no one else was there.

Mickey and David were quiet for a while, soaking up the silence and listening to the wind. Mickey felt attuned again, like when he was fishing with his father. A short distance farther along the trail, something stirred below the ground. Unaware, they continued walking single file along the narrow trail between the reeds.

Mickey suddenly stopped. "Did you hear that?" "Hear what?"

"I don't know ... some kind of buzzing sound."

David looked panicked. "Maybe it's a rattle snake."

"Rattlers don't swim! It's probably a dragonfly on steroids." Mickey started walking.

David looked around warily, and then followed. "I don't see any dragonflies."

Mickey didn't see the hole in the ground that suddenly opened in front of him. He fell in with barely enough time for a cry of alarm.

David was still looking for something large flying around and didn't see Mickey fall, but heard the thud when he hit the bottom. He turned around, saw the hole, and knelt at the edge. "Jesus, are you all right?" he yelled down. "What happened?"

"I'm okay ... I guess." David could hear Mickey's voice, but could barely see him in the dim light. "I was looking where I was going, but didn't see it. Must be some kind of sinkhole or something. Can you believe this?"

"Can you climb out?" David yelled.

"I don't know. I'm pretty far down, maybe fifteen feet. I landed on soft dirt, so I'm okay ... It's kind of like a cave down here. Weird." Mickey's voice trailed off.

David didn't hear anything for a few seconds. "Mickey!" he shouted.

"I can't see any way to climb out! The walls are too smooth and they're slanted. I feel like I'm stuck in a flask. Damn! Betterget my Dad. Tell him to bring a rope or something."

"I can't leave you down there." David stood and looked all around. He couldn't see anybody. What's more, it was starting to get dark.

"It's not like I'm going anywhere. Hurry, before it gets darker!"

"What if the walls collapse or the hole gets deeper?"

Mickey considered the possibilities but wasn't alarmed. He felt ... safe, somehow. "No, I'm okay, just go!"

"Okay! I'll get back as fast as I can." He didn't look happy.

"Davie!" yelled Mickey.

"It's cold down here. Throw down your jacket."


Mickey sat on the dirt with his back against the wall. It grew darker by the minute and colder by the second. He looked up at the sky and felt more irritated than scared. He knew it was only a matter of time before David returned with his father. All Mickey had to do was keep warm, not panic, and wait. As the temperature continued to drop, his breath started to steam. He wore his jacket zipped all the way up, but the cold penetrated his clothing anyway. He tried putting David's jacket on, but it didn't fit. So he threw it over his shoulders like a shawl and wrapped his arms around his chest. Total bummer.

The floor of the hole was unusually smooth. Mickey poked around with his foot and found it to be generally solid, like hard-packed earth. Trying to keep warm, he stood and walked around its perimeter. There was still enough light to see up the walls. He kept looking for any feature that might allow him to climb out, but couldn't find any. Then Mickey heard that strange buzzing sound again! It seemed to be coming from the floor and the walls, like some kind of surround sound. This whole thing was totally weird! He couldn't have missed a hole this big. And that strange buzzing sound — what was it? He leaned against the wall to collect his thoughts. He wasn't panicking, just uneasy.

After a few minutes, he began walking around the perimeter. He hadn't gone more than a few feet when his foot struck something soft and yielding. He bent down and felt as much as saw a piece of cloth. Mickey glanced up to see if somebody had thrown it down. For an instant in the darkening sky, he glimpsed a soaring shape passing over the aperture of the hole, but then it was gone. He began to wonder if he was the victim of a prank. He yelled, "Hey, I know you're up there!" He didn't hear an answer, or see a prankster's face leering down at him. Then again, if there was somebody up there connected to the strange appearance of the hole, maybe Mickey didn't want to meet him. A few minutes later the stealth drone circled back again, but it was now too dark for Mickey to see it.

He picked up the cloth and held it out for a better look. There was just enough light left to recognize some kind of a jumpsuit with a zipper down the front, like sweats for jogging. No, its material was too tough for a sweat suit. It was more like what a motocross guy would wear for protection. It seemed about the right size for him too. Wasn't that convenient! Maybe if he walked around again he'd bump into a cheeseburger and fries. Still, it was getting really cold. What harm was there in putting the jumpsuit on over his clothes?

Mickey pulled down the zipper and slipped into it. The cloth yielded easily and his legs slid right in. Although the outside of the suit was tough like leather, inside it felt downy soft. After putting his arms in, he zipped it up to just under his chin. It was exactly the right size. Suddenly he felt warm, even comfortable. What's more, for some reason he felt really energized. He started bouncing up and down as if he were on a trampoline, and was jumping at least a foot off the ground, maybe more. He'd never been able to do that in gym. Giddy with success, he kept bouncing higher with each try, but then that buzzing sound went off again and he stopped. Reality set in. This wasn't a moon-bounce at an amusement park — this was a weird hole in the ground. What if it closed up and buried him?

To shake off his fear, Mickey started walking again — about halfway around the perimeter, his foot struck something else, this time solid. Bumping into it stubbed his big toe right through his sneaker. In a little pain, he bent down and saw that it was a motorcycle helmet. By that point it was too dark to see it clearly, but his hands felt a visor and a cloth cowl attached to its base. He'd watched enough motorcycle races on TV to know what it was. The bigger question, of course, was what was it doing there? One minute he was hiking with his best friend, happy as a clam, and the next he was trapped in hole which appeared out of nowhere with a motorcycle suit that just happened to be his size. Come on, he thought! Way too much to be a coincidence!

It dawned on Mickey that this must be a test. What else could it be? And if so, the helmet was the next step. He examined it with his fingers. It seemed perfectly smooth and was made out of fiberglass or some similar material. He spread the cowl with his hands and slipped it on. It fit perfectly. Another surprise — yeah, right! Now his head felt warm too, not a bad thing. The only part of his body still cold was his nose. In fact, his nose was both stinging and running at the same time. So he pulled down the visor.

Strange things began to happen. First the cowl pulled taut and stuck itself to the top of the suit. After that, with a whoosh of air, the visor settled deeper into the face of the helmet and became completely flush with it. Mickey wondered how he could breathe, but then relaxed. He was breathing just fine. So far nothing encountered in the hole seemed harmful or threatening, far from it. Except for being stuck down there, he had to admit he'd never felt better. Mickey now tried to pull up the visor but he had nothing to grab onto. He put his hands under his chin, and tried to push the helmet off, but it wouldn't budge. Definitely exasperating — there had to be a way to get the thing off! That was when he noticed a blinking red light on his left forearm.


Excerpted from The Last Stop by Michael H. Burnam. Copyright © 2015 Michael H. Burnam. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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.

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The Last Stop 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome read since the storyline is so linked with the points the author wishes to make. Its very clearly written and deliciously concise. The first 50 pages or so were not as crisply written as the rest. Its an amazing first book by this author! I enjoyed it immensely, and would highly recommend this particularly to young adults!