By Jordan Elizabeth
All Zara wanted to do was pass her Spanish final and graduate high school, but suddenly she’s waking up in an unknown hospital. The east coast is destroyed and she’s one of the few survivors. The government has assigned her to Outpost Eight, an abandoned Catskills resort converted into a fortress. Not only does Zara have to come to terms with the loss of everything she’s ever known, but the leader of Outpost Eight marries her to his son.
Cliff Andrews is too quiet and afraid of everything, especially his father. There’s much more to the situation than he’s telling Zara. Nothing feels right about Outpost Eight and Zara questions what really happened to Cliff’s first wife.
Everyone else might be willing to blindly follow the leader’s laws, but not Zara. She won’t stop until she knows the truth about Outpost Eight.
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I can’t study with Metallica blaring downstairs. The windows vibrate with the booming bass. They might shatter, and shards will shred through me, while I sit here at my desk with my teeth clenched and my fist tight around this pen. Don’t get me wrong – I can appreciate some Metallica. If I’m having a bad day, there’s nothing better than enjoying heavy metal music while driving to Sylvan Beach.
When you have your Spanish final coming up tomorrow morning, you don’t want to hear swear words ricocheting off your walls, especially with your bedroom door shut. My head pounds; that music has been going for the last hour and a half, ever since Mom and Dad went out.
Enough! I stand and throw my pen down, which doesn’t help anything other than to make me more irritated when it rolls onto the floor. I stomp into the hallway, slamming my door behind me, and storm down the stairs.
Uncle Brad reclines on the couch while playing some video game I don’t recognize. A girl with giant boobs and shorts so short her fake butt-cheeks hang out runs at some kind of alien monster. She shoots him dead and then slashes through with a sword that magically replaces the dual pistols in her hands. The sword vanishes and now she’s running down a hallway with portholes – maybe she’s on a ship – and her hands are empty.
My uncle belches before stuffing chips into his mouth and taking a sip of beer.
“You’re not supposed to drink beer,” I yell over the music coming from Mom’s old CD player. Uncle Brad has it turned up as loud as it will go. If I’m lucky, the neighbors will call the police with a noise complaint.
Uncle Brad belches again, returning to his video game. I glance into the kitchen, but he has yet to put the vegetable lasagna into the oven. When Mom and Dad went to the work party, Dad handed Uncle Brad the instructions. He said: “Make sure to put this in an hour before you want to eat.”
It would have been great to eat at six, but whatever. Studying came before food. Okay, it shouldn’t, because I need the energy, but I’m supposed to give Uncle Brad responsibility. I’m not supposed to do things for him.
“Did you put the food in yet?” I ask.
Uncle Brad nods his head in time with the tune of a new song.
“Hey!” I walk in front of him, blocking the television screen. “Did you start the oven yet?”
“Move!” He hits a key on the game controller and glares at me. He must have paused the game. “What’s your problem, Zara?”
Oh, I’ve got a lot of problems, and they all started with Uncle Brad getting released from rehab. Again. This was his third release since he started doing meth at age fifteen.
I could start by rattling off the list of things he lacks: a job, a car, a home. This house that Mom and Dad pay for with their nine-to-five jobs is not his home. It’s mine, and I need to study for the class that has given me the most trouble this year.
Other seniors took easy classes so they could fly through and ride off on golden horses to college. I had to take French for grades ninth through eleventh, and then decide to be super proactive for grade twelve. I had to sign up for Spanish 1 and 2 to look better on my applications.
“Dude,” he says, “move.”
You move. Go get a job. You’ve been out for a month now and you just rot on our couch.
I try to smile. I’m supposed to smile to make Uncle Brad feel comfortable. I don’t have to feel comfortable, but hey, I don’t matter because I’ve never touched illegal drugs. “I was wondering if you put the lasagna in the oven yet. It takes an hour to cook.”
“I already ate.” He extends his foot to push me aside.
“You ate chips and drank beer.” I hope my voice sounds pleasant enough. I’m not supposed to sound accusatory.
So many rules, and Uncle Brad doesn’t have to do much, other than sit there and behave. Beer is off limits, according to Mom, and he doesn’t care.
He must know my train of thought because he sneers, “You’re not gonna tell on me, are you, Zara?”
“No.” Tattling won’t get anything accomplished. Mom will sigh and invite Uncle Brad to attend church with us. Dad will break into one of his lectures and Uncle Brad will zone out. Dad’s fourteen years older than Uncle Brad; he treats him like a son instead of a brother. Uncle Brad’s pointed it out so many times in the past.
“You’re not Papa. Don’t treat me like a kid!”
That just triggers yet another lecture. Dad can lecture for hours.
“Can you turn the music down?” I ask. “I can’t study with it so loud.”
He bares his teeth. “Once the CD finishes, sure.”
“You have it on repeat.” I hook my finger at the player he’s stuck on the floor. How he found it in the cellar is anyone’s guess. I haven’t seen the thing in years.
He found it just to terrorize me.
He brays out this horrible laugh that grates on my nerves. If it wasn’t Mom’s, I’d throw the player in the trash out by the curb.
“I need to study. I can’t with it being so loud in here.”
“What you got to study for? Didn’t college end already?”
“I’m in high school.”
Uncle Brad narrows his eyes at me.
“Grant’s in college.”
Uncle Brad takes another swing of beer.
“Grant’s my brother,” I supply, in case Uncle Brad’s too drunk to realize he has a niece and a nephew. I glance around the room for a pile of empty bottles, but this seems to be his first of the night. If he cares, he’ll toss it outside before Mom and Dad get home. If he doesn’t, I’ll have to endure a screaming match.
“Nah, you’re in college.”
“You think a college girl would wear this?” I point at my worn-out Hello Kitty hoodie. My best friend would laugh and point to her Sanrio socks, but Uncle Brad just blinks at me. He swears. He drinks more beer.
I draw a deep breath, steeling my nerves. “You need to put the lasagna in the oven so we can eat.” Uncle Brad needs to take responsibility. I’m not helping anyone except myself if I do it for him.
“Nah, I’m good.” He presses the pause button and the game starts back up.
“Uncle Brad—” Ugh, whatever. He’s not going to keep me from acing this final, my final final. He isn’t breaking my GPA.
I storm into the kitchen, then creep into the cellar. The bare bulbs buzz in the ceiling. I open the door to the circuit breaker, find the right switch, and flip it off.
The music cuts off mid-word. Uncle Brad hollers out a swear. The video game isn’t playing either, so that must have gone off too. I hurry back upstairs and slide into a stool at the island just as he barrels into the room.
“What did you do to the power?”
I blink at him. “What are you talking about?” I point to the hanging lights in the kitchen, all of them bright and alive.
“What did you freaking do?” he roars.
I gulp, and my heart starts to pound a little bit faster. No one has ever called Uncle Brad dangerous, but there’s something in his face that makes the saliva dry in my mouth. His eyes have got this wild look. It reminds me of the feral cat that slinks around the house sometimes.
“You are a bitch,” he growls.
Me, the girl trying to study, the girl who has never complained aloud about him living with us.
“Maybe check the basement? Maybe the circuit breaker flipped.” My voice squeaks and I cough before the sudden fear chokes me.
He calls me a swear word that makes my cheeks hot and my mouth drop.
Uncle Brad slams the door open and curses when he flips the light switch on. He can’t know I did it. Should I run upstairs and lock myself in the bathroom before he returns?
He won’t hurt me. He’s my uncle.
I’ll make dinner. He’ll eat the lasagna even if he doesn’t want it now. All will be well as we chow down on Dad’s specialty. Maybe we’ll watch Saturday Night Live and I’ll make us some popcorn for dessert. Mom and Dad will come home to find us laughing like bosom buds.
A bang sounds in my ears. Lights flash through the kitchen’s French doors and I cringe, blinking. Another huge bang. Uncle Brad shouts, the words indistinct, and I sail backwards. I hit the floor. Pain is in my head and then…nothing.
About the Author
Jordan Elizabeth is a young adult author rom Central New York. The history of the Catskills has always fascinated her. BUNKER BOY is her twentieth book.
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