Friday, 19 April 2013

Please Welcome Julie Casey...

And find out all about ... How I Became A Teenage Survivalist... ( no not me)

Bracken is a typical teenage boy, more interested in the angles of the girl’s exposed back teasing him from the seat ahead of him than in anything the geometry teacher could present. His life is filled with school, video games, and thoughts of girls, not necessarily (or probably not) in that order. Life just flows along uneventfully and unacknowledged, like the electricity that courses through the power lines — until PF Day.
On PF (Power Failure) Day, the sun strikes Bracken’s world with an unseen surge of electromagnetic fury, which cripples power stations and burns transformers to crispy nuggets of regret. No one in Bracken’s world had ever thought about how much they depended on electrical power but now, without it, they are plunged into survival mode. Without electricity there is no communication, no modern conveniences and soon, no modern means of transportation, as the reserves of refined gasoline run dry. Worse still is the failure of the water and sewer systems, the impossibility of getting food and supplies to people living in cities, and the deaths of millions of people from starvation, disease, and lack of medical care.
Bracken soon realizes how lucky he is to live on a farm in the Midwest. What seemed like a dull and backwards life before is now the greatest chance for survival in what seems like a powerless world. Food, water, and heat are readily available, although hard work is required to make use of them. Bracken and his family must learn to survive like their ancestors, who settled their land.

 Publisher: Pants On Fire Press
Copyright: Julie L. Casey
Release Date: April, 2013
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
ISBN#: 978-0-9827271-8-8
Formats available: paperback and ebook


Chapter 1

I hate to write. Well, not exactly. I like to put words together in interesting ways, to lay them down and roll them out like a newly paved road stretching into the distance, daring you to follow wherever it will lead. Writing is like that for me – when I start, it draws me along, showing me new places and giving my brain interesting challenges until I come to the end of the story. Most times, I don’t know where my writing is going to lead me, so it’s always an adventure. At least, until the day the power grids failed and I couldn’t type on the computer anymore. What I hate, to be precise, is writing my stories down on paper.
My mom says that, even though we can’t go to school anymore, there’s no reason to put a halt on our education and she’s right. I got kind of bored in the weeks after PF (Power Failure) Day. There are only so many chores to do, so many books to read, so many conversations to have, especially when you live in the country like we do. Here, your closest neighbor lives two miles away and the closest kid your age lives over five miles away. There are no phones, no TV, no video games, no lights to read by at night, not to mention no refrigeration, no microwave, and no cars after the gas ran out. No life, really; well, not the kind we were used to anyway.
Mom said that I should keep this journal and write down all that happened on PF Day and afterward, because when we eventually get the power back on like we did for a while a few months after PF Day, no one in the future will understand how bad it was unless they read an actual account of it. She said I could use this as a Language Arts assignment. So, that’s why I’m writing this with a pen, on paper - ugh.
I am the second of three brothers. Mom thought it would be cool to name us in alphabetical order, so my older brother is Alexander, I’m Bracken, and my little brother is Calvin. Mom always jokes that if she’d had another kid, she would have named it Done.
I don’t especially like my name. I mean, it sounds kind of cool and all, but it means “fern.” Fern! Do I look like a fern, Mom? Dad, why didn’t you step in here? Seriously, there are plenty of cooler names that start with B – Baron, Beck, Blade, or how about Bond? (Notice how I put them in alphabetical order for you, Mom.)
As for my older brother, everyone calls him “Alexander the Great.” My parents and grandparents (and Alexander) think he’s “the golden boy,” nearly perfect in every way, but I know the real Alexander, and I can tell you he’s not so great. He’s eighteen and two years older than I am, but you’d think he was a generation ahead, the way he acts toward me, all condescending and patronizing.
My little brother, Calvin, who is two years younger than I am (you can do the math), acts just like his namesake from the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes. He’s really smart but kind of ornery and annoying. He’s cool, though. I get along with him a lot better than I do with Alexander. But now we’re all stuck together at home, thanks to the sun.
I was fifteen when the first solar superstorm wreaked havoc on our lives. It was November 1st and I was at school, trying to concentrate on what the geometry teacher was trying to teach us. I couldn’t quite make my brain behave – it kept wandering away on its own adventure about the girl  in the desk in front of me, Silky Henderson. Man, was she hot! 
It didn’t help that she was wearing a short sweater and low-cut jeans, or that she kept leaning forward in her chair, making the sweater inch up her back, then sitting up straight and hiding her skin like a teaser for the Promised Land. (See? There it goes again. My brain, that is.)
I vaguely remember at one point the vice-principal coming in during class and talking to the teacher, Mr. Andresen, in a low, kind of hurried voice. I might have been able to hear what he was saying if I had tried to listen, but there was Silky’s back, again, as she leaned  forward to take advantage of the break in the lecture to do a little flirting with the guy in front of her.
Even if there hadn’t been a tease going on right in front of me, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the conversation at the front of the room – “adult” talk used to bore me. I wish I had listened that time, though. Maybe I would have had a little jump on what was going to happen next.
Fourth hour (and the exquisite torture of Silky’s skin) was almost over when, all of a sudden, there was a loud explosion in the distance. Then, all the lights flickered out, some popping and sparking before they went dark. Everyone put their hands over their heads and some of the girls screamed as we just we looked around in confusion.
It wasn’t completely dark inside the classroom since there were a series of tall windows on the outer wall to let in daylight, but it was a little weird not to hear the faint hum of the fluorescent lights or the whir of the teacher’s computer and docucam. It’s funny how you don’t even notice things like that until they’re gone.
Everything was silent for several seconds except for faint echoes of the explosion and other unidentifiable bangs and pops from outside. It seemed like everyone froze for a couple of seconds. Then we all started talking in a rush, like we all had something in our mouths that we had to spit out immediately or we would choke on it. We all knew something serious had happened. Our first thought was of another grain elevator explosion. It was harvest season and there were thousands of tons of grain being loaded into the elevators from trains and semis. One had just exploded a few days before in a neighboring community, killing six people. We were all worried because everyone in our school knew someone who worked at the elevators or hauled grain there.
Mr. Andresen managed to settle us down, telling us that the power outage would be temporary and that the explosion was most likely a transformer. Some of the, shall I say, “less intellectual” among us thought he meant the robots from outer space that change into vehicles. One doofus (I won’t say his name in case he or his family read this) even said, “Cool! I knew they were real!” We all had a good laugh at his expense.
“No,” Mr. Andresen explained, “It was an electrical transformer at the power station that has probably blown because we have just experienced the effects of a huge coronal mass ejection from the sun.”
Mr. Andresen was also a part-time science teacher who liked to throw around scientific words like that. When he realized nobody had any idea what he was talking about, he explained that there had been a huge storm on the surface of the sun that had sent magnetically charged particles to Earth, which had caused enormous power surges in some electrical plants. He also mentioned that scientists studying the sun’s activity had known it was coming for several hours, and that Vice-Principal Cox’s quiet message earlier in the period had been a warning.
Nice of them to tell us!
By now, chaos had erupted outside. We could hear sirens and shouting, so we all crowded the windows to see what was going on. People were lining the streets in our small town, pointing up at sparking power lines and the tops of telephone poles that were engulfed in strange, blue flames. In the distance, we could see a huge cloud of black smoke rising from the power plant and all three of our town’s volunteer fire department trucks already racing toward it.
Later on, we would find out that even three of the four huge windmills that help supply our town with electricity had caught on fire, although they burned out quickly. People reported being shocked by their cell phones, and some of the newer, more expensive vehicles – the ones with all the gadgets like GPS and other satellite systems – just turned off and wouldn’t start again.
We were relatively safe in our school building – almost too safe. The administration decided that we should all be sent home for the day, but the system that automatically locks all the windows and doors during a lock-down was apparently tripped when the power surge went through the electrical system. Now, we were all locked in.
We were stuck inside for almost an hour while parents gathered outside, waiting to pick up their kids, and the administrators and custodians scrambled to figure out how to get the doors unlocked. It would have been nice to hang out there with friends, but we were all kind of worried about our own families, since we couldn’t get a hold of them by phone. All cell phone towers and landlines were down.
Most of the people living in town and the surrounding countryside gathered in the town square until sundown to get the latest news, since practically all electronic communication was useless. Only one guy with a ham radio was able to communicate with somebody outside of our town, but the signal was faint and the people operating the ham radios on the other end were just citizens like him trying to find out information.
By the time we were ready to go home that night, we hadn’t even begun to realize how bad the situation was. It didn’t look like the power was going to be restored anytime soon, but we still didn’t know how widespread the problem was.
As several motorists ran out of gas along our highway and were forced to stay in our one small motel until the electricity could be restored to run the gas pumps, we learned from them that cities as far as 350 miles away were also affected. They all reported that they were desperately trying to get back home to check on loved ones, and that many of the cities and towns they had come from and traveled through were in much worse states than ours.
The motorists told of panic in the cities: people stuck in elevators and subway trains, thousands of car accidents as all of the stoplights blinked off simultaneously, dozens of explosions at power plants and gas stations where power surges through the electronic pumps had ignited the tanks of fuel, small fires all over the cities, and people panicking everywhere. Part of me was glad to be here in the country, but another – a crazy, adventurous side – kind of wished I was in a big city where all the excitement was.
When the sun set, an unusually brilliant orange sunset, there was a faint green glow in the northern sky that grew brighter as the sky got darker. The glow began to swirl and change colors like some kind of psychedelic gas-plasma ghost. As beautiful as it was, it was unnerving at the same time. Mr. Andresen explained that the phenomenon was called the Aurora Borealis and that it was a common sight in the northern latitudes. He added that the disturbance in the geomagnetic atmosphere from the solar superstorm made them visible much farther south. As we drove home that evening, we watched the colors dance in the sky and marveled at the wonder of nature.
That first night at home was strange, really, but a little fun. We had a gas generator, but Dad decided to not waste the gas to run it since he was convinced that the power would be back on soon. We had to keep the refrigerator shut to keep in the cool, so Mom made peanut butter sandwiches for dinner while Dad started a fire in the family room fireplace. It was still pretty warm outside, especially for November, but it got a little chilly at night. Plus it was fun to have a fire, something that we had been too busy to do for a while. Dad put a kettle of water on the fire and we made hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows, too. I wanted to roast hot dogs as well, but Dad reminded me that we couldn’t open the fridge, so I had to make do with marshmallows and chips and whatever else I could find in the cupboards.
Mom lit candles in almost every room, and the house smelled like a mix of vanilla and cinnamon and oatmeal cookies, making me hungrier than ever. Then we all sat in the family room, around the fire, and talked. We hadn’t done that in a long time either.
Alex was going crazy about not being able to call his girlfriend, Robin, and Calvin was going crazy about not being able to play his video games. I was happy to have the break in the normal routine. It felt like we stayed up late but really, we were in bed by 10:00 – early by my standards.
I woke up the next day at dawn. I had wanted to sleep in, but the combination of going to bed early, anticipation about what the day would bring, and waking up to a cold house got me out of bed right away. Dad and Mom were already up – with a fire going in the fireplace and the kettle of water whistling away – sipping at hot coffee and talking about what we needed to do today. They were in good moods – Mom because she had the day off from her job as a part-time accounts receivable clerk at the electric cooperative in town – “can’t work at an electric company with no electricity,” she joked – and Dad because the harvest was already in and he liked “roughing it.”
Calvin was still asleep (lucky devil) and Alex had already gone to see his girlfriend, risking the last of his gas to fulfill his desire for love (or at least for making out). I was glad he was gone; things just seemed to be more pleasant when he wasn’t around.
Mom and Dad decided we would do some chores around the house and farm, and then go into town after lunch if the electricity wasn’t back on yet. It was kind of hard to do any cleaning around the house without electricity – we couldn’t run the vacuum and we had to do the dishes by hand since the dishwasher wouldn’t run. The worst part was that, without electricity, the pump on our well couldn’t work, so we had to go outside to the old hand pump and manually pump the water into a bucket to carry inside. At first, the well water was all brown since the hand pump hadn’t been used in ages, but after a while it cleared up. The toilet was acting weird, too, bubbling and gurgling, because of the water to the house being off.
Finally, after cleaning up the house the best we could, feeding the chickens and goats my Mom kept in a pen in the backyard, and eating our lunch of fresh eggs scrambled over the fire in the fireplace, we all climbed into Dad’s big, extended-cab farm truck and drove the twelve miles into town.
Lots of people were gathered in the square again, and everyone seemed happy and excited, considering the circumstances. Old Man Riley, who owned the gas station, had somehow gotten ahold of a generator and was selling gas at an outrageous rate. He cited the fact that he now had to rent the generator and provide the fuel to run it. The stranded motorists were more than happy to pay the extra money, and most of them were already gone by the time we arrived in town. One poor guy, however, didn’t have any cash or checks on him and without electricity, Old Man Riley couldn’t run his credit card, so the townspeople took up a collection and bought him a tank of gas. He left declaring his undying gratitude for the town and promising to come back and repay each and every one of us who had helped him out. We assured him it wasn’t necessary and wished him Godspeed (whatever that means) on his trip home to his family.
The highway, which ran through town, was eerily quiet most of the day, with just an occasional car or semi going by. Once, a hybrid car stopped for gas and its driver told us all that the power outage had spread at least as far as Denver, two states away, because that was where he had come from on his way home to Omaha. He said he was glad that he had a hybrid car, because there was no place to stop for gas or anything else in Kansas, and he had driven straight through. Otherwise, he probably would have run out of gas before now. Old Man Riley was glad to sell him some of his expensive gas, but refused to let him plug his car in to recharge for a while.
My friends and I had a great time wandering around the town, talking, tossing a football back and forth, and mildly harassing some girls. Around sundown, we were all getting a little cold and hungry, so we went back to the town square and found everyone gathering at Tipton’s Diner, which now had a generator, food, and a somewhat warm place to eat. While our parents sat inside and talked, we kids sat out back on the picnic tables and messed around. Mr. Tipton had built a bonfire in the middle of the gravel parking lot and we all kept plenty warm.
Little by little, the bonfire died and the kids left to go home with their parents until I was left alone with Skylar Tipton, the owners’ daughter. I hadn’t talked much to Skylar for a long time because she had to work in the diner so much. That night, however, her parents had let her socialize with the rest of the kids, and it was nice to talk to her one-on-one for a change. I had known Skylar since we were little kids, but she seemed somehow different now – in a nice way.
When my parents were finally ready to go home, I didn’t want to leave her. I tried to stall, but Skylar said she needed to go, too; her parents would be wanting her to help clean and close up the restaurant. I reluctantly went home with my parents, but it wasn’t nearly as fun that time. I just kept wanting to call Skylar and talk to her more. That wasn’t going to happen, of course, since the electricity still wasn’t back on.
Mom said she had talked to her boss at the Electric Co-op, and he had told her that it could be a week before they had the opportunity to make the necessary repairs to get the electricity back on, and that was only if they could get their hands on parts soon enough. A serviceman had left in a company truck yesterday afternoon to see if he could get the parts in Kansas City, about ninety miles south of our town. No one had heard from him yet.
I went to bed even earlier that night. I felt unsettled and tossed and turned all night, thinking about the Skylar I thought I knew and the one I found out I didn’t know at all.

1. His name means "fern", much to his dismay.
2. He is not especially popular at school, although he has plenty of friends.
3. He has never been kissed by a girl (at least, not when he wanted it); that is, until he gets reacquainted with Skylar.
4. He finds out he is an "old soul", someone who appreciates and respects the past.
5. He grows to love horses, especially since they give him the mobility to visit Skylar in town.
6. He doesn't miss video games at all, much to his surprise.
7. He becomes an avid reader, especially after he gets some candles to read by at night.
8. He learns all sorts of survival skills and is amazed at the ingenuity of others.
9. He gets to do battle — cowboy-and-Indian type battle — with a horde of bad guys.
10. He helps deliver a baby without passing out, but just barely.

Julie Casey lives in a rural area near St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband, Jonn Casey, a science teacher, and their three youngest sons. After teaching preschool for fifteen years, she has been homeschooling her four sons for ten years. Julie has bachelor of science degrees in education and computer programming and has written four books. She enjoys historical reenacting, wildlife rehabilitation, teaching her children, and writing books that capture the imaginations of young people.
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