Chapter One: Making Contact

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It rains a lot more around here in the fall, but that's actually a good thing. Dad says it makes it harder for the blight to spread, which means that we're just a little bit safer. Billy and I don't have to stay so close to home, and even though the rain is cold and neither of us care much for bundling up, it's a lot better to go out with Dad on his trips than it is to stay cooped up inside the cabin all day.

We walk everywhere, Billy and Dad and me, saving the little bit of fuel that we have left in case we have to make another run into Portland. We'd last gone into the city back in June, after Dad had been bitten by a rattlesnake while fishing on the banks of the Columbia River. We'd had to trade our last two chickens for treatment, but that didn't bother us so much.

There would be other chickens someday, but there is only one Dad.

It's true that we mostly stay out of the city, but we have been leaving the safety of the mountain and going into Sandy and Eagle Creek a lot more often lately. We search for things that might be useful, things we can carry home, things that haven't been touched by the blight.

And we've been looking for Mom, too.

I can tell that Billy and Dad both miss her, but I just can't imagine that they miss her as much as I do. Sometimes, I feel like I'm just a tiny part of who I used to be, and that the really big part that's missing is Mom.

She used to keep my hair in braids. Boy, you don't realize how nice that is until you don't wear them much anymore (and I don't blame Dad for not knowing a lot about hair; he has other things on his mind—that's for sure—but at least he still tries from time to time). Mom used to sing to me throughout the day, and she read me a story every single night. Even after the blight flashed through Oregon like a wildfire, she was still a really, really good mom.

I say a prayer every night that we'll find her and that she'll come back to the cabin with us. She knows where it is, of course. But she left because she felt that she had to. She thought she was...well, I guess she thought that she was showing symptoms.

I don't really know what to think about that. Well, that's not true all the way, I guess. I have a little bit of a different theory about it.

I think she left because she didn't like to see Billy and me so hungry all the time. Right before, Mom just stopped eating with us. It was like she didn't feel like it was okay anymore, kind of like every bite she took was one less for Billy and me. Dad begged her to stay with us, but when the vomiting started, I guess he felt that he had to let her go. I think he was scared that she might actually have the blight, but that didn't stop him from hugging her. I'll never forget the way Dad held her—squeezing her so close while her body quivered with that terrible fever. He was crying, Dad was. It's the only time we've ever seen him do that, and it scared me and Billy bad.

I hope I never see it again. Dads aren't supposed to feel so sad.

Billy's kind of like Dad. He thinks Mom was contagious, but if that was true, why hasn't Dad gotten sick? I mean, he was holding her, and that's all it takes with the blight...

We've been combing through what's left of Sandy, just picking our way through the outskirts of downtown. It's tiring, always worrying about what might be out there. And honestly, there's just about nothing useful left to gather. We found a big cachet of canned peas about a week ago. When Dad got them open, the three of us just about passed out, the stench was so bad. He said that some air must have gotten into the cans, so we had to throw them all out.

It's really a shame, because we haven't had anything green to eat in an awfully long time.

Is this getting through out there? Is anyone reading this?

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