"Why's that?"

A humongous fart reverberated off of Bitchmaster's seat. "Seriously," she said as Nip crawled away desperately. "I'm going to have that fucking ring."

An hour later, Nip on the couch, Ash meandering around the room in Bitchmaster, and me on the carpet with my head stuck under the glass end table, I said, "It wouldn't work, anyway."

"What wouldn't?" said Nip. He had out a new book. Novels only survived a few days in his hands, if they were lucky.

"Our society. At three the adults get off work, the kids from down the mountain get picked up, and game over."

"Not if we barricaded the highway to the east and west of town. Then nobody gets in. Or out."Ash popped up the chair's smaller front two wheels. They came bouncing back down into the carpet.

"Hey," I said, "be careful."

She snorted. "You can talk, Mr. Bleachers."

Apparently I had been shouting "Again! Again! Again!" when they found me, which probably meant they hadn't been too far behind Billy, wherever he had run off to after giving me the shove.

I glanced up and caught Nip looking at me through the end table. He raised his book to his face. That was how it had been with him all weekend. Any time somebody mentioned the bleachers or called me a daredevil (a nicer way of saying suicidal, I suppose), he started acting like he wished he was wallpaper. I stared at him through the shimmery glass, wondering, then I said, "And what would we block off the highway with? Textbooks?"

Ash performed another wheelie. "The corpses of our teachers, of course."

"Oh. Of course."

My aunt's voice wailed through the kitchen window, drowning out some sultry new tune by Lana del Rey. "What's happening to you? Why are you all dying?" A garden tool clattered on the ground and then footsteps pounded up the stone path to the front door. It flung open and into the house stomped Sandy, dressed in cargo shorts and a lilac-print tee, a clump of mud cupped between her gloved hands. "Will you look at this?"

I pushed my top half up, moving my head to avoid bonking it on the underside of the table.

"What is it, Aunt Sandy?" said Nip. A few days lounging around her cottage house in the woods, 'aiding' my recovery, and my aunt had become his aunt, too. A real adopter, Nip.

She held her handful out to us, looking away from it in disgust or sadness or both. The vegetable was dark purple and as soft-looking as an overripe tomato. An earthworm wriggled out of its side.

"Is that a beet?" Ash said.

"Yes! No. It's supposed to be a beet, but now it's . . . I don't even know what it is now."

"Ash's dinner?" I offered.

If I had been within socking distance, I would have gotten a charley horse for that. But I wasn't, so all I received was a vicious glare.

"What happened to it?" asked Nip.

"I don't know! I don't have a single clue, but it's the same with all my rooties. The parsnips, the turnips, the rutabaga, even the carrots—"

Ash suppressed a smile at this.

"—they're all rotting." Aunt Sandy wiped a cheek with one shoulder. That cheek was over forty years old, and there wasn't a single wrinkle or blemish on it. Besides mud, that is. "They were doing just fine last week, all of them were. You three tell me. What could turn something bad so fast? What could do that?"

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