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If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.
About Tracy’s latest, DOOMED:
Pandora’s just your average teen-glued to her cell phone and laptop, surfing Facebook and e-mailing with her friends-until the day her long-lost father sends her a link to a mysterious site featuring twelve photos of her as a child. Unable to contain her curiosity, Pandora enters the site, where she is prompted to play her favorite virtual-reality game, Zero Day. This unleashes a global computer virus that plunges the whole world into panic: suddenly, there is no Internet. No cell phones. No utilities, traffic lights, hospitals, law enforcement. Pandora teams up with handsome stepbrothers Eli and Theo to enter the virtual world of Zero Day. Simultaneously, she continues to follow the photographs from her childhood in an attempt to beat the game and track down her father-her one key to saving the world as we know it. Part The Matrix, part retelling of the Pandora myth, Doomed has something for gaming fans, dystopian fans, and romance fans alike.
Guess what? YES! You lucky ducks get to read an alternate first chapter of DOOMED.
HERE IT IS!
My seventeenth birthday starts with betrayal.
It ends the same way but that’s a different story—at least for now.
A few days ago, I auditioned for Westlake High School’s fall play, Shakespeare’s Othello, and somehow managed to land the female lead, Desdemona. I’m still not sure how that happened, as I don’t have a wide-eyed, innocent bone in my body. Nor do I exactly look like your typical ingénue.
Instead of the long, blonde hair and big blue eyes of most Desdemona actresses, I’ve got short, spiky red hair with violet streaks in the front and muddy brown eyes. I’m also close to six feet tall, a height that doesn’t exactly scream cute, cuddly and in need of protection.
Yet somehow, I’m the one Mr. March cast. He told me privately it was because I gave the best audition, but I think that it’s much more likely that I’m the only girl who doesn’t look like a dwarf next to Eli, the six foot six inch guy he cast to play Othello.
Now Eli, I believe, he cast on talent. The boy is amazing on a stage—and he looks really good too. Besides being tall and really well-muscled, not like most tall guys who all look super-skinny, he’s got a great face. Really hot, even if he doesn’t look at all like Shakespeare’s Moor. Plus he’s got really cool, shaggy blonde hair and his eyes are a deep, forest green that make me shiver a little bit every time he looks at me.
Which he’s doing a lot right now, since Shakespeare wrote the play so that Othello spends half the scenes mooning around over me and the other half listening to his best friend, Iago, who does everything he can to convince him that I’m betraying him. It’s a hell of a play, one that ends in my murder, my friend’s untimely demise, a bunch of innocent people’s deaths, Othello’s suicide and Iago’s torture. I can’t wait ‘til we get the costumes.
Which is why the morning of my seventeenth birthday finds me sitting in the little theater at my school practically before the sun is up, running lines with Eli and Marcus, the guy who’s cast to play Iago.
By heaven, you do me wrong.
Are you not a strumpet? (Insert me: Isn’t that a cool word? I’ve always wanted to be a strumpet. But I’m too tall for most of the guys in my school, so most of the time I’m stuck being just one of the boys—lucky me)
No, as I am a Christian:
If to preserve this vessel for my lord
From any other foul unlawful touch
Be not to be a strumpet, I am none. (Me again: If I could have Eli, I mean, Othello, why would I want some other guy, anyway?)
What, not a whore? (Okay, ouch. Not nearly as nice sounding as strumpet.)
No, as I shall be saved.
O, heaven forgive us!
I cry you mercy, then:
I took you for that cunning whore of Venice
That married with Othello. (Now he’s just being mean—and messing up iambic pentameter while he does it. Not cool.)
Raising his voice:
That have the office opposite to Saint Peter,
And keep the gate of hell!
I look away, a little out of breath from the power of the scene I’m reading—and the intensity of Eli’s eyes as he looks at me. Not to mention the fact that I’ve just been told I’m going to rot in hell—or at least my character is.
Slapping my script down onto the stage where we’re sitting, legs dangling over the edge, I ask, “What’s wrong with Desdemona, anyway? Why doesn’t she run away from Othello towards the end? She can’t miss the fact that he’s losing it.”
“She loves him, Pandora,” Mr. March says. “She doesn’t want to leave him.”
“Even though it’s obvious the man is losing his mind? I mean, seriously, I don’t care how hot the guy is. He’s got crazy, stalker husband with a gun written all over him.”
“It’s a sword actually, and he doesn’t use it on her.” Eli speaks up for the first time.
“So what does he do? How does he kill her?” I turn to Eli impatiently, though the truth is I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t finished the play yet. But it’s been a rough week with a ton of homework and most days it’s all I can do to crawl out of bed in the morning to be here practically before dawn.
Eli shifts a little, until he’s so close to me that I can smell the mintiness of his mouthwash and the warm, fresh scent that is all him. It’s a combination of the forest near my house—all piney and delicious—and the lemon tree in my backyard. For a second, I want nothing more than to bury my nose in his chest and just breathe him in.
The thought embarrasses me all over again and I scoot back a little, wanting distance. Needing a little space before I pull a move right out of the sixteenth century and start to swoon.
But Eli doesn’t get it—or maybe he does and he just doesn’t care. Either way, he follows me, his eyes so dark they’re almost black. “He’s tormented, Pandora. Nearly insane by his love for her and the idea that she’s betrayed him. That he isn’t enough for her. That she wants another man.”
His hands come up to cup my face and my heart starts beating so fast that I can barely hear Eli over the thunder of it. “Why does—“ My voice breaks. “Why does he ask her if he won’t believe what she says?”
“He has to ask. He wants to believe her. But then he can’t, when his most trusted friend’s words are in his head, telling him that she’s been with Cassio.” He slides his palms down until they’re ringing my throat. “She’s crying and pleading with him, and she looks so beautiful, sounds so innocent, that it makes him even crazier. Because in the back of his head is Iago, convincing him that she betrayed him. Providing proof that she gave his gift to another man as a token of her affection.”
Suddenly I can’t breathe, fear and panic and fascination welling up inside me as I look at him. Even as every instinct I have tells me to get away, I don’t move. It’s insane, but I’m trapped by the promise in his eyes as much as by his hands around my throat. Maybe I was too hard on poor Desdemoma.
And then he begins to squeeze and my too-fast heart nearly explodes.
“Stop it.” I shove him away from me, stumble backwards, and though his fingers had barely tightened on my neck—just enough to be felt but certainly nowhere near hard enough to hurt– I can feel the imprint of each one. “What’s wrong with you?”
“No, that’s perfect!” Mr. March exclaims from his spot in the audience. “That’s exactly the vibe I want from the two of you. Othello is desperate. He’s crazed and Desdemona knows it, but she loves him so much that she can’t believe he’d ever hurt her. Even as he strangles her, she can’t believe it. She thinks he’ll stop.”
He claps his hands, rubs them together in near Machiavellian delight. “I knew I was right about the chemistry between the two of you. This play is going to be amazing.”
At the mention of the word chemistry, I blush and look everywhere but at Eli. Now that I know he was just acting, I’m not quite sure how I feel. Beyond stupid, I mean. I never should have freaked out like that. Did I really think he was going to strangle me in the middle of rehearsal? Just the idea is nuts, but I can still see the way he looked at me. As if I really had betrayed him. But then, that ability to make the insane believable is what makes him such a good actor, right?
The bell rings, thank God, and I scoop up my backpack from where I left it at the back of the stage. I nod to Eli and Marcus, and then exit stage left and hightail it out the door. I can’t remember the last time I felt this idiotic and I’m thrilled that it’s Friday and there won’t be rehearsal this afternoon. I need a few days before I can face Eli again.
Behind me, I hear Marcus—who’s been my friend since second grade—call my name, but I don’t turn around. I can’t. I’m afraid Eli will be with him and I can’t get the feel of his hands around my neck out of my head, off of my skin. I swear I can still feel them there, warm and slightly calloused.
The rest of the day passes in kind of a blur. Class, friends, lunch, more class, then sweet, sweet freedom. My best friend Emily and I hit the parking lot five minutes after the bell rings.
“I can’t believe you want to stay home on your birthday,” she complains as we climb into Zeus, the gas-guzzling behemoth my mother bought me after I crashed my first car and nearly died. It completely wasn’t my fault—some idiot ran a red light and plowed straight into me—but I guess the sight of all that twisted metal and shattered glass freaked her out enough that she went old school. Way old school, and bought me a car that had about a thousand tons of steel on every side of me.
I’m serious. The car is an affront to nature, especially since most of my friends drive Priuses. Big and yellow, it looks like a cross between a school bus and a tank, and driving it feels pretty much like I figure it would feel to be behind the wheel of one of those. More than once I’ve been tempted to tackle a stop sign in it—just to see if Zeus even notices. My guess is he’ll roll right over the metal pole like it isn’t even there.
Maybe I’ll try it on the way home.
But then Emily will get all freaked out and it’s just not worth the drama. Despite the fact that I like to act, I’m pretty low-key. My best friend, on the other hand, believes in making every little hill she comes across into K-2.
“Seriously, Pan, can’t we go out for a little while?”
“Well, it’s not my plan to keep you chained in the basement.”
“You don’t have a basement.”
“That’s just further proof that I have no nefarious intentions.” I stop at a red light and try really hard not to get annoyed. It’s my birthday after all and my mom is missing it because she’s halfway across the country in tense negotiations for another takeover by the huge corporation she works for. It’s bad enough that she’d rather promote corporate greed by destroying some family run company’s dream than spend time with me. I don’t need my best friend whining at me too.
“Look, if you want to go out instead, that’s fine. I understand.”
Emily rolls her eyes, but her smile is real. “Don’t be stupid. I want to do whatever you want and if that means hanging out in our pjs and watching movies all night, that’s cool with me. As long as you let me take you out for a birthday dinner first.”
My irritation slides away—trust Emily to have ulterior motives to her whining that end up being all about me. I can’t help feeling like a jerk for doubting her.
“Of course. We can go wherever you want.”
“It’s your birthday. We’ll go where you want to go.”
“Then I pick Little Nicky’s,” I say, referring to my favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza place.
“Of course you do. I was thinking of something a little more upscale, but if it’s pizza you want, it’s pizza you will get.”
“If you don’t want to live a little,” she sighs, “Then who am I to try to change your mind?”
“I’m living right now, thank you very much. And—“ I hold up a hand to stave off her protest, which is no mean feat when it usually takes both hands and all my strength to steer Zeus around a corner. “I plan on doing plenty of living with you and Jules tomorrow night.”
That stops her mid-tirade, as I know it will. You don’t spend seven years being someone’s best friend without knowing what buttons to push—or not push—as the case might be.
“The concert’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait.” She pauses. “Did you give Eli the extra ticket like we talked about?”
“What? No!” I can feel heat crawling up my cheeks at just the mention of his name. “Why would I do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because he’s gorgeous and smart and about six inches taller than you—which, you have to admit, is rare. Add in the fact that you two are doing a play together, inviting him to go out in a group of friends seems like a pretty normal thing to do to me.”
I crumple up a napkin and throw it at her. “Yeah, well, your definition of normal is highly suspect.”
“I wouldn’t be talking, Pan-dor-a. You’re so south of normal that it’s amazing you haven’t circumnavigated the globe.”
“That’s because normal is highly overrated—which is why,” I say with a grin that tells her that I know I’ve won—“I didn’t invite Eli.”
Emily makes a gagging sound, then reaches over to hug me as we stop in front of her house. “Someday, you’re going to regret all the things you didn’t do,” she says as she pulls away. Then she’s reaching in her bag and thrusting something at me.
I glance down at it. It’s wrapped in newspaper and has a kick ass black and red bow across the top that’s nearly as big as the present itself. “Open it later,” she says, as she climbs out of the car.
“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Because presents go better with cake? I’ll see you tonight at seven, okay?”
“I’ll be there.” I wave right before she turns to walk away. She waves back, though she’s already heading up the long pathway to her house.
And then I’m pulling away, cruising down the winding, hilly road that surrounds Austin’s Lake Travis and leads to my house. Every minute or so, I glance at the package Emily gave me, and I know that it’s later, even if there’s not a chocolate crumb in sight.
I can’t help it. From the time I was a toddler, I’ve never been able to stand not knowing the answer to something. Whether it’s a question at school or how something works or what’s in a wrapped present—it doesn’t matter. My curiosity drives me crazy until I feel like I’ll die if I don’t find the answer.
For years it was so bad that my mom had to hide my presents under lock and key until she wanted to give them to me—for Christmas or my birthday or whatever. If she left them out, wrapped, it was pretty much a guarantee that I was going to get into them. I couldn’t help it. It didn’t matter what was in the boxes—doll or clothes, video game or gardening supplies, the not knowing simply made me nuts.
Which is why the second I pull Zeus into my garage, I’m ripping into Emily’s present. I grin when I see what she got me, and can’t stop the little bobble of excitement that works its way through me. A first run copy of Stone Temple Pilots’s CD Core, autographed by the entire band. Could she have picked a more perfect gift?
I grab my phone, text her a thank you. She texts back before I even get to the front door. “I knew u couldn’t wt. It’s a sickness, Pandora. Srsly. Get help now. LOL.”
I let myself into the house, noticing as I do that there are three gift wrapped boxes on the kitchen counter that weren’t there this morning. Mom must have gotten her secretary, Lorraine, to sneak in with them while I was at school. Little had Lorraine known when she took the job three years ago that it involved more than planning my mom’s schedule—it involved being a surrogate mother to me as well.
Making a mental note to call Lorraine and thank her, I walk right by the boxes—it’s not like I don’t already know what’s in them. A bunch of designer clothes that I don’t want and won’t wear. I’d much prefer tickets to the Muse concert in San Antonio next month for a fraction of the price. But for my mom, hope springs eternal and she’s convinced that one day I’ll follow in her footsteps.
I love her, I do, but I would rather eat dirt than become a scum-sucking corporate lawyer.
Still, I can’t help feeling ridiculous for being unhappy over a present most people would be thrilled about. Talk about giving rich people a bad name.
Not sure what else to do with myself, I trudge up to my room and dump my stuff. My stomach growls and I think about going back down to the kitchen and grabbing something to eat, but I’m too apathetic. Instead, I turn on the Core CD and just lie on the bed and stare at the ceiling, contemplating what it means to be seventeen while Wicked Garden and Sex Type Thing play in the background.
Being seventeen isn’t much different than being sixteen, I suppose. But still, it’s a little disappointing. Not crazy disappointing like it was last year, when I stood in front of my mirror for an hour looking for something different about me that proved I was sixteen. That I had somehow changed and matured.
I’d ended up having to settle for a new zit on my chin, which so hadn’t been what I’d been hoping for.
So this year, I know better than to expect a whole metamorphosis. But still, it’d be nice for something to be different. For something to change. I feel like I’ve been living the same life, doing the same things, for so long that any transformation—as long as it doesn’t involve acne—would be welcome.
Eventually my hunger gets the best of me and I cruise down to the kitchen. On the way, I flick on the television and start streaming the first season of Supernatural from Netflix right where I left off—at Episode Four, Phantom Traveler. Then I head to the pantry and pour myself a bowl of cereal. Crunch berries, of course. Between mouthfuls, I grab my laptop from its perennial spot on the kitchen table and boot it up.
I play around for a while—Facebook stuff, checking out the Cliff notes for Othello, looking for a new pair of boots as my old ones are pretty much trashed. By then it’s after four o’clock and my mom still hasn’t called. I check my phone to see if I missed a text from her—sometimes reception can be spotty in the house—but there’s nothing, so I log onto my email to see if she sent my happy birthday wishes that way.
There’s nothing from my mom, but after I sort through the spam that somehow managed to get through my filter, the e-birthday card my other best friend Jules sent me, and a couple of other birthday wishes from places like Origins and my dentist, I realize there is one other email in my in-box. And the name of the sender has every part of me turning cold.
It’s from Mitchell Walker. My father. The subject line reads, only, Happy Birthday.
I stare at it for a long time, wondering what I’m supposed to do with it. Should I open it? Delete it? Or simply ignore it until my mother gets home next week?
I roll the mouse over it, once, twice, but every time I get ready to click on this first piece of correspondence I’ve received from my father ever, my mom’s voice echoes in my head. “Your father is a very bad man and I don’t want you to have anything to do with him. If he calls you, hang up on him. If he comes to the door, don’t answer it. If he sends you a letter, don’t read it. Promise me, Pandora. You can’t have anything to do with this man. Ever. Promise me.”
I’d promised her—what else could I do when she sounded so distraught? I’d only been six or seven at the time, and a letter from my father in our mailbox had set her off. She’d made me renew that promise numerous times in the last ten years and I always had, because doing anything else would make the glazed, frazzled look in her eye turn downright psychotic. I know this because I tried to ask her some questions about him once. The result hadn’t been pretty—for anyone.
And now here he is, on my email, with birthday greetings. She’ll never have to know, a voice whispers in the back of my head. I won’t have to tell her, if all it’s going to do is upset her. I could just read the email and then delete it and she’d never have to find out.
Even as I tell myself not to do it, even as I let her warnings well up in my head, I know it’s already too late. This is a letter from my father, from the man I’ve been curious about for as long as I’d known that I should have a father but didn’t. There’s no way I’m not at least going to see what the man has to say.
I open the email, then skim the letter there. It’s relatively short considering it’s the only email he’s ever sent me, but it has excitement thrumming through me anyway. I settle back and begin to read in detail.
I know it must seem strange to hear from me after all this time, but I wanted to wish you a happy seventeenth birthday. I’ve tried on numerous occasions through the years to get in touch with you—have sent cards, presents, letters on your birthday—but they’ve all come back unopened. I suppose I should take the hint, but I couldn’t give up without trying at least once more to contact you.
I want you to know that not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and wonder how you’re doing. What you’re learning. What your friends are like. What instrument you play or if you prefer sports to music. It’s not much to go on after seventeen years of absence, but please know that you’ve always been in my heart and mind.
I hope, so much, that you’re doing well and that you’re happy. I like to think of you the way you were the last time I saw you—giggling and scooting your way across the floor on your tricycle. I didn’t want to leave that night, but your mother insisted. And she was right, though it pains me to admit it even now.
I know I have no right to ask this of you, and if you don’t want to know, simply delete this email and you’ll never hear from me again. But for years I’ve wanted to tell you my side of the story. For years, I’ve wanted to fill you in on everything you don’t know about me and my side of the family. So I’ve typed up all the letters that I’ve sent you through the years, including one for this year, your seventeenth.
In these letters is the answer to any question I could imagine you asking. About me. About yourelf. About your mother and her relationship with me. About why we’ve chosen to live our lives so far apart. If you want to know the answers to these things, click on the attachment I’ve included. If you don’t want to know, simply ignore it and I promise I’ll never contact you again.
Take care, sweetheart and know that no matter what route you take, I will understand. And love you anyway.
I sit in the kitchen for long minutes after I finish reading his note, not moving, barely breathing, just trying to absorb everything he’s said. And everything that he hasn’t.
All the answers to my questions—and I have hundreds of them—are in the attachment. All I have to do is click on it and I’ll know, finally, why he’d walked away from me and my mother. And why he’s never come back.
Even as I tell myself it doesn’t matter, even as I tell myself that it’s too late and I don’t care anymore, my hand hovers over the mouse. Because the truth of the matter is I do care, even after all this time.
Without giving myself any more time to think about it, afraid if I do I’ll change my mind, I click on the attachment. Hit download file, then open. And wait desperately for the words that might change my life.
They never come.
So great, right??
Don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Tracy Deebs, and MANY more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 3. (And that’s not just cause it was assigned to me–it really is!) Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the red team and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!