Neal Shusterman

For Stephanie, my editorial muse

“When the parched land yields neither fruit nor flower, grain nor greens, a man will ask himself if the blame lies in the sheer weight of his transgressions, or is it just global warming?”


1. The Real Reason People Sit Like Idiots Watching Parades

It was all my idea. The stupid ones usually are. Once in a while the genius ideas are mine, too. Not on purpose, though. You know what they say: if you put, like, fourteen thousand monkeys in front of computer keyboards for a hundred years, aside from a whole lot of dead monkeys, you’d end up with one masterpiece among the garbage. Then they’d start teaching it in schools to make you feel miserable, because if a monkey can write something brilliant, why can’t you put five measly sentences together for a writing prompt?

This idea—I don’t know whether it was a brilliant-monkey idea, or a stupid-Antsy idea, but it sure had power to change a whole lot of lives.

I called the idea “time shaving,” which probably isn’t what you think it is, so before you start whipping up time machines in your head, you need to listen to what it’s all about. Nobody’s going back in time to nuke Napoleon, or give Jesus a cell phone or anything. There’s no time travel at all. People are going to die, though—and in strange and mysterious ways, too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Me, I was just trying to help a friend. I never meant for it to blow up like a giant Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon that gets taken away by the wind.

Which, by the way, is exactly how the whole thing began.

On Thanksgiving morning, my friends Howie and Ira and I were hanging out in my recreational attic. We used to have a recreational basement—you know, full of all our old cruddy furniture, a TV, and a big untouchable space in the corner that was going to be for a pool table when we could afford it in some distant Star Trek- like future. Then the basement gets this toxic mold, and we have to seal it off from the rest of the house, on account of the mold might escape and cause cancer, or brain damage, or take over the world. Even after the mold was cleaned out, my parents treated the basement like a radiation zone, uninhabitable for three generations.

So now we have a recreational attic, full of new old furniture, and space maybe for a Monopoly board instead of a pool table.

Anyway, Howie, Ira, and I were watching football that Thanksgiving morning, switching to the parade during commercials to make fun of the marching bands.

“Ooh! Ooh! Look at this one!” said Ira, with an expression that was a weird mix of joy and horror at the same time.

To the band’s credit, they were playing an impressive rendition of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but anything cool about it was ruined by their pink-and-orange uniforms. Howie shakes his head. “As long as they dress like that, they’re never getting any satisfaction.”

“Antsy, don’t you have a shirt like that?” asks Ira. My name’s actually Anthony, but people have called me Antsy for so long, I oughta get it legally changed. I like it because there are so many Anthonys in the neighborhood, if some mother calls the name out a window, the stampede stops traffic. I’m the only Antsy, though—except for this one time a kid tried to steal it and call himself Antsy, so I had to start writing my name “Antsy®,” and I threatened to punch him out for identity theft.

So anyway, about the shirt, although I hate to admit it, yeah, I do have a shirt in orange and pink, although it was a different shade of pink.

“Just because I have it doesn’t mean I wear it,” I tell Ira. The shirt was a birthday gift from my aunt Mona, who has no kids or common sense. I’ll give you one guess how many times I’ve worn it since my fourteenth birthday.

“You think anyone’s documented seizures from looking at that color combination?” asks Howie. “We should run some tests.”

“Great. I’ll get my shirt, you can stare at it for six hours, and we’ll see if you go into convulsions.”

Howie seriously considers this. “Can I break for meals?”

Let me try to explain Howie to you. You know that annoying automated customer-service voice on the phone that wastes your time before making you hold for a real person? Well, Howie’s the music on hold. It’s not that Howie’s dumb—he’s got a fertile mind when it comes to analytical stuff like math—but his imagination is a cold winter in Antarctica where the penguins never learned to swim.

On TV, the band had almost passed, and one of the giant parade balloons could be seen in the distance. This one was the classic cartoon Roadkyll Raccoon, complete with that infamous tire track down his back, the size of a monster-truck tread. We were about to turn the TV back to football, but then Ira noticed something.

“Is it my imagination, or is Roadkyll on the warpath?”

Sure enough, Roadkyll is kicking and bucking like he’s Godzilla trying to take out Tokyo. Then this huge gust of wind rips off the band members’ hats, and when the gust reaches Roadkyll, he kind of peels himself off the street, and heads to the skies. Most of the balloon handlers have the good sense to let go, except for three morons who decide to go up with the ship.

Suddenly this is more interesting than the game.

Howie sighs. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Helium kills.”

The cameras were no longer watching the parade—they’re all aimed at the airborne raccoon as it rises in an updraft along the side of the Empire State Building, with the three balloon wranglers clinging like circus acrobats. Then, just as it looks like Roadkyll might be headed for the moon, he gets snagged on top of the Empire State Building and punctures. In less than a minute the balloon has totally deflated over the spire, covering the top of the Empire State Building in rubber coonskin and stranding the three danglers, who hang from their ropes for their lives.

I was the first one out of my seat.

“Let’s go,” I said, because there are some events in life that are better experienced in person than viewed on TV.

We took the subway into Manhattan—usually a crowded ride from our little corner of Brooklyn, but since it was Thanksgiving, the trains were mostly empty, except for others like ourselves who were on their way to the Empire State Building to watch history in the making.

Ira, who has an intense and questionable relationship with his video camera, was lovingly cleaning the lens as he prepared to record today’s event for future generations. Howie was reading Of Mice and Men, which we all had to read for English. It’s a book the teachers use to trick us—because it’s really thin, but it’s like, deep, so you gotta read it twice.

Across from us in the train was Gunnar Umlaut—a kid who moved here from Sweden when we were all in elementary school. Gunnar’s got long blond hair he makes no excuse for, and a resigned look of Scandinavian

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