This fast-paced thriller begins when thirteen-year-old Ethan Turner innocently steps into the middle of a toxic-gas terrorist attack. He survives the environmental terrorist attack, but the toxic gas he breathes triggers memories from when he was very young. The problem is, those memories don’t match up with anything he knows and remembers about his childhood and his family.
Ethan’s search for the truth lands him right in the middle of an environmental terrorist group that is about to release a pandemic-grade virus on the world. It’s up to Ethan to save himself, everyone he cares about, and the entire world.
Targeted Age Group:: 10-14
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love to read exciting books with unexpected twists and turns. I love it when a book surprises me with something I never saw coming. I wanted to write a book that readers can't put down because they just have to find out what happens next.
Trees covered with millions of colored lights, a fresh blanket of snow, Christmas carols playing softly in the background, death.
No one believes those things go together. An hour or two earlier I wouldn’t have either.
The giant, glowing Mormon temple stood guard over the grounds we wandered, helping the Christmas lights hold back the darkness of the evening sky. It was still really early in December, but I think they turned the lights on pretty soon after Thanksgiving. Temple Square begged to be photographed. My biggest gripe at that moment was the ache in my gut that I hadn’t saved enough money to buy the professional-grade camera I had my heart set on. My camera phone was okay, but it would never do the scene justice.
Min Li’s elbow nudged me. “Let’s see.”
I tilted my screen toward her. “Not bad, considering.” I’d never get the chance to photograph this place the way I wanted to since Mom and Dad would move us out of Utah long before next Christmas rolled around.
As if she were reading my mind, Mom called, “Ethan, we’re leaving now.”
My heart lurched painfully in my chest. I’d never wanted to stay in an area as much as I wanted to stay here with the first real friend I’d had in a long time. But no. Mom just meant we were leaving the temple grounds.
Min Li almost walked right in front of a man taking a picture of his wife and three kids. I grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
“I’ll take it, if you want to get in the picture,” I told the man.
“Thanks.” He handed over his phone. “I appreciate it.”
Photo snapped and phone returned, Min Li and I jogged to catch up with our families.
“Great outing,” Dad said to Mr. and Mrs. Castello as we traded the jam-packed crowds on the temple grounds for the jam-packed crowds on the wide downtown Salt Lake City sidewalk. “Thanks for suggesting it.”
“Everyone has to experience Temple Square at Christmastime at least once in their lives,” said Mrs. Castello. She easily maneuvered the double-wide stroller around an approaching pedestrian then came to a sudden stop. “Madison, Gabe isn’t strapped in tight. Grab him please.”
Min Li rolled her eyes and kept walking—once again ignoring her mother’s use of her American name.
“Min Li,” I said. It’s her Chinese name, the one she was born with. I don’t know when she decided to use it instead of the American name her parents gave her when they adopted her, but it was before I moved here. Min Li’s what I’ve always known her as. She told me she’s trying to connect with her roots or something, which is cool. I guess. I don’t really care which name she uses, but I know which one she likes right now.
She turned to me, all smiles. “Yes, Ethan?”
I pointed at the stroller. “Your mom wants you to grab Gabe.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got him.” My dad jumped in front of the stroller and scooped up Min Li’s Haitian-born adopted brother, Gabe. Two seconds later Gabe rode high above the crowd on Dad’s shoulders. Not to be left behind, Gabe’s twin, Matt, screeched, giving Mom the perfect excuse to snatch him up. I was thirteen, so it’d been a long time since Mom or Dad had a little kid to play with. They grabbed the chance to play with the Castello twins as often as they could.
I swiped through the photos I’d taken as Min Li and I walked ahead of our parents.
“You know, Mr. Holden could help you do amazing things with those,” she said. “Have your parents given you an answer about starting public school so you can take his digital art class with me?”
“They’re not going to go for it. They’re pretty firm on sticking with homeschool.” I shoved my phone in my pocket, hunching my shoulders against a sudden gust of cold air that hit me from behind. “But I think they might give in and let me enroll in that one class.”
Min Li let out a happy squeal. “Really? Ethan, it’s going to be so awesome! We’re going to have so much fun.”
“I know. Especially if Mr. Holden is as great as you keep telling me.”
“He is. At least that’s what everybody says. I haven’t actually taken a class from him yet. You’re going to have to hurry and get registered. Second semester starts January eighteenth.”
“I know. I will.” As soon as I pried the actual permission from my parents’ lips. They weren’t quite as close to giving it as I’d led Min Li to believe. I loved photography and might even want to be a pro someday. If I could start learning now from a great teacher, it would be awesome. My parents had to let me take the class.
“You should do it right away. If you wait until the week before the semester starts, tons of kids start messing with their schedules, and the class might fill up. I checked with my counselor, and she assured me there’s one spot open. You need to—”
“I know.” I interrupted her. We’d reached the intersection and had to stop to wait for the light. I jumped onto the concrete edge of a big planter. “I’ll take care of it. Just give me a couple days.”
Dad, with Gabe still on his shoulders, rushed toward me. “Get him!” Dad yelled, bending forward to head-butt Gabe into the middle of my chest. Did he really have to get into one of his goofy moods right now, in the middle of this huge crowd with all these people watching? I slipped off the planter, barely managing to land on my feet. “Grab his hair,” Dad encouraged Gabe. The tug didn’t hurt, but a huge glob of drool dribbled down the middle of my forehead.
“Dad! Gross. Get him off.”
Mom angled around in front of me. “Here, Ethan, let us get that for you.” She held Matt close to my face and let him smack my nose with his chubby palms.
“Great. Real nice.” Sure my parents were young, but I was the kid. Wish someone would remind them every once in a while. The instant the traffic light turned red, I made my escape, bolting into the crosswalk and away from my parents.
“Ethan!” Mom called out.
“What?” All the cars had stopped. Except one. In the brief moment between one set of lights turning red and the other set turning green, a driver gunned his engine. The ancient brown hunk of metal took off from a couple feet in front of me. I jumped back. With a screech of tires against asphalt, the driver stopped right in the middle of the intersection.
I stood about a third of the way through the crosswalk. Everyone near the intersection, inside cars and on sidewalks, froze in place.
Impatient drivers inched their cars forward and blasted their horns. The driver climbed
out of the stalled car. He wore all black—jeans and a hoodie with a ski mask covering his face. And gloves. Thin, leave-no-fingerprints-behind gloves. My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. Tire screeches cut through the air again. I stumbled back a step. A small black car flew past me, practically clipping my foot. The car skidded to a stop right next to the first driver. Now both cars were stopped, side-by-side, in the middle of the intersection, facing away from me. The passenger-side door of the small black car swung open. Before first driver—the man dressed like a bank robber leapt inside—he paused, looking over the roof of the black car. He said something to the driver and pointed straight at—I followed his gaze—no way. He was pointing at my parents.
No way. Mom and Dad stood at the curb, still holding the twins. By the time I turned back toward the driver he’d already jumped inside the black car. Half a second later it sped forward into the empty lanes in front of it, tires screaming.
A loud hiss came from the brown car. Drivers around the intersection let up on their horns. An eerie silence settled over the growing crowd of stunned pedestrians. Frantic fingers dialed 9-1-1 all around me.
Smoke curled out of the car, first in one wispy tendril, but soon pouring out in thick, snaking streams. It didn’t look like smoke from a fire. It moved with a cool, animalistic motion and had a light pink tint illuminated by various flashes of colored holiday lights. The smoke slithered through the air and along the ground in writhing tentacles.
“Ethan!” Dad yelled. “Come back here.”
As smoke filled the car, the city backlit a silhouette in the backseat. Someone sat in there. Move! I wanted to scream. Get out of there! Why didn’t he?
My blood turned to ice. He couldn’t. For some reason he was stuck inside. The passenger was going to die. Ignoring the frantic cries of my parents, I ran straight for the car.
A man cut in front of me. He was tall. Fast. Strong, too, most likely. He beat me to the car by a good ten feet. He sucked in a deep breath, flung open the back door, sucked in a deep breath, and plunged inside to pull out the passenger.
He might need help. I moved closer. The passenger slipped out easily enough—too easy and light for a human being. The rescuer flung a mannequin to the ground. I skittered back several paces. Thick rivers of red paint stained the dummy’s face, making it look like blood streamed from its eyes.
My stomach roiled. The second before I turned to flee, a gust of wind whipped the strange pink smoke into the unprotected face of the rescuer. He wasn’t holding his breath anymore. He wasn’t expecting it. Wincing, he stumbled and swayed. Smoke slithered into his mouth and up his nose. His eyes rolled up in his head. He collapsed. Though I stood too far away, my hands stretched out to grab him.
“Ethan!” Mom and Dad raced toward me. But the rescuer. The cold, hard pressure in my chest begged me to run away. Escape. Hide. Let my parents drag me to safety. If I did, the noxious pink tendrils would wriggle deeper inside the rescuer’s body. Spinning on my heel, I took one sprinting step toward the car and straight into a swirling wisp of pink smoke. The slightest hint of sharp, stinging heat burned my nose before hands yanked me out of the intersection.
“You can’t help him,” said Dad with equal parts fear and anger. “Not without some sort of gas mask. Think about what you’re doing every once in a while, will you?”
“Did you breathe it?” Mom’s voice was extra shrill. She and Dad rushed me down the sidewalk, away from the intersection. “Thomas, did you see him breathe it?”
“I’m not sure,” said Dad.
Wrenching my neck, I strained to look back at the man near the car. Several people rushed in to help him. He lay on the ground, his entire body violently shaking. His eyes bulged and his mouth twisted into a wide, gaping hole. Screams filled the air. I wanted to scream too.
All around us people jumped out of their cars and fled, leaving doors hanging wide open. I was in the middle of a mindless, panicked crowd. Mom and Dad stayed tight by my side, hustling me away from the car and the smoke.
Mrs. Castello had disappeared with the twins, but Mr. Castello and Min Li weren’t too far ahead of us. Min Li stumbled as several people ran between her and her dad, pushing him farther away from her. When we caught up to her I grabbed her by her coat sleeve and pulled her along. Dad pushed his way through the crowd like a snowplow. Mom clutched the back of his jacket, dragging Min Li and me in his wake.
I couldn’t get the image of the rescuer’s terrified face out of my mind. The burning in my nose crept into the back of my throat.
“Mom,” I said as we ran. “I breathed it.”
“Thomas. We have to get Ethan to a hospital. Now.”
Dad stopped and spun around. People streamed past us. He grabbed me by the shoulders and studied my face, his eyes frantic. “Are you sure you breathed it? How much?”
Min Li whipped out her phone, her voice soft and shaky. “Dad? Ethan breathed that stuff. He needs a hospital.”
My stomach cramped. My nose and throat flamed like a bottle of hot sauce had been poured on them. Black spots took over my vision. Everything around me was chaotic movement and deafening noise as people raced away from the death and terror in that car.
They still had a chance to get away.
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Kristen Landon's writing has been described as "fast-paced and inventive" – Kirkus Review.
Before going to sleep each night she always wants to read just a few more pages – or chapters. Now the page-turners she writes have the same effect on young readers, getting them in trouble for staying up to read when they're supposed to be asleep.
Kristen lives with her family in a home with fabulous views of Utah's beautiful mountains out every window.