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$18.

99/higher in canada
author photo by dana gallagher

pr aise for

UNDERTOW

In a world divided by hate,


love is the most dangerous choice.

Undertow overflows with innovative, terrifying monstershuman, emotional and undersea. Landmark Coney Island becomes a dystopian state where two different species battle
for dominance, and Lyric Walker is both a unique, quirky heroine and a fearless crusader.
Allegorical and romantic, the book nevertheless reads like an action movie with especially
awesome CGI.E. LOCKHART, author of we were liars and the disreputable history

yric Walkers life forever changes the night

of frankie landau -banks

she witnesses the arrival of the Alpha, or

Undertow crashes over you in waves of emotion, allowing glimpses of family and loyalty,
before dragging you into the depths of human prejudice, cultural mistrust, and political
corruption. Once you resurface, youll view the world through different eyes.
A.G. HOWARD, new york times best-selling author of the splintered series

MICHAEL BUCKLEYs two bestselling series, the Sisters Grimm and NERDS,
have sold more than 2.5 million copies and
appear in twenty-two languages. He has also
worked as a standup comic, a television writer,
an advertising copywriter, a pasta maker, and
a singer in a punk rock band. He lives in
Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Alison, and
their son, Finn.
Visit his website at
www.michaelbuckleywrites.com.

First Men. The worlds initial wonder

and awe over the new race quickly turn into


paranoia and fear, transforming her hometown
of Coney Island into a military zone with vio-

Undertow will unexpectedly grab hold and pull you out into a world of epic romance and
gritty suspense. A must-read tale of how love can survive under the most dangerous circumstances. It will leave you gasping for air, and for more.TONYA HURLEY, new york times

lence bubbling just beneath the surface.


Despite her best efforts, Lyric is thrust into

best- selling author of the ghostgirl series and the blessed trilogy

the middle of this clash of civilizations when

A gritty, turbulent novel as sweeping and deep as the ocean itself. Undertow will pull you
in and hold you down.REBECCA SERLE, author of when you were mine and the

the Alpha teenagers are forced into her high


school and she is recruited to help their crown

edge of falling

prince, a battle-scarred boy named Fathom,


adjust to life as an American teenager. Fathom

Lyric is a girls girlas savvy as she is soulful, as sharp as she is tender. Lyrics fierce,
distinctive voice is the core magnetic force of Undertow, and why we will all be stampeding
for more.ADELE GRIFFIN, author of all you never wanted and the unfinished life of

is full of anger, and violence follows him everywhere, yet she finds herself drawn to him. Their

addison stone

love, however, is a dangerous one, with forces

A solidly entertaining adventure with the perfect amount of romance and danger. In
Lyric, Buckley has created a phenomenal new heroine. Smart and snarky, with rough edges
and killer fashion sense, Lyric is a girl to be celebrated. SLJ, starred review

on both sides working to keep them apart, and


it threatens to expose a shocking secret Lyric
and her family have been keeping since she

Jacket illustration 2015 by Shane Rebenschied

was a baby.

Jacket design by Lisa Vega

And while the world sees the Alpha as an


invading army, Lyric discovers that they are in
fact humanitys only hope of survival, because

$18.99/Higher in Canada
ISBN 978-0-544-34825-7

www.hmhco.com
Follow us on Twitter: @HMHKids

1585834

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

theres something much more terrifying than


the Alpha. And its on its way.

Copyright 2015 by Michael Buckley


All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections
from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
www.hmhco.com
The text was set in Dante MT Std .
Book design by Lisa Vega
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Buckley, Michael, 1969
Undertow / Michael Buckley.
pages cm
Summary: A sixteen-year-old girl is caught in an epic clash of
civilizations when a society of undersea warriors marches out
of the ocean into modern-day Coney Island.
ISBN 978-0-544-34825-7
[1. SurvivalFiction. 2. LoveFiction.
3. Coney Island (New York, N.Y.)Fiction. 4. Fantasy.] I. Title.
PZ7.B882323Un 2015
[Fic]dc23

2014038317

Manufactured in the United States of America


TK 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
45XXXXXXXX

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c h a p ter one

ou can hear them coming from blocks away, a low

thrum like the plucking of a bass string. As they


grow closer it becomes a buzz in your inner ear, like
hornets building a nest in your brain. By the time they reach
your street, when they are right outside your window, the
sound is unbearable: a rogue wave of moans and shrieks that
rises higher and higher into a great crescendo of terror, the
stuff of nightmares. You cant sleep through it. There is no
pillow in the world big enough to block out their howls. Just
pull the blankets up over your head and wait for them to pass.
They will. They always do.
I am not without fear, but my curiosity gets the best of me
every time. I leap from my bed, pull up my blackout blinds,
press my face against the windowpane, and squint hard before
they melt back into the shadows. Like most nights, I am too
late. Theyre here and then theyre gone, like lightning bolts
stabbing at the flesh of night. The only evidence they were
here at all is the ragged wound in the peace and quiet.
But theres still plenty to see. From not far behind comes a

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mob of men and boys armed with bats and booze, our neighborhoods self-appointed guard dogs. They bark threats and
give chase. And then, to close the show, here come the police
with their lights and squealing squad-car tires. An amplified
voice demands that everyone clear the streets, while a helicopter hovers overhead, poking into backyards and abandoned
lots with its frantic spotlight. I hear a gunshot. Pop! Then more.
Pop! Pop!
Its after curfew in Coney Island.
You should be asleep, my mother says. Shes a silhouette in the yellow light of the hall. Tomorrow is going to be a
crazy day.
Theyre on the run tonight, I explain.
She nudges some space next to me at the window and
gazes into the now-empty street. Her shoulders and neck muscles tighten into knots. Her breathing is heavy. She uses her
thumb to dig into the meat of her palms. I dont like this version of herthis jittery deer ready to sprint for cover at the
slightest sound. I miss my happy mom, my bouncy, flip-flops,
cutoff-shorts mom. My Summer Walker, version 1.0.
With a snap the blackout blind comes back down, and
she shoos me toward my bed. Theyre probably scavenging.
Hows your head? she asks.
Its an F4, but it feels like its going to be an F5 soon.
Mom flinches. I have been getting migraines since I was a
toddler, and somewhere along the line we started categorizing
their shapes and sizes like hurricanes. F1 is the ever-present
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storm in my gray matter. An F5 is a motherfr, on-the-floor,


curled-up-in-a-ball, puking, sobbing, wanting-to-throw-rocksat God state of emergency.
Youve wound yourself up over tomorrow, she scolds.
How can I not wind myself up over tomorrow? I cry.
Why is this place so hot? she says, then rushes out of
my room. I follow and find her frantically twisting the knobs
on our apartments sole air conditioner, a prehistoric, brokendown dinosaur my father purchased before I was born. Each
night in the raging, humid heat of Coney Island it clings to life,
wheezing out puffs of air one might describe as toasty. Mom
pushes something, and the machine breaks into the hacking fit
of an old chain smoker. She quickly turns another knob, and
it kicks and spits before settling back into its usual fluttering
rattle.
We have money for a new one, I say.
That money is for emergencies, she whispers.
Mom, the emergency happened three years
Ill run a bath.
I think I just need some
Boom! The F5 has arrived. The pain is a sucker punch to the
temple, an explosion that feels like the plates of my skull have
just expanded and then fallen back down into a jumbled mess.
Heat spreads across my face, a forest fire in my frontal lobe. It
sweeps down my neck and burns down the base of my spine. I
fall to my knees, hands on my ears, doing everything I can to
not vomit.
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Mom, I squeak.
Shes pulling on my arm, trying to get me up on my feet
again, but thenboom!Im on my back. I can barely remember where I am, who I am.
Dont panic, Lyric! Just breathe. She crawls onto the floor
and wraps herself around me like shes trying to shield me
from hand-grenade shrapnel. Her arms are strong. They whisper and soothe. I am your mother. I will take care of you.
I hate my brain, I whimper through snot and tears.
I know. She repeats it over and over again.
When I can stand, she helps me into the bathroom. I sit
on the edge of our claw-foot tub and watch cold water gather
around the rusty drain. When its full, she helps me out of my
clothes and steadies me. Stepping into it is like easing into a
cup of frozen yogurt: creamy, cold, comforting. It takes a while
to adjust to the temperature, but its the only thing that helps.
When I can stand it, I nestle down, deep as I can go.
I miss the beach, I say as I close my eyes for a moment,
flying off to the shoreline, where she and I would sit for hours
as the Atlantics roar scared off my pain. It eased the agony
without fail, like natures morphine, but were not allowed to
go to the beach anymore, not since they arrived.
I miss it too. Each word is interwoven with guilt. She
blames herself for what has happened to our neighborhood
the fighting, the martial law, the hate.
Wheres Dad? I say, hoping he wasnt one of the cops
down in the street.
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She dips a washcloth into the water, wrings it out, then lays
it over my eyes. At the precinct. Mike wants everyone to go
over the plans for tomorrow one more time. There are a lot of
moving parts with the FBI and all those soldiers. But theyll be
ready. Dont be worried.
Im not, I lie.
Things will get better. Youll see. Now shes lying.
I sink down farther, completely submerging myself. Its
down here where I feel most safe, where the headaches retreat,
where the roar of the water drowns out the thrum.

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hear her tapping her foot, her impatient sighs, her

orchestra of little noises demanding I start my day,


but I refuse to open my eyes. I was up all night with
a migraine, an anxious mother, and a father pacing back
and forth until he wore a path in the carpet. If I open my
eyes, I have to accept that it is Monday morning, the Monday morning all of Coney Island and I have been dreading
for months.
Lyric Walker, I know youre awake. Get your butt out of
that bed.
Go away.
I slide farther under my sheet and curl in on myself all rolypoly-like, hoping she will see my resolve and go to school without me. If I can just get small enough, she will have to give up,
right?
Weve got to get you ready, she says as she rips off my
cocoon. When I scramble for pillows, she snatches them away
too. Theres nowhere to hide, and when she turns off my

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sound machine and pulls up my blackout blinds, I surrender.


Im going to school.
I hate you, Bex Conrad, I growl.
Blame the Big Guy. He told me to wake you up, she says
as she turns her attention to my dresser drawers. She peers
inside each one, digging for buried treasures shes overlooked
the hundred or so times shes already gone through them. Bex
covets my clothesall of thembecause, one, I have the best
clothes, and two, her mom is a screwup who cant hold a job
and wouldnt give two thoughts if Bex wore a paper sack to
school. Today, however, shes fierce, wearing a black miniskirt
and a Hello Kitty T-shirt thats easily two sizes too small for
her. Shes got on the Mary Janes she swiped from under my
bed last month that add a couple of inches to her already tallass frame. Her hair is clean and sleek, her makeup sick. Everything about her shouts, Jealous, much? Which means she is
not here at this ungodly hour for my clothes.
Tammy let him back in the house?
She shrugs. Tammy is her mother in the loosest form of
the word. Him is the devil incarnateher stepfather, Russell.
What does he have to do before shes had enough?
I guess something worse than assault and battery, she
says flippantly.
I frown. Bexs problems are hidden by walls made of jokes
and smiles. Even after all this time, I am rarely allowed inside.
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Bex, I
She finds a black bangle I bought at a yard sale and slips it
onto her wrist. Then she takes a peek in the mirror. This is
now mine.
Bex, seriously. Are you okay? Is he still drinking?
Where are all your sexy clothes? You have to look hot.
Bex, dont change the subject.
We might be on TV.
Bex continues rummaging through my things. She has
said all shes going to on the subject. Shell share when shes
ready and not a moment sooner.
Lets skip school, I say.
Theyre arresting everyone who tries.
My dads a cop.
You think the Big Guy wont arrest you? She laughs, then
opens another drawer. Where are the skirts, Lyric? Where are
the tank tops? Are you Amish all of a sudden?
Who cares what we wear? No one is going to notice us.
Not today.
Bex stops and stares at me with a mix of horror and bewilderment. Theyll notice us! There will be cameras everywhere, and I guarantee you we will both be on some website
like Hot Girls of Fish City dot-com. Unless you try to pull the
little-matchstick-girl look again, which I am here to prevent.
I lumber to the window and cringe at what I see below.
News trucks are parked up and down my street, each with a
massive satellite dish mounted on its roof. Reporters spring
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from them like jack-in-the-boxes and charge across the road


with camera operators in tow. They claim their inch of the
sidewalk and prep for their live at the scene reports. There
are a few news choppers buzzing around in the sky too. The
whole world is looking into our fishbowl today.
Bex abandons my dresser and moves on to my closet,
where an enormous overstuffed backpack blocks the door.
Its the kind you take for climbing mountains, and its packed
tight. When she tries to shove it aside, it topples over, nearly
taking her with it.
Will you do something with this, already? Its always in
the way. What the hell is in it?
Just some stuff Im going to donate to Goodwill, I lie.
Hey! I get first dibs on everything, she says with mock
offense. She goes to work on the zipper before I pull it away.
Its just socks and underwear.
Youre donating used socks and underwear to the poor?
With all the bull I shovel every single day, I should be getting pretty good at it, but Im a total amateur when I have to lie
to Bex. I wish I could tell her the truth about everything, like
what is in the backpack, at the very bottom, loaded and ready,
just in case. It would be nice to tell someoneI would feel a lot
less lonelybut the truths I keep from her, and everyone else,
are just too burdensome to share. Theyre the kind that stand
on your neck and wont let you up.
Thats gross, Lyric, she says, then shoos the backpack
away like it ... well, like its really full of used socks and undies.
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The closet doors fly open, followed by a symphony of squeals.


Inside are thrift-store treasures: artfully ripped jeans, vintage
band T-shirts, authentic 1950s housedresses, day-glo bangles,
cocktail dresses, big clunky shoes (both awkward and terrible
for walking), and dozens of peculiar hats stored in hatboxes.
Ive been collecting it all since I was ten, digging through bins
at the Salvation Army and stalking eBay. I had big plans for
these clothes, but now my closet is a museum dedicated to a
life interrupted. I cant wear any of it, not if I want to fade into
the background of this town. Not that I want to, but its safer
that way.
Bex, however, refuses to give up on me.
What says, Look at me? she cries as she sorts through
the rack, dragging things out, eyeballing them, then tossing
aside what does not meet her approval. Oh, yes, this is the
one.
Shes found it. Buried far in the back, as far as I could hide
it, is a vintage champagne-colored flapper dress. She holds it
up against my body and gasps. Its beaded and hangs about
midthigh on me, shimmering like heat on asphalt. I discovered
it buried inside an old chest at an estate sale in Gravesend and
guessed it was from the 1920s and probably one of a kind. The
owners son let me haggle him down to ten dollars just before
the vintage-shop vultures swooped through the doors. One
of them chased meliterally chased medown the sidewalk
and offered me three hundred bucks for it, but I couldnt give it
up. I was in love. I carried it home like I would a newborn baby,
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hand washed it, repaired a few loose stitches, and fantasized


about the day my body would fit into it. I was going to wear it
to school and watch boys fall downstairs when I walked by. I
was going to cause a panic in that dress.
This is so inappropriate. Bex giggles and shoves it into
my hands. Its perfect.
A little bit of my heart breaks when I swap it for a pair of
black jeans and a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt instead.
TV! Internet! Bex shouts, and yanks the clothes away.
This outfit will give birth to a billion mean comments. Youll
become a meme like that bitchy cat. Dont shake your head at
me. Im serious. When it happens, I will pretend I dont know
you. Ill be a crappy friend, but Ill do it. I swear.
I reach for my clothes and she reluctantly hands them back.
Her frown shouts, I miss the old Lyric!
I miss her too. I miss the glitter princess and the Sailor
Moon wannabe from four years ago. I miss the days when I
strutted along the catwalk known as Coney Island, all hair and
dangly earrings and clogs like I was fifty feet tall. Now I have
to be small. I have to be a mouse. Squeak. Squeak.
Theres a heavy knock on the door, and then it slowly
opens. My father peeks in, if a six-foot-six-inch cop can peek
in anywhere. Hes a mountain, hands like catchers mitts, and
shoulders as broad as the Brooklyn Bridge. Hes in his police
uniform, black shirt and shorts, sunglasses, and his Easter
Island headalways watching, always unamused.
Lyric, I need to speak to you, he says, gesturing out into
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our tiny living-slash-dining-slash-closet room. I follow and


close the door behind me.
I hope I dont have to tell you how important it is for you
to keep your head down today, he lectures in a low voice.
You dont.
Lyric, dont give me attitude. This is serious.
Dad, I know, I say, squeezing past him to the kitchen,
where there is more room.
Keep your distance. Dont get involved. Dont try to be
nice. Dont talk to the new kids. Just go about your business.
I know! I snap. How many times is he going to deliver
this lecture?
I need to be sure, he hollers.
My mother enters from her bedroom. Her raven hair is
tied up, and her face freshly scrubbed. She looks tired but still
beautiful. Dont fight while Bex is here, she begs us.
Sorry, but Ive heard this speech a million times.
Cut me a break, Lyric, today of all days, my father whispers.
Cut me a break. Im the one who has to go there, I cry,
then turn my attention to my mother. Why are you still in
your pjs? You should get dressed.
She lowers her eyes and shifts from one foot to the next. Its
a sad little dance she does when shes upset.
Youre not coming, I say. Im crushed and dont care to
hide it.
She inhales deeply and looks at my father I want to, but
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My irritation turns to rage and I roast him with my gaze.


Just forget it.
Its too dangerous, my father explains. There will be
police and military everywhere, and then the kids, too. She
could be recognized.
Leonard, no one has identified me yet, she says.
The feds tracked almost all your friends down, Summer,
and each one of them disappeared, along with their families. Its
just you and Angela Benningford now. We cant take the risk.
My mother winces like shes been slapped. Am I going to
miss her graduation?
Youre being ridiculous, Summer.
What about when she gets married? she groans.
Summer.
Are you going to let me see my grandchildren? she cries.
My father throws up his hands. Youre not a prisoner here.
We can always leave, Summer. If we left, we could have normal lives. I have friends at the blockade who could help us get
out even without identification. We could start over in Denver,
or
Shhhh! I point at my bedroom door, quietly dreading
that Bex will burst through it with a million questions. Its a
miracle that she hasnt figured us out yet; the girl who hides in
ugly clothes, the mom who never leaves the house, the father
who lives on the edge of panic. I wait, but there is no burst, no
million questions. Shes probably too busy liberating more of
my clothes.
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Im sorry, my father whispers. I saw Terrance Lir last


night. Hes escorting the children to school and acting as a
spokesperson.
Is Rochelle with him? And Samuel?
My father nods. Theyre all back. There are men with
them too. They look like Secret Service.
Where have they been? I ask.
My father looks at his feet. There are rumors of prison
camps, detention centers, mass graves even, but no one knows
for sure. All we know is that most of Moms friends have vanished, and if were discovered, so will we.
I dont know, but they look horribleskinny as sticks
and wearing the same clothes they had on the day they disappeared.
Have you spoken to him?
Summer, I cant! If someone saw us talking, they might
make the connection.
But he can tell us about my family, my mother begs.
My father shakes his head. Its best if we keep our distance,
especially you, Lyric. Hes going to be in the school every day.
Hes probably going to reach out to you, but you have to avoid
him. You cant let anyone think you know him.
You want me to ignore him? This hurts my heart. Terrance Lir was like an uncle to me when I was little. When he
and his family disappeared, we cried for days. I cant imagine
turning my back on him, especially if hes been suffering.
My mother pulls me into a hug and squeezes like I am
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never coming home again. Her kiss leaves a wet ring of electricity on my cheek. Be careful, and dont forget to breathe.
You too.
She smiles at me. Its a crumpled thing, too small for her
face. I remember when it used to shine like a star, fueled by
her endless joy, but now its running on fumes. She cant even
muster enough power to bring her eyes along for the ride.
My father goes to his room and returns with his gun. While
I eat cereal, he checks the clip to see that its loaded, reinserts
it, and clicks off the safety. He double-checks the charge on
his Taser and gives two canisters of pepper spray good shakes
before putting them in his pockets. Then he turns to me.
Get Bex. Its time to go to school.

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s soon as the elevator doors open,

I wish we had
taken the stairs. Mrs. Novakova, short and squat,
is lurking inside, like a creepy garden gnome peering out of the brush.
Getting off ? I ask.
She frowns and shakes her head. Of course shes not getting off. How else will she interrogate us? I press the button for
the lobby and hold my breath when the doors slide shut.
You take these girls to the school, Leonard? she asks my
father in her thick, growly accent. Shes been in our building
for fifty years, ever since emigrating from Eastern Europe
maybe Hungary, maybe RussiaI cant remember. Its someplace where the neighbors used to spy on one another for the
government.
Yes, Mrs. Novakova, my father says as he watches the
floor counter blink from four to three to two ...
Mrs. Novakovas mouth curls in disapproval, revealing her
lipstick-stained teeth. You never catch me near that school
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are animals, and filthy, too! Always digging in trash cans,


making too many babies, and living in filth. Like gypsies back
home. Only good gypsy is dead gypsy. You stay away from
them. You get disease. Who knows?
If they had a disease, I think wed all have it by now, my
father says. Theyve been here awhile.
Make no difference! You have crazy cow disease for ten
years, then kaput! A man walks around, not even knowing hes
dead. Thats their plan. They spread sick to us, wait for us to
die. I try to tell people. No one listens to old woman. Dont you
bring one of them back here!
I wont, Mrs. Novakova, I say.
Bex looks like shes going to laugh, until I shoot her a look.
Mrs. Novakova is old-school evil who rats on anyone she deems
suspicious. Neighbors who have found themselves on her bad
side have been dragged out of their beds and questioned by cops
and gang members alike. Ive learned to let every word I say to
her roll around in my mouth to dull the sharp edges first.
What are police doing to get rid of them, Leonard? I pay
taxes for beach and Id like to go down and take a walk, she
barks. My husband and I spent every Friday night strolling
along pier, until the coloreds and the Polacks took over. They
bad enough. Now its those things.
It takes every ounce of self-restraint for me not to roll my
eyes. When her husband was alive, they fought day and night.
An hour didnt go by without her screaming to everyone who
would listen about what a disappointment he was, how he
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had never amounted to anything, how she should have married Pavel, a very well-to-do tailor who had the common courtesy to die young and leave his widow a fortune. Her husband
passed away two years ago. He choked on some soup. Really. I
mean, who chokes to death on soup? Someone whos looking
for a way out, thats who.
By the time we reach the lobby, Mrs. Novakova has given
us an advanced-placement class on the Chinks, the Spics,
the Japs, the Kikes, and the towel heads, all of whom she
describes as filthy and up to no good and plotting to kill us
all. My father has a patience with her he never has with me.
He says Good day, and when the doors slide open he leads us
outside.
Someday shell die, he promises when shes out of earshot.
I wouldnt bet on it, I reply.
Unfortunately, outside its even more oppressive than
inside. Its ninety-frickin-eight degrees with a thousand percent humidity. Welcome to the early morning ugh of Coney
Island, a sauna trapped inside an aquarium locked in a carwash next to a water park in hell. I sweat from every pore. My
jeans glue themselves to my legs. My bangs drip like I used
maple syrup to get just the right look. Awesome. Im going to
look like I swam to school, and because the universe hates me,
here come the reporters to show the whole world my shame.
They pounce like dogs on a pork chop, running across streets
and through front yards, scampering over parked cars and
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surrounding us with microphones and questions. Their eyes


are wide and eager. They flash smiles full of chalk-white teeth.
Their spray-on tans have dyed their faces a rusty orange.
Are you students at Hylan High? one of them asks. Her
hair is so motionless, it could actually be a helmet. I ignore
her just like my father coached me. Keep your head down and
theyll go away. It usually works, but there are hundreds of
them blocking the sidewalks and a dozen more racing in our
direction. The neighborhood has been swarming with reporters for three years. They have a free pass in and out of the
Zone, but I havent had to deal with this many in a while. Even
my father is thrown.
Can you tell our viewers your names? one of them
shouts.
My name is Officer Leonard Walker, he says, stepping
between Bex and me and the cameras.
And youre a dad. Do you feel safe sending your girls to
school today?
My father nods. The National Guard, United Nations, U.S.
Army, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, and the Sixtieth and
Sixty-First Precinct SWAT teams will be on campus to make
sure things are safe. The NYPD Anti-Terrorism Division has
done a great job as well. The students will have better protection than the president of the United States today.
How do you feel about sending your daughters to school
with the
I think its a big step forward for everyone, my father
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interrupts. He doesnt believe it, but thats what the mayor


wants all the police to say.
Are you worried about violence?
Not from them. Our neighbors on the beach are pretty
relaxed when they are unprovoked, my father says as he continues to push us forward.
Have you heard that Governor Bachman has threatened
to block the doors to prevent the new students from entering?
another reporter asks.
Then I hope I get to be the one that arrests her, he says.
The reporters laugh and eye their camera operators happily. Theyve got their sound bite, and it looks like Im going to
be on the news after all.
He scowls. Its time to move on, people. Youre blocking
the sidewalks. If you dont disperse, I will have you arrested.
You cant arrest us. Were the press! We have rights, they
cry.
Not in the Zone, he says.
The reporters drift away, grumbling about the Bill of
Rights, and when we can move again, I turn to my father.
Remind me to give you a lecture about keeping your head
down, I say, hoping it stings.
They call our neighborhood lots of thingsthe Zone, the
DMZ, Fish City. Its two square miles of Coney Island that the
military, government, and police keep under constant surveillance. The territory spans the western part of the peninsula at
Surf Avenue, swallowing up the gated community of Sea Gate
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and Leon S. Kaiser Park. It travels east to Stillwell Avenue, and


in the north it borders Neptune Avenue, a block from where
I live. To the south is the ocean. There are two heavily fortified borders. The first, the north, has tanks, two armed guard
towers, and a barbed-wire fence meant to keep us inside. If
you want out, you need to have proof of who you are: drivers
license, birth certificate, and Social Security card. If you cant
provide all three, you arent going anywhere. The second border is the boardwalk, once the home of Luna Park, the Cyclone
rollercoaster, Nathans Hot Dogs, and the Wonder Wheel.
Now its the home of a massive tent city inhabited by thirty
thousand immigrants who call themselves the Alpha, or the
First Men. They have a similar fence, guarded by two hundred
National Guard members. In the middle is a collapsing slum
with frequent, and violent, clashes. You get used to walking
around the bloodstains in the street.
So, why dont we all move? Trust me, anyone with two
pennies to rub together is long gone. Within six months of
the Alphas arrival, the neighborhood lost ten thousand residents. They packed up, broke their leases, and never looked
back. Many of my friends were dragged by their parents to
points northBushwick, Sunset Park, Brownsville, East Harlemessentially trading one span of urban blight for another.
Theyre the lucky ones. The rest are stuck without the money
to move on. Sure, there are some who stayed out of loyalty. They grew up here and arent going to surrender their
neighborhood, but most live in the housing projects and have
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nowhere else to go. The city doesnt help poor people move
unless rich people want their homes.
And then there are my parents and me. Weve got our own
screwed-up reasons for staying, but hopefully it wont be for
much longer.
No way, Bex cries when we turn the corner that leads to
our school. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of locals are here to
ogle. They mill about, taking pictures and uploading our lives
onto Instagram or Tumblr. Hot dog carts are parked along
the road; people sell bottles of water out of coolers. Theres
a guy making balloon animals, and another running around
with T-shirts commemorating todays historic event. It looks
like a street fair, but there is nothing festive about the mood.
Something threatening and dangerous is in the air. It brushes
past your arm, nudging you into an uncertain stride. It pokes
at your frustrations, reminds you that youre an animal in an
overcrowded cage.
Beyond the looky-loos is an angry mob of hundreds, shouting, chanting, bellowing threats into the air. Their words wear
brass knuckles. They carry signs, too. freaks! monsters! animals! satans spawn!all the classics, and, not surprisingly, a
lot with scribbled Bible verses.
Stay close, my father says as he takes my hand. In turn, I
grab Bex and we squirm into their numbers. Im elbowed and
jostled until one of the protestors blocks our way. Hes wearing
a T-shirt with an eagle ripping through an American flag on it
and those jeans with the elastic waistband I didnt know they
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made for men. Hes as tall as he is wide, sweaty and red, and
ten minutes from a stroke. His sign misspells the word abomination.
You dont have to go to school with monsters! He sprays
spittle all over me.
Actually we do, Bex says. Its the law.
Dont engage with them, my father barks as he drags us
onward. These people are on the edge. The slightest thing
could make them erupt. Use your head!
As we get closer I see soldiers in green camouflage uniforms. Each carries an assault rifle strapped to his or her chest.
Some stand on street corners watching and waiting, their fingers resting on triggers. Some cruise slowly by in black jeeps
with high-pressure water cannons mounted on top. Others
lurk on rooftops and talk into radios. One is on horseback. He
trots back and forth behind a barricade, barking a laundry list
of rules into the air.
Citizens must stay ten yards from the barricades unless
they are students, parents, or staff. Violators will be arrested.
Anyone can be stopped and searched. Individuals who do not
submit will be immediately arrested. Citizens who fail to obey
direct orders will be arrested.
In the crowd is a stocky boy with shaggy brown hair hanging in his eyes. Hes Latino, with milky brown skin and a wide
grin. His smartphone scans the crowd in every direction, capturing the protest and the vicious words. When he spots us, he
smiles, turning his lens on Bex and me.
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Say hi to the world, he urges.


Hi, world. Im Bex and this is Lyric and this sucks!
He laughs, as usual. He finds Bex endlessly entertaining,
and when they are together, the two turn into a couple of giggling idiots. His name is Tito but we call him Shadow because
hes been following Bex around since the fifth grade, shortly
after we found him in our elementary school cafeteria trying to get milk to dribble out of his eyeball. He swore he saw
someone do it online, so we watched with disgusted fascination. After three cartons, all he had managed to do was give
himself a headache, but Bex saw his potential as a friend and
a curiosity. Shadow gradually lost his baby fat and grew into
a handsome guy. Thank goodness he stopped trying to do the
milk trick.
Now his fascination, aside from Bex, is making movies and
putting them on the Internet. There is a lot to document in the
Zone and an endless appetite for a peek inside. The Daily News
and the LA Times pay to use the videos he posts. Ive seen some
of his stuff on CNN. His website gets a million views a month.
Are they here yet? Bex asks him.
He shakes his head and continues to record the crowd with
his phone. Not yet, but I hear theyre on their way.
My father talks to a soldier who points us toward some
blue police barricades that mark off a path to the front steps of
the school. He tells us we have to get in line, but I dont see any
other students waiting, so I guess were first, or maybe were
the only kids coming to school today. Many parents threatened
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to keep their children home when the integration plan was


announced, even under threat of arrest. Bex, Shadow, and I
might have the whole place to ourselveswell, except for the
Alpha.
When we get to the front of the line, another cop orders us
to wait while he shouts something into his radio. Hes a short,
stubby fireplug who might as well have the word Irish tattooed
on his blotchy, freckled face. His white shirt is soaked through
with sweat and reveals way more than anyone should ever see.
His arms and hair glisten. Wet thumb stains smear the paperwork on his clipboard.
When he sees my dad, his face falls as he eyes his list, like
hes being asked to choose which one of us will live or die.
Leonard? Your girl goes here?
My father nods. Tommy, this is my daughter, Lyric, and
her friends Becca Conrad andk id, whats your name?
Shadow grins. Tito Ramirez.
Irish Tommy takes our IDs and double-checks his list.
Okay, kids. Keep your identification on you at all times. If you
are found in the halls without it, you will be arrested, whether
youre this guys daughter or not. Got it?
I nod my head.
Once inside, go to your homerooms and stay there until
youre told to move to the next class. The bells dont mean anything today. Do not linger in the halls or bathrooms between
classes. Your lockers are subject to search at any time. If a soldier, police officer, teacher, or staff member tells you to do
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something, do it. Were not putting up with any teenage crap


today. If you start a fight, argue, or look at anyone cross-eyed,
youre going to the Tombs.
No way! Bex cries.
Even if my father wasnt a cop, I would know about the
Tombs. Its a jail in lower Manhattan stocked with crackheads,
muggers, and rapists waiting for arraignment. Its notoriously
dangerous. People walk out with their noses in different places
than when they went in. Sometimes people die in there. Bexs
stepfather has spent more than a few nights inside Hell Hotel.
He comes home tame as a housecat, until it wears off and hes
back to being an ass.
Tommy pats us down while another cop waves a metaldetector wand over us in case Tommy didnt find everything.
It goes wild over Shadows sack lunch, and when he empties it
the cops confiscate his spoon.
Okay, hand over the cell phones, Irish Tommy says.
Not cool! Shadow cries.
My father looks just as surprised as me. What if theres an
emergency?
Dont worry about emergencies. Weve got SWAT teams
in every hallway, officers stationed in the bathrooms, and cameras in every class, Tommy says. What you need to worry
about is some wacko firing a gun through a window because
one of these kids called him and told him which room has a
fish head in it. No phones.
My fathers arm tenses. He hates how casually people use
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that ugly term. If he was allowed, hed rip Tommys head off.
But hes not allowed.
Bex reaches into her pocket and hands hers to my dad.
You keep it. No peeking.
Shadows next. Its like hes handing over one of his kidneys. People should be able to see what happens in there. This
is history, he grumbles.
I set mine into my fathers hand while trying to make it
seem like its no big deal, but it is a very, very big deal. There
are pictures on it I dont want him to see, pictures from when
I was not trying to disappear into the background. Theyre
ancient but not something I want my daddy to see. Please dont
look through the text messages. Oh, man! Dont look in the Gabriel
folder! My imagination is hyperventilating into a paper bag.
Satisfied, Irish Tommy jams his radio against his ear so he
can hear over the din. Get ready! Youre going in as soon as
they get her off the steps.
Who? Bex says.
He points along the barricades and up the stairs to the
front door. A middle-aged woman in a blue business suit is
blocking the doors and flashing her porcelain veneers to the
crowd. You cant call her smile pretty. Its a little too saccharine
and uncomfortable, like she has to stay focused on its corners
to keep it in place. She has crazy eyes, too, the kind where
you can see white all around the irises, but the crowd doesnt
seem to mind. They love Governor Pauline Bachman. Most
seventeen-year-olds wouldnt recognize a politician, but I
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know this one well. My folks have spent endless nervous hours
watching her self-declared war against the Alpha. Shes a proud
thorn in the Alphas side, pushing for laws that deny them
medical care (which theyve never asked for), and blocking
efforts to put them in permanent housing (which they would
never take). Some of her ideas fall squarely into the evil-andcreepy category, like implanting tracking devices into their
bodies, shipping them to Guantnamo Bay, and forcing them
to undergo sterilization. Before the president ordered our
school system to open its doors to the Alpha, she was crusading for an electrified wall to keep them away from us. Lots
of people write her off as a kook. They say her ideas are just
theatrics to appease her base of frightened voters and keep the
money rolling into her campaign. They call her a clown. I say
shes dangerous. Everywhere this clown goes, she brings her
own circus.
She lifts her trademark red-white-and-blue megaphone to
her mouth and releases a feedback whine over the crowd.
The National Guard, Homeland Security, FEMA, local
police, and even the president of the United States have asked
me to step aside. They want me to go away. They dont want
to know what the good people of the state of New York have to
say about this debacle. They dont want to hear that this misguided plan is putting your children in harms way! Well, folks,
thats why I brought a megaphone!
The crowds roar rattles my head.
Our schools are not the places to run social experiments.
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I have no problem with educating their ... I guess you can call
them children, but that should be done in their own schools,
not ones paid for by hardworking, red-blooded American taxpayers! No, sir! Over my dead body!
I will block these doors, and not one of them will step foot
inside, and I will not move until they drag me away. Hell, no, I
wont go!
The crowd adopts her chant and it shakes the air.
All right, Irish Tommy shouts at us. Lets go!
What about her? my father cries as he points to Bachman.
GO! GO!
My father grabs my hand and starts up the path.
No, Leonard, Tommy shouts. Just the kids.
Thats not what I was told at the precinct!
Things are evolving, Leonard. You cant go in!
My father looks pained. Be safe!
I will. I hope its a promise I can keep.
Ill keep her out of trouble, Big Guy, Bex says. She grabs
my hand and then Shadows, and the three of us sprint through
the barricades, past the ugly faces and their ugly signs.
Once we hit the top step, Bachman leaps in front of us. She
grabs my arm and turns my hands over to study my palms and
the skin between my fingers, then my neck. Shes putting on a
show for the crowd, and Im too stunned to protest.
Shes one of us, Bachman cheers. You dont have to go in
there with them, honey.
And then I hear the thrum. The governor hears it too, and
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she whips her head around, scanning for its source, but its
everywhere, a buzzing that grows and grows, and all we can
do is watch and wait. Bachman stammers, but words fail her.
Like us, shes trapped inside a pregnant pause in history.
When the noise is on top of us, I see a group of soldiers,
cops, and FBI agents rushing toward us. They push the crowd
aside to make room for another group that marches behind
themthe Alpha. Its impossible to call them men. Men are
not hulking, copper-skinned towers of muscle. Men do not
charge down a street with spears raised and ready. They do not
wear armor made from enormous shells and bones, monstrous
lobster claws, and teeth. They do not use oysters the size of
truck tires as shields. They do not chant in an ancient language
in which every word sounds aggressive and hostile. They do
not stretch their mouths as far as they can and bellow to the
clouds, growl and threaten the sky like they are challenging
the sun itself. These are not men.
The protestors have never seen anything like this. They
fall back, tumbling to the ground, and shriek when the next
group emerges. The newest additions to Hylan Highs student
body have arrived.
Many have scales.
Others have jagged rows of teeth, and mouths like open
wounds.
One of them is a teenaged mountain of power, a slightly
smaller version of one of the giant warriors who led the way.
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He has sunken eyes and tiny spikes on his neck, shoulders, and
forearms.
A girl with ghostly, gelatinous skin and eyes as big and black
as plums steps serenely forward. If you look closely enough,
you can see the blood coursing through her deep purple veins.
Even closer and you can see the hint of bones.
Another boy is no taller than an eight-year-old and has a
head like a gourd planted atop a thin, tottering body. Hes a
skeleton shrink-wrapped in gray skin, with long fingers and
black nails. His eyes are enormous chunks of coal, and his nose
is nothing more than two wet slits.
The last three look almost human. One is a delicate beauty,
slender and tall with tight red curls that cascade over her shoulders and bounce lightly at the base of her spine. Pink and blue
scales freckle her throat, her shoulders, and the inside of her
arms. She looks terrified.
The other two look as if theyve never been afraid of anything in their lives. Theyre golden gods, tall and strong with
sculpted limbs. The female is close to my height and age, with
cropped hair and a body that clearly skipped the awkward
phase. Her face is a case study in symmetry, favored by dizzying cheekbones and bright, full lips, but its also unsettling,
sharp, and serious. Its not so much a face as it is a weapon,
as deadly as the spears of the titans who guard her. The boy
well, hes beautiful and troubling all at the same time. His
face is strong and fierce but marred with bruises. Murky green
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highlights border a purple contusion on his right cheek. Yet


who can focus on it when his eyes are so hypnotic? Theyre violent whirlpools of green and blue, but just when I think I could
get pulled into them, I notice his damaged forearms. Theyre
criss-crossed with scars like a Jackson Pollock painting, yet
they pale in comparison to something way more gruesome.
Starting at his wrists and going all the way up to his elbow is a
jagged red gash in which sharp black blades sink in and out in
an agitated rhythm. Their edges are serrated, like an old lumberjacks saw, and each time they pop out, there is a sickening
sucking sound, a Shhhtttiiikkkk! Im unsure if hes an angel or a
monster.
Bachman lifts her megaphone. Not one more step! she
shrieks.
And just like that, the world starts spinning again. A cop
pushes past us and leaps up the stairs to put the governor in
handcuffs. They tighten around her wrists with a click-clickclick-click-click-click-click. Then he and another policeman take
her by the arms and lead her down the stairs, through the barricades, and into a nearby squad car. As they put her into the
back seat, Bachman turns and flashes the crowd a serpentine
grin. It lights a fuse that snakes through the mob, crackling
and popping as it goes, and with a jarring bang the crowd
pushes forward, led by a gang of thugs in bright-red shirts.
They toss trash cans into the mob. They smash bottles and
tip over a cop car. They are the Coney Island Nine, the Niners
for short, and they wont be satisfied with anything less than
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a full-scale riot. The police leap into action, bringing batons


down on their heads. A melee erupts. Boots grind fingers into
the asphalt. Agonized cries rise above the din. There is blood
and hate everywhere I look.
Filthy animals! Go back to where you came from, the
Niners shriek as they hurl dead catfish at us. One slams into
the wall next to me, leaving a sticky stain of scales and loose
eyeballs. Another one crashes into my face and knocks my sunglasses off, leaving me stunned and blind. Someone shoves me
through the front doors, and I stagger into the school alone,
tripping over my own feet and falling hard on the marble floor.
My hip screams like its on fire, but I have no time to recover.
Im in the midst of a stampede of fear and feet. A shoe comes
down on my pinky finger, and I cry out but keep crawling,
scampering through the mob with my senses failing. Eventually I find a wall and press myself against it, hoping Im out of
the way. I use my shirt to wipe the gunk out of my eyes, only
to find all six of the Alpha kids standing over me. The tall boy
with the bruises and the blades locks his eyes on me. They narrow with disdain and suspicion, his gaze falling on me like a
fist. I am filth to him, a creepy-crawly he discovered under a
rock. But then his eyes soften. Theres recognition there, but
that cant be possible. It was three years ago, and the beach was
crazy that morningbut still, theres something in his face
that says he remembers me.
I remember him, too.
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like they were magical, like we all lived in the Disneyland of Brooklyn. They forget our Disneyland
was really a garishly painted slum in a crumbling neighborhood with rampant crime, a busy sex trade, a methadone
clinic, and a school system in the toilet. Sure, the Alpha didnt
help. They turned the place into a police state. But its not like
we were all out in the streets singing Kumbaya the day
before.
Theres also this idea that the Alpha caused all the weird
racism and xenophobia, too, but whatever. This part of town
was always a hotbed of racial sludge, and the various groups
never played nice. The Chinese hated the Japanese, and the
Jamaicans hated the Koreans, and the Mexicans hated the African Americans, and the Russians hated the Orthodox Jews,
and the white people hated all of them. And sometimes, on
very hot days, someone got stabbed because of the flag on his
car. If America is a melting pot, Coney Island is the overcooked
crusty stuff on the bottom of the pan.

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It shouldnt come as a surprise to anyone that our memories of the place are a little distorted. Back when I had time for
books, I read a poem that described memories as being like clay
malleable and squishy and easily molded into whatever you
needed. Over time, people sculpt their miserable experiences
into something more aesthetically pleasing, stretching the
interesting moments and kneading the uncomfortable facts.
What they end up with is no longer a memory but a story, and
the two rarely resemble one another. The story of the Alphas
arrival is just as sculpted. Some still call it an invasion, an act of
war, even a sign of the end of days. I cant say that my story is
any less convoluted, but I was there when it happened. I saw it
firsthand, not on television and not on some Internet site. And
I think my version has more merit than most, because I know
something that most people do not: the Alpha actually arrived
the night before the world went crazy.
It was the first night of the summer break between my
eighth and ninth grade year, the night when the wild things ran
loose. Thats what Bex used to call us, and that night was our
Wild Rumpus, only a lot less innocent than in that childrens
book. We drank. We hooked up. We launched bottle rockets
into the sky, motored down streets, assaulting the neighborhood with bone-rattling bass lines. Anyone who disapproved
could go to hell.
I ran with Bex and Shadow, the centers of my known universe even back then, and we had twenty kids following our
every step. We crashed parties and chugged beers in parking
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lots, and I flirted with boy after boy after boy. Anything we
missed was reported to us in texts, tiny bite-size dispatches
from the front lines of stupidity. Someone threw up on a cop,
so-and-so made out with so-and-so, and this person got into a
fight with that person. By midnight we had hundreds of texts,
each a blossoming legend of teenage debauchery we knew
wed talk about for years to come. I remember that a sophmore
named Jessie Combs woke up under the boardwalk spooning a
hobo. Jessie was a wild thing.
I drank up the hot June night, endless spectacle, and noise
until my brain rebelled and a migraine showed up around midnight to spoil my fun.
Bad head? Bex asked when I sat down on a vacant stoop.
Bad head. The steady pounding had started hours earlier,
but Id shoved it down and hoped it would wither from lack of
attention. Unfortunately this headache had a tenacious rhythm
that grew and grew.
Cmon, well take you home, Shadow said.
The hangers-on groaned with complaints. Bex and Shadow
should have been pissed at me too; after all, I had ruined lots of
good times with my condition, but Bex turned on the others,
firing off insults and demanding their allegiance to me. Bex =
besty.
Drop me at the beach, I said.
Will she be there? Bex asked.
I nodded. She was always there.
Bex grabbed one hand, Shadow the other, and we ran
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toward Surf Avenue, dodging the livery cabs that sped past
at all hours of the night and zigzagging through the pervy
drunks who milled in and out of the seedy bars. At the old
wooden boardwalk ramp near the Wonder Wheel, we ignored
the Park Closed sign and rushed to greet the Atlantic Ocean.
I took in a greedy breath of salty air and anticipated the relief.
The beach would fix everything.
As I predicted, we found my mother sitting cross-legged
on the sand, her flip-flops tossed nearby and her hair tied back
with a band. She was a beautiful Buddha, hypnotically gorgeous with olive skin, full lips, and eyes both blue and smoky.
Her body, like mine, was tall, long-legged, and hippy like a
belly dancers, but she didnt have an ounce of the insecurities
that plagued me. She loved her body and it showed. Anothers
perceived flaw was her dazzling asset, and thus she was the
cause of much rubbernecking in our neighborhood. People fell
in love with her at first sight. Even her walk, a danceable jig
that made small children giggle, transcended goofy into oddly
seductive.
Can you sign for this package? Shadow asked.
My mother frowned. Your father would have a contraption if he knew you were out this late, she said.
Its a conniption, Mom, I said.
The group chuckled.
Im always messing up words, she apologized.
Migraine?
I nodded. Probably an F3.
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Oh. Well, sit down.


My mom looked to Bex. Can you all get home safely?
We could if that was where we were going, Bex replied
with a wink. She pulled her phone from her pocket and sorted
through texts, stopping on one that produced a mischievous
grin. Theres a party at Samuel Lirs house. His parents are in
the city at a play. You game?
I am, Shadow said dutifully.
Dont wreck his house! my mother called after them.
His dad is a friend!
Bex blew me a kiss. Feel better.
Shadow reached into his pocket and waved his phone.
Well post pics.
When they were gone, I plopped down next to my mother
and leaned back, allowing the waters roar to blow through my
hair. The sky was clear, the ocean an inky black canvas brushstroked with yellow moonlight.
Im ready, I said as I crossed my legs and pressed my
hands together in Anjali Mudra.
You are not ready. She rolled her shoulders and then her
neck. You have to be here to practice.
Im here.
You are not here.
I growled. Sometimes her Zen was intolerable, especially
when my need for relief was so urgent, but she was the expert
and there was no arguing with her. At the time she taught
meditation and yoga classes on the beach and had dozens of
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clients, some of whom traveled all the way from the Upper
East Side, an hour-and-a-half subway ride, to take her fiftyminute class. She knew her way around the om, so I surrendered to her wisdom and clamped my eyes shut. I inhaled
deeply and followed her instructions, imagining the air flowing into my limbs, my diaphragm, and my pelvis. I directed
it into my belly and guided it down my legs and into my toes
until my breath and body were one and the same. Soon I felt a
tap on my shoulder.
Now youre here.
And I was. We got on our hands and knees and pressed the
tops of our feet into the damp sand. I eased into the childs pose
and, oh man, that felt good. To this day yoga on the beach is
the best medicine for my migraines, better than teas or aspirin
or acupuncture. Even better than the Novocain injections I got
when I knocked my front teeth out the day I fell off my bike on
the Marine Parkway Bridge. Each new posethe downward
dog, the mountain, the pigeonsent me to the creamy vanilla
bliss of a quiet mind. Om kicked the crap out of my migraines
every time. I miss om.
When we finished, we sat on the sand, lazy as cats, and
watched the crews put the amusement-park rides to bed. I fell
asleep at one point and woke with her hand on my shoulder.
Your dad wont sleep forever, she said, signaling that it
was time to get back. We helped each other to our feet and
retrieved our kicks, but we hadnt taken more than a couple of
steps when we heard a rumbling coming from the water.
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What is that? I asked as I peered out into the dark, unable


to imagine what had created something so loud. I suspected
a humpback whale. A few had beached themselves over the
years, but this sounded more rhythmic, more a deep plucking
than a whale song, and the sound was getting louder.
My mother was stone still, her eyes locked on the tides, her
face more serious and focused than I had ever seen it. Without
her smile she was almost unrecognizable, but I had no time to
question her. Like a sonic boom, the plucking became a trumpeting roar so loud, I nearly fell over. I took a step closer to
the water, desperate to see what was out there, but my mother
grabbed my wrist and pulled me back, hard. Her grip was so
strong, I cried out, shocked at the pain. It felt like my arm was
about to come out of its socket.
Mom, youre hurting me!
Wait here, she ordered, then took off like a shot, diving
into the waves with outstretched arms and disappearing into
its black unknown. For the longest time, there was no sign
of her at all, and in my growing panic I charged in after her
until I was waist deep. I shouted her name until my throat
was raw, but when I still could not find her, I went into hysterics. I was sure she had drowned. I ran back to the beach
for my cell phone to call my father but remembered I had
burned out the battery with all the texting. I was helpless and
alone.
After several excruciating minutes, she finally surfaced a
few yards away, but everything that was Summer Walker had
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changed. What came out of that water looked like my mother


but seemed more like a cornered animal.
Whats out there? What did you see?
We should get back to the apartment, she said, and without another word she turned and led us home. I begged for
answers the whole way, but she refused to speak of what had
just happened, and as soon as we were through the door, she
locked herself inside her bedroom.
Mom?
Go to bed, Lyric, she whispered back. Youll wake your
father.
My dreams were brutal that night. In them my mother
fought against a hungry sea with waves like greedy hands pulling her down into its dark, insatiable maw. I dove in to rescue her
only to find myself pulled in as well. In the morning I woke shivering, my sheets soaked with sweat. I changed and charged into
the living room, ready to demand answers, but my mother was
gone. Instead I found my father leaning on the kitchen counter,
his face buried in a letter in my mothers handwriting. He didnt
notice me at first, but when he caught me sneaking a peek, he
crunched the note into a ball and shoved it into his pocket.
Is that about the whale? I asked.
Huh?
The noise from last night. It was crazy loud. It could have
been a whale. Maybe its still there. Maybe we should go down
and see.
NO! he commanded. I want you off the beach today.
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Okay, you dont have to yell!


What did your mother do when she heard it?
She jumped into the water.
His face went pale, and I felt I had somehow betrayed her,
though I couldnt say why.
Dad? Whats wrong?
Ignoring me, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his
phone, and dialed a number.
Mike, its me. Im not coming in today. Yeah, Ive got this
thing in my chest, he said, not even bothering to fake a cough
or the sniffles. I was stunned. My father never took a day off
from work. He always said we couldnt afford it, and our collection of as is IKEA furniture was proof. Being one of New
Yorks Finest also made him one of New Yorks Brokest, and he
dragged himself into the precinct even when most men would
be planning their funerals.
Stay here, he said when hed hung up. Keep the door
locked and your phone near you, and stay off of it. If anything
happens, Ill come home right away. Wait for me.
What could happen?
If your mother comes back, keep her here and call me. Do
not let her leave this apartment.
He raced into the bathroom, and I heard him take the lid
off the toilet tank. Curious, I followed him and saw that he
was pulling a storage bag from inside. It was filled with money.
He reached into it, grabbed a handful, and stuffed it all into
my hands. It was more cash than I had ever seenfifties and
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hundredseasily a thousand dollars. The rest he put back


where hed found it.
What is this? I cried.
For emergencies, he said as he darted to his bedroom.
What emergencies? I shouted, but was again ignored.
Through the open door I could see him pulling on his work
shirt and strapping on his gun belt. A moment later he was taking his pistol out of its lock box under the bed and shoving it
into its holster.
Dad, why do you need your gun if you arent going to
work? I asked, but he didnt answer. He blasted through the
front door and was gone.
I had my shoes in my hand before the door closed. I had
heard what he said, but I wasnt having any of it. The way I saw
it, he was only in charge as long as he was sane, and something
crazy was clearly taking place. I skipped the elevator and flew
down four flights, hoping I could stop him the second he hit
the lobby, but when I got there, he was gone. I dashed into the
street, craning my neck in both directions, but he was nowhere
in sight.
I stood in the middle of the road, concocting a horrible
scenario. My mother had left my father. The note was a
Dear John letter. It had sent him over the edge. He was
going to stop her, maybe even kill her. I was going to be an
orphan.
Yes, a little dramatic, especially in light of the fact that
my parents were desperately, disgustingly, embarrassingly in
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love. They were so into each other, it was gross. I couldnt


count how many times I had walked in on them and their
baby-making practice. No way my mom would leave him, and
no way my dad would hurt her, right?
But then my brain reached into its hard drive and found
about a hundred stories my father had shared about arresting
some husband or wife who had snapped and killed their spouse.
No one saw it coming was how he ended every one.
So, yeah, I was flung back into freak-out mode. I ran up
and down the beach, looking for them. I snooped around the
minor league baseball stadium and explored the end of the pier
where the Mexican kids used raw chicken legs as bait for crabs.
I searched the streets and alleys like a lost kid in the supermarket fighting back hysterics. Eventually I was too tired and
overheated to keep looking, so I made my way to a bench outside Rudys Bar and pulled out my phone. With nothing else to
do, I resorted to a strategy that had always worked for me in
the pastpassive-aggressive texting. The first text went to my
mother.
GOOD MORNING. ITS UR DAUGHTER. REMEMBER ME?

When I didnt hear anything, I cut back on the passive and


amped up the aggressive.
WHERE THE HELL R U?


44

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but ten minutes passed without a reply, so I turned my frustrations onto my father.
IS EVERYONE ON DRUGS?

Nothing. It was time for something more drastic.


IM PREGNANT AND IM KEEPING IT.

After ten minutes without a peep, I just couldnt hold back


the tears.
BOTH OF U R GROUNDED.

I pulled myself together and decided the best thing I could


do was go home after all. Maybe Mom would show up. When
she did, she could tell me this was all a big nothing. Wed have a
good laugh. It would be a story theyd tell when I was an adult:
The time Lyric thought her father was going to kill me. Ha, ha, ha! I
was all set to go when I noticed a group of people on the beach.
I counted nineteen of them, all walking hand in hand toward
the surf. When they got to the waters edge, they knelt down
to pray. At first I didnt think much of it. It wasnt unusual to
see congregations on the beach back then. People got married
there, baptized themselves and their squalling babies, and even
launched little canoes full of flowers and candles, meant to sail
to the dearly departed in the afterworld. But this group was
different because my mother was with them.
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I hopped the tiny fence that lined the beach and ran to her
side. When I reached her, I bent down and saw the same worried
gaze from the night before. She was transfixed on the ocean,
and it took me several seconds to pull her out of her trance.
Lyric, go home, she begged, suddenly frantic. Her eyes
were wild, her pupils dilated. She took my hands in her own
and I could feel she was trembling.
Why? What is this? Who are these people?
Dont question me. Just go!
I took a step back. My mother had never raised her voice
to me before, even when I deserved it. I had no frame of reference for her fury. It confused me, froze me where I stood.
We caught the attention of a woman kneeling beside her, a tall
beauty with platinum hair. She turned toward us and shot us a
wrathful glare, then barked threateninglyyes, barked, like a
dog, or rather like the deep-throated sea lions at the aquarium.
It was loud and ridiculous and shocking, so I laughed, because
thats what you do when a crazy person does something crazy
and youre feeling a little crazy yourself. It only made the
woman howl at me louder.
Lyric, please, my mother pleaded. Just go!
But
We were interrupted by the loud vibrating sound that Id
heard the night before. In response, a man in the group cried
out in excitement. He leaped to his feet and pointed toward
the waves, but I couldnt look. I was too astonished. The man
was Mr. Lir, a guy who had babysat me, had put bandages on
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my bloody knees, and had taken me and his son, Samuel, to


the Bronx Zoo every summer until I was ten.
Lyric, go, now! my mother said as she and her friends got
to their feet. They linked their hands together and raised them
over their heads, facing out at the horizon.
They are here! Mr. Lir shouted.
I turned my eyes to the water, and my throat was seized
by dread. There were people rising out of the surf, about fifty
of them. Yet they were not people. They were something else.
Each was easily over six feet tall and heavily muscled, with skin
like a copper penny and dressed in bizarre armor made from
bones and shells. They all held weaponstridents or spears or
huge, heavy hammersand they waved them around aggressively. Behind them was a second wave of people who were not
as hulking as the first group but just as intimidating. They held
no weapons, because theirs were in their bodies: vicious blades
that came right out of their arms. Two men from this group
were at the center and stood out among the rest. One had a
shaved head and wore a goatee sculpted into a point beneath
his chin. The other had long, golden hair like a lion and wore
sea glass around his neck and hands. With them was a woman
whose breathtaking beauty seemed to multiply with every
steps she took toward me, yet there was something unsettling
about her as well, something predatory and vicious, like a
great white shark hiding in the body of a woman. To her right
was an elderly woman wearing what would best be described
as a nuns habit, only made from the skin of some dark-furred
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animal. It covered her entire body, exposing only her face and
hands, and the habit formed a strange hammerlike shape on
either side of her head.
And then there was the boy. He was about my age, with
hair cut short and eyes blue and bright, eyes that burned a glowing echo I could see even when I closed my own. He looked
lost and confused, troubled by what he was seeing around him,
like he was seeing the world for the first time.
Behind him came others who were far more strange and
whose names I would learn later: the Nix with their teeth and
claws, the quietly confident Ceto, and the Sirena, whose every
emotion was revealed in colorful scales. There were some I
havent seen since that daytranslucent-skinned ones and
people with tentacles for limbs. All of them were in a state of
metamorphosis. Tails became legs. Fins sank into flesh. Gills
vanished, causing their owners to choke on their first breaths
of air. There were elderly creatures, babies, teenagers, and
families, all climbing onto the beach, eyeing us with wideeyed wonder. At first they numbered in the hundreds, then
thousands, until eventually I could no longer see the sand for
all the bodies.
Panic broke out all around me. Sunbathers abandoned
towels, coolers, and chairs. They trampled one another to get
away, and children became separated from parents. Yet in the
chaos I heard someone calling my name. I searched the crowd,
careful not to get knocked over in the rush, and spotted my
father sprinting toward us with his gun in hand.
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Summer! You promised Lyric would not be part of this!


he shouted.
Its not my fault. She found me, Leonard! my mother
cried. Please take her home.
Were all going! he demanded.
My mother pulled away from him. You know I have to do
this. I have a responsibility to them.
What about your responsibility to us? my father said.
Will someone please tell me whats happening? I
screamed.
Mr. Lir pushed his way through people to join us. Summer, send your family away. It is not safe for them to be here.
My father waved him off. Its not safe for any of us, Terrance. People will take pictures of thistheyre taking pictures right nowand if we stay on this beach any longer, we
are all going to be in them. Theyll figure out what you are,
what Samuel and Lyric are, and theyll come for them. Theyll
come for all of us.
What did you say? I cried. What am I?
Im sorry, Lyric. We didnt know how to tell you, my
mother said, and as she took my face in her hands I saw faint
pink- and rose-colored patches appear on her neck and forearms. They were scales, like those on a fish or a snake, both
beautiful and terribly wrong.
I shrieked and fell backward. What are you? I cried.
We can explain later, Lyric, my father cried. Right now
we have to get out of here. Summer, come with us.
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My mother stared at him for a long moment, perhaps weighing every day of their life together against the responsibility she
felt to the strange visitors, and then she turned to the ocean and
her scales turned fire-engine red and blistering white.
Tell them Im sorry, Terrance, she said without even
looking at him. Try to make them understand.
Summer, you cannot turn your back on our people, Mr.
Lir shouted. Theyll call you a traitor. Youll be an untouchable!
We have to run, she said as she took my hand. My father
took the other, and we fled through the crowd while her odd
friends called out to us with their bizarre, angry words.
New York Post
School of Fish: Alpha Kids Cause
Chaos on First Day of School
by Naomi Rif kin
Today the President got his way. Six Alpha kids went to school
in Coney Island, soaking the city for millions to keep them
safe, and turning Hylan High School upside down. Before it
had even opened its doors, these nonhuman students had
started a riot predicted by this columnist and everyone else
with a brain. Two thousand police from all over New York,
as well as thousands of National Guard soldiers, tried to keep
order as thousands more came out to protest this bogus plan.
One hundred and four people were arrested, and there were
scores of injuries.
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The cost to taxpayers for the beefed-up security promises


to be mind-boggling.
No ones sure how much it will cost, but its going to be
a pretty penny, said an insider in the mayors accounting
office who wished to remain anonymous. I dont blame him.
I wouldnt want to be held accountable for the money were
wasting on kids who dont even want to learn. The man-hours
that went into planning this, the overtimeits going to shock
people when it all comes out. And this is just the first day.
But the real costs come at the expense of the people living
in Fish City. Bloody brawls between police and the activist
group the Coney Island Nine are almost a daily occurrence. I
say the cops need to back off. The Niners are the real locals in
lower Brooklyn, a group of community organizers memorializing the nine U.S. soldiers who were butchered in a confrontation with the Alpha. We should put our trust in a group that is
trying to make sure that never happens again.
These creatures may walk around like people, but they
arent people, said Mitchell Parker, a lieutenant in the CI9.
Theyre animals. We dont put wild dogs in school. Theyre
dangerous.
Governor Bachman, who in my humble opinion is the only
elected official who hasnt lost her mind, was on hand to give
a voice to the thousands who want the Alpha to swim back
to sea, and what did it get her? A trip downtown in handcuffs.
Were going to keep working to stop this plan, and if I
have to be arrested every single day, then so be it, she says.
Good for her.
In the meantime, New Yorkers should plan to pull out their
checkbooks. This little experiment is going to break the bank.

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DAILYBEAST.COM
CHEAT SHEET

MUST-READS FROM ALL OVER

NYC MAYOR HEDGES OVER SECRET


MEETINGS WITH THE ALPHA
Spokespeople for both the mayor and Brooklyn borough
president were tightlipped when pressed about secret meetings
between city officials and members of the Alpha. Accusations
continue to mount that the mayors administration strongarmed the city school district into opening the schools to the
Alpha children. Despite last weeks release of phone records
revealing lengthy conversations between the mayors chief of
staff and the Red Cross, no one wants to admit they happened.
Speculation continues that the Alpha were threatened with
police and military action if they did not agree to assimilate
into our society. The mayor was elected largely on a campaign
promise to get the Alpha off the beaches of Coney Island.

Mother Jones

Activists Sue for Information About


Missing Alpha
by Molly Belden

The Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and the New York
Civil Liberties Union have teamed up to file a lawsuit
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against the federal government, charging that it has kidnapped members of the Alpha and their human families.
According to the filing, the suit also claims that officials
know the whereabouts of nearly fifty-two missing individuals, all of whom are connected with the Alpha. The
suit demands their immediate release.
Lawyers representing the State Department call the
suit baffling and claim to have no knowledge about the
missing individuals, but NYCLU lawyer Andrea Quindlin says she has proof, including a witness who claims
to have been inside a secret camp where the Alpha are
being held.
The government has been singing this song for three
years. They throw up their hands and claim theyre in
the dark. Its a lie, and we can prove it, said Quindlin
during a press conference held this morning at the Washington Memorial Arch. They cant pretend they dont
know anything anymore. Weve got a witness who was
there. He saw what is happening.
Quindlin declined to identify the witness for fear that
it would compromise his safety but said his testimony
would be damning.
Speculation has swirled since the first member of the
Alpha vanished three years ago, along with his human
wife and two young daughters. Charles Sands and his
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wife, Kathryn, as well as Belle, age twelve, and Lara,


age eight, were reported missing less than a month after
Charles confessed to being a member of a group popularly known as the originals, who arrived twenty years
earlier and masqueraded as human.
Seventeen of the originals and their human families
have been reported missing. Another is rumored to have
died in a car accident. Two others are believed to remain
at large.

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