I posted the first part of this former Gar! chapter in the middle of January (Gar, remember?). In this excerpt, we pick up where we left off. Ben McIntyre is trying to make sense of Ada and life after the meteorite strike.
* * * *
The McIntyres sold their farm in Riverdale and moved in with Grandma Verbena. Ben’s parents and grandmother did not answer his questions about their missing family. They did not seem to want his help with the move either, so Ben tried to stay out of the way. Wearing his other pair of shoes, Ben took his uncle’s notepad down to the gash and spent his time documenting what was happening.
The gash was disappearing, but not the way it had in Ben’s dream. The gash filled in with new, dark, rich soil, unlike any that had ever occupied this part of Ada. Ben wrote in the notepad that the gash “seemed to be healing, like a cut on the arm.”
In downtown Ada, a few days after the meteorite landed, Ben asked the townspeople questions about what they had seen and what they were doing. Most did not respond.
“Has anyone noticed it’s getting smaller?”
No one looked at Ben or the void he was pointing at. They were too busy throwing the remains of the damaged town into it.
Ben saw the butcher and asked him, “Don’t you want some of your stuff? Like your knives? Or maybe you want to keep some evidence of what happened?”
The butcher said, “Why don’t you go play? It’s story hour. That’s where all the other kids your age are.”
“At the library? But I want to know what’s going on here,” said Ben.
The butcher looked blank.
Have they all been programmed?
The gash was so long that Ben could not inspect all the changes in one day. Each morning while his parents were moving in, Ben picked a different direction. He traveled west toward the river one day, and east toward the bay the next. Because the gash was disappearing, Ben made a simple map that charted the changing landscape. In both directions, vegetation was growing where the gash had “healed.” Ben tried digging into the soil where the plants were growing west of town. He was not able to with his hands.
Ben wrote, “It’s like cement. Just like where my shoes were buried.”
Ben marked the place on his map. A few days later, Ben tried to dig in the same spot using a pick he had borrowed from the pile of tools in town. He still could not loosen the soil.
How is that possible?
After a week had passed, the gash was no longer visible west of town. In downtown Ada, the gash resembled nothing more than a partially dug up street. The edges of the two square block area the gash had occupied, where the remaining storefronts had clung, were bare. A visitor would not have known that a downtown ever existed there. Toward the bay, the gash was getting smaller, but Ben stayed away from that stretch now. The grasses and vines that were growing over the ground reminded Ben of his dream.
* * * *
On a Saturday morning, a week after the McIntyre’s had settled in on the farm, Ben’s father made an announcement at breakfast. “Ben, I enrolled you in school—fourth grade. It starts Monday.”
“What? How can they start school when there…isn’t one?” Ben asked.
“Go have a look for yourself."
Ben’s mother filled both their plates with grits. Grandma Verbena usually did the cooking in her own house, but lately she was spending more of her mornings in bed.
I was just in town yesterday afternoon. Nothing’s there.
“Mom, Dad, have you been to town since the meteorite hit?” Ben asked.
“No,” said Ben’s mother.
Ben’s father shook his head. “I wish you’d stop saying that. And if you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been busy.”
Ben’s mother interrupted him. “Ben dear, maybe you shouldn’t mention your meteor idea at school.”
“It’s a meteorite, Mom.”
“Ben, listen to your mother. You have to keep that nonsense to yourself. And don’t start arguing. Just go along and try to make some friends this year.”
“I had friends in Riverdale!”
Ben's father ignored the comment and began to eat.
Ben excused himself from the table and went outside. He walked up the hill on his grandparents’ farm. When he reached the top, he looked down at Ada. He rubbed his eyes. “How did they… How could it be built already? There was nothing there…no buildings, nothing, yesterday!” What remained of the gash in downtown Ada had healed over night. A new town stood in its place. There were buildings with stores inside them. Ben watched cars and trucks move around on paved streets that looked as though they had always been there. He watched people open doors to stores that were sitting on top of where the gash had been. Ben gulped for air. “How did this happen in one night? It’s not possible! What if it sinks into the ground?” Ben choked back tears of frustration.
He sat down on the hill as if the wind had been knocked out of him. I don’t remember reading about this kind of thing after a meteorite hits.
* * * *
On Ben’s first day of school, his mother waved goodbye from the porch. Ben walked down the driveway, purposefully taking the long way to Ada. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach, and thought the walk might help him get rid of it. He tried to ignore the feeling and listened to the birds instead.
The school was about a half-mile from downtown Ada. The building was set back from the road, and as Ben approached, it wasn’t immediately clear to him how to get there. Ben saw some children who seemed to know the way and followed them.
I haven’t seen any kids since the meteorite. Maybe they’re just as confused about what’s going on as I am.
As they walked up the winding driveway to the building, Ben watched the other children. They talked and laughed with one another. They seemed ordinary.
Inside the school, older students were waiting at the entrance to greet the younger students.
“Hello! Welcome to Thomas Jefferson. What grade are you in?”
“Um, fourth,” Ben said.
“Fourth grade! Right this way!”
Ben was funneled down a hallway full of children, doors, and adults. He passed a bulletin board hanging between two classrooms. It read: Welcome to 4th Grade!
Two women stood nearby, talking.
“What’s your name?” one of them asked.
“Oh, Ben! You’re mine. I’m Mrs. Birch.” The woman placed a finger to her chest and smiled.
Ben looked warily at her.
“Well, go on in and find your name card at your assigned seat.”
Ben walked into the classroom. He found his seat and waited while other students did the same. Ben thought the room smelled strange, like something he shouldn’t inhale.
“Who are you?” asked a bigger boy who sat next to Ben.
“Ben McIntyre. I just moved here.” Ben read the other boy’s name card. “And you’re Danny Saunders?”
“How’d you know that?!”
“It’s right there. On your desk.”
“Oh. Smart guy, huh?” Danny looked at Ben like he was from outer space. He turned to a neighboring student and whispered something. They both laughed.
Mrs. Birch came in after a bell sounded. She welcomed the class and told them that they were going to take a tour of the new school. “But before we go on our first field trip,” she said, clasping her hands in anticipation, “I would like you to meet our one and only new student this year. Ben? Will you come up here and introduce yourself?”
Ben was not prepared for an audience, but he rose from his seat and went to the front of the room. Standing there, he felt everyone’s eyes on him. He looked at his feet then at Mrs. Birch. She nodded.
He pressed his hands flat against his thighs and looked back at the roomful of kids. “Hi, I’m Ben McIntyre. I used to live in Riverdale, but moved here when the meteorite hit.”
Danny Saunders snorted. “What? Ha, ha. What’s a meteorite?”
“Danny!” Mrs. Birch scolded.
“Well, it’s a meteor that hits the earth,” Ben said. “And I found it at the end of the gash, in the Mud River. It was green and—”
Mrs. Birch interrupted, “Ben—”
“—glowing in the sand at the bottom of the river—”
The students started giggling.
“Ben! Ben! All right. Thank you for sharing…and welcome to Ada!” Mrs. Birch placed a firm hand on Ben’s shoulder. She whispered, “You don’t need to make up stories, you know. You’re from Riverdale. That is interesting enough.” She ushered Ben back to his seat. Then brushed her hands together as if she’d just disposed of trash.
Some of the students were still giggling.
“Well, are we ready to see the new building, students?!” cheered Mrs. Birch.