There (On the Otherside #2)

By: Denise Grover Swank

Chapter One

I used to think that hell was hot, full of fire and brimstone. But I was wrong. Hell is the opposite. It’s cold and stark and full of nothing.

And I’m there now.

The sun is bright and blinding. I cover my eyes as I scan the barren land. In my world, the area I now stand is probably a recently cut hay field with giant trees shedding their leaves. Here the fields have collapsed and sank into the earth. The trees died many years ago, toppled like scattered Legos. Everything is in shades of faded brown and gray, for as far as I can see. Everything except for the sky, a brilliant blue that almost captures the color of Evan’s eyes.

They are more similar than I care to acknowledge. The beauty of the sky is a trap, luring me into complacency. This world is harsh and cold, nothing like the sky promises, and Evan is sicker than any of us are willing to admit.

Reece’s voice breaks my mulling. “I’ve done another scan to be sure, but there’s no radiation ahead. At least that’s what this counter is telling me.”

I glance over my shoulder. His hood is low over his forehead as he studies the gadget in his hand. Strands of his chestnut brown hair peek out, the ends whipping against his face in the wind. His mouth is twisted in concern as he determines whether he should trust the numbers. It goes against everything he’s been taught.

“Maybe they were wrong,” I suggest. “Scientists are wrong all the time about things like that. Maybe they just thought the land would be radioactive.”

Reece shakes his head, annoyed. “Not our scientists. This is too close to Springfield for them to get inaccurate readings.”

“Maybe they lied to you. Maybe they just wanted you all to think the land was toxic to keep you all in the city limits.”

Reece scowls as he considers the truth in my words. Truth after truth has been ripped away from him, and this one looks like it’s close to being the one that does him in. “It’s far more likely the counter is wrong. In science, we’ve studied the after effects of a nuclear war. The radiation hangs around for years.” He swipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “There’s a few anti-radiation tablets left for each of us. We should take them to be on the safe side.”

I offer no response and Reece turns away, hesitating as he looks at the truck. Neither one of us want to confront what’s inside.

I wrap my arms across my chest. The wind has picked up and shoots icy needles through the loose weave of my sweater. The breeze gusts and lifts up the hat on my head before I clamp it down tight. Skin exposed to sunlight for more than a few minutes will burn since the ozone layer here has been depleted.

I’m trapped in an alternate universe where the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s ended in a nuclear war. Most of the plant life on the Northern Hemisphere was destroyed, and the majority of the population was wiped out. It’s also the universe where my alternate self died in a car accident. But as Evan explained it, the Julia of this world died, and because of a defect separating our universes—and the supreme bad luck of being in the exact place at the same time—I had an accident too. Instead of dying, I killed my best friend Monica. For six months, I lived in grief and misery until Evan, who’d loved the Julia of this world, found a portal to my universe to find me.

And now we’re running for our lives.

“How much farther?”

Reece’s eyes darken. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure we’re going the right way. I think my mother and the rebels are in the west, close to the coast, but I don’t know where.”

While this news is far from reassuring, I keep my thoughts to myself. Reece’s mother disappeared from Reece and Evan’s Springfield months ago, and Reece is certain his mother joined the rebels. Evan thinks she can help me get home, back to my universe.

“It would help if we didn’t have to hide so often. We’ve been lucky as it is, finding places big enough to stash this truck. I’m worried we’ll have to ditch it at some point.”

Aircraft that look like a cross between a helicopter and airplane fly overhead at regular intervals, searching for us. For two days we’ve been on the run, most of it spent in hiding, and progress is agonizingly slow.

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