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The Edge of Everything

By:Jeff Giles

The Edge of Everything (Untitled #1)
        Author: Jeff Giles


She named him herself, so it felt like he belonged to her.

He said that where he was from, which he called the Lowlands, they strip your name away like a husk the moment you arrive-to remind you that you're no one and nothing. When he told her this, she moved a little closer. She should have been scared after what she'd seen him do to Stan, but she wasn't. Stan deserved everything he got and worse.

The lake was frozen, and they were standing way out in the middle. The ice was shifting, settling. It made booming sounds beneath them, as if it might give way. Stan was gone, but drops of his blood had seeped into the lake. There was a dark constellation at their feet.

She refused to look at it. She suggested some names, and he listened in silence, his eyes shy and wounded-looking. She wanted to step even closer, but she was afraid she'd startle him. She teased him instead.

She told him he seemed like either an Aragorn-or a Fred. He tilted his head, confused. She'd have to work on his sense of humor.

Otherwise, there was nothing about him she'd have changed. He had tangled black hair that fell near his eyes like vines. His face was pale, except for bruises high up on both cheeks. It looked like someone had grabbed his face and dug their fingernails in. Over and over. For years. She didn't ask who had been hurting him-or why he'd been sent to whatever the Lowlands were in the first place. It was too soon for questions like that.

He told her that even if she gave him a name, the lords of the Lowlands wouldn't let him use it. She'd heard him shout so fiercely at Stan. But with her, he was quiet and unsure. He said he didn't think he even deserved a name after all the things he'd done. Been forced to do.

If that didn't break her heart, it definitely tore a little bit off.

He was staring at her now-looking into her, like he thought she was the answer to something.

She gave him a playful look.

"Dude, seriously," she said, "enough with the eyes."

She told him everybody deserved a name-and that "the lords" should shut up.

She said hers was Zoe Bissell.

He nodded. He already knew. She couldn't figure out how.

She told him she'd call him X until she knew what sort of person he was. X for an unknown variable. Zoe was 17, and so many crappy, lonely things had already happened to her that she knew it was insane to get close to even one more person. But maybe X's pain, whatever it was, would help her put aside her own.

She told him that if the Lowlands took this name away, she'd just give him another one.

"Such as Fred," he said, and attempted a smile.

He was learning.


part one

A Rescue


Zoe met X on a Sunday in February, when there was a storm on its way from Canada and the sky was so dark it looked like someone was closing a giant coffin lid over Montana.

The blizzard wasn't supposed to hit the mountain for an hour, and her mom had gone to get groceries to tide them over. Zoe had wanted to go, too, because her mother couldn't be trusted to choose food. Not ever. Her mom was a badass in many ways. Still, the woman was a hard-core vegan and her idea of dinner was tofu or seitan, which, as Zoe had stated repeatedly, tasted like the flesh of aliens.

Her mother had insisted she and her brother, Jonah, stay home where they'd be safe. She said she was pretty sure she could get down the mountain and back up again before the storm ripped through. Zoe had driven in blizzards herself. She was pretty sure she couldn't.

Zoe wasn't thrilled to be in charge. It was partly because Jonah was a spaz, though she was not allowed to call him that, according to a sign her mother had posted above the gargantuan juicer in the kitchen: Uncool Words That I Cannot, in Good Conscience, Tolerate. More than that, though, it was because the place she'd lived her whole life suddenly seemed menacing and strange. In November, Zoe's father had died while exploring a cave called Black Teardrop. Then, in January, two of the people she loved most in the world, a couple of elderly neighbors named Bert and Betty Wallace, were dragged out of their home by an intruder and never seen again. The grief was like a cold stone on Zoe's heart. She couldn't imagine how bad it was for Jonah.

She could hear her brother outside now, chasing Spock and Uhura around like the ADHD maniac that he was. She'd let him go out because he'd begged to play with the dogs, and, honestly, she couldn't stand being with him one more second. He was eight. If she'd said no, he would have whined till her ears bled ("Just let me go out for ten minutes, Zoe! Okay, five minutes! Okay, two minutes! I can have two minutes? Okay, what about five minutes?"). Even if she'd managed to shut him up, she'd have been stuck with his crazy energy in a small house on an isolated mountain with a blizzard coming their way like a pissed-off army.

She went online and checked WeatherBug. With the windchill, it was 10 degrees below zero.

Zoe knew she should call Jonah inside, but kept putting it off. She couldn't deal with him yet. At least she'd wrapped every inch of him up tight: a green skater-boy hoodie, a down jacket, and black gloves decorated with skulls that glowed in the dark. She had insisted that he wear snowshoes so he wouldn't sink into a snowdrift and disappear. Then she'd spent five minutes forcing them onto his feet while he twitched and writhed like he was being electrocuted. He really could be ridiculous.

She checked her phone. It was five o'clock, and there were two texts waiting for her.

The first was from her friend Dallas, who she'd been seeing off and on before her dad died.

It said: Blizzards be awesome, dawg! You doing OK??

Dallas was a good guy. He was muscly and dimply in a baseball-player kind of way-cute, but not exactly Zoe's type. Also, he had a tattoo that used to kill the mood whenever he took his shirt off. He'd apparently gone back and forth between Never Stop! and Don't Ever Stop!, and the tattoo artist had gotten confused and the tat wound up reading, Never Don't Stop! Dallas, being Dallas, loved it and high-fived the guy on the spot.

Zoe texted him back in Dallas-speak: I'm solid, dawg! Thx for checking. You rock on the reg. (Did I say that right?)

The second text was from her best friend, Val: This blizzard sucks ass. ASS! I'm gonna take a nap with Gloria and ignore it. I'm VERY serious about this nap. Do you need ANYTHING AT ALL before nap begins?? Once nap is in progress, I will be UNAVAILABLE to you.


Val's girlfriend was extremely shy. Val was  …  not. She'd been crazy in love with Gloria for a year, and was always doing beautiful, slightly psycho things, like making a Tumblr devoted entirely to Gloria's feet.

Zoe texted back: Why is everyone worried about me? I'm FINE! Go take your nap, Nap Goddess! I will be soooo quiet!!!!

Smiling to herself, she added emojis of an alarm clock, a hammer, and a bomb.

Val wrote back one more time: Love you too, freak!

Zoe found duct tape in a kitchen drawer and taped up the downstairs windows so they wouldn't shatter in the storm. Her mother had told her that doing this in a blizzard was dumb and possibly dangerous. Still, it made Zoe feel safer somehow, and gave her something to do. She peered outside, and saw Jonah and the black Labs jumping back and forth across the frozen river at the bottom of their yard. Their mom had prohibited this activity on another sign she had made: Uncool Behavior That I Cannot, in Good Conscience, Tolerate. Zoe pretended she hadn't noticed what her brother was doing. Then she stopped watching so she wouldn't see him do anything worse. She went upstairs and taped X's on the second-story windows. She threw in a few O's, too, so that when her mother finally drove up it'd look like giants were playing tic-tac-toe.

She finished taping the windows at 5:30, just as the storm finally found the mountain. She made herself a cup of coffee-black, because her mother only bought soy milk, which tasted like the tears of aliens-and drifted into the living room, so she could sip it at the window. Zoe stared out at the forest, which started up at the bottom of their yard and ran all the way down to the lake. Her family's land was a mostly bald patch of the mountain, but there was a stand of larch up against the house to give them shade in the summer. The wind had agitated them. Branches were stabbing and scratching the glass. It was like the trees were trying to get in.

Her mom had been gone two hours. By now, the police would have barricaded the roads and, though her mother was not usually someone who took no for an answer, the cops would never let her back up the mountain tonight. Zoe pushed the thought down into a box at the back of her brain labeled Do Not Open. She shouted out the front door for Jonah. She'd been an idiot to leave him out there so long. She pushed that thought down, too.

Jonah didn't answer. She hadn't really expected him to. She loved the little bug, but most days it seemed like his sole purpose in life was to make everything harder for her. She knew he could hear her. He just wasn't ready to stop romping around with the dogs. They weren't allowed in the house, even during storms, which Jonah thought was mean. He once protested with an actual picket sign.

Zoe shouted for her brother three more times: loud, louder, loudest.