Chapter Twelve – The Fifth Sleeper
We now get to go back and find out what happened to Josh, and we go directly into the first stupid quote of the chapter:
In the years that followed, Josh would rarely talk about what happened when he plunged into the depths of the Roaring Horse River. Once he tried to tell Sarah (page 121).
Within the first paragraph, it tells us that not only does Josh stay alive for several more years, but Sarah does as well, thus effectively removing any fear we might have for their lives. Admittedly, they’re the Heroes, and this is a kids’ book, so the odds of one of them dying are virtually nonexistent, but still, way to kill any suspense we might have, Morris.
Josh explains to Sarah (in the future) that it was like dying. The water was cold but he didn’t feel cold. The rocks were sharp but he was never cut. It was like he was surrounded in some sort of protective cocoon of Holy Power. Sounds like dying to me.
So he hits the water and rolls around for a bit and finally starts singing along with a song. Even though he’s underwater. No wait! He’s on a sandbar now, safe and sound. Not only that, he’s completely unhurt. No bruises. No belly full of water. Not a scratch on him. And as if that isn’t good enough, when he gets up it’s like all of his senses have been improved. I’m guessing that Morris’ reasoning went something like this: Goel told him to jump into the river. Goel wouldn’t do anything to us that would be bad. Therefore, Josh needs to be completely unharmed. Which is moronic – Goel promised Josh nothing, and since the alternative was to be thrown into a dungeon, tortured, and eventually sent to die in the mines, you’d think that even after crawling from a river, waterlogged, covered in bruises, scratches, with blood oozing from his body, Josh would still fall to his knees and give thanks to Goel for saving his life.
Which he doesn’t. Actually, he doesn’t give Goel a second thought. He starts walking along the river, sees a road, climbs to the top – and sees the city for which they’re headed. Well, that’s convenient. He sits down on a tree stump and, fortunately, manages to perfectly recall the song about the fifth Sociopath. Then he counts the syllables – 25 and 17 – and superimposes them over the map which he carries in his mind. Which I gotta say is going just a little too far. It’s believable, I suppose, that Josh would have memorized the song. If he even remembered most of the map I would concede that, since it’s sparsely drawn. But Morris wants us to believe that Josh remembers the exact position of every single number along two sides of this map closely enough to draw lines and find the intersection – in his mind. Sorry. If Josh had a photographic memory, maybe. But he doesn’t.
Josh walks along and reaches the city gates by dusk. There’s guards in red guarding the entrance, examining everyone, so he lurks behind a tree for several hours, trying to think of a way to get inside. Finally he sees a train of camels approaching. He dodges in between the camels and hides in there as they pass through the gates, and the guards miss him. This scene almost works. It’s almost a really, really good scene, that belongs in a much better book. Our Hero is presented with a problem. He’s alone. He has to get somewhere. And then, suddenly, an opportunity presents itself. If he messes up, he’s screwed. He gathers his courage, goes for it – and it pays off, thus earning him some esteem in the reader’s eyes, proving that he’s a clever and resourceful guy and making us like him just a bit more.
And, just like Dave in a previous chapter, Morris ruins it:
Later, he would wonder if he had actually heard a voice ordering him to join the caravan or if the thought was his own (page 123).
The fact that this sentence is in the book means that the voice was there. Good job, Morris. You really couldn’t leave well enough alone and actually let your HERO FACE AN ACTUAL TRIAL, COULD YOU? Nope. There has to be divine intervention.
The song mentions a tower, so Josh decides to start looking for a tower. Happily, this city only has one, so it only takes him an hour to get there. And we get yet another stupid quote:
Strange astrological signs were on the doors, and somehow the place seemed evil (page 124).
You know what would be really great? Having people actually wonder and have trouble trying to figure out whether something was evil/bad or not. You know, like real life? Instead, everything is either Evil! or Good! and you can feel the difference.
It’s not every chapter where we get to have two consecutive stupid quotes, but we have them here:
Josh chose one of the doors and walked in, full expecting to be snatched up by a red-cloaked guard (page 124).
If you were fully expecting to be arrested…why, exactly, would you just walk in? Maybe a little reconnaissance should be in order, and you should actively try to not get caught by the Sanhedrin? Since, after all, they want to kill you? Are you really that stupid? Wait…this is Josh we’re talking about. But, he doesn’t meet anyone, so he walks unhindered up to the top of the tower, where he finds a lake. Apparently the top of the tower is used for catching rainwater – not for drinking, but to cool the building. Doesn’t really sound like it would work, but whatever. Out in the center of the lake he sees a rectangle of stone, where the Sociopath must be, which fits in with the song. Josh wades out to the stone, sings the song, and it opens, revealing a staircase. He walks down to the capsule and hits the button.
I admit – I have a special place in my heart for this next Sociopath. He is the best character in the entire series – by far – although that does not by any stretch of imagination make him a good character. He is, unfortunately, a walking stereotype, quite two-dimensional, and, like everyone else, completely unbelievable, but his questionable morals, general badassitude, and his ability to actually think make him the best character we’re going to see in this here book.
Josh, of course, is instantly disappointed because this Sociopath isn’t any older than he is. He expresses his disappointment verbally and in his facial expression, which I must say must be exactly what someone waking up after a nuclear holocaust needs to hear. This does not go over particularly well with our new Sociopath, who’s clad in jeans, cowboy boots, a fancy Western shirt, and a Stetson. He introduces himself as Bob Lee Jackson, but his friends call him Reb. Because, y’know, it’s short for Rebel. Because he’s from Arkansas. And the South, in the Civil War, were called the Rebels.
The only real explanation I can think for is that Morris, who was born and lives in Arkansas, has a Civil War fetish. And he decided to give this character a similar fetish, even though that’s completely unbelievable. Sorry, I’m from the south, and modern teenagers do not style their life and thinking around Confederate leaders. This can be chalked down to Morris having no idea how teenagers think. And we get another stupid quote:
…the blue eyes peering out from under the broad brim were tough and steady – the type Yankee troops learned to fear at Bull Run and Missionary Ridge (page 126).
Right. Because, y’know, the soldiers were close enough to each other to see each other’s eyes, and the Yankee troops were terrified of how tough the Confederate soldier’s eyes were. Yeah. And because this is exactly the example that Josh would think of.
There’s a bit of dialogue where Reb accuses Josh of not knowing who General Lee and Stonewall Jackson are, and Josh explains that he does, in fact, know who they are, despite being a Yankee. Which brings up another point about this whole nuclear war scenario. Nuclear war is going to come up fast. Really fast. We saw this at the beginning of the book, where Josh was woken up in the middle of the night, driven straight to the underground shelter, and by the time they got underground the ground was starting to rumble. In other words, whoever was chosen to get popped into the capsules would obviously be living very near to wherever the capsule was. We know Reb lives in Arkansas, and although we don’t know where Josh lives, he recognizes Reb as being different and Reb calls him a Yankee, which means he must live much further north. And regardless of where he lives, there is no way that Josh has walked all the way from his unnamed city to Arkansas, within the few weeks that he’s been traipsing around Nuworld. Not a chance.
There’s some food there, so Reb chows down while Josh explains everything that’s happened. Reb actually gets a couple of sentences to be appropriately shocked and horrified at losing everything that he’s ever know, which makes him a shade less Sociopathic than everyone else, but moments later he’s over it. Josh then explains that they have to rescue everyone else from jail, but first they have to find it. Reb laughs and points out that jails are the easiest thing to find in any town. If there’s bars on the window or a wall around it, it’s either an asylum or a jail.
They head outside to look around, and Josh starts quaking in his boots. Reb reassures him by whipping out a six-inch switchblade. Josh asks if those things are illegal, and Reb points out that this isn’t Arkansas. Josh thinks back to killing the guard, and says that he supposes they’ll have to do whatever the Quest calls for – which Reb agrees to. After a bit, they find the jail, which has a large gate with only one guard standing outside. Josh is horrified – how will they get everyone out with the guard in the way? It’s a nearly insurmountable obstacle, but then Reb suggests they kill him.
I knew there was a reason I liked this guy.
Josh, however, is horrified. And there’s yet another stupid quote:
“No! We can’t do that! We’ve got to try to be better than they are – or what difference will we make in this world?” (page 129)
Which is fine, except he was just saying – one page ago – how he’d do anything the Quest required, while he thought about the first person he killed. Reb, however, is quite resourceful. He pulls out his skullpopper – a leather bag with about ten ounces of lead inside – and explains that this was the favorite tool of his Uncle Waymon, who went and became a sheriff’s deputy for a few years before coming to his senses and returning to a life of moonshine and lawlessness.
Josh, being the whiny little bitch that he is, points out that the guard is wearing a helmet. Reb points out that Josh has hands. And I must say, it is marvelously refreshing to finally have a character who can apply logic to a situation, after 128 pages of pure idiocy.
Josh walks up to the guard, who immediately levels a spear at him. Josh stands there for a moment, and then pretends to faint. The guard, startled, bends over for a closer look. Josh reaches up and yanks his helmet off, and Reb bashes the guard over the head.
They dump the guard under a bush. Josh tells Reb to wait outside while he goes in and looks for everyone, and to make a sound like an owl if any other guards come around. It’s probably the worst plan thus far in the book, and both Reb and Josh agree, but they decide to do it anyway. Josh walks up to the gate and removes a steel bar. He pulls the gate open, and Sarah leaps out into his arms, shouting “Goel! Goel!” into his ear.
Oh. It was him them. Which means that Goel lied to Sarah about being on the other side of the door. That’s comforting.