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3 a family and a place Howard, age ten, wasdoingareportonAmerica’stwogreatest natural wonders, the Heartland Grid and the Grand Canyon. “The Heartland Grid’s not natural, son,” Chad said. Howard gave his father an incredulous look. “It’s plants,” he said. “It’s how America feeds the world.” North of Dayton, Ohio, where Chad and Sharis (“It rhymes with Paris,” she said) Gribble and their sons, Howard and Leon, lived, there was a polymer fence close to twenty feet high, a fence that went forever, surrounding a dedicated agricultural area of over fifty thousand square miles. The Grid was roughly the shape of a nine-by-twelve casserole. Intentional villages dotted its landscape, roads crisscrossing it at ten-mile intervals. “We never fed the world,” Chad said. “We feed ourselves.” “I have pictures of the Grid,” Howard said, undeterred. “Miss Bishop says her father went there. He was driving a truck and he picked up lettuces. Only one time, but he got to eat there. He said they had delicious coleslaw.” “I’m sure all their food’s delicious. It couldn’t be fresher.” “They won’t let you spend the night. They say they have too much work.” 4 s ha r p a n d d a n g e r ou s v i r t u e s Chad gave a noncommittal grunt. He didn’t believe that too-much-work line, not for one minute. He said, “The Gridians have always been clannish.” Howard shot Chad a questioning look. “They stick together ,” Chad said. “They live in special towns the government built for them. They don’t have visitors or talk with other people. They don’t even mo-com with people who aren’t them.” He searched his mind for an example. “Kind of like the Johnsons”—their next-door neighbors, an older couple with a grown son. “They’re gone,” Howard said. “What do you mean they’re gone?” “The Johnsons moved out. Their house is empty. There’s furniture in there, but no car, and no more Johnsons! The Gilberts are gone, too.” Neighbors down the hill. “Atunde told me and Leon they were leaving. His mom said Atunde wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, but he knew we’d come by wanting to play.” “When did this happen?” “I don’t know. A few days ago. The Johnsons went first.” Good Lord, Chad thought. He had heard of people leaving the city itself, but not suburban neighborhoods like theirs. He felt ill. He thought of the party at their neighbors George and Gentia’s a few weeks before. George had said they were sniggering idiots to stay, and Sharis, Chad’s own wife, had spoken up to say she wasn’t going to teach her kids to flee. “Dayton is our home, and we’re staying,” she had said. “Have they told you much about the war in school?” Chad asked Howard now. Howard looked confused. “You mean the trouble up north? Miss Bishop says it’s really far away.” Chad had had, between the ages of about six and nine, a terrible fear of earthworms, not of the worms themselves but what they did. He imagined them writhing and burrowing underground, riddling the soil with tiny tunnels. A footstep 5 a family and a place in the wrong place might end up with Chad swallowed by the earth. His relatives would never know what happened. “I mean the conflict. I mean . . .” Chad was filled with the prickling dread he used to feel when he was sent into his yard to fetch the paper. Parks and the schoolyard were okay—every square inch had been tested—but how could Chad trust his own lawn? “Want me to draw it for you?” “Sure!” “Good,” Chad said, relieved. Calm them both down. “Where’s Leon? Leon should hear this.” Leon was seven and had a personality as spiky as his hair. “What do you mean put my head on my pillow? I put my feet on my pillow!” And that was indeed how Leon slept. “Leon!” Howard screamed. “Daddy wants you!” Chad went to the kitchen desk drawer for a piece of paper and an old-fashioned pencil. “What’s up, Daddy-o?” said Leon. He lit up when he saw the paper and pencil in Chad’s hand. Chad sat down at the big blue kitchen table and pulled out chairs for Howard on one side and Leon on the other. He...


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