Race the Night


By Kirsten Hubbard

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“[A] moving tale of resilience, hope, and the meaning of family.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

Without you, there’d be no hope for the world. Because you are the whole world.

That’s what Teacher says, and twelve-year-old Eider knows she’s right. The world ended long ago, and the desert ranch is the only thing left. Still, Eider’s thoughts keep wandering Beyond the fence. Beyond the pleated earth and scraggly brush and tedious daily lessons. Eider can’t help wishing for something more-like the stories in the fairytale book she hides in the storage room. Like the secret papers she collects from the world Before. Like her little sister who never really existed.

When Teacher announces a new kind of lesson, Eider and the other kids are confused. Teacher says she needs to test their specialness-the reason they were saved from the end of the world. But seeing in the dark? Reading minds? As the kids struggle to complete Teacher’s challenges, they also start to ask questions. Questions about their life on the desert ranch, about Before and Beyond, about everything Teacher has told them. But the thing about questions-they can be dangerous.

This moving novel-equal parts hope and heartbreak-traces one girl’s journey for truth and meaning, from the smallest slip of paper to the deepest understanding of family. The world may have ended for the kids of the desert ranch . . . but that’s only the beginning.


Text copyright © 2016 by Kirsten Hubbard

Cover design by Phil Caminiti

Cover art © Tanya Ross-Hughes

Cover Photograph by

Sergei Dubrovskii/iStockphoto

Designed by Phil Caminiti

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-0879-8

VISIT www.DisneyBooks.com


EIDER HADN’T SEEN THE SEA since the world ended.

Maybe she’d seen it Before, but she couldn’t remember. All she knew was the wanting, longing, needing to see the huge, crashing waves from her fairytale book face-to-face. To behold something with no end in sight.

When Teacher agreed to take her, she could hardly believe it.

“I just don’t want you to get your hopes up, Eider,” Teacher said. “I’ve told you time and again, there’s nothing left.”

It was hazy out, a slight wind stirring the dust in the air. Eider bit her thumbnail as Teacher started the van, which Eider had only ridden in once before. It had big, knobby tires for driving over the bumpy ground. A metal grate separated the backseat from the front, where the two of them sat.

The ranch disappeared behind them as they carved a meandering path through the desert sameness. In the sunlight, the world Beyond didn’t look as dangerous as Teacher claimed it was. But it did look empty, with the exception of a few ancient telephone poles and the occasional ruined shack.

What if there really was nothing left?

They’d driven maybe half an hour when Eider saw it: the sea. Shimmering through the windshield like a slice of mirror. Almost as unreal as an illustration. Eider’s belly tightened in nervousness or excitement. Sometimes they felt very similar.

Teacher pulled up at the end of the road. Just a stretch of sand between them and the water, and after that, the horizon blurring into the sky. She kept the engine running, probably for the cold air.

“Go on,” she said. “I’ll wait right here.”

“Really?” Eider asked.

“It’s all right. I’ve seen it many times before.”

Whether Teacher meant before or Before, Eider didn’t know.

She noticed the smell as soon as she stepped out of the van. A sulphury punch that made her screw up her face.

The sand crunched under her feet. When she knelt and sifted her hands through it, she discovered it wasn’t sand, but crushed fish bones. Skulls ground to pebbles. Teeny tiny ribs. Spines snapped to bits.

And as she drew closer to the sea, she realized it wasn’t the clear blue of her fairytale book. It seemed sick, with great big splotches of green and brown. And waves? Barely any. The foam along the shoreline looked like spit, clogged with more dead fish. Some were newly dead, with round staring eyes and goopy fish flesh.

That explained the stink.

No mermaids lived there, that was for sure. Or dolphins or starfish or anything else. Unless Eider’s feet were crunching their bones, too.

She hurried back to the van where Teacher waited.

“How was it?” Teacher asked.

Eider glanced at the sea one last time. “It’s incredible!” she said. “Everything I hoped it would be and more.”

Teacher smiled.

Eider knew she wasn’t fooled one bit.

Eider stared out the window as they drove to the desert ranch, the van’s knobby tires bumping over the desert sameness. Pleated earth and scraggly brush. Beige nothingness as far as she could see—and as far back as she could remember.

Teacher patted Eider’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she replied, chewing her thumbnail.

“That’s why it’s better not to see,” Teacher said, her voice kind. “So the happy image you hold in your head won’t be replaced. That way, you’ll always picture things the way they were Before.”

Eider nodded, even though she couldn’t remember the sea Before. Only what it looked like in her fairytale book—but Teacher didn’t know she still had that.

“You have so much potential, Eider. That’s why this phase has been so disappointing. Now that the sea is out of your system, do you think you’ll finally be ready to focus on your lessons?”

Eider knew there was only one possible answer. “Yes, I do.”

She didn’t say what she was really thinking: that a phase is only a phase if it ends at some point. If it doesn’t—isn’t it just who you are?

When they arrived back at the desert ranch, Eider expected the other kids to clamor around her, badgering her with questions. That’s what she would have done. She even had answers ready—answers that made the sea sound better:

I’ve never seen anything so big!

There were fish everywhere!

Yeah, I’ll never forget that seashore smell!

But nobody seemed particularly interested. Just like when she’d asked them to go with her in the first place. Then, Linnet had been too scared, as usual. Eider hadn’t even bothered with Jay, but she’d poked Finch in his scrawny side, the way Avis did. “Maybe we’ll find some amazing stuff!” Nope.

And in the storage room, she’d shown Avis the double-page spread in her fairytale book with the ocean and mermaids. “Look! It’ll be so beautiful.”

“I can’t believe you still have that,” Avis had said, flipping her rust-colored braid over her shoulder. “And no, it won’t be beautiful. Don’t you get it, Eider? There’s nothing left.”

“We don’t know that for sure.”

“Yes we do. Teacher’s told us time and again.”

“But there’s got to be something. Something different than all of this.” Eider had opened both arms grandly, as if taking in the desert sameness.

“All of what? The storage room?”

“You know what I’m talking about. There’s got to be something besides the desert ranch. Something more.”

“Yeah, right.”

Eider had sighed. Avis was Eider’s best friend, but sometimes that felt like one of the only things they had in common. It wasn’t that Avis didn’t wonder about the world Before, like Eider did. It wasn’t that she didn’t long for something different. But for Avis, all that longing was the same as daydreaming. A game of pretend.

“Seriously, is that the only reason you want to go?” Avis had asked. “Just in case Teacher’s wrong?”

“No! Not wrong—mistaken. But…” Feeling discouraged, Eider had shrugged. “I just think it’ll be interesting, is all.”

She hadn’t been able to tell Avis the real reason:


Robin had never seen the sea either. But she’d talked about it often.

Starfish and dolphins. Narwhals and puffins. Barracudas and great white sharks. And mermaids—always mermaids. Robin had loved mermaids the most.

The kids at the desert ranch weren’t family, Teacher had told them. They were better than family. But Robin was the only kid who looked like Eider. She had Eider’s black hair. Her large, dark eyes. Her dusky olive skin that turned even browner in the sun, while Avis’s and Finch’s skin reddened first. Linnet’s was dark already. The resemblance made Eider feel special.

Nobody else had a sister.

In Eider’s memories-that-weren’t, she and Robin sat on the cement slabs and talked about mermaids. Which fish they ate. If all that salty seawater made them thirsty. How they went pee. “The same way fishes do!” Eider said.

Robin’s laugh sounded exactly like Eider’s.

Of course they knew mermaids were make-believe, like all the stories in their fairytale book. But sometimes, everything seemed like make-believe. Everything they read about in books and learned about in lessons. Automobiles and ballroom dancing. Circuses and pumpkin coaches. Animals with names like armadillo and opossum and pangolin. Music. Families.

Unlike mermaids, they were all things that had existed, once upon a time.

All things that used to be.

Sometimes, it was hard to believe. That once upon a time, there was a whole wide world outside the desert ranch, filled with things beyond Eider’s wildest dreams and even beyonder than that. Hard to believe—but thrilling, too.

That there were towns and cities.

That there were soaring gold-colored bridges and buildings that scraped the sky. There was a sea with huge, crashing waves. There were cookies!

But not anymore.

“Maybe the sea never changed when the world ended. Maybe the mermaids are just waiting for everything to get fixed. And then they’ll dive out of the sea—”

“Dive out of the sea?”

“They’ll dive right out onto the rocks, where they’ll sit and comb their hair.”

“And maybe that’ll be the start again.”

“The start of everything good again.”

“The beginning of the beginning.”

Eider should have known better. Teacher had told the kids time and again there was no world Beyond the desert ranch—or nothing worth visiting, anyway. The desert ranch was the only safe place left.

But it felt so good to believe that something else existed—no matter how dusty and hot it got, no matter how cold and endless the nights, no matter how distant the desert ranch seemed from the whole wide world Before.

Eider should have known better.

Since Robin had never existed, either.

EIDER KEPT HOPING AVIS WOULD ASK ABOUT THE SEA, but she didn’t. Not that evening. Not the next morning at breakfast (stale cornflakes and powdered milk, yuck), or as they walked to the classroom for Practical.

“What’s up with this wind?” Avis asked instead.

Eider shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Well, it’s driving me bananas.”

Behind them, Linnet giggled. At ten, she was two years younger than the other kids and paralyzingly timid. Even when Eider openly invited her to chat or play, she hung back.

“It’s worse than yesterday, don’t you think?” Avis went on. “My poor hair.”

Eider glanced at her best friend. Avis’s hair was coppery brown, the color of old pennies. Her braid was longer than Eider’s dark one—though Nurse cut them at the same time, Avis’s grew much faster. Which was perfect, because Avis loved brushing and braiding her hair. She loved anything pretty, really. That was why Eider had hoped calling the sea beautiful would interest her.

“Yeah,” Eider said. “The air was really hazy at the—”

“I hope it lets up before Physical,” Avis interrupted. “Or else we’re gonna be panting dust.”

Linnet giggled again.

Eider sighed.

Even though the world had ended, Teacher said structure was important. Even more important than Before.

Not everything at the desert ranch had structure. There could be fun, too—like during Free Play. Or when Teacher or Nurse shared a funny memory at Circle Time.

But in the past three years, structure had kept increasing, until Eider began to notice the bones of it everywhere. In the fence that circled the ranch and its padlocked gate. In the boots and overalls the kids wore, even on the hottest days. During their twice-monthly checkups with Nurse. Most of all, in their lessons: Physical and Practical.

Practical lessons took place in the classroom. Teacher sat at the head of the table, so everybody could see her and she could see everybody. That was how she liked it.

“Did everyone sleep well last night?” she asked.

Everyone nodded. Including Eider, though she hadn’t slept well at all. She rarely did, but last night, sea dreams kept sloshing her awake.

“Good,” Teacher said. “Without quality sleep, you’ll never reach your full potential. Eight hours per night is ideal. Does anyone know why?”

Teacher was tall, with long white hair bound in a braid as thick and coarse as rope. The sun had cooked her skin into leathery folds, like tortoise hide. She’d seen a lot of daylight, and darkness, too. When she looked at you, it was hard to look away.

Even if you really, really wanted to.

Eider didn’t know much about Teacher’s life Before. The memories Teacher had shared at Circle Time felt distant, like old-timey illustrations. She knew a lot, though. She could answer any question—probably even the ones she didn’t seem to want to.

If anyone had a chance of catching up to Teacher, it was Finch, who was already raising his hand. He remembered everything he’d ever read. Including all the books they used to have.

“Circadian rhythms,” Finch said confidently.

“That’s right,” Teacher said. “Can you explain to the other kids what circadian rhythms are?”

“They’re the clocks inside your body,” he replied. “The systems that tell you when you’re supposed to be asleep and awake.”

“Unless you don’t get enough sleep at night,” Teacher added. “Then you’re likely to nod off during lessons. Right, Eider?”

Eider sat up straighter.

“Very good, Finch.” Teacher smiled at him.

Finch nodded, but he didn’t smile back. That was nothing unusual. His resting face was a frown. But anytime he grinned, it spread from his face onto everyone else’s like a happiness disease.

A smile wasn’t the kind of thing you could charm from Finch, though. It had to come from the inside. Usually when he’d figured out something. Not just anything—something difficult. Something that had kept him hunched over his notebook an entire afternoon, until suddenly he’d sit up and exclaim, “Oh!” Then came his grin. Big, wide, goofy-toothed. And instantly, everyone around him would start grinning too, even Teacher.

“Circadian rhythms aren’t the only secret abilities your bodies have,” Teacher went on. “Some you use daily or nightly. Others more rarely. Still others, you probably haven’t even discovered yet.”

“Like what?” Avis asked.

Teacher waved her hand, dismissing the question, as she often did. It was Eider’s least favorite gesture. “Tonight, I want you to make sure you get quality sleep. Our next lesson will take place at night.”

“While we’re sleeping?” Jay asked in his dopey tree-trunk voice. His questions were always the stupidest.

“Raise your hand, Jay. And no, of course not. You’ll stay up late for this lesson.”

Eider felt her spirits lift a bit. A night lesson was something different, at least.

“Now, onto the World Book.” Teacher pulled out a hardcover volume and placed it on the center of the table. This one’s spine said Q–R, but all the R pages were secured with a binder clip.

Finch raised his hand. “How much longer until we get to the letter R?”

“Not many words begin with Q. So not much longer.”

“How long, exactly?”

“Finch,” Teacher said. There was an edge to her voice now.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

Teacher opened the World Book. “Let’s begin. Avis, I bet you’ll enjoy this section: Queens. How about you read first?”

“Sure!” Avis beamed.

The World Books had maroon-and-black covers, with pages edged in gold. Nearly every letter of the alphabet had its own thick, hardcover volume. The books looked very ancient. Almost magical, even though they didn’t have any magic inside them, unlike the books the kids used to have. No stories, only facts. And a lot of the facts were boring—a thought Eider kept to herself, of course.

Eider kept lots of things to herself.

Like how she wondered about the missing pages. Sometimes, the World Books jumped straight from page 242, for example, to page 247. Whenever they came to one of the gaps, Eider couldn’t help wondering what they’d never get to learn.

As the kids trudged up the rise after lunch, the wind picked up. It strummed the earth in hushed, haunted tones, tickling their hair with ghostly fingers.

Eider had a complicated relationship with the wind. Windy days could be awful—the kids didn’t just pant dust, but ate it and drank it, too. Windy evenings, when the sky thickened into a deep gray haze, were just as bad. Eider hated not being able to see out. It made her feel like the desert ranch really was the only thing left.

But Eider couldn’t truly hate the wind. The windier it was, the more likely she’d find a secret paper.

Papers didn’t come with every wind, or even with most of them. The desert ranch was a planet in a universe of empty space, after all. But every once in a while, when the winds blew just right, a paper raced across that endless emptiness all the way to the desert ranch.

And every once in a while, Eider found it.

“Hey, Eider,” Finch said, startling her from her thoughts.

“Hey, Finch. What’s up?”

He ran a hand through his hair. It was so pale, it looked like the color had been frightened out of it. “I was wonder—” he began.

Before Finch could finish, Jay crashed into both of them. “Looks like we’ve got another obstacle course,” he bellowed. “Get prepared to lick my dirt, losers.”

“Watch it,” Finch said.

“Or else what? You gonna bore me to death with your circular rhythmics?”

“They’re called circadian—” Finch sighed. “Never mind.”

Jay hooted loudly.

Eider rolled her eyes. She’d decided maybe if she ignored Jay enough, he’d go away. It hadn’t happened yet, but she was optimistic.

There were two types of Physical lessons: Structured and Free Play. Free Play was everyone’s favorite. The kids could take part in any activity they wanted, as long as they kept moving: kickball, tag, pretend games.

During Structured, Teacher chose their activities and observed them. The cooler the day, the more intense the workout. Like navigating the obstacle course. Or jogging around the inside of the fence until Eider’s sides felt pinched by invisible hands. When summer peaked, they’d hide in the classroom with the swamp coolers blowing and do stretches, or roll a ball around.

But today wasn’t too hot, and Jay had been right about the obstacle course. All five kids stood at the start of it, arms crossed.

“Finch, you’re up first,” Teacher said. She held a clipboard and a stopwatch, as usual. “Ready. Set. Go.”

Finch might have been the smartest kid at the desert ranch. But his strength was all in his head, not in his gawky, too-tall body. Even his first step was clumsy: he almost missed the tire.

Eider looked away. The rise they were standing on wasn’t that high, but she could still see the entire ranch from up here. Their entire lives.

She saw the old concrete buildings where they ate and learned, and the trailers where they slept. The twin windmills, which provided most of the ranch’s electricity. The solar panels on the rooftops, which gave them the rest.

The grove of date palms, which offered much-needed shade and chewy, bland fruits. The well where they got their water. Teacher’s office. Beside it stood the metal spike, yet another artifact left over from Before. The spike was the tallest thing at the desert ranch. It had its own fence around it, and a rusty old sign:


And then there was the main fence, stretching all the way around the desert ranch. Some of it was barbed wire. Some of it was chain-link. In other places, it was scraps of wood nailed together.

Teacher used to say the fence was symbolic—that it only existed to separate the desert ranch from the nothing Beyond. But over the last three years, the Handyman had made the fence much stronger and taller.

If you wanted to find a place to cross to the other side, you really had to look.

Avis slung an arm around Eider’s shoulder. “I’m awfully tired of these obstacle courses,” she said. “Is it just me, or are they getting easier?”

Eider shrugged, glancing at Teacher to make sure she hadn’t heard Avis’s comment. Then again, it might impress her, like most things Avis did.

“Avis!” Teacher called. “Ready? Go.”

Out of all the kids at the desert ranch, Avis was the most agile. Eider watched her pound through the tires, hop hop hop. Grab the rope and hoist herself up. Swing from bar to bar to bar. Avis always made Teacher proud.

“Very good, Avis!” Teacher marked her clipboard. “Jay! Ready? Go.”

Jay took off. With his big, meaty hands and brawny shoulders, he was the strongest by far. He never let anybody forget it.

“What’s the holdup, slowpoke?” he’d shout at Linnet. “C’mon, monkey arms!” he’d bark at Finch. “Wasted all your breath on talking, huh?” he’d holler at Avis. “Wake up, cloudface!” he’d yell at Eider.

“Jay,” Teacher often warned.

But as far as Eider knew, Teacher had never disciplined him. Maybe because she didn’t realize he could be outright cruel—something Eider knew from the collection of animal skeletons he kept under his bed. Any meanness Teacher saw could also be interpreted as confidence.

And confidence meant the kids were trying. They were realizing their potential. They cared—unlike Eider.

Eider wanted to do well. She wanted Teacher to be proud of her, so badly. But ever since she’d woken from her rattlesnake fever and found out Robin had been imaginary, everything felt like too much trouble.

Lessons. Checkups. Even Circle Time.

Robin had never been real. But still, losing her felt like an amputation. Like missing a leg or an arm.

No, it felt like half of Eider’s heart was missing. And her entire being suffered for it. Her emotions. Her strength. Her energy. She didn’t have enough blood pumping through her body, that was why. She’d never catch up, with fifty percent of a heart.

“Very good, Jay,” Teacher said. “Eider!”

Eider took a deep breath.

“Ready? Go.”

She ran.

LIFE WAS GOOD AT THE DESERT RANCH. Teacher reminded them, time and again.

“You’re the luckiest kids in the world,” she said. “You’re brilliant and special and purehearted. Most of all, you’re important. Without you, there’d be no hope for the world. Because you are the whole world now.”

Sometimes that did make Eider feel important. Like the entire scroll of world history had unfurled all for them.

Other times she felt differently. Because if they were the only people left, why did it matter if they were important? What was the point?

Eider wanted there to be a point.

Really, really badly.

But a point didn’t have to be a big thing, like the sea. Or a sister. It could be something as small as a book.

Specifically, a fairytale book kept under a floorboard in the storage room.

During Quiet Time the next evening, Eider wiggled the loose floorboard until it opened like a creaky door. Her penlight’s glow revealed Cinderella in her pumpkin coach, glass slippers sparkling.

“Hey there,” Eider greeted her.

She flipped through the stories of goblin rats and mermaids and pumpkin coaches, straight past the final page of the final story. Then came a bunch of blank pages—pages now filled with Eider’s wind-gifted papers.


  • * "The end of one world is the beginning of another in this moving tale of resilience, hope, and the meaning of family."—School Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Hubbard keeps pages turning with careful pacing of the revelations about Eider's world and ever increasing clues that Teacher may not be telling the truth... A claustrophobic survival tale that will keep readers guessing."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "The eerie atmosphere and intelligent, determined kid characters will appeal to plenty of readers."—Booklist
  • "Clues of a world beyond creep in and out of the narrative as easily as half-remembered dreams, keeping the reader as hesitant and suspicious as the children themselves...similar to that in The Giver.... [Hubbard] draws the suspense out until the very last page. This is a good recommendation for young fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix or Suzanne Collins."—BookPage

On Sale
Nov 8, 2016
Page Count
288 pages

Kirsten Hubbard

About the Author

Kirsten Hubbard is the author of middle grade novel Watch the Sky and two YA novels from Delacorte, Wanderlove and Like Mandarin. She also co-founded the popular blog YA Highway (www.yahighway.com) and she holds a BA in writing from UCSD. Kirsten lives in Los Angeles, California. Visit her online at http://www.kirstenhubbard.com or on Twitter @KirstenHubbard.

Learn more about this author