1

Scarecrow Joe wasn’t up early; he was up late. All night, in fact.

This would be Joseph McClatchey, age thirteen, also known as King of the Geeks and Skeletor, residing at 19 Mill Street. Standing six-two and weighing one-fifty, he was indeed skeletal. And he was a bona fide brain. Joe remained in the eighth grade only because his parents were adamantly opposed to the practice of “skipping forward.”

Joe didn’t mind. His friends (he had a surprising number for a scrawny thirteen-year-old genius) were there. Also, the work was a tit and there were plenty of computers to goof with; in Maine, every middle school kid got one. Some of the better websites were blocked, of course, but it hadn’t taken Joe long to conquer such minor annoyances. He was happy to share the information with his homies, two of whom were those dauntless board-benders Norrie Calvert and Benny Drake. (Benny particularly enjoyed surfing the Blondes in White Panties site during his daily library period.) This sharing no doubt explained some of Joe’s popularity, but not all; kids just thought he was cool. The bumper sticker plastered on his backpack probably came closest to explaining why. It read FIGHT THE POWERS THAT BE.

Joe was a straight-A student, a dependable and sometimes brilliant basketball center on the middle school team (varsity as a seventh-grader!), and a foxy-good soccer player. He could tickle the piano keys, and two years previous had won second prize in the annual Town Christmas Talent Competition with a hilariously laid-back dance routine to Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.” It had the adults in attendance applauding and screaming with laughter. Lissa Jamieson, the town’s head librarian, said he could make a living doing that if he wanted to, but growing up to be Napoleon Dynamite was not Joe’s ambition.

“The fix was in,” Sam McClatchey had said, gloomily fingering his son’s second-place medal. It was probably true; the winner that year had been Dougie Twitchell, who happened to be the Third Select-man’s brother. Twitch had juggled half a dozen Indian clubs while singing “Moon River.”

Joe didn’t care if the fix was in or not. He had lost interest in dancing the way he lost interest in most things once he had to some degree mastered them. Even his love of basketball, which as a fifth-grader he had assumed to be eternal, was fading.

Only his passion for the Internet, that electronic galaxy of endless possibilities, did not seem to pall for him.

His ambition, unexpressed even to his parents, was to become President of the United States. Maybe, he sometimes thought, I’ll do the Napoleon Dynamite thing at my inaugural. That shit would be on YouTube for eternity.

Joe spent the entire first night the Dome was in place on the Internet. The McClatcheys had no generator, but Joe’s laptop was juiced and ready to go. Also, he had half a dozen spare batteries. He had urged the other seven or eight kids in his informal computer club to also keep spares on hand, and he knew where there were more if they were needed. They might not be; the school had a kick-ass generator, and he thought he could recharge there with no trouble. Even if Mill Middle went into lockdown, Mr. Allnut, the janitor, would no doubt hook him up; Mr. Allnut was also a fan of blondesinwhitepanties.com. Not to mention country music downloads, which Scarecrow Joe saw he got for free.

Joe all but wore out his Wi-Fi connection that first night, going from blog to blog with the jitter-jive agility of a toad hopping on hot rocks. Each blog was more dire than the last. The facts were thin, the conspiracy theories lush. Joe agreed with his dad and mom, who called the weirder conspiracy theorists who lived on (and for) the Internet “the tinfoil-hat folks,” but he was also a believer in the idea that, if you were seeing a lot of horseshit, there had to be a pony in the vicinity.

As Dome Day became Day Two, all the blogs were suggesting the same thing: the pony in this case was not terrorists, invaders from space, or Great Cthulhu, but the good old military-industrial complex. The specifics varied from site to site, but three basic theories ran through all of them. One was that the Dome was some sort of heartless experiment, with the people of Chester’s Mill serving as guinea pigs. Another was that it was an experiment that had gone wrong and out of control (“Exactly like in that movie The Mist, ” one blogger wrote). A third was that it wasn’t an experiment at all, but a coldly created pretext to justify war with America’s stated enemies. “And WE’LL WIN!” ToldjaSo87 wrote. “Because with this new weapon, WHO CAN STAND AGAINST US? My friends, WE HAVE BECOME THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS OF NATIONS!!!!”

Joe didn’t know which if any of these theories was the truth. He didn’t really care. What he cared about was the expressed common denominator, which was the government.

It was time for a demonstration, which he of course would lead. Not in town, either, but out on Route 119, where they could stick it directly to The Man. It might only be Joe’s guys at first, but it would grow. He had no doubt of that. The Man was probably still keeping the press corps away, but even at thirteen, Joe was wise enough to know that didn’t necessarily matter. Because there were people inside those uniforms, and thinking brains behind at least some of those expressionless faces. The military presence as a whole might constitute The Man, but there would be individuals hiding in the whole, and some of them would be secret bloggers. They’d get the word out, and some would probably accompany their reports with camera-phone pictures: Joe McClatchey and his friends carrying signs reading END THE SECRECY, STOP THE EXPERIMENT, FREE CHESTER’S MILL, etc., etc.

“Need to post signs around town, too,” he murmured. But that would be no problem. All of his guys had printers. And bikes.

Scarecrow Joe began sending e-mails by the dawn’s early light. Soon he’d make the rounds on his own bike, and enlist Benny Drake to help him. Maybe Norrie Calvert, too. Ordinarily the members of Joe’s posse were late weekend risers, but Joe thought everyone in town would be up early this morning. No doubt The Man would shut down the Internet soon, as He had the phones, but for now it was Joe’s weapon, the weapon of the people.

It was time to fight the power.

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