Phontaine’s Gifts, is D.A. Blankinship’s apocalyptic novel about the ruin of America and the people caught in the tragedy. We join a grocery store manager when thousands of angry people crowd into his store looking for food. He takes us in an RV for a cross-country journey to make a last stand. We meet people who deny it is happening, those who are not prepared, and those few who will live because of Phontaine’s gifts.
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Newton and Maggie are brilliant, wealthy, and weird. They know the Earth is treacherous; it can destroy civilizations — it has happened before. Fortunately, they have a survival plan. Cynthia was in college when she met Newton. She never dreamt she would see the end, but she has and she can save her brother and his family. Mike and Amy were caught unawares. Mike manages a supermarket and falls victim to the ruthless search for food as people scurry across the land. Many deny it is happening, many discover they are not prepared, and a few survive because of Phontaine’s Gifts.
Theodore Newton Phontaine had been peculiar his en-tire life. His parents knew he was unusual. His brother and sister would testify under oath that he was different. They knew he was not normal by any widely accepted definition of that word.
His childhood development had been erratic. He did not speak until he was three years old, but by four, he was dealing with abstractions. By twelve years of age, he was spellbound by the proposed constancy of the speed of light, Kepler’s laws of celestial physics, and his fourteen-year old neighbor Linda; who was not the least bit interested in relativity, astrophysics, or him.
His mother and father called him Ted. He thought of himself as “Newton.” His middle name had been in honor of his paternal grandfather; however, he preferred to believe it signified some remote but significant association with Sir Isaac Newton. Doubtless, he had more in common with Sir Isaac than with a grandfather who managed an umbrella factory in Connecticut.
Newton’s education was routine in the classroom and extraordinary in the libraries. He haunted them on the weekends and throughout the summers of his youth. He roamed among the book stacks and found the vital nourishment that fed his voracious appetite to know more. He read the classics, history, fiction, non-fiction, and technical manuals on air conditioning, automobile repair, and electrical energy generation. For Newton, libraries were cathedrals of wisdom, cheerfully and patiently sharing their vast knowledge with him, asking only that he whisper in their presence.
Newton completed his public education without distin-guishing himself in the slightest. He had competently assessed that his questions were typically beyond the grasp of his teachers. On many occasions, he had raised this hand and excitedly offered his question only to be told it was a silly question. He would stare at his desk in confusion as classmates laughed and ridiculed him.
The first time this happened, Newton was in the fourth grade. His teacher was explaining that the Earth spun on an axis. As she spun the globe she was holding, Newton studied it and decided something was wrong about its shape.
“Ah,” he thought, “if the Earth spins and its surface is mostly water, it must bulge at the equator; the centrifugal forces would be the greatest there and the Earth should be stretched around the middle.” He raised his hand and asked why the globe the teacher was holding was round; it should bulge at the equator and be flatter at the north and south poles.
“Flat! Haven’t you been listening?” the teacher de-manded impatiently. “The Earth is round like a ball. Can’t you see it?”
“Yeah,” Newton’s classmate chided as the others laughed, “Columbus knew the Earth is round, but New-ton thinks it’s flat!”
From that moment on, Newton understood that his questions exceeded the teacher’s knowledge; yet, he was impervious to the discouragement inherent in the system. His enthusiasm rekindled with each new grade and the fresh potential he saw in each new teacher. If the fourth grade teacher did not know, perhaps the fifth grade teacher would know. At an uncharacteristically primitive level of analysis, Newton reasoned that since the subjects were more complex at higher grades, the teachers in those grades must know more. Someone will eventually understand and answer his questions.
Some teachers tolerated him for a while; though, typically within a few weeks they tired of his unrelenting questions. By the seventh grade, “why don’t you look that up yourself?” became their standard response. Newton decided it was excellent advice. From that point on, he decided to answer his own questions. That was when Newton stopped believing public education had anything to offer him, and he turned to libraries for the answers to his many questions.
Newton enjoyed college a little better; he designed new microprocessors, invented mass storage systems, held multiple patents, and quietly amassed his first billion dollars when he was twenty-nine.
Newton celebrated achieving his first billion by flying to Toronto, Chicago, New York, and Boston and staying long enough to eat pizza and visit a library. At each place he ate, he quietly left a one hundred dollar tip for the wait staff, and in each city, he stopped by the public library and left a five hundred thousand dollar cashier’s check in their suggestion box.
While visiting Boston, he met Maggie Nevin through a chance encounter at the library’s suggestion box. “What’s your suggestion?” he had asked her. “They need more books on Egyptian antiquities,” she had replied.
“I think we have complementary concerns,” Newton had said. “Let me put your suggestion in this envelope with mine and I am sure they will do something about their Egyptian antiquities holdings.”
Their relationship began with mutual deceptions.
Maggie told Newton she taught and she enjoyed watching the bright little faces light up with learning. If Newton thought she taught grade school, this was his misperception. She did not tell him she held the Carstad Chair in mathematics and the bright little faces were doctoral candidates defending research proposals.
Newton told Maggie he handled baggage for the airlines, a partial truth in that he always carried on his own bags. If she concluded he could get tickets to fly anywhere in the country because he was an airline employee, that was her misperception.
Eventually, the truth emerged and Newton and Maggie married with a promise to be honest in all mat-ters and all issues. They spent their honeymoon in search of great pizzas and libraries that needed a little help.
Newton and Maggie led a secretive life. Secretive in the sense that no one had any idea about their net worth, the depth of their intellectual interests, or their secret plan to save civilization.