Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 10

  The night turns to day as lights built into the wall flood the ground. And then I see the reason for the commotion.

  A guy has entered the camp—young, black haired, shirtless, with straining muscles and bulging veins beneath skin the color of coffee. He’s growling and throwing men around like they’re paper dolls dressed in brown paper uniforms.

  “No guns! Taser the beast! Taser to stun!” Bowen roars beside me, pulling me faster. Toward the uproar. Toward the beast. “Tasers! Now!” he shrieks.

  Several men release their guns and grab palm-size black devices from their belts, aiming toward the beast. With a zip of electricity I can feel in my cuffs, the Tasers go off, zapping the men surrounding the beast with a quick flash of blue as tiny metal prongs embed into their skin. They crumple to the ground, eyes rolled back in their heads, mouths slack, bodies convulsing. With them down, there is a clear path to the beast. My cuffs tingle with electricity again, and blue sparks light the air, but when they hit the beast, he growls, yanks the small metal Taser plates off his skin, and keeps attacking.

  Surely Bowen can see how insane this person is, I tell myself. Yet Bowen still drags me toward it. And all I can think is, Is he crazy?

  I dig my feet into the ground, dragging against his hold. He pulls harder. I dig my feet deeper. His eyes meet mine, full of fury, and he smacks me upside the head, knuckles slamming into my temple.

  The world swims before my eyes, a blur of brown coats and guns, and my knees buckle. Bowen’s arm snakes around my waist, and he drags me the last few steps toward the beast. In one swift move, he throws me down to the ground. And then he sits on me, his legs on either side of my hips.

  His eyes flicker to my bound chest and he freezes, as if everything in the world but the two of us has disappeared. Time stops, my eyes grow wide, and his green eyes take in every detail of my body before meeting mine again. When our eyes lock, his brow furrows, his eyes narrow in confusion, and he blinks. But then the cuffs on my arms fall from my skin. Bowen picks them up and stands, taking a slow step away from me.

  I roll onto my side, toward the beast, and whimper at what I see. A circle of militia, at least twenty thick, surround the beast and two other people. The militia have their Tasers and automatic weapons trained on the beast, following its every move. The beast’s muscles twitch and spasm from the electrical residue of the Tasers, but it doesn’t seem to care.

  Bowen, his hands raised, speaks soothing words to the beast as he slowly walks toward it. But the beast isn’t paying attention to him. It is looking at the third person trapped inside the armed circle of militia.


  Its dark eyes, the irises overwhelmed with pupil, devour me. And there is nothing human about the way it stares. I am looking into the eyes of a wild animal. A very deadly, brawny wild animal. Bowen looks between the beast and me as if debating something. His jaw pulses, his body goes taut, and then, as if it pains him, he steps between the beast and me.

  “You move, you die,” he says to the beast, his voice no longer calm and soothing.

  The beast growls and fakes a lunge forward, but Bowen doesn’t budge. A deep, gravelly hum interrupts the silent night, growing slowly louder, like a jet tearing across the sky. And then the sound grates against the night, vibrating in my ears. It is coming from the beast’s mouth. It leaps forward and swats Bowen aside, flinging him through the air. And then it is just the beast and me. It stares at me, lips pulled back from its stained teeth, drool coating its skin, eyes starved, as if it is about to devour a feast. Me.

  But as Bowen flies through the air his voice rings out clarion clear:

  “Taser to kill!”

  Never taking its animal eyes from me, the beast leaps. Streams of blue lightning flash above my head, disappearing into the creature’s dark skin. Its feral eyes stop staring as they roll back in its head, gleaming bloodshot white, and its body convulses as it soars through the air.

  It lands on me, crushing me into the ground, and electrical current enters my body, boils my blood, and jolts my heart.

  The beast spasms atop me and my eyes roll back into my head.

  Chapter 12

  My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth like a fly on flypaper. I work it free and part my swollen lips. Pain pulses in my head in time with my heartbeat. I bring shaky fingers up to my temples and the pain intensifies, making me cringe.

  I force my eyelids up over my parched eyeballs and see nothing but darkness. But to the left of me, the darkness is somehow darker, and shaped like shoulders and a head. I reach toward that darkness and feel fabric, and beneath the fabric, warm skin.

  “Are you awake?” the shadow whispers.

  I jerk my hand away, startled. “I hope not,” I croak. Every single bit of my body aches. I groan.

  “Definitely awake,” he says, voice a deep, quiet rumble. Bowen.

  “Crap. I was afraid of that. Why do I hurt so much?” Even talking hurts. I gingerly lick my swollen lip and taste blood.

  “Let’s see. You were attacked by a beast filled with electricity. Before that, I hit you upside the head because I had to get your cuffs off. Oh. And the bathroom door split your lip. ”

  Bathroom door? And then I remember—he tore the shirt from my body. Revealed my secret. I gasp and run my hands over my chest and down to my hips. A shirt covers me, a shirt that smells like a high mountain lake. My eyes slip shut in relief. My secret is still safe.

  “So, when were you going to tell me?” he asks.

  My eyes pop open, and I gulp down a resurgence of fear. “Tell you what? I don’t know what you’re talking about. ”

  He chuckles. “Whatever, Fotard. ”

  That name on his lips sends my heart racing. It is the name he made up to torment me when we were in third grade. I push up onto my elbows to get a better look at him and realize that for the first time since I’ve been in the camp, my cuffs aren’t fused together. Bowen scrambles backward and bumps up against the wall of a tent.

  “Don’t move or I’ll activate your cuffs,” he says, voice hard.

  I lower myself back onto the sleeping bag and lay my arms flat against my sides. “I’m not moving. ” I look at his silhouette out of the corner of my eye. Slowly, he eases closer to me, juts a bit.

  “Can I ask you something, Bowen?” He knows my secret. There’s no use in pretending anymore.

  “Yeah. I guess. ”

  “Are you Dreyden? Or Duncan?” I already know the answer—I just need to hear him say it.

  There’s a long pause before he answers, “You spent enough time staring at my brother. Can’t you tell the difference?” There is resentment in his voice.

  I see the two faces from my past, the two brothers, one with gray eyes, one with green, one my age, one several years older, and know without a doubt which one sits beside me. “But you’re too old to be Dreyden,” I whisper.

  “Too old? We’re the same age,” he says.

  I take a deep breath, grateful for the darkness that hides my face when I ask, or rather squeak, “How old am I?”

  “What do you mean? You don’t know?” Skepticism taints his voice, as if he thinks I’m lying.

  I’m thirteen. One-three. I can remember blowing out thirteen candles on my last birthday cake. Remember my twin brother blowing out the candles on his cake at the same time. I wore a yellow sundress. And mascara on my pale lashes—my first time wearing mascara. My mom gave me my first bottle of perfume, and my dad gave me a gold treble-clef charm on a gold chain. My hand gropes my empty collarbone, feeling for the necklace even though I already know it isn’t there.

  “Seventeen. ” Bowen’s voice interrupts my memories.

  My breath comes too fast and my hands grip my too-big hip bones. There is no way I’m seventeen. He’s got to be wrong, got to be lying to me. I push up on my elbows again to tell him so, and hear the hum of electricity. My arms are yanked out from under me an
d meld together, pinned awkwardly over my stomach. I fall back and land with a thud, and all the air jolts from my lungs. Pain shoots through my throbbing head, and my stomach roils with nausea. I whimper and squeeze my eyes shut.

  “I told you not to move,” Bowen says, his words laced with anger. He opens the tent flap and leaves.

  After a moment of lying perfectly still and taking deep, even breaths, the nausea subsides and I can think despite the pounding of my head. Seventeen. That’s how old my body looks. But I don’t remember turning fourteen or fifteen. Or sixteen. And I definitely don’t remember seventeen. I remember …

  Lavender and forget-me-nots blowing in the wind.

  Being forbidden to go outside.

  Jonah staring out the music-room window while I practiced piano.

  Wearing clothes to school that covered me from my neck to my fingertips to my toes, with a hat that draped bee sting–resistant netting over my head like a veil.

  I remember a yard with grass that hadn’t been mown in so long it died and was replaced by dandelions even though my dad was anal about paying someone to keep the lawn mowed and edged.

  And Mom and Lis coming home from the grocery store wearing their netting veils, and all they’d purchased was bags and bags and bags full of canned fruit and dehydrated meat substitute.

  I remember the sharp prick of a needle, hardly bigger than the tip of a pencil, and a deep voice that didn’t belong to my father: You have to relax your muscles, Fiona.

  And every month when Jonah and I went to the health clinic to get another shot, I cried, so Jonah held my hand.

  “Bowen,” someone outside my tent whispers, scattering my memories. “Can we talk?”

  “Yeah. What?” Bowen says, his voice still tinged with anger.

  “Mind sending the armed guard away first?”

  “Take a break, men. I don’t think the kid’s going to try anything in the next ten minutes,” Bowen says.

  “Yessir. ” The hollow thump of boots echoes up through the ground.

  “‘Sup, Len?” Bowen asks.

  “I want to know your answer regarding what we talked about last night,” Len says, his voice hushed.
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