Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 14

  “I’ll take care of it,” Bowen calls.

  The guns are moved aside and Bowen leans in. He pauses as uncertainty and fear dance across his face, but then he drops the tent flap behind him and crawls toward me, crouching at my side. He takes a small bottle out of his jacket.

  “About your arms, the burns,” he says, his voice hardly more than a whisper. “I had to shock you. I didn’t know what else to do to stop her—the beast—from …” Face grim, he looks down, studying the tent floor.

  From tearing my throat out with her teeth, I think. “I’m alive,” I answer, voice as quiet as his. “My arms hardly hurt. ” My arms throb with every single beat of my heart and radiate fire that goes all the way to my stomach and makes me feel like I have the flu. Bowen holds the bottle out. I take it and open my mouth to ask him what it is, but he presses a finger to his lips.

  “Aloe vera,” he mouths, glancing at the tent flap.

  “For the burns?” I whisper. He presses his finger to his lips again and nods. “Did you steal it?” I mouth, silent.

  The corner of Bowen’s mouth lifts, and he says softly, “For militia use only. Not for Fecs. Took me an hour to find. ”

  I open the bottle, squeeze green goo onto my palm, and slick it over my angry skin. Air hisses through my gritted teeth, but then I sigh. The fire in my arm seems to seep into the aloe. I slather the other arm and give the bottle back to Bowen. He tucks it into his jacket once more and pulls something else out. Ankle cuffs. I groan. Out loud. Feet scuffle outside the tent, rifles clatter to life, and then the tent flap is flung wide. The glossy black barrel of a gun jabs into the tent and hovers above my nose.

  “You need me to shoot it, Bowen?” Tommy asks.

  “Chill, Tommy. The kid’s just moaning about his arms,” Bowen says. Tommy drags the tip of his rifle over the burned flesh on my arm.

  I whimper and jerk away. Liquid oozes from a popped blister and Tommy laughs. He swings the gun toward my other arm, but Bowen grabs it.

  “Just leave the kid alone,” Bowen snaps. He shoves Tommy’s gun out of the tent.

  “Whoa, man, you’re the one who needs to chill. You’re acting … sympathetic toward the Fec. ” Tommy drops the tent flap and grumbles something I can’t quite make out.

  Bowen shakes his head and crawls to my feet. Without a word, he pushes the hem of my jeans up around my knees and attaches the cuffs to my calves.

  “Bowen, please don’t—” Before I can beg him not to restrain me, electricity hums and my legs snap together, the cuffs clicking against each other as they lock into place.

  “I’m not going to cuff your arms. You’re welcome,” he retorts.

  With my fingers I comb my hair out of my eyes and glare at him. “Thanks,” I whisper. He nods and tosses a wafer onto the floor beside me. And then he’s gone.

  Anger and frustration bring the sting of tears to my eyes. All I want is to be back in my house, the way it used to be, inside a thirteen-year-old body, with Jonah doing his homework in the music room while I practice the piano, and Dad in the kitchen cooking dinner, and Mom on her way home from work, and Lis coming home from college.

  I glare at the wafer, feeling so sorry for myself I’m tempted to chuck it out of the tent and start the slow process of starving myself to death. But my stomach growls, feels concave, so I shove it into my mouth. It dissolves into the flavor of roast ribs and sweet potatoes and trickles down my throat. I close my suddenly heavy eyes and give in to the food-induced lethargy that steals the last bit of energy from my muscles and wipes the anger from me. My sated brain listens to the conversation going on outside the tent.

  “Hey, guys. I’m going to try and get some sleep,” Bowen says, his voice spinning with my groggy thoughts. “The kid’s restrained again, and I gave him his ration. ”

  “Maybe you should double his dose,” Tommy says.

  “Not funny, Tommy. The lab only pays for living beasts. ”

  “It was a joke, Bowen. Don’t worry. We’ll keep the camp safe from the kid,” Tommy says.

  “Yeah. About that. Don’t let anyone in the tent, all right? And do not leave your posts. ”

  “You think he’s on the verge of turning?” Tommy asks, suspicious.

  “Something like that,” Bowen says, his voice fading as sleep settles over me.

  I am being touched, a warm hand caressing my cheek. The gentle touch reminds me of what I am missing—human contact—and leaves me wanting more, wanting my mother’s arms around me, my father’s hand patting my back, Jonah bumping his knuckles on mine, Lis painting my nails, Bowen …

  I sigh and lean into the touch, letting it fill me with comfort, with longing, with sorrow. Tears sting my eyes. I am so starved for affection it hurts. But I’m so tired, I can’t bring myself to open my eyes. The trembling fingers move from my cheek to my mouth, gently tracing my bottom lip. And then they clamp down, crushing my teeth into my lips.

  Tiredness forgotten, my eyes shoot open. Dark surrounds me, as if I’m in the tunnels again. A firm weight settles on my hips, and breath pants against my face.

  More hands touch me, sliding over my body, groping my chest. The bottom of my shirt is lifted, and cold metal touches my stomach. In one swift slice, the T-shirt is cut from my body. A flashlight flickers on, shining on my bound chest, and someone gasps.

  “I told you it was female!” The voice belongs to the person straddling me. I struggle against the weight, but my head is still groggy from sleep, my muscles filled with exhaustion. Plus, both of my tender arms are locked beneath a pair of knees. And my legs are locked in cuffs.

  The flashlight goes dark.

  “She’s been sedated, but hold her arms tight anyway!” the man atop me orders. Hands grip my arms, anchoring them to the tent floor. Again, I try to thrash, forcing a little more strength into my limbs, but I can’t get free.

  Warm breath wafts over my face. “If you move, I’ll kill you,” a man whispers into my ear. I open my mouth and scream, but his hand tightens and holds the noise in, grinding my cheeks against my molars.

  A nose prods my neck, sniffing, nuzzling. “It smells like a woman, even after living in the tunnels. Hold her tight. We’ve only got a few minutes to get her out of the camp. ” The weight climbs off me and my mouth is released. I open it, ready to scream, but my head jerks to the side as something collides with my face, and pain explodes behind my eyes. My chin is pulled down, and fabric is shoved into my open mouth. I scream again, but it’s muffled.

  “You grab her legs, Mac. Jerrold, you grab one arm, and I’ll grab the other. ”

  “How much do you think we can sell her for?” another man asks.

  “Enough for all three of us to pay our way inside the wall. Governor Soneschen is always willing to let people in for the right price. She’ll bring in a bundle! On the count of three, we move her out. One … two …”

  My blood surges, tightening my skin, making my breath come faster, devouring the exhaustion in my muscles and feeding them with strength. I growl and yank my arms from the men restraining them and sit up. My fingers curl into a fist and I throw all of my rage into swinging it toward the person closest to me. With an audible crunch, my fist contacts flesh, and the person plummets into the side of the tent.

  The other two men curse and jump on me, slamming me back to the ground. “I knew this was a bad idea!” one man says.

  I reach up and pull the wad of fabric from my mouth.

  “Bowen!” My scream echoes through the quiet night before a hand is suffocating me. I wiggle against it, claw at the arm it belongs to, try to breathe.

  Light flashes on the canvas roof and a pair of feet thumps outside.

  “Dude! Let’s get out of here. Help me with Len,” one of the men says.

  “Leave Len! This was his idea,” the other says, his voice panicked.

  The hands leave my mouth and arms, and the two men scurry out of the te
nt. I sit again and hug my knees to my chest, trying to catch my breath. A steady noise is growing in the camp—voices. And then Bowen is in the tent, flashlight in hand, hair messed from sleep. His eyes travel over my bare shoulders. When he sees Len, unconscious at my feet, Bowen’s nostrils flare and he begins to tremble. Without a word he tugs his shirt off—a plain white T-shirt—and hands it to me. I pull the shirt over my head as Bowen crawls to Len.

  “If you hurt her …” Bowen yanks Len by the front of his uniform, forcing him to sit. But Len’s head bobs like it is attached to a loose spring. Bowen drops him and presses his fingers to Len’s neck. He looks at me and says, “He’s dead. Did you do this?”

  “He’s what?” I whisper, wondering if I could have possibly heard him right.

  “Dead. ”

  I open and close my fingers, staring at them, wondering if my fist could have killed a man. It was just one hit. One punch. “I don’t know. I didn’t mean to kill him. I was just trying to stop him. ” The air starts rushing in and out of my lungs too fast. I press my eyes against my knees and try to calm down. I killed a man.

  A hand rests on top of my head. “Fo, are you all right?” When I don’t answer he says, “Fiona?”

  My name, my whole name on his lips, is like the aloe on my arms. It leeches the pain and fear from me and gives me the courage to answer. “Yeah, I’m all right,” I say without looking up.

  “I’ll be right back. ” The hand leaves my head and I don’t move.

  Within a minute Bowen’s returned with others.

  “I bloody told you not to leave your post!” he yells.

  “Len said—”

  “Len is not your superior officer! I am!” Bowen retorts.

  “Bowen, man, chill. Len said you wanted us to take fifteen, to drink some caffeine. ” I recognize the voice—Tommy’s. “There were three of them. I thought they could handle the situation. Why you freaking so bad? Did the Fec escape?”
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