Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 15

  “Len’s. Dead. He—”

  “Was killed by the Fec?” four voices ask at once, not letting Bowen finish. Guns click, feet scuffle, and the tent flap is thrown aside. The four guards peer in at me with scared eyes, their guns aimed at my heart.

  “I don’t know what happened. Len was in the tent,” Bowen says, pushing between the guns and me. “But I’ve got to get the kid out of there. I’ll put him in my tent. You guys take care of Len. ”

  “Wait … you’re taking him to your tent? He killed Len! He’s on the verge! Have you lost your—” Tommy’s mouth snaps shut as his dark eyes move between Bowen and me. “Dude, Bowen. Is the Fec wearing your shirt?” he asks.

  Bowen clears his throat and glances at his bare chest. “Yeah. I guess so. ” He kneels beside me, releases my ankle cuffs, and helps me out of the tent.

  “Whoa. You’re touching a Level Ten, Bo. And he’s not wearing wrist cuffs! It’s no wonder he killed Len. For the sake of the camp, get him fully restrained!”

  Bowen glares at Tommy. “I’m the one who is in charge of the Fec. I’ll do what I deem necessary for the safety of the camp. Now, come on. ” The armed guard follows us as he leads me to his tent. He holds the flap up while I crawl inside, and then I am alone, segregated from the others by fabric walls. “Do not leave your post! No matter what,” Bowen says to the men now standing outside his tent. “And if the kid does anything, Tase before you shoot. Tase to stun, not kill. ”

  “Where are you going?” Tommy asks.

  “I’ve got a few things to do,” Bowen says, voice fading as he walks away.

  I lie atop Bowen’s sleeping bag with my head on his soft pillow. Wrapping my tender arms around my chest, I roll onto my side and stare at the darkness, wondering what’s going to happen to me now. Now that I have killed one of the militia. Do they hang people for murder, even if it is self-defense? Are they going to stand me against the wall, line up, and shoot me?

  My thoughts turn slowly from a tornado of fear and dread for my future to a gently swirling oblivion, and my eyes refuse to stay open.

  Quiet footsteps make my heart race and pull me from a sleep filled with nightmares. When the tent flap swings aside, I open my mouth to scream.

  “It’s me,” Bowen says. His voice is salve to my fear. My mouth snaps shut as he crawls into the tent, barely illuminated by the first hint of a gray dawn.

  “Where’s your uniform?” I whisper. He’s wearing faded blue jeans and a tattered Sprite T-shirt.

  “I hid it. ” He stuffs some things into a backpack and slings it over his shoulder.

  “Why would you do that?” I ask.

  He looks at me, eyes troubled. “We’re going rogue. Until Sunday. ”

  “Rogue? You mean, we’re leaving the camp?”

  He nods.

  “Why?”

  “I can protect the camp from you, no problem. But …” He takes an empty backpack from the corner of the tent and crams the sleeping bag into it. “… I can’t protect you from the camp. We’re going out on our own until I can get you to the lab. ” He tosses the pack at me, and I catch it.

  “What do you mean, protect me from the camp?” I ask, dread making me shiver.

  “For starters, you killed Len with your bare hands. You’re a girl. You shouldn’t be strong enough to kill him. Extreme bursts of strength are one of the first signs of turning. ” His eyes meet mine. “Once the camp finds out, they’ll think you’re on the verge. ”

  I swallow, wondering if I am on the verge. Am I about to morph into a bloodthirsty beast? I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday. Not physically, at least.

  “What do you think,” I ask, searching Bowen’s face.

  Bowen catches his lip in his teeth and stares at me for a long time. “I would have done the same thing if our roles were reversed. But that’s not the main problem. ”

  “Then what is?”

  “They know you’re a girl. ”

  I frown, confused.

  “Most of them haven’t set eyes on a woman in more than a year, Fo. Let alone a young, pretty woman. ”

  “What about you?” I ask.

  “That includes me. But I know me. And I trust me. I can’t say the same for anyone else. We’ve got to get you out of here. Now. So put on the backpack. ”

  Chapter 16

  The camp sleeps, an exhaustion brought on by the fight the day before. Only a few armed militia patrol the border. They watch Bowen and me with heavy, curious eyes as we pass into the trash-strewn street, but do nothing to stop us.

  Bowen walks with his hand on his rifle, and I walk beside him. His mouth is set in a thin, grim line, and his eyes never hold still, scanning empty alleys between abandoned buildings, peering through broken windows—glancing warily at me. Our feet on the cracked pavement make the only sounds in the still predawn.

  The sun never rises, hidden by a gray dome of clouds. The world is shades of brown and gray, with only the color of Bowen’s eyes and the word Sprite on his shirt to remind me that green plants once grew in this dead place.

  We have been walking less than an hour when Bowen, without a word, grabs the sleeve of my shirt and yanks me into a narrow alley between two brick buildings. He shoves me into the shadows and whispers, “Stay!” Balancing his rifle over his shoulder, he crouches at the alley’s entrance and takes aim at something I cannot see.

  Above the torrent of blood rushing through my body, I hear rain, the pitter-patter of hundreds of drops thudding on the ground. I hold my hand up to the gray sky, but it remains dry. I look up. There is no rain. But the pitter-patter is louder than a moment before, a downpour.

  I press my hand to my mouth and stare at Bowen’s back. The downpour is not rain. It’s footsteps. Lots of them. Running.

  Bowen sets his gun down and tears the backpack from his shoulders. With trembling hands, he unzips it and starts pulling things out—dehydrated food, water bottles, a grenade—and stops. He holds the grenade in one shaky hand and places the fingers of his other hand on the pin. The muscles in his jaw pulse. I creep to his side and squat so that our shoulders touch.

  The rifle is cold and much heavier than it looks. I pick it up, check the safety, balance it on my shoulder, rest my finger on the trigger, and point it out the alley in the direction of the stomping feet. And, side by side, we wait.

  The pounding grows steadily louder. My hands begin to sweat, making the gun slippery, making it hard to aim. My shoulder trembles against Bowen’s, and I wonder if he can hear my heart trying to explode out of my chest. A lone bead of sweat trickles down my temple.

  Bowen’s shoulder sags against mine, and he takes his fingers off the grenade pin. I look at him, thinking he must be crazy. He presses a finger to his lips and then touches his ear. I tilt my head to the side and listen. The footsteps are still there, still loud, but fading. To a drizzle. A sprinkle. Silence.

  Bowen lets out a sigh and sits on the ground, still balancing the grenade in his hand. I sit beside him and set the rifle down.

  “What was that?” I whisper.

  “An entire hive is on the move,” he says.

  “Hive?”

  “The beasts. A lot of them. Heading in the direction of the camp. ” Bowen carefully returns the grenade to his backpack and hands me a water bottle. I drink and pass it back. “I haven’t seen the beasts this stirred up in months. They attacked yesterday, and the day before…. Something’s bothering them. ” He looks pointedly at me.

  “You think it’s me causing this unrest?” I ask, stunned.

  “Maybe. You’re sure creating a lot of unrest for me. ” He puts his backpack on and peers out of the alley. “Come on. We’re almost there. ”

  With the gun now affixed to his shoulder, his finger looped through the trigger, we continue on. I follow a step behind him, my heart jumping at the echo of our feet against the ground, the jingling of his backpack, the scuff
of a shoe behind us.

  I stop and turn around. A wisp of gray, hardly more substantial than smoke, darts into a building half a block behind us.

  “Bowen!” I whisper. Before his name has settled into the air, he is in front of me, gun pointed in the direction I am looking.

  “What is it?” he whispers.

  “Someone is following us. ”

  He sweeps the rifle left and right. “Are you sure?”

  “Positive. ”

  “How many did you see?”

  “Just one. He darted into that building. ” I point.

  Bowen slowly lowers his gun, staring at the building.

  “Whoever it was is more scared of us than we are of him,” he says. “Let’s go. ” He takes my hand and pulls me down the street at a slow jog. I stare at our clasped hands, at the human contact, wondering why it almost makes me want to cry.

  Without warning, Bowen yanks me between two buildings and, hand in hand, we start to sprint. Our backpacks thump against our backs, and our feet pound the ground. Within seconds, my legs feel too weak, and a clammy sweat breaks out on my brow. My stomach turns, and I feel as if I haven’t eaten in a year.

  We round a corner, and Bowen pulls me to a stop in front of a metal door. Light flashes overhead and thunder rumbles. I rest my hands on my knees, gasping trembling breaths of air into my lungs, and peer up at the gray sky. A drip of water splatters against my forehead. And I hear the downpour again—whether rain or feet, I can’t say, because the sky is falling, a thick, cool downpour.

  Bowen swears and rams his shoulder into the door. It doesn’t budge. He does it again, throwing all of his weight into it.

  “I think it’s locked,” I say. My voice trembles. He ignores me and rams his shoulder into the door a third time with no results. He groans and smacks the door with his fist.

  “It’s not locked. I glued it shut so that no one else would be able to get in. But the glue should give under pressure. ” Bowen tries again, but the door doesn’t move. He rubs his shoulder and curses.
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