Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 16

  The downpour is getting louder, though it isn’t raining any harder than it was a moment before. Which can mean only one thing. The beasts are closing in. My heart matches the growing throb of their footsteps, and I can see fear in Bowen’s eyes.

  “We have to run,” he says. He reaches for his pack, and I grab his icy hand.

  “On three, let’s do it together,” I say, turning my shoulder toward the door. He stares into my eyes for a moment and then nods.

  “One, two, three,” Bowen says. I throw myself into the door, expecting it to absorb my momentum. When my shoulder hits, the door swings inward, and Bowen and I fall into the factory, our arms and legs tangled. Bowen wiggles away from me and climbs to his feet, slamming the door and sliding a metal lock into place.

  I blink at the darkness. We stand in a huge empty room with one small window in the wall across from the door. The air is stale with dry heat and utterly silent.

  Bowen crosses the factory to a narrow staircase in the corner, and I follow. The second level of the factory has windows as tall as me, most of them broken. Rain is blowing through them, pelting my skin, cooling my burned arms. Bowen strides to an empty window and looks out. I follow, but when I get there, he grabs me and pulls me to the side, just behind the window frame, holding my back against his chest with an arm pulled tightly around my shoulders.

  “Don’t move,” he whispers against my ear. “Look. ”

  Thunder rumbles. The wind picks up and whips damp air into my face. The pounding deluge of summer rain swallows the sound of footsteps. Below, two blocks away, runs a large group of people. As one, they stop, fall onto hands and knees, and press their faces to the wet street.

  “Are they praying?” I ask.

  “Yeah, right. They can’t even talk. They’re tracking us by scent,” Bowen answers. “If they see us …” I press against him, trying to move us out of the window completely. “Just don’t move,” he whispers, tightening his hold on my shoulders.

  The beasts stand and take a few steps forward, then throw themselves down onto the soaked street again. They stand once more and start running. Away from our building. Bowen sags against me, pressing his forehead on my shoulder, and lets out a deep breath of air.

  “They lost the scent,” he says into my shirt. And then he laughs. He turns me to face him and grins. I can’t help but smile back. “The rain washed away the scent!” He runs his hands through his damp hair and sighs again.

  I follow him back downstairs, over to the wall with the lone window. He sets his pack down. I do the same and shrug my tight, weary shoulders.

  “So, now what?” I ask.

  “We hide here until Sunday. ”

  “We’re just going to sit in this building for four days?”

  “Yep. Bathroom’s over there behind that door. ” He points to a wooden door that’s been taken off its hinges and propped at an angle against the wall. “It’s nothing fancy—just a bucket and a roll of toilet paper. ” Bowen sits and faces the metal door we came in through, his back against the cement wall, and lays his gun in his lap. “Might as well make yourself comfortable. ”

  I take the sleeping bag out of my backpack, spread it over the dusty floor, and sit.

  “Bowen?” I say. He looks at me. The skin under his eyes is as gray as the world, as gray as the cement wall framing him. “I don’t think you brought enough food and water for four days. ”

  His eyebrows rise. “Don’t worry about it, Fo. I’ve got everything under control. ” He leans his head against the wall again and closes his eyes.

  “Bowen,” I say again.

  “What?” he replies, sounding annoyed.

  “Why did you do it?”

  He opens his eyes. “Do what?”

  “Leave the camp. With me. ”

  “To keep you safe. ”

  “I know, but you risked a lot. I might turn. I might kill you,” I say, yet even as I speak the words, I know I could never hurt him.

  “You’re right. You might turn. And you might have been safe at the camp. But what if you don’t turn? What if you are the only person in the world who carries the mark who doesn’t go insane? But because of your mark, someone sells you to the black market and you die?” He looks at me for a long time before adding, “I want you to live to have a chance to make it to the lab. I mean, I know you—have known you my whole life, even if we were never really friends. I think you deserve a chance. ” He shifts against the wall, sinking into the cement as if it were a pillow. “I need to sleep,” he says, shutting his eyes.

  I lie down on my side, and the sleeping bag rustles. Bowen’s bleary eyes pop open. They’re filled with alarm. “I almost forgot,” he says. He unzips his backpack and reaches in. I groan when his hand comes out.

  I shake my head. “No. Please,” I say.

  Bowen’s jaw hardens. “Fo, the only way I’m ever going to be able to relax with you around is if you’re cuffed. I’ll just do your ankles. ”

  “I’m not a beast,” I whisper.

  “If I’m going to protect you sufficiently for four days, I need to sleep. If I don’t have peace of mind, I won’t be able to sleep. And then we’ll both end up dead, because I won’t be able to do my job. I promise to release your legs when I wake up. ”

  “And if I refuse? Put up a fight?”

  He looks at his gun and then back at me, and his eyes turn cold. “I could always kill you. ”

  I glare at him, and then roll onto my back and glower at the ceiling. Bowen points the remote at me, electricity hums, and the cuffs clink together.

  He leans against the wall again, one hand resting on the gun in his lap, the other holding the remote, and is asleep in seconds. I put my hands behind my head and stare at the cobweb-covered ducts attached to the ceiling. My eyelids grow heavy, and I let them fall.

  Rain patters outside, and the occasional thunder rumbles, making a fog of sleep settle around my weary, aching body. And then I hear something different. My eyes fly open, and I roll onto my side, wondering if I was dreaming. Every fiber in my body is tensed, right down to my eardrums. Waiting. I hear it again—the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard—and I know it was no dream.

  The door shakes. The lock rattles against the metal, and dust floats from it. I look at Bowen to see if he heard it, but he’s snoring, head sunk to one side. I look back to the door and wait, but nothing happens.

  Eventually, weariness overrides fear and I drift off to sleep.

  Chapter 17

  The alarm is ringing. My clock radio must have fallen to the floor, because the ringing is muffled. I open my eyes and stare at a rectangle of sunlight on a cement floor. No alarm. No carpet. Just cement with a patch of sunlight. And I can’t move my legs.

  “What the …,” someone whispers. I roll onto my side. My shirt clings to my sweaty back. Bowen wipes sleep from his eyes and blinks. He clicks the remote at me and my legs are loose. “Come on. ” He grabs my hand and pulls me to my feet, hurrying upstairs.

  Late-day sunlight glints off water pooled on the floor at the base of the broken windows. A repeating gong, like a church bell, echoes in the humid air. Bowen strides up to a west window and sunlight drenches him, casting a long shadow at his feet.

  “You gotta be kidding me,” he mutters.

  “What is it?” I ask, standing behind him.

  “They’ve opened the gate! For the first time in ever, they opened the gate on a Wednesday! And we’re here and not there. ” He turns accusing eyes onto me. “I could have taken you to the lab right now and been done with you. Now I have to babysit you until Sunday. ” He shakes his head and pushes past me, grumbling under his breath.

  “Gee, thanks. But you’re the worst babysitter in the history of the world, Dreyden. Babysitters are supposed to be fun,” I say to his back, and then I stick out my tongue. Very thirteen-year-old.

  He turns and strides up to me, eyes full of fire
, not stopping until our noses nearly touch. I gulp and force myself not to step back. “Nothing about life is fun anymore, Fo,” he says. And then he leaves, feet thumping down the stairs.

  I turn to the row of west windows and find the one with the least amount of broken glass below it and sit. The air is heavy with moisture and heat, clinging to my skin, gluing my hair to my scalp. My calves are worse, hot and itchy and sweaty beneath the cuffs. I sift through the glass shards littering the floor and pick up a long, triangular piece, wrapping it in the hem of my white T-shirt. And then I begin sawing just above my knee. The denim pops and tears against the glass. When I’ve made a sufficient hole, I tear the fabric, using the glass again to cut through the tough seams. And then the bottom half of my jeans separates from the top. I pull the cut denim over my shoe and stare at the glossy black metal encasing my calf.

  “Stupid, stupid cuff,” I say, and chuck the cut-off piece of denim out the window.

  I start on the other leg, hacking at the fabric with the glass until I can tear it from the rest of the pants. I chuck it, too, and then jab at the metallic cuff encasing my calf. I take a second good, hard jab with the glass, gouging the metal, and gasp. Instinctively, I throw down the glass. The T-shirt protecting my hand has a small circle of red on it. The red spreads through the fabric, saturating the fibers, growing. I pull the fabric from my hand, and blood seeps out of a gash in my palm. The sight makes me want to gag.

  I stand on weak legs and hurry down the stairs. Bowen, sitting with his back against the wall, gun propped on his bent knees, facing the door, doesn’t look at me when I stop in front of him. His face is tight with anger, his brow furrowed.

  “Bowen?” I say.

  “What?” His eyes don’t leave the door.

  “Do you have a first-aid kit?” My voice shakes. He looks up, still glowering.

  “Why do you need a first-aid kit?” he asks. Blood escapes my cupped hand and drips between his boots. His gun is on the ground and he is on his feet, pulling my hand to his eyes. “How did you manage to get hurt? Wait here. ” He lets go of my hand, and it falls limply to my side. Blood trickles down my fingers. “And keep your hand above your heart!”
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