Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 22

  The raging starts again, shadows dancing, fighting with each other, men screaming, howling, tearing their clothes, pounding their chests.

  And then the big shadow raises both his hands, dampening the noise from forte to mezzo forte. “What do we do with her when we find her?” he grates out over the sound of his men. “If you think we’ll turn her over to you, you’d better have an outrageous reward waiting for us, and I can’t guarantee she’ll be impeccable on delivery. ” The roaring dies at the word delivery, as if cut off by the sharp blade of a knife.

  “You misunderstand me. She is the reward. But if you find her—when you find her, because I know you will—do not let her get inside the wall!” the smooth voice replies, though the smooth tone is accompanied by a fevered need. “When you find her, kill her. I don’t care how. But make all evidence that she existed disappear. Burn her remains. ”

  The roaring starts again, throbbing painfully loud. Torchlights flicker. Men howl, their shadow faces aimed at the dark sky. I try to force myself to blend into blue metal. Become the box.


  Bowen jumps beside me, his shoe scraping on the cement, a sound way too loud even with the men screaming around us. Someone has to have heard.

  I stop breathing, stop moving—even my eyeballs—as I stare straight ahead at the shadows on the building. One of them noticed the sound of Bowen’s scraping shoe. I see the figure uncurl from the ground, see the shadow chains restraining it. Biting my tongue, I peer to my left, around the postbox, and look right into the beast’s eyes—eyes that are twin to my own.

  “Jonah,” I whisper, as sorrow and fear thunder through me. His head tilts to the side and he lunges. Taken off guard, the men holding the chains fall forward with Jonah’s momentum and he clangs free, dragging his chains behind him and running straight at me. My eyes grow round, and I shake my head a fervent no—I cannot imagine what will happen if I am caught, if he gives my presence away. And, as if he’s the old, gentle Jonah, he pauses, the briefest release of his sculpted muscle. He blinks, looks away, and changes course, veering toward the opposite side of the street, sprinting away on one good ankle, and one ankle that is twisted painfully to the side.

  The men erupt, feet pounding the ground. Gunfire echoes over the shocked, furious screams of men, and as if a vortex has sucked everyone away, the street becomes dark and empty in a matter of seconds. Only the smells of smoke and sweat remain, and trash gently flutters to a stop in the street.

  Bowen sags against me, his breath ragged. Where our shoulders press together, my T-shirt is sopping with frigid sweat.

  “What is going on?” he whispers, his breath like frost against my ice-sweaty skin.

  “I don’t know. ” My voice is almost a sob. “Who was that man with the Inner Guard?”

  “The governor. From inside the wall. The ruler. My brother’s employer,” he whispers, still sagging into me as if his bones have been removed.

  “Who was the other one? The big guy?” I can still hear his gravelly voice in my head.

  Bowen lifts his head and looks at me, wiping damp bangs from his forehead. “Remember the gangs I told you about? The raiders? There are two of them—two main gangs. He’s the leader of one of them. He’s the man who stole my mom. ”

  Chapter 22

  My head throbs with tension that has me clenching every muscle in my body, and I don’t know if I can go much farther. I push sweat-crunchy bangs from my forehead and force my legs to continue forward.

  The glass skyscrapers of downtown Denver reflect the brightening sky, glowing with the promise of a very near sunrise. In between the slender skyscrapers, a few blocks away, the wall looms—a muddle of stacked, rusty train cars and cinder-blocks.

  Bowen pauses, and I almost walk into him before I realize he’s stopped moving. I halt, wanting to fall to the dusty sidewalk and sit, but stay standing.

  “Where are we?” I whisper, wobbling on unsteady legs. My voice is out of place in the quiet morning. Bowen tilts his face toward the sky. I follow his gaze and blink at a massive, ornate glass skyscraper that seems to touch the blazing blue sky.

  “Marriott,” Bowen states, sticking his head through the frame of a glassless revolving door in the building’s exact center.

  “The hotel?” I ask, wondering if my sluggish brain heard him right.

  “Yeah. You need rest. And sometimes there’s water in the toilet tanks, in case we run out. And if we are really lucky,” he says, looking at me with a gleam in his weary eyes, “we might find a room with a bed that hasn’t been destroyed. You can sleep in comfort. ”

  In spite of the terror of the night, I smile at the thought of sleeping in a real bed. Bowen smiles back, an expression that reaches his eyes and warms my exhausted body. A moment later his smile fades and he presses a finger to his lips. I cringe and twirl around, expecting attack. A hand softly squeezes my shoulder, and Bowen turns me back to face him.

  “It’s okay. You’re safe. When the militia passed the order to shoot raiders on sight, the raiders stopped coming out in daylight. ” He nods toward the remnants of the revolving door, presses his finger against his lips again, and tiptoes into the hotel.

  Inside, sunlight glints off the glass-speckled marble floor—the glass from the revolving door—and I find myself in a ransacked lobby. Faded, once-red furniture has been pushed to the sides of the room. The stuffing is spilling out of most of the pieces, and I see a rat—a rat!—poke its head out of a hole in a sofa to watch us with beady eyes. Paintings hang crookedly on washed-out walls, and a layer of dust dulls everything.

  In the lobby’s center sits something out of my dreams. A dusty black grand piano.

  A slew of music fills my head, resonates in the ugly minuscule sounds of this dead world. It turns into a haunting melody of snow and ice. Christmas music. At Christmastime I would dress in scarlet velvet trimmed with white lace and play the piano. This piano.

  Child prodigy.

  That’s what my mother called me. That’s what my teachers called me. That’s the name my peers teased me with. That, and Fotard.

  I can still hear my music theory teacher’s voice: With those fingers, she’s destined to be one of two things in this life. A surgeon or a musician. But who would want to be a surgeon?

  My fingers could fly across the keys faster than human eyes could see, dancing to the music as they created it, brought it to life. If I wasn’t doing homework, or spying on the boy across the street, or playing games with Jonah, I was sitting at the piano, filling myself with music—with joy. Or sorrow, depending on the piece. On that day, right before I turned thirteen, it was foreboding that overwhelmed me as I learned Beethoven’s Seventh. I’d studied the piece the night before, memorized the translated words of a poem that had been sung to the tune, the words of “Figlio Perduto”—“Lost Son”—about a boy and his father going home, but the boy keeps hearing things and seeing things that his father cannot. And then the Erl King—a fairy king—comes to steal the boy away into another world. Only, the father couldn’t see the king.







  My fingers pounded the keys, the song consuming me, haunting me, making me feel as if I were the one being stolen away by the Erl King’s magic.

  Dad’s voice bellowed into the music room, military fierce. “Quiet!”

  My hands jerked off the keys, my toe released the pedal, and I stood from the glossy black bench, shocked.

  The television boomed from the other room, turned so loud the windows rattled. I closed the piano, pushed the bench in, and followed the noise.

  Jonah and Lis sat on
the sofa, leaning toward the television, their eyes wide. Dad sat in his wheelchair beside the sofa, square hands resting on the wheels, attention glued to the TV screen.

  I glared at my family. No one had ever yelled at me to be quiet before. I was a prodigy, after all. “Why can’t I play the—”

  “Shhhh!” they hissed as one. Lis glanced at me, and without speaking a word, I knew something was wrong. She held up her hand and I clasped it and stared at the television, too. And the more I heard, the closer to the television I leaned.

  “Because of the direness of the situation, we thought it best to speed matters along,” said a man in a gray suit. He stood alone at a podium in front of a group of reporters. The reporters wore white masks over their mouths: the kind doctors and surgeons wore to avoid spreading disease. “If we didn’t step in, bees would already be extinct and that would potentially lead to worldwide famine, possibly even the extinction of the human race. ”

  “So, you’re saying you fixed the bee problem? Honeybees are no longer on the endangered species list?” a woman from the crowd asked the man in the suit.

  The man looked away from her, straightened his red tie, and looked right at the camera and stared, as if staring directly into our family room, staring into every room in America. “Yes. We found a solution,” he said, his eyes fastened to mine through the plasma screen. “We have already genetically modified honeybees. ”

  On the bottom of the screen, words zipped by. Flu death toll at a new high. Over fourteen thousand known deaths with thousands more expected. Hospitals too full to admit new cases. Entire East Coast advised to stay indoors. West Coast predicted to follow.

  “So, you’re saying, in the midst of this monumental flu epidemic, we finally have something to celebrate?” another masked reporter asked.

  The man in the suit tugged at the collar of his white shirt, swallowed, and looked down. Slowly, he placed his hands, palms down, on the podium. “No,” he said, unable to meet the camera with his eyes. “We modified the bees. But the GenMod bees … they killed the other bees. All of them. ”
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