Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 27

  “Lying about what?” I whisper.

  “If you want to survive, you have to leave with me right now. I know a way inside the wall through the tunnels. I’ll take you to the lab and collect the reward. ”

  I cannot leave. Not when Bowen’s down there facing almostcertain death.

  “It’s what Bowen would want, because there’s no way they’re going to let him walk away alive,” she says, as if she can read my mind.

  My hands start to tremble, so I hug the rifle to my chest. Can I leave him there and save myself? It is what he would want, and I know it. Just thinking it makes me feel as if I’ve been torn in two. “No. I have to help Bowen. ”

  “You can’t. He and Tommy have been sitting there all night, hoping the raiders would forget about them. We’ve got to run before it’s too late. I’ll show you where—”

  “They’ve been there all night?” I gasp.

  Arrin nods. “Why do you think it took me so long to get to you? I had to sneak like I’ve never snuck before. ”

  Completely unconcerned for my own safety, I stand tall, shove Arrin aside, and put the rifle back on my shoulder, balancing my elbow on the windowsill for a steadier shot. Like a beacon of hope, the sun crests the horizon and shines on me, gleaming against the gun. Bowen’s head comes up, his face turned toward mine, toward the flash of sunlight on metal. He waves at me to get down, but I’ve already decided what needs to be done.

  I point the rifle at a rooftop half a block away, at the man closest to me. He’s holding a gun, pointing it toward Bowen’s hiding place. I take a deep breath and close my eyes, knowing this is the most important shot I will ever take in my life. And probably the last. My father’s voice speaks in my head, teaching me how to aim a gun all over again. It’s just like learning to play the piano—all in the fingers. As the air leaves my lungs, I open my eyes, brace for the recoil, and slowly squeeze the trigger. The sound of gunfire echoes off sunlit buildings.

  I don’t wait to see if I’ve hit him to find my next target. I aim and shoot again. And a third time.

  “He pulled the pin!” Arrin whispers, her words barely making it past my ringing ears. I look at Bowen and Tommy. Bowen stands and chucks the grenade down the road, then he and Tommy run in the other direction. Gunfire fills the quiet morning. Bowen lurches and falls to the ground, and my heart misses a beat. Did he get shot? Is he dead? Tommy crouches down and pulls Bowen back to his feet. And then the grenade explodes, shaking the hotel, deafening my ringing ears, and creating a cloud of dust that hides Bowen and Tommy from view.

  “We have to get out of here!” Arrin says, standing. Her voice sounds muted, like I’m hearing it through water. She darts toward the door. I take one final look below and swallow a surge of dread. While Bowen’s hidden by dust, I’ve been seen. The men too far from the explosion to be hurt are pointing at me. Guns go off and bullets whiz by my head or send sprays of glass flying from the building. And men are running toward the hotel.

  “Oh, crap. ” I sprint after Arrin.

  Chapter 27

  I sprint down the hall to the stairs, but before I make it to the thirteenth floor I hear the sound of feet thumping in the stairwell below, of someone coming up. Arrin stops and waits for me.

  “They’re about to catch us. No mercy,” she says, her eyes hard. “Kill before asking questions. ” A knife appears in her hand, and she pivots on the balls of her feet, braced for a fight. I balance the gun on my shoulder and wait. The thumping of feet grows louder. And louder. When the sound of heavy breathing accompanies the feet, I know we are about to die.

  Men come into view, and all I focus on is the place on a broad chest where I have to put the bullet. In spite of the gun pointed at them, they don’t slow. I grit my teeth and find the trigger.


  I squeeze, and the gun discharges a split second before it is knocked out of my hands.

  One of the men reels backward and topples head over feet down the stairs. Triumph swells inside of me. I’ve hit my target.

  “What did you do that for!” someone booms.

  “Fo,” Bowen groans.

  I lower the gun and stare in mute shock. Bowen lies in a crumpled heap of blood and clothes on the landing below. I run down the steps and grab his shoulders. He goes rigid at my touch. “Not so rough,” he gasps.

  I let go and stare at him. “Are you badly hurt?” I ask.

  “You shot him, idiot,” Arrin snaps, slamming the rifle against my chest. I clutch it and everything goes numb—my fingers, my ears, my brain. Unable to move, to speak, I stare at Bowen.

  Tommy eases Bowen to sitting and slings Bowen’s arm over his shoulders. Then he glares at me. “Never trust a woman with a gun. He comes here to save your life and you almost kill him,” he says, staring at me like I’m trash. “Are you hurt bad, man?” he asks Bowen.

  Bowen nods and cringes, peering down at his stomach. Blood is soaking his shirt, oozing onto his pants, and dripping onto the floor. “I need coagulant. Now. Where’s your backpack, Fo?” Bowen asks. His voice is as unsteady as my hands.

  “In the room,” I say, unable to take my eyes from the blood. Every heartbeat that passes, his blood flows more quickly, dripping off the hem of his shirt and splattering into an ever-growing puddle on the dirty floor. I turn and start running up the stairs toward the fifteenth floor.

  “Hurry!” Tommy calls. “We fused the stairwell door to buy some time, but we’ve only got a few minutes at most. ” I run faster, taking the stairs three at a time until I reach the fifteenth floor. I sprint down the hall to room 1515 and crash inside, jerking to a startled stop.

  A small boy, maybe six years old, is sitting on the bed, an entire chunk of Spam straight out of the can in his hands—one of which is marked with the sign of the beast. He’s gnawing on the meat so intently he doesn’t notice me.

  I take a step toward him and his eyes dart up to mine. The Spam falls from his hands to the mattress and he flinches. “Please don’t hurt me,” he whispers, wrapping his arms around his knees and pulling them against his chest.

  “I won’t,” I say. “You can have the meat. There’re peaches, too. ”

  He lifts his head and stares at me with wide, shocked eyes. “Where’s your mom?”

  “She’s asleep in another room. ”

  I jog to the backpack and pull out three cans of peaches, tossing them onto the bed. “Take these to her and tell her some bad men are coming and you guys need to hide. ” He puts the Spam and three cans of peaches into his tattered shirt and jumps off the bed. I sling the backpack over my shoulder and run back to the thirteenth floor.

  Bowen is lying on the landing again, eyes shut. His face is so pale that a smattering of freckles stands out on his nose. Even his lips are gray. Arrin is kneeling beside him, staring at his face, and Tommy is gone. Arrin sees me and takes a knife from her pants. She lifts his shirt and puts the blade on Bowen’s stomach.

  “No!” I scream, leaping down half a flight of stairs and landing beside them, my feet slipping in blood. I yank the knife from her hand and stare at her, horrified.

  “I was going to cut his shirt off, dimwit,” she snaps, taking the knife back. “He’s wearing a Kevlar vest and we’ve got to get it off him. ” She lifts his shirt and slices through the fabric. With unsteady hands I unzip his Kevlar vest.

  “The vest didn’t work,” I whisper, staring at Bowen’s bloody stomach.

  “Hello! You shot him at close range! Vests don’t work at point blank!” Arrin says, rolling her eyes.

  I ease his arms out of the vest and cringe. His stomach is so bloody, I can’t tell where the wound is. I take a packet of coagulant from the backpack and tear it open, then sprinkle it over his entire stomach.

  He gasps and his eyes open, rolling back into his head. Arrin takes a scrap of his shirt and wipes the blood from his stomach. But when the shirt comes away, covered with blood and white be
ads, new blood oozes onto his skin so fast, I still can’t tell where the wound is.

  “You need more,” she says. “Lots more. ”

  I open another packet and hand it to Arrin. “You pour it,” I say. I lift Bowen’s head and cradle it in my lap. Leaning down, I kiss his pale lips. They are as cold and unresponsive as clay. Without warning, he jerks away from me as coagulant hisses in his wound. He moans and curls up on his side facing me, clutching his stomach.

  “What in the …” Arrin breaks off, face draining of color. She turns her head to the side and vomits on the stairs.

  “What?” I ask.

  She shakes her head, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. “It went clean through him,” she whispers.

  “What did?”

  She dry heaves and squeezes her eyes shut. “The bullet. ” Without opening her eyes, she points a bloodstained finger at Bowen’s back. I lean over his body for a better look.

  A chunk of flesh is missing just below Bowen’s ribs, and blood is pulsing out of the wound. I gag once and then make myself take a deep breath. The air smells like blood and death, so I breathe through my mouth.

  I grab my backpack and find three more packets of coagulant—all the coagulant I have left.

  “Hold him down on his stomach,” I say.

  Arrin, eyes still closed, climbs atop Bowen’s shoulders and pushes them to the ground so she is sitting on his back. I open all three packets of coagulant and at once pour the tiny white beads onto the gaping wound.

  A scream tears out of Bowen’s mouth, echoing in the narrow stairwell. He arches his back and thrashes, throwing Arrin from him, hands clawing at the ground. I jump on his legs but can’t hold him still.

  The coagulant fizzes and bubbles, mixing with blood and expanding to fill the wound. And as it spreads, the bleeding slows. Bowen’s body goes from tense to limp and then sags into the floor. I climb off his legs and put my hand on his cheek. His skin is ice cold and damp, his blue-tinged mouth hanging limply open.
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