Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 31

  “You want to come with us now, Ten, or do you want your escort shot first?” The click-clack of a rifle being cocked echoes through the tunnel.

  Without a second thought, I drop Bowen’s hand and take a step forward.

  “No! Fo, wait,” Bowen pleads, taking a step toward me.

  “Bowen, they’ll kill you if I don’t go with them. ”

  “That’s right. She’s got to come now,” the man in the shadows says.

  “Who are you?” Bowen asks, his voice so strong he sounds healed.

  “No one important. Just let the girl come to me,” Shadow Man says.

  “Can I have thirty seconds to say good-bye?” Bowen asks.

  There’s a long silence. “I’m feeling sympathetic today. Just don’t do anything stupid. ”

  Tommy’s match goes out, but another light flares overhead. The man hanging in the pipes hands a lantern to us.

  Bowen opens his arms and I step into them. He rests his forehead on mine and a new knot of worry tugs tight inside of me. He’s no longer cold—his forehead is flaming hot against mine and parchment dry. “I’m pretty sure these guys are the men who run the black market, which means you’re going to the pits,” he whispers, eyes staring into mine. “I’ll come for you as soon as I can. I promise. Just … don’t give up hope. And fight to stay alive if you have to. Fight!”

  A rough hand grabs my wrist and yanks me away. I reach for Bowen and catch his outstretched hand, our fingers clasping before I’m pulled away from him. Bowen’s face tightens.

  “Get the Ten out of here, boys, and escort Bowen and his buddy to make sure they don’t follow us,” Shadow Man orders. Bowen and Tommy start sloshing through the muck, a group of armed men at their backs. When I can no longer hear their retreat, Arrin reappears.

  “Aren’t you forgetting something?” she asks, gnawing on the side of her thumb. She bites a piece of skin off and nibbles it with her front teeth.

  “Are you so hungry you’re eating yourself, Fec?” answers Shadow Man.

  Arrin spits and glares into the shadows. “Where’s my reward? You promised me sixteen ounces if I brought her in. ” Her stomach grumbles.

  The man laughs, and Arrin pulls a knife from her shorts, growling, poised to kill. The man laughs harder.

  “You’ll get paid, don’t worry. But do you really think you deserve honey? For selling Fecs on the black market?” He glances at the tattoo on her hand. “And what happened to that Three you promised earlier this week?”

  “That was Fiona’s fault. She got him killed in the camp,” Arrin growls.

  Dumbfounded, I stare at Arrin. “You were going to sell your own brother to these people?” I ask.

  Arrin rolls her eyes. “I don’t have a brother. And where’s my honey? Pay me now so I can get out of here and trade the honey for some real food. ”

  “The only payment you’ll be getting is the same fate as the Ten,” Shadow Man says. I swear I can hear a smile in his voice, though his face is still hidden by darkness.

  Arrin gasps. “But who will get you Fecs for the pits? And what if the governor hears about this? He’s trying to get her back inside the wall. ”

  “Who do you think asked me to put the Ten in the pits in the first place?” Shadow Man says with a laugh. “He said use any means possible to find her. I wonder if he knew I’d use the Fec that supplies me—and him—with other Fecs. You’re going to the pit. ”

  Arrin’s knife trembles and falls to the ground at her feet. “The p-p-pit?” she stutters. “But I get Fecs for the governor to bleed! If he finds out you put me in the pits, he’ll kill you. ”

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” Shadow Man says with enthusiasm. The reason the governor hasn’t yet shut us down is that he is too concerned with collecting the dead bodies we provide. He won’t even know you’re there until it’s too late. Wonder what he’ll think when he opens the body bag with you in it. Best bit of irony I’ve heard since the day I learned the elite children of the country were all going to turn to beasts. ” The man chuckles.

  Arrin screams and tries to run, but the man in the pipes swings down like an ape and lands on her. Two more men step into the circle of light and take Tommy’s and my rifles. Others move out of the dark. They are clean, neat men, with brushed hair, wearing clean, faded clothing. They look like the type of men who used to take their kids to the park on warm afternoons or wash their cars on Saturday mornings. Until you see the guns in their hands, and their shifting eyes.

  Two men stop beside me. One pulls my arms forward and fits cuffs to them. “Are you familiar with electromagnetic cuffs?” he asks. He has brown hair, parted on the side and combed into place.

  I nod.

  “Good. I’d hate to kill you prematurely. ”

  The cuffs hum and pull together. Arrin, pinned to the floor, is cuffed, too. As I’m shoved past her, she glares up at me, brown sludge caking her face.

  “This is all your fault. ” She hisses. “If they put me in the pit with you, I’ll tear your throat out with my bare hands. ”

  I stare straight ahead and walk.

  Chapter 31

  Overhead, a circle of dim light appears, and I squeeze my eyes shut against the blinding shock.

  “You want me to uncuff them, or are we going to hoist them up?” asks the man jabbing his gun against my spine, the man who has been guiding me through the tunnels, with his hair combed neatly to the side.

  “A Level Ten? And that Fec? No way are we going to uncuff either of them. Hoist for sure. But bag their heads first,” another man answers—Shadow Man. I’ve memorized his voice.

  A thick, scratchy hood is pulled over my head, and the light is gone. Behind me, Arrin starts to scream and spit. Someone grunts and curses. The air crackles and the cuffs on my forearms grow warm. Arrin’s scream turns to a whimper and then silence.

  “You shocked the Fec?” someone asks.

  “Yeah. Little bugger bit me,” Shadow Man says. “I’m probably going to get some Fec disease. ”

  Men chuckle like they’re discussing a naughty dog. The sound makes me too hot, makes me want to jump on them and scratch their eyes out. Just like I tried with my mom. Maybe I am going to turn after all.

  A rough cord is looped across my chest, under my arms, and behind my back. “Walk forward two steps, Tarsis. ” The voice is so close it makes me jump. I take two blind steps forward. “Now, don’t flail. You’ll fall and crack your head open if you do,” the voice warns—the voice of my guide.

  The cord bites into my armpits, chafing my skin through my shirt, and my feet leave the ground. I spin in a slow, lazy circle and try to catch my breath through the thick wool hood as I ascend toward the hidden circle of light. Hands are on me, pulling me to the side, and through the hood, pinpricks of light shine. My feet touch hard ground, and the cord grows slack beneath my armpits.

  I’m herded over a floor that thumps hollowly beneath my feet. Small human sounds reach my ears—panting, whimpering, coughing, a snarl.

  “Where am I?” I ask, my voice muffled by wool.

  “You’ll see soon enough,” my guide says. His gun jabs my back, keeping me moving blindly forward.

  The floor turns from smooth and hollow to grainy beneath my shoes—cement. A smell penetrates through my thick wool hood, and my mouth starts to water. Onions. And butter. I’m starving. A loud rumble comes from my stomach, and I wonder how I can even think of food at a time like this.

  “Duck your head,” the voice says.

  I duck, and hands push me from behind, hard. I topple forward, my feet tangling together. The floor crashes into my face, and one of my cuffed hands pops under the impact of my body. Fire shoots up my wrist, and I writhe against unexpected pain.

  “Careful with her! We don’t want her bruised. She’s going in the pit in the morning, and oh what a show it will be!” a deep voice says—Shadow Man.

??In the morning? Why so fast?” my guide replies.

  “Governor’s orders. He said if we acquired the Ten, put her in ASAP. Something about this kid scares him. And since we caught that other Ten yesterday—two Tens in one match. Together. Can you imagine the food that’ll be trading hands? We’ll be loosening our belts!”

  “But the males aren’t as aggressive toward the females,” my guide says.

  “This one will be, trust me,” Shadow Man says with a chuckle. “He’s injured and so psychotic, he killed three men on his way here. He attacks anything that moves, not to mention …” Feet shuffle away and their voices fade.

  Something clicks, and then my cuffs lose their charge, and I am free to move my arms. I try to push myself up but gasp and fall back onto my face. I don’t dare move. Not with pain burning from my pinky finger to my elbow and making me want to vomit.

  Using my elbow, I manage to roll onto my side. Even that makes my hand hurt. With my uninjured hand, I pull the hood from my head. Metal bars surround me on three sides. On the fourth side is a smooth metal wall, and overhead looms a low metal ceiling.

  Someone sucks in a deep breath. I look toward the sound and yelp. Forgetting the pain in my hand I scramble to my feet and crack my head on the low ceiling before falling back into a crouch. And then I see the bars separating us and sigh.

  A girl, probably my age, squats in the cage beside mine. She looks human enough, except she has her narrow face pressed against the bars of my cage, her dilated eyes are devouring me, and drool drips from her chin.

  She reaches one of her sinewy-strong arms through the slotted bars and swipes at me with jagged yellow nails of all different lengths. I freeze as air swishes against my face. When her reach falls short, she hisses and tries again, jamming her body against the bars to get her hand as close to me as possible. Her nail teases my hair and I whimper.

  Never taking my eyes from her, I inch my way to the other side of the cage and press my shoulder blades against the bars. The female howls and slams herself against the bars separating us, making my cage rattle.
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