Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 32

  Behind me something stirs and groans. I look over my shoulder and stop breathing, stop moving.

  In the cage on my other side is another beast, curled up in fetal position with his back to me. He is a broad-shouldered male, his skin covered with scabs and bruises and half-moon teeth marks. He whimpers and jolts, his hands and feet paddling the air like a dog dreaming about running. I scoot to the middle of my cage and sit with my back pressed against the metal wall. If I sit in the cage’s exact center, neither beast will be able to reach me. Hopefully.

  Stiff and rigid as granite, face forward, I breath shallow wisps of air that hardly make my rib cage move. The female beast lurches for me, her hand mere inches from my shoulder. After a few minutes she gives up.

  Slowly, with the passage of time, I notice the throbbing pain in my hand again. Without moving my head, I look at it and whimper. At the sound of my voice, the female beast snarls and rams her body against the bars separating her cage from mine. She does it a second time, making the bars shudder. I scoot an inch toward the male beast on my left and close my eyes, cradling my swollen, deformed pinky to my chest, trying to ignore the panting coming from the female beast.

  Minutes or hours pass. I don’t know which. But my finger has doubled in size and turned purple, and the female beast has drooled a pool of saliva into my cage. And I smell food.

  From the corner of my eye I see the beast to my left stir. He stretches his long, lean body and sits, staring out the front of his cage. Feet thump on the ground and something squeaks. For the first time I take a good look around, moving my eyes without turning my head. The room is long and narrow and lined with cages—like an animal shelter—and most cages are occupied. But instead of holding stray dogs and cats, they hold beasts and Fecs. The cage across from me houses a slack, bony form with short, chopped hair, wearing my old shorts. Arrin.

  A man pushing a cart with a squeaky wheel walks slowly in front of the cages, pausing before each to slide a plate under the two-inch gap beneath the door before dumping its contents onto the cage floor. When he gets to Arrin’s cage, she doesn’t move. Even when the man slides a pile of slop into her cage and dumps it onto the floor by her head.

  One by one, he feeds all the caged things on the opposite side of the room and then starts on my side. He slowly makes his way toward me and pauses at the cage beside mine—the female beast’s cage. Cautiously, he slides a plate under the cage, dumps the contents onto the floor, and then yanks the plate back lightning fast. The female beast sniffs but doesn’t move from her position, staring at me like I’m dinner.

  He comes to my cage and pauses, peering at me through the bars. Then he slides the plate under, dumping a heap of greasy meat and mostly onions on the grease-stained floor. He doesn’t move on to the next cage but watches me like he did the female beast. And then he fills the plate again and adds a second helping to my first.

  “You eat up,” he whispers with a wink. My lower lip trembles, and my eyes fill with tears. This man is showing me compassion. I try to smile at him, but then he says, “I bet honey on you. Don’t make me regret it!” My smile turns to a frown.

  He stands and pushes the squeaky cart to the male beside me, and I look into the cage. The male beast isn’t paying attention to his dinner. His face is pressed against the bars as if he’s finally noticed someone is in the cage beside him. I meet his unblinking eyes—eyes I have known my entire life—and gasp.

  The memory of pain burns down my back, fire beneath my skin, and Bowen’s words come back to me.

  “You have scars from here to here. ” He trailed his fingers down my entire back. “They look like they’re from fingernails. ”

  The walls were white tile, and light glared from them.

  A man with thick white hair put his face in front of mine and looked right into my eyes. “You’re only going to feel a little prick, and then everything will fade. You’ll be at peace. ” He wore a white doctor’s coat with a name tag clipped to it—Doctor Page.

  I lay on my stomach. Thick leather straps held my naked body against a cold metal table. Straps that ground into my ankles, the backs of my knees, my bare hips, my lower back, my shoulders, even across my head. Jonah was in the room, too, right in my line of sight. Sedated, naked, and strapped to a stainless-steel table just like mine. Drool dripped from his slack mouth and pooled beneath his cheek.

  “I don’t want this!” I yelled. The metal clung to my sweaty cheek, making it hard to talk. The strap on my forehead made it impossible to see what was going on behind me, but I could hear people moving around—the doctor and someone else.

  “You may not want this, but your mother does. She is your legal guardian. Her decision outweighs your wants. She’s doing it in the hopes that you’ll survive long enough for us to find a cure,” Dr. Page said from behind me. “It’s what’s best, Fiona. ” He walked around to where I could see him again, tilted his head to the side, and peered right into my face. A shadow of doubt flashed in his gray eyes, filling my entire body with panic. “You’re much too sweet to give up on. ”

  I snarled and lunged for him, making my table-bed lurch, yet I hardly moved beneath the leather straps. The doctor jumped away from me and frowned.

  “Jonah,” I cried. “Help me!” But he didn’t stir. Didn’t even close his mouth.

  “Needle, nurse. The sooner we sedate her, the sooner we can induce the coma. ” The doctor held out his latex-gloved hand, and a hefty syringe was placed into it. “I’m going to inject this directly into your spinal tissue, and then you’ll go to sleep. It will only hurt for a minute—a little pressure in your spine—and then everything will go numb,” he said to me.

  I looked at the needle, twice as long as my index finger, and screamed. The doctor stepped up to me and put his icy, latex-gloved hand on my naked back, pressing it against my spine. Something pricked my skin, like the sting of a bee, and then pressure built around my spine, hot and white, as if the needle were forcing its way between my vertebrae, wedging them apart. I screamed again and lurched, fighting against my restraints, making the needle dig against bone.

  “No!” I shrieked. As if he could finally hear me, Jonah’s eyes fluttered open and locked on mine, his massive pupils instantly shrinking. “Help me, please,” I whimpered to him. My legs were going numb, a warm tingling sensation spreading from my thighs to my knees to my feet. I couldn’t feel the table beneath them, couldn’t feel the metal’s coldness seeping into my skin.

  “Jonah,” I cried. “Get me out of here. ”

  His eyes, so wild, so foreign, seemed to clear for a moment as they focused on mine, as if there was a piece of him left inside. And then he grunted, long and low. A vein in his forehead popped to the surface. His face became red, his neck all sinew, and every single muscle in his body flexed. He trembled with effort, making the metal bed vibrate beneath him.

  “Nurse, sedate him again,” the doctor said. “Quickly!”

  A hefty woman with graying hair and a syringe in her hand walked into my line of sight, intent on my brother. A pop echoed in the room, and the nurse stopped dead. The leather band around Jonah’s shoulders fell to the floor, and the nurse took a step back. “Doctor, we have a problem,” she said, backing away from Jonah until she crashed into my bed.

  “Sedate him!” the doctor bellowed. “Now! I’m almost done with the girl!”

  The leather holding Jonah’s wrists popped, and then the straps tethering the small of his back and his ankles exploded simultaneously, until only the strap on his head remained whole. He tore it off, leaped from the table, and lunged for the doctor. They fell to the floor and Jonah lashed out at the doctor’s face with his fingernails, smacking the doctor’s head against the cold, hard floor.

  I stared at Jonah’s hands, gentle hands that built dinosaur models and did science experiments for fun; long, slender hands that played duets on the piano with me. Now, they were covered with blood.

; The nurse screamed and huddled in a corner of the room.

  Jonah leaped to his feet and tried to tear me off the metal table, his nails raking my back, my neck. I gasped at the pain, but then the tingly numb spread from my legs to my waist and oozed like warm honey along my spine, into my shoulders.

  Red and blue lights started flashing overhead, and an alarm blared.

  “Jonah. Run,” I slurred. Even my mouth was turning numb, my tongue swelling with deadened warmth. My mouth sagged open, and drool trickled down my cheek. I forced my eyes to stay wide and watched Jonah ram the hospital door open with his shoulder.

  And then he ran.

  “You tried to save me,” I whisper, staring into his feral eyes. At my words his eyes narrow and he grips the bars keeping us apart. The bars keeping me alive. His knuckles turn white, and the metal groans beneath his grasp, shifting a millimeter.

  Oh crap.

  I look away, straight forward again, and don’t touch my dinner. I’m starving, yet the thought of food makes bile rise in my throat. In an effort to calm myself, I start to hum under my breath, random notes that have no tune.

  Across the room, Arrin stirs. She lifts her head, and her sharp nose wrinkles. And then, cracking her eyes open, she shoves her face into the pile of onions and meat. When her food is mostly gone, she notices me watching. She sits and grins a grimy, grease-covered grin, and drags her finger across her neck.

  “I’m going to kill you,” she mouths.

  Oh yeah? Wait in line, I think, listening to the sounds of the beasts breathing into my cage on either side of me. I press my back harder against the wall of my cage, cradle my throbbing hand, and for the first time ever, can’t think of a song to distract me from reality.

  Chapter 32

  Somehow I sleep. I know because I lurch awake when my arms meld together and I topple sideways into a puddle of cold drool. Fingernails plunge into my cheek, and I’m yanked into the bars on the side of my cage.

  The fingernails move, digging into my neck, cinching around my windpipe. My mouth opens, but no air enters my lungs. I stare across my cage at Jonah, my mouth gaping, struggling for air. He shrieks and throws his body into the bars separating us, straining to reach me.
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