Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 36

  Bowen leans his forehead on the glass and looks right into my eyes. He opens his mouth and yells again. I cannot hear him, but I can see what he says, each movement of his lips forming meaning.

  Fight! Don’t give up! No matter what!

  Hands grip his arms and jerk him to his feet. He starts fighting, kicking, flailing as two men dressed in black drag him off the glass and aim weapons at his chest.

  “Uh, folks, it seems we have a problem,” the commentator cries. He is standing at the side of the pool, hand rubbing his round belly, eyeing Bowen nervously. “The militia just opened the south gate and are on their way here. They’re insisting we stop the fight, so if you just remain in your seats …” The crowd groans.

  The governor is on his feet and at the commentator’s side in a flash, whispering into his ear.

  “Wait, folks, wait! The governor has given his special approval to continue the fight!” the commentator says, voice uneasy. Bowen, despite the guns pointed at his chest, starts fighting again. It is time for me to do the same.

  Taking a deep breath, I roll onto my side, ready to stand, ready to be done with the pits. The female, her ankle still held fast by Jonah, growls at me. On unsteady legs I walk up to her, bend my arm, and swing my elbow into her face. She falls to the side and in the same movement, rams her foot into Jonah’s stomach, sending him flying to the other side of the pool. I jump onto her, ready to continue the fight, but she’s fast—her hands whip up to my neck faster than my eyes can follow, and rough and hot, they clamp down. My body is flipped over and the beast is atop me, the pool grinding into my back.

  Above me, Bowen becomes frantic, tearing away from the black-clad guards. He climbs onto the pool seal again, screaming words I don’t hear. Pulling a handgun from his belt, he fires at the glass, but the seal holds fast.

  I look away from him and stare at the female beast’s face. Her chipped teeth are bared, a slight smile on her foam-flecked mouth. I claw at her hands, kick at her legs, but her hold tightens, as if my attempt to fight back lends her strength. My lungs start to burn, want to collapse, beg me to inhale. And I can’t.

  I look up at Bowen again, desperate, wondering if all the time we spent trying to stay alive, all the running and the hiding … was it all for nothing if it ends with my death? He quit the militia for nothing. He got shot for nothing. He fell in love with me for nothing.

  His eyes meet mine and he takes something from his belt—a black grenade. He pulls the pin, sets it on top of the glass, and walks calmly to the side of the crowded arena.

  “Folks! Folks! Look at this! Look at the male Ten!” the commentator shrieks, oblivious to the grenade. I turn my eyes to the side and meet Jonah’s. His face is swollen and bleeding, his body smeared with blood, but he’s standing on his cuffed feet. “By brute strength he’s pulled his wrist cuffs apart, in spite of his shattered elbow! That’s over five hundred pounds of force! Just think of the pain and agony he must be feeling—a pain he’s willing to endure to satisfy his desire to kill!”

  The commentator’s right. Jonah’s shoulder muscles bulge and tremble with strain, a glossy sheen of sweat coats his skin, mingling with blood, and his arms aren’t melded together anymore. Six inches of space separate the cuffs.

  Oh, my poor brother. There is nothing left of him.

  My vision is turning black, everything fading from view, except Jonah, focused at the exact center of my sight. He takes a leap toward me and the female beast, and his forearms come down on either side of the female’s neck. Jonah’s cuffs, zinging with energy, wrench back together and snap around her neck just as my vision dims.

  Her fingers go limp, falling from my neck and trailing over my shoulder. I gasp a breath of air, and the world reappears, accompanied by pain. Jonah, his cuffs still locked on the female’s neck, drags her away from me. In one swift move he throws her aside, reducing her to a limp pile of death.

  As if seeing everything in slow motion, I blink and look back up at the glass, at the commentator pointing at the grenade and running from the pool, the crowd pushing and shoving and trampling each other to get away, at the grenade that is about to explode. I curl onto my side and cover my head, waiting for impact. A weight settles on me—Jonah—covering my aching body with his, cradling my head in his hand, his panting breath hot on my skin.

  The air seems to solidify and compress, molding my skin against my bones, forcing its way into my ears and pushing the breath from my lungs. My skull squeezes my brain, and my eyeballs want to pop with the pressure. Jonah’s body mashes mine into the floor and then goes limp as the pressure in the air fades to nothing.

  I open my eyes. It is raining diamonds.

  Chapter 35

  When I was twelve I went to an all-day pool party. I forgot sunscreen. My skin was so sunburned, I couldn’t sleep that night. My skin feels just like that now. Burned to a crisp—all the way into my lungs. Every breath fills my chest with an inferno, feels like lifting the weight of the world, and I am too tired to lift any extra weight.

  Cool hands touch my brow, fiddle with my wrist. A pair of green eyes peers into mine, eyes that remind me of summer. “You’re alive!”

  Stringy blond hair trails over my face as a weight is hefted from me. Now I can fill my lungs. But breathing air feels like breathing fire, and I cough and gasp.

  “Fo? Fiona, can you hear me?” Bowen asks. His words are muted, as if my fingers were pressed into my ears. He frames my face with his hands and stares into my eyes. “Can you hear me?” he asks, eyes frantic.

  “I hear you,” I whisper, pushing my aching body to sitting, wondering how I’m still alive. Four blood-streaked bodies are in the red-splattered pool, yet I am the one who will walk away. If I can find somewhere to go. If I can walk.

  Beside me lies a still form. His skin shimmers iridescent red, every blood-covered inch coated with diamonds—glass from the ceiling. Only Jonah’s pale stringy hair gives away his identity. A tear streams down my cheek as I place a trembling hand on his bare chest. His heart beats against my palm, a weak, fast flutter.

  “He’s still alive,” I say, looking at Bowen.

  Bowen yanks the handgun from his belt and with trembling hands, points it at my brother’s chest. Shocked, I lean over Jonah’s body. “Don’t shoot him! He saved my life!” I say, surprised at the energy in my voice.

  Bowen doesn’t waver. “Fo, he is a Level Ten. I watched him kill the other beast. There’s nothing human left in him!”

  I shake my head and cringe at the pain. “He saved my life,” I whisper. “A part of my brother is still in there. ”

  “Would you look at that,” a voice says. The voice. The commentator. He’s standing on the side of the pool, looking down in. “The female Ten is protecting the body of the male Ten! And I thought beasts didn’t have feelings!”

  Bowen glares and stands, his jaw muscles pulsing. He walks to the side of the pool and holds his hand up to the commentator. The commentator, round belly nearly popping the buttons off his white shirt, reaches down and clasps Bowen’s hand, ready to hoist him up. But Bowen yanks. The man topples over the side of the pool and lands on his back at Bowen’s feet. He blinks, stunned, and the crowd—those who have braved the grenade to see what is going to happen next—gasps.

  Bowen balls his fist and hits the man in the face. The commentator’s eyes roll back in his fleshy head, and his pudgy cheeks sag.

  Placing his fingers on the commentator’s ample cheeks, Bowen pries open the man’s mouth and sticks his finger inside, removing a tooth-sized metal chip. He sticks it into his own mouth and glares up at the remaining people.

  “Listen to me. ” Bowen’s voice drones impossibly loud, vibrating my bones, just like the commentator’s. “My name is Dreyden Bowen. This is Fiona Tarsis. ” He points at me without looking. “She’s a Level Ten. And she’s not a beast! She’s been cured!” The crowd goes utterly still, staring down at Bowen with wide
eyes. “Now take a good look at the boy beside her. That’s Jonah Tarsis. Her brother! You all came here today to watch our only hope for survival, our first real hope for the future, be torn apart by her own brother! You disgust me!”

  The crowd inches toward the pool, all eyes on Jonah and me. The low drone of whispers fills the room. Women blink back tears, hang their heads in shame, and leave. Some of the men shout apologies. Others shake their heads and follow the women out.

  Bowen crouches beside me. “The militia should be here any minute, and doctors are on their way,” he says. He frowns and breaks eye contact, studies his hands. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know how else to save you. ” He looks as if he’s about to be sick.

  “What do you mean?” I whisper. The thought of medical help is a comfort to my throbbing body.

  Without looking at me he says, “When they took you in the tunnels, I knew you were going to go to the pits. Tommy and I got back to south gate as fast as we could, but when we told them you were cured and needed to be rescued, they didn’t believe us—locked Tommy and me up as traitors. But when Micklemoore came back to the camp—he had been out searching for you—and found out that I had info about your location, he set us free and had us contact the lab with your whereabouts. Then Mickelmoore convinced the director of the lab to issue an order to open the gates for reinforcements, so the militia could help rescue you. So Tommy led the militia through the gate, and I came here through the tunnels. ” Finally, he meets my eyes. “Fo. The only way I could get them to agree to help was by telling the lab your location. I couldn’t let you die in the pits. At least in the lab, you won’t feel anything when you die. They’re coming to take you. ” His cheeks are pale and sunken, and blue shadows darken the skin under his eyes. A definite improvement from the last time I saw him, but still far from the glowing picture of health he used to be.

  I reach a trembling hand to his face and trail my fingers over his bristly cheek. “How are you?” I ask. Hope that he will live a long, prosperous life burns in my chest. I don’t care if I have to go to the lab, as long as he survives.
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