Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 8

  “The bathroom’s on the other side of the cabin,” Bowen says. I nod my understanding, relieved. My bladder is about to burst.

  Blinking water from my eyes, I start walking. Like before, Bowen stays a couple of paces behind, remote always pointing at me.

  When we get to the bathroom, my stomach starts to hurt as a new fear descends. There are no stalls, no toilets, just a trough.

  Three men occupy the bathroom, talking, joking as they stand side by side peeing into the long, narrow trough. One looks over his shoulder, and his eyes meet mine. His pee stops, and he’s out of there before he has his pants zipped. The other two look at each other, and then over their shoulders at me. They’re gone before their pee hits the trough. Bowen, behind me, chuckles under his breath.

  I stand shivering, dripping a puddle onto the bathroom floor, but don’t make a move toward the wet, brown-stained trough.

  “What’s the matter, kid?” Bowen asks from the doorway. I peer over my shoulder and look at his annoyed face through my stringy, sopping bangs. Whipping my bangs aside, I take a closer look at his face. My heart lurches.

  When I was eleven, I fell in love with my neighbor. He was gorgeous, sixteen, drove a motorcycle, lived across the street, and made out with his girlfriend on his porch swing in the summer.

  I’d climb the tree in my front yard and watch him and his girlfriend through the leaves, fascinated, disgusted, jealous. Sometimes when they were making out, he’d look across the street without taking his mouth from hers, and our eyes would meet. He’d roll his eyes and then they’d slip shut and I was forgotten.

  My mom called him an inconsiderate, hormonal teenager who should take his personal affairs where the whole neighborhood didn’t have to see them. When she found out I’d sit in the tree and watch, she called his mom and complained.

  He didn’t stop making out on the porch swing—started making out more, in fact. And when he caught me spying, he’d yell, “Hey, kid, why don’t you go find someone your own age to spy on?”

  His hair was the color of milk chocolate, and his eyes were somewhere between blue and gray. And his name was…

  “… Duncan?” The word leaves my lips before I can stop it.

  Bowen’s eyes narrow, and his hand, the one that has been pointing the remote at me all morning, drops to his side. He blinks and the remote is aimed at me again. “What did you say?” he asks.

  I bite my tongue and look at the floor. “Uh, I need, you know, like … walls?”

  “You gotta be kidding me, kid. You want privacy?” he grumbles.

  I’m a girl. I can’t pee standing up, especially into a trough. And Arrin said pretending to be a boy is a safety precaution. “Need to take … a dump,” I whisper, trying to sound like a guy. The lie floods my cheeks with warmth. Bowen presses himself against the wall beside the door and groans.

  “Get out,” he snaps, motioning outside.

  “But I—”

  “Just do it, Fec! Out!” His voice is cold and hard. A voice to fear.

  Careful to give him a wide berth, I step through the door and into blazing sunshine. Something hard rams into the back of my thighs. With my arms cuffed, I can’t find my balance. I topple forward, skidding to a stop on my forearms and knees. Bowen grumbles something under his breath, something laced with cuss words.

  “Get up or I’ll kick you again,” he says through gritted teeth.

  It takes me a minute, but I climb to my feet despite the fact that fear makes my muscles weak and tears have filled my eyes. I’m not crying because my elbows and knees are scraped. The tears are of self-pity. Tears that no one else is going to cry for me, a prisoner in this camp, with no family and no friends.

  “I need an armed guard!” Bowen bellows, making me flinch away from him. The camp shushes. After a long silence, three men reluctantly grab their guns and circle me.

  “What’s the problem?” a big black man asks—the same man who opened my tent flap. Heart pounding, I stare down the barrel of his gun and wonder the same thing—what is the problem? That’s when my arms swing free, no longer fused from elbow to wrist. The guards, though armed with rifles, take a giant step away from me.

  “He’s gotta do his business, Tommy,” Bowen says, shoving me forward hard. My arms flail and I barely manage not to fall to the ground again. Tommy laughs and casually swings his gun into the side of my head, and I do lose my balance this time.

  “Get up, kid. ” Bowen laughs, kicking me firmly in the butt. Quickly, I scramble to my feet.

  With my hand pressed to my aching head, I bite my trembling lip, blink away fresh tears, and follow the sound of Bowen’s voice as he guides me to another bathroom. One with stalls and doors and toilet paper. And even though I only need to pee, I sit on the toilet a long time, letting tears stream down my face.

  When I’ve gotten control of myself, I wipe the moisture from my cheeks with my hands and, hair hanging in my face, come out. Bowen activates my arm cuffs. As I walk out the door, I brace myself for a gun to the side of the head or a kick in the butt. But they don’t come this time.

  I spend the day baking beneath the hot sun with my back to the wall, arms and legs fused together, head and knees throbbing, surrounded by four armed men.

  Chapter 10

  When the sun is low in the sky and shadows stretch long, Bowen, eyes wary, comes for me. We walk through the camp—me in front—and stop at a cold, deserted fire ring constructed from a handful of small boulders.

  “Sit,” Bowen orders, motioning to a large, flat boulder a few feet from the ring.

  I sit and try to stare without staring, peering at him through my tangled bangs while he stacks pieces of wood that look like broken table legs inside the ring of rocks.

  Can this cruel man be the same person who lived across the street? I wonder. My butt still throbs from his kick. He sprays lighter fluid on the varnished wood and holds a match to it. Flames flare up, heating my face. I quickly lean away and Bowen jumps, aiming the remote at me, eyes wide with fear.

  “No sudden moves,” he warns.

  “Sorry,” I grumble, glaring at him. “The flames burned my face. I couldn’t help it. ”

  The guard from the bathroom—Tommy—walks over to us, something dangling from his hand. Bowen looks up and shades his eyes against the glare of sunset.

  “Hey, Bowen. I caught this by the wall. Thought you might want to feed it to the Fec. ” He holds out a wet, skinned carcass and grins.

  Bowen takes it and frowns, then looks up at the man again. The man shrugs beefy, broad shoulders.

  “Thanks, Tommy. I’ll cook it up. See how he likes it,” Bowen says.

  Tommy chuckles and studies me with dark, satisfied eyes. I look away and stare at the flames eating the wood. “You want me to hang around? Just in case?” Tommy asks.

  I can feel Bowen’s eyes on me. “I think I’ve got it under control,” he says. “But I’ll let you know if he starts scaring me more than he already is. ”

  “You just say the word, and I got your back,” Tommy says. He walks away.

  Bowen slides a long metal rod through the carcass and balances it across the fire pit, turning the meat as the flames jump up to lick it, and I study him again. Aside from the dark scruff covering his lower face and framing his lips, he’s hardly changed. If anything, time has made him more handsome than he was when I’d stare at him on his front porch—even with the scruff.

  The smell of roasting meat makes my head spin and my stomach growl, and Bowen glares at me, mouth hard, as if he’s mad that my stomach is making noise. I shrug.

  The sun shines into his face and lights up his eyes, and I completely forget about the roasting meat. I was wrong about him. He is not Duncan—not the gray-eyed teenager I’d stare at across the street. Bowen’s eyes are too green, like grass and mint and dandelion leaves. Yet, I know him.

  I look away from his guarded eyes and study
my brown-stained pants, worn so thin above my knees they are sheer, and try to remember who he is, why he’s so familiar.

  His hand is on the spit again, a hard, strong hand, brown from days in the sun. His long fingers turn it, making grease drip from the meat into the flames. I dare another look at him. This time he’s waiting. Our eyes meet. His eyebrows lift, his face hardens, and the remote is pointing at me.

  “You planning something?” he asks with a smirk.

  Like I can move with my legs and arms locked together. If I even attempted to stand, I’d topple forward into the fire. Not to mention I’m in a camp filled with men who would shoot me if I so much as stepped wrong. I laugh at the absurdity of it.

  Bowen leans forward, eyes intent, and I stop laughing.

  “Open your mouth again,” he says. I open my mouth and he peers inside. “Huh. Your teeth aren’t rotten. How old are you?”

  “Thirteen?”

  “You’re tall for a thirteen-year-old, Fec. ” He leans back, but his eyes don’t leave me. They slowly cover every inch of my body, as if they can see the secret lying beneath my clothes. I hunch forward, praying he can’t tell I have breasts. “Lift your hands. Show me your palms. ”

  I bend my arms at the elbow, forearms still locked, and splay my fingers. His hand leaves the spit. Without lowering the remote, he trails a finger over my palm and frowns.

  For a heartbeat his eyes meet mine, and then I am forgotten. Turning the meat takes all his attention. More grease drips from it, popping in the fire. For a long time we sit in silence, Bowen intent on the meat, me intent on looking at him without looking at him. Without him noticing, at least.

  He looks up and catches me staring again, but I don’t look away this time—not when I almost remember where I have seen eyes the color of summer. But then he says something and I forget that he looks familiar.

  He says, “You’re not a Fec. ”

  I catch my lip in my teeth, heart pounding with fear. “What is a Fec?” I whisper.

  His brows draw together. “Didn’t you come here with one? The kid who tried to break that Level Three out last night?”
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