Stung by Bethany Wiggins

Page 9

  “The one you shot?”

  “Yeah. He was a Fec. A feces dweller—F-E-C. You know, the people with the sign of the beast who didn’t go to the lab, and didn’t go instantly mad, so hide out in the sewers instead of turning themselves in?”

  A wave of anger makes me bold, and I glare right into his eyes. “Why did you have to shoot her little brother? He was only eleven! She was trying to save him. ”

  His jaw muscles pulse. “She? I only saw two boys. And shooting him was the humane thing to do. ” His gaze flickers to my hand, to the tattoo, and his mouth puckers in distaste.

  “What are you going to do with me?”

  Instead of answering, he focuses on the roasting meat again. He lifts the spit away from the flames and sets it on a chipped plaster plate.

  “What am I going to do with you?” He says it like he’s asking himself, his eyes never leaving the meat as it drips tiny beads of moisture onto the plate. “I don’t know. I could take you to the lab and get eight ounces of honey. And be well off for a year. Or I can sell you to the black market and get eighty ounces of honey. Eighty ounces of honey would buy me a life inside the wall. I could quit the militia. ”

  “The black market?”

  “Yeah. The black market runs the pit. Where they put people like you to fight to the death. ”

  Fight to the death? Me? “You’re joking, right?” I ask, my voice disbelieving.

  He shakes his head but doesn’t look at me. “The pit is the best form of entertainment the wall-dwellers have. ” His voice is full of bitter sarcasm. “They don’t get to see all the violence on this side of the wall, so they make their own. ”

  “Don’t sell me to the black market,” I whisper.

  “I have until Sunday to decide. ” He gives the meat a little shake, letting grease splatter off it.

  “Sunday?”

  “The only day of the week they open the wall. So if you can manage to keep yourself alive for five days …”

  He whips his head to the side, swinging his brown bangs from his forehead, and makes eye contact. Years melt from his face, and I see him how he used to be, fuller cheeks, no scruff on his chin, a gleam of mischief in his eyes. His eyes narrow, dark lashes framing bright green irises, and I realize my mistake. He’s not Duncan, the guy I watched make out with his girlfriend on the porch swing. It’s Duncan’s younger brother, Dreyden. Dreyden Bowen.

  We were the same grade in school. He was the boy who always teased me about playing the piano and threw snowballs at me when we walked home from school. But something’s so wrong with how he looks now that I almost don’t believe my own memory. Because … He’s a …

  Man.

  Which means that I should be a—

  Panic overwhelms my better judgment, and my entire body starts to tremble. “How old are you, Dr—” I snap my mouth shut, cringing at the near mistake of saying his first name.

  He tilts his head to the side and studies me with his vibrant eyes, looking at me like I’m a freak, like my skin has turned green and is covered with scales.

  “Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask, my heart hammering my ribs. Does he recognize me?

  “You’re so normal,” he says, brow furrowed. “I keep waiting for you to start drooling and bite me, or tear my head from my shoulders with one sound twist, or yank my beating heart out of my chest and eat it. I mean … you’re a Level Ten! I don’t get it!” His gaze lowers. “What happened to your arms?”

  I look at my bound arms. “You locked them up?”

  “No. Right in the creases above your elbows,” he says. I look at the creases. On both arms, the skin is clouded purple and green.

  “I don’t know,” I answer, thinking I should remember how the bruises got there. Bruises form from blood pooling beneath the skin. Getting them must have hurt. I close my eyes and think. And am met by a gray wall of nothing.

  “Your neck, too. You have bruises in the shape of hands circling your throat. ”

  Those I remember. Vividly. “I was attacked in the tunnels. ” I open my eyes and swallow. My throat still hurts. “Someone tried to strangle me. Yesterday. I got away. Arrin was attacked too, but she killed the man. ”

  “Arrin?” he asks, still studying me like I’m liable to explode at any moment.

  “The girl who tried to save her brother. You killed her brother. He was only eleven. ”

  “I didn’t pull the trigger, kid,” he grumbles, picking up the spit. He holds it out to me, an animal the size of my forearm, with a long scaly-looking tail that has been blackened by the fire.

  I take it from him and, with my fused arms, attempt to eat. I shove my face against the food, suck the grease from it, and gnaw the flesh from the tiny bones like I am eating corn on the cob. Nothing has ever tasted so good, and I sigh.

  Bowen watches me eat with a fascinated frown. When more than half of the meat is gone, he says, “I heard Fecs will eat rat. I just never believed it. ” Looking away, he shudders.

  Rat. I know the very thought should make my stomach turn, should make me want to vomit. But starvation doesn’t discriminate. And besides, it’s better than wriggling earthworms or a leather belt. Way better.

  “They eat worms, too,” I mumble, my mouth full. “The problem is, I’m not a Fec. ” I might not remember a lot of things, but I know this.

  Chapter 11

  By the time the sun sets, my shoulders ache, my neck is cramping, and my head throbs in time with my pulse. I desperately need to move my arms.

  “Hey, Bowen,” I say, shrugging my shoulders and rolling my neck.

  He looks at me and shivers, though the evening is hot. “You seem so normal,” he says. “How old did you say you are again?”

  My brain swirls, trying to remember when I aged, when I grew into a body that is definitely older than … “Thir … teen?”

  “You’ve got a high voice for a thirteen-year-old boy. ”

  I cringe. Mental note to self: try to sound like a boy. I clear my throat. “I have to … take a dump. ” Bowen’s eyebrows rise and I look away. “The rat. It didn’t agree with me,” I say in a deep voice—a lie. My stomach is sluggishly thrilled with the meat inside it. But I’ve been holding it all day. Pee. Because, well, like I said, I can’t pee standing up.

  “Dude. ” Bowen sighs, shaking his head like he’s got the worst life in the world. I brace myself for a sound kick, but he doesn’t kick me this time. “Can I get an armed guard over here? The Level Ten’s got to take another dump,” he yells. The whole camp turns and stares at me, and a slow burn creeps up my neck, all the way to my hairline. I hang my head so my hair hides my entire face.

  Five brown-uniformed, gun-wielding men come forward, and Bowen pushes the remote. My legs unfuse. I wobble, lose my balance, and fall on my face beside the warm fire ring, my cuffed hands pinned painfully beneath me. Men start laughing and guns dig into my back, jabbing at my ribs hard enough to make me gasp.

  “Stupid Fec,” Bowen mutters, and wraps his hand in my shirt. He pulls up. The fabric strains in his hand, and I rise off the ground, hovering just above the dirt as I try to maneuver my feet below my body. My shirt pulls against my armpits, and a loud rip grates against my senses. I fall back to the ground—face-plant, really—and dirt goes into my mouth, digs into my cheek, my naked stomach, and my bare shoulders.

  Oh, crap.

  The fabric binding my breasts is the only thing that hides the truth about me.

  A hand grabs my elbow. “Someone get his other elbow,” Bowen grumbles.

  “You serious, man? You want one of us to touch it?” someone whines.

  “Just hurry up,” Bowen snaps.

  A warm hand clutches my other elbow, and I’m heaved to my feet. I hang my head low and hunch my shoulders forward, too scared to spit the dirt out of my mouth. Too scared to even breathe—I’m practically naked, standing in a camp filled exclusively with armed men. A
nd then I understand Arrin’s insistence on my looking like a boy. I hunch forward even more and press my arms against my chest until my shoulders want to pop. I might be able to hide my breasts, but I can’t hide the way my hollow stomach curves outward to meet my wide hips.

  “You got a broken rib?” Bowen asks, jabbing my back hard with his finger as if he hopes I do. I can’t form words—am still gasping for breath—so I shake my head.

  My escort and I walk to the bathroom in silence, with only the evening darkness keeping my secret. I step into the dim bathroom, and the light automatically flickers on. The armed guard wait outside, but Bowen stands in the doorway and glares at me. I hunch even more, straining my shoulders forward, forcing my chest concave, mentally cursing my body for growing breasts and hips.

  “Well?” he says, crossing his arms.

  I peer at him through my hair, too scared to move.

  “What’ya waiting for? Hurry up. ” Without uncrossing his arms, he pushes the remote and my arms unfuse.

  I am at the stall in two steps, slamming the door behind me and sliding the lock into place. And then I look down. The binding is still securely in place over my breasts, but without my oversize T-shirt, it is obvious. I am a girl. Nearly a woman. I stare down at my body and marvel at the slide of waist leading to hips, the small bulge of breasts that makes my skin crease just above the bindings. Because the body I’m looking at? It is not the body I remember belonging to my head and brain.

  Where have I been that my body has grown up so fast?

  “Kid. You almost done?” Bowen hollers. Men snicker. I drop my pants and sit on the toilet. When I’m done, I pull the pants back up and squeeze the waistband over my hips, barely able to button it. And that’s when the siren blares.

  Without warning, electricity hums in my wrist cuffs, and my forearms fuse together. The stall door crashes open, slamming into my face and cutting my mouth, and Bowen is there, dragging me out of the stall by my arm. He curses under his breath, yanking me out of the bathroom, through the dark night, and we merge into groups of running men holding their guns on their shoulders.
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