It was the wrong thing to say.
Kenji’s expression changes. His eyes are suddenly, genuinely concerned and I worry I’ve said too much. These drugs are slowing me down, softening my senses. I touch a hand to my lips, beg them to stay closed. I hope I haven’t taken too much of the medicine.
“Hey,” Kenji says gently. “What happened?”
I shake my head. Close my eyes. “What happened?” Now I actually laugh. “What happened, what happened.” I open my eyes long enough to say, “Juliette broke up with me.”
“That is, I think she did?” I stop. Frown. Tap a finger against my chin. “I imagine that’s why she ran out of here screaming.”
“But—why would she break up with you? Why was she crying?”
At this, I laugh again. “Because I,” I say, pointing at myself, “am a monster.”
Kenji looks confused. “And how is that news to anyone?”
I smile. He’s funny, I think. Funny guy.
“Where did I leave my shirt?” I mumble, feeling suddenly numb in a whole new way. I cross my arms. Squint. “Hmm? Have you seen it anywhere?”
“Bro, are you drunk?”
“What?” I slap at the air. Laugh. “I don’t drink. My father is an alcoholic, didn’t you know? I don’t touch the stuff. No, wait”—I hold up a finger—“was an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic. He’s dead now. Quite dead.”
And then I hear Kenji gasp. It’s loud and strange and he whispers, “Holy shit,” and it’s enough to sharpen my senses for a second.
I turn around to face him.
He looks terrified.
“What is it?” I say, annoyed.
“What happened to your back?”
“Oh.” I look away, newly irritated. “That.” The many, many scars that make up the disfiguration of my entire back. I take a deep breath. Exhale. “Those are just, you know, birthday gifts from dear old dad.”
“Birthday gifts from your dad?” Kenji blinks, fast. Looks around, speaks to the air. “What the hell kind of soap opera did I just walk into here?” He runs a hand through his hair and says, “Why am I always getting involved in other people’s personal shit? Why can’t I just mind my own business? Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?”
“You know,” I say to him, tilting my head slightly, “I’ve always wondered the same thing.”
I smile, big. Lightbulb bright.
Kenji’s eyes widen, surprised, and he laughs. He nods at my face and says, “Aw, you’ve got dimples. I didn’t know that. That’s cute.”
“Shut up.” I frown. “Go away.”
He laughs harder. “I think you took way too many of those medicine thingies,” he says to me, picking up the bottle I left on the floor. He scans the label. “It says you’re only supposed to take one every three hours.” He laughs again. Louder this time. “Shit, man, if I didn’t know you were in a world of pain right now, I’d be filming this.”
“I’m very tired,” I say to him. “Please go directly to hell.”
“No way, freak show. I’m not missing this.” He leans against the wall. “Plus, I’m not going anywhere until your drunkass tells me why you and J broke up.”
I shake my head. Finally manage to find a shirt and put it on.
“Yeah, you put that on backward,” Kenji says to me.
I glare at him and fall into bed. Close my eyes.
“So?” he says, sitting down next to me. “Should I get the popcorn? What’s going on?”
Kenji makes a sound of disbelief. “What’s classified? Why you broke up is classified? Or did you break up over classified information?”
“Throw me a freaking bone here.”
“We broke up,” I say, pulling a pillow over my eyes, “because of information I shared with her that is, as I said, classified.”
“What? Why? That doesn’t make any sense.” A pause. “Unless—”
“Oh good, I can practically hear the tiny gears in your tiny brain turning.”
“You lied to her about something?” he says. “Something you should’ve told her? Something classified—about her?”
I wave a hand at nothing in particular. “The man’s a genius.”
“Yes,” I say. “Very much shit.”
He exhales a long, hard breath. “That sounds pretty serious.”
“I am an idiot.”
He clears his throat. “So, uh, you really screwed up this time, huh?”
“Quite thoroughly, I’m afraid.”
“Wait—tell me again why all these sheets are on the floor?”
At that, I pull the pillow away from my face. “Why do you think they’re on the floor?”
A second’s hesitation and then,
“Oh, what—c’mon, man, what the hell.” Kenji jumps off the bed looking disgusted. “Why would you let me sit here?” He stalks off to the other side of the room. “You guys are just—Jesus—that is just not okay—”
“I am grown.” He scowls at me. “But Juliette’s like my sister, man, I don’t want to think about that shit—”
“Well, don’t worry,” I say to him, “I’m sure it’ll never happen again.”
“All right, all right, drama queen, calm down. And tell me about this classified business.”
Run, I said to myself.
Run until your lungs collapse, until the wind whips and snaps at your tattered clothes, until you’re a blur that blends into the background.
Run, Juliette, run faster, run until your bones break and your shins split and your muscles atrophy and your heart dies because it was always too big for your chest and it beat too fast for too long and run.
Run run run until you can’t hear their feet behind you. Run until they drop their fists and their shouts dissolve in the air. Run with your eyes open and your mouth shut and dam the river rushing up behind your eyes. Run, Juliette.
Run until you drop dead.
Make sure your heart stops before they ever reach you. Before they ever touch you.
Run, I said.
—AN EXCERPT FROM JULIETTE’S JOURNALS IN THE ASYLUM
My feet pound against the hard, packed earth, each steady footfall sending shocks of electric pain up my legs. My lungs burn, my breaths coming in fast and sharp, but I push through the exhaustion, my muscles working harder than they have in a long time, and keep moving. I never used to be any good at this. I’ve always had trouble breathing. But I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and weight training since moving on base, and I’ve gotten much stronger.
Today, that training is paying off.
I’ve covered at least a couple of miles already, panic and rage propelling me most of the way through, but now I have to break through my own resistance in order to maintain momentum. I cannot stop. I will not stop.
I’m not ready to start thinking yet.
It’s a disturbingly beautiful day today; the sun is shining high and bright, impossible birds chirping merrily in half-blooming trees and flapping their wings in vast, blue skies. I’m wearing a thin cotton shirt. Dark blue jeans. Another pair of tennis shoes. My hair, loose and long, waves behind me, locked in a battle with the wind. I can feel the sun warm my face; I feel beads of sweat roll down my back.
Could this possibly be real? I wonder.
Did someone shoot me with those poison bullets on purpose? To try and tell me something?
Or are my hallucinations an altogether different issue?
I close my eyes and push my legs harder, will myself to move faster. I don’t want to think yet. I don’t want to stop moving.
If I stop moving, my mind might kill me.
A sudden gust of wind hits me in the face. I open my eyes again, remember to breathe. I’m back in unregulated territory now, my powers turned fully on, the energy humming through me even now, in perpetual motion. The streets of the old world are paved, but pockmarked by potholes and puddles. The buildings are abandoned, tall and cold, electric lines strapped across the skyline like the staffs of unfinished songs, swaying gently in the afternoon light. I run under a crumbling overpass and down several cascading, concrete stairs manned on either side by unkempt palm trees and burned-out lampposts, their wrought-iron handrails rough and peeling paint. I turn up and down a few side streets and then I’m surrounded, on all sides, by the skeleton of an old freeway, twelve lanes wide, an enormous metal structure half collapsed in the middle of the road. I squint more closely and count three equally massive green signs, only two of which are still standing. I read the words—
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