I turned, my eyes following his path as he kicked rubbish and rocks out of his way. Liam was suddenly standing next to me, his own arms crossed over his chest.
“Don’t take it personally,” he said. I must have made a sound of disbelief, because he continued. “I mean…okay, the kid is basically a grumpy seventy-year-old man trapped in a seventeen-year-old’s body, but he’s only being this insufferable to try to push you out.”
Yeah, well, I thought, it’s working.
“And I know it’s not an excuse, but he’s as stressed and freaked out as the rest of us and—I guess what I’m trying to say is, all of this acid he’s throwing your way? It’s coming from a good place. If you stick it out, I swear you won’t find a more loyal friend. But he’s scared as hell about what’ll happen, especially to Zu, if we’re caught again.”
I looked up at that, but Liam was already walking away toward a far row of battered trailers. For one crazy second I thought about following him, but I’d caught Zu out of the corner of my eye, her bright yellow gloves swinging at her sides. She jumped in and out of the trailers, stood on her toes to peer into the smashed windows of the RVs, and even, at one point, started to crawl into wreckage of an RV that looked like it had been split in half by a tornado. The metal roof, which was hanging on by what looked like two flimsy joints, was swaying and bouncing under the combined forces of rain and wind.
Although she had the hood of her oversized sweatshirt pulled snug over her head, I watched as one of Zu’s gloved hands came up and brushed the side of her face—as if she was pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. It didn’t strike me as strange until she did it again, only to pale slightly as she caught herself.
The conversation I had tried to have with Chubs in the van came crashing back to me.
“Hey, Zu…” I began, only to stop short. How were you supposed to ask a little kid if someone had played slice and dice with her brain without trampling over an already painful memory?
The truth of it was, they only shaved kids’ heads at Thurmond when they wanted to do some poking around inside of their skulls; they had all but stopped by the time I arrived, but it had taken a while for the older kids’ hair to grow back out. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had wondered if this wasn’t the case with her after all—if the reason she couldn’t speak was because they had crossed a few wires they shouldn’t have, or gone a step too far in the name of finding a “cure.”
“Why did they cut your hair?” I asked, finally.
I knew plenty of girls that would have preferred shorter hair—myself included—but aside from an annual haircut for the girls, we didn’t have much say in the matter. The way that Zu seemed to stroke her ghost hair made me think she hadn’t had much say, either.
If she had been upset by my question, she didn’t show it. Zu brought her hands up to her head and began to scrub at it, making a face of acute discomfort. Seeing that I wasn’t getting it, she slipped one hand out of its glove and went to work scratching at her scalp.
“Oh,” I said. “Oh! You mean your group had lice?”
“Yikes,” I said. It made sense, but it still didn’t explain why she couldn’t open her mouth and answer me. “I’m so sorry.”
Zu lifted a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug, then turned and bounded up into the nearest RV.
The door wobbled and protested as I followed her in, squealing as its hinges worked. Zu made a face, and I made one back at her in agreement. The whole home smelled sweet, but…not pleasant. Almost like rotten fruit.
I started in the small, central living space, opening and closing the pale cabinet doors. The seat cushions were done up in an obnoxiously bright purple, but they, like the small TV hanging on the wall across from them, were coated with dust and dirt. The only thing out on the counter was a single coffee mug. The back sleeping area was equally spare—a few cushions, a lamp, and a closet with a red dress, a white button-down shirt, and a whole fleet of empty hangers.
I had only just reached for the shirt when I saw it at the edge of my vision.
Someone had attached it to the RV’s windshield in place of a rearview mirror. It was nothing that would have seemed odd from the outside, looking in, or drawn attention unless you were really, truly staring at it. But inside, standing only a few feet away from it, I was close enough to see the red light at the base of it, close enough to see that camera inside was pointed toward everything and everyone that passed by on the road in front of it.
And if I could see Betty from where I was, so could it.
The camera’s shape was slightly different from the ones they had at Thurmond, but close enough to make me think the same people were behind it. I looked down at Zu and she looked up at me.
“Stay right here,” I said, reaching for the coffeepot on the table.
I crossed the RV in three steps, the coffeepot out in front of me like a sword. I kicked aside a few empty boxes and trash, and saw, mixed in with the litter of plastic bags, a small red glove. Too small for any adult’s hand.
I didn’t realize the pot was still in my hand until I brought it down against the device and smashed it. The cheap glass body broke off and fell to the ground, leaving me holding its handle. The black bulb stayed perched exactly where it was, only now, the camera’s eye rotated to face me.
It’s on, I thought through the haze of panic, searching for something else to smash it with. It’s recording.
I didn’t remember calling for her, but Zu appeared at my side in an instant, stuffing something under the front of her oversized sweatshirt. She must have recognized it, too, because before I could even get another word in, she was pulling off one of her yellow rubber gloves and reaching toward it.
I’d never seen a Yellow use their abilities before. I’d suffered the aftereffects, of course—power outages across the camp, White Noise when the camp controllers thought one of them had done it on purpose. But they had been gone so long at Thurmond that I had stopped trying to imagine what it must have been like for them to speak the mysterious language of electricity.
Zu’s fingers had only brushed against it, but the camera began to let out a high-pitched whine. There was a bolt of white-blue that seemed to leap from her bare finger to the camera’s outer shell. That same crackling line whipped down over the plastic, causing it to smoke and warp under its heat.