I was so shocked at the sight of them, I nearly missed the blur of green that was a little kid rushing for the fence. He darted around the teenagers in his path and threw himself against the bright yellow bars holding the gate firmly in place.
He had only just touched it when all of the hair on his head seemed to stand on end, and a burst of light flashed under his fingers. Instead of releasing it, his hand only seemed to clamp down harder, frozen in place as thousands of volts of electricity sent his body into a frenzied fit of shuddering.
Oh my God.
The gate was still on. Liam and Chubs were trying to turn it off.
I felt my own scream bubble up in my throat when he collapsed to the ground, finally still. Liam yelled something from the booth that I couldn’t hear, not above the screams from the kids around me. The sight of that boy burst the temporary bubble of calm in a heartbeat.
The PSFs were closer now; they had to be, because when they started firing again, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Each layer of kids fell down and away, peeling back to reveal a new, fresh layer for the kill—I couldn’t see the snow beneath them anymore.
Kids turned and bolted in every direction, some heading back toward the school, others following the edges of the electrified fence, looking for another way out. I heard dogs bark and the growling of engines. Combined, the noises sounded like a monster straight out of hell. I turned to look at the trail the animals and snowmobiles were blazing toward us, when something hard slammed into me from behind, throwing me into the thick snow.
I’m shot, I thought, half in shock.
No—that wasn’t right. The blow had come from an elbow to the back of the head. The Blue girl hadn’t even seen me as she turned and ran back toward the camp. I rolled over just in time to see her with her hands in the air, a clear surrender, and still—still—they shot her. She shrieked in pain and crumbled to the ground.
It wasn’t just the girl who hadn’t spotted me in the snow—no one did. I felt my arms, stinging with the cold, strain as I tried to push myself up and out of its freezing touch, but every time I made progress, another foot came slamming down across my shoulders and back. I had enough time to cover my head, but that was it. There was no getting air to my chest—I was screaming and no one could hear.
Rage and despair ripped through me. The crush of stampeding kids pushed me deeper and deeper into the snow, and I kept thinking, can you drown like this? Can you suffocate in the freezing dark? Would it be better to die this way?
Hands reached around my waist. Freezing air flooded my lungs in a single, painful gasp as I was lifted up and out of the snow.
The gate was open now, and the kids who had been steady and calm enough to remain—who had been lucky enough not to be hit—poured through, running for the dense cluster of trees ahead. There couldn’t have been more than twenty—of the hundreds of kids who had flooded through the halls of the old school—twenty.
I felt warm, impossibly warm. The arms holding me tightened. When I looked up, it was into Liam’s bright eyes.
Hang on tight, okay?
Zu woke with a gasp, coming up from her nightmare for a long drag of air.
I was thrown out of the dream, sent hurtling back into the freezing hotel room. Through the topsy-turvy vertigo that slammed into me, I turned toward Zu, my eyes adjusting just enough to make out her silhouette.
When I reached for her, I found someone else’s hands already there.
Liam shook his head, trying to snap himself out of sleep’s lingering grasp. “Zu,” he whispered. “Hey, Zu…”
I stayed perfectly still.
“Hey,” Liam said gently, “you’re okay. It was just a bad dream.”
My gut twisted when I realized she was crying. I heard a scraping sound, wood against wood, like he had taken something out of the nightstand.
“Write it down,” Liam said. “Don’t force yourself.”
It must have been the hotel stationery. I shut my eyes, waiting for him to switch on the cheap nightstand lamp, but he kept to his rule: no lights outside the bathroom.
“What are you sorry for?” he whispered. “The only one that needs beauty sleep is Chubs.”
She let out a shaky laugh, but her body was still tense next to mine.
“Was it…the same one as before?” The bed dipped as Liam sat down.
“A little different?” he repeated after a moment. “Yeah?”
The silence stretched a little longer this time. I wasn’t sure she was still scribbling in the darkness until Liam cleared his throat and said, in a rough voice, “I could never forget that. I was…I was really worried you had tried to touch the gate before Chubs figured out how to switch it off.” And then, so soft that I might have imagined it, he said, “I’m so sorry.”
The guilt and misery that coated the words were like a kick to the chest. I felt myself shift forward on the bed, drawn to the pain there, desperate to reassure him that what had happened there in the snowy field hadn’t been his fault. It scared me, knowing how well I understood him in that moment.
But I couldn’t. This was a private conversation, just like her memory had been private. Why was I always trespassing into places I didn’t belong?
“Chubs isn’t the only one that thinks it’s too dangerous. But I think Ruby’s tough enough to make it without us if she wants to. Why?”
“The only thing Chubs wants is for us to be safe,” he said, still whispering. “Sometimes that gets in the way of him doing what’s good for others—seeing the big picture, you know? It’s only been two weeks since we got out. You got to give him more time.”
He sounded so confident then that I felt a small part of me give. I believed him.
“Oh, man.” I could practically see him running a hand through his hair. “Never be ashamed of what you can do, you hear me? If you hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t be here.”
The room settled back into a peaceful quiet, save for Chubs’s wheezing snores.
“You feeling better?” he asked. “Need anything from Betty?”
She must have shaken her head, because I felt the bed shift again as Liam stood. “I’ll be right here. Just wake me up if you change your mind, okay?”
I didn’t hear him say good night. But instead of lying down, I saw him sit, back flush against the bed, watching the door and anything that might come through it.