Page 54

“Don’t be melodramatic, Lena. The cure works on your brain, not your legs. You’ll still be able to run after tomorrow.” Hana answers flippantly, just the way she should, but she’s smiling now, and nodding at me. Yes.

I’ll do it. And I’ll hide the note there. Hope pulses through me, a warm glow, burning off some of the pain.

“Yeah, but it will be different,” I whine. Carol’s face flashes momentarily at the door, which is open just a crack. She looks satisfied. It must seem to her like I’ve come to terms with having the procedure after all.

“Besides, something could go wrong.”

“It won’t go wrong.” Hana stands up and stares at me for a moment. “I promise,” she says slowly, giving each word weight, “that everything will go perfectly.”

My heart skips a beat. This time, she was giving me a message, and I know she wasn’t talking about the procedure.

“I should get out of here,” she says, moving to the door, practically skipping now. I realize that if this works—if Hana does somehow manage to transmit a message to Alex, and if he somehow manages to break me out of my house- turned-prison-cell—this really will be the last time I ever see Hana.

“Wait,” I call out, when she’s almost at the door.

“What?” She whips around. Her eyes are shining; she’s excited now, ready to go. For a moment, standing in the fuzzy haze of sunlight still penetrating the blinds, she appears to be glowing, as though lit up by some internal flame. And now I know why they invented words for love, why they had to: It’s the only thing that can come close to describing what I feel in that moment, the baffling mixture of pain and pleasure and fear and joy, all running sharply through me at once.

“What’s wrong?” Hana repeats impatiently, jogging a little in place. I know she’s eager to get going and put the plan into action. I love you, I think, but what I say, gasping a little, is: “Have a good run.”

“Oh, I will,” she says, and then, just like that, she’s gone.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

“He who leaps for the sky may fall, it’s true. But he may also fly.”

—Ancient saying, provenance unknown, listed in the

Comprehensive Compilation of Dangerous Words and Ideas, I’ve known time to stretch out like rings expanding outward over water; I’ve also known it to rush by with such force it leaves me dizzy. But until today I’ve never known it to do both at the same time. The minutes seem to swell around me, to stifle me with their sluggishness.

I watch the light move by centimeters over the ceiling. I fight the pain in my head and my shoulder blades. The numbness radiates from my left arm to my right. A fly circles the room, buzzing up against the blinds over and over, trying to fight its way outside. Eventually it drops from the air, exhausted, hitting the floor with a tiny pinging sound.

Sorry, buddy. I sympathize.

At the same time, I’m terrified when I see how many hours have gone by since Hana’s visit. Every hour brings me closer to the procedure, closer to leaving Alex, and even as each minute seems to take an hour, each hour seems to fly by in a minute. I wish I had some way of knowing whether Hana successfully hid a note at the Governor. Even if she did, there’s only the barest hope that Alex will think of looking there for word from me—the skinniest hope, the edge of an edge.

But still hope.

I haven’t even thought about the other obstacles that stand in the way of my escape—like the fact that I’m strung up like a salami, or the fact that either Carol or Uncle William or Rachel or Jenny is always stationed just outside the door. Call it denial or stubbornness or craziness, but I just have to believe that Alex will come and rescue me—like in one of the fairy tales he told me about on our walk back from the Wilds, where the prince springs a princess from a locked tower, slaying dragons and fighting forests of poisonous thorns just to get to her.

In the late afternoon Rachel comes in with a bowl of steaming soup. She sits down on my bed wordlessly.

“More Advil?” I ask her sarcastically, as she offers me a spoonful.

“You feel better now that you’ve slept, don’t you?” she returns.

“I’d feel better if I weren’t tied up.”

“It’s for your own good,” she says, making another gesture to my mouth with the spoon.

The last thing I want to do is accept food from Rachel, but if Alex does come for me ( when; when he comes for me; I have to keep believing ), I’ll need to have my strength up. Besides, maybe if Carol and Rachel really believe that I’ve given up on the idea of resisting, they’ll loosen up my restraints or stop standing watch outside the bedroom door, giving me the opportunity to escape.

So I take a long slurp of soup, force a tight smile, and say, “Not bad.”

Rachel beams at me. “You can have as much as you want,” she says. “You need to be in good shape for tomorrow.”

Amen, sister , I think, and drain the whole bowl before asking for seconds.

More minutes: a slow drag, like a weight pulling me under. But then, suddenly, the light in the bedroom turns the warm color of honey, and then the trembling yellow of fresh cream, and then begins swirling away from the walls altogether, like water going down a drain.

I haven’t really expected Alex to show up before night— that would be suicide—but pain throbs deep in my chest anyway. There’s almost no time left.

Dinner is more soup, topped with soggy chunks of bread.

This time it’s Carol who brings the meal to me while Rachel stands outside. Carol unties my hands briefly after I beg her to let me use the bathroom, but she insists on accompanying me to the toilet and standing there while I pee, which is more than humiliating. My legs are unsteady and the pain in my head worsens when I stand. There are deep grooves in my wrists—the nylon cord has left its mark—and my arms are like two dead weights, swinging lifelessly from my shoulders. When Carol goes to restrain me again I consider resisting—even though she’s taller than I am, I’m definitely stronger—but think better of it. The house is full of people, my uncle included, and for all I know there are still some regulators hanging out downstairs.

They’d have me secured and sedated within minutes, and I can’t afford to be put under again. I have to be awake and alert tonight. If Alex doesn’t come I’ll need to generate a plan of my own.

One thing is certain: I won’t have the procedure tomorrow. I’d rather die.

Instead I concentrate on tensing my muscles as hard as I can while Carol ties me up. When I relax again there’s a tiny bit of wiggle room, just a fraction of an inch.

Maybe enough to give me the chance to work my way out of my makeshift handcuffs. More good news: As the day has worn on, everyone has gotten a little more lax about guarding the bedroom constantly, just as I’d hoped. Rachel abandons her shift for five minutes to go to the bathroom; Jenny spends most of the time lecturing Grace about the rules to some game she has invented; Carol leaves her post for half an hour when she goes to do the dishes. After dinner, Uncle William takes over. I’m glad of it. He has a little portable radio with him. I hope he’ll nod off the way he usually does after eating.

And then maybe—just maybe—I’ll be able to bust out of here.

By nine o’clock all the light in the room has swirled away and I’m left in darkness, shadows draped like fabric over the walls. The moon is large and bright, coming through the blinds and barely outlining everything in a hazy silver glow. Uncle William is still outside, listening to the radio on low, an indecipherable static. Noises float up through the floor—water rushing in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, voices murmuring downstairs and the scuffling of padded feet—the final coughs and shakes before the house will fall silent for the night, like a person in the middle of death throes. Jenny and Grace still aren’t allowed to sleep in the room with me. I assume they’re all settling down to sleep in the living room.

Rachel comes in one last time, carrying a glass of water.

It’s difficult to tell in the darkness, but it looks suspiciously cloudy, like someone has dissolved something in it.

“I’m not thirsty,” I say. “Just a few sips.”

“Seriously, Rachel. I’m not thirsty.”

“Don’t be difficult, Lena.” She sits down on the bed and forces the water to my lips. “You’ve been so good all day.”

I have no choice but to take a few mouthfuls—tasting, as I do, the acrid sting of medication. Definitely laced with something—more sleeping pills, no doubt. I hold the water in my mouth, refusing to swallow, and as soon as she stands and turns back to the door, I turn my head and let the water run out onto my pillow, into my hair.

It’s kind of gross, but better than the alternative.

Wetness seeps into my pillow, temporarily cooling the sting of pain in my shoulders.

Rachel hesitates at the door as though she’s trying to think of something meaningful to say. But all she comes up with is, “See you in the morning.”

Not if I can help it , I think, but I don’t say anything.

Then she leaves me, closing the door behind her.

And then I’m left in total darkness, with just the passing of the hours, the minutes ticking forward. And as I lie there with nothing to do but think—as the house settles and goes silent around me—the fear returns, a terrible fog. I tell myself he must come—he has to—but the clock creeps forward, taunting me, and outside the streets are silent except for the occasional barking of a dog.

To keep my mind from cycling endlessly around the same question ( Will Alex come, or won’t he? ), I try to think of all the ways to kill myself on the way to the labs. If there’s any commercial traffic at all on Congress, I throw myself in front of one of the trucks. Or maybe I can make a break for the docks. It shouldn’t be too difficult to drown, especially if my hands are still tied. If worse comes to worst I can try to fight my way to the roof of the labs, like that girl did all those years ago, dropping out of the sky like a stone, cleaving the clouds.

I think of the image that was beamed onto televisions everywhere that day, the small trickle of blood, the strange expression of restfulness on her face. Now I understand. It sounds sick, but generating these plans actually makes me feel better, beats back the terrible flutterings of anxiety and fear inside of me. I’d rather die on my own terms than live on theirs. I’d rather die loving Alex than live without him.

Please, God, make him come for me. I’ll never ask for anything again.

I’ll give up anything and everything I have.

Just please make him come.

At midnight the fear turns, suddenly, to desperation. If he’s not coming, I’ll have to get out of here myself.

I work my hands in their restraints, trying to leverage that extra centimeter of space. The cord cuts deeply into my skin, and I have to bite my lip to keep from crying out in the dark. No matter how I pull and tug and twist, the cord refuses to relax any further, but still I keep trying, until sweat is dripping down along my hairline and I’m worried that if I thrash any harder it will attract someone into the room. Something wet trickles down along my forearm, and when I crane my head backward I see a thick, dark line of blood streaking my skin, like an awful black snake: All my struggling has caused my skin to chafe away.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.