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I’m almost ready to give in and give up, ready to draw my last breath while pressed up to his back, feeling his ribs and lungs and chest move with mine for the last time.

But Alex obviously isn’t ready to give up. He cuts down the narrowest alley he can find, and two of the cars following us come to a skidding halt, smashing each other as they try to follow and blocking the entrance so the other cars are forced to stop as well. Horns blare.

The sharp stink of smoke and burning rubber makes my eyes water for a second, but then we’re out again, bursting forward onto Franklin Arterial.

More sirens now, from a distance: reinforcements are on their way.

But the cove appears ahead of us, unfolding—calm and flat and gray, like glass or metal. The sky smolders at its edges, a growing fire of pinks and yellows. Alex turns onto Marginal Way, and my teeth clatter together as we bump over the old pitted pavement, my stomach yo- yoing every time we jolt over another pothole. We’re getting close. The sirens whine louder, like a drove of hornets. If we can just get to the border before more squad cars arrive . . . If we can somehow make it past the guards, if we can scale the fence . . .

Then, like an enormous insect taking flight, a helicopter wings up ahead of us, lights zigzagging along the darkened road, the whirring of its propeller deafening, beating the air to waves, to shreds.

A voice cannons out: “I order you, in the name of the government of the United States of America, to freeze and surrender!”

Tufts of long, sun-bleached grass appear on our right:

We’ve made it to the cove. Alex yanks the bike off the road and onto the grass, and we go, half gunning, half sliding, down into the marshes, cutting a diagonal toward the border. Mud splatters up into my mouth and eyes, choking me, and I cough into Alex’s back, feeling him heave against me. The sun is a half circle now, like an eyelid partially opened.

Tukey’s Bridge looms to our right, black, skeletal in the half darkness. Ahead of us, the lights in the guard huts are still illuminated. Even from this distance they look so peaceful, just like hanging paper lanterns, like something fragile and easily dismantled. Beyond them are the fence; the fringe of trees; safety. So close. If we only had time . . . Time . . .

Something pops; an explosion in the darkness; the mud jumps upward in an arc. They’re shooting again, from the helicopter.

“Freeze, dismount, and put your hands on your head!”

The patrol cars have arrived on the road that encircles the cove. More and more cars screech to a halt, and police begin to pour down the grass toward the marshland—hundreds of them, more than I’ve ever seen at one time, dark and inhuman-looking, like a swarm of cockroaches.

We’re up again now, in the short strip of grass that separates the water from the old torn-up road and the guard huts, weaving around a tangle of bushes so quickly, the branches sting as they slap against my skin.

And then, just like that, Alex stops. I slam up against him, biting down hard on my tongue, taste blood in my mouth. Above us the light from the helicopter wavers a little, trying to locate us, then fixes us in its beam. Alex raises his arms above his head and climbs off the motorcycle, turning to face me. In the solid white light his expression is unreadable, as though he’s been transformed, in that second, to stone.

“What are you doing?” I scream, over the noise of the propellers and the shouting and the sirens and beneath it all, the constant, everlasting groaning of the water as the tide slurps back into the cove—always there, always sweeping everything away, wearing everything to dust.

“We can still make it!”

“Listen to me.” He doesn’t seem to be shouting, but somehow I can still hear him. It’s like he’s speaking directly into my ear even though he’s still standing there, arms raised. “When I tell you to go, you’re going to go. You’ve got to drive this thing, okay?”

“What? I can’t—”

“Citizen 914-238-619-3216. Dismount and put your hands above your head. If you do not dismount immediately, we will be forced to shoot.”

“Lena.” The way he says my name makes me shut up.

“They’ve electrified the fence. It’s powered on.”

“How do you know?”

“Just listen to me.” Desperation and terror creep into Alex’s voice. “When I say go, you drive. And when I say jump, you jump. You’ll be able to get over the fence, but you’ll have thirty seconds before the power comes back online, a minute, tops. You have to climb as fast as you can. And then you run, okay?”

My whole body goes ice-cold. “Me? What about you?”

Alex’s expression doesn’t change. “I’ll be right behind you,” he says. “We’re giving you ten seconds . . . nine . . .

eight . . .” “Alex—” Icy fingers are reaching up from my stomach.

Alex smiles for just one second—the briefest flicker of a smile, like we’re already safe, like he’s leaning in to brush my hair from my eyes or kiss my cheek. “I promise I’ll be right behind you.” His expression hardens again. “But you have to swear you won’t look back. Not even for a second. Okay?”

“Six . . . five . . .”

“Alex, I can’t—”

“Swear, Lena.”

“Three . . . two . . .”

“Okay,” I say, almost choking on the word. Tears are blurring my vision. No chance. We have no chance. “I swear.”


At that second explosions start lighting up around us, bursts of sound and fire. At the same time Alex screams, “Go!” and I lean forward and twist the throttle like I saw him do. I feel his arms wrap around me at the last second, so strong they might have carried me off the bike if I weren’t gripping the handlebars so tightly.

More gunfire. Alex cries out and releases one arm from around my chest. I look back and see him cradling his right arm. We bump up onto the old road, and there is a line of guards waiting to greet us, rifles pointed. They’re all screaming, but I can’t even hear them: All I can hear is the rushing, rushing of the wind and the hum of electricity coursing through the fence, just like Alex said. All I can see are the trees in the Wilds, just turning green in the morning light, all those broad, flat leaves like hands reaching for us.

The guards are so close now, I can see individual faces, make out individual expressions: yellow teeth on one, a large wart on the nose of another. But still I don’t stop.

We plunge through them on our bike and they scatter, fall back and jump apart so they don’t get mowed down.

The fence looms above us: fifteen feet, ten feet, five feet.

I think, We’re going to die.

Then Alex’s voice, clear and forceful and, incredibly, calm, so I’m not sure if I hear him or only imagine him speaking the words into my ear. Jump. Now. With me.

I let go of the handlebars and roll to one side as the bike skids forward into the fence. Pain goes through every single part of my body—my bone is being ripped from my muscle, my muscle is being ripped from my skin—as I tumble across jagged rocks, spitting up dust, coughing, struggling to breathe. For a whole second the world goes black.

Then everything is color and explosion and fire. The bike hits the fence and a tremendous, rolling boom echoes through the air. Fire shoots into the air, enormous tongues licking up toward the ever-lightening sky. For a moment, the fence gives a high, shrill whine and then goes dead again, silent. No doubt the surge shorted it momentarily.

This is my chance to climb, just like Alex said.

Somehow I find the strength to drag myself to the fence on my hands and knees, dry-heaving, vomiting dust. I hear shouting behind me, but it all sounds distant, like under-water noise. I limp to the fence and haul myself upward, inch by inch. I’m going as fast as I can but it feels like I’m crawling, barely making progress. Alex must be behind me because I hear him shouting, “Go, Lena! Go!” I focus on his voice: It’s the only thing that keeps me going up. Somehow— miraculously—I reach the top of the fence, and then I step over the loops of barbed wire like Alex taught me, and then I tip over the other side and let myself drop twenty feet to the ground, hitting the grass hard, half- unconscious now and incapable of feeling any more pain. Just a few more feet and I’ll be sucked into the Wilds; I’ll be beyond its impenetrable shield of interlocking trees and growth and shade. I wait for Alex to hit next.

But he doesn’t.

That’s when I do the thing I swore I wouldn’t do.

Suddenly all my strength is back, fueled by panic. I scramble to my feet as the fence begins to hum again.

And I look back.

Alex is still standing on the other side of the fence, beyond a flickering wall of smoke and fire. He hasn’t moved a single inch since we both jumped off the bike, hasn’t tried to.

Strangely, in that moment I think back to what I answered all those months ago, at my first evaluation, when I was asked about Romeo and Juliet and could only think to say beautiful. I’d wanted to explain; I’d wanted to say something about sacrifice.

Alex’s T-shirt is red, and for a second I think it’s a trick of the light, but then I realize he’s drenched, soaked in blood: blood seeping across his chest, like the stain seeping up the sky, bringing another day to the world.

Behind him is that insect army of men, all of them running toward him at once, guns drawn. The guards are coming too, reaching for him from both sides as though they are going to tear him apart, straight down the middle. The helicopter has him fixed in its spotlight.

He is standing white and still and frozen in its beam, and I don’t think I have ever, in my life, seen anything more beautiful than him.

He is looking at me through the smoke, across the fence.

He never takes his eyes off me. His hair is a crown of leaves, of thorns, of flames. His eyes are blazing with light, more light than all the lights in every city in the whole world, more light than we could ever invent if we had ten thousand billion years.

And then he opens his mouth and his mouth forms one last word.

The word is: Run.

After that the insect men fall on him. He is taken up by all their snapping, ravaging arms and mouths like an animal being set upon by vultures, enfolded in all their darkness.

I run for I don’t know how long. Hours, maybe, or days.

Alex told me to run. And so I run.

You have to understand. I am no one special. I am just a single girl. I am five feet two inches tall and I am in- between in every way.

But I have a secret. You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them. You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist. And there are many of us out there, more than you think. People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to come to earth. People who love in a world without walls, people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear.

I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.

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