The Loners

Page 45

Behind her, Violent fought a hulking Nerd with a droopy face and giant hands. Three other Sluts stood and watched as the Nerd threw a punch at Violent. It connected with her ribs, and she stumbled back. She shook it off and swung a swift kick into his kneecap. Instantly, his leg buckled. He squawked and collapsed to the ground.

“Wait,” Lucy shouted. “He can help us get back in!” Lucy ran to intervene, but one of the other Sluts stepped into her path and shook her head. It was Julie Tanaka.

“Keep out of this,” Julie said.

“Get up,” Violent said to the Nerd. He struggled back up, keeping his weight on his good leg. “You fuckers messed up big. You’re nothing without Kemp.”

“No, he messed up when he started making out with you. . . .


The Nerd hopped forward like he was going to attack. Violent kicked him in the chest. He stumbled back down the hall.

He looked up to the ceiling, and his face flashed with panic.

“No . . . ,” he said.

A rain of bricks fell out of the ceiling and pummeled his skull. He dropped to the ground. Lucy jerked her eyes to the ceiling above her, terrified that the same thing was about to happen to her, but no more bricks fell. Violent stepped toward the Nerd’s broken body and knelt. Blood oozed from his head onto the chunks of ceiling and fallen bricks that piled around him. She placed her fingers under his jaw to feel his pulse.

“Dead,” Violent muttered coldly.

Lucy looked up, above the dead body. An entire line of ceiling panels had broken away. Some still dangled from the ceiling. A heavy curtain that had been holding the bricks and rubble hung down.

Lucy’s stomach sank. She stared at the short hall before her.

Ten yards down, it cut right. The floor was covered in dust. No one had walked through in ages. This was the main entrance to the library, where all the traps were.

“I told you to stop!” Lucy shouted at Violent. “We could have held him hostage to get back in!”

“Hostage, huh?” Violent laughed and arched one of her black tape eyebrows. She kicked the dead Nerd’s shoe and said, “Well, he’s kind of useless now.”

“We’re not getting back in the library, that’s for sure,” Julie said. “Those doors won’t budge.”

“What happened in there?” Lucy said. Every second she was away from David made her more panicked. “I thought you had an understanding with the Nerds! You said we’d be safe!”

“This is Lucy, that girl who turned us down,” Julie said with smug grin.

“Yeah, because I have a gang. And you set them up.”

“You better think twice before you get in my face, girlie,” Violent said. “I didn’t set anybody up.” Julie rolled her eyes. “Can’t believe I thought you were Slut material.”

It was a comfort to know that Lucy and Julie would have never been friends. She could scratch that off the bottom of her list of regrets. Violent looked Lucy up and down with a sneer, then turned to Julie, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing,” Lucy said. “How?”

“It’s a hallway. We walk out,” Violent said.

“But the booby traps . . . there’s gotta be more. Do you know anything about traps?”

“No,” Violent said, “I don’t know anything about traps! Who the hell does? I grew up in Hillcrest.”

Violent edged forward. Lucy stared at the ominous hallway beyond the Nerd’s body. Behind every surface hidden pockets of death lurked, coiled up and waiting to burst. Lucy didn’t want to go down that hall. She didn’t want to be crushed by bricks. What she wanted to do was plop down on the floor with her arms crossed like a six-year-old’s and shout, “No!” She knew she couldn’t do that. She was going to have to trust Will to find David, and she was going to have to get back through these deadly traps. Her only shot at survival now was sticking close to Violent.

“You know, my grandparents live in Hillcrest,” Lucy said.

“Congratulations,” Violent said.

“I visited them a lot. I’m surprised we never ran into each other.”

Lucy had assumed that Violent grew up someplace rough, like an evil orphanage or some war-torn foreign country.

Maybe in a jungle. But not Hillcrest. It was one town over from Pale Ridge. It was full of yogurt shops and golf clubs and had wide black roads that were repaved every two years.

People from Hillcrest weren’t tough.

“Do you know the bicycle shop on Sixth?” Lucy said. “My uncle owns—”

“Shut up.”

Violent picked up a brick and chucked it. It scuttled to a stop at the end of the hall. The other three Sluts liked Violent’s plan. They chucked brick after brick down the hall to try to trigger any traps ahead. Nothing happened.

“Let’s go,” Violent said.

The five of them ventured out into the hall. Lucy stuck close to Violent. She cringed with each step, waiting for something awful to happen to them.

Violent screamed. Lucy jumped.

Violent’s leg had gone through the floor. She was grabbing at her leg and shouting. Julie tried to help her pull her leg out.

“Spikes!” Violent screamed.

Violent peeled back the broken floor tile to reveal the hole in the floor.

Her leg was in an aluminum mop bucket that was lodged into the innards of the floor. The interior of the bucket was lined with whittled wooden spikes extending down at a forty-five-degree angle. It was easy to get your foot in, but any effort to pull it out drove the sharpened spikes farther into your flesh. The rough-hewn spikes were plunged deep into Violent’s calf. She was literally nailed to the floor.

“We have to get the bucket out,” Lucy said.

Julie nodded. They dug their fingers into the floor and pried at the bucket. With a few minutes of work, Violent was able to lift her leg out, bucket and all. They marched ahead.

Violent dragged her bucket foot in long scrapes punctuated by painful grunts. Lucy couldn’t understand how Violent kept from crying. They reached the turn in the hallway.

The long hallway ahead was mostly dark, except for a few broken lights that spotlighted small sections of the floor, making it look like a suburban street at night. Junk was piled up along the sides of the hall. Halfway down it, the doors to a row of lockers on one side were bent and torn. Sharp metal edges stuck straight out from the wall like thresher blades.

“We need more bricks,” Violent grunted out.

“Let’s go back and get some,” Lucy said.

One of the Sluts walked over to a nearby pile of stuff. It made Lucy nervous how casually she kicked through the pile.

She wrenched a desktop from the junk.

“This’ll work.”

Lucy heard a click. A locker next to the Slut sprang open.

Inside there were three spray bottles full of liquid. Their squeeze triggers were tied with strings that ran through a series of pulleys, to a stack of books. The books dropped down the length of the locker. The bottles drenched the Slut, high, low, and middle. When the books hit the bottom of the locker they triggered the spark of a lighter. An aerosol can blast shot a plume of flame at the girl. It ignited her soaked clothes, and fire engulfed her.

The Slut howled and ran toward Lucy. Lucy could feel the heat coming off of the girl’s burning torso and head. The Slut was blazing white. Lucy and the others had no choice but to run into the rigged hallway.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Violent’s bucket-foot clapped against the floor as she ran.

Ahead of them, a tile popped out of the ceiling. A sharpened broom handle dropped out of the ceiling. A block of bundled library books the size of a guitar amp was duct-taped to the top as a weight. The heavy spike sank into the second Slut’s torso, right behind her collarbone. The flaming girl was gaining on them, baying and dripping fire. She cast a blazing orange light on the hallway that made Lucy and Violent’s shadows stretch out long before them.


Julie had managed to get ahead. She was staying a safe distance from the mangled lockers ahead on the left, but a trip wire snapped loose by Julie’s foot. An overstuffed duffel bag detached from the ceiling, swung down on a rope, and crashed into Julie like a wrecking ball. It launched her into the bent metal teeth of the mangled lockers.

Violent yanked Lucy to a stop. Lucy whipped her head to look back, expecting the burning Slut to crash into her.

Instead, the girl was smoldering on the floor, crushed under a set of five weighted lockers that had fallen out of the wall.

Lucy heard sobbing. Violent was crying, holding her face in her hands,and staring at Julie. Julie’s spine was folded in half.

Her body hung over a twist of metal like a wet towel. Violent collapsed. Lucy stumbled to catch her. They fell against the wall together in an awkward embrace, both out of breath.

They sat in silence. Clumps of gray dust floated in the air, blown upward by the swing of the heavy duffel bag that had rammed Julie into the locker doors. Bricks spilled out of a rip in the busted bag. The dust fell like dead snowflakes to the floor.

Five minutes passed, maybe ten. Violent rolled her head right to look at Lucy. Sweat had grown cold on her forehead.

“You believe there’s really a way out?” Violent said.

Lucy nodded. “I believe Will.”

“You think the two of us can make it to the ruins?” Lucy looked at the bucket on Violent’s foot. Blood dripped out onto the floor.

“I think we should deal with that first,” Lucy said.

It took them ten minutes to get the spikes out of Violent’s leg. When they did, Lucy helped Violent to her feet and carried as much of her weight as she could. The pair walked cautiously to the end of the hallway. They walked past an upturned table. Looking back they could see it was a warning sign, a message from the Nerds vigorously scratched into the dark faux wood surface of the table. It read: Past this point =




Will ran down a hallway, and Nelson followed. All of the hallway’s linoleum floor tiles had been ripped up. A hardened squiggle of glue remained for every missing tile, the color of peanut butter mixed with blood. Nelson huffed and puffed; he kept wanting to stop. Will wouldn’t let him. There wasn’t time. David would be gone soon.

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