The Loners

Page 46

All of this was Sam’s fault. And now Sam had David, probably locked up in a trophy cabinet. After the ambush, Will had tried to run after the Nerds who’d carried David off. He couldn’t catch them. He was able to find Nelson and Belinda.

He sent Belinda off to room 1206 to meet up with Lucy. Will had a plan, and it required a little muscle. Nelson was going to have to do.

As he and Nelson ran toward the school’s administrative offices, Will could feel the tension building in his gut. He had to control it. Now was not the time to lose himself. He had to keep a clear head. Will laid on the speed, hoping that Nelson would keep up.

Within minutes they reached the door to the teachers’

lounge. Will trotted down to a walk. Nelson panted his way over to him. Nelson had a smear of soot across his face. His pants seemed like they were about to fall down. He bled from a cut on his scalp, and blood drizzled down his face. If Will looked anything like Nelson, they were in trouble.

“Can you look meaner?” Will asked.


Nelson didn’t have his ear horn. Will spoke directly into his ear.

“I said, can you look meaner?”

Nelson tried to sneer his lip and bare his teeth like a wolf.

He looked more like a worried troll doll.

“That’s all you got?”

Nelson kept his face frozen like that and nodded his head.

Will sighed.


Will shook his arms to get his nerves out. He knocked on the door and backed up. After a moment the door opened a sliver. A Skater with a shaved head and a fat lip peered out.

He instinctively recoiled at the sight of Will’s white hair and slammed the door shut again. He heard the kid send an alert out to the rest of his gang.


Will felt a chill.

“Let me do the talking,” Will said quietly to Nelson.

“What?” Nelson said, still holding the same ridiculous expression, except now he was bugging his eyes out. Will didn’t know what that face was, but he had to admit it looked weird as hell.

The door flew open, and Skaters poured out, surrounding them. The fat-lipped Skater held the jagged edge of a broken skateboard deck to Will’s neck, pinning him against the wall.

“Where’s David?”

“I want to talk to P-Nut,” Will said.

“I said, where’s David?”

“Sam’s got him.”

Fat-lip eased off on the skateboard, sparing Will’s throat.

The Skaters grumbled at the news.

“Sam caught David himself?” Fat-lip asked.

“No. The Nerds,” Will said.

“The Nerds?”

“Come on!” one Skater said. “God damn it!” said another.

Fat-lip looked at Nelson, who stared back with his I’m worried and I’m in an electric chair look.

“What’s wrong with this kid?”

“He’s crazy,” Will whispered. “Don’t look him in the eyes.” Fat-lip followed Will’s advice and looked away from Nelson.

Nelson was pulling it off. Will got a surge of confidence.

“So, if Sam’s got David, what the hell did you come here for?” Fat-lip said. “You gonna pay us back for our boards?”

“Like I said,” Will said, “I need to talk to P-Nut.” Fat-lip laughed.

“Your funeral, kid. But your friend stays here.” Will turned to Nelson and shouted, “Try not to kill anybody.” Nelson nodded, his nostrils flared in faux anger. The Skaters kept their distance.

Fat-lip and his friends grabbed Will roughly by the shirt and shoved him into the teachers’ lounge. A half-pipe skate ramp dominated the room. The surface of the ramp was covered in the missing linoleum tiles from the hallway. It formed a seamless surface. The ramp was at least eight feet tall, and they’d torn out the ceiling to access about three feet more of headroom. But no one was skating. They didn’t have many boards, thanks to Will. Every Skater in the room stared daggers at him.

He was pushed into the next room where they’d created a mini skate park, full of school benches and wall-mounted handrails pulled from the stairwells, all marred with black scuffs.

Fat-lip pounded on a heavy wood door on the far end of the room. There was a placard on it that read PRINCIPAL WARFIELD. The name WARFIELD was scratched out. Underneath it, P-NUT had been scrawled in silver marker.

The door opened, and a cute Skater girl in a bikini top stuck her head out. The sides of her head were shaved, but the hair on top was long and black and fell to one side. Fat-lip whispered something in her ear. She gave Will a once-over and opened the door wide. One of Will’s other escorts gave him a halfhearted pat down and shoved him into the room.

P-Nut lounged on a brass-buttoned green leather couch. He had all sorts of angular designs shaved into his short black hair. The bikini girl sat next to him, and there was another hot girl curled up on P-Nut’s other side, with a shaved head.

P-Nut smiled at Will. He was a white kid, but somehow he maintained a light tan when none of them had seen the sun in more than a year. Will heard he was part Native American. He always looked like he’d just come back from vacation. Maybe that’s why the girls liked him. Or maybe it was because he was always smiling. Whatever it was, they liked him. And he liked them back. P-Nut was known as the horniest guy in school.

P-Nut got up and sat on Principal Warfield’s huge oak desk, which was covered with hand-drawn stickers. Behind him, numerous photos of Principal Warfield, some with his family, one with the mayor, hung on the wall, but they had been rehung upside down. P-Nut swung his legs casually back and forth and sized up Will. Will shifted his weight, self-conscious.

Will cleared his throat.

“My name’s Will Thorpe.”

“I know who you are. You’re the one who broke my board.” The bikini girl whispered something into P-Nut’s ear.

“Bummer,” P-Nut said.

P-Nut sat down and grabbed the microphone for the school’s public address system from the center of the desk.

He pressed the button at its base; Will could hear different sets of loudspeakers squawk to life in the distance.

“Hello, kiddies, this is P-Nut. Got some breaking news.

David Thorpe has been caught by the Nerds. The turkey hunt is off. If you’re hungry, you might want to think about eating your shoes.”

P-Nut let go of the button, and the speakers went quiet. He looked back to Will again.

“So what did you want?” P-Nut said.

“I’ll get to that. But first . . .”

Will pulled his smut phone from his pocket.

“Do you like Freak girls?”

P-Nut smiled.


IT WAS ALL FOOD. A HILLSIDE OF FOOD. It cascaded down the bleachers. This was Varsity’s greatest achievement, a symbol of their power in McKinley.

David watched the food in this brief, tranquil moment. As gruesome as his hallucinations had been, they could also be awe-inspiring. The food flowed down the hillside and disappeared once it touched the gym floor, like a giant fountain.

Occasionally, some of it would spout up into the air in a kalei-doscope of color. It was beautiful. He would have been content to stare at it until his time ran out.

Heavy ropes tied David to the front of a football tackling sled. His hands were bound behind him. The ropes bit him under the ribs. The dummy cushioning on the sled had been torn away so that his back lay flat against metal bars. His whole body was tilted forward so he had to struggle to lift his heavy head if he wanted to see what was coming at him.

David dragged his head up. At the other end of the gym, Anthony Smith was down in a three-point stance. Other guys lined up for their turn. Anthony broke into a run, straight for David. With his first step, it looked to David like he was a mile away. With the next step, a quarter mile, then fifty feet. David closed his eye and wondered if this was the last hit he would take; if Anthony would smash into him and lung muck would rocket out of his mouth.

David snapped his eye open. Anthony was right there, running at full speed. His shoulder rammed into David’s chest with all the momentum of his run. Vicious, worming pain dug its roots down into David’s chest. He lost all of his air. David’s vision went crimson, as if the ceiling had bled on everything in the gym. He heard the gritty rasp of the tackling sled as it scraped across the wood floor. It skidded to a stop. Anthony pushed off David and let out a victory scream. He raised his fists. The Pretty Ones cheered.

“That was for Brad,” Anthony said with a slap to David’s chin, and jogged away.

David took in air. The red faded from his vision. He stared at a white candy wrapper on the varnished maple floor. The white wrapper tumbled across the floor and then flitted up, caught by a breeze. It twirled and blew away. He could feel the cool breeze on his face.

“You’re okay,” a voice said.

David looked up. Lucy stood before him. The breeze was coming from her. Her dress was clean and luminescent, the color of moonlight. She laughed, but he couldn’t hear it. Her smile crinkled the skin under her eyes. David loved that. He wanted to know what she was laughing at.

“I’m back in your room,” Lucy said. “I’m waiting for you . . .


She smiled again. David felt blood drip out of his mouth as a goofy grin spread across his face.

A sprinting linebacker in a scuffed football helmet ran right through Lucy. She burst into a thousand shreds like confetti. David felt his chest collapse. The pain dug through him. His world went red again. The sled scraped. He heard the linebacker grunt then walk away.

He’d never see Lucy again. He knew that now. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about living anymore. It was that he couldn’t care. He had no fight left in his body, and he was in Sam’s world now. The game was over. Sam won.

“That’s enough,” Sam said.

David rocked his head right, his eyelid heavy. Sam was sitting on a folding chair, getting his hair redyed yellow by a Pretty One. He was watching David. He pushed the girl away as she dried his hair. David heard another Varsity come running from the other side of the gym, feet clomping on the hard floor. Sam stood, still wearing the towel around his neck from the dye job.

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