The Loners

Page 48

David’s one eye wandered up until it found Will. David smiled. Will couldn’t believe it. It was a broad, genuine smile.

His inflated face looked even uglier with the smile, but it was irrepressible. Even after such a terrible beating, David was still defiant. It filled Will with pride, and he smiled back. A calm came over him.

“Well?” Sam shouted for the crowd’s benefit. “What’s the matter? Did you swallow your tongue?”

Laughs echoed across the quad.

Will flipped Sam off.

Sam charged him. He was upon Will in seconds, and he buried his fist in Will’s stomach. Will crumpled forward. It felt like Sam punched a hole through him. With Will bent over, Sam tried to knee him in his face. It connected with his chest instead. Will fell backward, and his feet scurried to stay underneath his weight. He barely stayed upright before Sam kicked him in the bladder. Will fell to the ground and landed on his ass bone.

No tussle at a drop, no scuffle in the halls had ever hurt like this. Will couldn’t tell which pain belonged to what. He was losing control. Will struggled to breathe. Things were happening too fast. Sam came at him. Will winged a wild punch at him first. It dinged off Sam’s shoulder like a pebble off a car window. Sam grabbed him by the shirt with one hand. His other hand was a fist. He drew it back, winding up to deliver the final strike.

Then, Will seized.

His body stiffened. His eyes rolled back in his head. His feet kicked out from under him. Sam held him up by the shirt as he hung there, rigid and convulsing. Sam let him go. Will dropped like a sandbag and knocked his head against the ground.

There were laughs in the crowd. There were just as many gasps.

Through fluttering eyelids and jerking vision, Will saw Sam towering above him, colossal. Drool fell out of Will’s mouth.

His body shook. All pretty convincing. Will had gotten plenty of practice from all the times he faked seizures to mess with David.

He rammed his foot up into Sam’s crotch, and Sam crashed to the ground. Will pulled himself up. The crowd’s laughter stopped. Silence. Will wound his leg back and soccer-kicked Sam in the balls again. Sam bellowed in pain. Everyone stared in disbelief, including Varsity.

“Listen up, hungry people!” Will shouted. “All of Varsity’s fighters are here. No one is guarding the food!” The gaunt faces in the crowd turned in the direction of the gym.

“The food belongs to all of us!”

The crowd barked and whistled and hollered in agreement.

Will could feel the tension bristling all around him.


It was a stampede. The Freaks, the Nerds, the Sluts, the Skaters, and the Geeks, all dashed toward the gym at once, like they were trying to catch the last train out of hell. Varsity tried to block them, but the momentum was too great.

Varsity’s formation was smashed apart. The two Varsity guys holding David cast him aside to go protect the gym.

Sam got to his feet, holding his crotch. For a second he looked at Will like he was about to kill him. But he stumbled backward, suddenly scared. Will was peripherally aware of someone behind him. He turned to see the Loners standing in a semicircle, staring Sam down. Sam yelled out of frustration and ran after the riotous mob.

The generator finally gave out, and all the lights died. The quad was overtaken by darkness.

David was a lump on the ground twenty feet away. He was faced away from Will and wasn’t moving. Will limped over to David as fast as he could. He dropped to his knees and turned David over tenderly. He cradled David’s head in his hands.

His face looked like a misshapen tomato.

“Dave? Are you okay?”

David smiled.

“I think I’m hallucinating . . . ,” David said. “I thought I just saw you kick Sam Howard’s ass.”

Will laughed so hard it made him cry.


LUCY AND VIOLENT WALKED TOWARD THE ruins by the light of Violent’s torch. Violent had retrieved it from one of the many lockers full of weapons that she maintained throughout the school. A vicious stench hit Lucy’s nose.

“Teachers,” Violent said. She handed Lucy the torch. She unhooked a shiv from her necklace of hanging silverware.

Using Lucy’s shoulder for leverage, Violent reached down and grabbed the hem of Lucy’s dress. She stabbed it with the shiv.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“We need something to cover our noses. That smell’s only gonna get worse.”

With a solid yank, Violent ripped off the bottom six inches of Lucy’s dress.

“You could’ve used your shirt or something,” Lucy said.

“Yeah, we coulda.”

Violent tore the resulting strip of fabric in two, handing one piece to Lucy and tying the other around her nose and mouth. Lucy did the same. Violent put her arm around Lucy.

Violent limped. and Lucy carried half her weight.

“How do you think the fight turned out?” Violent said.

Lucy thought back to the announcement they’d heard over the loudspeaker. She didn’t understand it, but she had to trust Will had a plan. It was blind faith, but it was the only thing keeping her going. David had to be alive, and there had to be a way out of the school, there simply had to be.

“I think Will beat Sam, and we’ll see them soon,” Lucy said.

“Want to make it interesting?”

“Ew, like a bet? No, you’re talking about my friends’ lives.”

“Just trying to make conversation.”

“Well, try harder.”

“You make a good crutch,” Violent said.

“Thanks.” Lucy laughed.

“No, seriously. You’re not in my gang. You didn’t have to help me like this.”

Lucy nodded with a secret smile. Finally, she’d done something right in Violent’s eyes.

With every step into the depths of the ruins, Lucy felt more unsettled. The flickering torchlight cast mad shadows down the hall. The ruins were like a memorial to the day everything changed. She could almost hear the rumble of the explosion and the bloodcurdling shrieks that followed, echoing down the halls.

“Have you ever been here before?” Lucy asked.

Violent was quiet for a moment and then, “Yeah. A long time ago. Only bad shit happens here.”

They came to the remains of a staircase. One whole side of it was gone. All that remained were broken stairs no more than a foot wide, jutting out from the wall. At the top landing, where the stairs should have been, was a mess of bent rebar.

“1206 is on the second floor,” Violent said. “We gotta go up.”

“You think you can—”

“Ssh,” Violent said suddenly, dropping to a whisper. “Did you hear that?”

All Lucy heard was the crackle of the torch in her hand. She shook her head. “What did you hear?”

“Nothing, let’s hurry up.”

Lucy and Violent hurried to the stairs. Lucy climbed the broken lengths of stair carefully, one hand on the wall and one holding the torch. Violent was always one step behind her, using the wall for support. Each step felt treacherous. It took her a minute to get half of the way up. The last two stairs were missing.

“Gonna have to jump it,” Violent said, peering past Lucy at the gap.

Lucy looked over the edge to the sharp rubble fifteen feet below. She noticed something etched on the wall below in charcoal letters: R.I.P. SMUDGE. A narrow mound of rubble stood out above the rest. She had the feeling Will had been where she stood. She mustered the strength to go for the jump.

She tossed the torch onto the second floor ahead, then took a deep breath and jumped. She landed on the second floor and tumbled forward. She whipped around with a big smile.

“I made it!”

“Uh, yeah, that’s great,” Violent said dryly. “Can you move?”

“Oh. Yeah, sorry.”

Lucy heard footsteps coming from the hallway behind her.

She spun around. From out of the darkness came a ghoulish boy. He wore a Pretty One dress tucked into black jeans. His face reminded her of a lizard’s, dry and pointed, his eyes black and his skin bluish white, like he’d been drained of blood. His hair was long, fragile, and white like an old crazy woman.

The boy stuttered to a stop. He looked nearly as shocked as Lucy was. He lunged forward and snatched her necklace off her neck. He dashed back into the dark hallway.

“Hey! Give me that!” Lucy yelled.

She sprinted into the hall, after the boy. The torch in her hand purred and dimmed as its flame dragged behind. She heard movement in the classroom ahead. Lucy poked her head through the doorway and extended the torch to get a sense of the room. It was a chemistry lab. Large, six-station islands with soapstone counters hunched in the darkness like sleeping beasts. Broken equipment and dirty papers littered the floor.

A hand clamped down on her arm and flung her to the ground. She lost the torch. The boy sat on her. He pinned her arms and thrust his face into hers.

“Stay away!” the boy said, the stink of his breath invaded her nostrils.

The torch had set fire to a cluster of papers, and in the fire-light Lucy could see the boy was scared.

“I want that necklace back!” Lucy dared to scream.

“It don’t belong to you,” the boy said. His accent was strange.

It was thick, southern. “Just leave me alone.” Light flared behind the boy. Violent was behind him, holding the torch. She jabbed it into his back.

“Gahh!” he screamed.

Violent stuck him with it again, and he scurried into the corner and crumpled up into a ball near the growing fire.

“You want to hurt girls? Huh?” Violent said, pushing the torch near his face. “Is that your thing, junkie?”

“I want the necklace,” Lucy said.

“It’s mine!” the boy said. “It belongs to me!”

“Hand it over, creep!” Violent said.

“It belonged to my momma! It’s all I got left of her. Please, don’t make me. Please don’t.”

Violent pulled the torch away from him. He pressed his back to the wall like a frightened animal. Lucy ran to the paper fire and stomped it out.

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