The Loners

Page 49

“What are you talking about?” Lucy said, spinning back around to face him.

“He’s high. He’s been huffing,” Violent said, kicking at rags by a dirty, half-empty jug. “Look at this crap.”

“No, leave my zip alone!” the boy said, lunging for the jug.

Violent got to it first, holding it out of reach suggestively. He looked down, then thrashed around in anger. He moaned, then threw the necklace at Lucy. It skidded to her feet, and she picked it up. Violent tossed the jug into the boy’s lap, and he dumped some of the liquid onto a rag. He clasped the wet rag to his face and breathed in deeply. He exhaled with a sob.

“Let’s go,” Violent said.

Lucy looked at the necklace in her hand, then to the huffing kid. He rocked as he cried and punched at the floor.

“How do I know this belonged to your mother?” Lucy said.

“It’s all she ever had,” the boy said, through a chemical haze.

“They tried to take it from me at the labs, but I hid it from

’em. Them metal bedposts were hollow. Them doctors didn’t know that. That’s the only reason I’m alive, that necklace. I went back for it when I shoulda run. That’s how I got lucky.

Ev’rbody else got snagged. I got out . . . lucky. . . .” At first Lucy tried to make sense of his rambling. It sounded like crazy talk. Labs. Doctors.

“You’re the one,” Violent said. “You’re the infected kid they were trying to catch.”

“Lucky,” he said again, his face pinched with pain. “They shoulda left us in the mountains. They shoulda left us alone.” He scrambled to dampen his rag with the jug. Violent ripped it from his hands and threw it across the room.

“Give it back! Give ’em back to me!”

Violent threw the torch aside. She dropped to her knees and grasped him by his soiled dress.

“You made this happen. You ran into this school when you knew what could happen?”

“They was gonna kill me,” he said. It was barely a whisper.

“You brought all this on us?” Violent said, spitting her words like bullets.

The boy shook his head, moaning, frothing, crying.


“Violent . . . ,” Lucy said.

“YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED!” Violent screamed. She punched him in his mouth. His eyes fluttered back, and his lip split. She punched again. And again. Long, arcing punches that cut his face, and puffed his eyes, and bent his nose.

“Stop it!” Lucy shouted. “Stop it!”

Lucy pulled at Violent. She wouldn’t stop. She was a jack-hammer. She was going to kill him. Lucy hiked up what was left of her skirt and kicked Violent in the head. Violent yelped and fell over on her side, holding her ear.

“That’s enough,” Lucy said.

Lucy turned to the boy and crouched. His face was mulch.

Lucy winced at the sight of him. His breaths were labored, like he was breathing through a snorkel. But he was alive, and he was lucid.

Lucy took his hand and placed the necklace in it. She couldn’t imagine the guilt he carried. The deaths, the murders, the brutality, the hopelessness; he’d created all of it. It wasn’t his fault, he was just trying to survive. But she still hated him for it. She wished he had died that day.

Lucy stood, and walked over to Violent. Violent still stared at the boy. Lucy helped her up. The two of them walked out the door without another word.

Lucy counted off the room signs when she saw them.

1242 . . . 1238 . . . 1231 . . .

David was so close.

1210 . . .

Lucy and Violent slid into a water-soaked corridor.

Huge chunks of plaster from the ceiling and the walls lay scattered on the floor. Water rained down in waterfalls and then flowed toward a wall of rubble that blocked the end of the hallway. The Loners were there, clustered in the hall; a group of Sluts too. They waited in silence. It was unsettling.

“What’s going on?” Violent asked one of her girls.

“Don’t know if that dude’s gonna make it,” one Slut said.

Lucy looked to Violent in a panic.

“Go,” Violent said. “Hurry.”

Lucy let go of Violent and splashed through the wet hall to room 1206. The room had no floor. There was a flash of light from the room below.

“David?” she called out. “Will?”

“Lucy?” Will said.

“Oh, Will, thank God.”

Will reached his hands up to her. He helped her lower herself into the ruined room below.

“You made it,” he said.

She hugged him and held him tight. She could feel his face turn toward hers. She thought she felt the slightest kiss on her cheek, but she couldn’t have been sure. She laid eyes on David.

He was hunched over against a wall, just beyond another thin waterfall. She could only see the white of his eye patch undulating behind the wall of water. She could make out the shape of his arms. They were spattered with dried blood.

Lucy let go of Will and moved toward David. Will stopped her.

“Don’t—” he said.

Lucy looked to Will. She had to go to David. She had to.

“Get back,” David said with heavy sigh.

“But—” she said, and didn’t know what to say next. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

“We’re killing him, even this close. We’re toxic to him,” Will said.

“No,” Lucy said with a whimper.

“David, you have to go now,” Will said.

“But . . . right away?” Lucy asked.

Will gently tossed David his phone. David barely caught it.

“Use the phone’s light. Follow the blood trail,” Will said to him.

Lucy noticed bloody paw prints on the floor’s rubble. They pointed toward a triangular hole in the wall of rubble, where David stood.

“We’ll wait an hour, then follow,” Will said. “That should give you time to get far enough away.”

”Listen,” David said. “We don’t know what’s out there.” David stopped to cough. It took him a good ten seconds to get his voice back.

“When you leave,” David continued, “you gotta stay hidden.

I’ll tie . . . something red to the back door, okay? That’ll tell you Dad’s not in the house, and it’s safe to go in. Just be careful. Take Lucy and go to the basement. Hide there. I’ll call.”

“Okay,” Will said.

“And keep her safe. Promise me you’ll keep her safe.”

“I promise.”

“Please, I won’t come near. I just want to see you,” Lucy said.

David didn’t move. He kept his face hidden.


“I can’t. Lucy, this isn’t the end. I just need a head start.” Lucy was close to breaking down. It was the end.

“I’ll—I’ll see you soon,” she said.

Tears clouded her eyes. She wiped them away as fast as she could. She wouldn’t miss a single moment. The white of his eye patch quivered behind the rushing water, then was swallowed by the dark when David turned away. He cast the phone light on the hole in the wall and climbed through. A small hunk of plaster fell as he brushed up against it, and it landed in a puddle. A moment later, the light of David’s phone faded away and he was gone.

She stayed there, staring. Will touched her arm.

“You should sit down. Rest,” Will said. “We’re gonna need our energy, and we can’t go in there for another hour.” The tears still flowed, as heavily as the water from the ceiling.

“You wouldn’t believe whose ass I had to kick to get David here,” Will said.

Lucy couldn’t wait an hour. It felt impossible. She ran to the hole in the wall and peered through. She just had to see him one last time. It was a labyrinth of wreckage inside. The plink-plink of dripping water resonated through the tunnel. It wasn’t a tunnel as much as it was the empty space left between the piled chunks of wall, ceiling, and floor. The chunks rested precariously on one another like a stack of dominoes. She caught the glow of David’s phone, then she saw his silhouette.


He turned. The glow of the phone illuminated his face. It was swollen and bloodied, but his good eye sparkled. Was that a smile?

A second later, a chunk of ceiling in front of him fell, pulling an avalanche of rubble down with it.

She screamed. Her legs buckled beneath her; she collapsed into a puddle.

Will ran to her.

The tunnel was gone.



He’d almost been crushed. Pain throbbed, everywhere. He cast the light of his phone back at the passage he had just crawled through. It wasn’t there. Dust and dirt, kicked up by the collapse, still spun in the air. He pressed his full weight against the blockage in several places. Nothing gave. It was solid, through and through.

“Lucy!” he shouted. “Will!”

He pressed his ear to the wall of rock. He could hear faint shouts on the other side, but he couldn’t make out the words.

He heard a whimper behind him. David turned and faced the path ahead. He held up his phone. It was littered with dogs.

Doberman pinschers with broken backs lay limp over jagged hunks of debris in front of him. They dangled out of holes and crannies. They were sandwiched between blocks of wall.

David knew they were a manifestation of his fear, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

This school had taken everything from him. His bones felt hollow. His muscles felt like they were slipping off his bones.

He didn’t want to leave Will and Lucy behind. He wanted to bash against the obstruction behind him until it was dust. It wasn’t fair. These fallen rocks had made a liar out of him. He told them that he would get them all out, and now they were trapped again. They would all die of starvation.

He had to get the food drops started again. Graduation too. If he could get out, he could let the world know what was happening inside these walls. He had to try—it was his only chance to keep Lucy and Will alive.

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