The Loners

Page 5

Hundreds of other kids lay scattered around in the quad as well. They were all limp, like dead fish. No one wanted to spare the energy to move around. The quad’s translucent cover deadened the sunlight slightly, but it was still the cheeriest place in the school. The grass was still green underneath them. The slight heat of the sun felt like a trickle of nourishment to David.

“We’re gonna get out of here, Will. You know that, right?” David said.

Will nodded. David made sure to tell him that at least twice a day, whether he listened or not. Will ignored him and looked up to the canopy. There was a distant sound, a light thudding.

Moments later, it was a thundering. Everyone heard it now, and everyone was looking up. A seam in the canopy opened that David had never noticed before.

It was the first time they saw the helicopter, the black angel that would drop food and supplies to them every two weeks from then on. When that first school bus–size care package slammed down to earth, its securing cords breaking loose and spilling out boxes and cellophane-wrapped bundles, all any of them could do was stare. After they tore away at the cheap crating and industrial wrap, they found canned food, military ration meals, freeze-dried meats and vegetables, drink powders, energy bars, plastic utensils, water bottles, water, blankets, camping rolls, sleeping bags, first-aid kits, second-hand clothes, soap, detergent, trash bags, and antibiotics.

Kids sprinted into the quad from the rest of the school after hearing the commotion. When they saw the supplies, they joined the surging horde, grabbing whatever they could get their claws into. David found energy he didn’t know he had. He and Will split up, running around the pile, through the colliding bodies, assembling armfuls of loot. David saw Will in little flashes as they would pass each other in the scramble. Will had a joyous, almost drooling, smile on his face that matched David’s.

David saw Will near the quad’s south wall. The supplies had all been scooped up, but kids were still pouring into the quad in droves. He and Will both had a great haul. David could barely hold on to everything as he ran up to his brother.

“Look! Look!” Will said, digging his hands through cans and packets piled up on the ground in front of him. “Can you believe it? They want us to live!”

David wanted to hug Will. But as he got close, Will’s smile stretched and contorted into something painful. David heard a gurgling rattle of air escape from Will’s clenched throat.

Will flopped to the ground. His face was the purple of a blossoming bruise. Veins popped out from his temple, and his eyes bulged, bloodshot. His hands were splayed and slapped flat against the ground. One leg was raised and bent while the other jerked away like it wanted to detach from his body.

“What’s up with him?” David heard a girl whisper.

David moved instinctively, dropping down beside his younger brother. He wrapped one hand gently around the back of Will’s head. David tore his belt from his pants and placed it in Will’s mouth. Will clamped his teeth down on the belt as he flailed. Urine darkened the front of Will’s pants.

David placed solid pressure on Will’s flailing arms, holding them in place. He stroked his brother’s head, doing his best to lull him.

“Sshhh . . .”

In his periphery, David could sense people moving toward him. Anonymous hands reached in and stole a package of blankets that David had snagged in the drop.


More hands reached in. David couldn’t leave Will’s side, and the kids around him knew it. More were still piling into the quad, angry that they got there too late.

“Leave us alone!” David shouted.

David kicked and thrashed and yelled at the anonymous looters, but it did no good. They darted in, snatched Will and David’s things, and darted back out again. They took and took, and by the time Will’s flailing slowed and his breath became more regulated, David had only a lone can of beans left, sandwiched between his belly and the ground.

Will’s face was spattered with a froth of his own saliva. His eyes cleared and met with David’s. David was devastated by the confusion, the fear, the crushing embarrassment that he saw in Will’s eyes.

“You had a seizure, okay?” David said as calmly as he could.

“You’re gonna be fine.”

Will pushed David away and propped himself up on one shaky elbow. Kids stood around Will and David. Not one made a move to help or asked if anything was needed. They watched.

Will pulled himself up.

“Don’t get up. You need to—”

David tried to stop him, but Will batted his hands away. Will peered back at his audience and then glanced down to see his urine-soaked pants. Someone in the crowd snickered. Will opened his mouth to speak but didn’t. David saw what looked like tears in Will’s eyes. Will ran across the quad, through the white-haired crowd. David ran after him. He blocked out the smirks and the grimaces and the looks of pity from the scav-engers around him.

He had to catch up with Will. He had to tell him everything would be all right. He had to keep him calm, even though their worst fears had been realized. Will’s epilepsy medication had run out weeks before, and this, the first episode in well over a year, was bound to be followed by many more.

Sixty-eight seniors were now dead. No one knew what it meant. They had gone the same way as the teachers, in fits of gruesome vomiting that spilled their very life onto the floor.

Every passing week claimed more seniors. The ones still alive, about three hundred or so, had become erratic and volatile out of fear that any day could be their last. Assaults and robberies became things the student body now had to fear. The seniors acted crazy. They wanted to live it up, to have sex, to gorge themselves on food, to pick a fight and win it, but the next moment they’d curl up into a ball and yank on their hair.

Their manic weeping was the school’s new soundtrack.

David waited in a janitor’s supply closet. He and Will had been sleeping in this eight-by-seven-foot rectangle for a week. The walls were lined with empty metal shelves; pillag-ers had picked the room clean except for a lone mop head without a handle.

In the beginning, everyone slept close together. The large rooms of the school such as the cafeteria, the commons, the auditorium, and the gym, were communal sleeping areas. It felt safer to be with a large group. It wasn’t that way anymore.

The cutthroat struggle for supplies didn’t end when each food drop ended, it was all the time now. Nothing truly belonged to anyone, and once you had something valuable in your hand, you had to start looking over your shoulder.

The door to the janitor’s closet opened, and David braced himself for a fight. Will walked in. David relaxed. Will had torn horizontal rips all down the legs of his jeans. Since the seizure in the quad, he’d cultivated a bad attitude so as to come off as more intimidating. David knew the truth. Will was scared shitless. He’d had two more seizures in the past month, and there was no way of predicting when the next would be.

“Where were you?” David said.

“Out getting this.”

Will dropped a box of tampons on the floor.

“Feelin’ a little moody?” David said.

“They’ll trade high.”

“And how’d you get those?”

“I went to the drugstore. Leave me alone,” Will said.

Will flopped down in a metal folding chair.

“I told you to stay here,” David said.

“Yeah. I heard.”

“It’s not safe for you to go out alone.”

“I don’t want to hear it, David.”

“You think I want to sit here worrying that you might have seized somewhere? You could get robbed, or worse.”

“It’s not your problem!”

Will got out of the chair and paced around the cramped room.

“I’m running at the next drop,” Will said.

“No, you aren’t.”

“I am, and I’m not going for the bare minimum, like you. I want the good stuff.”

“It’s too dangerous for you,” David said.

“This whole place is dangerous. We’re not going anywhere, and I’m gonna get my loot before my time is up.” David hoped Will didn’t really think he was going to die in this place.

“They’re going to let us out, Will.”

“I’m running.”

“No, you’re not, and that’s final!” David said.

Will stormed off into the hallway. David followed him through the doorway, but when he got to the hall, Will was already running around the far corner.

“You’re gonna die in here,” said a voice from a nearby classroom. It sounded familiar. David paused. A window shattered in the same room. He flinched.

“You’ll die in here. . . .”

Kerrang. The sound of metal striking metal.

David edged toward the room.


The light from the hall glinted off metal as a figure swung a chair against the steel plating the military had secured beyond the window frame. Kerrang.

The figure dropped the chair and tumbled away from the sealed window. The person threw himself prostrate onto the floor. He let out a low, defeated moan and sobbed. Maybe he’d gone stir-crazy, like so many. Maybe he was a senior who knew he was about to die. If that were him at rock bottom, or Will, he’d want someone to reach out and help.

“You okay?” David asked, and stepped into the doorway.

The person jumped like he’d been jabbed by a cattle prod, and looked up. It was Sam Howard, his eyes stained red from crying. David tensed up. Sam scrambled back into the darkest corner of the room.

David hadn’t seen Sam since everything had gone bad. Did Sam want revenge, or was that ancient history now? In the wake of such a huge tragedy, Sam and Hilary hooking up hardly seemed important anymore. Even still, it did make him happy to see Sam acting so pathetic.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” David said. Then he couldn’t help himself. “You don’t have to cry, man.” Sam charged out of the blackness at David. He was fast. He shoved David, and David fell to the ground. Sam stood over him.

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