The Saints

Page 3

The quad went silent.

“I’ll get right to the point.” The man continued, “We didn’t plan on driving a bus into your school, but we had to do something. I know this may not be what you want to hear, but we have decided that we can take better care of you in here. We won’t be letting you out.”

“What the fuck?” Will said. The crowd’s roar around him drowned him out. It was so malicious, so full of hatred, that it frightened Will.

Lucy was red in the face beside him. “You can’t do this!” she screamed.

“Listen to me!” the man shouted. “The military wants you dead.”

That got the crowd’s attention.

“In fact, they think you’re dead right now. I know because I knew the man put in charge of running McKinley for the military. I hounded him for months with requests to open up lines of communication with you. It never worked. But a month ago, he contacted me and told me that they were pulling out of McKinley and ceasing the delivery of food. He and all his men had to report to the front lines to aid in the effort to quarantine every uninfected teen in the country. See, they’ve given up on containing the virus. They’re locking up all the healthy teens now, so that the virus can’t spread. And they’ve passed a new law that makes it legal to kill an infected teen in self-defense, or if they come within twenty-five feet of you. I read that only one way. The government wants to kill the infected off. You all included. The last thing the man told me before he hung up was that he’d been given the order to kill all the students in McKinley before he withdrew.”

Gasps rippled through the crowd.

“Thank God he couldn’t go through with it,” the man went on. “At least somebody in that operation had a conscience. He lied to his superiors and told them he’d filled the school with poison gas. And then he told me that McKinley was my responsibility now.”

“Let us out!” an outsider screamed.

“We’re only doing what is best for you,” the man in the motorcycle helmet said. “In here, we can keep you safe. People are moving back to Pale Ridge. The government announced that they have done all they can to clean the virus out of Colorado, and the risk of running into an infected is nearly the same as anywhere else. If we let you out, we couldn’t stop someone from killing you. Those kids who got out earlier, off hiding wherever they’re hiding now, they’ll have no one to protect them when the time comes. But we can keep you safe in here. We can defend this place. We’re not going to leave. I need you to understand that. We won’t leave you. No matter what.”

“Whose parents are you?” a Geek girl called out.

The man paused before answering.

“We’ve talked to former graduates. We know what things are like in here, and we’ve decided that we can’t tell you. We don’t want our children to be targeted.”

Kids began calling out their parents’ names, and saying, Mom? Dad?

The woman in the lilac helmet elbowed the man. The man unplugged his microphone cord from the amp, and she plugged in her own connection. Her voice was a muffled blast of emotion.

“I want to say this to my own kids, so I’ll say it to all of you. We love you. That’s why we’re here.”

Will heard kids start weeping and whimpering around the quad. Everyone was in shock. Will didn’t know what to think of any of this, but what he did know was that wasn’t his dad up there, his dad wasn’t that tall.

“Bring in the food, they need to eat,” the woman said to the man.

That one word, food, made Will’s mouth well up with saliva. He knew it must have been having the same effect on every other kid. None of them had eaten in two weeks, not since they raided Varsity’s food stores. The parent in the black motorcycle helmet waved his arms in a forward motion like he was directing someone into a parallel parking space.

The distant crane’s motor belched to life, and then chugged along with a dull drone.

“Whoa,” Will said in wonder.

A train-car-sized block of food and supplies rose into view from beyond the quad wall. Its plastic-wrapped bundles shined in the glaring sunlight. The block hung from the giant crane arm. The crane turned, swinging the block until it settled to a stop just over the center of the quad. Everyone in the quad leaned forward in anticipation. Food drops were something they understood.

The man plugged himself back into the amp with another loud squelch. “There is more than enough food for everyone. So, what I want to see, once we lower the food, is a nice, orderly line. Each box has everything one person should need for two weeks if rationed correctly. Please take one box, and move on. Any extra can then be divided accordingly.”

Everyone in the quad stared at the block of food as it was lowered, an inch a second, swinging gently from side to side on its twisted metal cable. It was almost time. Soon, the cable would detach. The block would fall.

Except it didn’t. It kept on creeping down at a steady crawl. People looked at each other, confused. Geeks to Nerds. Skaters to Sluts. No one was sure what to do. Would everyone really line up and do this peacefully?

When it was fifteen feet from the ground, the Skaters broke into a run, and gathered under the hanging block. They climbed onto each other’s shoulders until one of them was able to grab the edge of a pallet at the block’s bottom. That Skater had long black hair on the back of his head, the rest of his scalp covered in an inch of white fuzz. He scaled up the block of supplies and climbed onto the top. He pulled out a rusted screwdriver and stabbed it through the shrink-wrap that bound a cluster of boxes together. He pulled the plastic open and tugged at the loose boxes, causing them to tumble down to the ground.

The Sluts ran next. Then Varsity. They converged in the center. They converged in the shadow of the hanging block. Kids jumped up with all their might, leaping like it was tip-off at the big basketball game. They hooked their fingers around the plastic straps binding the block together and hung off it, swinging and swaying along with the heavy block, their knees knocking into the heads of the kids on the ground. Unlucky climbers, who’d made it to the top of the block, kept falling off and crashing down on to the crowd below.

“Stop climbing on it!” The voice came from above. “Make a line! MAKE A SINGLE-FILE LINE!”

The kids on the top began to rock the block of supplies like a seesaw.

“Stop that!” the man screamed.

The crane’s motor lurched. The block reversed and raised up toward the sky.

Kids below the block began to curse at the man in the sky. They clawed for the block as it rose out of reach. Most of the kids hanging off the bottom of the block were pulled off by the kids on the ground.

The higher the block rose, the more frantic the parents became. A Freak, still on top of the block, was beginning to climb the cable. When the man in the black motorcycle helmet saw the climbing Freak, he waved his arms wildly at the crane.

With a heavy click, the cable detached and the block fell. The heavy mass of food crashed to the ground, crushing the kids who couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. The lashes that bound the block together snapped, and boxes went flying. The victims of the falling block who didn’t die immediately wailed in vicious, broken-boned pain.

“No!” the man screamed.

Will and the small group of Loners charged toward the center. The other gangs that had held back did the same. Everyone swarmed the pile of food and fought for their share of the grub. The parents in the sky screamed at them to stop, but no one listened.


BLOOD PUDDLES IN THE DIRT. LUCY STARED at them as she chewed her chili. The bodies of the kids who had been killed by the falling block had just been carried away by their gangs. It should have turned her stomach to eat while watching the spilt blood of other kids slowly sink into the ground and become a red mud, but it didn’t. She was that hungry.

It was hard to be moved by much of anything anymore. From the moment Lucy had seen her homeroom teacher paint the blackboard red with his lungs, it had been one tragedy after another. Kids dying. Months of misery and abuse in the Pretty Ones. Brad trying to rape her. The tunnel collapsing on David. The weeks of starvation after that. The dream of escape obliterated by a speeding school bus. And then the news from that kid, Gates, and then from these parents, that even if escape had been possible, all that waited outside was death.

Bad things would never stop happening to them. Lucy was sure of it.

She glanced up to the roof line. There were no parents standing up there watching them anymore, not that she could see. After the drop was over, they’d tried to apologize for what had happened, but kids on the quad hurled so many shards of pallet wood and small chunks of concrete up at them that they retreated out of view and hadn’t made an appearance since.

Lucy sat with the Loners by the east wall. Twelve kids with white hair, sitting on the ground and eating out of cans. This was everyone, except for Leonard, who was across the quad, talking to a friend in the Geeks. The rest of the Loners had escaped. The twins were gone. Nelson, Sasha, so many more.

“We’re the smallest now,” Lucy said.

It was an understatement; no other gang lost more than ten members in the escape. The Loners had lost seventy-seven.

“We’ve been small before,” Will said. He rubbed her arm. He managed a half smile. He was straining to keep his face light and breezy, but it looked drawn and malnourished. She knew he was putting on a good front for her, and it was very sweet. He had to be tired, and scared, and depressed just like she was, but still Will’s eyes sparkled with defiance. She loved that about him.

Mort’s twisted, ruined hand started shaking before he could get a plastic spoonful of minestrone soup to his lips. “It’s not good,” he chanted. “It’s not good.”

“Chill, Mort,” Will said. “We don’t know what will happen. I sure didn’t expect to be eating beef ravioli under a clear blue sky today. Tomorrow, who knows?”

“We’ll be out of ravioli, I know that much,” Belinda said.

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