The Saints

Page 9

Without warning, the block of food fell.

The bound pallets crashed to the ground and burst apart, flinging food and supplies everywhere. The gangs charged the mountain of supplies in the center of the quad.

“Go!” Will shouted.

The Loners ran. They broke off in twos, and joined the flow of the scavenging crowd. It wasn’t safe to stand still. Will and Lucy ran side by side. The empty garbage bag Will brought with him trailed off his belt like a black snake snapping at his legs.

“You with me?” Will said in the huff of an exhale.

“With you,” she said. “See anything?”

“Not yet.”

Will’s eyes twitched across the quad. He and Lucy sped past a strangling match between a Freak and a Varsity, a plastic tub of protein powder at their feet. He whipped his head from left to right as he wove between thrashing battles. Hair colors smeared across his vision, blue, red, orange, white, black. A stocky Slut tried to trip him. He stomped on her foot. She barked in pain.

Lucy’s scream cut through the air, eclipsing the Slut’s yowl. He snapped his head left in time to see a Skater throw Lucy to the ground. Lucy was clutching a pink and white box of sugar cubes. The Skater swiped the box out of Lucy’s hand. Before the kid could pull the box close, Will tackled him to the ground.

Will grabbed the boy’s foot and twisted it. The kid squealed and kicked Will’s neck with his other foot. Will’s vision went sparkly for a moment. He put his hands on the box and tried to wrestle it away.

“Mine!” the Skater shouted. That Skater was wrong.

Will yanked and yanked at the box. He felt people kick him in the back. The Skater head-butted him in the nose. Blood poured from Will’s nostrils and splattered onto the kid’s face, like watery ketchup. The kid yelled in disgust, and more blood drizzled into his open mouth. The boy let go of the box.

Will shoved his sweet trophy into his garbage bag and stood. His hand went to his nose and he gave it a little squeeze. It was straight, not broken. Must’ve been his lucky day. He looked to Lucy, who was on her feet and had four cans of beans in her arms.

“Nice!” Will yelled, and wiped his bloody nose with his forearm. Lucy cracked a quick smile at him, before switching back to being on guard. Will pointed to Mort in the classroom window, and they ran to him. Will blocked for her the whole time, making sure no one got near Lucy or her beans.

They handed the food to Mort through the window. Will peered into the classroom and saw that there was already a tub of powdered fruit punch, a family-sized box of crackers, a bag of sunflower seeds, and four Styrofoam bowls of dried ramen on the floor.

“It’s working!” Will said to Lucy. His voice went embarrassingly high. Lucy giggled at him.

“We’re doing it!” she said with a burst of tiny applause. He wanted to stay here in this moment forever, with Lucy proud of him, impressed with him, cheering him on. But they had to move; the mountain of food was disappearing quickly. He took her hand and led her back into the fray.

Victorious cheers, battle cries, and screams of pain mingled in Will’s ears. He and Lucy sprinted by a crying Freak girl who whipped a length of chain at the crowd of Geeks that surrounded her. They all lunged for the 400-count pack of flushable moist wipes she had clutched against her belly.

Will and Lucy passed a Saint who swung the butt of her rifle into a Skater’s ribs. The Skater crumbled when the gun hit his side, and the Saint stole his bag of jerky.

“Looks like the new kids are getting the swing of things in here,” Will said. Lucy nodded with a pant.

A few feet away, Will spotted a box of disposable lighters in the dirt, and he scooped them up. A Nerd was bending over to pick up a bottle of shampoo nearby. Lucy kicked her in the ass, and the girl fell forward on her face. Lucy grabbed the shampoo, and smiled at Will with pride. He felt a cool breeze all over his body.

Then knuckles cracked into the back of his head.

Will staggered forward and whipped around, pain blossoming in his skull. Sam stood opposite him, fists up in the air, lip stretched up into a snarl.

Nausea twirled in the pit of Will’s gut. Just a flutter of it at first. Then, that flutter took shape and grew into solid a lump of sick. A cold stone in his belly. He’d known Sam might come looking for revenge—he’d mocked Sam in front of the whole school—but Will didn’t think that he would be this afraid when it happened. Sam spat on the ground and stomped forward.

The sheet of muscles along the side of Will’s neck clenched, and bent his head over. The truth chilled his blood. He wasn’t paralyzed with fear. He was about to seize. Will tried to yell, but all that came out of his throat was a wet, grinding honk. His skin was pins and needles. He felt a cold rope of his own spittle drip across his fingers. The ground collapsed under his feet.

Everything became white.

Warbling laughter was the first thing Will was aware of. He opened his eyes, and the light was blinding. He saw a human shape, all out of focus, standing above him. The top of the person’s head was a blurred blob of yellow. The person’s hazy foot swung back and then kicked forward.

Will’s balls exploded with pain. He tried to cup them with his hands and guard against another strike, but his arms flailed around like water weenies. They wouldn’t work right. Another kick, and Will retched.

Will tried to scream at Sam to stop, but it was just noise with no enunciation. His tongue was a dead lump in his mouth. Will’s eyes sharpened gradually. He could see the drop was over. Everyone was back on the sidelines, except for him, and Sam, and the Loners trying to pull Sam off of him.

He saw Sam knock down Leonard with an elbow to the chest. Sam shoved Mort off him like he was a paper doll. Mort got back up and came back for more punishment, throwing a crazed, ragged swing at Sam. Sam grabbed his deformed fist, mid-punch, and socked Mort in the eye with his other hand. Mort dropped to the dirt, unconscious. Ritchie limped over on a freshly twisted ankle, and Sam kicked him in it. Ritchie hollered and hit the ground, clutching his foot.

Will tried to stand, but his legs were another part of his system that had yet to come back online. He was able to get on his hands and knees in time to receive another heavy kick from Sam, in the kidney this time. Will crumpled, his face on the ground.

He saw a shiny red dot, a ladybug, moseying across ridges of dirt in front of his face. Beyond the ladybug, the crowd watched. Will could discern a mixture of pity and mockery across the different faces watching. Will felt himself urinate, he had no control over it. His bowels loosened and warm filth flooded his boxers. He saw Lucy running toward him. He shouted for her to stop.

“Agh oh shtuhh!” was the best he could muster.

Peripherally, he saw Sam punch Belinda in the stomach, and she folded over. The crowd groaned for her. Lucy rushed over to Will in a panic. Sam slapped her across the face, hard enough to knock her down. Will tried to attack Sam but he flopped around like a fish on a boat deck.

“Woh ganh fuff!” Will whelped.

Sam laughed with glee. He grabbed Will by the hair on the back of his head and twisted his head around so they could be face-to-face. Sam’s eyes were crazed.

“Where’s your big brother now?” Sam said, low at first. He shouted it again for the whole quad. “WHERE’S YOUR BIG BROTHER NOW?”

Sam pushed Will’s face into the dirt. He dragged it back and forth. Will tried to fight. He tried. But he couldn’t work his fingers well enough to grasp Sam’s wrists. He had to let the dirt and rocks scrape across his face, again and again. Sam let go. Will waited for the next strike. Nothing came.

Will got himself up on one elbow. His arms were beginning to listen to his brain. He looked back. Other Loners lay on the ground, defeated. Sam was a few feet away from Will now, facing Varsity, who watched the show, as stunned as anyone else.

“Are you satisfied now? Huh? I crushed the Loners,” Sam shouted at his gang. “What else do you need to see?”

All of Varsity turned and began to walk out of the quad. They shook their heads at Sam, or ignored him completely. Sam shuffled a few steps after them.

“Where are you going?” Sam said.

Other gangs like the Sluts and the Geeks began to leave as well. Sam turned his rant to everyone when Varsity stopped caring.

“You all saw that! I—I beat Will. You saw it.”

The crowd hissed and tsk’d at him. They made crying baby fists by their eyes. They laughed at him, they flipped him off. Sam’s face went wine red. He looked like he wanted to say something but he kept stopping. When the last Varsity stepped off the quad, there was no one left for him to shout at, and he ran for the nearest hallway. Laughter spread in his wake and stayed with the crowd even after he was gone.

As the rest of the quad cleared, the Loners got to their feet, except Ritchie, who only stood on one. They were beat up. Disrespected. The school had just seen the once mighty Loners get stomped by one guy. Will tasted mud and blood. Lucy walked toward him, a split in her lip and one red cheek. He wanted to scream at her to stay back, he didn’t want her to come close enough to smell him. She couldn’t know he’d just soiled himself, like an infant. She couldn’t know. But she soon did. They all did, when they helped Will to his feet. They smelled his shame. None of them would look him in the eye as they helped him wobble-walk out of the quad.

He’d never wanted for this to happen, not to him, not to any of them. He’d tried so hard to not let it happen, he’d tried with everything he had in him … He just wasn’t strong enough.


THE MARKET BUZZED WITH EXCITEMENT. This was the third one since the parents’ arrival. The first two had been disorganized and halfhearted, but not this one. This market was like Lucy remembered them, back when the military had still been feeding them. The wide hallway bustled with activity, with deals going down everywhere she looked.

Lucy stood with Ritchie, Mort, Leonard, Colin, and Belinda at the edge of the market. They watched kids from other gangs, with their hair freshly dyed, walk with their friends, joking and laughing, from one trading room to the next. Life was returning to normal, better than normal actually, because there was more food to go around. Varsity hadn’t hoarded most of the food this time. They’d only taken their share, a reasonable amount to support a gang, and didn’t try for any more. It had people talking. Had Varsity actually dethroned Sam as their leader? It looked that way. They didn’t seem concerned with keeping a mountain of food on display behind their trading tables to taunt the rest of the school. Without Varsity hoarding the lion’s share of the food, every gang ended up securing more supplies than they ever had. Every gang but the Loners.

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