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Eve of destruction, p.15
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       Eve of Destruction, p.15

           Patrick Carman
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  “You okay?” I asked.

  “I’m good, but he’s pissed,” Ben said. He stood partway up and started hobbling toward me on his sprained ankles. “I think he’ll keep unlocking the door and banging on it until it falls off its hinges.”

  “You’re probably right. Just one more good reason to get out now.”

  “For real? The door’s open?”

  “Yeah, I did it. Let’s go.”

  Ben threw an arm around my shoulder and I helped him walk back toward the entryway. When we got there Kate, Connor, and Alex were milling around, nervous energy having overtaken them. Seeing Ben, Connor went into commando mode again.

  “We got an injured guy on our team, let’s get him out first. I can go right behind, catch his weight if he starts to fall.”

  “Fine by me,” said Kate. “I think I’ll wait a second, make sure my girls get out first.”

  Ben was all too happy to start up the ladder before Kate even stopped talking, but he wasn’t fast enough to beat Alex to the first rung. He was flying up that ladder before Ben could take his first step. Once he got going, Ben hopped from rung to rung, making slow progress, and Connor pulled up behind him.

  “What’s the plan at the top?” Connor asked. “Do we just go right out or wait?”

  “I think we scatter and run for the cars. Just get out and run; we’ll do the same.”

  Connor nodded down at me like he was raring to go, but he was nervous. He kept looking up into the tunnel like it was spinning around in circles.

  “Feeling dizzy?” Kate asked.

  “Nope, I’m good.”

  Connor began the slow ascent to the top and Kate nudged me on the shoulder.

  “Don’t go in there until he’s out. You don’t want to end up under a falling football player.”

  Kate could be cold, but she had a good point. Beneath a free-falling Connor Bloom was not a place I wanted to find myself.

  “If we do get cured, he’s so going into the army,” I joked. “He’s already trained.”

  “Yeah, he’d be a natural.”

  Nine minutes had passed, and I didn’t want to tell Kate we were down to almost no time by my calculations. It was altogether possible that Mrs. Goring was already standing outside waiting for us with a shotgun as it was.

  I heard a noise in the distance, down the red zone tunnel, and I couldn’t help myself. I started running in Marisa’s direction.

  “Go ahead,” I said to Kate over my shoulder. “You might as well. We’re going to make it.”

  Kate looked in both directions and seemed to weigh her options.

  “No thanks. I want to see those vials for myself. Plus Connor’s not to the top yet.”

  I could see the resolve in Kate’s expression when I looked back once more. She’d come this far to get rid of a constant, blinding migraine. She wasn’t about to take any chances.

  There was no reason for me to run toward Marisa. I just wanted to. I wanted her to see how much I missed her, how much I loved her. How proud I was of her getting Avery to come along. I rounded the corner at the S1 station and kept on going.

  “Marisa? Avery?” I shouted. “Come on, fast as you can!”

  They blasted through the red zone door, soaking wet and shivering despite the run. Marisa saw my silhouette and knew it was me. When our bodies connected we hadn’t slowed down quite as much as we should have, and I think it nearly knocked the wind out of her. I wrapped my arms around her shaking body and felt the clammy cold of her bare neck on my lips.

  “Are you getting me out of here, wonder boy?” she whispered, close and shivering in my ear. It was pure magic. I didn’t even answer, I just took her hand, made sure Avery was with us, and started running toward the exit.

  I kept looking back, making sure Avery was there. She was slower than I would have liked, moving more at a jog, and finally I slowed to a walk.

  “Can you go any faster?” Marisa asked, and Avery did pick up her pace, but not enough. I felt sure we were already out of time and Mrs. Goring would lock us in all over again. When we finally reached Kate she already had one foot on the first rung, nervously looking back and forth between us and the way out.

  “They’re already outside!” she shouted. “It’s open up there, I can see it.”

  At first I couldn’t believe it was true. Had Amy really come to our rescue, opening the latch so we could escape from a maze of horrors? The idea surprised me, and I didn’t believe Kate until I pulled in next to her and stared up into the shaft. At the top there was a faint circle of light, the light of a day coming to a close outside.

  “This is good,” I said.

  “No duh,” said Kate, but I was thinking not so much of our escape, but of what we were escaping into. It would be easier to slip away at nightfall than it would have been in broad daylight.

  “Ready to get out of this hellhole?” Kate asked Marisa, and then to Avery: “You have what we came for?”

  Avery and Kate had never been very close, in part because they’d briefly fawned over the same person. Young Rainsford—Davis—had caught Kate’s eye, too. I had the feeling as I glanced at Kate just then that she didn’t exactly feel sorry for Avery.

  Looks like getting the guy wasn’t such a good deal after all. Sorry that didn’t work out for you.

  “I have all seven vials,” Avery said softly.

  “Let me see them.”

  Avery didn’t like being bossed around and narrowed her eyes. She wasn’t about to give in to Kate Hollander that easy. In the shadow of a fight over a guy, the two were rivals above all else.

  “Where’s Davis?” she asked, looking at me then, thinking I was the most likely to know.

  It was a hard question to answer, one I knew was coming. She wasn’t going to leave the missile silo without him.

  “There is no Davis. There never was. And Rainsford is going to betray you.”

  “You don’t know that,” Avery said, but it wasn’t forceful. The spell was breaking in his absence.

  Marisa touched Avery’s porcelain white hand, holding it delicately.

  “He tried to kill me, Avery. Me and Will both.”

  Avery began to shake her head slowly as her gaze shifted to the floor. We had to get out before the door slammed shut and locked again, but Avery was crying. She was confused and upset, but we couldn’t leave her behind. I was afraid she might run back into the darkness of the tunnels, screaming Rainsford’s name, turning her back on us in the end.

  Marisa tightened her grip around Avery’s hand. They looked like two young children about to wander into a forbidden wood with only each other to depend on. The way they looked at each other, there was something deeper that hadn’t been there before, something I couldn’t understand.

  “Let me take you out of here,” Marisa said.

  Avery looked up, red eyed and sallow. “I can’t do it. I can’t.”

  “Then give me the vials and stay here if you want,” said Kate. She’d had about enough of the Avery weepfest to last her a lifetime. “Stay down here, be my guest. But you’re giving me those vials one way or the other.”

  Kate was taller and stronger than Avery, towering over her like an oak tree.

  “We can’t make you come with us,” I said. “But we want you to.”

  Kate took one step toward Avery, which put her about two inches from punching her in the gut (something I could actually imagine Kate doing in a situation like this). Avery reached into her back pocket and pulled out three vials, but she wouldn’t give them to Kate. She handed them to Marisa instead.

  “Hold these,” Marisa said, passing them off to me. Feeling their delicate glass casings made me nervous about having charge over them. They were each filled with a black gunk so thick it smeared all of the glass inside. Throughout this exchange Marisa and Avery had not stopped holding hands, but now they did, and Avery dug three more vials out of her other back pocket. These she handed directly to me.

  “Yours is in there,” she said, wiping
the tears from her face.

  My fear in my hands, and everyone else’s, too, I thought.

  “Where’s the last one?” Kate asked, still not backing down as she glowered over Avery. “Come on, Avery. You have a death wish, fine. But that door isn’t going to stay open if Goring finds out. Give me the damn vial!”

  Avery dug down into her front pocket and pulled out her vial.

  “I hate carrying it around anyway,” she said. “I’m not even sure why I need to. He just said so, and that’s what I did. Because I do whatever he says.”

  She said the last part without sincerity or sarcasm. It was said flatly by a girl on the verge of falling apart, and this made it impossible to say where her true allegiance fell.

  “You take it,” Avery said, giving her vial—the seventh vial—to Marisa. “Don’t let it go.”

  “I won’t,” Marisa promised, and just like that, Kate was climbing up the rungs.

  “You’re stupid for staying down here,” she yelled back. “I thought you were smarter than that.”

  It was, in its own way, the kindest thing Kate could have said. She was clever enough to know a challenge between rivals might get Avery moving.

  But it did not.

  A few seconds later it was Marisa in the shaft, and then it was me. I took one last look back, wishing it wasn’t true.

  “Are you sure about this? You might not get another chance,” I pleaded.

  She wouldn’t answer—only nodded—and hearing Connor yelling down the tunnel made me realize I had to get him to shut up and fast. He was drawing attention to us, and half of our number weren’t even above ground yet. Kate was moving like lightning, already to the top before Marisa was halfway. Three rungs on my own journey to the top I heard a noise I hadn’t expected. It was the kind of noise that makes a heart stop, a noise with the power to bring misery.

  In hindsight I should have thought it was possible. I should have planned for it.

  Ben wasn’t there to hold the pipe any longer. And even with my terrible hearing, I could hear it when the pipe hit the hard tile floor. It was a sharp, metallic sound, followed by the ringing echo of the blue door being slammed shut. Avery hadn’t opened the blue door, she hadn’t needed to. He’d finally done it on his own.

  Rainsford was free.

  We’d arrived at Fort Eden about one PM. An hour later we’d found Mrs. Goring, eaten some pancakes, and heard about the vials. We’d gone to the pond and made the mistake of marching down the ladder. We’d spent six hours underground.

  That last hour would change everything in ways I would not have imagined possible. Much would happen in the final hour, and it began with our escape from the underground missile silo. I had long since given up the idea of getting out alive, so it came as a weird sort of shock when I arrived at the very top of the ladder and smelled the warm forest air outside.

  “I thought we agreed you were going to run for the cars,” I said, seeing Connor lean his head down into the round space. He wobbled as if he might fall.

  “Back off there, tiger,” said Alex, pulling Connor away from the abyss. “Let’s get everyone out before we start falling in.”

  “That Avery behind you?” Connor asked as my head cleared the opening and I hopped out onto the floor of the shed. I glanced down into the hole, unsure what to do.

  “Yeah, it’s her. And him.”

  “What? That’s—I thought he was, you know, disposed of,” said Ben.

  Rainsford called up from the bottom, where he was just mounting the first few rungs. “No sense locking the door. I’m coming out either way.”

  “No such luck,” I said, but I didn’t have to. Everyone heard the gravity of Rainsford’s words ricochet through the air. And even though the latch on the iron door had held him this long, I don’t think any of us believed it would stop him now. He had that kind of power in his voice, the kind that could blow through walls and locked doors. Somehow, he’d get out. He’d find each and every one of us.

  “You guys should go, seriously,” I said. “Start running for the car before Goring shows up with a gun.”

  “We’re not leaving without you.” It was a voice I knew but kind of didn’t. I’d only ever heard it through an old monitor with sketchy audio. I had two things attached to the sides of my head that passed for ears, but my hearing was so crummy I still couldn’t be sure.

  “Amy?” I asked, and she came through the door of the small shed, concerned but smiling. She was far more beautiful in person than she had been on screen; downright breathtaking. Her eyes were sharper, her hair softer in the light forest breeze, her skin radiant. It was like going from a regular screen to HDTV and finding a bunch of treasures hidden in all that extra detail.

  I was speechless, unable to find the words to express how thankful I was for what she’d done or how awkward it was for us to be standing in the same five feet of space.

  “Should I shut this thing or what?” Alex asked, breaking the silence. He was standing behind me, balancing the heavy door on its hinges.

  “No doubt about it,” Kate said. “At least until we figure out what the hell we’re doing. We can always let them out later.”

  I held a hand up, signaling Alex to wait as Kate looked coldly at Amy like she didn’t trust her. Marisa was also staring at Amy, seeing how pretty she was, sizing her up, trying to figure out if this new girl was going to be a threat or not.

  “Avery, can you hear me?” I yelled.

  “She can hear you fine,” Rainsford answered for her.

  “Go back down,” I replied, feeling emboldened at my position in relation to his. “We’re thinking.”

  I had this other, unexpected feeling as the door started to slam shut and Rainsford’s protests were cut off in midsentence: I was trying to impress someone, to act like I had things under control. It was Amy I wanted to impress, and I felt a pang of guilt at the thought of it.

  What’s wrong with me? I thought.

  I’ll tell you what’s wrong, bro. There’s a heavenly creature standing three feet from your face and you’re playing hard to get. What are you waiting for?

  Keith, you don’t know the first thing about having a girlfriend.

  Whatever you say. Amy is hot though, you gotta admit.

  The wisdom of little brothers is endlessly entertaining and dead wrong most of the time. But knowing these things didn’t cause me to stop staring at Amy. Marisa sure did, though.

  “Is there a plan, Will?” she said, but she didn’t take her eyes off Amy. “Like shouldn’t we be getting on with it? You know, leaving?”

  Alex pushed the heavy metal handle into lock position and stood up, slapping his hands together like he’d just completed a very difficult and important task.

  “It looks crowded in there,” Amy said from the door. Marisa had been looking at her, but Amy was pretty much settled on looking at me, which is probably why Marisa broke into the open space on the dock and nearly knocked Amy out of the way. By the time everyone was outside standing in front of the pond, I felt like I’d lost control of the situation. Connor was having one of his dizzy spells and sat down hard on the wooden dock. Marisa stared out at the water, arms folded across her chest, as far away from me as she could get without stepping into the pond. Amy was staring at me like I’d betrayed my promise to ditch the group and wander off into the woods with her. Ben was hobbling around like a crippled old man while Alex and Kate stared darts into my forehead that basically said, Get it under control, Will. What are we doing here?

  I zeroed in on Amy, feeling time compressing against our odds of escape.

  “Where is she? Where’s Goring?”

  “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”

  “Try us,” Marisa said, but she didn’t stop looking at the pond.

  “Wait—this is important,” Amy said, and she was moving like a flash back toward the shed. “You’re not going to believe it—just hold on.”

  “Amy, what are you doing?” I asked her, and then I st
arted to get a sixth sense that we should start running, just leave and never come back.

  But Amy looked at me with those piercing eyes and asked me once more in a soft voice, “Just give me one second, okay? I promise, it’s going to be fine.”

  “What do you have there, Amy?” I asked.

  “That’s it, I’m leaving,” said Kate. “Marisa, give me the vial. We’ll mix up our witches brew at home.”

  “You got the vials? All of them?” Ben asked. He’d taken to sitting down, wincing in pain, which was only part of why I was feeling compelled to stay. Connor was just coming out of a severe dizzy spell and Marisa, finally turning in my direction, looked so worn out I didn’t have much faith in her making it all the way back to the cars without needing a good long rest. At best I could hope for a few of us to escape, a few of us not to. It wasn’t the kind of outcome I would willingly choose. I was, for better or worse, at that low self-preservation point where I believed it was all of us or none of us. It was starting to feel more and more like something was terribly wrong and we were all about to perish. Amy was only in the shed for a few seconds before she came back out. She had a smile on her face and her hands behind her back like she had the most amazing surprise hidden there. It was something she could hardly wait to share, and I got a morbid vision of Mrs. Goring’s severed head held in Amy’s hand. It was a vision I had to shake free from, a doomed vision even I had no interest in seeing come true.

  But why? Why did I feel that way? What marvelous secret was Amy hiding that felt somehow all wrong instead of all right?

  “I’m sort of sorry, but not really,” Amy said.

  And that’s when Rainsford came out of the shed, holding the metal pipe I’d used to hit him not once, but twice. Amy had pushed open the lock on the hatch, letting a beast loose into the world. That was her surprise.

  “Amy, what have you done?” I asked. She was standing exactly halfway between the dock, where we had all gathered, and the shed.

  No one else spoke. No one moved.

  Amy turned in the direction of Rainsford, the two of them catching each other’s eyes at the same moment in time. I could no longer see Amy’s face, but I could see Rainsford’s. I could see a long-forgotten memory appear in his mind and bloom as a full-blown revelation on his face.

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