Unwind / Page 42

Page 42



"Yes," says the pastor. "Proverbs—eleven, isn't it?"

"Proverbs 1 1:2."

"Very good." He appears suitably humbled. "Well, it is pretty in the spring."

Their path back to the tithing house takes them by fields and courts where the terribles are being observed and brought to the best possible physical condition before their unwinding. The tithes endure the occasional jeers and hisses from the terribles, like martyrs.

It's as they pass one of the dormitories that Lev finds himself face-to-face with someone he never expected to see again. He finds himself standing in front of Connor.

Each was heading in a different direction. Each sees the other at the same instant and stops short, staring in absolute shock.

"Lev?"

Suddenly the pompous pastor is there, grabbing Lev by both shoulders. "Get away from him!" the pastor snarls at Connor. "Haven't you done enough damage already?" Then he spirits Lev away, leaving Connor standing there.

"It's all right," says the pastor, his protective grip on Lev's shoulders still firm as they stride away. "We're all aware of who he is and what he did to you. We were hoping you wouldn't find out he was at the same harvest camp. But I promise you, Lev, he will never harm you again." And then he says quietly, "He's being unwound this afternoon."

"What?"

"And good riddance, too!"

* * *

It's not unusual to see tithes unsupervised on the grounds of Happy Jack, although they're usually in clusters—or at the very least, groups of two. It's rare to see one hurrying alone, almost running across the fields.

Lev hadn't lingered long once he got back to the tithing house—he took the first opportunity to slip out. Now he searches everywhere for Blaine and Mai.

Connor is being unwound this afternoon. How could this have happened? How did he get here? Connor was safe at the Graveyard. Did the Admiral throw him out, or did he leave on his own? Either way, Connor must have been caught and brought here. The one thing Lev had taken comfort in—the safety of his friends—has now been torn away. Connor's unwinding must not be allowed . . . and it's in Lev's power to stop it.

He finds Blaine in the grassy commons between the dining hall and the dormitories, being put through a regimen of calisthenics with his unit. Blaine does them oddly, putting as little force into them as possible, making all his moves low-impact.

"I need to talk to you."

Blaine looks at him, surprised and furious. "What, are you crazy? What are you doing here?"

A staffer sees him and makes a beeline toward them—after all, everyone knows tithes and terribles do not mix.

"It's all right," Lev tells the staffer, "I know him from home. I just wanted to say good-bye."

The staffer reluctantly nods his approval. "All right, but make it quick."

Lev pulls Blaine aside, making sure they're far enough away that nobody can hear. "We're doing it today," Lev tells him. "No more waiting."

"Hey," says Blaine, "I decide when we do it, and I say not yet.

"The longer we wait, the longer we risk going off by accident."

"So? Randomness works too."

He wants to hit Blaine but knows if he does they'll probably leave a crater in the field fifty yards wide, so he tells Blaine the only thing he knows for sure will get him to give in,

"They know about us," whispers Lev.

"What?"

"They don't know who it is, but they know there are clappers here—I'm sure they're reviewing the blood tests right now, looking for anything unusual. It won't be long until they find us."

Blaine grits his teeth and curses. He thinks for a moment, then starts shaking his head. "No. No, I'm not ready."

"It doesn't matter if you're ready. You want chaos? Well, it's coming today, whether you want it or not—because if they find us, what do you think they'll do?"

Blaine looks even sicker at the prospect. "They'll detonate us in the forest?"

"Or out in the desert where no one will ever know." .

Blaine considers it for a moment more, then takes a deep shuddering breath. "I'll find Mai at lunch and tell her. We'll go at two o'clock sharp."

"Make it one."

* * *

Lev rummages through his cubby, getting more and more frantic. Those socks have to be here! They have to be—but he can't find them. The detonators aren't crucial, but they're cleaner. Lev wants it to be clean. Clean and quick.

"That's mine."

Lev turns to see the towheaded kid with the emerald-green eyes standing behind him. "That's my cubby. Yours is over there."

Lev looks around and realizes he's off by one bed. There's nothing in the unit to identify one bed, or one cubby, from another.

"If you need socks, I can lend you."

"No, I've got enough of my own, thanks." He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes to get his panic under control, and goes to the right cubby. The sock with the detonators is there. He slips it in his pocket.

"You okay, Lev? You look kinda funny."

"I'm fine. I've just been running, that's all. Running on the treadmill."

"No, you haven't," says the kid. "I was just in the gym."

"Listen, mind your own business, okay? I'm not your buddy, I'm not your friend."

"But we oughta be friends."

"No. You don't know me. I'm not like you, okay, so just leave me alone!"

Then he hears a deeper voice behind him. "That's enough, Lev."

He turns to see a man in a suit. It's not one of the pastors but the counselor who admitted him a week ago. This can't be good.

The counselor nods to the towheaded kid. "Thank you, Sterling." The boy casts his eyes down and hurries out. "We assigned Sterling to keep an eye on you and make sure you're adjusting. We are, to say the least, concerned."

* * *

Lev sits in a room with the counselor, and two pastors. The sock bulges in his pocket. He bounces his knees nervously, then remembers he's not supposed to make any jarring motions, or he might detonate. He forces himself to stop.

"You seem troubled, Lev," says the counselor. "We'd like to understand why."

Lev looks at the clock. It's 12:48. Twelve minutes until he, Mai, and Blaine are supposed to meet and take care of business.

"I'm being tithed," Lev says. "Isn't that enough of a reason?"

The younger of the two pastors leans forward. "We try to make sure every tithe enters the divided state in the proper frame of mind."

"We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't try to make things right for you," says the elder pastor, then offers a smile so forced, it's more like a grimace.

Lev wants to scream at them, but he knows that won't get him out of here any faster. "I just don't like being around other kids right now. I'd rather prepare for this alone, okay?"

"But it's not okay," says the older pastor. "That's not the way we do things here. Everyone supports one another."

The junior pastor leans forward. "You need to give the other boys a chance. They're all good kids."

"Well maybe I'm not!" Lev can't help but look at the clock again. Twelve fifty. Mai and Blaine will be in place in ten minutes, and what if he's still here in this stinking office? Won't that be just great.

"Have somewhere you need to be?" the counselor asks. "You keep checking the time."

Lev knows his answer needs to make sense or they truly will become suspicious of him. "I ... I heard the kid who kidnapped me was being unwound today. I was just wondering if it had happened yet."

The pastors look at one another and at the counselor, who leans back in his chair, as calm as can be. "If he hasn't been, he will be shortly. Lev, I think it would be healthy for you to discuss what happened to you while you were held hostage. I'm sure it was horrible, but talking about it can take away the power of the memory. I'd like to hold a special group tonight with your unit. It will be a time for you to share with the others what you've been holding inside. I think you'll find they'll be very understanding."

"Tonight," says Lev. "Okay. Fine. I'll talk about everything tonight. Maybe you're right and it will make me feel better."

"We just want to ease your mind," says one of the pastors.

"So, can I go now?"

The counselor studies him for a moment more. "You seem so tense. I'd like to talk you through some guided relaxation exercises. . . ."

63 Guard

He hates his job, he hates the heat, he hates that he has to stand in front of the Chop Shop for hours guarding the doors, making sure no one unauthorized enters or leaves. He had dreams back in StaHo of starting a business with his buddies, but no one loans start-up money to StaHo kids. Even after he changed his last name from Ward to Mullard—the name of the richest family in town—he couldn't fool anyone. Turns out half the kids from his state home took on that name when they left, figuring they could outsmart the world. In the end, he outsmarted no one but himself. The best he could do was find a series of unfulfilling jobs in the year he's been out of StaHo—the most recent of which is being a harvest camp guard.

On the roof, the band has started its afternoon set. At least that helps the time to pass a little more quickly.

Two Unwinds approach, and climb the steps toward him. They're not being escorted by guards and both carry plates covered with aluminum foil. The guard doesn't like the look of them. The boy's a flesh-head. The girl is Asian.

"What do you want? You're not supposed to be here."

"We were told to give this to the band." They both look nervous and shifty. This is nothing new. All Unwinds get nervous near the Chop Shop—and to the guard, all Unwinds look shifty.

The guard peeks under the aluminum foil. Roast chicken. Mashed potatoes. They do send food up to the band once in a while, but usually it's staff that carries the food, not Unwinds. "I thought they just had lunch."

"Guess not," says the flesh-head. He looks like he'd rather be anywhere in the world but standing in front of the Chop Shop, so the guard decides to draw it out, making them stand there even longer.

"I'll have to call this in," he says. He pulls out his phone and calls the front office. He gets a busy signal. Typical. The guard wonders which he'd get in more trouble for—letting them bring the food in, or turning them away if they really were sent by administration. He considers the plate in the girl's hands. "Let me see that." He peels back the foil and takes the largest chicken breast. "Go in through the glass doors, and the stairs are to your left. If I see you go anywhere but up the stairs, I'll come in there and tranq you so fast, you won't know what hit you."

Once they're inside, they're out of sight, out of mind. He doesn't know that although they went into the stairwell, they never brought the food to the band—they just ditched the plates. And he never noticed the little round Band-Aids on their palms.

64 Connor

Connor looks out of the dormitory window, devastated. Lev is here at Happy Jack. How he got here doesn't matter; all that matters is that Lev will now be unwound. It's all been for nothing. Connor's sense of futility makes him feel like a part of himself has already been cut out and taken to market.


Prev Next