Unwind, page 12part #1 of Unwind Dystology Series
"I dont know. Some school. Listen, you have to tell my parents to stop the police! I dont want them killed. "
"Lev, slow down. Are you all right?"
"They kidnapped me—but they didnt hurt me, so I dont want them hurt. Tell my father to call off the police!"
"I dont know what youre talking about. We never told the police. "
Lev is not expecting to hear this. "You never . . . what?"
"Your parents were going to. They were going to make a whole big deal about it—but I convinced them not to. I convinced them that your being kidnapped was somehow Gods will. "
Lev starts shaking his head like he can shake the thought away. "But . . . but why would you do that?"
Now Pastor Dan starts to sound desperate. "Lev, listen to me. Listen to me carefully. No one else knows that youre gone. As far as anyone knows, youve been tithed, and people dont ask questions about children who are tithed. Do you understand what Im telling you?"
"But. . . I want to be tithed. I need to be. You have to call my parents and tell them. You have to get me to harvest camp. "
Now Pastor Dan gets angry. "Dont make me do that! Please, dont make me do that!" Its as if hes fighting a battle, but somehow its not Lev hes battling. This is so far from Levs image of Pastor Dan, he cant believe its the same person hes known all these years. Its like an impostor has stolen the Pastors voice, but none of his convictions.
"Dont you see, Lev? You can save yourself. You can be anyone you want to be now. "
And all at once the truth comes to Lev. Pastor Dan wasnt telling him to run away from the kidnapper that day—he was telling Lev to run away from him. From his parents. From his tithing. After all of his sermons and lectures, after all that talk year after year about Levs holy duty, its all been a sham. Lev was born to be tithed—and the man who convinced him this was a glorious and honorable fate doesnt believe it.
"Lev? Lev, are you there?"
Hes there, but he doesnt want to be. He doesnt want to answer this man who led him to a cliff only to turn away at the last minute. Now Levs emotions spin like a wheel of fortune. One moment hes furious, the next, relieved. One instant hes filled with terror so extreme, he can smell it like acid in his nostrils, and the next, theres a spike of joy, like what he used to feel when he swung away and heard the crack of his bat against a ball. He is that ball now, soaring away. His life has been like a ballpark, hasnt it? All lines, structure, and rules, never changing. But now hes been hit over the wall into unknown territory.
"Lev?" says Pastor Dan. "Youre scaring me. Talk to me. "
Lev takes a slow, deep breath, then says, "Good-bye, sir. " Then he hangs up without another word.
Lev sees police cars arrive outside. Connor and Risa will soon be caught, if they havent been caught already. The nurse is no longer standing at the door—shes chiding the principal for how hes handling this situation. "Why didnt you call the poor boys parents? Why havent you put the school in lock-down?"
Lev knows what he has to do. Its something wrong. Its something bad. But suddenly he doesnt care. He slips out of the office right behind the nurses and principals backs, and goes out into the hallway. It only takes a second to find what hes looking for. He reaches for the little box on the wall.
I am lost in every possible way.
Then, feeling the coldness of the steel against his fingertips, he pulls the fire alarm.
The fire alarm goes off during the teachers prep period, and she silently curses the powers that be for their awful timing. Perhaps, she thinks, if she can just stay in her empty classroom until the false alarm—and its always a false alarm—is dealt with. But then, what kind of example would she be setting if students passing by looked in to see her sitting there.
As she leaves the room, the hallways are already filling with students. Teachers try their best to keep them organized, but this is a high school; the organized lines of elementary school fire drills are long gone, having been replaced by the brazen hormonal zigzags of kids whose bodies are too big for their own good.
Then she sees something strange. Something troubling.
There are two policemen by the front office—they actually seem intimidated by the mob of kids flowing past them and out the front doors of the school. But why policemen? Why not firemen? And how could they have gotten here so quickly? They couldnt have—they must have been called before the alarm went off. But why?
The last time there were policemen in the school, someone called in a clapper threat. The school was evacuated, and no one knew why until after the fact. Turns out, there was no clapper—the school was never in danger of being blown up. It was just some kid pulling a practical joke. Still, clapper threats are always taken seriously, because you never know when the threat might be real.
"Please, no pushing!" she says to a student who bumps her elbow. "Im sure well all make it outside. " Good thing she didnt take her coffee.
"Sorry, Ms. Steinberg. "
As she passes one of the science labs, she notices the door ajar. Just to be thorough, she peeks in to make sure there are no stragglers, or kids trying to avoid the mass exodus. The stone-top tables are bare and the chairs are all in place. No one had been in the lab this period. She reaches to pull the door closed, more out of habit than anything else, when she hears a sound that is wholly out of place in the room.
A babys cry.
At first she thinks it might be coming from the student mother nursery, but the nursery is way down the hall. This cry definitely came from the lab. She hears the cry again, only this time it sounds oddly muffled, and angrier. She knows that sound. Someones trying to cover the babys mouth to keep it from crying. These teen mothers always do that when they have their babies where they dont belong. They never seem to realize it only makes the baby cry louder.
"Partys over," she calls out. "Cmon, you and your baby have to leave with everyone else. "
But they dont come out. Theres that muffled cry again, followed by some intense whispering that she cant quite make out. Annoyed, she steps into the lab and storms down the center aisle looking left and right until she finds them crouched behind one of the lab tables. Its not just a girl and a baby; theres a boy there too. Theres a look of desperation about them. The boy looks as if he might bolt, but the girl grabs him firmly with her free hand. It keeps him in place. The baby wails.
The teacher might not know every name in school, but shes fairly certain she knows even face—and she certainly knows all the student mothers. This isnt one of them, and the boy is completely unfamiliar too.
The girl looks at her, eyes pleading. Too frightened to speak, she just shakes her head. Its the boy who speaks.
"If you turn us in, well die. "
At the thought, the girl holds the baby closer to her. Its cries lessen, but dont go away entirely. Clearly these are the ones the police are looking for, for reasons she can only guess at.
"Please . . . ," says the boy.
Please what? the teacher thinks. Please break the law? Please put myself and the school at risk? But, no, thats not it at all. What hes really saying is: Please be a human being. With a life so full of rules and regiments, its so easy to forget thats what they are. She knows—she sees—how often compassion takes a back seat to expediency.
Then a voice from behind her: "Hannah?"
She turns to see another teacher looking in from the door. Hes a bit disheveled, having fought the raging rapids of kids still funneling out of the school. He obviously hears the babys cries—how could he not?
"Is everything all right?" he asks.
"Yeah," says Hannah, with more calm in her voice than she actually feels. "Im taking care of it. "
The other teacher nods and leaves, probably glad not to share the burden of whatever this crying baby situation is.
Hannah now knows what the situation is, however—or at least she suspects. Kids only have this kind of desperation in th
She holds out her hand to the frightened kids. "Come with me. " The kids are hesitant, so she says, "If theyre looking for you, theyll find you once the building is empty. You cant expect to hide here. If you want to get out, you have to leave with everyone else. Cmon, Ill help you. "
Finally, they rise from behind the lab table, and she breathes a sigh of relief. She can tell they still dont trust her— but then, why should they? Unwinds exist in the constant shadow of betrayal. Well, they dont need to trust her now, they just need to go with her. In this case, necessity is the mother of compliance, and thats just fine.
"Dont tell me your names," she says to them. "Dont tell me anything, so if they question me afterward, I wont be lying when I say I dont know. "
There are still crowds of kids pushing past in the hall, heading toward the nearest exit. She steps out of the room, making sure the two kids and their baby are right behind her. She will help them. Whoever they are, she will do her best to get them to safety. What kind of example would she be setting if she didnt?
Police down the hall! Police at the exits! Risa knows this is Levs doing. He didnt just run away, he turned them in. This teacher says shes helping them, but what if shes not? What if shes just leading them to the police?
Dont think about that now! Keep your eyes on the baby.
Policemen know panic when they see it. But if her eyes are turned to the baby, her panic might be read as concern for the babys tears.
"If I ever see Lev again," says Connor, "Ill tear him to pieces. "
"Shh," says the teacher, leading them along with the crowd to the exit.
Risa cant blame Connor for his anger. She blames herself for not seeing through Levs sham. How could she have been so naive to think he was truly on their side?
"We should have let the little creep be unwound," grumbles Connor.
"Shut up," says Risa. "Lets just get out of this. "
As they near the door, another policeman comes into view standing just outside.
"Give me the baby," the teacher orders, and Risa does as shes told. She doesnt yet realize why the woman asked for the baby, but it doesnt matter. Its wonderful to have someone leading the way who seems to know what theyre doing. Perhaps this woman isnt the enemy after all. Perhaps she truly will get them through this.
"Let me go ahead," the teacher says. "The two of you separate, and just walk out with the rest of the kids. "
Without the baby to look at, Risa knows she cant hide the panic in her eyes, but suddenly she realizes that it might not matter—and now she understands why the woman took the baby. Yes, Lev turned them in. But if theyre lucky, these local police may only have a description of them to go by: a scruffy-haired boy and a dark-haired girl with a baby. Take away the baby, and that could be half the kids in this school.
The teacher—Hannah— passes the policeman a few yards ahead of them, and he gives her only a momentary glance. But then he looks toward Risa, and his eyes lock on her. Risa knows shes just given herself away. Should she turn and race back into the school? Wheres Connor now? Is he behind her, in front of her? She has no idea. Shes completely alone.
NEAL SHUSTERMAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- UnwindThunderheadScytheEverlostUnWhollyUnSouledThe Eyes of Kid Midas
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