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Unwind, p.42

Unwind, page 42

 part  #1 of  Unwind Dystology Series

 

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Page 42

 

  "Yes," says the pastor. "Proverbs—eleven, isnt 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.

  Its 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. "Havent you done enough damage already?" Then he spirits Lev away, leaving Connor standing there.

  "Its all right," says the pastor, his protective grip on Levs shoulders still firm as they stride away. "Were all aware of who he is and what he did to you. We were hoping you wouldnt 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, "Hes being unwound this afternoon. "

  "What?"

  "And good riddance, too!"

  * * *

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

  Lev hadnt 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. Connors unwinding must not be allowed . . . and its in Levs 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.

  "Its 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 theyre far enough away that nobody can hear. "Were 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 theyll 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 dont know who it is, but they know there are clappers here—Im sure theyre reviewing the blood tests right now, looking for anything unusual. It wont be long until they find us. "

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

  "It doesnt matter if youre ready. You want chaos? Well, its coming today, whether you want it or not—because if they find us, what do you think theyll do?"

  Blaine looks even sicker at the prospect. "Theyll 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. "Ill find Mai at lunch and tell her. Well go at two oclock 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 cant find them. The detonators arent crucial, but theyre cleaner. Lev wants it to be clean. Clean and quick.

  "Thats mine. "

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

  Lev looks around and realizes hes off by one bed. Theres nothing in the unit to identify one bed, or one cubby, from another.

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

  "No, Ive 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. "

  "Im fine. Ive just been running, thats all. Running on the treadmill. "

  "No, you havent," says the kid. "I was just in the gym. "

  "Listen, mind your own business, okay? Im not your buddy, Im not your friend. "

  "But we oughta be friends. "

  "No. You dont know me. Im not like you, okay, so just leave me alone!"

  Then he hears a deeper voice behind him. "Thats enough, Lev. "

  He turns to see a man in a suit. Its not one of the pastors but the counselor who admitted him a week ago. This cant 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 youre 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 hes not supposed to make any jarring motions, or he might detonate. He forces himself to stop.

  "You seem troubled, Lev," says the counselor. "Wed like to understand why. "

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

  "Im being tithed," Lev says. "Isnt 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 wouldnt be doing our job if we didnt try to make things right for you," says the elder pastor, then offers a smile so forced, its more like a grimace.

  Lev wants to scream at them, but he knows that wont get him out of here any faster. "I just dont like being around other kids right now. Id rather prepare for this alone, okay?"

  "But its not okay," says the older pastor. "Thats 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. Theyre all good kids. "

  "Well maybe Im not!" Lev cant help but look at the clock again. Twelve fifty. Mai and Blaine will be in place in ten minutes, and what if hes still here in this stinking office? Wont 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 hasnt 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. Im sure it was horrible, but talking about it can take away the power of the memory. Id like to hold a special group tonight with your unit. It will be a time for you to share with the others what youve been holding inside. I think youll find theyll be very underst
anding. "

  "Tonight," says Lev. "Okay. Fine. Ill talk about everything tonight. Maybe youre 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. Id 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 couldnt 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 hes 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. Theyre not being escorted by guards and both carry plates covered with aluminum foil. The guard doesnt like the look of them. The boys a flesh-head. The girl is Asian.

  "What do you want? Youre 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 its staff that carries the food, not Unwinds. "I thought they just had lunch. "

  "Guess not," says the flesh-head. He looks like hed 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.

  "Ill 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 hed 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 girls 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, Ill come in there and tranq you so fast, you wont know what hit you. "

  Once theyre inside, theyre out of sight, out of mind. He doesnt 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 doesnt matter; all that matters is that Lev will now be unwound. Its all been for nothing. Connors sense of futility makes him feel like a part of himself has already been cut out and taken to market.

 
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