Unwind, page 6part #1 of Unwind Dystology Series
"Better you than me. "
Bullets fly past them as they wind around swerving traffic. "Please—you dont understand—you cant take me now, Im being tithed. Ill miss my harvest! Youll ruin everything!"
And finally, a hint of humanity comes to the maniacs eyes. "Youre an Unwind?"
There are a million more things to be furious about, but Lev finds himself incensed by what hes just been called. "Im a tithe!"
A blaring horn, and Lev turns to see a bus bearing down on them. Before either of them has a chance to scream, the bus careens off the road to avoid them and smashes head-on against the fat trunk of a huge oak, stopping the bus cold.
Theres blood all over the smashed windshield. Its the bus drivers blood. He hangs halfway through, and hes not moving.
"Oh, crap!" says the maniac, a creepy whine in his voice. A girl has just stepped out of the bus. The crazy kid looks at her, and Lev realizes that now, while hes distracted, is the last chance hes going to have to get away. This kid is an animal. The only way to deal with him is for Lev to become an animal himself. So Lev grabs the arm thats locked around his neck and sinks his teeth in with the full force of his jaws until he tastes blood. The kid screams, letting go, and Lev bolts away, racing toward his fathers car.
As he nears it, a back door opens. Its Pastor Dan opening the door to receive him, yet the expression on the mans face is anything but happy.
With his face already swelling from the crazy kids brutal punch, Pastor Dan says with a hiss and strange warble to his voice, "Bun, Lev!"
Lev wasnt expecting this. "What?"
"Run! Run as fast and as far as you can. RUN!"
Lev stands there, impotent, unable to move, unable to process this. Why is Pastor Dan telling him to run? Then comes a sudden pain in his shoulder, and everything starts spinning round and round and down a drain into darkness.
The pain in Connors arm is unbearable. That little monster actually bit him—practically took a chunk out of his forearm. Another car slams the brakes to avoid hitting him, and gets rear-ended. The tranq bullets have stopped flying, but he knows thats temporary. The accidents have gotten the Juvey-cops momentarily distracted, but they wont stay that way for long.
Just then, he makes eye contact with the girl who got off the bus. He thinks shes going to go stumbling toward all the people who are running from their cars to help, but instead she turns and runs into the woods. Has the whole world gone insane?
Still holding his stinging, bleeding arm, he turns to run into the woods as well, but stops. He turns back to see the kid in white just reaching his car. Connor doesnt know where the Juvey-cops are. Theyre lurking, no doubt, somewhere in the tangle of vehicles. Thats when Connor makes a split-second decision. He knows its a stupid decision, but he cant help himself. All he knows is that hes caused death today. The bus drivers, maybe more. Even if it risks everything, hes got to balance it somehow. Hes got to do something decent, something good to make up for the awful consequence of his kicking-AWOL. And so, battling his own instinct for self-preservation, he races toward the kid in white who was so happily going to his own unwinding.
Its as Connor gets close that he sees the cop twenty yards away, raising his weapon, and firing. He shouldnt have risked this! He should have gotten away when he could. Connor waits for the telltale sting of the tranq bullet but it never comes, because the moment the bullet is fired, the boy in white takes a step back, and hes hit in the shoulder. Two seconds, and his knees buckle. The kid hits the ground, out cold, unwittingly taking the bullet meant for Connor.
Connor wastes no time. He picks the kid up off the ground and flips him over his shoulder. Tranq bullets fly, but no others connect. In a few seconds Connors past the bus, where a gaggle of shell-shocked teens are getting off. He pushes past them and into the woods.
The woods are dense, not just with trees but with tall shrubs and vines, yet theres already a path of broken branches and parted shrubs made by the girl who ran from the bus. They might as well have arrows pointing the police in their direction. He sees the girl up ahead and calls out to her. "Stop!" She turns, but only for an instant, then renews her battle with the dense growth all around her.
Connor gently puts down the boy in white and hurries forward, catching up with her. He grabs her arm gently, yet firmly enough so that she cant pull away. "Whatever youre running from, you wont get away unless we work together," he tells her. He glances behind him to make sure that no Juvey-cops are in sight yet. There arent. "Please—we dont have much time. "
The girl stops fighting the bushes and looks at him.
"What do you have in mind?"
Officer J. T. Nelson has spent twelve years working Juvenile. He knows AWOL Unwinds will not give up as long as theres an ounce of consciousness left in them. They are high on adrenaline, and often high on illegal substances as well. Nicotine, caffeine, or worse. He wishes his bullets were the real thing. He wishes he could truly take these wastes-of-life out rather than just taking them down. Maybe then they wouldnt be so quick to run—and if they did, well, no great loss.
The officer follows the path made through the woods by the AWOL Unwind, until he comes to a lump on the ground. Its the hostage, just dumped in the path, his white clothes smudged green from the foliage, and brown from the muddy earth. Good, thinks the officer. It was a good thing this boy took that bullet after all. Being unconscious probably saved this kids life. No telling where the Unwind would have taken him, or what hed have done to him.
"Help me!" says a voice just ahead of him. Its the voice of a girl. The officer isnt expecting this.
"Help me, please, Im hurt!"
Deeper in the woods a girl sits up against a tree, holding her arm, grimacing in pain. He doesnt have time for this, but "Protect and Serve" is more than just a motto to him. He sometimes wishes he didnt have such moral integrity.
He goes over to the girl. "What are you doing here?"
"I was on the bus. I got off and ran away because I was scared it would explode. I think my arms broken. "
He looks at the girls arm. Its not even bruised. This should be his first clue, but his mind is already too far ahead of him to catch it. "Stay here, Ill be right back. " He turns, ready to pick up his pursuit, when something drops on him from above. Not something, someone. The AWOL Unwind! The officer is knocked to the ground, and suddenly there are two figures attacking him—the Unwind and the girl. Theyre in this together. How could he have been so stupid? He reaches for his tranq pistol, but its not there. Instead he feels its muzzle against his left thigh, and he sees triumph in the Unwinds dark, vicious eyes.
"Nighty-night," the Unwind says.
A sharp pain in the officers leg, and the world goes away.
Lev wakes up to a dull ache in his shoulder. He thinks maybe he slept funny, but he quickly realizes the ache is from an injury. His left shoulder was the entry point of a tranq bullet, though he doesnt realize that just yet. All the things that had happened to him twelve hours before are like faint clouds in his mind that have lost their shape. All he knows for sure is that he was on his way to his tithing, he was kidnapped by a murderous teenager, and for some strange reason the image of Pastor Dan keeps coming back to him.
Pastor Dan was telling him to run.
Hes sure that it must be a false memory, because he cant believe Pastor Dan would do such a thing.
Everythings blurry as Lev opens his eyes. He doesnt know where he is, only that its night and hes not where he should be. The insane teen who took him sits across a small fire. Theres a girl there, too.
Thats when he realizes hed been hit by a tranq bullet. His head hurts, he feels like he might puke, and his brain is still only at half power. He tries to get up, but cant. At first he thinks thats also because of the tranquilizers, but then he realizes hes tied to a tree by thick vines.
He tries to speak, but his voice co
"Look whos back from Tranqville," says the boy with wild eyes. Only his eyes arent wild now, just his hair—its all sticking up like he slept on it.
Although Levs tongue feels like rubber, he manages to get out a single word. "Where . . . "
"Not sure," says the boy.
Then the girl adds, "But at least youre safe. "
Safe? thinks Lev. What could possibly be safe about this?
"H. . . h. . . hostage?" Lev gets out.
The boy looks to the girl, then back to Lev. "Kind of. I guess. " These two talk in an easy tone of voice, like theyre all friends. Theyre trying to lull me into a false sense of security, thinks Lev. Theyre trying to get me on their side, so Ill take part in whatever criminal activities they have planned. Theres an expression for that, isnt there? When a hostage joins the kidnappers cause? The Something syndrome.
The crazy kid looks to a pile of berries and nuts obviously foraged from the woods. "You hungry?"
Lev nods, but the act of nodding makes his head spin so much, he realizes that no matter how7 hungry he is, hed better not eat, because itll come right back up. "No," he says.
"You sound confused," says the girl. "Dont worry, its just the tranqs. They should wear off pretty soon. "
Stockholm syndrome! Thats it! Well, Lev wont be won over by this pair of kidnappers. Hell never be on their side.
Pastor Dan told me to run.
What had he meant? Did he mean run from the kidnappers? Maybe, but he seemed to be saying something else entirely. Lev closes his eyes and chases the thought away.
"My parents will look for me," Lev says, his mouth finally able to put together whole sentences.
The kids dont answer because they probably know its true.
"How much is the ransom?" Lev asks.
"Ransom? Theres no ransom," says the crazy kid. "I took you to save you, idiot!"
To save him? Lev just stares at him in disbelief. "But . . . but my tithing . . . "
The crazy kid looks at him and shakes his head. "Ive never seen a kid in such a hurry to be unwound. "
Its no use trying to explain to this godless pair what tithing is all about. How giving of ones self is the ultimate blessing. Theyd never understand or care. Save him? They havent saved him, theyve damned him.
Then Lev realizes something. He realizes that he can use this entire situation to his advantage. "My names Lev," he says, trying to play it as cool as he can.
"Pleased to meet you, Lev," says the girl. "Im Risa, and this is Connor. "
Connor throws her a dirty look, making it clear that she gave him their real names. Not a good idea for hostage-takers, but then most criminals are stupid like that.
"Didnt mean for you to take the tranq bullet," Connor tells him. "But the cop was a bad shot. "
"Not your fault," says Lev, even though every bit of it is Connors fault. Lev thinks about what happened, and says, "I would never have run from my own tithing. " That much, Lev knows, is true.
NEAL SHUSTERMAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- UnwindThunderheadScytheEverlostUnWhollyUnSouledThe Eyes of Kid Midas
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