Crossed, p.10
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       Crossed, p.10

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 11


  It’s silent there under the sky.

  “I don’t blame them,” the boy says, his bitterness turning to exhaustion. “I’d have done the same thing. If too many of us ran, we’d have been caught. They tried to help us. Showed us how to make it so our guns would fire once, so we could at least shoot back. Still, they knew what they were doing the night they left. Their timing was perfect. So many people died that night, some of them from our own guns, the Society might not know who ended up ash and who didn’t. I noticed, though. I saw them go. ”

  “Do you know where they are now?” Indie asks.

  “Somewhere in there. ” He points toward the sandstone formations barely visible from here. “Our village was over near those rocks. He called that place the Carving. He must have been desperate. It’s death in there. Anomalies, scorpions, flash floods. Still . . . ” He pauses, looks up at the sky. “They took this kid with them. Eli. Only thirteen, probably, the youngest in our group, couldn’t keep his mouth shut. What good was he to them? Why not take one of us?”

  It is Ky. Hope and disappointment both wash over me.

  “But if you saw him go, why didn’t you follow?” I ask.

  “I saw what happened to someone who did,” the boy says flatly. “He was too late. The air ships gunned him down. Only the three of them made it in. ” He looks back at the Carving again, remembering.

  “How far away is the Carving?” I ask.

  “A long run from here,” he says. “Twenty-five, thirty miles. ” He raises his eyebrows at me. “So you think you’ll get there on your own? It rained last night. Their footprints will be gone. ”

  “I’d like you to help me,” I say. “Show me where exactly he went. ”

  He grins, a grin I don’t like but can understand. “And what do I get in return?”

  “Something you can use to survive in the canyons,” I say, “stolen from a medical center in the Society. I’ll tell you more when you get us to the Carving safely. ” I glance over at Indie. We haven’t talked about whether or not she’s coming with me; but it seems like we’re a team now.

  “Fine,” he says, looking interested. “But I don’t want another leftover meal that tastes like foilware. ” Indie makes a small sound of surprise, but I know why he’s not holding out: he wants to leave with us. He wants to escape, too, but he won’t do it alone. Not when he was in Ky’s camp. Not now. He needs us as much as we need him.

  “It won’t be,” I say. “I promise. ”

  “We’ll have to run all night. Can you do that?”

  “Yes,” I say.

  “I can too,” Indie says, and I glance over at her. “I’m coming,” she says, and it’s not a question. She does what she wants. And this is the run of a lifetime.

  “Good,” I say.

  “I’ll come get you when it’s dark and everyone’s asleep,” the boy says. “Find somewhere to rest. There’s an old store, near the edge of the village. That might be the best place. The decoys who stay there won’t hurt you. ”

  “All right,” I say. “But what if there’s a firing?”

  “If there’s a firing, I’ll come find you after it’s over. If you’re not dead. Did they give you flashlights?”

  “Yes,” I tell him.

  “Bring them. The moon will help, but it’s not full any more. ”

  The moon comes up white over the black ridge, and I realize that the ridge was there all along, a thing I had forgotten, although I could have noticed it by the lack of stars in the space of its shape. The stars here are like the ones in Tana, many and sharp in the clean night air. “I’ll be back soon,” Indie says, and before I can stop her she slips away.

  “Be careful,” I whisper, too late. She’s gone.

  “When do they usually come?” one of the girls asks. We all stand gathered at the windows, which have no glass anymore. The wind blows through, its current a river of cold air from window to window.

  “You never know,” a boy says. His face is full of resignation. “You never know. ” He sighs. “When they do come, the best place is the cellars. This village has them. Some don’t. ”

  “Some people take their chances up here, though,” another boy says. “I don’t like the cellars. I don’t think right when I’m down there. ”

  They speak as though they’ve been here forever, but when I shine the flashlight down I see that they each only have five or six notches on their boots.

  “I’m going to stand outside,” I say after a while. “There’s no rule against that, is there?”

  “Stay in the shadows and don’t shine the light,” the boy who doesn’t like the cellar tells me. “Don’t draw attention. What if they’re flying above, waiting?”

  “All right,” I say.

  Indie slips in through the door just as I am leaving and I breathe a sigh of relief. She didn’t run away again. “It’s beautiful here,” she says, almost conversationally, as she falls into step next to me.

  She’s right. If you can look past everything that’s happening, the land is beautiful. The moon washes white light along the cement sidewalks and I see the boy. He’s careful; he stays in the shadows, but I know he’s there. His whisper next to my ear doesn’t surprise me, and Indie doesn’t jump either.

  “When do we go?” I ask him.

  “Now,” he says. “Or you won’t make it before dawn. ”

  We follow him to the end of the town; I see other people slipping through the shadows, too, doing different things with the little time they have left. No one seems to notice us.

  “Doesn’t anyone try to escape?” I ask.

  “Not often,” he says.

  “What about a rebellion?” I ask as we reach the edge of town. “Does anyone out here ever talk about something like that?”

  “No,” the boy says flatly. “We don’t. ” He stops. “Take off your coats. ”

  We stare at him. He laughs a little as he pulls off his coat and loops it through the strap of his pack. “You won’t need it for long,” he tells us. “You’ll get warm fast enough. ”

  Indie and I pull off our coats, too. Our black plainclothes blend with the night.

  “Follow me,” he says.

  Then we run.

  After a mile, only my hands are still cold.

  Back in the Borough I ran barefoot on the grass to try to help Ky. Out here I wear heavy boots and have to run around rocks that threaten to turn my ankle and yet I feel lighter than I did back then, and lighter by far than I ever felt running on the smooth belt of the tracker. I’m filled with adrenaline and hope; I could run forever this way, running to Ky.

  We pause to drink, and I feel the icy water thread through me. I can trace its exact path down my throat to my stomach, a trail of cold that makes me shudder, once, before I twist the lid back onto the canteen.

  But too soon I start to tire.

  I trip on a rock, dodge a bush too late. It sinks its teeth, its prickly seeds, into my clothes and my leg. Our feet crunch in frost. We’re lucky there is no snow; and the air is desert-cold, a sharp, thin cold that tricks you into thinking you aren’t thirsty, because breathing is like drinking in ice.

  When I reach up and touch my lips, they are dry.

  I don’t look back over my shoulder to see if anyone chases us or swoops through the night to hover over our shoulders. We have enough to watch out for straight ahead. The moon gives sufficient light that we can see, but we risk the flashlights now and then when we come to shadowy places.

  The boy turns his on and swears. “I forgot to look up,” he says. When I do, I see that, in our struggle to avoid little ravines and sharp-edged rocks, we have begun to turn around.

  “You’re tired,” Indie says to the boy. “Let me lead. ”

  “I can do it,” I say.

  “Wait,” Indie tells me, her voice tight and tired. “I think you might be the only one who’ll have enough left to run us in at the end. ”

  Our cloth
es catch on tough spiky bushes; the sharp smell in the air is distinct, dry. Could it be sage? I wonder. Ky’s favorite smell from home?

  Miles on, we stop running in a line. We run side by side. It is inefficient. But we need each other too much.

  We’ve all fallen. We all bleed. The boy’s injured his shoulder; Indie’s legs are scraped; I fell into a small ravine and my body feels battered. We run so slow we almost walk.

  “A marathon,” Indie breathes. “That’s what you call a run like this. I heard a story about it. ”

  “Can you tell it to me?” I ask her.

  “You don’t want to hear it. ”

  “I do. ” Anything to keep my mind off how hard this is, how far we still have to go. Even though we draw closer, any steps at all begin to feel like too many. I can’t believe Indie can talk. The boy and I both stopped miles ago.

  “It was at the end of the world. A message had to be delivered. ” She breathes hard, her words grow choppy. “Someone ran to deliver it. Twenty-six miles. Like us. He made it. Gave the message. ”

  “And then they rewarded him?” I say, my breath ragged. “Did an air ship come down and save him?”

  “No,” she says. “He delivered his message. Then he died. ”

  I start to laugh, which isn’t good for saving breath, and Indie laughs, too. “I told you that you wouldn’t want to hear it. ”

  “At least the message got through,” I say.

  “I guess,” Indie answers. As she glances over at me with a smile still on her face, I see that what I have mistaken for coldness in her is actually warmth. There’s a fire in Indie that keeps her alive and moving even in a place like this.

  The boy coughs and spits. He’s been out here longer than we have. He sounds weak.

  We stop talking.

  A few miles still out from the Carving, the air smells different. Not clean, like the plant smell from earlier, but dark and smoky, like burning. As I look across the land, I think I see glimmers of embers, shifts in the light, bits of amber-orange under the moon.

  I notice another scent in the night—one I don’t know well, but that I think might be death.

  None of us say anything, but the smell keeps us running when almost nothing else would, and for a little while, we don’t breathe deep.

  We run forever. I say the words from the poem over and over to the beat of my feet. It almost sounds like someone else’s voice. I don’t know where I find the air and I keep getting the words wrong: From out our bourne of death and space the flood will wash me far but it doesn’t even matter. I never knew that words might not matter.

  “Are you saying that for us?” the boy gasps out, the first time he’s spoken in hours.

  “We’re not dead,” I say. No one dead feels this tired.

  “We’re here,” the boy says, and he stops. I look at where he points and I see a group of boulders that will be difficult, but not impossible, to climb down.

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