The Revolution of Ivy, Page 2Amy Engel
At first I can’t tell who it is, just a man, his face masked in twilight. But he steps forward and I see his blue eyes, eyes I would know anywhere.
“Hey there, pretty girl,” Mark Laird says. And then he smiles.
For an endless moment there is only silence as we stare at each other. Instinct tells me not to let him know how scared I am, how even now my stomach has twisted itself into a hard knot of fear, the hair on the back of my neck quivering in anticipation. I haven’t seen him since the day I followed Bishop to the fence after Mark was put out, but I realize now that some part of me has been anticipating this moment all along.
“Hi, Mark,” I hear myself say, my voice surprisingly normal.
He cocks his head at me, the smile fading from his cherub cheeks. Even now, after all I know about him, he still looks deceptively innocent with his round face and sparkling blue eyes. He takes a step closer and I start to push myself up. I have at least a few inches on him; I’d rather be towering over him instead of prone below him. But before I can stand, he lifts his foot and brings it down on my ankle. Not hard enough to break bone, but hard enough that the threat of damage hangs between us like an ugly promise.
“You shouldn’t get up,” he tells me. “You look like you’ve been through a lot.” Slowly, as if he has all the time in the world, he squats down beside me, replacing his foot with one hand chained loosely around my ankle.
“I’m fine,” I say. And now my voice has a slight quiver. I don’t miss the way Mark’s eyes go dark and hungry at the sound. My gut feeling was right; he likes gorging himself on other people’s fear. I tell myself not to think of the nine-year-old girl he hurt, how her cries were probably music to his sick, perverted ears. “Please let go.” I give my leg an experimental twist and his hand clamps down, fingers gouging into my Achilles tendon.
“What happened to you?” he asks, as if I haven’t spoken. “They put you out?”
I nod. He stares at me and belts out a laugh, making me flinch. “What for?”
I hesitate, weighing my options, trying to decide what to tell him. “Because I tried to kill the president’s son,” I say finally.
Mark shakes his head. “You’re lying. I saw the way you looked at him.” He grins at my shocked eyes. “You thought I didn’t see you that day? When he came to give me his pathetic charity?” His index finger sneaks under the cuff of my jeans, slithering against my skin, and my leg jerks like I’ve been shocked. But there’s nowhere for me to go. He’s got me trapped. “I know who you are,” he says. “And I know who he is.”
“I’m not anyone anymore,” I tell him, a painful truth that hurts me to speak aloud. “I’m out here alone, just like you.” Comparing myself to him on any level makes me want to scream, but I want to keep him talking. If he’s talking, he’s not trying to do anything else. “Have you met other people?” I ask. “Is there somewhere safe for people who’ve been put out?” Maybe if he sees us as allies, part of a pack, he won’t be able to hurt me.
But Mark doesn’t care about what I have to say. He reaches forward with his free hand and caresses my cheek. I twist my head away from him, my breath coming so fast it burns on the inhale. “Don’t touch me,” I tell him.
“You’ve got blood on your cheek,” he says and the gentle tone of his voice makes my fists clench, nails biting into my palms. It’s so much worse than a yell. He acts as if I’m okay with his hands on my body. As if I’ve given him permission. “Your poor face.” His fingers slide over my lips and I slap his hand away.
“I said, don’t touch me.”
He grabs the back of my neck and squeezes, his thumb pushing against the tender spot where the guards hit me. I cry out, pulling at his arm with both hands, as a bright, electric bolt of pain shoots through my head, leaving a trail of white stars in its wake.
“Don’t you ever, ever tell me what to do,” he says, lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl. “You stupid bitch.”
He’s done pretending, done with even the slightest pretense that this a friendly encounter. Terror surges through me, so fast and vicious I think my heart might burst. My earlier exhaustion vanishes in an instant, every single cell in my body suddenly wide awake and poised for battle.
Mark shoves me backward, catching both my wrists in his hands, and launches himself on top of me. I kick my legs upward and buck wildly, desperate to throw him off. Standing, I might have had an advantage with my height, but on the ground his heavier weight puts the balance in his corner. If he gets me pinned, it’s all over.
He grunts when my knee connects with his side, his breath hot and fetid in my face. I don’t bother screaming. I can’t spare the air, and there’s no one to help me anyway. The only sound is our ragged breathing, harsh exhales as hard bone meets soft flesh. He punches me in the face and sparks explode in my head; my eye feels like it’s bursting from the socket. I wrench one hand free and my nails make contact with the side of his face, leaving behind three bloody furrows in his skin. His scream of pain gives me a burst of strength and I manage to flip onto my side, belly-crawl away from him, using my elbows like pistons to pull myself forward.
But I only get a few feet before he’s back on me, his hands gripping my hips. He straddles me, grinds my face into the ground. Dirt fills my mouth and nose, making me gag, snot and saliva smearing across my face as I fight to breathe. Mark slams my face into the ground and I feel my lip split. He lets go of my head and grabs my right arm, wrenching it up behind my back, my hand pushed almost to my neck.
“That was fun,” he pants from above me. “I don’t mind a good fight. But now we’re going to do things my way.” He twists my injured fingers with his free hand and I scream. “What happened here?” he asks, voice conversational, as if we’re discussing the weather.
I don’t bother answering and he lets go of my fingers, but increases the pressure on my arm. My shoulder throbs in time with my heart; I can’t move without making the pain unbearable. “Let go,” I wheeze. “Let go and I’ll stop fighting.”
“Yeah?” he says, and I can hear the laughter in his voice. “You’re a shitty liar. But I tell you what, I’m such a nice guy, I will let go.”
“What—” Before I can ask what he means, he wrenches my arm up in one quick jerk, my shoulder slipping from its socket in a white-hot flash of agony. I shriek, a long, high-pitched wail that reaches up into the evening sky and brings darkness rushing toward me like the wings of a raven.
My breath is whistling out of me, and Mark gives a satisfied hum of approval. Proud of his work. I am still terrified, and seriously injured now, too. But underneath the fear and pain there is an unexpected, but not unwelcome, pit of boiling, surging anger. Anger at Mark, my father, Callie, President Lattimer, my mother. Even Bishop. It stirs inside me, a seething red mass of pure willfulness. And that determined part of me knows that if I give in to the darkness, I will never wake up again. Mark Laird will do what he wants with me. Leave me dead and violated along this riverbank. After everything I’ve gone through, I refuse to let him be the one to end my life.
I bite down hard on my tongue just as the blackness descends, flying in along the edges of my vision. Bite so hard I taste blood, salty and slick against my teeth. The blackness recedes, but not enough. I bite again, in the same spot, and the sharp pain forces me to focus, sweeps the darkness away.
Mark is moving off me, confident he has me at his mercy. My left hand is outstretched, resting in the grass, and I move it carefully sideways, close my fingers over a rock and grip it tight.
“That’s better,” Mark says, talking almost to himself. “Let’s turn you over. I want to see your face.”
He flips me onto my back, heedless of my dislocated shoulder, and I have to bite down again to keep from screaming. I force myself to lie still and compliant, eyes half closed, as he pushes my hair away from my face. I don’t move as his hands skim down my chest, even though it takes everything I have not to fight him. I remind myself that n
ow, maybe more than ever before in my life, I need to think, not just act. He leans over me, but still I wait. I will only have one chance.
“Hey,” he says, “are you in shock or something? Wake up.” He slaps my face and I let my head loll on my neck. “Hey,” he repeats, leaning closer, his blue eyes only inches from mine. I bring my arm up fast, slam the rock into the side of his head as hard as I can. It doesn’t knock him out, like I’d hoped, but he’s stunned, head hanging down as he sways on all fours. I use my good arm, rock still clutched in my hand, to push myself up to sitting and hit him again, this time on the back of the head. His hands go out from under him and he falls across my legs. I kick him off, making a high-pitched keening sound in the back of my throat. He’s still conscious, and he tries to grab my foot as I stand, but his fingers slide away. I hit him a third time, on the temple, and his eyes roll back in his head.
I stand over him, panting, somewhere beyond tears. My fingers ache from their tight grip on the rock. I know I should hit him again. Hit him until his head is a bloody, pulpy mess like the lizard I killed yesterday. I bring my arm up, but I can’t make myself bring it down. I can hear Callie inside my head, telling me to Kill him, damn it, what are you waiting for? Even Bishop is whispering in my ear, urging me to end it, make sure that in a future with no guarantees I can at least rest easy that Mark Laird won’t hurt me, or anyone else, ever again. I know that Bishop would not want me to hesitate.
But I can’t do it. Just as I wouldn’t allow Mark Laird to kill me, I don’t want him to be the person who turns me into a killer. I let the rock slide from my numb fingers. Instead, I bend down and rip off his shoes. It takes me twice as long as it should, with only one working arm, and I’m practically sobbing with frustration when I finally pull the second shoe free. I turn and throw them into the river, watch as they drift away on the black current.
It’s almost full dark now, the sun long since disappeared, but we’re blessed with a full moon, and I notice a bag on the ground that I didn’t see earlier. Mark must have dropped it when he spotted me. I pick it up without bothering to look inside and sling it across my body, crying out a little as I work the strap underneath my injured arm. Beside the bag is a round object, glinting in the moonlight. A canteen. I crouch at the edge of the river, one eye on Mark’s still form, and fill it with water.
I need to leave the river, at least for now. It doesn’t offer enough cover. I doubt Mark is the only person out here who will hurt me if he can. And having water will make staying hidden easier. I will have to find somewhere else to get fresh water, but the canteen buys me a little time, at least.
I grab my sweater off the ground and head south without looking back, following the line of the river. I’m searching for someplace to cross where I won’t be swept away. Every step jars my shoulder, but the pain, while ever-present, feels distant, as if I’m watching someone else suffer instead of actually experiencing it myself. Soon enough it’s going to hit me, though, once the shock or adrenaline wears off, and I want to be far away from Mark Laird before that happens.
I’ve been walking for at least fifteen minutes when the river narrows, a series of rocks spread across its width. There’s probably no way to avoid getting wet, but hopefully I can cross without falling in or being swept away. It seems as good a place to try crossing as any. The rocks are slippery and jagged, and my equilibrium is upset by not being able to use my right arm for balance. I lose my footing about halfway across and come inches from somersaulting into the water. Kneeling on a rock, hair hanging in my face, shoulder screaming in protest, ruined fingers still dripping blood, I draw a deep, unsteady breath. My earlier anger, the anger that helped me beat Mark, has dissipated like smoke in the wind. All that’s left is exhaustion. I have never been so bone-weary, so tired all the way to my soul. Do I want to give up or keep going? Live or die? Fight another day or wave the white flag and let the water wash me away? I tell myself this is the last time I will ask this question. Whatever the answer, it will be final.
Come on, Ivy, you can do this. It’s not my own voice urging me on, but Bishop’s. I imagine him next to me, how he would look straight into my eyes and expect me to keep going. How he always believed in me, up until the bitter, ugly end when I forced him to lose his faith. If he were here, he’d help me get to my feet and we’d finish crossing the river together, leaning on each other when slippery rocks threatened. Because with each other, we were always our better, stronger selves.
I know that thinking about Bishop is an indulgence I can ill afford. And in the harsh light of morning I may regret my weakness. But now, with only the indifferent silver moon as witness, I allow myself the comfort of pretending he is beside me, offering his warm hand for me to hold.
I stand up and finish crossing the river.
The screech of morning birds wakes me, the sun shining into my face. I jerk, disoriented, and my shoulder is suddenly replaced with glass shards and fire. My fingers ache, pulsing underneath their filthy bandage. After crossing the river last night, I walked east until my exhaustion and injuries caught up to me, forcing me to find shelter in a small grove of trees when I couldn’t stop shaking, could barely take another step without falling. But a night spent on the hard ground, my back wedged against a tree trunk, has done nothing to improve my condition. My right arm hangs limp at my side, and the skin of my shoulder feels hot and swollen when I run my fingers over it light as butterfly wings. I don’t bother unwrapping my fingers; I already know what I’ll find.
I sit quietly for a minute, listening for any unnatural sounds around me, but I hear nothing other than the shift of leaves overhead. Mark’s bag is still slung across my body, and I open it, something I never bothered to do last night in the dark. The mere fact that he had a bag and a canteen means that, at the very least, there must be houses around here somewhere. Maybe a whole abandoned town where I can find some type of supplies.
The bag is worn brown canvas, not too big and relatively light. I send up a quick prayer that there’s something to eat inside its depths. The first thing I pull out is a second canteen, empty, and I curse myself for not checking the contents last night. Two full canteens of water would make me feel a lot more confident, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. My fingers close around something wrapped in cloth and I pull it out, unwrap it carefully. I doubt it’s severed fingers, but with Mark Laird you never know. Underneath the cloth there are half a dozen strips of what look like beef jerky. I lift it and sniff. It’s not as well-made as the kind we had in Westfall, but the long, lean winters left all of us familiar with jerky. My mouth fills with saliva at the scent and I tear off a ragged chunk with my teeth. It’s tough and gamy, and still one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. In just a few minutes I’ve already eaten an entire strip, barely taking the time to chew. It hardly touches the gnawing hunger in my belly. But I’m not sure when I’ll find food again, so I force myself to rewrap the rest and set it aside.
The remainder of the bag holds a battered paperback book, one I’ve never read before, some type of mystery with half the pages torn out, probably used for starting fires, and two bruised apples. And at the very bottom of the bag is a broken knife, the blade snapped just above the wooden handle, which is lucky for me. If the knife had been a factor in our fight by the river, the result would’ve been very different.
Mark travels light, which tells me his camp or the place he got his supplies can’t be too far away. I polish one of the apples against my denim-clad thigh and bite into the slightly too-tender flesh. I lean my head back against the tree and allow myself to enjoy the moment, knowing it might be a long time before I have this much to eat again. Have a peaceful morning where I’m not fleeing or fighting for my life.
I need to decide where to go next, and the only thing I’m sure of is that Mark Laird is not alone. He hasn’t been out here long enough to have dried and cured the beef for jerky, if he even knows how. I have no way of knowing if he stole the
jerky or befriended the people who made it. But there are others in close enough proximity that Mark has crossed their paths. I’m not sure whether to be cheered by this thought or terrified.
I have to keep moving. I can’t walk forever; eventually the seasons will change, and by the time the harsh winter snows arrive I want to make sure I have someplace to hole up. To make it through, I’ll need food and a water supply, not to mention warmer clothes. I’m not going to find any of those things by sitting here, waiting for rescue that’s never going to come.
I roll to the side and push myself up with my good arm. The heat from my injured shoulder radiates up into my jaw and down to my fingertips. I need to get my shoulder back into the socket, but I don’t know how to do it by myself. Instead, I fashion a crude sling by tying and looping the arms of my sweater around my neck, slide my arm into the cradle it makes, and sigh with relief when some of the pressure on my shoulder joint eases.
Once I’m up, I continue heading east. Not for any particular reason, just because that’s the opposite direction of where I last saw Mark Laird. I’m hoping to come across a road or path, something I can follow that might lead me to an old town where I can look for supplies. It feels good to have a goal in mind, even a small one, rather than just blundering about aimlessly in this empty landscape.
Bishop would love it out here, I think, as I cross a field of tall grass, brambles catching against my legs every few steps. The quiet, except for insects and the sound of my own breathing. The sun, warm but not yet hot. The clouds, puffs of cotton in a crystal-blue sky. I try to convince myself that this is peaceful, but I’m all too aware of how alone I am. Growing up, I used to wish for a day to myself, one where my father and Callie would leave me to my own thoughts instead of trying to stuff me full of theirs. But now the isolation is smothering. If I discovered I was the last person alive in the world, I would not doubt it.