Never Fade Page 62

The bullets screeched as they cut through the air following our path as I rolled the two of us back into the shelter of the tree line.

“Keep your head down!” I whispered to Chubs, all but shoving him behind a dense cover of growth. The gun I’d fished out of the glove compartment was warm in my hand as I pulled it up from the waistband of my pants. I fired one shot back, aiming for the spot I thought I had seen the person before, across the stream. The shooting from his or her end came to a sudden, unexpected stop.

The afternoon air was pale and still between us. It had a sharp quality to it; it smelled like snow.


A dark blur dropped out of the tree behind me. I spun, without thinking, and launched my elbow out. It connected with something soft that made an audible crunch as I threw my full weight into the hit.

There was a sharp cry of pain, followed by a heavy thump. The impact sent up whirling clouds of snow. I turned back for Chubs, reaching out for him through the white haze, and felt a hand close over my forearm. The skin was pale, each knuckle torn open or scabbed.

I pulled back a step, bringing my knee up to throw the next attacker off, but the fight was over before it started. I felt a cold, sharp blade dig into my spinal column, and lowered my arms. I turned slightly to look over my shoulder at Chubs. He was covered in mud, his face ashen.

“Who are you?” I said, coming around slowly to face him, keeping clear of the knife.

“Son of a bitch,” he hissed. The pitch of the voice had been enough to tell me how old he actually was: my age. A year or two older at most.

The boy I’d hit staggered up from the ground, swiping his nose against the sleeve of his threadbare coat, leaving a long, dark streak of crimson on it. The kid with the knife stepped back but didn’t put it away.

Bloody Nose held out his hand and I reached out, acting like I was about to put my gun in it. At the last minute, I dropped it and took his hand instead, driving into his mind. His body twitched under my control. I saw a flash of Jude’s frightened face in his mind, and it was enough for me.

“What did you do to those kids?” I snarled. “The boy and the girl from earlier? Where did you take them?”

Chubs had a strange look on his face as he watched me, but he stayed silent.

“The guys—” he said, his voice altered by the sickening angle of his nose. My elbow ached in response. “The guys b-brought them to the Slip Kid.”

Of course.

Those were the first words that sprang to mind, that chipped through the ice that gripped me in place. Of course. Clancy’s system had worked so well the first time—why wouldn’t he try it again? Of course. It wouldn’t matter who the kids were, only that they’d be willing—or easily swayed by his abilities—to go to war with President Gray.

Of course.

I had to release the kid from my grip when four other figures appeared in the woods around us, closing in to investigate what had happened. I could control one person, but I wasn’t Clancy; any more than that was impossible, and any attempts to try would have revealed the only upper hand I currently had. I stepped forward, showed them I was unarmed, and motioned for Chubs to do the same.

“We want to see the Slip Kid,” I said. “We won’t give you trouble.”

“That a fact?” one of them asked, glancing down at the dazed kid at my feet. “Michael, you hear that, or did that hit knock your screws loose?”

Blood Nose—Michael—shook his head in an obvious attempt to clear it. A head injury was a decent cover for what I had done to him, but it was taking his little brain so long to recover I was worried the other boys around us would get suspicious. They didn’t seem willing or able to do anything without his permission.

“We’re taking them,” Michael said. “Make it fast. Two of you stay on this post. I’ll send someone back for you.”

This guy is the leader? I thought. It wasn’t unreasonable. His size alone would have inspired fear, if nothing else.

They pushed Chubs toward me as we made our way back to the stream. I looped one arm around his waist to keep him close. They took our bags and hauled them up onto their shoulders.

“Well,” Chubs muttered, “shit.”

We were out in the open again, near the frozen stream—and, more importantly, in the line of sight of the gunman in the tree.

There were hands on me, patting me down, feeling around the insides of my boots. I tried not to react as one took my Swiss Army knife from my boot. The freezing air stung my face, but it was the thought of what they might find in Chubs’s pockets that made me go cold to the bone.

Chubs must have read the question on my face, because he shook his head ever so slightly. The kid searching him only found his knife and a pocket full of candy wrappers. He had been with it enough to dump his skip-tracer ID in the woods during the attack or leave it behind in the car, then. Thank God.

I turned to look across the river, narrowly avoiding Chubs’s kicking feet as he was lifted off the ground and out of my reach.

He thrashed into the air in the half second it took for the kid with the outstretched hand to lift him up and, using nothing more than his freak abilities, toss him onto the opposite bank.

I felt the warm tug at the pit of my stomach and recognized the sensation. I didn’t have the chance to protest before I was hauled up and over the stream, too, dropped onto Chubs with a total and complete lack of kindness.

The other kids burst out laughing, floating one another over the frozen stream with all the gentleness of calming breezes. Other than that, they didn’t speak, didn’t offer up a single explanation or confirmation of where they were taking us. Two stayed behind to snuff out our tracks in the soft white powder.

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