Never Fade Page 63

We walked in silence. Snow began to fall, catching on my hair and lashes, and cold crept in through the leather of Liam’s coat. Chubs tensed, rubbing his bad shoulder absently. I caught his gaze, and I could see my anxiety mirrored in his dark eyes.

“I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “Again.”

“I’ll take care of him,” I said quietly, looping my arm through his.

“Since that worked so well last time?”

“Hey!” Michael held up his silver handgun. “Shut the hell up!”

We were on foot long enough that I began to wonder if we were ever going to reach the encampment or wherever they planned on taking us. It didn’t occur to me until the large river came into sight that we were moving toward Nashville.

I understood straight off why they had originally closed the city; though the river must have surged past its banks months before, most of the water had yet to freeze or pull completely back to its normal level. The water’s edges were bloated, drowning the nearby landscape. The river was a monster that only grew larger the closer we came. It was the only thing that stood between us and a looming white warehouse across the way.

Waiting for us on the bank were three small, flat rafts that looked like nothing more than crates and spare planks stitched together with bright blue vinyl rope. A kid in white stood on each of them, gripping a long pole. With the group of us spread out over the three rafts, the kids with poles pushed and navigated us through the shallow, muddy water in slow, methodic movements.

My fists clenched at my sides. One of the loading docks of the warehouse was open and waiting. With a steadiness I didn’t expect, the raft floated the rest of the way to the curled silver door and the dark room inside.

The loading platform was raised enough that the rafts were no longer necessary. I was lifted up by the waist and deposited into the arms of another kid waiting there. The girl who caught me was a skinny, pale thing, her green eyes jutting out of the blunt bones of her face. She let out a wet, rumbling cough that came up from deep within her chest, but she didn’t say anything as she took my arm and forced me inside.

The walls and floors were cement, cracked and tagged within an inch of their lives with old, faded graffiti. The warehouse was roughly the size of a high school gymnasium, and it still held a few clues about its past life—signs marking where cables and wires could be left. The back wall, the one we were walking toward, had been painted a light robin’s-egg blue, and though someone had tried to cover them with a layer of white paint, I could still read the black letters spelling out JOHNSON ELECTRIC beneath it.

Chubs fell in step beside me, nodding toward the brown line that ran along all of the walls, about halfway up toward the ceiling. So the water from the river had been that high?

Every single step I took, every voice around us, every drip of water from the cracks in the vaulted ceilings seemed to echo. The sounds played off the bare walls and boarded-up windows around us. Despite the fact that we were out of the snow and wind, the building wasn’t insulated to keep out the persistent chill. Old metal trash cans had been repurposed to hold bonfires, but most of these were located toward the other end of the warehouse, not near the patches of kids scattered by the entrance we had come through.

This…wasn’t anything like East River had been.

And the teenage boy sitting on the raised platform in the back, disappearing in and out of a haze of cigarette and fire smoke, was not Clancy Gray.

“Who the hell are you?”

There had been a low murmur of interest as we were hauled in, but at my words, it dropped off to silence. My eyes had gone straight to the kid’s face, snapping over to it so quickly that I hadn’t even noticed the other teens around him until they stepped forward for a better look. There were girls shivering in T-shirts and shorts, leaning against the base of the stage or draped along the crates stacked behind him with only a few blankets between them. Clusters of boys stood around them laughing, some feeding the cloud of putrid gray smoke with their own cigarettes.

This kid had to be closer to his twenties than the others. His face was fringed with the beginning of a reddish beard, which he was busy rubbing against the cheek of a girl with long, dirty blond hair perched on his lap. She was shaking, but I couldn’t tell if it was out of fear or cold. When she turned to look at me, I realized the bruise at the edge of her mouth extended all the way to her jaw.

The kid’s blond hair was long but slicked back neatly behind his ears. His standard-issue combat boots and PSF’s black uniform jacket were spotted with mud but otherwise looked pristine—a little too pristine to have ever been in real use.

“Excuse me?” A Southern accent.

“Who,” I repeated, “the hell are you?”

All of the teens who sat on his platform turned to look at him in perfect time with one another, but he was only staring at me. I felt the warm tug in my stomach again, and, despite Chubs’s attempt to grab me, my feet slid across the dusty floor toward him. I barely managed to catch myself before I crashed against the side of the platform. Old, stacked crates with water-warped plywood nailed over them—that was all that stage was. His chair was little more than a metal folding one with a fuzzy blanket draped over it, most likely for effect.

The teen stood, throwing the girl off him. When she cried out in surprise, he thrust the bowl of whatever he had been eating toward her to shut her up. I fought the urge to search for Vida and Jude in the shadows crawling up around us.

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