Never Fade Page 91

I didn’t bother unhooking my mind’s claws from her. I didn’t care. Every part of my body felt slow and heavy. It took all my focus to get to the trees without falling, and more than even that to haul my limbs through the crunching underbrush and ice. The land was rising; every hill seemed to set me back from the pack that much farther.

I ran. Or I tried to. I tried everything I could to push myself past the haze settling over my mind and the trembling that started in my legs and rose steadily with each drop in the landscape. I thought of Liam, of Chubs, of Vida, of Jude. We had to get back and tell the others; we had to move them in case any of the soldiers traced our path.

“Jude…” I mumbled, my foot slipping out from under me. Something boiling hot raced down over my hip. “Jude…Vida…Chubs…Liam…Jude…”

Brett had taken him, hadn’t he? If he could navigate through the twisted tree branches with the kid’s full weight on his back, I could do this. I could stand back up.

You did this. We were done. They would take us, and I would never see any of them again.

I breathed out their names until there was no air in my chest. I walked until my legs disappeared from under me. I watched as the last trace of the kids up ahead faded at the crest of a hill, bleeding into the deep dark of the woods. I didn’t remember falling, only the sensation that I had somehow lost half my body and left it behind under the cover of the trees.

I pushed myself onto my back, my hand flopping around my waist, looking for a gun that wasn’t there. Accept, adapt, act. With a sob of pain, I hauled myself back up against a tree trunk, propping my back up. I’d be able to see anyone coming. I could rest now.

I could look up through the bare bones of the old trees around me and watch the rain tear the sky down piece by piece, until there was nothing left but darkness.


I WAS BORN IN THE DARK HEART of a fierce winter.

My parents’ and my Grams’s words, not mine. She and Dad loved to pull out the story of the death-defying trip home from the hospital when I wouldn’t settle down at night or I got fidgety and bored at family dinners. The blizzard got me every time. I’d let myself be wrapped up in the way their words seemed to drip with danger, how they used their hands to try to show how high the snow rose. I could barely keep up; each time, I tried to absorb every word, take the words in so deep I’d dream about them when I finally fell asleep. Now, there was just an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. I hated how stupid I’d been to think that surviving it meant I was somehow special. That I ever thought it was undeniable proof there was something I was supposed to live to do later.

“The sky was the color of ash,” Dad would say, “and the minute I left the parking lot, the clouds seemed to drop. I should have turned back right away, but your mom wanted to get home to Grams. She was throwing a whole welcome-home shindig for us, you know.”

They had made it as far as they could, Dad in the driver’s seat trying to force his way through a suffocating curtain of white, Mom in the backseat with me, yelling at him to pull over before he drove us off some nonexistent cliff. He liked telling that part of the story the best—Dad was the only one who could nail the high, breathy quality that Mom’s voice got when she was hovering at the edge of a meltdown.

The car’s headlights were no match for the snow, but there were still people fighting to get down that stretch of highway. Dad did pull over, but someone coming from the complete opposite direction jumped lanes and smashed into the front of our car. I don’t know where they were going or why they were speeding blindly through high winds and no visibility, but they totaled our car, forcing us off the shoulder and into an ever-building snow bank. They killed the engine and the battery.

There was no cell phone reception—they couldn’t even pick up the radio. Mom always told that part of the story in a tight voice, her imagination fixed on everything that could have happened to us if the storm had gone on much longer than it did. The three of us huddled in the backseat together for three hours, trying not to panic, pressing together for warmth. I slept through the whole thing.

I think Grams liked the story because she got to play the hero. She’d mobilized the neighbors into a search party and used her truck to haul my parents’ car back onto the highway.

“It’s just life for you, Little Bee,” she told me years later. “Sometimes you’re the one speeding along in a panic, doing too much, not paying attention, wrecking things you don’t mean to. And sometimes life just happens to you, and you can’t dodge it. It crashes into you because it wants to see what you’re made of.”

Despite how terrifying the story was to me as a kid, I still loved winter growing up; the cold didn’t bother me, because I knew that in the span of months, weeks, days, the season would change again. It’s easy to ride out the coldest of days with nothing more than that promise and the warmth of the people around you.

But this chill, the one I felt now, sank down to my bones; it was a numbness that wasn’t about to be shaken off. There was no escaping it.

The ground slid under my back, patches of mud gave way to ice, and then again to rocks that dug into my tailbone and ripped up the length of my spine. I heard the crackle of frostbitten leaves as they passed by my ears, felt the sharp tugging as my hair caught on something. One hand tried to close around a passing root, to anchor myself against the river of dirt, but I was moving too quickly. The sun flashed red behind my eyelids, stabbing through the pounding pain inside my skull. I couldn’t feel my right leg—I actually couldn’t feel much of anything on my right side. It wasn’t until the light receded and I could open my eyes that my mind finally made the connection that I was moving, not the ground.

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