Never Fade Page 95

He’d killed those kids, but it wasn’t even just that. First, he’d broken them out of their camp. He’d given them the hope of freedom, of seeing their families again one day. He’d taken their dreams and crushed them.

“I know what you’re doing!” he snarled. “I know it’s you!”

A thrill of satisfaction sang through me with his first ragged gasp. I sent the boy crawling out of the backseat, over the armrest, wrapping his arms around Rob’s neck. He smeared blood down the front of the man’s shirt, and he nuzzled into it. Rob needed to feel the warm pulse of it, a sticky, burning fluid that would never wash out of the fabric, never mind off his skin. The boy and girl began to sob, wail, thrash—I poured every last ounce of my fury and fear and devastation into it.

A gunshot from the driver’s seat blew out the passenger side window; Rob tried unloading his entire cartridge into the girl sitting there, but with every shot, I brought her that much closer to him until her hand was on the gun, on his hand, and she was turning both back to his chest.

I can end it like this, I thought, by his own hand. It would be right. I had the power to punish now. Not the man with the gun, not the trained killer, or the soldiers, or the guards walking the length of the electric fences at Thurmond. Me. The thought was enough to pump electrified blood through my veins; I didn’t feel the pain in my back or my head anymore. I felt light, and high, and floating free. I could end his life with his own hand, a single shot to the heart. The same hand, the same heart, that had shattered so many lives and brought me to this—to this place of pain and excruciating fear. The one that had tied me up like an animal.

He was the animal. A stupid brute, just like Knox had been. They needed a handler, someone to make decisions for them, to make sure they could never hurt anyone ever again.

“Stop—stop,” he sobbed, sounding like a kid himself. “Please, God, please—”

His terror seeped out through his pores, the smell of his sweat sour, panting breath overpowering even the leather. My nose burned with it as I tightened my grip on him, bringing the girl closer again and again until her ghostly, pale hand floated up and stroked the side of his face, tracing childish patterns in the imaginary blood and grime.

We have to use them to keep the others in their place.

“You are—you are a monster,” Rob choked out. “All of you are going to ruin us; you’re going to ruin everything, damn you, damn you, damn you!”

An explosion of noise and movement rocked the back of the car, throwing me against the seat. Then the small explosion came, and then we were spinning—spinning—until we weren’t.

The force of the crash blew out the back windows and showered me with glass. I heard one last scream from Rob, before the impact and nothing but a grating crunch of metal as the front end of the car plowed into the thicket of trees beside the road.

I rammed against the back of the seat, my teeth clacking. The blow to my forehead blanked every thought to a blinding white. The images of the boy and girl were ripped out from behind my eyelids. They vanished, Rob’s face disappeared, and it was just me—just me and what I’d done.

Oh my God. I tried sucking in air through the muzzle, but in the last few minutes it’d tightened, and tightened, and tightened with the shrill screaming inside of my head. I banged my face against the carpet, the first sob working its way out of me like someone had reached in and ripped it out of my throat. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.

Clancy would have been so proud of me. The way I’d used those kids, twisting them, manipulating them, ripping into Rob’s mind until it shattered. Clancy would have looked into my face and seen his own reflection there.

We have to use them to keep the others in their place.

My stomach heaved, the bile burning its way into my mouth until I was choking on it. I wanted to be sick, I wanted to get the blackness out of me, I needed air, to get away from Rob, from this, from what he’d made me and what I’d done.

Monster, monster, monster, monster, monster. I slammed my foot against the trunk door over and over until the plastic began to crack. Where was Rob? Why wasn’t he saying anything?

There was the screech of brakes and the sound of slamming doors. I only kicked harder, a steady bang, bang, bang like the beat of an old rock ’n’ roll song, like guns firing in the night.

I was still sobbing when the back door finally burst open. I rolled out, hitting the dirt facedown with a low cry of pain. Even in the open air, the muzzle was suffocating, and it wasn’t coming off; I was never going to get it off—

“Busy day, girlfriend?”

Vida stood over me, her shadow flat against the ground near my face.

I was struggling as hard as I could to get the damn muzzle off, tasting leather and my own salty tears. I knew I was hyperventilating, but I couldn’t bottle up the swelling panic that had finally burst forward when the Jeep crashed. I didn’t want her to see me like this. I didn’t want any of them to see me like this. Please leave, please leave me alone; I can’t be around you, please, please, please just leave me here.…

“Ruby,” she said, flipping me over. “Okay, okay, Ruby—just let me take it off—”

Her knife snapped the plastic zip tie around my wrists, but I felt her fingers fumble as they tried to work the straps on the muzzle. I was screaming at her, begging, Leave me! Leave me! and it came out as nothing more than a low moan.

“Shit!” She had to use a knife on the leather. It snapped under her careful fingers, one strap, then the next, and then the air was in my mouth, cold and tasting like car exhaust.

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