The Burnouts

Page 2

Will almost didn’t ask, but he needed to know. “Were you with them when they trapped us back inside?”

David shook his head. “But … I can understand why they did it.”

Will couldn’t hide his shock. “Really? How can you possibly say that?”

“Nothing’s like it used to be, Will,” David said. “The whole country’s … sick. They’re not afraid to murder infected teens—laws or no laws. These parents here, all they want to do is protect their sons and daughters from the maniacs out there.”

“What about the maniacs inside school?”

“Like the ones that pull kids’ heads off in front of their dads?”

Will sank in his seat. He felt his cheeks warm.

“I told you it was an accident,” Will said. “I never would have done that on purpose, believe me. But the guy gave me no other choice! He said I couldn’t leave without Sam. Sam was already dead, so I did what I had to do.”

David’s face didn’t offer the forgiveness he’d hoped for. “I’m not gonna lie … it’s a problem. Sam’s dad pretty much runs the farm. And he doesn’t like you, to say the least.”

“Do they make ‘sorry I pulled off your son’s head’ greeting cards?”

David stared at Will blankly. Will felt a pinch of dread. Maybe the joke was in bad taste, but come on, this was Sam they were talking about. David burst out laughing. It made Will trust him again, really for the first time since he’d discovered he was alive. Will smiled. If David was still the guy who hated Sam, then he was still his brother.

“Don’t worry,” David said. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”

That warmed Will. David would always have his back.

“Well, I guess we should get to it,” David said.

“Get to what?”

David picked a toolbox off the floor. He put it on the table. He opened it and pulled out a small plastic box full of needles, alcohol towelette packets, and thin strips of red paper.

“Lemme see your hand,” David said.

Will produced it. David took hold of his index finger and stabbed it with a lancet.

“Ow! What the fuck?” Will said, and yanked his hand back. A bead of blood swelled on his fingertip.

“Quit being a baby,” David said with a little smile. He took Will’s hand again, picked up one of the red strips of paper from his toolbox, and touched it to the blood bead. The blood spread eagerly through the pores of the paper. David held the strip up to the thrift-store lamp behind him. Will waited for a reaction.

“Is it supposed to do something?”

“If you were still infected, the blood would dissolve the paper. And … that’s not happening,” David said. “Congratulations, you’re officially virus-free.”

He pulled off his mask. The sight of David’s whole face, unobscured by a breathing device, made Will tear up. For the first time since Will and the Loners had lugged David to the ruins, bruised as an old pear, there were no barriers between them. No fence. No mask. No virus. David breathed the same air as Will. Somehow, David’s new black eye patch and dark hair made him look more intimidating than the white one ever did. He looked more grown up. He was six inches taller than Will, with broader shoulders. David would always be bigger than him, because graduating early meant Will had finished puberty early. He’d be this size forever.

Will gave his eyes a quick rub so David wouldn’t see they were wet.

“You’re just as ugly as I remember,” Will said.

“Did you get shorter?” David volleyed back.

“Good to know you’re still not funny.”

“Rather be unfunny than have breath like yours. Do you eat diapers?” David said, waving his hand in front of his nose.

Will chuckled, and felt better, but his smile soon faded. There was something else he wanted to ask.

“Is Dad out there?”

David blinked a lot but his mouth remained still.

“I never got out of the infected zone. Once I got word the parents were here, I made my way back. I figured maybe Dad would be here.”

“Was he?” Will said. He felt a rush of hope.

“No. But I’m sure he’s alive. Somewhere. We’ll find him eventually.”

“Sure,” Will said, already reburying that hope, deep, back where it belonged.

Will searched for another joke to fill the silence but came up empty.

“Everything’s going to be okay now, Will. We’re together. I think the bad part is over.”

It had been longer than he could remember since anyone had told him that things would be okay, and he hadn’t known how much he needed to hear it. Will lost his battle to keep from crying. Tears blurred the world, and spilled from his eyes, but David didn’t notice. He walked over to the window in the door of the trailer and he peered through the glass, because people had started screaming outside.

David threw open the door to the night outside. A strange orange light flooded in and made David into a silhouette.

“Come on! We have to help,” David said as he bounded out the door.

The farm was ablaze.


THERE WERE CHICKENS ON FIRE. LITTLE TUFTS of flame screaming and squawking for mercy. They raced around on the dark lawn, weaving between each other, until they flopped over and died. Beyond the smoldering chickens was a blazing structure. Flames licked the night from its roof, and a crowd of parents was gathered around it, trying to put out the fire. They hucked buckets of water at it. Shoveled dirt. The fire only grew.

It was hot. The air stuck to Will. It made his clothes heavy.

“Distraction …,” David muttered from beside Will. Then he yelled at the crowd, “It’s a distraction! We’re under attack!”

No one by the fire turned. They didn’t hear. Will looked where David was looking, easily three hundred yards from the fire, to a section of the two-story wall of stacked tractor trailers that surrounded the farm. There were people there, dropping down from a ladder leaned against the wall. Will could see maybe three or four of them in the full moonlight, but his eyes were still adjusting.

“Come on,” David said, and tugged Will away from the fence that encircled the Airstream.

Will followed David’s lead as they sprinted in a zigzag through a waist-high crop of tomatoes. David’s agility surprised Will, considering his brother was blind in one eye. The last time he’d seen David run, the guy had been as steady as an unmanned bicycle. David leapt over a row of plants and kept running.

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