Page 27


Carol’s teacup clatters in its saucer, making me jump.
“Silly, isn’t it?” she says, forcing a laugh. “Even when you haven’t done anything wrong, it still makes you jumpy.”
I feel a dull pain in my hand and realize I’m still holding on to the counter as though it’s going to save my life. I can’t relax, can’t calm down, even as the sounds of the footsteps grow fainter, the bullhorn voice more and more distorted, until it is completely unintelligible. All I can picture are the raiding parties— sometimes as many as fifty in a single night—swirling around Portland, swarming it, surrounding it like water cascading around a whirlpool, sweeping up anyone and everyone they can find and accuse of misbehavior or disobedience, and even people they can’t.
Somewhere out there Hana is dancing, spinning, blond hair fanning out behind her, smiling—while around her boys are pressing close and unapproved music pumps through the speakers. I fight a feeling of incredible nausea. I don’t even want to think about what will happen to her—to all of them—if they’re caught.
All I can do is hope she hasn’t made it to the party yet.
Maybe she took too long to get ready—it seems possible, Hana’s always late—and was still at home when the raids started. Even Hana would never venture outside during raids. It’s suicide.
But Angelica Marston and everyone else . . . Every single person there . . . Everyone who just wanted to hear some music . . .
I think about what Alex said the night I ran into him at Roaring Brook Farms: I came to hear the music, like everybody else.
I will the image out of my mind and tell myself it’s not my problem. I should be happy if the party is raided and everyone there is busted. What they’re doing is dangerous, not just for them but for all of us: That’s how the disease gets in.
But the underneath part of me, the stubborn part that said gray at my first evaluation, keeps pressing and nagging at me. So what? it says. So they wanted to hear some music. Some real music—not the dinky little songs that get tooted out at the Portland Concert Series, all boring rhythms and bright, chipper notes. They’re not doing anything that bad.
Then I remember the other thing Alex said: Nobody’s hurting anybody.
Besides, there’s always the possibility that Hana didn’t run late tonight, and she’s out there, oblivious, as the raids circle closer and closer. I have to squeeze my eyes shut against the thought, and against the thought of dozens of glittering blades descending on her. If she’s not thrown in jail she’ll be carted directly to the labs— she’ll be cured before dawn, regardless of the dangers or risks.
Somehow, despite my racing thoughts and the fact that the room continues its frantic spinning, I’ve managed to clean all the dishes. I’ve also come to a decision.
I have to go. I have to warn her.
I have to warn all of them.
By the time Rachel and David leave and everyone is settled in bed it’s midnight. Every second that passes feels like agony. I can only hope the door-to- door on peninsula is taking longer than usual, and it will be a while before the raiders make it to Deering Highlands.
Maybe they’ve decided to skip the Highlands altogether.
Given the fact that the majority of the houses up there are vacant, it’s always a possibility. Still, since Deering Highlands used to be the hotbed of resistance in Portland, it seems doubtful.
I slip out of bed, not bothering to change out of my sleep pants and T-shirt, both of which are black. Then I put on black flats, and, even though it’s about a thousand degrees, pull a black ski hat out of the closet. Can’t be too careful tonight.
Just as I’m about to crack open the bedroom door I hear a small noise behind me, like the mewing of a cat. I whip around. Grace is sitting up in bed, watching me.
For a second we just stare at each other. If Grace makes a noise, or gets out of bed, or does anything, she’s bound to wake Jenny, and then I’m done, finished, kaput. I’m trying to think of what I can say to reassure her, trying to fabricate a lie, but then, miracle of miracles, she just lies back down in bed and closes her eyes. And even though it’s very dark, I would swear that there’s the smallest smile on her face.
I feel a quick rush of relief. One good thing about the fact that Gracie refuses to speak? I know she won’t tell on me.
I slip out into the street without any other problems, even remembering to skip the third-to-last stair, which last time let out such an awful squeak I thought for sure Carol would wake up.
After the noise and the commotion of the raids, the street is freakily still and quiet. Every single window is dark, all the blinds drawn, like the houses are trying to turn away from the street, or put up their shoulders against prying eyes. A stray piece of red paper sweeps by me, turning on the wind like the tumbleweed you see in old cowboy movies. I recognize it as a raider’s notice, a proclamation filled with impossible-to-pronounce words explaining the legality of suspending everyone’s rights for the evening. Other than that, it could be any other night—any other quiet, dead, ordinary night.
Except that on the wind, just faintly, you can hear the distant murmur of footsteps, and a high wail as if someone is crying. The sounds are so quiet you might almost mistake them for ocean and wind sounds.
The raiders have moved on.
I start off quickly in the direction of Deering Highlands.
I’m too afraid to take my bike. I’m worried the little reflective patch on the wheels will attract too much attention. I can’t think about what I’m doing, can’t think about the consequences if I’m caught. I don’t know where I even got this rush of resolution. I never would have thought I’d have the courage to leave the house on a raid night, not in a million years.
I guess Hana was wrong about me. I guess I’m not scared all the time.
I’m passing a black trash bag heaped on the sidewalk when a low whimper stops me short. I spin around, my whole body on high alert in an instant. Nothing. The sound is repeated: an eerie, crooning sound that makes the hair on my arms stand up. Then the garbage bag by my feet shakes itself.
No. Not a garbage bag. It’s Riley, the Richardsons’ black mutt.
I take a few shaky steps toward him. I need only one glance to know that he’s dying. He’s completely coated with a sticky, shiny, black substance—blood, I realize as I get closer. That’s the reason I mistook his fur, in the dark, for the slick black surface of a plastic bag. One of his eyes is pressed to the pavement; the other is open.
His head has been clubbed in. Blood is flowing freely from his nose, black and viscous.
I think of the voice I heard—Probably has fleas, anyway, the regulator said— and the swift thudding sound that followed.
Riley is staring at me with a look so mournful and accusatory I swear for a second it’s like he’s a human and he’s trying to tell me something—trying to say, You did this to me. A wave of nausea overtakes me and I’m tempted to get down on my knees and scoop him up in my arms, or strip off my clothes and start soaking the blood off him. But at the same time I feel paralyzed. I can’t move.
As I’m standing there, frozen, he gives a long, shuddering jerk, from the tip of his tail to his nose. Then he goes still.
Instantly my arms and legs unfreeze. I stumble backward, bile pushing itself up into my mouth. I careen in a full circle, feeling like I did the day I got drunk with Hana, totally out of control of my own body. Anger and disgust are shredding through me, making me want to scream.
I find a flattened cardboard box sitting behind a Dumpster and drag it over to Riley’s body, covering him completely. I try not to think of the insects that will tear into him by morning. I’m surprised to feel tears prick at my eyes. I wipe them away with the back of my arm. But as I start off toward Deering all I can think is, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, like a mantra, or a prayer.
One good thing about raids: They’re loud. All I have to do is pause in the shadows and listen for the footsteps, the static, the bullhorn voices. I switch directions, choose the side streets, the ones that have been skipped over or raided already. Evidence of the raids is everywhere:
overturned garbage cans and Dumpsters, trash picked through and spilled out onto the street, mountains of old receipts and shredded letters and rotting vegetables and foul-smelling goop I don’t even want to identify, red notices coating everything like a dust. My shoes get slick from clomping over it, and in the worst places I have to keep my arms out like a tightrope walker just to stay on my feet. I pass a few houses marked with a big X, black paint splashed across their walls and windows like a black gash, and my stomach sinks. The people who live in these houses have been identified as troublemakers or resisters. The hot wind whistling through the streets carries sounds of yelling and crying, dogs barking. I do my best not to think about Riley.
I stick to the shadows, slipping in and out of alleys and darting from one Dumpster to the next. Sweat is pooling at the base of my neck and under my arms, and it’s not just from the heat. Everything looks strange and grotesque and distorted, certain streets glittering with glass from smashed windows, the smell of burning in the air.
At one point, I come around a corner onto Forest Avenue just as a group of regulators turns onto it from the other end. I whip back around, pressing flat against the wall of a hardware store and inching back in the direction I’ve come. The chances any of the regulators saw me are slim—I was a block away and it’s pitch- black—but still, my heart never goes back to its normal pace. I feel like I’m playing some giant video game, or trying to solve a really complicated math equation. One girl is trying to avoid forty raiding parties of between fifteen to twenty people each, spread out across a radius of seven miles. If she has to make it 2.7 miles through the center, what is the probability she will wake up tomorrow morning in a jail cell? Please feel free to round pi to 3.14.
Before the shakedown, Deering Highlands was a nicer part of Portland. The houses were big and new—at least for Maine, which means they were built within the past hundred years—and set back behind gates and hedges, on streets with names like Lilac Way and Timber Road.
There are a few families still clinging on in some of the houses, dirt-poor ones who can’t afford to move anywhere else, or haven’t gotten permission for a new residence, but for the most part it’s totally empty.
Nobody wanted to stay on; nobody wanted to be associated with the resistance.
The weirdest thing about Deering Highlands is how quickly it was abandoned. There are still rusting toys scattered among the grass and cars parked in some of the driveways, though most of them have been picked apart, cleaned of metal and plastic like corpses scavenged by enormous buzzards. The whole area has the forlorn look of an abandoned animal: houses drooping slowly into the overgrown lawns.
Normally I get freaked out just being in the vicinity of the Highlands. A lot of people say it’s bad luck, like passing a graveyard without holding your breath. But tonight, when I finally make it there, I feel like I could dance a jig on the sidewalk. Everything is dark and quiet and undisturbed, not a single raider’s notice to be seen, not a whisper of conversation or the brush of a heel on a sidewalk. The raiders haven’t come yet. Maybe they won’t come at all.