Chapter no 33

Five Survive


Oliver crumpled the piece of paper in his fist.

That crushing weight lifted from Red’s chest, just a little. She could breathe again and she did. No. The final vote was no. Three no, two yes. Which meant they weren’t going to kick her out of the RV, they weren’t going to send her out to her death. She was alive.

Arthur sighed, closing his eyes.

Maddy clasped her hands to her cheeks, bottom lip threatening to go. Simon nodded, his mouth tight, and Reyna looked up at the ceiling,

stretching out her neck.

Oliver kept the vote in his hand, fist tightening around it, crushing it.

Something curdled in Red’s gut, beside the cool rush of relief, something hot and unwelcome. Two people voted for her to die. Oliver she’d expected, it was his idea after all. But of the four left—Maddy, Arthur, Reyna and Simon

—one of them voted for her to go. That hurt more than she could say, twisting through her insides, the feeling making itself a home there beside the guilt and the shame, those hot, red feelings. What was worse, knowing or never knowing who it was?

“Thank god,” Maddy exhaled, rushing forward, past the others. She stepped up to Red and wrapped her in a tight hug, trapping Red’s arms by her sides. “Thank god,” she said again, pressing her cheek against Red’s, not letting go. Red could feel her heart too, wingbeat fast in her chest.

“It’s okay,” Red said as Maddy finally pulled away. “I’m fine.”

Maddy stood back and studied her face, eyes brimming with the threat of tears. “You sure?” she asked.

No, Red wasn’t fine at all, put another check in the NO box on the back of Arthur’s hand. She wasn’t fine but she was alive and, really, how was that much different from the rest of her life?

Arthur caught her eye across the way. He lifted his chin up, blinking slowly at her, his hands clasped together in front of him, squeezing, like it was her hand he was holding.

Red squeezed back, fist at her side.

“What do we do now?” Simon asked, speaking into the emptiness of the RV, only their breathing and the swirl of the ever-present static.

No one answered, no one knew how to. Especially not Red. Should she thank them for not sending her out, was that what everyone was waiting for? Thank three of them, at least. How was she ever going to stop thinking about that?

Red pressed her elbows into the counter and leaned into them, taking the weight off her feet. Fuck, she was tired. Bone-tired and bone-scared, and when would this terrible night ever end?

Oliver blew out a mouthful of air, cheeks ticking as his mouth flickered. He turned, collecting the unfolded votes from the table, dropping them back one by one into the bowl. Two yes, three no. It had been close. What if just one more person had turned?

Oliver picked up the bowl and walked toward the kitchen counter, toward Red.

He placed the bowl down, skidding around its lower rim, the ceramic clattering against the surface before it came to a final stop.

Red watched it and then she watched him. He glanced up then, meeting her eyes, dark shadows across his.

“I’m sorry, Red,” Oliver said, voice too flat, too normal in this most un-normal time and place.

It happened so fast.

Oliver lunged at her, arms coiling around her waist, iron-tight, pinning down her arms.

“Oliver, no!” Red screamed.

He lifted her off her feet, body braced against his as he stumbled toward the front door.

“NO!” Maddy screeched, inhuman, the sound curling in and out of Red’s ears as she writhed in Oliver’s grip.

She couldn’t move her arms, but she kicked out, trying to catch the wall and push back against him.

Her feet slipped off.

Oliver stretched out one arm, slamming his elbow down against the handle and kicking the door open.

“OLIVER, DON’T!” Arthur’s voice roared. Footsteps crashing.


The RV shook. But it was too late.

The door was open into the wide-open nothing of outside. The black night ready and waiting.

Oliver’s arms were crushing her, and then they weren’t. He let Red go, shoving her forward, out through the open door.

Red landed on one ankle on the steps. She tripped, falling over herself, the momentum too much.

She rolled down, the final step jumping up to crash against her hip, sending her on.

Red crumpled, facedown, hands-down, against the dirt and gravel of the road. Spitting out a mouthful.

The door of the RV slammed shut behind her. She was alone.

She was outside.

Not alone, actually, as she raised her head from the road, dirt and grit on her tongue, against her teeth.

There was Don, just a few feet away, folded backward in a way people shouldn’t bend. Looking toward his wife, even in death. His head was undone at the back, a mess of blood and bone, hunks of flesh and brain matter on the road.

Only shoes, that was all Red could see of Joyce. The rest of her disappeared beyond the corner of the RV, the full beams carving a path through the black of night, trees waving in the distance.


Red heard shouting behind the closed door. Thumping.


Red pushed herself up, onto her knees.

She stared out at the scrubland, eyes scanning across the darkness. The grass spoke to her, staggering in the wind, cool on her cheeks.

The sniper was out there, hiding in the night. She couldn’t see him, but he could see her.


Where was the red dot? Was it on her forehead right now, somewhere between her eyes? Last few seconds of having a face.

Her eyes flicked again to Don, those tiny pieces of flesh and skull and brain that would rebuild the puzzle of his head. Which part of the brain was it, the part that told you where you’d put down your keys or your phone? Red must already be missing that part. And where were those red feelings kept, the guilt, the shame? Red hoped those would be the first to blow apart, leave her with some of the good fragments, the better memories.

She waited for the crack, the last sound she’d hear.

There’d be no volley of rifle shots at her funeral. No bagpipes weeping “Amazing Grace.”

“Simon, help me!”

Her knees were wet against the road, the sweet, cloying smell of gasoline soaking through.

No, no. She couldn’t die like this. On her knees, like Mom. Knowing it was coming.

She tried to push up, but all the strength was gone from her, all the fight, crashing back down.

Red glanced down at her legs. Why weren’t they working? And then she saw it.

The red dot.

Circling there, on her chest. Riding up and down the lines of her checked shirt. Hiding in the frame of her buttons.

This was it.

Soon there’d be a hole there instead, where her heart used to be. This was it.

Red closed her eyes.

What thoughts should be her last?

The same as her Mom’s? Anger. Hate. Replaying that last fight when everything ended, so she lived for eternity in that horrible moment, stuck in the loop. Mom died and she took everything with her. How could she do that to Red? Mom died on her knees and it was all Red’s fault, and Red was going to die on her knees and it was all Mom’s fault. Blame enough to go around, doubling and doubling until there was too much and Red couldn’t bear it anymore. Take those feelings away, blow them out of her head.

She waited. Waited.

Red opened her eyes, just as dark outside as it was in.

It had already been long. Too long. Lifetimes in seconds. But it had been more than seconds, hadn’t it? It had been minutes now.

Why hadn’t he taken the shot? The red dot was right there on her chest, ready. Why was she still alive?

Pounding in her ears, but it wasn’t her heart. It was coming from the RV behind. Screams and shouts and crashing and—

The sound of the door flying open, whacking against the metal-sheeting side.

Three footsteps.

Arms around her waist again, locking on.

“I’ve got you, Red,” Arthur said in her ear, hoisting her to her feet, dragging her back up the steps, her body pressed against his.

The red dot slipped off her chest, down one leg, and disappeared into the night.

Arthur tripped on the top step, legs skating on the floor to pull them back inside the RV, fingers imprinting between Red’s ribs as he dragged her.

“Maddy, the door!” he shouted in Red’s ear.

Maddy jumped over them on the floor, darting forward to snatch the T-shirt rope tied to the door. She heaved it, grabbing the handle as it swung back within reach.

The door slammed shut.

Red collapsed back against Arthur, looking down, searching her chest for the red dot, for a hole, for a burble of blood.

Someone was screaming. It was her.

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