Read Banished Online

Authors: Sophie Littlefield

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #General, #Fantasy & Magic, #Mysteries & Detective Stories

Banished (22 page)

BOOK: Banished
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right before we reached the house. She had a wicked bruise on her scalp, but otherwise she seemed all right.

Kaz filled her in on the terrible discovery I’d made in the room behind the lab, and described how we’d escaped. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it yet. I kept feeling those cold hands grasping at me, and I knew I would never be able to forget the sensation of my fingers sinking into the ruined flesh of my attackers.

Anna got a much-condensed version. By unspoken agreement we spared her the worst of the details. Kaz’s wounds looked like little more than scrapes now—full function had been restored to his hand, and the hole in his arm closed over—so we didn’t tell her the extent of his injuries. We skipped the zombies entirely.

She had the news on, though, and she nearly cried with relief that we’d escaped the fire, which had turned into an inferno that was expected to consume the entire building. Crews had come from up and down the North Shore, and they were trying to save the adjoining buildings. There had been two survivors. One was the security guard, who had been found wandering around the back of the building, dazed and disoriented, but otherwise unharmed. He was unable to supply any details about the start of the fire, because his memory of the night’s events ended at the sandwich he’d had on his dinner break.

The other survivor was taken from the building on a stretcher. We saw the same footage played several times. None of us could look away. “It’s him,” Prairie said the first time, as the paramedics carried the stretcher past the news crews to the waiting ambulance. “Those are his shoes.”

There was only one shoe, though. It was an expensive leather loafer that had blistered and peeled in the heat, but stayed attached to Bryce’s foot. His other foot was bare, and it was clear his pants had burned away. The blackened flesh of Bryce’s leg was visible in the instant before the camera cut away.

“Burns over eighty percent of his body,” the reporter confided in tones that barely concealed an undercurrent of excitement. It was a story that would lead for days, that much was clear, especially as “breaking details” about the lab revealed it had been carrying on important scientific efforts endorsed by the university, though reporters were having trouble getting confirmation.

We drank strong coffee while we watched. Anna set out a plate of sandwiches as the first hint of morning colored the edge of the sky, but no one touched them. I wondered if I’d ever sleep through another night, if dawn would become a familiar sight for me.

As I was beginning to doze off, leaning against Prairie, an announcer cut into the broadcast. “There it goes, folks,” he said, barely containing his excitement. “As predicted, it looks like the building’s a total—Oh my God, would you look at that.”

We all leaned forward as the building fell in on itself in slow motion, the upper floors collapsing like papier-mâché.

I reached for Prairie’s hand. “They have to be dead,” I whispered. We both knew it was a question.

She nodded. “They said the temperatures got well over a thousand degrees. And now this … they won’t find anything by the time it’s finished burning. Maybe some bone fragments.”

I nodded and snuggled a little closer, praying she was right, praying zombies burned like everyone else. And trying not to think about the Healer trapped inside.

A moment later, though, she stiffened.

“We forgot,” she said, tugging at the blanket that covered us both. “We forgot his apartment. We’ve got to get over there and destroy his papers and his backup.”

I sat up straight. Kaz was already getting to his feet.

Anna tried to pull him back down. “This is not the time,” she said. “You’re exhausted. Everything is destroyed there. Bryce is in hospital, probably going to die.”

But she hadn’t seen the zombies. We had.

The argument was cut short when Kaz hugged Anna hard. “I love you, Mom,” he said, every syllable a promise. “And we’ll be back safe.”

The trip back to Evanston was harder than the one before, even though there was nothing left that could hurt us. It had all been destroyed in the fire. But we were no longer fueled by the energy of our quest. This was a sad trip, the culmination of a journey that had as many losses as gains, and we barely spoke at all except for Prairie’s occasional directions.

We found a spot on a crowded street. Kaz eased the little car into a tiny space. The apartment building was only a few years old, a ritzy, gleaming brick and steel and glass tower.

“What’s in the documents, anyway?” Kaz asked as we got out of the car. He’d brought his backpack, but this time it was to take things with us. Prairie said there was less than a single filing cabinet drawer of documents, plus Bryce’s laptop. We planned to shred the documents back at Anna’s, and destroy the laptop there too.

“From what I could tell, it was mostly his notes to himself. He may have transferred them to electronic files later, but these were handwritten lists, like the one I told you about with his contacts in foreign militaries. I don’t really know what’s there, but I figure we need to be safe.”

In the gleaming lobby, the guard nodded and smiled at Prairie. Clearly, he recognized her from past visits. Bryce must not have told the guard that she was no longer welcome. As we got to the elevators, Prairie leaned in close to me, close enough that I could see the fine network of lines around her eyes, the deep purple smudges beneath them. She looked so tired.

“It’s almost over,” she said quietly, and I wondered if she was trying to reassure herself as much as me.

The elevator glided smoothly to the top floor. We walked down a softly lit, carpeted hallway. There were only two apartments, the penthouses. Prairie slid her key in the lock and the last possible obstacle was removed—not that Bryce would have had time to change the locks, but I had learned to take nothing for granted.

The door opened on a beautiful if sparsely furnished apartment. The midday sun sparkled off tabletops, wood floors, a vase of tulips. Sleek furniture was arranged around a richly patterned rug.

Everything looked normal. Inviting, even. My shoulders practically sagged with relief. At last it felt like we had reached the end of our journey.

“I’ll just be a minute,” Prairie said, going to the desk in the den off the main room and starting to gather up papers.

Kaz put out his arm and I leaned into him, letting him support me, breathing in the comforting scent of clean laundry and soap. As my eyes fluttered shut, I wondered if it would be possible for me to fall asleep standing up, because I felt like I could sleep forever.

That was when the voice called out.

“Mr. Safian?”

It was a woman’s voice, heavily accented, like Anna’s but far closer to its speaker’s Polish roots. I froze as Kaz stiffened at my side. Prairie dropped the papers in her hands.

The voice came from behind a closed door in the apartment’s long hallway. I looked at Prairie questioningly.

“Guest room,” she whispered.

I started toward it, but she stopped me, a warning hand on my arm.

“She’s Banished,” I said. I sensed it, even through the closed door, even across the distance. The stirring of the blood, the heightening of my senses, it was all there.

“Mr. Safian!” the voice said again, now wailing. “You leave me all night. Mr. Safian!”

“It’s her,” Kaz said. “The one I saw in the vision. It has to be.”

“We don’t know,” Prairie said. “We can’t be sure—”

“You not come back, you promise come back, you not come back, I am so scared.” The voice broke down in sobs as Prairie’s hand tightened on my arm. “Please don’t be angry, Mr. Safian. We will do your work. No more fight, no more resist. We do what you ask. Now you bring my sisters, yes? Now you bring my sisters back to me?”


Sophie Littlefield is the author of several thrillers for adults, including
A Bad Day for Sorry
. She lives with her family in Northern California. Visit her online at

BOOK: Banished
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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