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Authors: Andrew Smith

Tags: #Social Issues, #Survival Stories, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Violence, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Friendship

Passenger (5 page)

BOOK: Passenger
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I didn’t want to go with the kid.

But there was nothing else I could do, and I guess he saw the resignation on my face.

“Well, come on, Odd. You can help me get my boat back and then I’ll fix you up with some food and maybe a nice shirt you can keep. You don’t mind, do you? You ain’t got any other plans, do you? Ha-ha-ha! Come on, Odd.”

And Quinn Cahill stood to the side of the doorway, sweeping his arm like he was saying “after you,” and he even patted my shoulder as I walked past him.

“We’re going to be friends, Odd. We’re going to be real good friends.”

*   *   *

“What the fuck were those things?”

It seemed like my voice actually startled the kid who nothing else seemed to bother.

“What things?”

“Those fucking black worm things.”

“What? Did you fall out of the sky or something?”

I didn’t answer.

“Suckers, Odd. Suckers. They carry the bug, too.”

“Oh. The bug.”

Quinn Cahill looked at me like I was stupid or something. He pointed at his eyes. “Black eye. White eye. The bug. That’s the only way of getting it if you’re immune like us Odds. But it don’t matter, anyway. They crawl up inside your rig and you’re a goner in a week, anyhow. You grow spikes. You run around naked and start eating folks. That’s what the suckers do to Odds like us. Nice.”

I sat there in the canoe while the redheaded kid pushed us across this borderless black lake using what looked like a bridge cue for playing pool. And I felt myself clenching my knees together.

“Ha-ha! That one on you almost hit pay dirt, didn’t it, Odd? Ha-ha-ha!”

And he held up two fingers, showing a gap of about an inch and a half, to signify how close that thing was to my “rig.”

Quinn Cahill was unbearably annoying.

“Stop calling me that.”

“Well, if you’re not going to tell me your name, what else am I going to do? I think I’ll just call you Billy.”

“Don’t.”

“Why?”

“It’s not my name.”

“Well, it suits you. Kind of. Like Billy the Kid. Except I don’t think you’re a murderer, even if Fent’s after you to settle it up for that one Ranger.”

“Nobody’s after me.”

Quinn scooped his pool cue up from the muck on the bottom and held it out for me. “Here. You push for a while, Billy.”

“I don’t know where we’re going.”

Quinn slapped his thigh. It made me jump. “Ha-ha-ha! Neither do I. I was just making all that shit up about having food and a shirt for you, Billy!”

He was fucking with me.

I wanted to punch him again. I looked him in the eye.
Thirteen, maybe,
I thought. Quinn Cahill was probably only thirteen years old. Pale, white, orange-headed, and freckled, with white baby peach fuzz on his lip and cheeks, and eyes that I just could not figure out. And he was really entertaining himself with me, too.

I put out my hand to him.

“Jack,” I said. “My name’s Jack Whitmore. I’m sixteen. And I’m not lying.”

Then Quinn smiled like it was Christmas morning, spit in his palm, and grabbed my hand, saying, “My brother. My brother Jack the knife boy! See? That wasn’t hard, now, was it, Jack? Oh yeah. We’re going to be real good friends, my man. Now let’s go get you that food and a nice new shirt to put on. Well … kind of new. Ha-ha!”

And Quinn bent back to his task of pushing his boat home.

*   *   *

Canoes are fucking heavy.

The water disappeared—just vanished—in less than an hour, leaving a pasty white salt, ash, and me and Quinn at opposite ends of his fucking canoe. In the constant desiccated heat of Marbury, our clothes had completely dried even before the water was gone. Quinn led us in the direction of the Highlands, an area that would have been west of the freeway in Glenbrook.

But it wasn’t Glenbrook.

It’s funny how naked everything looked. There wasn’t a single tree standing anywhere. It was like pictures I’d seen of the dusty gray erasures of places and things randomly dissolved in a nuclear explosion.

There would be mountains, the rolling foothills in between here and the ocean. But in Marbury, everything in the distance vanished in a colorless steaming fog like we were constantly at the end of the world.

Quinn had pushed us down the entire length of the business district, right past Steckel Park—and I only recognized it because three of the light stanchions over the Little League field were still there, bent like vandalized car antennas. When Conner and I were twelve, we climbed up one of them and painted the letters
J
and
C
in white—and nobody in Glenbrook ever complained because most of the people thought it was some kind of Christian sentiment about our town’s values, so they liked it. And our initials were still there, somehow.

But this was not home.

Java and Jazz, the coffee place where Conner and I would sometimes hang out, was just the bombed-out brick husk of what it used to be. No roof, no windows, only the last two
Z
s on the sign above the door, like it was saying,
Don’t bother me, I’m sleeping.

I grunted. “How would you have gotten this thing back without me?”

“I wouldn’t have come alone in the first place. I told you I was following you, Billy.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“You cuss a lot.”

“So do you.”

Quinn laughed. “Shit.”

I tried to, but couldn’t think of a single quality about Quinn Cahill that didn’t annoy me.
Probably food,
I thought. I was starving. I could put up with the kid for food.

“What happens to those things when the water goes away?” I said.

“The suckers? You really did fall out of the sky, didn’t you, Odd?” Quinn wiped his nose. “They only live one day. Unless they get up inside you. Ha-ha-ha!”

And we walked right across the 101 freeway lugging that canoe. My arm and shoulder ached like death, but Quinn Cahill kept his end up like he was used to the effort. He was a lot stronger than I estimated.

We passed by what was left of a school building.

I didn’t want to look. Quinn was in front of me, carrying himself like he was walking home from the toy store. On the playground, there was a tall rocket ship made of steel jungle-gym pipes with a ladder inside that twisted up through the middle of three separate floors.

There were bodies hanging from each of the floors—arms, legs, torsos that looked like the pieces of plastic dolls lashed to the outside of the ship. The feeding harvesters, the rat-sized bugs, cleaners of death, that were everywhere in Marbury, sounded like static electricity.

This was Marbury. One of the corpses hung by its ankle. It had been a man, and it dangled from the outside of the uppermost deck on the spaceship, tied to the pipes by his own inside-out Levis that trapped his foot there. His body had been opened from crotch to chin, and the open maw of his rib cage shuddered with black insects the size of my feet.

This was Marbury.

“Aren’t you scared the Hunters are around?” I said.

“They only come out in town when it’s raining, or at night. Usually. They’ve been getting more aggressive, though. Cocky.” Quinn sighed. The first time I ever thought he might be getting frustrated at how stupid I seemed.

“Maybe I did.”

“What?”

“Fall out of the sky.”

“Shit, Odd. I told you that. Ha-ha! Well, something did, anyhow. Exactly seven days ago, too. Maybe probably was you.”

“Shit.”

“You’ll see.”

West of the school, we walked between piles of rubble: bricks, doors, the jumbled and splintered beams and joists of what used to be houses and strip malls. I was sweating and tired. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with the kid much longer.

“Can I ask you something?” I said.

“You have permission to ask me something, Odd.”

“What’s the name of this town?”

Quinn stopped walking. It tripped me up for a moment, and I nearly dropped my end of the canoe. He ran his fingers through his hair and wiped the sweat on his butt. “Where are you from, Odd?”

“I don’t know.”

Quinn scratched his crotch. “Glenbrook. It’s called Glenbrook.”

“You ever hear of a place called New Mexico?”

“Shit. What’s that?”

“New Mexico?”

“Never.”

“Billy the Kid came from New Mexico.”

“You’re making that up, Odd.”

Quinn started walking again, tugging me forward.

“Fuck this place, Quinn.”

Fuck you, Jack.

Maybe I should just take the kid’s red speargun and end it right here. Maybe, afterwards, Jack will wake up and he’ll be in that piss-foul garage, sweating like a junkie, back in a different Glenbrook.

The same Glenbrook.

And Ben and Griffin, Conner, will still be here.

You are a coward and a failure, and you deserve this for what you’ve done to them.

I know this is not real. None of this has been real since the night of Conner’s party at the end of school. Jack is just fucked up, is all. It’s his brain. He has to wake up sooner or later.

Nickie.

God, Nickie.

*   *   *

“We can put the boat down right up there, see? See that old firehouse, Odd? That’s where we live.”

I knew the place.

“We?”

“You and me, Odd. You and me.”

“I told you my name.”

“That you did. But I believe you didn’t want to do it, and you never did tell me where you come from.”

“If you’ve been following me, then I shouldn’t need to.”

“Ha-ha-ha! You’re a careful one, Odd. That’s okay. I figure you’ve got some good ones to tell. All I need to do is get them out of you.”

“I’m sure you’ve got some, too, Quinn.”

Quinn turned back and glanced at me.

It looked like he was smiling.

It always looked like that kid was smiling.

 

four

Quinn Cahill was a survivor; I had to hand him that.

I imagined he pictured himself as some kind of king, ruling what he could from his palace in that dead old firehouse. And I was amazed at what that kid was capable of doing there, too.

Somehow, he’d managed to save the solar panels on the firehouse and hook them into a wiring system that ran through the old cinderblock building. It was mostly dark in Marbury, he explained, so the panels didn’t do much more than power some flashlight-dim bulbs he’d installed. But Quinn had salvaged two science-lab steam engines from the schoolhouse, and these he’d hooked into a full-scale electric generator and an actual still he’d constructed from some old metal container drums that were left in the fire station. And Quinn used the still to make drinking water by recycling his own piss and the toxic rainwater he’d collect from the roof.

He’d even strung up one of those campsite portable shower systems over the rusty tiled shower stall at the end of the firemen’s bathroom.

Quinn Cahill’s annoyance factor was equally matched by his incredible talent for staying alive.

And he had food. Lots of it.

I must have drank a gallon of water, without stopping, from a yellowed plastic milk jug. I didn’t even think twice about how Quinn produced that water; I was too busy thinking that it was the best water I’d ever tasted in my life.

“Don’t drink that whole thing, Odd. You’ll puke.” Quinn put his palm on the top of the milk jug to slow me down. “Come on, let me show you what I got here.”

Quinn lived in the upstairs half of the firehouse. A slide pole descended through a hole in the floor, down to the garage. Quinn showed me how to use it if we ever had to get out that way.

There was hardly enough space in the garage to walk between the mounds of piled-up junk, even though I got the feeling that Quinn had inventoried every last item that was down there, knew where everything was. In the center of it all slumped the picked-over ruins of an old ambulance. It sat on its wheel hubs. Just about the only thing left attached to it was the windshield; no doors, no seats, not even floorboards below it.

The garage itself was impenetrable. The old roll-up metal door had been bolted shut and piled high with the rotting husks of furniture from upstairs—rusting cot frames, file cabinets, metal desks—whatever couldn’t be used as fuel for Quinn’s steam engines.

The floor near the slope that cut down at the roll-up door was wet from the rain. I stepped on a dead sucker there and it popped. I felt the water in my belly come up a little when I did that.

“I don’t like it down here, Billy,” Quinn said. “But if we ever need to get out this way, here’s where we go.”

Inside the doorless rear of the ambulance, on an exposed area of concrete that showed through a vacant hole in the old vehicle’s rear compartment, Quinn pointed out a corroded manhole cover.

“Where’s that go?” I said.

“I’m not really sure,” Quinn answered. “I been down there a couple times. Got too scared to look around. I call it my last-chance bomb shelter.”

I wasn’t entirely convinced that Quinn got scared down there, or anywhere, but I wasn’t going to push it.

*   *   *

“Here’s where you pee,” Quinn said. He’d taken me upstairs, to the old bathroom. Its useless white porcelain sinks and cracked mirrors hung from loose screws in the concrete block walls. Anchored to a side wall was a long, steel-trough urinal with a collector beneath it. That was for Quinn’s still. He just looked at me with that dumb and eager look on his face like he was waiting for me to pee so he could show me how brilliant he was. And even though I kind of needed to piss, I ignored him.

The kid just gave me the creeps, like he was trying too hard.

“I know it’s not the sweetest thing to think about, but you’ll get over it. There’s Odds out there who’ll kill you for drinking water. I bet you seen that plenty, too.”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“And this is my shower.” Quinn tapped my shoulder and nodded at his work.

Set back into the rear corner of the bathroom where the firemen used to take showers was a chest-high divider of painted yellow cinderblock. Hanging from the roof behind it Quinn pointed to a black plastic half-barrel that fed into a six-inch length of garden hose attached to a dangling spreader nozzle. I walked around the divider wall and looked. Naturally, in the bottom of the stall, the drain had been obviously rerouted back into Quinn’s still.

BOOK: Passenger
9.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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