Wisteria (Wisteria Series) (2 page)

BOOK: Wisteria (Wisteria Series)
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Sixteen-year-old Wisteria was now assigned to be a tracker on her mother’s team. She reached out to answer the radio from the back seat, but her mother reached it first.

“Jake, you start singing and I’ll boil your face in oil when I get back,” her mother replied.

“Whoa,” Andrew remarked jovially as he adjusted his tranquilizer rifle. “Trouble in paradise?”

“Shh,” her mother snapped back. “We need to focus.”

The three of them were parked in front of Green Heart Pharmacy and they sat in silence.

Wisteria watched through the iron mesh that used to be the rear window. As a tracker, she monitored the number of biters around the Isle of Smythe. The epidemiologists and other scientists on the island told the trackers where to look and tried to predict the biters’ movements. Usually, they were wrong, but the trackers were still able to collect valuable information about the biters and monitor their activity level.

The hope was that one day, perhaps far into the future, people could start living on Norton again. Today, she was tasked with photographing any infected. For some reason, the doctors on the Isle of Smythe needed them. Things were quiet today. They hadn’t seen a soul, living or dead, in Norton.

“Okay, darling, I’ll stop singing if you’ll have dinner with me tonight,” Jake teased.

Wisteria knew Jake said this to wind her mother up and it always worked.

“Give me the damn radio,” her mother demanded from Andrew.

“Jake,” Andrew spoke into the radio as he continued to scan his side of the street. “Lara says she’d love nothing more than to go out with you.” Andrew snickered.

Being on the outside terrified Wisteria and she couldn’t laugh. Their weapons wouldn’t provide enough protection if a lot of biters swarmed. She learned to keep cool, but how Andrew found the levity to joke amazed her. She guessed it was because of his twelve years in the army.

They heard a crash.

“Shh!” Her mother shut off the radio. “The back, Wisteria, watch the back.”

They all crouched lower in the SUV.

Wisteria focused her attention on the area behind them. Her trained gaze steadily centered through the caged rear window. The blood in her body rushed to her head as she braced herself. She double-checked that her rifle and sword were by her side.

There was another crash and a dog ran past.

“A dog,” Andrew muttered.

“Wait,” Wisteria whispered.

A woman emerged from an alley behind the vehicle, dressed in filthy rags, her hair caked with dirt. Limping toward them, with a blank expression and blood-red eyes, her putrid stench filled the air.

No, this wasn’t a woman. It was the flesher of a woman, a biter, and as it moved closer, the hairs on Wisteria’s neck stood on end.

“Wisteria, take the picture,” her mother reminded her. “Hair, nails, eyes, and mouth, those are the pictures you need. Like you’ve done a hundred times.”

“I know,” she whispered back to her mother. Containing her fear, she focused on the approaching biter.

“You’ll be fine,” Andrew calmly encouraged.

Wisteria knew her job, but Andrew’s relaxed tone made her feel even surer of herself. Steadying her camera, she photographed the woman’s features.

“Do you have it?” Her mother started the car. “Andrew, check it.”

“I have it, Mum.” Wisteria tossed him the camera and collected the rifle next to her.

“Don’t even think about it.” Andrew reached for the weapon. “Use the dart gun.”

“The sound of a gun will attract biters from miles away,” her mother lectured.

“I just grabbed the wrong one by mistake,” Wisteria admitted. “I know what I’m doing.” She aimed the rifle and fired it out through the rear window’s iron mesh. Instead of bullets, a cyanide dart shot out, hitting the biter in the head.

The flesher marched defiantly forward, refusing to fall, but then collapsed.

“Right.” Her mother maneuvered the vehicle out of the parking lot. “Focus on the left side, Wisteria. You don’t need to worry about the back, now that we’re moving. I’m checking the mirror.”

Wisteria sighed heavily. She was already watching the left side and didn’t need to be reminded. She began to question her decision to be a tracker for the third time that day.

“We haven’t seen any biters here for six months and now we’ve had two sightings in three days,” she said, oblivious to Wisteria’s frustration. “It could be a problem.”

“Lara, it’s only the second sighting in six months,” Andrew added. “It’s actually a good sign.”

They sped through Norton, moving past empty playgrounds, backyards, and abandoned vehicles. This was once home to fifteen thousand people, but now it was derelict. Only trackers from the Isle of Smythe and the occasional refugees passed through the town—and the biters.

A long drive later, they came to a narrow bridge. At the foot of the bridge was an iron gate, covered in barbed wire.

Andrew radioed to Jake and less than a minute later, the gate opened. They drove across a barbed wire bridge while under the hardened gaze of armed guards.

Suddenly, Wisteria felt safe.

At the end of the bridge was a massive wall. Squinting, she could make out several soldiers on top, watching them with their weapons trained on them. After waiting for several minutes, the gigantic gates of the inner wall opened and revealed a dingy, granite mining town that was the Isle of Smythe.

They drove past the rows of run-down houses, navigating over potholes. The so-called road was lined with the skeletons of rusted cars.

Even before Nero, the Isle of Smythe was this way, according to Rebecca, who had lived on the island for fifteen years. She said, Smythe was a dump then and was even a bigger dump now.

As usual, there were very few people outside. Wisteria counted four.

They parked at the front of an old bank. This was the trackers’ station where most of their ammunition and supplies were stored. The entire structure was now covered in sheets of metal and a fence was erected around the parking lot.

“You need to try and not get so tense out there,” Andrew advised as Wisteria got out of the SUV. “You know what you’re doing.”

“Andrew, I was calm.” She looked over at her mother, hoping she wasn’t listening, but her mother was already gone, probably updating someone about the trip. “The gun thing was a stupid mistake.”

“We’re lucky there wasn’t a swarm.”

“I’ll work on it.” She started to leave.

“Wait,” Andrew called. “You did good though.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she muttered.

On every trip over the last months, something always went wrong.

“Seriously, you’re better at this than most.” He smiled down at her. “No one got hurt. That’s a success to me.”

Andrew was such a nice guy. If she’d been a lot older and if he wasn’t Major Elliot Coles’s only friend, she might’ve stood a chance with him. “I’ve got homework and you’ve got a debriefing with Major Coles.” At his smile and friendly encouragement, she suddenly became self-conscious. Turning away, she strolled out of the gate and made her way along the muddy road. She jumped around the massive potholes that were now filled with black water from the morning rain.

“Watch where you’re going,” Keith Wicks, her neighbor, yelled as she nearly ran into a sheep. The older man was crossing with a small flock of them.

“Sorry, Mr. Wicks,” Wisteria replied.

“Bloody refugees,” he muttered as he moved along.

Wisteria wasn’t originally from the Isle of Smythe. She was one of about seven hundred refugees who arrived here in the last three years to escape the biters. Some of Smythe’s locals resented the migrants, but most were just glad to be alive.

 

* * * * *

 
 

The next morning was a school day. Like all the under-eighteens in Smythe, she had to be in class. At nine o’clock, Wisteria was on her window seat in the crammed classroom. The school was just an ordinary house used as a school. The old schools were in Norton and now only the biters hung out there.

This meant the younger students and pupils were crammed into this makeshift building. It was like most of the buildings—in desperate need of repair. Several of the windows were broken and replaced by wooden panels. Many of the ceiling panels were missing. There were even holes in the roof and the walls. Handwritten graffiti covered the walls, and even after several attempts to scrub it off, it still remained. The room needed to be repainted, but that was a luxury.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I need you to quiet down. As part of your reward for all your hard work, I’m giving you a test,” Mr. Silas Cheung, the mathematics teacher, announced to the year eleven class. He scribbled the test over the black square on the wall, which served as their blackboard.

“Mr. Cheung, what’s the point of taking the stupid test? No one cares!” Steven Hindle yelled. “It’s not like I need it to get a job.”

Some students laughed.

“Steven, if you want to leave by all means, get out of my class.” Apparently annoyed, Mr. Cheung pointed to the door.

The boy hesitated.

“Are you afraid?” The teacher asked.

The younger man got to his feet, glanced over at Wisteria, and then winked at her.

She quickly looked away from his hypnotic blue eyes.

“Does anyone else want to join Mr. Hindle on his crusade?” the man asked the class.

No one said a word.

Wisteria wanted to leave with him. Maybe they would be able to spend time together, and then he would tell her how beautiful she was. She laughed at her foolishness, because she couldn’t compare to Steven’s girlfriend, Hailey Davenport. Hailey was simply beautiful. She glanced at Hailey and her friends—Karen, Melissa and Yvette—as they sat together at the back of the class.

Hailey’s light gray eyes shot from Steven over to Wisteria and her pretty face briefly reflected a frown.

Wisteria on the other hand was short,
shapely
, and dark with black hair and very dark eyes.

“Hindle, what are you waiting for? Get out of my class,” Mr. Cheung repeated.

“You can’t talk to us like that,” Gareth Hubbard, Steven’s best friend, piped in.

“Really, Gareth?” the man asked.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t.” Steven continued his defiance.

Cheung walked up to Steven and stopped when he was about a foot away. Though man was shorter than Steven, but he didn’t look intimidated. This was unusual, because Steven’s father, Tom Hindle, was one of the senior scientists in the town.

His father ran the quarantine center and was part of a group still trying to find a cure. He was also on the leadership council and this made Steven as untouchable as any student could be. Most teachers treated him and other children of the island’s leadership with kid gloves. They could get away with anything expect missing school; not even Steven could do that.

The number two rule in the Isle of Smythe was to earn their keep. This meant everyone had a job and one of their jobs was to go to school. The number one rule was to follow the rules. Break the rules and you’d be leaving the Isle of Smythe. They all had seen what had happened to the Nelsons. No one wanted to face a life outside.

“Mr. Cheung, those biters don’t scare me,” Steven boasted.

“Hindle, have you ever seen the infected?” The teacher raised a brow in disbelief.

Steven’s rebellion was futile, but it endeared him to his classmates and to her. He was a native of the town and not a refugee. Some locals never went outside since the Nero outbreak. In her heart, Wisteria knew he’d be less pompous if he understood what the outside really looked like.

“Give me a shotgun and I’ll be fine,” Steven continued to brag.

A couple of the students cheered.

In the days following the outbreak, Wisteria, her mother, and her brother travelled from Dover to Norton. On a normal day, the journey took an hour and a half, but it took them over three months to make it through. Those were the dark days. She shuddered at the memory of those days and nights of continual screaming by people she knew who were turning into biters or being dragged away at night. Going to school was like going on vacation for her when they first arrived, but that was before she’d met Hailey.

Now, she was stuck here. In her heart she wanted to believe that she wasn’t going to be in the Isle of Smythe forever. One day, all this madness would blow over and she would be able to return to Lagos…to her real life. This was why she needed to be a tracker; it was a job that taught her how to take care of herself on the outside, ensuring that when the family was ready to leave, she’d survive.

Steven slammed his book on the table and dropped into his seat.

Victorious, Mr. Cheung smirked and returned to the blackboard.

“Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere,” Steven whispered to her.

Gareth chuckled.

Wisteria ignored them both. They weren’t actually her friends. Most days, she didn’t operate in the same universe as Steven or Gareth.

“Steven, I gave you a chance to leave my class. That offer’s still open.” Cheung fumed. “Wisteria, do you want to join him?”

BOOK: Wisteria (Wisteria Series)
13.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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