He’s looking down on me. The guy has a trimmed black beard and intense eyes that are set behind cheekbones that are so prominent he almost looks like a skull with fake facial hair. His read hat, of course, is the thing that scares me most.
He wants to take me down to the officer’s pit. And that’s a place most kids like me never leave unless a pyreman’s carrying them. And considering the pyremen aren’t too happy with me right now, that sounds even worse than normal.
I groan as I sit up. “I just climbed the freezin’ Scar, and you want to arrest me?”
I hear the baton slice through the air right before it hits me in the shoulder. Pain explodes there. “Get up, now, or it’ll be worse.”
If I had my club, I could probably go toe-to-toe with him. He’s not scarier than the dogs I had to face down at the pyre.
I glare at him as I stand up. Behind me is the sheer cliff of the Scar and the dogs still barking below. There’s nowhere to escape. My back aches. My legs scream. My shoulder isn’t happy. My cheek has taken to burning again. And my wrist…
…oh, my wrist. I glance down. Both my hands are bloody from the climb, but that hand… its dripping blood. No wonder the dogs are still going insane down there. They smelled my blood.
My blood. Giving the dogs plague.
He thinks I have plague, doesn’t he? Tala said the officers thought I had that disease, that I was someone trying to get the whole Pits sick. Someone form the Plaguer Camp.
I cup my hand to collect some of the blood. “You don’t want to take me to the officer’s pit.”
“Shut up. Start walking.”
“I have plague. You take me there, every one of your friends is going to get it.”
He lifts his arm to strike me with his baton again.
I flick my hand at him. Blood goes flying into his face. Into his eyes. He screams. The baton falls to the rocky ground as his hands fly to his face, trying to wipe it off. He screams again – a bunch of little short screams, pained and sudden.
I try to run away, but my legs won’t let me. I hobble a little. I fall on my side. I guess the climb took more out of me than I thought it did.
The officer throws up. That’s fantastic. There’s nothing like the smell of vomit on snow.
Come on, man. Stop being a drama queen. You don’t have plague. You can’t have plague. I don’t have it, so I can’t give it to you.
I mean, I can’t have plague. I just can’t.
I didn’t just get you sick on purpose. No way.
I struggle to stand again. My shoulder, where he hit me, doesn’t want to cooperate. Doesn’t matter. Work, body. Work. Foot, foot, arm, arm. Stand up. My legs finally creak straight under my weight when something knocks me down from behind. Something that’s growling.
I panic. I spin and lash out with legs and arms.
It’s not a dog. It’s the officer.
“Heattramp! You plaguer! You freezin’ plaguer!” He swears at me. He throws everything I’ve ever heard and a lot more. He’s lashing out with his fists. I can see my blood staining his face. His lips are pulled up in hate.
He hits me on the side of my head. I can’t see well. I keep my arms up, keeping his blows away.
I claw at his face, trying to do anything, anything to get him away, to hurt him, to get him away from me. I can’t breathe. What’s happening? His face is all bloody.
That’s my blood. My blood all over his face.
I roll. I try to roll. He’s got me pinned. I kick, I twist, I do anything and everything to get away. Just get away!
Somewhere I hear the dogs howling.
I reach out for something to use as a weapon. Something to use to get away from him.
My hand finds a rock. I swing it at his head. I miss. I catch his shoulder. I feel something crack. He howls and crumples to the side, cradling his arm. I swing again, and this time I catch him in the side of his head, just glancing as he falls.
He’s not snarling anymore.
He can’t be dead. No. No way.
Even if he was, it wouldn’t be my fault. It’d be like the other officer. The other one I killed. Didn’t kill. The one I killed when I was protecting Kaynie. It was self-defense. That’s ok, right? I can kill in self-defense. I think back to all the lessons Patr taught. No, I don’t have time.
I roll over onto his chest. Is there a heartbeat?
I can’t tell through the coats. Do I take the coat off? They always say to leave all the clothes on if you’re outside; it’s too cold.
Cold. It is. My hands are freezing. I don’t know if I can move them anymore. I’m probably dying. Just not from plague.
I claw at his chest, trying to find a way to get closer to his skin to see if he’s breathing. I’m not killing again.
I didn’t kill the first time. Shut up.
I don’t want him to die. Even though he was trying to hurt me, even though he was trying to kill me. It doesn’t matter that I flung my blood in his face. It doesn’t matter that he thought I’d just killed him. He started it. He’s the one who tried to hurt me first.
My fingers finally grab hold of a zipper. I pull down on it. He’s got a second coat underneath, soft and warm. Of course he does. He’s an officer. He can probably afford three coats.
This one has buttons. My blood is getting all over his nice inner coat. My fingers aren’t working. I thrust my ear at his chest again. Anything? Anything at all? I can’t tell. I still can’t tell.
I didn’t kill another one. I couldn’t.
What’ll happen to me if they catch me?
I can’t open that coat. I lean back. I’m shaking so bad. Can I even stand up? Should I leave the body?
Tannen’s voice comes to me: “Respect the dead.”
I can’t respect him. If I stay here, they’ll kill me. Besides, he doesn’t care about respect. He’s dead. He doesn’t know what will happen to his body.
I hate my mentor.
I kneel next to the officer. I don’t even know his name. A second man I’ve killed, I didn’t even know who either of them were. How can you hate someone you don’t even know their name? I fumble with his outer jacket and finally find the inner pocket. There. His card.
Wait. What was the name of the first man I killed? The first man I didn’t kill? The one who attacked Kaynie?
Oh, great. I just killed two brothers. Their mom is going to be so happy with me.
Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe they were really bad people. Bene was, anyway. He tried to take out Kaynie just because she was related to her dad. Someone else was ordering him around.
I wonder if Kaynie’s ok back at Sanctuary. Did they tell her they kicked me out again? She was pretty.
No she wasn’t. She wasn’t anything like Tala.
Tala was pretty. And she was rough. She could handle anything. That’s why I liked her.
I shake my head. My focus is gone. I need to respect the dead. Stay and watch. Stay and watch for Perrin Fasko, the second man I didn’t try to kill.
He’s alive! I try laughing, but only coughing comes out. He’s smeared all over with my blood, his coat’s open in the cold, snow is piling up on his face, but he’s alive!
Oh. He’s alive.
I should probably leave. He won’t be happy with me.
I stand. I groan. My joints are so stiff after the climb and the fight and the sitting still for how long? I stand, though, and I stumble away. I shamble. I can’t run. I can’t even call this limping. Even though I don’t have plague, I’m acting like I do, with my joints frozen and blood all over me. I’m probably not very pretty right now.
I need to get to Tannen. I need to find the pyre and make sure he’s ok.
Because, you know, I’ll be able to help him if he’s not.
Shut up. It’s my fault he’s out there. Or at least, I have a responsibility to help him. Yeah, I have a responsibility.
The snow is still coming so thick. I hate it when it falls like this. Well, at least a lot of it is landing on my burning cheek. That’s good. It’s calming.
I can’t see much in the snow, and I can’t hear a whole lot. I wonder if I’m leaving bloody tracks. I shouldn’t look. I’ll fall over if I turn around.
Muffled voices waft out of the white to me. A women – no, two women. One older, one younger.
“The Plaguer Camp. Did you hear?”
“Yeah. Someone from there’s been coming back to the Pits.”
“They want to get us all sick!”
“No they don’t! They just want our help.”
“They’re not getting it if they get us all sick.”
“Do you blame them? We send them out there and they don’t have food or anything good.”
A man interrupts. “The only way to get rid of plague is with fire!”
“Stop that,” the younger woman says. “It’s not their fault they’re sick.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the man responds. “They try to get us sick, we burn them all out!”
“Shush, Wayne. Stop that nonsense. Someone will think you’ve got Kander’s Brain, and I won’t stop them from putting you down.”
The voices fade. They might have been close. I don’t know. I can’t see well, and the snow’s getting thick.
How am I going to climb up the rise to get to the pyres outside the valley? I can barely walk.
You can do it. You climbed the Scar. You beat off a crazed officer. You can do this. You can do anything.
I wonder how Kaynie’s doing. She should be fine, right? I mean, Sanctuary has some jerks, and they’re crazy, but they accept anyone. Well, anyone but me. But I did tick them off last time. No, no I didn’t. Let’s get the story straight. Eli kicked me out. After he promised to always love me. After he promised to take me in. After mom –
No. I don’t have time for this. And blood and tears really don’t mix well. Actually, I’d prefer no blood at all, thank you.
My heart shouldn’t be beating that fast. I can hear it. It’s all I can hear in the snowfall, really. That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?
I stop gasping for oxygen. Just breathe in, breathe out. Calm down.
Keep walking and calm down.
Yeah, that is a lot of blood. It’s not that bad. At least you don’t have plague.
I try laughing at my joke. It’s not funny.
I’m not a lot of things lately. I don’t have plague. I didn’t kill an officer. I didn’t deserve to get kicked out of Sanctuary. I didn’t abandon Tannen.
I wonder when I’m going to start actually doing things instead of not doing them.
The ground starts sloping up. That must mean I’m out of the Pits. No one will find me out here; I’m entering the wilderness. I can’t fall over anymore. I can’t afford to not get up. Even by the Scar there, someone will find the officer and get him to safety. He’ll be fine.
I feel like I breathing fire. It hurts to suck in air. My heart’s still going so fast.
I’m lying on my face. When did I get here? I was just standing up. The ground moves. Now I’m looking at the sky. I didn’t roll over. What’s going on?
A woman frowns at me. “You’re not supposed to be here. Come on.” She disappears from my view. I see the ground again, and then the ground is farther below me. I see some legs. I hear the woman grunting. Something groans as she sets me down.
Barking. I hear barking. I tense. Well, I try to tense. Really, all I do is start to breathe faster, which is pretty hard. Where did all the air go? Why can’t I find it?
The woman’s voice says, “I know. The Plaguer Camp is terrible. There’s a reason I started training dogs. Finally had a reason to get out. Here.” She puts some blankets around me.
No! I don’t belong in the Plaguer Camp!
“Listen, I see your infections burst open. Don’t worry about bleeding on my sled. Animals bleed on it all the time.”
She props me up, and I see I’m on some sort of aluminum sled. It’s tied to four husky dogs. They’re all panting at least as hard as I am.
Why is the sled tied to the dogs?
Oh. That’s why. They actually go pretty fast, don’t they? I’m glad I’m chasing them. Kind of.
We skirt around the Pits and head toward the blemish. A series of cloth and leather huts huddled in the snow, buried in the white, terrible and run-down and waiting for death.
The Plaguer Camp. My new home.
I try telling her. I try talking. My voice is gone, though. I can’t tell her I don’t belong in the Plaguer Camp. I can’t tell her I need to get to Tannen. I can’t tell her that Kaynie is counting on me, or that I’m a pyreman, or that…
It doesn’t matter.
I have nothing worth saying. It’s done.
Look at how much blood I’ve lost. Look at how long I’ve been in the cold. Look at how beat up I am.
I’m dying, anyway.
At least I’ll die in the Plaguer Camp, the one place even the pyremen don’t go. At least I won’t be shamed in front of my friends.
I hope death is better than life.
Read the next post here.