Authors: Lex Thomas
We bring stories to life
First published by Egmont USA, 2014
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806
New York, NY 10016
Copyright © Lex Thomas, 2014
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Burnouts / Lex Thomas.
1 online resource. — (Quarantine; book three)
Summary: In this final installment of the Quarantine trilogy, David and Will are alive, but on the outside of McKinley High, while Lucy is the last of the trinity left inside to deal with Hilary, who will exact revenge before taking over McKinley High.
ISBN 978-1-60684-339-0 (eBook) — ISBN 978-1-60684-338-3 (hardcover)
[1. Quarantine — Fiction. 2. Survival — Fiction. 3. High schools—Fiction.
4. Schools — Fiction. 5. Science fiction.] I. Title.
[Fic] — dc23
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Thanks for keeping the city safe.
“I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD,” WILL SAID
“I’m sorry,” David said. “I can’t imagine what that was like for you.”
David wore a gas mask. His breath was loud through its filters. He breathed slow and steady, like an iron lung. The mask wasn’t like the ones that Will had seen the military wear. Twin black cylindrical air filters hung off the chin, and a clear plastic face shield allowed Will to see all of David’s face from his lower lip up. His eye was smiling. There had been so many things Will had regretted not saying to David when he’d found out he was dead, and now he was at a loss for words.
Will looked around the overdecorated Airstream trailer. It hadn’t been the worst place to count down the hours until he was virus-free. The place had a bed, a kitchenette, an eating nook with seating for two, and a couch. Orange light from amber bulbs in thrift-store lamps warmed the room. Floral
design contact paper covered the countertop. Plaid curtains over tiny windows looked out to black night. The trailer had definitely been decorated by one of the mothers, by a chorus of mothers, maybe. There were comforting touches everywhere. Ruffles hanging off things, embroidered pillows, fanciful books aimed at middle schoolers. Newsprint hangman and Mad Libs activity booklets like you see in truck stops. There were teddy bears. Four bears to be exact—a black one, a polar bear, a koala, and a hot-pink one that was half the size of the others. He’d found them arranged in a line at the head of the bed. The fridge was plastered with Disney cartoon refrigerator magnets. There were decorative wooden signs hanging, with words like
and cheerful phrases like
Tomorrow is a new day
“Who told you I was dead?” David said.
“One of the kids from the outside, the Saints, he said he saw a body with a white eye patch in a house that sounded like ours. I didn’t know what else to think.”
David sagged and shook his head. “I never imagined that you’d hear about that.”
“Hear about what?” Will said. “I don’t understand.”
David started to say something and then stopped. His good eye wandered toward the kitchenette window. Will’s stomach started to knot.
“Ugh, so dramatic.” Will said. “You’re killing me over here.”
David laughed. Will had forgotten what that sounded like. It was a good sound.
“When I got out, it wasn’t what I’d expected. There was no one in town. Not even the military. I limped through downtown, and every store was empty, every house deserted. I felt like I’d never see another human being, but then I did.”
David swatted away a fly that had landed on his face shield.
“Two guys in haz-mat suits in a red pickup truck. They saw my white hair and must have assumed I was still infected, ’cause they fired on me. I ran, but they started hunting me through town. I barely got away from them, and when I did, I headed straight home.”
“To our house?” Will said with wonder. He’d spent countless nights in McKinley thinking of their family home. Sometimes, imagining he was there, in his room, had been the only way he could get to sleep. “Is it the same?”
David winced. “Dad was out of town when the infection hit, so our house didn’t get boarded up like the others. The windows were all shattered. The front door was hanging off its hinges. I went in and the living room looked like a drained pond. Junk on the floor, black mold all over the carpet. Animals had shit on the coffee table. The old couch was torn to pieces.”
Each detail stung Will anew. He and David and their parents had played Pictionary and eaten pizza on that couch more times than he could remember.
“I found that old family photo on the mantel. Remember the one that Mom made us all wear Charlie Brown sweaters in?”
Will had always hated that photo. He looked like an idiot in it, but it had always made his mother laugh. Hearing about it now, he longed to see it again. He was starting to forget what her face looked like.
“Do you still have it?” Will asked.
“I wish. I was sitting in the easy chair by the big bay window—”
“The comfy chair?”
David smiled. “Yeah, the comfy chair. I was sitting there, staring at the picture, when this kid comes stomping down the stairs. White hair—infected.”
“He was living in our house?!” Will said, outraged.
“Oh, yeah, he’d set up shop, all right. He was wearing four sets of my clothes and waving around Mom’s butcher knife.”
“And you didn’t have a mask or anything?”
David shook his head, dead serious. “I held my breath.”
“He started shouting, ‘Yo, this is MY spot! Who the hell are you?’ Then he stopped right in front of the bay window. He looks at me sideways, lowers the knife to his side, and goes, ‘I know you.… You’re in all the pictures.’ Then the window exploded. Out of nowhere. Machine guns blasting, and the kid got drilled with bullets. Dropped dead.”
“I peeked out the window, fucking terrified, and I see the red pickup truck and those two hunters again, heading for the front door. My lungs were burning, I thought for sure I was going to die if didn’t run for it, but I also knew that they’d tracked me to our house. If they saw that they’d killed someone else, they’d keep on hunting me. That’s when I got the idea. The dead kid was about my size … so I grabbed a shard of glass and shoved it in his eye, then slipped my eye patch over it. I felt like my lungs were gonna pop. I jumped out the window and booked it out of there.”
David sat back as the story settled over Will.
“Whoa.” It was all Will could manage to say.
“I was just trying to throw the hunters off my trail. I never wanted you to hear about it. I had no idea.”
“It’s okay,” Will said. “I think I’ll get over it.”
He was downplaying it for a laugh, but the truth was, having his brother back felt like a miracle.
“I missed you,” Will blurted out, and then felt awkward.
“Missed you too, shithead.”
Will laughed. But then there was that uncomfortable silence again. The walkie-talkie on David’s hip squelched and he turned it down.
“How long have you been working with the parents?” Will said.
Will almost didn’t ask, but he needed to know. “Were
you with them when they trapped us back inside?”
David shook his head. “But … I can understand why they did it.”
Will couldn’t hide his shock. “Really? How can you possibly say that?”
“Nothing’s like it used to be, Will,” David said. “The whole country’s … sick. They’re not afraid to murder infected teens—laws or no laws. These parents here, all they want to do is protect their sons and daughters from the maniacs out there.”
“What about the maniacs inside school?”
“Like the ones that pull kids’ heads off in front of their dads?”
Will sank in his seat. He felt his cheeks warm.
“I told you it was an accident,” Will said. “I never would have done that on purpose, believe me. But the guy gave me no other choice! He said I couldn’t leave without Sam. Sam was already dead, so I did what I had to do.”
David’s face didn’t offer the forgiveness he’d hoped for. “I’m not gonna lie … it’s a problem. Sam’s dad pretty much runs the farm. And he doesn’t like you, to say the least.”
“Do they make ‘sorry I pulled off your son’s head’ greeting cards?”
David stared at Will blankly. Will felt a pinch of dread. Maybe the joke was in bad taste, but come on, this was Sam they were talking about. David burst out laughing. It made
Will trust him again, really for the first time since he’d discovered he was alive. Will smiled. If David was still the guy who hated Sam, then he was still his brother.
“Don’t worry,” David said. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out.”
That warmed Will. David would always have his back.
“Well, I guess we should get to it,” David said.
“Get to what?”
David picked a toolbox off the floor. He put it on the table. He opened it and pulled out a small plastic box full of needles, alcohol towelette packets, and thin strips of red paper.
“Lemme see your hand,” David said.
Will produced it. David took hold of his index finger and stabbed it with a lancet.
“Ow! What the fuck?” Will said, and yanked his hand back. A bead of blood swelled on his fingertip.
“Quit being a baby,” David said with a little smile. He took Will’s hand again, picked up one of the red strips of paper from his toolbox, and touched it to the blood bead. The blood spread eagerly through the pores of the paper. David held the strip up to the thrift-store lamp behind him. Will waited for a reaction.
“Is it supposed to do something?”
“If you were still infected, the blood would dissolve the paper. And … that’s not happening,” David said. “Congratulations, you’re officially virus-free.”
He pulled off his mask. The sight of David’s whole face, unobscured by a breathing device, made Will tear up. For the first time since Will and the Loners had lugged David to the ruins, bruised as an old pear, there were no barriers between them. No fence. No mask. No virus. David breathed the same air as Will. Somehow, David’s new black eye patch and dark hair made him look more intimidating than the white one ever did. He looked more grown up. He was six inches taller than Will, with broader shoulders. David would always be bigger than him, because graduating early meant Will had finished puberty early. He’d be this size forever.
Will gave his eyes a quick rub so David wouldn’t see they were wet.
“You’re just as ugly as I remember,” Will said.
“Did you get shorter?” David volleyed back.
“Good to know you’re still not funny.”
“Rather be unfunny than have breath like yours. Do you eat diapers?” David said, waving his hand in front of his nose.