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Authors: Jordana Frankel

The Ward

BOOK: The Ward
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DEDICATION

For my mom and dad and grandparents

CONTENTS

Dedication

Prologue

Part One

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

Part Two

Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39

Part Three

Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51

Epilogue

Author’s Notes

About the Author

Back Ads

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

PROLOGUE

T
his is no ordinary flea-bitten day—not for me, it ain’t.

The other kids don’t know that, though. Which is how it’s gotta stay. If any of them found out I was going to the races, they’d tell Miss Nale on me and I’d get stuck washing dishes for a week.

Just go to sleep already
, I whine from under the industry-standard I’d-rather-be-cold-than-itchy blanket. Getting the girls in the corner to quit their gabbing and conk out has got to be harder than scoring extra rainwater rations in this joint.

Even after Miss Nale left the second time around, their machine-gun giggling kept right on.

Boys
. That’s all it ever is. Well, let them waste those perfectly good heartbeats.

If my heart’s gotta beat itself to death, I’d like for it to go out with a bang.

Or, at the very least, a checkered racing flag.

Another thirty minutes, and I hear the healthy kids’ telltale easy breathing. Ten more after that to make sure it’s for real. The girl next to me snores slightly, her whole body slumped and buried under the covers.

Four months ago, she walked into a room full of empty beds and chose the one next to mine. Then she started sitting with me at mealtimes. Then free time. I never talk to her, but she keeps on trying. Always chipper. Odd, too, rummaging around abandoned buildings looking for copper pennies to give away.

She seems nice enough, and that’s exactly why I don’t get attached.

Kids like Aven, they don’t last long in an orphanage. Not with so many parents losing their own to the Blight. Provided she keeps herself from getting sick, she’ll be out of here, adopted in a minute, guaranteed. And if she does catch it . . . well, it’s still a quick turnaround. Dying will do that.

I learned early on, it’s best to keep to yourself. Everyone leaves eventually.

Except for me, of course. I’m the lucky one who gets to watch everyone else go.

Slow moving, I slip out of bed. Bare feet against the floor make me want to yelp—it’s always a bitter cold—but I keep my trap shut. Can’t have anyone waking. On the floor between my bed and Aven’s are her leather clogs, filled to the brim with pennies.

She could sell those things. People love buying pennies ’cause they make nice thank-you gifts. Like giving someone a bit of luck to show you’re grateful for something.

I consider taking one—

Nah
. Who am I kidding? I don’t need luck.

I do, however, need some water, I realize, eyeing the canteen next to her shoes. She always shares her rainwater rations anyway. One swig, I think, uncorking the bottle and downing two instead. I’ll need the extra boost for tonight. Tomorrow, assuming I make it back, I’ll thank her.

I put the canteen down on the floor and head for the window—my escape route to the races. As I slink past, Terrence opens one eye.

Don’t say nothing. You better not say nothing, Ter
. He wants to be a racer too, someday. He’d understand what I’m about to do, but I still freeze, like in that dumb game.

He winks, and closes his eye.

Good boy
.

I tiptoe on. One of the girls in the corner wheezes, stops me dead in my tracks. I hold in my air out of habit. The virus starts just like that, before you get the tumors.

Bet she’ll be gone, off to the sickhouse, by the time I get back.

I plug up my nose and keep walking, though I’ve been in this place thirteen years, without even a sniffle to my name. Miss Nale used to wonder how I never got sick.

“I don’t breathe no germs, that’s how.” That’s what I’d say.

I didn’t know it, but I was wrong.

Just yesterday, Nale sent me to see the orphanage doctor for being “too healthy.” Apparently my not dying was cause for suspicion. Rightly so, as it turns out, ’cause according to Dr. Hartigan, I got something funny in my blood that makes me
immune
. To the Blight. At first, I thought that meant I was gonna die. I started bugging out, and then the doctor explained: Turns out I’m
not
gonna die. Not from the virus, anyway.

Still, I keep my nose plugged until I’m able to lift up the window through the bars and inhale the grimy, salty city air.

One of the girls squeals from behind.

Good grief, don’t they ever sleep?
I think, whipping around.

“Ren! I knew it!”

Faster than a racing Omni, Aven rushes me, her white-blond hair glowing in the dark. “It’s been you making that scratching noise every night, hasn’t it?” she asks, squinting as she clutches my bicep.

I flinch—she’s digging her fingers right where Dr. Hartigan’s needle went.

Her grip loosens when she sees my face pinch up. “What is it?” she asks, and grazes a finger over the leftover bruising.

I shake her off. “Nothing.”

I can’t tell her, or anyone, the truth. Miss Nale and the doctor both said so. He was putting my blood away in his briefcase and that’s when Nale looked at me dead serious. “Do you remember the frog from your science class last year?” she’d asked.

I gulped hard and answered her. “We cut him open and looked at his heart.”

Nale nodded. “He was an experiment, just like you would become. Keep your secret. Avoid the Blues—if they take a blood test and know what to look for, you’ll be at their mercy. You don’t want to be at their mercy, Ren. They have none.”

The doctor nodded with her. Their words still give me the shakes.

And here I thought immunity was a good thing.

Ignoring Aven like usual, I feel around for two slits in the metal near the top and bottom of the window bars. Traded three weeks’ lunches for enough razor blades to make these cuts, but it’s going to pay off. If I can just get out of here . . .

“Go to bed, kid,” I say finally, yanking at the loose spot I’ve kept stuck together with gum.

“You’re leaving? For good?” Her face downs like I punched her in the gut.

“I wish.” Once more, I tug at the bars—that gum is sticking a little too well. “No, this time I’ll be back,” I grunt.

She smiles, relieved. “Good,” she says quickly. “You can’t
leave
leave.”

Aven places her tiny fist over mine on the pole—I don’t quite know what she’s doing, but when she nods, then I get it. Silently, I count to three for the both of us, and together we pull. The bar flies free from the frame and we stagger backward, noisy.

“You’re welcome.” She grins, though I don’t recall saying thank you. “Where did you say you were going?”

I raise an eyebrow. This kid’s got more nerve than I thought.

Guess I could tell her.
Someone
should know where I am, just in case I die and all. “Can you keep a secret?” I ask.

Aven claps her hands. Her extra-long sleeves stifle the sound and she nods her head, bouncy as a ball. “Tell me.”

“The races.”

“Ohh, no.” Her eyes go wide. “Dragsters are crazy, I’ve heard. They won’t slow if you get in their way.” When I grin but don’t answer, she says, “Ohh,” again. Then, “You’re not going to watch, are you? You’re actually racing?”

“That I am.” I puff up some, and pull at the second bar. It’s looser than the first, thankfully. “I’ve got a mechanic waiting for me and everything.”

“Just . . . be careful. Please don’t die.”

I stop what I’m doing. Look at her head-on. “Aven?” I say, thinking of the science class frog, dead on its back. “Did you know that the heart only gets one billion beats in a lifetime?”

Cocking her head, “Okay . . . ?”

“Point being, I most certainly will not be careful. Now, I’m not going to be reckless either. But not going all out is the same as standing in one spot, counting down from a billion, you understand?”

“But you’re a . . .”

“Girl?” I finish.

She nods.

“True enough. Guess I need luck then,” I say, sarcastic, ignoring how I almost took one of her pennies.

“You won’t need it,” Aven tells me matter-of-factly, and I can see she’s thinking something—her pale brows go all knotty. “If anyone can win a roofrace, it’s you. You’re the toughest, bravest person I know.”

Then
I
do a double take, thinking she must not know many tough or brave people.

Neither do I
, I realize.

She smiles and hugs her arms close to her body. “You’re gonna beat everyone. I just know it. You’ll tell me everything?”

For a moment I forget that I’m straddling the window, one leg out in the open, and that I’m about to race for the first time ever.

See,
I
always knew I could win—but to have someone else think it too?

Always knew I liked this kid.

“You know it,” I tell her like we’ve done this before. She beams back at me. Don’t know why I’m so surprised by the fool grin on her face.

I swing my other leg out the window and make a jump for it, dropping down onto the fire escape. The metal clanks and I have visions of the Blues coming after me. Just as I’m about to book it, Aven’s face peeks out of the window, her long braid dangling.

“So . . . I know you’re not going to be careful and all,” she mumbles awkwardly. “And that’s fine. But . . . could you try not to die? You see, I was sort of hoping . . . I was sort of hoping you might come around to it, being my best friend, that is. It’d be nice, don’t you think?”

I can’t quite believe her—is that how people do it? Is that how people get to be friends? I’d sort of avoided the whole shebang. Not worth it when they get adopted and want nothing to do with you anymore, or when they die and you want nothing to do with them.

BOOK: The Ward
6.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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