The 5th Wave
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
“Nobody’s gonna know,” he said. “I won’t tell anyone.”
He tried to grab me again. I slapped his hand away with my left and popped him hard in the nose with the open palm of my right. It opened up a faucet of bright red blood. It ran into his mouth, and he gagged.
“Bitch,” he gasped. “At least you’ve got someone. At least everybody you ever frigging knew in your life isn’t dead.”
He busted out in tears. Fell onto the path and gave in to it, the bigness of it, the big Buick that’s parked over you, the horrible feeling that, as bad as it’s been, it’s going to get worse.
I sat on the path next to him. Told him to lean his head back. He complained that made the blood run down his throat.
“Don’t tell anybody,” he begged. “I’ll lose my cred.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” he asked.
“There’s badges for that?”
“There’s badges for everything.”
Actually, it was seven years of karate classes. I dropped karate last year. Don’t remember my reasons now. They seemed like good ones at the time.
“I’m one, too,” he said.
He spat a wad of blood and mucus into the dirt. “A virgin.”
What a shock.
“What makes you think I’m a virgin?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t have hit me if you weren’t.”
ON OUR SIXTH DAY in camp, I saw a drone for the first time.
Glittering gray in the bright afternoon sky.
There was a lot of shouting and running around, people grabbing guns, waving their hats and shirts or just spazzing in general: crying, jumping, hugging, high-fiving one another. They thought they were rescued. Hutchfield and Brogden tried to calm everybody down, but weren’t very successful. The drone zipped across the sky, disappeared behind the trees, then came back, slower this time. From the ground, it looked like a blimp. Hutchfield and Dad huddled in the doorway of the barracks, watching it, swapping a pair of binoculars back and forth.
“No wings. No markings. And did you see that first pass? Mach 2 at least. Unless we’ve launched some kind of classified aircraft, no way this thing is terrestrial.” As he spoke, Hutchfield was popping his fist up and down in the dirt, beating out a rhythm to match the words.
Dad agreed. We were herded into the barracks. Dad and Hutchfield hovered in the doorway, still swapping the binoculars back and forth.
“Is it the aliens?” Sammy asked. “Are they coming, Cassie?”
I looked over and saw Crisco watching me. Twenty minutes, he mouthed.
“If they come, I’m going to beat them up,” Sammy whispered. “I’m going to karate kick them and I’m going to kill them all!”
“That’s right,” I said, nervously running my hand over his hair.
“I’m not going to run,” he said. “I’m going to kill them for killing Mommy.”
The drone vanished—straight up, Dad told me later. If you blinked, you missed it.
We reacted to the drone the way anyone would react.
Some people ran. Grabbed whatever they could carry and raced into the woods. Some just took off with the clothes on their backs and the fear in their guts. Nothing Hutchfield said could stop them.
The rest of us huddled in the barracks until night came on, then we took the freakout party to the next level. Had they spotted us? Were the Stormtroopers or clone army or robot walkers next? Were we about to be fried by laser cannons? It was pitch-black. We couldn’t see a foot in front of our noses, because we didn’t dare light the kerosene lamps. Frantic whispers. Muffled crying. Huddled on our cots, jumping at every little sound. Hutchfield assigned the best marksmen to the night watch. If it moved, shoot it. No one was allowed outside without permission. And Hutchfield never gave permission.
That night lasted a thousand years.
Dad came up to me in the dark and pressed something into my hands.
A loaded semiautomatic Luger.
“You don’t believe in guns,” I whispered.
“I used to not believe in a lot of things.”
A lady started to recite the Lord’s Prayer. We called her Mother Teresa. Big legs. Skinny arms. A faded blue dress. Wispy gray hair. Somewhere along the way she had lost her dentures. She was always working her beads and talking to Jesus. A few others joined her. Then some more. “‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’” At which point her arch nemesis, the sole atheist in Camp Ashpit’s foxhole, a college professor named Dawkins, shouted out, “Particularly those of extraterrestrial origin!”
“You’re going to hell!” a voice yelled at him in the dark.
“How will I know the difference?” Dawkins hollered back.
“Quiet!” Hutchfield called softly from his spot in the doorway. “Stow that praying, people!”
“His judgment has come upon us,” Mother Teresa wailed.
Sammy scooted closer to me on the cot. I shoved the gun between my legs. I was afraid he might grab it and accidently blow my head off.
“Shut up, all of you!” I said. “You’re scaring my brother.”
“I’m not scared,” Sammy said. His little fist twisting in my shirt. “Are you scared, Cassie?”
“Yes,” I said. I kissed the top of his head. His hair smelled a little sour. I decided to wash it in the morning.
If we were still there in the morning.
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re never scared.”
“I’m so scared right now, I could pee my pants.”
He giggled. His face felt warm in the crook of my arm. Did he have a fever? That’s how it starts. I told myself I was being paranoid. He’d been exposed a hundred times. And the Red Tsunami roars in fast once you’re exposed, unless you have immunity. And Sammy had to have it. If he didn’t, he’d already be dead.
“You better put on a diaper,” he teased me.
“Maybe I will.”
“‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’” She wasn’t going to stop. I could hear her beads clicking in the dark. Dawkins was humming loudly to drown her out. “Three Blind Mice.” I couldn’t decide who was more annoying, the fanatic or the cynic.
“Mommy said they might be angels,” Sammy said suddenly.
“Who?” I asked.
“The aliens. When they first came, I asked if they came to kill us, and she said maybe they weren’t aliens at all. Maybe they were angels from heaven, like in the Bible when the angels talk to Abraham and to Mary and to Jesus and everybody.”
“They sure talked a lot more to us back then,” I said.
“But then they did kill us. They killed Mommy.”
He started to cry.
“‘Thou prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies.’”
I kissed the top of his head and rubbed his arms.
“‘Thou anointed my head with oil.’”
“Cassie, does God hate us?”
“No. I don’t know.”
“Does he hate Mommy?”
“Of course not. Mommy was a good person.”
“Then why did he let her die?”
I shook my head. I felt heavy all over, like I weighed twenty thousand tons.
“‘My cup runneth over.’”
“Why did he let the aliens come and kill us? Why doesn’t God stop them?”
“Maybe,” I whispered slowly. Even my tongue felt heavy. “Maybe he will.”
“‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.’”
“Don’t let them get me, Cassie. Don’t let me die.”
“You’re not going to die, Sams.”
THE NEXT DAY, the drone came back.
Or a different drone, identical to the first. The Others probably hadn’t traveled all the way from another planet with just one in the hold.
It moved slowly across the sky. Silent. No growl of an engine. No hum. Just gliding soundlessly, like a fishing lure drawn through still water. We hustled into the barracks. No one had to tell us. I found myself sitting on a cot next to Crisco.
“I know what they’re going to do,” he whispered.
“Don’t talk,” I whispered back.
He nodded, and said, “Sonic bombs. You know what happens when you’re blasted with two hundred decibels? Your eardrums shatter. Your lungs bust open and air gets into your bloodstream, and then your heart collapses.”
“Where do you come up with this crap, Crisco?”
Dad and Hutchfield were crouched by the open door again. They watched the same spot for several minutes. Apparently, the drone had frozen in the sky.
“Here, I got you something,” Crisco said. It was a diamond pendant necklace. Body booty from the ash pit.
“That’s disgusting,” I told him.
“Why? It’s not like I stole it or anything.” He pouted. “I know what it is. I’m not stupid. It’s not the necklace. It’s me. You’d take it in a heartbeat if you thought I was hot.”
I wondered if he was right. If Ben Parish had dug the necklace out of the pit, would I have taken the gift?
“Not that I think you are,” Crisco added.
Bummer. Crisco the grave robber didn’t think I was hot.
“Then why do you want to give it to me?”
“I was a douche that night in the woods. I don’t want you to hate me. Think I’m a creeper.”
A little late for that.
“I don’t want dead people’s jewelry,” I said.
“Neither do they,” he said, meaning dead people.
He wasn’t going to leave me alone. I scooted up to sit behind Dad. Over his shoulder, I saw a tiny gray dot, a silvery freckle on the unblemished skin of the sky.
“What’s happening?” I whispered.
Right when I said that, the dot disappeared. Moved so fast, it seemed to wink out.
“Reconnaissance flights,” Hutchfield breathed. “Has to be.”
“We had satellites that could read someone’s watch from orbit,” Dad said quietly. “If we could do that with our primitive technology, why would they need to leave their ship to spy on us?”
“You got a better theory?” Hutchfield didn’t like his decisions being questioned.
“They may have nothing to do with us,” Dad pointed out. “These things might be atmospheric probes or devices used to measure something they can’t calibrate from space. Or they’re looking for something that can’t be detected until we’re mostly neutralized.”
Then Dad sighed. I knew that sigh. It meant he believed something was true that he didn’t want to be true.
“It comes down to a simple question, Hutchfield: Why are they here? Not to rape the planet for our resources—there’s plenty of those spread evenly throughout the universe, so you don’t have to travel hundreds of light-years to get them. Not to kill us, though killing us—or most of us—is necessary. They’re like a landlord who kicks out a deadbeat renter so he can get the house cleaned up for the new tenant; I think this has always been about getting the place ready.”