The 5th Wave
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“Tell me, Evan. Just—tell—me.” Oh God, what’s he going to tell me? My body tightens up. Never mind, Evan. Don’t tell me.
“Let me go.”
I shake my head, confused. Is this a joke? I look down at his hand on my knee, fingers gently squeezing. “I thought you were going.”
“I mean, let me go.” Giving my knee a tiny shake to get me to look at him.
Then I get it. “Let you go by yourself. I stay here, and you go find my brother.”
“Okay, now, you promised to hear me out—”
“I didn’t promise you anything.” I push his hand off my knee. The thought of his leaving me behind isn’t just offensive—it’s terrifying. “My promise was to Sammy, so drop it.”
He doesn’t. “But you don’t know what’s out there.”
“And you do?”
“Better than you.”
He reaches for me; I put my hand against his chest. Oh no, buddy. “Then tell me what’s out there.”
He throws up his hands. “Think about who has a better chance of living long enough to keep your promise. I’m not saying it’s because you’re a girl or because I’m stronger or tougher or whatever. I’m saying if just one of us goes, then the other one would still have a chance of finding him in case the worst happens.”
“Well, you’re probably right about that last part. But it shouldn’t be you who tries first. He’s my brother. Like hell I’m going to wait around here for a Silencer to knock on the door and ask to borrow a cup of sugar. I’ll just go by myself.”
I push myself off the sofa like I’m heading out at that very second. He grabs my arm; I yank it back.
“Stop it, Evan. You keep forgetting that I’m letting you go with me, not the other way around.”
He drops his head. “I know. I know that.” Then a rueful laugh. “I also knew what your answer would be, but I had to ask.”
“Because you think I can’t take care of myself?”
“Because I don’t want you to die.”
WE’VE BEEN PREPARING for weeks. On this last day, there wasn’t much left to do except wait for nightfall. We’re traveling light; Evan thought we could reach Wright-Patterson in two or three nights, barring an unexpected delay like another blizzard or one of us getting killed—or both of us getting killed, which would delay the operation indefinitely.
Despite keeping my supplies to a bare minimum, I have trouble getting Bear to fit into the backpack. Maybe I should cut off his legs and tell Sammy they were blown off by the Eye that took out Camp Ashpit.
The Eye. That would be better, I decided: not a bullet to Vosch’s brain, but an alien bomb jammed down his pants.
“Maybe you shouldn’t take him,” Evan says.
“Maybe you should shut up,” I mutter, pushing Bear’s head down into his stomach and tugging the zipper closed. “There.”
Evan is smiling. “You know, when I first saw you in the woods, I thought he was your bear.”
His smile fades.
“You didn’t find me in the woods,” I remind him. Suddenly the room feels about ten degrees colder. “You found me in the middle of a snowbank.”
“I meant I was in the woods, not you,” he says. “I saw you from the woods a half mile away.”
I’m nodding. Not because I believe him. I’m nodding because I know I’m right not to.
“You’re not out of those woods yet, Evan. You’re sweet and you have incredible cuticles, but I’m still not sure why your hands are so soft, or why you smelled like gunpowder the night you supposedly visited your girlfriend’s grave.”
“I told you last night, I haven’t helped around the farm in two years, and I was cleaning my gun earlier that day. I don’t know what else I can—”
I cut him off. “I’m only trusting you because you’re handy with a rifle and haven’t killed me with it, even though you’ve had about a thousand opportunities. Don’t take this personally, but there’s something I don’t get about you and this whole situation, but that doesn’t mean I’m never going to get it. I’ll figure it out, and if the truth is something that puts you on the other side of me, then I will do what I have to do.”
“What?” Smiling that damned lopsided, sexy grin, shoulders up, hands stuffed deep in his pockets with a sort of aw-shucks attitude, which I guess is meant to drive me the good kind of crazy. What is it about him that makes me want to slap him and kiss him, run from him and to him, throw my arms around him and knee him in the balls, all at the same time? I’d like to blame the Arrival for the effect he has on me, but something tells me guys have been doing this to us for a lot longer than a few months.
“What I have to do,” I tell him.
I head upstairs. Thinking about what I have to do reminded me of something I meant to do before we left.
In the bathroom, I poke around in the drawers until I find a pair of scissors, and then proceed to lop off six inches of my hair. The floorboards creak behind me, and I shout, “Stop lurking!” without turning around. A second later, Evan sticks his head into the room.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“Symbolically cutting my hair. What are you doing? Oh, that’s right. Following me, lurking in doorways. One of these days maybe you’ll work up the courage to step over the threshold, Evan.”
“It looks like you’re actually cutting your hair.”
“I’ve decided to get rid of all the things that bug me.” Giving him a look in the mirror.
“Why does it bug you?”
“Why are you asking?” Looking at my reflection now, but he’s there in the corner of my eye. Damn it, more symbolism.
He wisely makes an exit. Snip, snip, snip, and the sink fills up with my curls. I hear him clumping around downstairs, then the kitchen door slamming. I guess I was supposed to ask his permission first. Like he owns me. Like I’m a puppy he found lost in the snow.
I step back to examine my handiwork. With the short cut and no makeup, I look about twelve years old. Okay, no older than fourteen. But with the right attitude and the right prop, someone might mistake me for a tween. Maybe even offer me a ride to safety on their friendly yellow school bus.
That afternoon a gray sheet of clouds draws itself across the sky, bringing an early dusk. Evan disappears again and comes back a few minutes later carrying two five-gallon containers of gasoline. I give him a look, and he says, “I was thinking a diversion might help.”
It takes me a minute to process. “You’re going to burn down your house?”
He nods. He seems kind of excited about the prospect.
“I’m going to burn down my house.”
He lugs one of the containers upstairs to douse the bedrooms. I go out onto the porch to escape the fumes. A big black crow is hopping across the yard, and he stops and gives me a beady-eyed look. I consider pulling out my gun and shooting him.
I don’t think I’d miss. I’m a pretty good shot now, thanks to Evan, and also I really hate birds.
The door opens behind me and a wave of nauseating fumes roars out. I step off the porch and the crow takes off, screeching. Evan splashes down the porch, then tosses the empty can against the side of the house.
“The barn,” I say. “If you wanted to create a diversion, you should have burned down the barn. That way the house would still be here when we get back.” Because I’d like to believe we’re coming back, Evan. You, me, and Sammy, one big happy family.
“You know we’re not coming back,” he says, and lights the match.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER and I’ve completed the circle that connects me and Sammy as if by a silver cord, returning to the place where I made my promise.
Camp Ashpit is exactly how I left it, which means there is no Camp Ashpit, just a dirt road cutting through woods interrupted by a mile-wide emptiness where Camp Ashpit used to be, the ground harder than steel and bare of everything, even the tiniest weed or blade of grass or dead leaf. Of course, it’s winter, but somehow I don’t think when springtime comes this Other-made clearing will blossom like a meadow.
I point to a spot on our right. “That’s where the barracks was. I think. It’s hard to tell without any point of reference except the road. Over there the storage shed. Back that way the ash pit, and farther back the ravine.”
Evan is shaking his head with wonder. “There’s nothing left.” He stamps his foot on the rock-hard ground.
“Oh yeah, there is. I’m left.”
He sighs. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m being too intense,” I say.
“Hmmm. Not really like you.” He tries out a smile, but his smile isn’t working that well lately. He’s been very quiet since we left his house burning in the middle of farm country. In the waning daylight, he kneels on the hard ground, pulls out the map, and points at our location with his flashlight.
“The dirt road over there isn’t on the map, but it must connect with this road, maybe around here? We can follow it to 675, and then it’s a straight shot to Wright-Patterson.”
“How far?” I ask, peering over his shoulder.
“About twenty-five or thirty miles. Another day if we push it.”
“We’ll push it.”
I sit down beside him and dig through his pack for something to eat. I find some cured mystery meat wrapped in wax paper and a couple of hard biscuits. I offer one to Evan. He shakes his head no.
“You need to eat,” I scold him. “Stop worrying so much.”
He’s afraid we’ll run out of food. He has his rifle, of course, but there’ll be no hunting during this phase of the rescue operation. We have to pass quietly through the countryside—not that the countryside has been particularly quiet. The first night, we heard gunfire. Sometimes the echo of a single gun going off, sometimes more than one. Always in the distance, though, never close enough to freak us out. Maybe lone hunters like Evan, living off the land. Maybe roving gangs of Twigs. Who knew? Maybe there are other sixteen-year-old girls with M16s stupid enough to think they are humanity’s last representatives on Earth.
He gives in and takes one of the biscuits. Gnaws off a hunk. Chews thoughtfully, looking around the wasteland as the light dies. “What if they’ve stopped running buses?” he asks for the hundredth time. “How do we get in?”
“We come up with something else.” Cassie Sullivan: expert strategic planner.
He gives me a look. “Professional soldiers. Humvees. And Black Hawks. And this—what did you call it?—green-eyed bomb. We better come up with something good.”
He jams the map into his pocket and stands up, adjusting the rifle over his shoulder. He’s on the verge of something. I’m not sure what. Tears? Screams? Laughter?
Me too. All three. And maybe not for the same reasons. I’ve decided to trust him, but like somebody once said, you can’t force yourself to trust. So you put all your doubts in a little box and bury it deep and then try to forget where you buried it. My problem is that buried box is like a scab I can’t stop picking at.