End of Days Page 17

But I don’t stop her.

I want to. Oh, Christ, I want to.

But I don’t.

My eyes burn and sting with tears. This is too much for me. I want my mom.

All this time, I’ve been thinking that I’m the strong one, that I’m making the hard choices and carrying the weight of responsibility for my family on my shoulders. But I realize now that the toughest choices, the ones that will haunt us for the rest of our lives, are ones that my mom is still sheltering me from.

Isn’t that what happened when the Resistance caught Paige like an animal? I was still trying to feed her soup and hamburgers while my mother already knew what she needed. Wasn’t she the one who took Paige out there to the grove so she could find a victim for her?

I can’t even look away. My feet feel leaden, and my eyes refuse to close. This is who my sister is now.

Her lip curls, flashing the tips of her razor-grafted teeth.

I hear a faint groan. My heart almost stops. Did that come from the man or from Paige? Is he alive?

Paige is close enough to be able to tell. She lifts his arm up to her mouth, showing all of her razor teeth.

I try to call to her, but what comes out is just a puff of breath. He’s dead. He must be. Still, I can’t look away, and my heart pounds in my ears.

She stops with his arm in front of her mouth, her nose crinkled, and her lips drawn back like a growling dog.

The piece of paper the man is still holding is now in front of her face. She pauses to stare at it.

She pushes the man’s hand out to get a better look.

The skin of her nose straightens, and her mouth closes, hiding her teeth behind her lips. Her eyes warm as she stares at the paper. Her mouth begins to tremble, and she moves his arm back onto his chest. She leans away from the man.

Paige puts her hands up to cradle her head, swaying gently back and forth like a worn-out woman with too many problems.

Then she spins and runs off into the darkness.

I stand in the shadows, my heart slowly tearing over what she’s going through. My baby sister is choosing to be human against all her new animal instincts. And she’s doing it at the cost of starving to death.

I walk over to the man and bend down to see what he’s holding. I step around high-heeled shoes and makeup jars to reach him. He’s still breathing but unconscious.

Still breathing.

I sit down shakily next to him, not sure if my wobbly legs will hold me up.

His clothes are dirty and worn, and his beard and hair are scraggly, as if he’s been on the road for weeks. Someone once told me that heart attacks can last for days. I wonder how long he’s been here.

I have the craziest urge to call an ambulance.

It’s hard to believe that we used to live in a world where complete strangers would have given him medicine and hooked him up to machines to monitor his condition. They would have looked after him around the clock. Absolute strangers who knew nothing about him. Strangers who wouldn’t have even rummaged through his stuff to steal useful items.

And everyone would have thought that was perfectly normal.

I lift his arm to see what’s on the paper he’s holding. I don’t want to take it out of his hand, because whatever it is, it must have been important enough for him to get it out and grip it as he’s dying.

It’s a torn and stained piece of paper with a kid’s crayon drawing. A house, a tree, a stick figure adult holding the hand of a stick figure kid. Scrawled along the bottom in shaky block letters are the words ‘I Love You, Daddy’ in pink crayon.

I look at it for a long time in the shadowy light before I put his hand back down gently on his chest.

I drag him as carefully as I can until he’s lying flat on the carpet instead of on the pile of mannequins on the tiled floor.

There’s a backpack nearby that I also bring and set beside him. He must have taken it off when he started to feel bad. I rummage through and find a water bottle.

His head is warm and heavy on my arm as I tilt it for the water. Most of it spills out around his lips, but some of it trickles into his mouth. His throat reflexively swallows, making me wonder if he’s completely out.

I put his head down, making sure there’s a folded jacket to cushion it. I can’t think of anything else to do. So I leave him to his business of dying.

14

I find the most normal clothes I can for Paige. A pink shirt with a sparkly heart, jeans, high-tops, and a zip-up sweater. I make sure everything but her shirt is a dark color so she won’t be seen at night. I also make sure that the sweater has a big enough hood to shadow her face in case we need to go unnoticed.

For me, it’s black boots, black jeans, and a maroon top that will hide the blood that’s bound to stain it. I just hope that blood will be someone else’s instead of mine. I might as well dress postapocalyptic practical. I also grab a down jacket that’s as light as a . . . I put it down and pick a dark fleece jacket instead. I’m not in the mood for angel reminders right now.

Raffe has found a baseball cap and a dark trench coat that covers his wings. He looks good in a baseball cap.

I mentally roll my eyes at myself. I’m such a dork. The world is coming to an end, my sister is a man-eating monster, there’s a dying man in the store with us, and we’ll be lucky to survive another night. And I’m here drooling after a guy who doesn’t even want me. He’s not even human. How messed up is that? Sometimes, I wish I could take a vacation from myself.

I shove his coat and cap into my backpack with more force than necessary.

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