Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 28

Read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 28

I’m burning.

The cord is chafing my legs into a fiery mass so painful I’m surprised there’s no smoke. I bite back the pain because I have no choice. The mass hysteria of the building is bulldozing my senses, raining down danger all around us. Adam is shouting to me from below, telling me to jump, promising he’ll catch me. I’m too ashamed to admit I’m afraid of the fall.

I never have a chance to make my own decision.

Soldiers are already pouring into what used to be my room, shouting and confused, probably shocked to find Warner in such a feeble position. It was really too easy to overpower him. It worries me.

It makes me think we did something wrong.

A few soldiers pop their heads out of the shattered window and I’m frantic to shimmy down the rope but they’re already moving to unlatch the anchor. I prepare myself for the nauseating sensation of free fall only to realize they’re not trying to drop me. They’re trying to reel me back inside.

Warner must be telling them what to do.

I glance down at Adam below me and finally give in to his calls. I squeeze my eyes shut and let go.

And fall right into his open arms.

We collapse onto the ground, but the breath is knocked out of us for only a moment. Adam grabs my hand and then we’re running.

There’s nothing but empty, barren space stretching out ahead of us. Broken asphalt, uneven pavement, dirt roads, n***d trees, d***g plants, a yellowed city abandoned to the elements d******g in d**d leaves that crunch under our feet. The civilian compounds are short and squat, grouped together in no particular order, and Adam makes sure to stay as far away from them as possible. The loudspeakers are already working against us. The sound of a young, smoothly mechanical female voice drowns out the sirens.

“Curfew is now in effect. Everyone return to their homes immediately. There are rebels on the loose. They are armed and ready to fire. Curfew is now in effect. Everyone return to their homes immediately. There are rebels on the loose. They are armed and ready to fi—”

My sides are cramping, my skin is tight, my throat dry, desperate for water. I don’t know how far we’ve run. All I know is the sound of boots pounding the pavement, the screech of tires peeling out of underground storage units, alarms wailing in our wake.

I look back to see people screaming and running for shelter, ducking away from the soldiers rushing through their homes, pounding down doors to see if we’ve found refuge somewhere inside. Adam pulls me away from civilization and heads toward the abandoned streets of an earlier decade: old shops and restaurants, narrow side streets and abandoned playgrounds. The unregulated land of our past lives has been strictly off-limits. It’s forbidden territory. Everything closed down. Everything broken, rusted shut, lifeless. No one is allowed to trespass here. Not even soldiers.

And we’re charging through these streets, trying to stay out of sight.

The sun is slipping through the sky and tripping toward the edge of the earth. Night will be coming quickly, and I have no idea where we are. I never expected so much to happen so quickly and I never expected it all to happen on the same day. I just have to hope to survive but idea where we might be headed. It never occurred to me to ask Adam where we might go.

We’re darting in a million directions. Turning abruptly, going forward a few feet only to head back in an opposite path. My best guess is that Adam is trying to confuse and/or distract our followers as much as possible. I can do nothing but attempt to keep up.

And I fail.

Adam is a trained soldier. He’s built for exactly these kinds of situations. He understands how to flee, how to stay inconspicuous, how to move soundlessly in any space. I, on the other hand, am a broken girl who’s known no exercise for too long. My lungs are burning with the effort to inhale oxygen, wheezing with the effort to exhale carbon dioxide.

I’m suddenly gasping so desperately Adam is forced to pull me into a side street. He’s breathing a little harder than usual, but I’ve acquired a full-time job choking on the weakness of my limp body.

Adam takes my face in his hands and tries to focus my eyes. “I want you to breathe like I am, okay?” I wheeze a bit more.

“Focus, Juliette.” His eyes are so determined. Infinitely patient. He looks fearless and I envy him his composure. “Calm your heart,” he says. “Breathe exactly as I do.”

He takes 3 small breaths in, holds it for a few seconds, and releases it in one long exhalation. I try to copy him. I’m not very good at it.

“Okay. I want you to keep breathing like—” He stops. His eyes dart up and around the abandoned street for a split second. I know we have to move.

Gunshots shatter the atmosphere. I’d never realized just how loud they are or just how much that sound fractures every functioning bone in my body. An icy chill seeps through my blood and I know immediately that they’re not trying to k**l me. They’re trying to k**l Adam.

I’m suddenly asphyxiated by a new kind of anxiety. I can’t let them hurt him. Not for me.

But Adam doesn’t have time for me to catch my breath and find my head. He flips me up and into his arms and takes off in a diagonal dash across another alleyway.

And we’re running.

And I’m breathing.

And he shouts, “Wrap your arms around my neck!” and I release the choke hold I have on his T-shirt and I’m stupid enough to feel shy as I slip my arms around him. He readjusts me against him so I’m higher, closer to his chest. He carries me like I weigh less than nothing.

I close my eyes and press my cheek against his neck.

The gunshots are somewhere behind us, but even I can tell from the sound that they’re too far away and too far in the wrong direction. We seem to have momentarily outmaneuvered them. Their cars can’t even find us, because Adam has avoided all main streets. He seems to have his own map of this city. He seems to know exactly what he’s doing—like he’s been planning this for a very long time.

After inhaling exactly 594 times Adam drops me to my feet in front of a stretch of chain-link fence. I realize he’s struggling to s*****w oxygen, but he doesn’t pant like I do. He knows how to regulate his breathing. He knows how to steady his pulse, calm his heart, maintain control over his organs. He knows how to survive. I hope he’ll teach me, too.

“Juliette,” he says after a breathless moment. “Can you jump this fence?”

I’m so eager to be more than a useless lump that I nearly sprint up and over the metal barrier. But I’m reckless. And too hasty. I practically rip my dress off and scratch my legs in the process. I wince against the stinging pain, and in the moment it takes me to reopen my eyes, Adam is already standing next to me.

He looks down at my legs and sighs. He almost laughs. I wonder what I must look like, tattered and wild in this shredded dress. The slit Warner created now stops at my hip bone. I must look like a crazed animal.

Adam doesn’t seem to mind.

He’s slowed down, too. We’re moving at a brisk walk now, no longer barreling through the streets. I realize we must be closer to some semblance of safety, but I’m not sure if I should ask questions now, or save them for later. Adam answers my silent thoughts.

“They won’t be able to track me out here,” he says, and it dawns on me that all soldiers must have some kind of tracking device on their person. I wonder why I never got one.

It shouldn’t be this easy to escape.

“Our trackers aren’t tangible,” he explains. We make a left into another alleyway. The sun is just dipping below the horizon. I wonder where we are. How far away from Reestablished settlements we must be that there are no people here. “It’s a special serum injected into our bloodstream,” he continues, “and it’s designed to work with our bodies’ natural processes. It would know, for example, if I died. It’s an excellent way to keep track of soldiers lost in combat.” He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. He smiles a crooked smile I want to kiss.

“So how did you confuse the tracker?”

His grin grows bigger. He waves one hand around us. “This space we’re standing in? It was used for a nuclear power plant. One day the whole thing exploded.”

My eyes are as big as my face. “When did that happen?”

“About five years ago. They cleaned it up pretty quickly. Hid it from the media, from the people. No one really knows what happened here. But the radiation alone is enough to k**l.” He pauses. “It already has.”

He stops walking. “I’ve been through this area a million times already, and I haven’t been affected by it. Warner used to send me up here to collect samples of the soil. He wanted to study the effects.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I think he was hoping to manipulate the toxicity into a poison of some kind.

“The first time I came up here, Warner thought I’d died. The tracker is linked to all of our main processing systems—an alert goes off whenever a soldier is lost. He knew there was a risk in sending me, so I don’t think he was too surprised to hear I’d died. He was more surprised to see me return.” He shrugs, as though his d***h would’ve been an insignificant detail. “There’s something about the chemicals here that counteracts the molecular composition of the tracking device. So basically—right now everyone thinks I’m d**d.”

“Won’t Warner suspect you might be here?”

“Maybe.” He squints up at the fading sunlight. Our shadows are long and unmoving. “Or I could’ve been shot. In any case, it buys us some time.”

He takes my hand and grins at me before something slams into my consciousness.

“What about me?” I ask. “Can’t this radiation k**l me?” I hope I don’t sound as nervous as I feel. I’ve never wanted to be alive so much in my life. I don’t want to lose everything so soon.

“Oh—no.” He shakes his head. “Sorry, I forgot to tell you—one of the reasons why Warner wanted me collecting these samples? Is because you’re immune to it, too. He was studying you. He said he found the information in your hospital records. That you’d been tested—”

“But no one ever—”

“—probably without your knowledge, and despite testing positive for the radiation, you were entirely whole, biologically. There was nothing inherently wrong with you.”

Nothing inherently wrong with you.

The observation is so blatantly false I actually start laughing. I try to stifle my incredulity. “There’s nothing wrong with me? You’re kidding, right?”

Adam stares at me so long I begin to blush. He tips my chin up so I meet his eyes. Blue blue blue boring into me. His voice is deep, steady. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh.”

He’s so excruciatingly correct I don’t know how to respond except with the truth. My smile is tucked into a straight line. “Laughter comes from living.” I shrug, try to sound indifferent. “I’ve never really been alive before.”

His eyes haven’t wavered in their focus. He’s holding me in place with the strength of one powerful pull coming from deep within him. I can almost feel his heart beating against my skin. I can almost feel his lips breathing against my lungs. I can almost taste him on my tongue.

He takes a shaky breath and pulls me close. Kisses the top of my head.

“Let’s go home,” he whispers