Blackout

Page 11


“Testing,” she repeated. Her chest felt hollow, as if she were collapsing in on herself.

“Maybe the terrorists spread poison or something,” Jack said.

Aubrey nodded, though she knew he was wrong. She didn’t know what her invisibility had to do with terrorists, but she knew—she just knew—they were after her.

Jack met her gaze. “We should turn ourselves in.”

She was suddenly panicked. “What? No.”

“What if we’ve been poisoned? If they’re testing for something, what if we have it?”

“We don’t,” she said, standing up. She nervously ran a hand through her hair. Everything was falling apart.

“Here, look.” Jack pointed to the TV. “This is up by Salt Lake.”

It was a helicopter view of a dark road. Below them was a long convoy of vehicles. The news anchors were speculating about the destination of the convoy, listing half a dozen military installations in Utah and Idaho. They weren’t explaining anything about who was in the buses or why.

“Why would they be testing people somewhere else?” Aubrey asked, trying to breathe calmly. “Why not just do it here, in the high school gym or something?”

“Maybe we’re contagious?”

“No,” she said.

“I really think we need to turn ourselves in,” he said. “What if we’re making your dad sick?”

“No,” Aubrey repeated, and suddenly realized that her dad was gone. “Where did he go?”

Jack’s eyes didn’t leave the screen. “He said he was going outside for a smoke.”

“Great.” Her voice was quiet and angry.

“Listen,” Jack said, muting the TV and turning to face her. His voice was even, but nervous. “I know that tonight was crazy. I know you and Nate were close.”

“We weren’t close,” she snapped, pacing into the kitchen.

“Okay,” he said. “Whatever. This sucks, but the important thing is that we don’t get into more trouble.”

“You don’t understand,” she said, moving her hands like she couldn’t figure out where to put them—from her hips to her face to her hair.

“What is going on?”

She was on the other side of the kitchen counter from him, and grabbed onto the edge for support. She didn’t want to tell him. She couldn’t.

She had to.

“Turn off the TV for a second,” she said.

Jack fumbled with the remote and then clicked it off. “What’s going on?” he repeated.

She was hyperventilating. She and Nicole had sworn that neither of them would tell another soul. But now Nicole was on a bus heading who-knows-where.

Aubrey stepped out from behind the counter, her knees feeling weak.

“Look at me.”

“What?”

“Just watch.” And then she disappeared. She saw the look on his face that she’d seen on so many others as she’d practiced. In their minds, she hadn’t just blinked out of sight, but she wasn’t there anymore. Confusion spread across his face.

“Where did you go?” he asked.

She reappeared, and his eyes slowly focused back on her.

She spoke before he could. “Tell me what you saw.”

He was plainly puzzled. “I’m not sure. Did you go back behind the counter?”

“Nope,” she said. “Right here the whole time.”

“But . . .” he started.

“Jack,” she said, taking an anxious step toward him. “This is why I can’t turn myself in. I’m like Nate.”

He just stared, more confused than scared, which Aubrey considered a small victory. “You’re not like Nate,” he finally said.

“I don’t know what Nate was,” she said. “But he was different. And I’m different, too. I think they’re testing to find us.”

Now Jack stood up. “What are you?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m Aubrey, same as I’ve always been.”

Jack shook his head. “The Aubrey I knew couldn’t do . . . what did you do again?”

“I can disappear,” she said, her voice shaking. “I can’t explain it, so don’t ask me to.”

“It wasn’t like you disappeared,” he said.

“I know. Here, watch again.”

A second time she vanished, and once again Jack stared, flustered. He reached an arm out, swiping through the air. She grabbed his hand and reappeared.

He flinched as she came back, and pulled his hand away. “What are you doing?”

She didn’t want him to be like this. She wanted him to be impressed, amazed. That’s how Nicole had been. She’d immediately seen how valuable Aubrey could be.

“How do you do . . . that?” he asked.

“I just do,” she said. “Now do you see why I can’t turn myself in? This has to be what they’re testing for.”

Jack nodded blankly.

She couldn’t stand the strange way he was watching her. He was her oldest friend and he was looking at her like she was someone—something—foreign and strange. Like she was a freak.

He was right.

Her fingers clutched the edge of the counter.

After a long pause, Jack spoke. “The Pattens’ cabin.”

“What?”

“Eric Patten’s cabin. His family left town to go be with his grandma in Montana. We could go to their cabin—no one will be there.”

She tilted her head slightly toward him. “What do you mean ‘we’? You should turn yourself in.”

“Yeah, right.”

Aubrey turned around again. He looked tired, but he was standing firm, rubbing the back of his neck while he thought.

“If they’re testing for . . . whatever it is you can do, then that means they aren’t searching for me. If I get caught then I’ll just say I was afraid and running.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not going to leave you.”

Suddenly she was less scared of him than for him. Nate had been killed. What would happen if they found out Jack was helping her? “I can take care of myself. You’re not the only one who knows how to fish and hunt.”

His head was down, staring at the cluttered mess as he rubbed his neck.

“I’ve been to the Pattens’ cabin,” Aubrey continued. “I can find it. They have food storage there.” She didn’t add that she could steal anything else she needed from the grocery store.

Jack still gazed at the floor, not responding.

“I’m going to pack,” she said, and took a step toward her bedroom.

“I thought your dad stopped smoking.”

“Huh? Well, he did for a while.” She hadn’t seen him smoke in a long time. The little spare money he had usually went for cheap beer.

Jack bent over and picked up a paper from the floor. It was wrinkled, with torn corners where it had been taped to something. He handed it to her.

The font was bold and simple, with an official seal top and center.

WE NEED YOUR HELP

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a highly contagious virus in your area. By order of the President of the United States and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all persons between the ages of 13 and 20 are to be tested and quarantined for the protection of both themselves and others.

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