Henry’s head lolled to one side. His ears felt as though there were stuffed with cotton. His flesh felt raw and swollen. His face, especially, stung like an exposed nerve. His entire body felt rusted into place, the way a scab crusts over and makes the wound stiff. He could barely move. He struggled to open his eyes.
He was lying face down on the floor, blood pooling beneath his cheek. He heard a door slam.
“Point that gun away from me.”
Henry’s head lurched up. A spasm of agony burst through his head, bright red spots dancing before his eyes. He recognized that voice.
Hands hooked into the back of his coat, dragging him up roughly, picking him off his feet. His head slumped from side to side like a ragdoll as he was bodily carried away. A pained moan escaped his mouth. Wooden floors and clean white walls with light fixtures and paintings on the wall blurred past his eyes. He was thrown carelessly down onto a couch. He grunted, his head flopping to one side. Through the gauze that muddled his vision, he saw someone in the background, a small person standing on a flight of wooden stairs.
“What did you do to him?”
It was Carmen’s voice. Henry felt all the warmth rush out of him. He tried to turn his head to the other side.
He was on her couch. In her home. Through the haze, he could see a group of three men, standing just inside the door, closing it behind them. The one at the front, covered in blood, bore a pistol in his extended hand.
“Go sit down at the table,” the man growled. Henry blinked, gasping, trying to clear his head. The blurriness cleared. It was Stephen, wearing a coat of dust, shrapnel, and what looked to be Henry’s blood over his clothes. His face was mottled with cuts and bruises. There was a great big red splotch on his temple where Henry had hit him over the head.
Henry lifted his head with great effort, glancing out of the corner of his eye at his shoulder. The shard of glass was no longer there. A rag had been duct taped around the wound. It was still gushing steadily with blood. His head dropped, his eyes rolling back, dizzy with blood loss.
Henry blinked his eyes open. It was his brother’s snarl. He looked around dazedly out of the corner of his eye. Carmen was standing in front of Stephen, at the opposite end of his pistol. Her body was positioned between Stephen and the stairs. Holden stood on the bottom step, clutching the rail, looking across the room at Henry with wide, panicked eyes.
With a burbling grunt, wet with blood, Henry lurched upward, clutching onto the back of the couch for support. As he struggled to sit up, Stephen glanced over at him sharply. His vicious smile revealed a missing, bloody tooth.
“Look who’s up,” he spat.
Henry was holding onto the arm of the couch, trying to leverage himself onto his feet. But his arms shook violently under his own weight. One of the men with Stephen, a tall, lanky fellow, with a bush of brown beard poking out around his bandana took his drawn gun and pressed the barrel of it into Henry’s chest, prodding him back onto the couch. They had taken the Kevlar vest off of him. Probably while they’d been bandaging his wound. Henry collapsed, wheezing. He coughed and blood erupted from between his lips. He tried in vain to catch it in his hands, mottled and still covered in broken bits of glass and brick.
Henry looked up. Stephen was raising his brows at Carmen tauntingly. The gun was still aimed at Henry’s chest. Carmen looked back and forth between Henry and Stephen, her mouth a hard line. Holden hovered on the stairs behind her, frozen into place by uncertainty. Henry tried to raise his voice. Only blood and a groan came forth.
Slowly, Carmen walked over to the island in the kitchen. Stephen’s gun remained trained on her the entire time. Carmen sat down on the edge of one of the stools. Henry could spy Stephen’s crooked, smug grimace. He struggled to sit up again.
“Don’t strain yourself, Henry,” Stephen snapped. He looked over towards the stairs. “Holden, buddy, why don’t you turn the TV on for your old man.”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Carmen shrieked. Stephen aimed his gun at her with a pointed look. The room fell silent. Holden looked to the two other men in the room, both armed, the one with the beard still holding the gun towards Henry. He glanced between Carmen and Henry futilely, searching for an instruction. His eyes glistened with fright.
“Go on,” Stephen urged him. Holden stared fixatedly at the gun he had trained on his mother. Henry watched with loathing as his son slid slowly off the stairs. His teeth were bared and riddled with blood, glaring at Stephen. The whole room looked on as Holden made his way carefully around the other side of the couch, away from the walkway, full of armed men. He stood in front of Henry and the TV, an arm outstretched, glancing away from Stephen anxiously.
“Daddy?” he asked quietly.
“Its fine,” Stephen encouraged him. “He’s fine. Just turn it on for me, will ya?”
Holden glanced over at Henry again. Henry nodded at him weakly, wiping some of the blood off of his chin. Holden pressed the power button.
“Turn it to channel thirteen. There’s a good sport,” Stephen said, smiling at Holden condescendingly.
Henry watched his son flip through channels on the TV, scrolling past paid programming and sitcoms. The volume was blaring. It ripped through the silence of the room. Finally, the TV rested on a news station.
Footage of the Fontanelle hospital filled up the screen, overpowered by a female newscaster’s voice.
“…started at Fontanelle Medical Center is now believed to have spread outside the Bronx borough.”
Henry stared at the screen blankly, his mouth hanging open, dripping with blood and saliva. Holden turned down the volume.
“Yes, that is correct, Casey, it looks as though, here in downtown Manhattan, a similar case of that same illness has been reported. A mysterious illness, first reported over two days ago at Fontanelle Medical Center in Bronx, having already taken the lives of over a dozen patients, seems to have spread even further. At least three more people outside of the Fontanelle outbreak have come to ERs and UrgentCares here in Manhattan with symptoms very similar to the illness which authorities have been reluctant so far to specify.”
As the screen switched over to an interview with a Manhattan doctor, Henry glanced over at Stephen and his comrades. They were, all of them, staring at the television with a singular look of pride.
“The fuck is this?” he slurred, spitting more blood out onto the floor.
“You see,” Stephen said, jamming a finger towards the TV. “This was what I was talking about, Henry. Maybe they make a vaccine, and maybe it works on their first try…”
As he was talking, Henry straightened himself out, finally managing to get himself into a sitting position. Stephen took a moment, staring at the television, his lips twisted in a revolting mixture of anger and gratification.
“But they’re too late. Already, they’re too late.”
Stephen shook his head, seeming to snap out of his awe. He looked down at Holden, standing nervously by the TV, his eyes glazing over the images on the news, the nervous, shaky light of the screen reflecting back onto his small face.
“Why don’t you go sit down by your mother, Holden?” Stephen asked, gesturing towards the kitchen island with his gun. Holden glanced at Henry again. His eyes glimmered wetly in the electric light from the television set.
“Come here, sweetie,” Carmen called, beckoning nervously with her hands. Her voice was tight. She glared at Stephen and his gun while she talked. Holden stepped forward nervously. He looked down at his shoes, passing by Henry. He stopped in the walkway, in front of Stephen and the other men who crowded it. Henry felt his bruised, bloodied hands coil into fists.
Stephen smiled down at him, his expression pained, his eyes glinting with vehemence. He stepped out of Holden’s way, ushering him forward with the same gun hand.
Holden stepped forward quickly, sliding past them, his eyes sliding instinctively over their drawn firearms. Henry felt his chest constrict painfully, watching his son teeter nervously over to his mother.
“The fuck,” he heaved, every breath coming as an agony, “are you doing?”
Stephen looked over at him again. He trained the gun back at Henry. Behind him, Henry could spy Carmen enveloping Holden in her arms, holding him close to her.
“Taking out the trash,” Stephen replied. He leveled the gun at Henry’s head, taking a step closer to him.
Henry met Carmen’s eye over Holden’s head. His eyes were wide and full of misery. Hers were hardening with every moment that passed. She glanced down at Holden and then back to Henry. Her look was steely. Determined. Henry swallowed. He knew what she meant. It didn’t matter. Not that he was sorry, not that he’d fucked up. None of it mattered. They had to get through this. For their son.
He tilted his head back, glaring up at Stephen. The newscaster continued to deliver the bad news in the background.
“…suggested that anyone living in the boroughs stay inside as much as they can.”
“Speaking of special snowflakes,” Stephen said, cocking his head to one side smugly. He jerked his head over at the TV. “You probably thought you were the only one making a drop, didn’t you?”
Henry frowned at him. Stephen shook his head.
“I should have just told you sooner. Then maybe it would have gotten into your thick skull.”
He shook the gun at his own head, seething. Henry glanced over at Carmen and Holden. She was holding her hands around his ears, muttering reassurances to him softly.
“There are going to be dozens of drops. Across the whole fucking country. There’s even a couple in some other countries.”
Stephen sat down on the arm of the couch, looming over Henry, the pistol hovering between them. Henry tried to sit up straighter; tried to make himself appear stronger.
“We were paying a lot of people to deliver the packages. That’s why I wanted to get you in on it. I knew you could use the money. You didn’t have to believe in what we were doing.” Stephen shook his head incredulously. He wiped at the blood dripping onto his brow. “You just had to do it.”
Henry spit out another mouthful of blood. He had his right hand stuck to the wound in his collarbone. His fingers were already beginning to stick to the rag with blood. His entire body trembled with the effort to keep himself upright.
“Next time,” Henry scoffed. “Just send me a check for my birthday.”
Stephen snorted, rolling his eyes.
“What would I have used the money for anyway, Stephen,” Henry snarled, his voice gruff and vicious. He stared at the television screen pointedly. “In a few days, everyone’s gonna be dead!”
“Far from dead,” one of the men behind Stephen cut in. Henry glanced up at him sharply. He was one of the fighters with an anarchy symbol painted across his vest. He could see it faintly through the flannel which he had tried to button over it.
“Reborn,” Stephen said.
Henry raised his brows at him.
“Leave me and my family out of your crapfest,” he barked at his brother. “Just leave. Walk away.”
“I’m about to,” Stephen spat back at him. He nodded towards the door. “I have another drop to get to. You’re making me late for my train. I’m going to leave you here with my pal, Nick, for a little while,” he explained, jerking his head back at the man who had just spoken. He had a thick head of brown hair and a nine o’clock shadow. “And then I’ll be back for you all in a little while.”
Henry’s brows furrowed.
“What are you going to do?” he growled weakly.
“What we were all made to do,” Stephen replied, stuffing his pistol back into the waist of his jeans leisurely. “Evolve.”
He turned his back on Henry, facing the fighter named Nick.
“You okay with this?”
“Well, I’m glad you finally bothered asking me.”
Henry glanced back up at the other man with Stephen. He was older, maybe a few years senior to Henry, with a crop of curly black hair on his head and chin, and a lot of smile lines that were busy scowling. His gun was still trained on Henry, though he was busy listening to Stephen’s conversation. Henry stared at the weapon cross-eyed. It was hovering right in front of him, in arm’s reach.
“I don’t trust him here, by himself,” Stephen said to Nick.
“I agree with you,” Nick replied, his eyes gliding over Stephen and landing on Henry. Henry stared back, his heart hammering.
“It’s a lot to ask,” Stephen went on, gaining Nick’s attention again. “You were meant to be there as much as I was.”
“Plus, he’s your responsibility, Stephen.”
Henry leaned back some, peering around them to look at Carmen and Holden in the kitchen. Carmen was looking directly at him. Henry threw an intentional glance at the third man’s gun. Carmen shook her head subtlety. Henry frowned at her, looking up at his brother and his men again anxiously.
“I know,” Stephen was saying. “I know. Do you want me to stay instead?”
Henry shot a look over at Carmen again, his eyes panicked. He didn’t know how to make her understand from across the room, just by his expression alone. He might be able to take the one man, Nick, on his own. But he didn’t think he could match Stephen. Not again. Not playing injured.
“You said you were taking a train?” Carmen asked. The question was directed at Stephen. The three of them turned to look at her. As his stance changed, the third man’s firearm drifted farther away from Henry. He shook his head at Carmen, choked by dread.
“Yes?” Stephen asked. His voice was dripping with sarcasm and suspicion. Nick threw another look over at Henry questioningly.
“Why?” Carmen asked, her arms wrapped around Holden tightly.
“Fastest means of transportation,” Stephen explained lazily, stepping closer, into the kitchen. Carmen stiffened, holding Holden closer to her side, her hand still clamped around his ear. He stared across the room at Henry fearfully. “For us and the virus.”
Henry saw the man in front of him take a step back. He was holding the gun, lax by his side, right in front of Henry.
Henry threw himself off the couch, grabbing hold of the gun and twisting it out of the man’s hand. The man clutched onto Henry’s shoulder, digging his thumb into the wound in his collarbone. Henry let out an unearthly scream. His arm went flying, and he felt his elbow meet squarely with the nose of the man trying to wrestle him.
The man went reeling back, clutching his nose. Henry whipped the gun out at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stephen and Nick with their weapons drawn on him, staring down the length of their barrels. Stephen was bridling with fury.
“PUT THE GUN DOWN!”
Henry’s vision was already beginning to bleed into double. He stood teetering, the gun still held towards the man cradling his gushing nose. It was all he could do not to stumble backwards.
“Get out of my house!”
Holden had burst out of his mother’s arms and was running towards him. Carmen leapt forward and snatched back his arm.
“Holden!” she screamed, pulling him back.
Henry glanced back and saw Stephen taking a step closer to him. Henry raised the gun at Stephen, moving over towards the weaponless man. He kicked out the back of his knees, bringing the man down onto the floor with a thud that resonated like bones cracking. He pressed the barrel into the man’s head.
“I WILL SHOOT HIM!” he hollered at his brother and Nick. “GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS HOUSE!”
“Put the gun down, Henry!” Stephen barked back.
“It’s okay, honey,” Carmen said loudly, her voice shaking as she pulled Holden into her, pressing his face against her chest. He wriggled in her grip. “It’s fine.”
“I will not say it again,” Henry screamed. The pain in his shoulder was causing the same black splotches to appear in his eyes again. He was going to black out. “Put the guns away! Get out of this house!”
“Let our man go!” Nick yelled at him.
“HENRY!” Stephen howled. “PUT IT THE FUCK DOWN!”
“YOU PUT IT DOWN!”
“ONE…,” Stephen began. His face was twisted by fury. His brows were drawn down violently over dark, glinting eyes.
The gun was growing slick in Henry’s hand. The man he held to the floor tried to reach up and take the gun back from him. Henry grabbed his hand and tried to force it away.
“It’s okay, honey,” Carmen was saying frantically to Holden, stroking his hair as he tried his best to rip away from her. There were tears peeking out the corners of her eyes. “Stay with me, it’s all going to be okay.”
Henry looked down at the man he was holding. He was glaring up at Henry, red streaming down the front of his face like snot, his teeth gritted and bared. He began to stand up. Stephen and Nick were moving closer.
He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. Blood erupted from beneath his hands.
Henry looked up. The man was flopping forward onto the wooden floor, his face smacking the ground, a giant, angry red crater blown into the side of his head. Across the room, Stephen and Nick still had their pistols drawn. Henry stood there a moment, confused. He hadn’t felt a shot. He wasn’t hurt.
He stared at Stephen blankly. His eyes drifted down the smoking gun in his hand. It wasn’t pointed at Henry.
Henry looked over at Holden sharply. The gun fell out of his hand.
Holden stood by the kitchen island, holding up Carmen. Her eyes stared around the room widely. There was a chunk missing from the side of her neck. Blood flowed steadily down her side.
Carmen slumped forward onto the floor. Holden tried to support her, grabbing onto her arm. Her legs collapsed underneath her. Her head fell forward onto her chest. Holden sat down, bearing her weight, trying to hold her in his arms. There was blood streaked down the side of his face.
“Mom?” he asked against, tears streaming. He shook her shoulder. “Mom, don’t. Please don’t.”
Henry felt the life leave his limbs. He tried to take a step forward, but Nick bared his path, his gun raised. It didn’t matter. His legs went out from underneath him, shaking. He collapsed onto his knees.
Carmen’s eyes rolled around in her head. Holden reached across her body, pressing his hands against the wound in her neck, trying to stem the flow. Blood gushed darkly between his fingers.
“Mom,” he croaked, trembling with tears. “Stop it! C’mon, mommy please. Please!”
Holden looked up at Henry across the room, his mouth agape and twisted with tears.
“Daddy!” he pleaded.
Henry swayed there, a sob raking his chest. He sat back on his haunches, holding his bloodied hands out in front of him. His lips quivered. He couldn’t breathe a word.
Holden looked up, glancing between Stephen and Nick, his face swollen and pink. They both looked back at him sickly.
“Please!” he begged. “Please don’t let my mom die.” Yelping, gasping for air, he pulled his mother onto his lap. Her eyes were beginning to drift closed. She reached up a red hand, touching her son’s face wearily. His tears washed away the bloody fingerprints left on his cheek. “I don’t want her to die! Please! Please!”
Henry began to weep. It felt as though his chest was on fire, as though he was burning up. He stared, sobbing, as Holden held onto his mother. As Carmen looked up at Holden, a long wheeze escaping her reddened mouth.
“No, Mom,” Holden cried at her, as her hand fell limply back down at her side. Henry covered his hand over his mouth, his face raw with tears. They all stared. Her eyes were no longer moving. Her chest no longer heaved. “NO!” Holden shrieked. “NO!”
“Dude,” Nick hissed at Stephen. He was looking around the room, once white and clean, now full of blood and the smell of gun smoke.
Stephen didn’t say anything. He was staring at Holden, crying over Carmen’s body, as snot and tears dripped steadily down the boy’s face. He glanced back over at Henry.
Henry stared back at him, sobbing. Dizziness overtook him, and he fell onto his side, catching himself. He curled up, bringing his knees to his chest, staring at Carmen across the room from between his fingers. She was limp as a ragdoll in Holden’s lap.
“No, no, no, no,” he muttered to himself, rocking, over and over again.
“Dude,” Nick snapped. Henry glared up at the two of them, his mouth hanging open in a silent, wheezing wail, his eyes wet and accusing. Stephen looked back at him vacantly. His mouth squeezed into a hard line.
“Take him and go,” Stephen said wearily. He motioned with his gun at Henry, and towards the door. Nick looked at him.
“I’ve got the kid. Just go. Make it to the drop in time. Just take him with you.”
“Why take him?”
“I want them separated.”
Henry glowered up at Stephen, breathing back tears. His brother stared back steadily. He could barely see through all the salt crusting into his eyes, and the fatigue that threatened to overwhelm him. Through the fog, he saw the gun he had dropped onto the floor. He reached out for it numbly, nearly falling from the effort.
Stephen crossed the room. He kicked the gun out of Henry’s reach before his fingers could fasten on it. He knelt down next to him, peering down into Henry’s mottled, grieving face.
“If you try anything else,” he growled softly at him, his fingers twisting into the front of Henry’s jacket. “I will kill your son too.”
Henry could hardly breathe, his chest was so congealed with tears. He was about to swallow, but instead he spit up into Stephen’s face. Pink and red dotted his brother’s cheeks. He stood and wiped it off with his sleeve, as though it was nothing more than water.
“I’m going to kill you,” Henry seethed at him.
“This is ridiculous, Stephen,” Nick cut in, glancing between the two of them anxiously. Henry leaned back onto his arm. He was losing consciousness. There was red lining the edges of his blurred vision. “I can’t bring him with me. He just killed Mo!”
“That’s why you’re bringing him,” Stephen spat. He glared down at Henry. “I want him to be there. When all hell breaks loose.”
“And how exactly is that going to work?”
Ignoring Nick, Stephen stepped forward, looming over Henry. As he grabbed him by the front of his jacket, lifting him off the ground, Henry could hear his son sobbing at the other end of the room. Stephen pulled back his fist.
The fist struck him squarely. He fell back limply, slivers of light still piercing his eyes. He coughed, rolling onto his side.
A foot kicked him in the ribs. He coughed violently, spittle flying from his mouth, and then was still.
“Just keep quiet and you’ll be fine,” Nick whispered into his ear.
Henry gnawed furiously on his busted lip. He tried, once more, to tug his hands free of his constraints. His wrists were bound to the arms of the wheelchair Nick pushed him forward in. But it wasn’t of any use.
Nick drove him forward through the crowded street, navigating around the rush hour crowd of pedestrians that filled up the sidewalks. The cold ripped through Henry, making his injuries sting. In the van on the way there, Nick and another man, Augusto, had bandaged up all of Henry’s wounds and gave him nearly half a bottle of painkillers before strapping him down to this wheelchair and throwing a blanket over his lap to disguise his restraints. Augusto and the other people with them, Chrissy, Marcel, and another whose name he had not caught – the driver – were dispersed throughout the crowd, keeping within a few paces of Nick and Henry. They were dressed in civilians’ clothes, and had backpacks strapped onto their backs.
Henry tried to meet the eye of people walking by him. They were all too busy to mind him. The ones who did look down at him, their eyes glazing over his wheelchair and his bruised face, did their best to skitter out of the chair’s way. Nick and the others were moving at a brisk pace.
He felt hollow and numb looking up at all the people surrounding him. His eyes were red and swollen. So many of the people who strode past him had their eyes directed towards the ground, stepping quickly, surgical masks strapped over their mouths. Nearly half the people out in the street had either masks covering their mouths, scarves, or hands. No one stopped. Few looked one another in the eye. Henry felt a touch of sour bile burbling in his stomach. They all knew about the sickness, but they didn’t really know. He didn’t even think it would help any of them.
He could hear Nick’s breathing through his own surgical mask. When he had put it on in the van, Henry had thought it was rather inconspicuous. A man in a mask was sure to be suspicious. He hadn’t expected the city to be in a state of panic. If anything, the two of them blended in better than some of the business people brushing through the teeming street.
Henry felt a spot of icy rain fall onto his face. He looked up at the overcast sky. The clouds seemed to smolder overhead.
“Nearly there,” Nick said.
Henry looked ahead. A subway station going uptown was coming up directly. This is what Stephen had meant by catching a train. He felt his fingers curl up into a fist.
At the top of the stairs, Nick paused with Henry’s wheelchair. He began to swivel the chair around, as though he meant to drag Henry backwards down the steps.
“Oh, let me help you!”
Henry glanced up. It was the woman, Chrissy. She had long, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, and a weather-beaten freckled face. She must have fallen behind the pack as they neared the station.
“Oh, thank you,” Nick said, with false enthusiasm. People coming up and down the stairs pushed over to one side in order to let them through. Holding the feet of Henry’s chair, Chrissy looked down at him with a small, sly smirk. Henry scowled back, lifting his hand as much as he could to give her the finger beneath the blanket on his lap.
“Does that mean you’re pleased to see me?” she teased in a whisper.
They dropped him onto the bottom landing with a rough jolt.
“You okay there?” Nick asked Henry, patting the hat that had been jammed over Henry’s ears – to disguise all the stitches in his head. Chrissy walked on without them. “Thanks!”
“No problem!” she called back, running her Metrocard through the turnstiles and sliding through the bars. Henry looked around himself. It was a few degrees warmer underground. The smell was musty. There was a line of people on the other side of the turnstiles, Chrissy and Augusto mixed amongst them, standing before the tracks, watching as on the far side of the line, a downtown train pulled into the opposite station.
Nick wheeled him up to the emergency gate. He shuffled up to the bars and called through them.
A bunch of the people in the crowd turned. Of them, Henry saw the nameless driver step forward.
“Would you mind…?”
“Sure,” the driver said gruffly. He shoved his weight into the push lever on the other side, opening the gate. An alarm sounded off, blaring obnoxiously, echoing throughout the tunnel walls. Henry looked around himself futilely. A few people looked around to see where the alarm was coming from. Very few seemed to care. As Nick pushed Henry through, a few commuters filed in behind them, trying to take advantage of the open entrance.
Nick wheeled Henry right up to the yellow line, facing the track. He looked up thoughtfully. Henry followed his line of sight. There was an electronic board hanging from the ceiling, switching between the upcoming trains and their arrival times.
“We want the local,” Nick said out loud. Henry looked from him back to the board. The next local was arriving in two minutes. Henry slumped back into his chair. He tugged wearily at the zip ties keeping his hands stuck to the chair arms. He knew he wasn’t going to pry his hands free. Neither could he get his fingers far enough to reach the rims of the tires, to propel himself forward or backward. He could lower the toes of his feet down onto the ground, if he stretched. But that was pretty much the limit of his motion.
He dropped his head onto his chest, breathing wetly into the blanket they had tucked in around him. He closed his eyes. His muscles were taut and rigid. He kept seeing Holden. His son was alone in that house with Stephen right now, while his mother’s body lay growing cold on the kitchen floor. His hands were probably still covered in her blood.
And he imagined what Stephen was doing right now. What he was saying to Holden right now. His hands shook with rage. If he ever saw his brother again, he would shoot him in both of his legs. If he got out of this chair, if he got back to that house. He’d take Holden, tell him to wait on the front step. He would beat Stephen within an inch of his life. He would kill him. He didn’t know what kind of death was befitting his brother. Maybe he should torture him. Strap him down to a chair and find a blowtorch. Maybe he could take a knife and slit his stomach and his throat, wait for him to bleed out. Or maybe Henry should make Stephen hold the gun and swallow the bullet himself.
He heard a horn blow. Henry opened his eyes. A train was pulling through. As it rocketed past, slowing gradually, the wind whipped through him. Staring at the windows of the tram cars zooming past made Henry dizzy. They chugged eventually to a hissing stop.
The doors drew open. A horde of people came spilling out, wearing their blue surgical masks, brushing quickly past those still standing at the station, their eyes averted. Henry watched as Chrissy and Marcel slipped through the doors ahead of them. Nick waited until almost everyone else was on before propelling Henry forward, tilting the chair onto its back wheels in order to leverage it up onto the train. A man standing by the doors, his headphones blasting, held them open long enough for Nick to step inside.
“Thank you,” Nick said, out of breath.
The man nodded silently, waiting for the doors to close before he leaned back on them. Nick stayed by the doors as well, a hand resting on the back of Henry’s chair.
Henry looked around the subway car. Marcel was sitting in one of the seats across from them, sandwiched between a big woman in a pantsuit and a teenager dressed in punk goth attire. Chrissy was standing in front of the kid, holding onto the pole in the middle of the aisle. Henry leaned forward. He could spy Augusto at the other end of the car, sitting down, bent over and brooding silently. The driver was leaning against the other set of doors, having pulled out a book and a pair of reading glasses from somewhere, which he had opened onto a random page.
Henry craned his neck up at Nick. He was leaning against the doors next to the young man in headphones, staring placidly. He caught Henry’s eye, giving him a pointed look. Scowling, Henry looked away.
The subway car jolted from side to side as it made its way down the tracks, jerking Henry around in his seat. His wrists felt raw and blistered. The overhead speakers called out the next stop.
As the subway slid to a halt, and people stood to line up by the doors, Henry saw Marcel move across from him. He shrugged his backpack off his shoulders, throwing it by his feet. He took a cell phone out of the front pocket and began tapping the screen. He put it to his ear, his face concentrating as though he was listening. Henry strained his ears to hear if he was talking with someone. Marcel caught his eye across the aisle and gave him a sly wink. He started to talk into the phone, but Henry couldn’t catch what he was saying over the screech of the subway and the loudspeakers announcing the 42nd Street stop – and Grand Central Terminal.
Henry stared out the windows, watching as the blackness of the underground slowly grew lighter, the tiles of the wall reflecting dimly as they began to pull into the station. Chrissy stepped forward, standing in front of Henry’s chair, ready to exit. She threw a brief glance down at him. Henry looked around for Augusto. He was standing in front of the doors too, the station lights flashing across his face as they drew nearer. His face looked sallow, covered in a thin sheen of nervous sweat. They all looked a little anxious to Henry. He felt his teeth grind together in agitation.
As the car jarred to a stop, Henry briefly considering calling out to the passengers. He wondered what would happen if he yelled “terrorist”. But as the doors hissed apart, and Nick started to back his chair out, he saw that Marcel was still chatting on his cell phone. He bore a smile on his face as he stood up, laughing into the speaker, but Henry wondered if it might be Stephen on the other side of the line.
The back wheel of his chair hit the station platform. Bounced around, Henry looked up. Chrissy and the rest of the passengers were all staring at him uncomfortably, waiting for his wheelchair to be moved out of the way. Henry saw Marcel striding forward. Nick heaved him backwards with a grunt.
“Sir!” Henry shouted. His voice was hoarse and gravelly. The passengers crowding in front of the door froze. Some of them pushed forward, in a hurry to get out. But Henry was staring directly at Marcel. “Sir! You forgot your bag!”
Most everyone on the car was looking at him. The punk goth kid who Marcel had been sitting next to looked around, and spotting Marcel’s backpack, hefted it up with some difficulty.
“Here you go man,” the kid said, rushing forward to hand off the bag. Marcel gave him a slightly pained smile as he took it from him.
“Thank you. That would have been bad.”
He laughed, but his eyes bored into Henry, cutting and sharp. Henry raised his eyebrows back at him, daring him to do something about it.
Nick wheeled him hurriedly off of the platform, shouldering open the emergency gate again in order to fit him past the turnstiles. Henry sneaked a glance at him as he was squeezing him through. His eyes, above his hospital mask, were small and anxious. He pushed Henry over to the escalators, pulling the same trick to wedge him onto it – popping a wheelie and resting the chair so that it tilted backwards. As they rode it up together, Nick keeping a firm grasp on the back of his chair, Henry felt faintly motion sick.
“Don’t pull that again,” Nick whispered harshly into his ear, his voice muffled by the mask. Henry’s arms strained at their constraints instinctively. He wanted to sock Nick in the face. “I know what you think you’re trying to accomplish,” Nick went on. “But there’s too much at stake. Just sit tight and quietly, and your son will be fine. You just have to trust us.”
Henry felt a growl at the depths of his throat.
Nick sighed, straightening up. They were nearing the top of the escalator. Henry followed his line of sight. He was staring at a security camera mounted up on the far wall.
“Don’t make this difficult, please,” he pleaded with Henry.
As the escalator evened out and Nick leveraged him off and onto smooth ground, Henry shot him a toothy grimace.
“Give me a reason,” he snarled.
Nick just shook his head.
They were in a big, brightly lit hallway, absolutely swarming with people. The walls, floors, and ceilings were all built of creamy granite. As Nick continued on, taking a right around a corner, he saw ahead of him a row of store fronts, with fancy decorated fonts displayed in their windows. He even spotted a few early Christmas displays. Nick pushed him quickly, past all the people in hospitals masks, toting suitcases, probably hoping to escape the city and the sickness while they still could. The farther they walked, the thicker the crowds became, until Henry couldn’t have moved an inch without touching someone – if he wasn’t tied up.
It took a very long time to move forward. Henry had never felt so claustrophobic. It was as if people didn’t even see the chair. They stepped forward or against him, probably seeing and thinking from afar that the missing space where his head would have been was a gap in the crowd. They bumped against him, practically sat on his arm trying to sidle past him, and jostled Nick in the process. Henry wanted to say something to the people around him, to make them step back a little farther. He didn’t feel particularly good, after what had happened in the subway, about what might be in Nick’s backpack. But by the way that Nick was sweating, he had a fair idea it had more to do with than just the crowd.
Finally, they shoved their way out of the tunnels and the shops that led down to the concourse. They emerged into the main room, with the sky blue, high-arched ceilings, painted with the shapes of the constellations. Henry could spy, if he arched his neck to look over the tops of hundreds of people’s heads, the information booth in the center of the room, with the big golden clock on top of it.
People were lined up, standing shoulder to shoulder along the edges of the room where the ticket booths were, jostling for their spots. The roar of talk drowned Henry’s ears. Sitting down in the midst of it, he felt as though he were sinking beneath a gigantic wave. Nick kept pushing him forward. Henry looked around himself frantically. He couldn’t see Marcel or the others anywhere. All he could see, quite irritably, were the backsides of people. Nick was having massive difficulty pushing him through.
“Excuse me,” he kept muttering lightly, trying to force a smile at the disgruntled people he passed. “Pardon me. I need to get my brother through.”
Henry scoffed. A few people parted the way upon seeing the chair. But by the time they were nearly to the far wall, Nick was practically plowing people down in order to get to the ticket lines.
He stopped, wiping his brow, and turned to an older woman in a chiffon who was standing, staring at the ticket windows ahead.
“Excuse me,” he yelled over the racket of the station. “Where’s the end of this line?”
“I don’t know!” she replied sharply, eyeing Nick’s mask warily. “Somewhere back there!”
She pointed farther back, towards the middle of the room, where the information booth was. Nick nodded.
He made his way towards the end of the line, nearly tripping over Henry’s chair and the people around him. Henry heart was hammering. The pulse was thrumming in his head, his headache and the enormous pain in his collarbone renewing. The pain killers were wearing off. He began to sweat profusely.
As they made their way back, Henry spotted Augusto standing in the same line. He tried to turn backwards in the chair, to look back at the electronic timetables above the ticket booth windows. He had no idea what train they were planning to get on. He imagined it had to be a train that went far. That was Stephen had meant by travelling quickly.
Nick stopped right by the information booth. He tapped the shoulder of another woman standing in line.
“Is this the end of the line?”
“Right behind me,” the man standing behind her said, jerking his thumb backwards.
Nick pulled Henry up behind the man. He watched, his heart jumping, as Nick heaved his heavy backpack onto the ground with a grunt. Nick rolled his shoulders in his sockets, grimacing painfully.
“And now, we wait,” he huffed. Henry scowled up at him.
“I hope you didn’t have a particular train in mind,” the man in front of them called back. He was grey-haired and grizzled, his mouth pulled down sharply into a frown. Nick blinked at him.
“What d’you mean?”
“I’ve been standing here nearly thirty minutes now,” he said exasperatedly, throwing his hands up into the air. Henry watched Nick feign dismay.
“I know! This is ridiculous. Not even all the windows are open! What the hell are they thinking?”
Henry slumped down into his chair, his breathing becoming shallow. He looked around himself again, at all the people crowded around, shoulder to shoulder and back to back. His eyes grew wider the more he looked. His breath hitched. There were too many. Even if just one of them here was sick – they would be carrying it back to their families, their friends and colleagues, and it would multiply. It killed so quickly. Would they even be able to make it onto the trains before everyone here had dropped dead?
He jerked at his constraints, shaking the wheelchair violently. The guy in front of them stared awkwardly. Henry didn’t care. He wanted to grasp at his chest, his heart. He felt like he was having a panic attack.
He felt a hand drop onto his shoulder.
“You okay?” Nick asked softly.
A ringer went off. Everyone around them glanced about, some of them looking down at their own bags and pockets. Nick took his cell phone out of his pocket. It was glowing brightly and vibrating. He tapped the screen and brought it up to his ear.
Henry stared him down. Nick’s face changed suddenly, twisting and turning sour.
“Are you sure?” he said.
Henry attempted to jerk the chair around. He caught Nick glancing over at the information booth nervously. He followed his line of sight. He was staring at the clock. It was five minutes to twelve.
“Alright, just… give me a moment.”
Nick took the phone away from his ear. His expression was grave, his complexion almost grey. He put a hand on Henry’s shoulder.
“I’ve got to take this,” he said, nodding at the phone. His lips twisted painfully. “Will you watch the bag for me?”
Henry glanced down at the backpack resting against the wheelchair’s side. It was swollen and stuffed to the brink. He felt his heart quicken. Nick was about to turn away.
“What about my son?” he hissed up at him.
Nick lifted a finger up to his hospital mask to silence him. Then he turned, slipping away through the crowd. Henry squashed down the instinct to yell after him. He could hardly breathe. His entire body was covered in a thick layer of sweat.
This wasn’t right. It wasn’t right. They were supposed to be babysitting him. They were supposed to be taking Henry with them for precautionary measures. Not leaving him with the fucking bomb.
Henry glanced up at the clock nervously. Another two minutes had passed. It was almost twelve. It had to be at twelve in the afternoon, when this thing would be going off. Rush hour traffic. Lunch break. He craned his neck around the crowd, spying Augusto in the distance. And Chrissy standing around the information booth itself. They both had their backpacks sitting on the ground beside them.
He didn’t see any police. Any security. He looked up at the man in front of him, still shaking his head irritably up at the slow-moving line.
“Sir!” he hissed, glancing at Chrissy warily. He didn’t want any of them to see him talking. He jerked the chair by his constraints, bouncing it to one side. The man shot an uncomfortable look back at him.
“You have to help me.”
“We’re stuck in the same situation here, pal…”
“You don’t understand.” Henry jerked his head stiffly towards the backpack by his side. “There is a bomb in the bag.”
The man stared at him incredulously.
He was raising his voice. People around them were throwing uneasy looks their way. His back was becoming stiff with sweat. Henry glanced over at the clock. Still two to twelve.
“Please, there isn’t much time. That man who just left, he’s a terrorist. He strapped me to this chair. There is a bomb in that bag!”
“Are you pulling my leg, son?”
More people were looking now. More people were listening in. A pocket of prickly silence was filling in around them. Henry could feel his heart racing, looking down the line at Augusto.
“No! Please sir.” Henry could feel tears welling up in his eyes. The man overlooked him with a mixture of disgust, his eyes glazing over the bandages, the bruises, the pallor of his skin. He probably thought he was sick or mental. “They have my son. They killed my… you’ve gotta get a police officer.”
“Cut it out,” the man snapped. He turned his body away from him.
“There’s only a minute left!” Henry screeched, having difficulty keeping his volume down. He caught the stares of the people surrounding him. They were all wide-eyed and alarmed, doubtful or accusing. He looked directly at the grey-haired man, holding his line of sight. “Open the bag. It’s in there, I’m telling you, please, someone just… get a police officer!”
The man was looking pale and wary now.
“Son…,” he began.
“Open it!” Henry snapped at him.
“I don’t –”
The man looked stricken. Tears were streaming down Henry’s face. He glanced up at the clock on the information booth. It was too late. The minute hand was inching near. The little second hand was making its way rapidly around the outside of the clock.
The man kneeled down by Henry’s chair, looking at the clock as well. He reached out towards the backpack gingerly. Holding the zipper delicately, he began to draw the bag open. Everyone around them looked on.
Henry glanced up to see if Chrissy and Augusto were looking. But as he looked down the line, he saw that Augusto was reaching elbow deep into his bag as well, pulling out a gas mask and pressing it to his face. He shot a look over at Chrissy. He couldn’t see her eyes, behind the tinted circles of glass. But she saw him. She stood up straight and gave him a salute.
Henry looked down. The man had opened up the backpack. In the middle of all the balled up t-shirts and Styrofoam peanuts which Nick had apparently used to stuff the bag full, a pressure cooker sat nested, covered in duct tape. The red light above the timer was on.
Henry looked up. The clock had chimed twelve. The pressure cooker gave a little ding! The man’s eyes widened.“Awh, SHI –”