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Bad to the Bone

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Summary

Sequel to Rotten to the Core.

Genre:
Thriller / Adventure
Author:
Jacinta Horgan
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
5
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Chapter 1

The water lapped around Adrian’s sinking body. He shook his restrained arms behind his back, but it was no use. The handcuffs were locked too tightly around his wrists. He kicked his legs, thrashing against the flowing water, and sent it splashing against the doors of the tank. He shivered with the cold running through him. His teeth chattered. ‘Please, Randall,’ he begged, ‘please let me out. I don’t know anything, I swear.’

He awoke. Cloaked in the pitch-black of his tent, his eyes flickered open. His pupils expanded in the darkness. This nightmare was a slight improvement – he hadn’t woken from it screaming into the night – but he could still see it replaying in front of him. Adrian turned on his side to focus on Meed in his sub-consciousness. He breathed in deeply and exhaled, totally at ease. Adrian wished he could be the same. He wished he could sleep as easily.

Adrian glimpsed at the crack in the tent’s doorway. Through it, he saw a glimmer of light. Daybreak was coming. He sighed, scooted to the edge of the bed and sat upright. He wasn’t going to go back to sleep, he knew that. So he grabbed his boots, slid into them and crept outside.

The clearing was quiet, almost too quiet. Everyone else was still asleep. Adrian stopped at the foot of the cliff and mounted it. When he got to the top, he took to the other edge: the side that gave him a distant view of the Village. He breathed in the crisp air of early morning and looked out over Lextordia. He watched wafts of his breath drifting into the air. The Village appeared quiet and still too: it was hard to see if there was any activity there though. The camp was too far away.

He turned at the crunching of footsteps somewhere near him. Someone else was awake now too. He smiled faintly when Meed came into view at the summit and turned back to watch the Village. He wrapped his arms around his bent knees to keep himself warm.

Meed knew not to interrupt his deep thinking. He didn’t say a word as he brought himself to Adrian’s level and swung his legs over the cliff’s edge. Adrian broke the silence. ‘Did I wake you?’

‘No,’ Meed said with a smile, ‘but I noticed you were gone again.’

Adrian nodded. ‘Sorry, I just came here to think.’

Meed let out a light sigh. ‘You had another nightmare, didn’t you?’

Adrian stiffened. He looked down and repeatedly drummed his foot against the surface of the cliff. ‘I’d rather not talk about it,’ he said.

Meed nodded before reaching over and taking hold of his boyfriend’s hand. ‘You know, I never really wanted to talk to anyone about what my Dad did to me either. I know it’s not on the same scale as what you went through, but I only started to really heal when I opened up about it. When I confronted it and talked to people about it. Both you and Joney were there for me, and it helped. I’ve still not exactly gotten over it or anything, but it was a step in the right direction. I want to be there for you like you were for me. I’ll always be there, but I can’t help you move past this if you don’t open up. So, when you’re ready, I’m right here.’

Adrian swallowed and Meed squeezed his hand. ‘I’m so much happier than I’ve ever been now I’m with you, and I want to try make you feel the same way. Please let me in, Adrian.’

Adrian hung his head. Then he raised it and looked back at the views. He squeezed his eyes shut. It brought him back to the dark, dingy cell on the bottom floor of the Guardian’s complex.

Blood sprayed from his mouth and he clutched his cheek, nursing his busted gum. The next swing came and Randall loomed over him with the large pipe in his hand. He swung again and launched it into Adrian’s back. Adrian crawled away and pushed his body up on his arms, his body throbbing. And Randall forced him back to the floor, driving his foot into the large of Adrian’s back. He felt something crack and he sobbed.

Randall’s voice echoed in his head. ‘I killed your father. He died just how you’re going to die.’

‘Adrian,’ Meed said. It brought him back to his surroundings. The edge of the cliff in the clearing of their unit of the Resistance.

He shook his head. ‘I don’t want to talk about it. Not now, anyway. Thank you, but I’m sorry, I’m not ready.’

Meed nodded in understanding. ‘Okay,’ he said. He kept his hold on Adrian’s hand and moved closer, resting his head on his shoulder. They stayed in each other’s embrace for a long while, Meed smiling at the birds flying and chirping over their heads.

A shout pierced the air. ‘Everybody get up, now. Right now, everyone get the hell up.’

Pheenie came into sight around the side of the cliff as she continued to shout. Joney followed. Adrian and Meed jumped up and sprinted down to the flatland of the clearing.

‘Joney, Pheenie, what’s going on?’ Adrian asked.

‘The Guardians have been tipped off, they know where we are, and they’re coming. Get Sadie, Fraser, Maya and grab your things, now.’

‘How do you know they know—’

‘Just trust us,’ Joney ordered. ‘Grab as much as you can and tell the others to do the same.’

Adrian didn’t need to wake his friends. The commotion of Resistors scrambling around and panicking had stirred them. They traipsed out of their tents. Pheenie legged it to the trunk. She opened the huge padlock and drew a magazine from the pile of ammunition before her. She faced the group of friends standing nearby. ‘Who has the better shot, Meed, you, or Sadie?’

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘I’m sending you to Frank, I need at least one of you to be able to protect the others, but we’re running low on weapons and ammo. I need to reserve the rest of it. So, I can only spare one magazine extra for you.’

Meed nodded in understanding. ‘My gun’s loaded. Give it to Sadie.’

Sadie narrowed her eyes as Pheenie threw the magazine in her direction. She caught it. ‘Who’s Frank, and where are we going?’

‘He’s a trusted contact of mine, you four are Byron’s priority, so we have to get you out of here first. He said he can take six. So, all of you, and Maya and Emmett are going to hide in his home for now.’

Fraser nodded and dashed towards the tents.

‘What about my Ma?’ Adrian asked. ‘She’s a priority too, and there’s not too many people in wheelchairs around. If she’s seen by anybody, they’ll know it’s her for sure.’

‘I know, which is why she’s not going with you,’ Pheenie said. ‘We’re sending her somewhere else where she’ll be safe.’

‘Where?’ Adrian urged.

Joney placed a hand to his shoulder. ‘Adrian, do you trust us?’

His heart thrummed in his chest. ‘Yeah, of course I do, but I just want to make sure—’

‘If you want her to be safe, go, now, because we’re wasting time. I promise you, I won’t let anybody hurt her.’

He nodded and took in a shaky breath. ‘Okay,’ he said as he exhaled.

Meed pulled the keys from one of the jeeps from his pocket. ‘We’ve got to go.’

Fraser re-emerged into the clearing with Maya and Emmett at his side. He carried four rucksacks, each bursting at the seams with clothing. Sadie grabbed a couple from him and they followed Adrian and Meed in the direction of one of the jeeps.

‘Maya,’ Pheenie said. She turned to face her, and caught Pheenie’s walkie talkie when she tossed it to her. ‘Keep in touch.’

She nodded and ran after the others.

***

Adrian held his hood up. He and his friends dispersed themselves around the dark alley. Each of them leaned into its grimy walls. Emmett was unknown to the Guardians, so he stood on guard at the entrance. He kept his head low, intently watching as the Guardians marched the streets. As a Villager stepped inside, Adrian stiffened. He whipped his hooded head to the side, veiling his face in darkness.

His heart palpitated in his chest. He no longer had to just worry about the Guardians, but the Villagers too. In most of their eyes, he was now their enemy. It was all thanks to Byron Fisher. Meed had assured him they could trust Frank though: Pheenie trusted him after all, Joney too. He wanted to find solace in that, but they had all also trusted Jayce before he betrayed them. Adrian had trusted him the most. He couldn’t help but have trepidations.

‘Guys, they’re gone,’ Emmett whispered.

The others nodded. They all pulled their hoods up and Meed came to the front of the group. He took another peek to measure the risk of Villagers singling them out in the street. He took a deep breath, exhaled shakily and gestured for Sadie and Adrian to head for the alley opposite. Adrian almost dashed across the way, but Meed’s voice echoed in his mind.

Don’t run when people aren’t focused on you, it’ll draw attention, he had said.

Adrian nodded. If anyone knew what they were talking about, it was Meed. So, he took a slow breath as he crossed the threshold in slow paces. Sadie took his hand in hers and squeezed it. She knew just how frightened he was. It wasn’t hard to tell though: the apprehension was written all over his pale, trembling face. He breathed a sigh of relief when the darkness of the other alley cloaked them, letting out an exhalation of pent-up breath. Then, he almost gagged at the smell. He should’ve expected the reek of vomit: they were standing in an alleyway adjacent to the only tavern in this Quarter of the Village, after all.

Meed took another scan before sending Fraser and Emmett out into the Village. Emmett guarded his brother from the sights of passersby, moving his body in sync with Fraser’s. They paced across the street and joined Adrian and Sadie in the sheltered walkway. Meed turned to Maya. ‘You ready?’

She nodded. Meed held onto her as they exposed themselves in the daylight. He lowered his head, avoiding eye contact with the nearby Villagers. He looked up when a scream pierced the air. A masked assailant pinned a young woman to a crumbling wall a few feet away. He drew a blade and pressed it to her throat. ‘Give me your money, bitch,’ he growled.

Several people watched on, but nobody intervened in the altercation. Meed tensed and turned to Maya. ‘Go into the alley. I’ll be there in a minute.’

Maya’s face drained. ‘What? Meed, no, don’t get involved. Joney said to—’

He shoved Maya onto the cobbles of the alley, and looked at the others. ‘Stay here.’

He threw Adrian a pointed look, who returned it. ‘Meed, what are you—Meed,’ he hissed.

Fraser and Emmett held Adrian back as Meed dashed down the street. He grabbed the mugger by his shoulders and yanked him away from his quivering victim. The attacker swiped at Meed with the knife, and he almost fell to the ground as he dodged it in a limbo. From the cement, he launched his leg upwards and kicked the man in the jaw. Something cracked. He dropped the knife. Meed jumped to his feet and grabbed him while he still had him off guard. He threw him against the wall, and drew the gun from his pocket. He shoved the barrel against his left throat gland, and gritted his teeth at him. ‘I don’t who you are, why you think it’s okay to attack young girls half the size of you and wearing a mask and carrying a knife around gives you the upper hand, but I’ll give you a choice. You can stay and try to fight me, where I’ll crack another one of your bones, and then kill you, or you can walk away alive, and I can keep my hands free of your blood. It’s up to you.’

Meed kept the masked figure in his tight grasp for a moment, before stepping back, ready to fire off the gun. The man sunk into himself, before darting down the street. Meed turned to the woman. She still trembled. He approached her, and lowered the gun. ‘Are you alright?’

She nodded with a faint smile. ‘You just saved my life. Thank you. Who are you?’

He returned the smile, grateful he hadn’t turned out to resemble his father and his identity remained unknown. ‘Meed,’ Sadie hissed, her face still hidden from view.

‘I’ve got to go.’ He nodded at the girl, stepped back and followed Sadie’s voice. He waited until the other Villagers focused on the woman he had saved, and fussed over her, before he ducked into the alley.

‘What the hell were you doing?’ Emmett demanded.

Meed took in a breath, thought for a moment, and sighed. ‘I was doing what the Guardians should be doing right now, instead of hunting us down. Don’t worry, nobody knew who I am.’ He ignored their stares and brushed past Adrian. He placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘C’mon,’ he said.

They followed Meed through the darkness. Sadie grabbed a flashlight from her rucksack and flicked it on. Their faces remained silhouettes in the shadows. Meed stopped at a wooden doorway. He pushed it open with a creak and nodded at Maya. She returned the nod, took a deep breath and stepped into the back entrance of the tavern. The others waited in the alley, listening out for her knocking. ‘Is Frank there?’ they heard her say.

A door slammed, and they waited. Sadie took a quick peek. Maya stood patiently, waiting on Frank to come to the door. She ducked back into the shadows when the door creaked open again. ‘You Pheenie’s crowd?’ he asked. ‘She said she was sending six.’

He peered toward the alley, and the group emerged from the doorway. ‘That’s us, we just didn’t want to risk being seen,’ Fraser said.

Frank nodded. He waved them inside and they crept into the tavern. He closed another door, one that led to the bar. When he eyed Meed, he smiled. ‘She said I’d recognise a few of you, you’re the kid who took that Guardian down a peg after he tried to shoot me.’ He gestured to the staircase. ‘Go upstairs, first room on the left. I’ll be right up.’

They stared at the steps, as though they were a booby trap, just waiting to go off. Emmett darted a glance at each of his comrades, sighed, and mounted the staircase. Fraser followed his lead. And then the others took to the steps. They crept up to the landing as Frank stepped back into the bar. Meed touched the first door he reached. He pushed it gently with his hand, and it creaked open. He drew his gun and tip toed inside, stepping inside with caution. When he angled his head around the door, he relaxed, and shoved the gun back in his pocket. ‘It’s clear, just had to make sure.’

Meed and the others filed into the room, each taking in its layout. A window took up one wall, and led to a flat roof. Part of the town square was in sight, some of it shadowed by a row of shrubs. Two bean bags were stuffed in the corner of the room, adjacent to a chest of wooden drawers. The walls were covered in peeling wall paper. The carpet was just as old, its frayed edges curling up at the skirting boards.

They took a seat on the floor in the room’s centre, each part of a tight circle. And they waited, Sadie drumming her fingertips against her thigh, Maya puffing her lip out and biting it every few seconds, Emmett focusing intently on a spot on the wallpaper. Fraser rested his face on his balled fists while Meed stared out the window. Adrian just kept holding his breath for as long as he could at a time, before taking in slow, shaky breaths. They each focused on the door when they heard the creaking of the lower staircase.

Adrian continued to hold his breath. His heart thumped. He closed his eyes and told himself it was just Frank. Doubt kept creeping in. He tried ignoring his churning gut, but he couldn’t. His stomach lurched as the footsteps came closer. His pulse drummed in his ears. He rocked his foot up and down.

It’s just Frank, Adrian. The guy who’s helping you. You can trust him, calm down.

The door cracked open, and Frank pushed it wide open with his foot. He held a tray, six glasses resting on it. He smiled, before offering them each a glass. ‘I thought you’d appreciate something to calm your nerves.’

Maya took a glass, and chugged down a huge gulp, before gasping. Emmett and Fraser both reached for a glass, murmuring a ‘thanks’ as they took one. Frank placed the tray down in the centre of the circle. ‘Pheenie will have some sleeping bags dropped here later for you all,’ he said. ‘First, there’s something I’d like to make clear.’

Meed took a glass and sipped from it as Frank continued. ‘I’m more than happy to let all of you stay here, but it’s going to be on my terms. And I only have one term. As you can probably understand, I don’t like guns. And I know, that each and every one of you are carrying at least one. So, while you’re here, I want every single bit of ammo that you have. I don’t want any of them to be loaded in this house. You can keep the guns, as long as they’re empty.’

‘What?’ Sadie asked. ‘But, what if the Guardians find out we’re here? We’re going to need to defend ourselves.’

‘I want no bloodshed under this roof,’ he replied. ‘So, if they come knocking, you go straight out that window, climb down the walls, and get out of here.’

‘You really think that if the Guardians suspect you of harbouring fugitives, that they’re not going to shoot you? At least, if we have our guns, we can defend you, and ourselves. It was because of a gun that you’re still alive. If Meed hadn’t shot that Guardian that day, you and a lot of your customers would likely be dead now.’

Frank sighed. ‘Look, this is my only term, I don’t think I’m asking much. Now, please, if you want to stay here, hand over all your bullets.’

Meed nodded. He drew his gun and ejected his magazine. He reached into his pants pocket and drew another one. ‘Meed,’ Sadie said, wide eyed. ‘Are you serious?’

‘Sadie,’ he said. ‘Look, he is letting us stay here after all, we should at least respect his terms. Everyone, come on, hand your magazines over.’

Adrian took a deep breath, and nodded. He and Fraser emptied their guns and handed over their bullets. Emmett and Maya did the same. Frank looked at Sadie and Meed eyed her sharply, ordering to hand over her ammo. She sighed and conceded. Sadie opened her rucksack and rooted for her gun. When she found it, she held it hesitantly, then removed her magazine. She handed it to Frank with utter reluctance.

‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I’ll have some food made for you all in a while. I’ll bring it up.’

He exited the room, and Sadie swung the door closed. ‘Meed, I can’t believe you made us do that.’

Meed shrugged his shoulders. ‘I know it’s not ideal, being defenceless, but it’s worth it if he keeps us out of sight.’

Sadie arched her eyebrow. ‘Who said anything about being defenceless?’

Adrian sighed at her, He knew what was coming. Sadie reached into her rucksack and pulled out a magazine. ‘I gave him the bullets already in my gun,’ she whispered, ‘but I still have the magazine Pheenie gave me. There’s no way in hell I was going to let at least one of us be without a means to defend ourselves.’

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