Home > Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood #1)(6)

Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood #1)(6)
Victoria Scott

The device is nestled in a pile of ash and embers. It doesn’t look melted or disfigured at all. I grab a stick and try to flick it out. After a few tries, it lands near my bare feet with a small thump.

Crouching down, I reach out a finger and poke the device. It’s not hot. In fact, it’s not even warm. I gather it into my hand and stand up. I’ve forgotten my surroundings. Forgotten that my dad could be inside watching me. All I can do is marvel that the device is untouched by the fire. I turn it over to inspect the other side and my mouth drops open.

The red light.

It’s still blinking.

I don’t think; I just run. Back to our house. Back to my window. Back to my room where I can listen to this message uninterrupted. I pray it’s still there. For some unknown reason, I can’t imagine not hearing what the woman wanted to tell me. I need to know — have to know.

Inside my room, I close the window and crawl into my bed. I turn off the lamp and assume a sleeping position. If anyone comes in, they’ll think I’m in never-never land. Hesitating only a moment, I slip the hearing aid–looking device into my ear. My fingers find the tiny, lit-up button, and I swallow a lump in my throat.

I push.

At first, there’s nothing but dead air, but after a few moments, I hear the same clicking sound. It’s working, I think. It’s still working. The clicking turns to static, and I cover my ear with my palm so I can concentrate.

“If you’re hearing this message, you are invited to be a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. All Contenders must report within forty-eight hours to select their Pandora companions. If you do not appear within forty-eight hours, your invitation will be eliminated.”

I’m so happy the message is still there, I can hardly contain myself. I sit up and glance around the room for a piece of paper, thinking maybe I should be writing this down. But before I can decide what to do, the woman continues.

“The Pandora Selection Process will take place at the Old Red Museum. The Pandora you choose is of the utmost importance, for it will be your only source of assistance throughout the race.

“The Brimstone Bleed will last three months and will take place across four ecosystems: desert, sea, mountains, jungle. The winning prize will be the Cure — a remedy for any illness, for any single person.”

I cover my mouth, trying not to cry. A cure. A cure for Cody. I’d do anything for that. I listen as the woman pauses.

“There can be only one champion.”

CHAPTER FOUR

I leap out of bed, heart pounding. This must be a joke. A prank. It can’t be real.

Can it?

If this is a joke, it’s the worst kind. Because I’d do anything to save Cody’s life. And this device — this woman — just told me there’s a way. Did my dad listen to this? My mom? Do they know what she said? If they did and they thought there was even a possibility of its being true, why would they ever try to destroy it?

I don’t know. I don’t care. This is about me now. The blue box was on my bed. I’m the one who received the invitation.

But this can’t be real. Can it?

My heart aches as I consider my brother. What’s crazy is — as absurd as this race sounds — I can’t stop thinking, What if it’s true? I want to believe it’s real. I want to believe there can be an end to Cody’s blood tests and MRIs. That my mom will learn to sleep again, and that my dad will stop quietly raging. I don’t want to smell antiseptic anymore or meet another kindhearted nurse who’s great at hitting a vein on the first try. How about, instead, you leave Cody alone?

How about, instead, you make him better?!

Driven by raw emotion, I weigh my choices. Ignore the woman’s message and go back to bed.

Or.

Take the chance, the miniscule chance, that my dad knew there was something to hide.

The realization that I may be onto something slams into me. My parents tried to conceal this. My brother passed it off as a joke. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone in my family stop me from helping Cody.

Assuming this is all real.

“It has to be,” I whisper in the dark.

Anger coils in my stomach like a serpent. My dad didn’t think I could do this. That’s why he tried to destroy the device. But maybe he doesn’t know his little girl as well as he’d like to believe. Because when it comes to doing something for my family, I’m not just his daughter.

I am strong.

I will be strong for my brother.

My hand grips the device I’ve removed from my ear. The woman said I needed to get to the Old Red Museum within forty-eight hours. How long has it been since I first saw the box? How long did it take to get to me?

Grabbing my old backpack from my closet, I think about what to pack: clothes, food, water, the device … maybe some nail polish. Just because I’m entering a race doesn’t mean I don’t want to look magically delicious. I throw on a black, long-sleeved T-shirt, jeans, and yellow ballet flats. Then I jam things into my bag as quickly as I can, knowing I want to leave before the sun rises and my parents wake up. The first thing I’ve got to do is figure out where the Old Red Museum is. We don’t have an Internet connection here, but some place in town will. I’ll be able to look it up there. At least I hope so.

A lump forms in my throat as I think about leaving. My parents will be fine, but what about Cody? Will he be okay while I’m away? I stare at the bag in my hands, then drop it onto the bed. I’m not even sure of what I’m doing when I leave my room and head to Cody’s. I stop in his doorway and listen to his even breathing.

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