Home > The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(2)

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1)(2)
Alexandra Bracken

Her eyes rolled back, flashing white in the second it took for her eyelids to droop down. Grace let out a small sigh, not even strong enough to blow away the strands of brown hair stuck to her lips.

All of us sitting nearby froze, though we must have had the same exact thought: she’s fainted. A week or two before, Josh Preston had passed out on the playground because, as Mrs. Port explained, he didn’t have enough sugar in his system—something stupid like that.

A noon aide rushed over to the table. She was one of four old ladies with white visors and whistles who rotated lunch and playground duty during the week. I have no idea if she had any medical certifications beyond a vague notion of CPR, but she pulled Grace’s sagging body to the ground all the same.

She had a rapt audience as she pressed her ear to Grace’s hot pink T-shirt, listening for a heartbeat that wasn’t there. I don’t know what the old lady thought, but she started yelling, and suddenly white visors and curious faces circled in on us. It wasn’t until Ben Cho nudged Grace’s limp hand with his sneaker that any of us realized she was dead.

The other kids started screaming. One girl, Tess, was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe. Small feet stampeded toward the cafeteria door.

I just sat, surrounded by abandoned lunches, staring at the cup of Jell-O and letting terror crawl through me until my arms and legs felt like they would be frozen to the table forever. If the school’s security officer hadn’t come and carried me outside, I don’t know how long I would’ve stayed there.

Grace is dead, I was thinking. Grace is dead? Grace is dead.

And it got worse.

A month later, after the first big waves of deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a five-step list of symptoms to help parents identify whether their kid was at risk for IAAN. By then half my class was dead.

My mom hid the list so well that I only found it by accident, when I climbed on top of the kitchen counter to look for the chocolate she kept hidden behind her baking supplies.

HOW TO IDENTIFY IF YOUR CHILD IS AT RISK, the flyer read. I recognized the flaming orange shade of the paper: it was the sheet Mrs. Port had sent home with her few remaining students days before. She had folded it twice and fastened it with three staples to prevent our reading it. TO THE PARENTS OF RUBY ONLY was written on the outside and underlined three times. Three times was serious. My parents would have grounded me for opening it.

Luckily for me, it was already open.

Your child suddenly becomes sullen and withdrawn, and/or loses interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

S/he begins to have abnormal difficulty in concentrating or suddenly becomes hyper-focused on tasks, resulting in s/he losing track of time and/or neglecting him/herself or others.

S/he experiences hallucinations, vomiting, chronic migraines, memory loss, and/or fainting spells.

S/he becomes prone to violent outbursts, unusually reckless behavior, or self-injury (burns, bruising, and cuts that cannot be explained).

S/he develops behaviors or abilities that are inexplicable, dangerous, or cause you or others physical harm.

IF YOUR CHILD DEMONSTRATES ANY OF THE ABOVE SYMPTOMS, REGISTER HIM/HER AT IAAN.GOV AND WAIT TO BE CONTACTED ABOUT THE LOCAL HOSPITAL TO WHICH S/HE SHOULD BE TAKEN.

When I finished reading the flyer, I folded it back up neatly, put it exactly where I found it, and threw up in the sink.

Grams phoned later that week, and in her usual to-the-point-Grams way explained everything to me. Kids were dying left and right, all about my age. But the doctors were working on it, and I wasn’t supposed to be afraid, because I was her granddaughter, and I would be fine. I should be good and tell my parents if I felt anything weird, understand?

Things turned from bad to terrifying very fast. A week after three of the four kids in my neighborhood were buried, the president made a formal address to the nation. Mom and Dad watched the live stream on the computer, and I listened from outside the office door.

“My fellow Americans,” President Gray began. “Today we face a devastating crisis, one that threatens not only our children’s lives, but the very future of our great nation. May it comfort you to know that in our time of need, we in Washington are developing programs, both to support the families affected by this horrid affliction and the children blessed enough to survive it.”

I wish I could have seen his face as he spoke, because I think he knew—he must have—that this threat, the crimp in our supposedly glorious future, had nothing to do with the kids who had died. Buried underground or burned into ash, they couldn’t do anything but haunt the memories of the people who had loved them. They were gone. Forever.

And that symptoms list, the one that was sent home folded and stapled by teachers, which was aired a hundred times over on the news as the faces of the dead scrolled along the bottom of the screen? The government was never scared of the kids who might die, or the empty spaces they would leave behind.

They were afraid of us—the ones who lived.

TWO

IT RAINED THE DAY they brought us to Thurmond, and it went on to rain straight through the week, and the week after that. Freezing rain, the kind that would have been snow if it had been five degrees colder. I remember watching the drops trace frantic paths down the length of the school bus window. If I had been back at home, inside one of my parents’ cars, I would have followed the drops’ swerving routes across the cold glass with my fingertips. Now, my hands were tied together behind my back, and the men in the black uniforms had packed four of us to a seat. There was barely room to breathe.

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