(22) Psychasthenia

2.1K 266 128

We leave the room together. Instinct tells me to stick to our pack, and I'm not the only one. Ditzy drifts close enough to my side to distract me, and Patrick actually runs into Calico J's back when he hesitates as we come into sight of the first other members of the Anport Rescues. We're midway down the stairs. A small, blonde woman and a brawny man are speaking in lowered tones in the hallway below us.

That conversation goes silent when the stairs creak beneath my feet. Both people look up with expressions that are already wary before they realize who we are. More quiet alarm bells start up in my head. Now we're poised on the stairs in a sort of stare-down, and the two Anport members look ready to punch our lights out, bolt from the house, or both if we take another step. Before we have to find out which, the woman tugs the man's sleeve and beckons him away. I don't realize how tense I've gone until I start moving again.

"They don't like us," whispers Patrick, stating the obvious. "Or each other."

"I wonder if they know about the screening thing," murmurs Calico J.

I say nothing. Neither does Ditzy, and Patrick doesn't reply to Calico J, so an uncomfortable silence falls over us again. I don't see Ember or Oreo anywhere, but I have a guess we'll find them in the office.

"Did anyone see where they went?" I ask for good measure. "Or did they tell us anything?"

All three of my companions shake their heads. I lead the way to the office and knock on the door.

"Come in," says Oreo from inside.

I do. My companions follow more cautiously. Patrick's eyes dart around the room, but Ditzy fixes her gaze on Oreo. The cocky defiance I'm familiar with from her phases back onto her face, and Oreo's scowl in response tells me I'm not imagining it. It's a marked difference from how Ditzy reacted when they first came face to face. That time, I did all the talking.

Ember looks about to start this conversation, but Oreo beats her to the punch, pointing fingers at me and Ditzy.

"You two were beside Vix's body when I found you," he says. "Did you take anything from it? Or from her stuff in general?"

Every muscle in my body seizes. At this very moment, Vix's phone and notebook are both hidden in our room upstairs. I want them to stay that way until we know what's going on.

"No," I say.

"Nothing at all?"

Never have I been so glad that my resting face is expressionless. My sister used to call me a robot whenever we were in social situations together. I pray that my companions will have the presence of mind to hide their own reactions—they all know I'm lying right now. I regret not leaving a guard in our room, even more than I regretted it already. Our stolen finds are only hidden in Patrick's sleeping bag, which is still against the wall beneath the window. Anyone from this group could waltz into our room, search it briefly, and uncover my lie.

"Do I look like a body-robber to you?" I say. My brain catches up with my mouth a moment later, but by then it's too late to take the words back. I commit to them for damage control. "We didn't live this long by making off with the possessions of dead people when we don't know if this... pandemic or whatever you want to call it is contagious."

Oreo and Ember exchange a glance.

"Do you?" I say, seizing the opportunity to turn this back on them.

"Know if it's contagious?" says Oreo in a very obvious misinterpretation of my question. He's already told me they don't know that. It was one of the first things I dragged out of him back in the motel room when we started talking back.

Red Rover | gxg | Wattys 2023 Winner | ✔Where stories live. Discover now