The Darkest Minds Page 2

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Your child suddenly becomes sullen and withdrawn, and/or loses interest in activities they previously enjoyed.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


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.


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.

The heat from a hundred-odd bodies fogged the bus windows, and it acted like a screen to the outside world. Later, the windows of the bright yellow buses they used to bring kids in would be smeared with black paint. They just hadn’t thought of it yet.

I was closest to the window on the five-hour drive, so I could make out slivers of the passing landscape whenever the rain let up for a bit. It all looked exactly the same to me—green farms, thick expanses of trees. We could have still been in Virginia, for all I knew. The girl sitting next to me, the one that would later be classified Blue, seemed to recognize a sign at one point because she leaned over me to get a better look. She looked a little familiar to me, like I had seen her face from around my town, or she was from the next one over. I think all of the kids with me were from Virginia, but there was no way to be sure, because there was only one big rule: and that was Silence.

After they had picked me up from my house the day before, they’d kept me, along with the rest of the kids, in some kind of warehouse overnight. The room was washed in unnatural brightness; they sat us in a cluster on the dirty cement floor, and pointed three floodlights toward us. We weren’t allowed to sleep. My eyes were watering so badly from the dust that I couldn’t see the clammy, pale faces around me, let alone the faces of the soldiers who stood just beyond the ring of lights, watching. In some weird way, they ceased to be whole men and women. In the gray haze of half sleep, I processed them in small, terrifying pieces: the gasoline reek of shoe polish, the creak of stiff leather, the twist of disgust on their lips. The tip of a boot as it dug into my side, forcing me back awake.

The next morning, the drive was completely silent except for the soldiers’ radios and the kids that were crying toward the back of the bus. The kid sitting at the other end of our seat wet his pants, but he wasn’t about to tell that to the red-haired PSF standing beside him. She had slapped him when he complained he hadn’t eaten anything all day.

I flexed my bare feet against the ground, trying to keep my legs still. Hunger was making my head feel funny, too, bubbling up every once in a while to overwhelm even the spikes of terror shooting through me. It was hard to focus, and harder to sit still; I felt like I was shrinking, trying to fade back into the seat and disappear completely. My hands were starting to lose feeling after being bound in the same position for so long. Trying to stretch the plastic band they’d tightened around them did nothing but force it to cut deeper into the soft skin there.

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