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©2020 Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Saturday June 20

Wildflowers bent their golden heads to the ground as the helicopter landed in the meadow. Naveed watched from the tree line. He was ready.


When he’d first heard it by the campfire, the sound had flooded him with dread. They’d have to run again, and he wouldn’t be able to keep that up for long. He didn’t want the others to know how depleted he was, or how his lungs ached even in this fresh air, or how disoriented he felt in all this openness, this light. He had been grateful for his rescue, of course, though he was still deeply embarrassed about Cyrus and Andi seeing him like that, and also about passing out at some point during the night. To them he was a burden, a heavy one. It was his fault they’d been caught. They had only started that fire to cook mushrooms for him, to warm him up. 


So he knew he had to leave them. But as soon as he’d gotten away from Cyrus, he'd struggled to figure out his next move. It was difficult to think clearly; he’d used up all his brainpower during their conversation about SILO. He told himself that his head was only foggy because he was still so hungry, that it had nothing to do with the weedkiller Dr. Snyder had tested on him after finding it was neurotoxic to birds....  


He wished he had his knife so that he could carve; that always helped get his thoughts in order. But there was no time for that, and, really, this wasn’t rocket science. He settled on three options: turn himself in, run, or hide.


Shortly after he decided to find a place to hide, he discovered the ravine. Its steep, sudden drop was not visible until he approached it, and it plunged down about thirty feet to an expanse of rock and shrubbery. Just below the rim of the cliff was a small ledge, big enough for a person to stand on.


A new plan began to form. Naveed sat down, holding onto an exposed root as he lowered himself to test the ledge for steadiness. It was solid, an outcropping of rock. A scraggly bush grew from beneath, cradling it like an arm.


He pulled himself back up, panting from the exertion. He had to rest on the ground for a minute before sitting up, then rest again before he could stand. It was irritating that these simple things now took so much effort.  


Then he followed the sound of the helicopter, and by the time it landed, he was crouched by the tree line, waiting. As the propeller slowly whipped to a halt, two men climbed out: the SILO guards, Zane and Chase.


Naveed stood up, steadying himself against a tree until the dizziness passed. It took longer than usual, maybe because his heart was beating so fast. 


“Hey!” yelled Zane, spotting him and breaking into a run. 


Naveed turned and ran, too. From here, it was a short sprint to the ravine, but Zane and Chase were fast, and it didn't take long for them to catch up. He was seized with terror; this had been a stupid idea. But there was no time for second-guessing.  


So he leaped, as planned, down onto the rock ledge. Also as planned, Zane and Chase blindly followed, not realizing they were on the edge of a cliff until it was too late. 


But Naveed had neglected to account for the momentum of his body, which could not come to a stop in such a small space, and his left foot skidded off the ledge. Grasping frantically, he caught hold of the scraggly bush. He closed his eyes while the world spun around him, while he gasped for air, and he kept holding, kept holding, until everything settled. 


He was still on the ledge. He sat back with a giddy laugh of triumph, mentally thanking the plant for preventing him from falling.  


The SILO guards weren’t so lucky, though. At the bottom of the ravine, Zane was sitting up, swearing. Beside him, Chase lay howling. His foot was bent at a weird angle. 


Naveed couldn’t help feeling guilty. Although this was a good outcome as far as his own escape was concerned, he knew what it was to be trapped like that.


“Sorry,” he yelled down, but Zane took it as sarcastic and unleashed a fresh stream of curses. He wasn’t looking at Naveed, though; he was studying the ground, searching for something he’d dropped— 


Shit. He probably had a gun. 


Of course he had a gun. Aided by adrenaline, Naveed climbed out of the ravine and stumbled away. 


When he arrived in the meadow, he peeked inside the helicopter, wishing he knew how to fly one. He made a mental note to learn, even though this would probably be the only time he found himself stranded in the woods with a helicopter at his disposal. 


Inside, there were treasures everywhere he looked. A cooler filled with soda and sandwiches and chips and cookies. A GPS device mounted above the cockpit controls. 


He tossed these into a plastic bag, then climbed out and searched among the wildflowers until he found a large rock. He bashed in all the gauges in the control panel, figuring that an attempt at sabotage couldn’t hurt. 


Naveed leaned back in the pilot’s seat for a brief rest, twisting open a soda (the seal was still intact, he noted) and powering up the GPS. First, he went into its settings. It was an older model, and didn’t have the ability to send location signals, only receive them. Good—they wouldn’t be able to use it to track him. He zoomed out on the map display, pleased to see that Seattle was about fifty miles away. On a bike, that would be nothing, a day’s ride. And Orting, a town in the Rainier foothills, was less than ten miles to the west. 


Orting. That name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t recall why. 


Naveed sipped his soda. He had thought the river water was bliss, but this surpassed it. The sugar flowed into his body, invigorating it, helping to lift his brain fog. The carbonation soothed his stomach, which was mad at him for eating so many mushrooms so quickly. He envisioned himself downing a soda on a commercial. Whenever I’m lost in the wilderness, running for my life, nothing refreshes me like the smooth taste of Coolixir. 


With his newfound mental clarity, he knew he had to leave. Right now. It wouldn’t be easy for Zane to climb out of the ravine, but Naveed didn’t doubt that he would find a way. So he set out, beginning his journey westward, away from the mountain.


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