The Ward - By Jordana Frankel


This is no ordinary flea-bitten day—not for me, it ain’t.

The other kids don’t know that, though. Which is how it’s gotta stay. If any of them found out I was going to the races, they’d tell Miss Nale on me and I’d get stuck washing dishes for a week.

Just go to sleep already, I whine from under the industry-standard I’d-rather-be-cold-than-itchy blanket. Getting the girls in the corner to quit their gabbing and conk out has got to be harder than scoring extra rainwater rations in this joint.

Even after Miss Nale left the second time around, their machine-gun giggling kept right on.

Boys. That’s all it ever is. Well, let them waste those perfectly good heartbeats.

If my heart’s gotta beat itself to death, I’d like for it to go out with a bang.

Or, at the very least, a checkered racing flag.

Another thirty minutes, and I hear the healthy kids’ telltale easy breathing. Ten more after that to make sure it’s for real. The girl next to me snores slightly, her whole body slumped and buried under the covers.

Four months ago, she walked into a room full of empty beds and chose the one next to mine. Then she started sitting with me at mealtimes. Then free time. I never talk to her, but she keeps on trying. Always chipper. Odd, too, rummaging around abandoned buildings looking for copper pennies to give away.

She seems nice enough, and that’s exactly why I don’t get attached.

Kids like Aven, they don’t last long in an orphanage. Not with so many parents losing their own to the Blight. Provided she keeps herself from getting sick, she’ll be out of here, adopted in a minute, guaranteed. And if she does catch it . . . well, it’s still a quick turnaround. Dying will do that.

I learned early on, it’s best to keep to yourself. Everyone leaves eventually.

Except for me, of course. I’m the lucky one who gets to watch everyone else go.

Slow moving, I slip out of bed. Bare feet against the floor make me want to yelp—it’s always a bitter cold—but I keep my trap shut. Can’t have anyone waking. On the floor between my bed and Aven’s are her leather clogs, filled to the brim with pennies.

She could sell those things. People love buying pennies ’cause they make nice thank-you gifts. Like giving someone a bit of luck to show you’re grateful for something.

I consider taking one—

Nah. Who am I kidding? I don’t need luck.

I do, however, need some water, I realize, eyeing the canteen next to her shoes. She always shares her rainwater rations anyway. One swig, I think, uncorking the bottle and downing two instead. I’ll need the extra boost for tonight. Tomorrow, assuming I make it back, I’ll thank her.

I put the canteen down on the floor and head for the window—my escape route to the races. As I slink past, Terrence opens one eye.

Don’t say nothing. You better not say nothing, Ter. He wants to be a racer too, someday. He’d understand what I’m about to do, but I still freeze, like in that dumb game.

He winks, and closes his eye.

Good boy.

I tiptoe on. One of the girls in the corner wheezes, stops me dead in my tracks. I hold in my air out of habit. The virus starts just like that, before you get the tumors.

Bet she’ll be gone, off to the sickhouse, by the time I get back.

I plug up my nose and keep walking, though I’ve been in this place thirteen years, without even a sniffle to my name. Miss Nale used to wonder how I never got sick.

“I don’t breathe no germs, that’s how.” That’s what I’d say.

I didn’t know it, but I was wrong.

Just yesterday, Nale sent me to see the orphanage doctor for being “too healthy.” Apparently my not dying was cause for suspicion. Rightly so, as it turns out, ’cause according to Dr. Hartigan, I got something funny in my blood that makes me immune. To the Blight. At first, I thought that meant I was gonna die. I started bugging out, and then the doctor explained: Turns out I’m not gonna die. Not from the virus, anyway.

Still, I keep my nose plugged until I’m able to lift up the window through the bars and inhale the grimy, salty city air.

One of the girls squeals from behind.

Good grief, don’t they ever sleep? I think, whipping around.

“Ren! I knew it!”

Faster than a racing Omni, Aven rushes me, her white-blond hair glowing in the dark. “It’s been you