Its dark in that awful way that allows you to make out objects but not the
black spaces behind them. My breathing comes ragged from exertion and fear. The
only person I trust in the world lies on the floor beside me. I lean into him
and hear that hes still breathing but its shallow and hard won. Hes hurt, I
know. But I cant see how badly. I whisper his name in his ear but he doesnt
respond. I feel his body but theres no blood that I can tell. The sound of his
body hitting the floor minutes before was the worst thing Ive ever heard.
I feel the floor around him, looking for his gun. After a few seconds I feel the cool metal beneath my fingertips and I almost weep with relief. But theres no time for that now.
I can hear the rain falling outside the burned-out building, its loud, heavy drops smacking on canvas. Its falling inside, too, trickling in through gaping holes in the roof down through floors of rotted wood and broken staircases. He moves and issues a low groan. I hear him say my name and I lean in close to him again.
"Its okay. Were going to be okay," I tell him, even though I dont have any reason to believe this is true. Somewhere outside or up above us a man I thought I loved, along with other men whom I couldnt identify, are trying to kill us, to protect an awful truth that Ive discovered. I am hurt myself, in so much pain that I might pass out if I didnt know it meant dying here in this condemned building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Theres something embedded in my right thigh. Its possibly a bullet, or a large spike of wood, or maybe a nail. Its so dark I can just barely see the large hole in my jeans, and the denim is black with my blood. Im dizzy, the world tilting, but Im holding on.
I hear them up above us now, see the beams of their flashlights crossing in the dark through the holes in the floors. I try to control my breathing, which to my own ears sounds as loud as an oncoming train. I hear one of the men say to the others, "I think they fell through. Theyre on the bottom." There was no answer but I can hear them making their way down over creaking wood.
He stirs. "Theyre coming," he says, his voice little more than a rasp. "Get out of here, Ridley."
I dont answer him. We both know Im not leaving. I pull at him and he tries to get up, but the pain registers on his face louder than the scream I know he suppressed to protect us for a few minutes more. If were not walking out of here together, were not walking out at all. I drag him, even though I know I shouldnt be moving him, over behind an old moldy couch that lies on its back by the wall. Its not far but I can see his face white and gritted in terrible pain. As I move him, he loses consciousness again and in an instant feels fifty pounds heavier. But Ive seen all four of his limbs move and thats something. I realize that Im praying as I pull him, my leg on fire, my strength waning. Please God, please God, please God, over and over again like a mantra.
The way the couch is lying, it forms a crawl space against the wall just big enough for the two of us. I pull him in there and lie on my belly beside him. I pull an old crate over toward the edge of the couch and look through the wooden slats. Theyre closer now and Im sure theyve heard us because theyve stopped talking and turned their flashlights off. I hold the gun in both hands and wait. Ive never fired a gun before and I dont know how many bullets are left in this one. I think were going to die here.
"Ridley, please, dont do this." The voice echoes in the dark and comes from up above me. "We can work this out."
Excerpted from Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Unger. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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