(Start here.) (Or just go backwards.)
We were back at the entrance to the tunnels. Adam lifted the flap of grass so we could see the metal door underneath. I tried to think of what we had: Adam, Emily, Jacob. A backpack with maybe $60 left, some frying pans, some leftover beef jerky, and a flashlight shaped like a pig. The other chocolate bar got eaten long ago. A bunch of kids who were disappearing, including me: a person who might betray anyone. Who’d said she would betray everyone.
Adam pulled open the door and started to climb down, and I went after him. The tunnel air was cold and damp. Jacob and Emily came down behind me, then pulled the door closed with a creaking metallic sound. I was scared, so scared it was a little hard to breathe. I wished my mother were there, or Phoebe.
They were at the bottom, as still as if they’d been there the whole time waiting for us. I heard Jacob suck in his breath behind me. There were more of them than before, lots of Asian people from some terrible genocide I didn’t want to think about.
Ernesto was at the front, next to the old lady with the red hair and the terrible face. He looked eager in some terrible way—they all did. They murmured together, and then he said, “OK, give it to us now.”
My scalp prickled with sweat and panic. We didn’t have anything to give, and we didn’t have anything to hold back. All we had was ourselves. But they didn’t know that. “Not until I see my mother first,” I said. And I smiled, like I was the kind of person who would betray the whole world. Because maybe if I could get them to believe that, we had a chance.
They didn’t even hesitate. “As we expected,” Ernesto said, and Jacob grabbed my hand in his icy cold one.
“You’ll show me my mother?” I said.
“You’ll give us what you have.”
“First I have to see her,” I said, dizzy.
“Follow me,” Ernesto said.
“We get to see Mom?” Jacob cried.
“No,” Ernesto said. “Only the betrayer.”
I opened my mouth and shut it again.
“No, Alyssa, I want to see her, too,” Jacob said.
“You stay here,” I told him. “Stay with Emily, don’t come with me.” He stepped back, stung, toward Emily, and I acted like that was totally fine. I could feel Adam and Emily and Jacob tense up beside me.
“Come, Betrayer.” Ernesto’s voice was as flat as his eyes. You could almost smell it on all of them—the embodiment of every negative impulse anyone ever had.
“It’s OK,” I said to the others, though it didn’t seem OK at all. I felt like I was walking down a long hall, and there was only an end, no doors left. But there wasn’t anything else to do.
He started walking, and I hefted my clanking junk-filled backpack onto my shoulder, and followed his narrow back down the dark tunnel, leaving everyone else behind.