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Crowley stood there for what seemed like an eternity, just looking down at them.
Braedon kept his gaze fixed straight ahead. It was extremely unwise, not to mention forbidden, to make eye contact with Crowley.
He has to know. Somebody told.
Braedon swallowed hard. He hadn’t even eaten anything, but he felt like he was about to throw up.
Why doesn’t he do something?
And just as Braedon thought this, Crowley turned and headed on toward the large empty stage at the front of the dining hall.
At the center of the stage was a mic stand. Crowley took the microphone from its stand and looked out over the assembled children.
“We have an award to give out today,” he said, smiling with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Reuben Bradshaw, please come up here.”
“Don’t be embarrassed, Reuben. Come on up.”
The little boy beside Braedon stirred. Then finally he stood up, looking terrified.
“There you go, Reuben. No need to be shy.”
Reuben pushed his chair back in and walked toward the stage. To Braedon, at least, he looked as if he were going to his execution.
“That’s it,” Crowley said as Reuben ascended the stairs toward the platform. “Let’s give him a hand, everyone.”
Polite—and restrained—applause broke out across the room.
Spencer Crowley reached a hand out toward Reuben. “Come over here and stand by me.”
Reuben walked over and stood beside Crowley. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else on the planet.
Spencer Crowley put a large hand on the boy’s shoulder. “We have a genuine hero among us today.”
Silence from the assembled children.
Crowley’s voice was strong, commanding. “Reuben has done his part in protecting this community. Earlier today he learned that someone is going to betray us. Now he could have been afraid and kept that bit of news to himself. But Reuben, courageous young man that he is, told one of the Watchers.”
A wave of nausea swept over Braedon, followed by a death-like chill.
Did they know about him? Was he the person the boy had ratted out? Or was someone else thinking of going over the wall?
Crowley interrupted his thoughts.
“Let’s have another round of applause for our hero.”
More cautious applause from the audience.
“For the rest of this month, Reuben is at the head of the line for every meal.” Crowley patted the boy on the back. “Good job, son.” He gently nudged Reuben toward the steps at the side of the stage.
Crowley held his mirthless smile as Reuben slunk back to his table. Then he looked out over the crowd and his voice took on a somber tone. “You won’t get away,” he said. “Your only hope is to come clean now, before we come for you.”
Spencer Crowley pointed to a large clock over the dining hall entrance. It read 6:30.
“You know who you are. I’m giving you thirty minutes to turn yourself in. After that, there will be neither grace nor mercy. Any questions?” The expression on Crowley’s face made it clear that this was a rhetorical question. No one dared to speak up.
Crowley nodded. “Enough said. You are dismissed.”
Not a person moved. They knew they had to wait until Crowley was gone. He left the platform and exited the room without another glance at the children.
Once Crowley was gone, the children left the dining hall, table by table. No one directed them; no one said a word. Each table quietly stood in turn, took their dirty dishes to a window near the kitchen, and then left the building.
Braedon sat, stunned, as his table waited for its turn. He looked over at Reuben. The boy refused to make eye-contact. Braedon wanted to grab him and shake him, find out what he knew and what he’d told the Watchers.
But he knew he couldn’t.
For all he knew, the boy had told on someone else. If that was the case, Braedon would give himself away by confronting Reuben. He’d just have to hope and pray that someone else was planning to escape. No matter what, he was going. And he was going tonight.
When Braedon’s table stood, he followed the others out the door. The clock over the door read 6:45.
Low in the sky, the setting sun cast a blood-red glow over the campus.
Braedon decided to take the shortest route back to his dorm, cutting across the baseball diamond and through a stand of tall, long-needle pines.
The thick trees obscured what little sunlight was left, leaving Braedon to make his way toward the dorm in near darkness. As he passed a large thick tree trunk, he heard someone behind him.
“Stop,” said the voice.
YOU DECIDE: Who is behind Braedon, telling him to stop? Is it…
- Dustin, his co-conspirator? or…
- One of the Watchers?
HOW TO VOTE: Either leave a comment below with your choice or go to my Facebook page, James Pence Books, and leave a comment on the post about this scene.
Voting is open until: