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If I stopped running I was dead.
My lungs were on fire, my heart pumping acid, every muscle in my body threatening to cramp. I couldn’t even see where I was going anymore, my vision fading as my body prepared to give in. If the siren hadn’t been hammering at my eardrums, then I’d have been able to hear my breaths, ragged and desperate, unable to pull in enough air to keep me going.
Just one more flight of stairs, one more and I might make it.
I forced myself to run faster, the metal staircase rattling
beneath my clumsy steps. Everywhere around me other kids were panicking, all bolting the same way, to safety. I didn’t look back to see what was behind us. I didn’t need to. I could picture it in my head, its demonic muzzle, silver eyes, and those teeth—like razor wire.
Someone grabbed my arm, pulling me back. I lost my balance, spilling over the railing. For a second the yard appeared five stories beneath me and I almost let myself go. Better this way than to be devoured, right? Then the beast shrieked through its wet throat and I started running again before I even knew I was doing it. I heard the rattle of the cell doors, knew they were closing. If I was caught out here, then I was history. I leaped up the last few steps, hurtling down the narrow landing. The inmates jeered from their cells, shouting for me to die. They stuck out their arms and legs to trip me, and it almost worked. I staggered, lurched forward, falling.
Somehow I made it, swinging through the door an instant before it slammed shut, the mechanism locking tight. The creature howled, a banshee’s wail that made my skin crawl. I risked looking back through the bars, saw its huge bulk bounding past my cell, no skin to hide its grotesque muscles. There was a scream as it found another victim, but it didn’t matter. I was safe.
“That was close,” said a voice behind me. “You’re getting good at this.”
I didn’t answer, just stared out across the prison. Six stories of cells beneath me and God only knew how many more above my head, all buried deep underground. I felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on me, like I’d been buried alive, and the panic began to set in. I closed my eyes, sucking in as much of the hot, stale air as I could, trying to picture the outside world, the sun, the ocean, my family.
All things I would never see again.
“Yup,” came the voice, my cellmate. “Bet it’s starting to feel like home already.”
I opened my eyes and the prison was still there. Furnace Penitentiary. The place they send you to forget about you, to punish you for your crimes, even when you didn’t commit them. Only one way in and no way out. Yeah, this was my home now, it would be until I died.
That wouldn’t be long. Not with the gangs that eyeballed me from behind their bars. Not with the blacksuits, the guards who ran their shotguns along the railings as they checked the cells. Not with those creatures, raw fury in their eyes and blood on their breath.
And there were worse things in Furnace, much worse. Maybe tonight the blood watch would come, drag me from my cell. Maybe tonight they’d turn me into a monster.
I dropped to my knees, cradling my head in my hands. There had to be a way out of here, a way to escape. I tried to find one in the hurricane of my thoughts, tried to come up with a plan. But all I could think about was how I came to be here, how I went from being a normal kid to an inmate in the worst hellhole on Earth.
How I ended up in Furnace.