But life after the Return is never safe.
Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling.
In one reckless moment, half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned.
Now Gabry knows only one thing: if she has any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past.
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The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going. They said it reminded them of the before time. When they didn't have to worry about people rising from the dead, when they didn't have to build fences and walls andbarriers to protect themselves from the masses of Mudo constantly seeking human flesh. When the living weren't forever hunted.
They said it made them feel normal.
And so even while the Mudoneighbors and friends who'd been infected, died and Returnedpulled at the fences surrounding the amusement park, they kept the rides moving.
Even after the Forest was shut off, one last gasp at sequestering the infection and containing the Mudo, the carousel kept turning, the coasters kept rumbling, the teacups kept spinning. Though my town of Vista was far away from the core of the Protectorate, they hoped people would come fly along the coasters. Would still want to forget.
But then travel became too difficult. People were concerned with trying to survive and little could make them forget the reality of the world they lived in. The coasters slowly crumbled outside the old city perched at the tip of a long treacherous road along the coast. Everyone simply forgot about them, one other aspect of pre-Return life that gradually dimmed in the memories and stories passed down from year to year.
I never really thought about them until tonightwhen my best friend's older brother invites us to sneak past the Barriers and into the ruins of the amusement park with him and his friends.
"Come on, Gabry," Cira whines, dancing around me. I can almost feel the energy and excitement buzzing off her skin. We stand next to the Barrier that separates Vista from the ruins of the old city, the thick wooden wall keeping the dangers of the world out and us safely in. Already a few of the older kids have skimmed over the top, their feet a flash against the night sky. I rub my palms against my legs, my heart a thrum in my chest.
There are a thousand reasons why I don't want to go with them into the ruins, not the least of which is that it's forbidden. But there's one reason I do want to take the risk. I glance past Cira to her brother and his eyes catch mine. I can't stop the seep of heat crawling up my neck as I dart my gaze away, hoping he didn't notice me looking and at the same time desperately wishing he did.
"Gabry?" he asks, his head tilted to the side. From his lips my name curls around my ears. An invitation.
Afraid of the tangle of words twisting around my own tongue, I swallow and place my hand against the thick wood of the Barrier. I've never been past it before. It's against the rules to leave the town without permission and it's also risky. While mostof the ruins are bordered by old fences from after the Return, Mudo can still get through them. They can still attack us.
"We shouldn't," I say, more to myself than to Cira or Catcher. Cira just rolls her eyes; she's already jumping with desire to join the others. She grabs my arm with a barely repressed squeal.
"This is our chance," she whispers to me. I don't tell her what I've been thinkingthat it's our chance to get in trouble at best and I don't want to think about what could happen at worst.
But she knows me well enough to read my thoughts. "No one's been infected in years," she says, trying to convince me. "Catcher and them go out there all the time. It's totally safe."
Safea relative term. A word my mother always uses with a hard edge to her voice. "I don't know . . . ," I say, twisting my fingers together, wishing I could just say no and be done with it but hating to disappoint my best friend the way I've done too often before.