Salt & Stone

By: Victoria Scott

I am stronger than I was before.

Six weeks ago, I was a sixteen-year-old girl from Montana whose brother was dying. Nine months before that, I was shopping with my best friend in Boston, picking out the perfect shade of coral lip gloss. I was the girl who loved a chilled Greek salad, hold the onions, who texted my girlfriends every time there was a sale at Express, who had a closet full of glitter — and so what, a girl has a right to glitter.

Before, I figured that when my family was struck with illness, when my brother, Cody, first passed on a second helping of meat loaf with red gravy and started losing weight, that this was the thing. This was the tragedy I’d have to deal with in my life — watching my big brother crumble and my family with him.

I tried to be brave, to smile when there was nothing to smile about. To offer a polished joke in the doctor’s office so that Cody could cast off the fear in his belly and laugh instead.

Good-bye, fear. Nice knowing you! I won’t be needing you since my sister’s here.

Now I’m competing in the Brimstone Bleed to try and save his life. I thought the bad hand we were dealt was Cody’s being sick. But sometimes a hand worse than illness is the one offering a slippery morsel of hope. That’s the thing about life: When you’re dealt a crappy situation, you think to yourself, At least it can’t get any worse than this.

And then life slaps you upside the head for being naïve.

I wasn’t cut out for a race across the jungle or to trek across the desert with the sun scalding my cheeks.

But like I said —

I am stronger than I was before.





Guy Chambers looks worried. And when he worries, I worry right along with him. Of course, sometimes Guy makes it difficult to be anything at all besides lustful. Even in the heart of the desert — the fresh pink scar on my stomach itching like crazy — I could still shove him on a Popsicle stick and slurp him up. Nom-nom-nom.

“Tella,” he says. His voice is sharp, even urgent.

Though, in my mind, he says my name more like Te-lllla.

Guy tilts his head as if he’s not sure I’m listening, which I’m not. We’ve been at this desert base camp for over a week for “rest and recovery.” But it’s hard to do either when we’re counting down the days until the Brimstone Bleed continues.

The Brimstone Bleed covers four ecosystems: jungle, desert, ocean, mountain. Or mountain, then ocean. Two we’ve completed; two remain. We’re halfway. Hoorah! Victory dance.

Except it’s hard to feel positive about how far we’ve come when we’re battling one another for the Cure — something that will save our loved ones back home from croaking — and because we’ve already lost friends along the way. Even worse, the people behind this race are the ones who made our loved ones sick, though they pretend to be the heroes. And for the grand finale? The second ecosystem we overcame was harder than the first, which doesn’t make me real optimistic about what lies ahead.

Guy’s lion, his Pandora, gives a small growl deep in his throat. It’s as if he’s frustrated that I’m not paying attention to his Contender. My own Pandora growls in return, though it’s amusing, considering the sound emanates from a black fox one-tenth the size. I scoop my Pandora, Madox, into my arms and attempt to focus on what Guy is saying.

“What’s up?” I ask, hoping if I sound casual, the concern will leave his face.

“I think they’re getting ready to move us.”

“Move us,” I repeat, my brow furrowing. “Like we’re cattle or something.” My blood burns as I remember that these monsters ordered us to kill other Contenders’ Pandoras to qualify for the rest of the race. Sometimes, I can’t shake the memory of sliding a blade into Levi’s dying Pandora, even if his brother did ask me to do it.

Guy shifts as if he’s going to brush away the hair from my face like men do in romance novels. Not that I’d know or anything. Not as if I used to dig those suckers out of my mom’s nightstand and devour them while plunging an arm into the graham crackers box.

Before Guy can morph into Fabio, his hand drops to his side. Maybe it’s because I hacked my hair off and all that remains to caress is the blue-and-green feather Mom gave me, the same feather my grandmother once wore in her own hair. Or maybe he’s being distant again. I thought we were past that, but lately I’m not so sure.

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