Authors: E.R. Arroyo
should consider playing along. You wanted to find other people, you found
them. Accepting you would mean protection. And food.”
know I wasn’t part of your plan.”
stop.” I scratch the back of my head and my hand gets stuck in a tangle. I
tug my fingers through it, ripping out a tiny clump of hair and dropping it.
walks over. “I just...” He kneels beside me. “I want you to be safe. If
it’s the only way--”
not.” I grab his hand. “It’s
lock clicks on the other side of the door, and Dylan pulls me to my feet. Tyce
steps in, lingering in the doorway. “A word with you, Cori?”
holds my hand, shifting his body slightly in front of mine.
gimme a break, man. I’m not gonna hurt her.”
okay.” I squeeze Dylan’s hand then slip out of his grip.
the other side of the door, the kid with the scratches on his face scowls at
me. Tyce waves him away, and he leaves us.
need to move. Don’t like to stay put too long.” He rubs his chin, looking
over his shoulder. “The others don’t trust you, but I do. Hopefully I’m not
vouch for him? Honestly.” He seems on edge, but still as confident as always.
not going anywhere without him. If you don’t want us around, let us go. We
won’t follow you.”
where will you go?” I realize he’s awfully close to me. He’s speaking so
softly I have to lean toward him to hear.
heard there was another colony.”
takes a deep breath. “You’d fit in with us you know. We’d look out for you.
If you’re with us, you’re family. We protect family.”
boy or a girl?”
He raises an eyebrow.
child. A boy or a girl?”
corner of his mouth pulls upward. “A girl.”
lucky to have you.” I touch his arm and linger there. His eyes follow my
hand, so I don’t think he notices my face straining from the contact. “Just
let us go. Please.”
comes even closer, and I back into the wall. He flattens his hands next to my
shoulders, caging me in. When he tilts his head down so that his mouth is
somewhere near my ear, I realize he’s quite a bit shorter than Dylan, but still
taller than me.
designs on his skin stretch in strange angles over the tensed muscles in his
arms while his heavy breaths warm my cheek.
take us a few hours to pack up. We’ll come get you when it’s time to move.
We’ll take you to the edge of The City and point you in the direction of a
colony called Mercy.”
you...” I swallow hard. “Know them?”
puts his hand on my hip, squeezing it tightly, aggressively. “We trade with
them. I think you’ll find them kind.” It hadn’t occurred to me that they
might not be kind. And it should have.
you,” I whisper. Any louder and my voice would shake. I can’t let him know
he’s making me nervous, and not because I fear for my safety.
tip of his nose grazes my cheek bone one direction, and then the other. Then
his lips trace the same path. My breath stutters out. I don’t know if he
smiles because my eyes are closed and my head is tilted the other direction.
takes my embarrassment as an invitation, and kisses the part of my neck I’ve
exposed. His hand leaves my hip and grabs the side of my neck while he kisses
a path toward my jaw. I wince when his fingers touch my stitches, and he moves
his hand to the side of my face without missing a beat. And it’s anything but
gentle. It’s animal.
There’s definitely a smile in his voice. He kisses along my jaw, and then my
then my lips.
then I sigh.
is lucky to have you.” His hands both press against my lower back, pulling me
toward him, and then jump to my wrists. When I look down, I realize I’m
clutching his shirt in both fists. I let go. “I just thought you should know
what you’re missing. It’s only fair.” He winks and pulls back, but it isn’t
far enough. I still can’t breathe. “You can go back in now.”
need a, um...I need a minute.” I squeeze my eyes closed and shake my head.
pulls his shirt back into place, smoothing it down with his calloused hands.
point toward the restroom. “I’m just gonna...”
nods, and I jog to the bathroom. Splashing water on my face, I try to shake
the butterflies in my stomach.
was not fair. He used my body like
a weapon against me.
my heart rate gets halfway back to normal, I march back down the hall and don’t
meet his eyes when I reach the door.
walk through the door, and it latches behind me.
leaving in a few hours. They’re going to let us go.” I can’t look at Dylan.
He’ll see it in my eyes, he’ll know.
blankets are folded, and the pillows stacked atop them. He was busying
himself. I finally sneak a glance his way. His forehead glistens with sweat,
and his jaw is tight, his fists clenched.
he hurt you?”
of course not.” My voice comes out chiding.
walks toward me, his shoulders stiff. “Did you make some kind of deal? Are
there any terms?”
there’s no deal.” I walk toward him, too, still looking anywhere but Dylan’s
face. Anywhere but those piercing, knowing eyes.
us go?” We both take such slow steps toward each
other it takes forever to meet in the middle.
We stand only a foot apart now, and I scrape the dirt from under my
ducks his head, placing his face directly in my line of sight, forcing me to
look him in the eye. “Is everything okay?”
is not a word I’m confident in right now, seeing as I can’t seem to reconcile
the person I felt like standing in the hall with Tyce and the person I feel
like now in front of Dylan. Are they the same person? Is one wrong and one
right? One good, one bad? Or simply two different versions of myself?
fine.” I smile as big as the shame will allow then reach for his waist,
wrapping my arms around him. With my head against his chest, he can’t see the
turmoil behind my eyes. There shouldn’t be any turmoil; I’ve made my choice.
I chose Dylan. That settles it.
knock at the door startles us both. It’s still daytime, but I’m not sure for
how much longer. The hours that passed since I came back in were accompanied
by idle affection and plenty of silence. Unlike Tyce, Dylan’s touch doesn’t
make me nervous. Not anymore.
waves for us to follow him. He leads us swiftly down the corridor that leads
into the main space of the warehouse. All of his boys and men are gathered,
packed up, and armed with blades. They share not-so-subtle glares with us, but
I ignore it. Dylan grabs my hand and keeps close.
voice fills the building. “No one touches them. Understood?” The responses
range anywhere from groans to shrugs.
young guys remove a heavy bar from the door and open it. When the men start to
move out, we follow close behind Tyce.
move down the center of the street in a pack, like they did in the
neighborhood. Their weapons are drawn like they expect trouble. It’s probably
wise, and I wish I was armed.
high-pitched wailing noise rings through the air, and someone bumps into me. I
look every direction. “What was that?”
grins over his shoulder. “Those are wolves.”
City’s full of ‘em. Sewers mostly.” He gestures for us to keep moving.
hard to keep track of the directions and distances because our path seems
erratic, though I’m sure it’s not, as these people seem to know exactly where
they’re going. In the distance, the tallest building’s I’ve ever seen grace
the skyline. Some of them are even made of glass, though many of them are torn
across the top or holes blown out the sides. This city must have been a target
in the war.
drawn to the tall structures by sheer curiosity, but we cut to the left, and I
lose sight of their majesty. The crowd halts in front of a large,
light-colored dome half the size of Antius’s inner property. I try to picture
what this type of building was for as one man breaks off toward a building
across the street. Moments later, other young men emerge encircling teenage
girls and young children. The men move around the outer edges, with the women
and children in the center of their formation. It’s fascinating, and it’s
people are not monsters. Far from it. At the thought of them, I glance over
my shoulder at the savages bringing up the rear. Despite the safety
measures--the muzzles--the look in all their eyes is that of peace. Somehow, I
understand what Tyce meant. These men were forever altered, and the effects
have left their bodies dangerous even though somewhere inside, their souls are
intact, and they don’t want to hurt anybody.
it weren’t for the pitter-patter of feet rushing toward me, I would keep
observing them, as my sudden curiosity far outweighs my haste in leaving The
City. I glance down to find the source of the sounds.
little girl with dark hair and the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen pushes
her way through the crowd with a young woman clamoring after her. The toddler
grabs ahold of my pant leg as she passes me and she slams into Tyce’s leg, her
head reaching barely higher than his knee. She wraps her arms fiercely around
his leg, squealing.
face brightens as he picks her up, throwing her into the air and catching her
with his brutish hands. She giggles and squeezes her eyes closed when he
kisses her cheek. He’s rough with her, but the bond between them is tender and
beautiful. I can hardly imagine him as the violent savage I saw killing those
soldiers just days ago. Today, he’s a loving father, nothing more.
the young woman says, reaching for Tyce’s daughter. She has long hair that
falls in ratted curls over her exposed shoulders. Her shirt hangs down on both
sides revealing more skin than I think I’d ever be comfortable showing. Most
of the girls look like her with clothes ranging from too baggy to skin tight.
Their hair is messy like hers, and none of them have ponytails like the women
in Antius. There’s something wild about them but something free about them,
worries, I’ll carry her a while.” He kisses his daughter again. I have an
urge to ask her name, but stifle it. Then he throws her onto his shoulders and
she wraps her tiny hands around his chin, holding tightly. With his hands on
her legs, steadying her, he nods for the group to keep moving. I can’t help
but smile seeing the way they’ve found simple joys despite this cold, cold
back on our way, and after a couple of blocks, the sun begins to set. Tyce
breaks away from the group, passing off his beautiful baby girl to the
curly-haired caretaker. When the group turns left, Tyce leads us straight.
a few paces, he stops and spins toward us. He pulls a gun from the back of his
pants, and I recognize it. It’s the one they took from me. He looks me in the
eye, and I slip my hand out of Dylan’s. Tyce flips the gun backwards in his
hand and gives it to me. After I check the clip and chamber, I stuff it in my
pants. Tyce faces Dylan, pulling a knife and extending it to him, handle
on this street until it ends. Go that direction until you reach the river.
You’ll see the bridge to the left. Go over the highways, and do
in the tunnels. Cross the bridge and keep movin’ till you reach a set of train
tracks. Follow them to the right.”
then?” Dylan asks, trying, discreetly, to adjust his grip on the knife to line
his fingers up with the ridges on the handle.
then I’m pretty sure they’ll come to you.” Tyce winks at me, and Dylan snorts
and rubs the back of his neck.
sure about this, kiddo?” Tyce smiles at me as if Dylan doesn’t exist.
slip my fingers in between Dylan’s and smile back. “I’m sure.”
that, Tyce nods and jogs toward his people. I call after him, “I meant what I
said. She’s lucky to have you.”
he shouts. “I’m lucky to have her.” He waves, before disappearing around a
squeezes my hand and tugs me toward the bridge, which I can barely make out in
the twilight. Now that I’m not distracted by Tyce and his crew, I soak in The
City around us. Everything is dark and dull, and the fading sunlight
illuminates broken windows, bashed in doors, and plenty of rubble and fire
damage. Not to mention the buildings that are barely half what they used to
be--before whatever happened here.