Authors: E.R. Arroyo
he leaves, I wait about two minutes then bolt for the door. Alyssa calls after
me, but I have to get out of here. I can’t breathe, and I need to think. I
need to process.
I bust through my bedroom door, I slam it then sink to the floor. When I draw
my hand to my face, I realize for the first time that it’s sore. I poke around
to figure out how big the mark must be. Most of my cheek hurts, as well as
both sides of my jaw. I guess he gripped me harder than I’d realized before he
close my eyes remembering his cold fingers on my skin. I shudder and can’t
help the tears that overwhelm me. Two days ago, I was in control and
untouchable. Today I'm nothing. I’m a vapor. A little girl who cries
when someone puts on a little pressure. Savagely wiping my tears away, I drag
myself out of my pity party. How am I going to face the dangerous world on the
outside if I can’t even hold it together in here?
more tears, Cori
I tell myself.
light tap on the door startles me, and I jump to my feet as the knob turns.
Dylan slides through the door. Although I’m relieved it’s only him, I can’t
believe he’s on the girls’ floor. He shouldn’t be here.
are you doing?” I hug my chest, gripping my waist, and I feel myself blush. I
doubt it shows, though, since my face is probably already red.
is still eating,” he whispers.
did you get up in here?” I glance at the door, thinking of the guard at the
end of the hall.
break.” I’m glad he’s being cautious. He should be. “What happened to your
face? Are you okay?” Holding his hand awkwardly in the space between us, I
can tell he wants to touch my wounded face, but refrains. I’m thankful he’s so
respectful of me. Alyssa is a lot less considerate. She often throws an arm
around my shoulder, giving me a good squeeze before I can squirm free.
try to sound okay, casual even. “Oh, you know. Just another night in the slammer.”
nostrils flare and his eyes widen. “Who hit you?” There’s an edge to his
voice now. Less tender. I can’t place it, but from the fists at his side, it
might be protective.
I look away, ashamed. Scared.
knew it.” He turns his back, and all the muscles are tensed beneath his
shirt. When he slams his hand into the wall, I jump. I can’t figure out what
he’s thinking and it’s driving me crazy.
knock at the door sends both of us into panic. All I can think is to hide
the bed,” I hiss. Once he’s hidden, I sit on the bed and try to look casual.
steps inside, her arms full of clothing. She closes the door and lets out a
little exhale, seeming tired. Ginny is my beloved caretaker. Has been ever
since I was seven, when I first arrived at the colony. She’s a little cold,
but she has to be. Still, the coldness never reaches her eyes and that’s how I
know she cares. Honestly, she could pass for my mother; we have almost the
same shade of strawberry blonde hair. But her eyes are blue, not brown like
drops the clothes beside me. “We need to get you presentable.”
look myself over and wonder if that’s even possible.
up,” she beckons me to stand. When I’m up, she takes my place. I wince a
little, hoping to God Dylan doesn’t make a sound. If I get caught with a boy
in my bedroom, I’m a goner for sure. They don’t tolerate mixing company like
this. Even once we’re grown, we can’t engage in romantic or intimate relationships.
Reproduction is strictly sanctioned by the Population Division.
with them,” she says, gesturing to my clothes.
I think even though Dylan can’t hear me.
turn my back to the bed and drop my cotton pants, and strip off my gray
t-shirt. I try to cover myself as I look back at Ginny.
great. You’re finally aware you have breasts. Just in time,” she chirps.
feel a heavy blush all over, but I guess I haven’t had much regard for the
changes my body has undergone these past couple of years. Ginny holds up a
small piece of fabric that confuses me, as it’s not large enough to be a
shirt. I hold the thing with one hand still covering my chest, and look it
is it?” I ask, feeling silly that I don’t know.
bra. You’ll be needin’ to start wearin’ one. You’re almost a woman now.” Her
voice isn’t like the rest of ours. She has a different dialect that she won’t
tell me how she came by.
day?” I hold it as far away as I can.
the rest o’ your life, dear.”
shows me which way it goes, and I slide it on over my head and shimmy the
elastic band at the bottom into place. I’m actually grateful I’m semi-covered
now. Dylan had better not be looking.
be glad it’s not the kind with wires, like mine. You shouldn’t need them,” she
says, obviously attempting to lighten the mood. I’m so tense, I know she can
tell I’m uncomfortable.
wires? In your bra?” I ask.
nods. I can’t help but look at her chest now, wondering why hers warrants
something mine does not. The obvious answer is size, but maybe I’m wrong.
this dress for the funeral. I don’t want to hear a word about it. Your
pants’ll be right here waitin’ after dinner.” With that, she leaves.
slip into the dress, which is black and comes just below the knee. It doesn’t
have sleeves and for some unimaginable reason the neckline is cut like a “V”
that lands way too close to my new bra. I feel naked and hate it.
didn’t see anything,” Dylan whispers.
For a moment, I’d
forgotten he was there. Now I’m blushing all over again.
starts to slide out from under the bed, when another tap comes at the door. I
can’t imagine how anyone else could possibly need to see me. Dylan drags
himself back under the bed as Nathan steps through the door.
I felt naked thirty seconds ago, it’s nothing compared to now. One corner of
Nathan’s mouth turns into a crooked grin as he looks me over, apparently
pleased with my dress. I’ll have to remember to kill Ginny for this later.
Cori. There you are,” he says, pushing the door closed then crossing his arms.
hope you didn’t have to look too hard to find me right here in my room.”
Before today, I could tell when my digs were getting to him. Now, he’s cold as
ice. Hard as stone.
strides over to my bed and sits right where Ginny had. I’m even more nervous
now than when Ginny was in here. I tell myself there’s no reason for Nathan to
look under the bed, so long as Dylan stays quiet, we’re safe.
rubs his serpentine fingers across my pillow and I cringe, hoping my revulsion
doesn’t show. I remember, again, when those fingers were on my face, and his
threat that accompanied them. But he’s wrong. I’m still ten months from
eighteen. We don’t join our Divisions until eighteen. I have ten months to
get out. If I don’t, I
be one of his soldiers and
won’t even have a choice. None of us do. My examination results showed I’m
cut out for one thing: violence. By default, I’m pledged to the Guard.
takes a deep breath and stares at me.
He can’t touch me for ten months
I push away the fact that he already has touched me and
shove it far into the darkness somewhere.
a mystery to me, you know,” he says. “And you frustrate me.” His eyes
scrutinize me again, and I feel sweat beading on the back of my neck. “You
seem to continually find new ways to frustrate me, actually.”
do you want from me?”
see, that’s just it. I can’t decide.” He tilts his head to the side,
wrinkling his nose. “There’s a part of me that wonders if I could somehow
harness all that rage, all that energy--the skill even--and put it to good
use. If you could channel your passion toward the good of the colony instead
of petty mischief...well, you’d make a hell of a soldier.”
other part?” I ask, regretting it almost immediately. Why can’t I keep my trap
stands, clasps his hands, and takes a few steps toward me. “The other part,”
he starts as sweat drips down my back. “The other part wants to make you
suffer. To punish you for your blatant disrespect for my rules. Your
disregard for the well-being of this colony and how it must operate.” He’s
beginning to yell now, “The other part wants to squeeze the life out of you and
parade your body around as a trophy, so that everyone will know that I alone am
sovereign, not some punk kid with an attitude problem.”
don’t know how long I’ve been holding my breath, but I exhale at the same time
people admire me. If you kill a seventeen-year-old girl for some ego boost,
they’ll revolt. You’ll make a martyr of me,” I say as boldly as I can.
are many ways I can punish you.” He rubs the bottom of his shirt to wipe off
dirt that isn’t there, smoothing it over a few times, casually.
you have ten months to decide.”
cold, billowing laugh escapes him and sends a shudder through my bones.
Little girl.” He’s in my face now. “In ten months, you’ll already be a model
soldier, or you’ll be dead. Your delinquency has given me no choice but to
expedite your pledge. I’ll see you at the funeral.”
like that he’s out the door and I’m staring at the wall, listening to his
footsteps falling farther and farther away. I can’t be sure but I think he
just told me I’m joining the Guard early.
Guard means a chip in my neck, and living in the military sector of the
underground facility. Under the same roof as Nathan. The Guard means security
cameras, locked doors, and no windows. The Guard means I cannot escape.
jump when two hands grab my shoulders, and I jerk away from the touch
immediately, even though I know it’s just Dylan and he means well. He always
means well. I wait for him to tell me it isn’t true. I wish he would tell me
Cornelius is still alive, and I still have ten months to escape. I
he would tell me I’ve just woken up from a nightmare. But he doesn’t.
make you a new set as fast as I can. I’ll start tonight,” he whispers. We
both know it’ll take at least a week to forge a pair of wings without being
caught. Somehow I doubt we’ve got that much time.
got to get you out of here,” I say as I walk to the door. I push him behind it
as I peek outside, finding the hall is bustling with girls. I close the door.
I point at the air vent and walk over to it. He doesn’t follow. “If you crawl
inside this vent, go left and take it all the way down, it will lead you to a
return vent in the girls’ room, where the laundry chute is. Go down the chute,
climb into the vent directly above it, and go right. In ten yards you’ll reach
the vent in your room.”
rubs his brow, looking completely baffled.
try to assure him, “It’s okay, I replaced all the screws on the vent covers
going to be fine. I promise, I use the ducts all the time. You’ll just have
to be careful...”
he says, more assertively.
We’re wasting time. I look at the door, nervously, afraid someone else will
come through it.
know how to get to my room?”
now I’m blushing again, but I try my best to play it off, adjusting my dress.
“You know how I can’t sleep sometimes. I just...worry, and I like to make sure
I check on Alyssa, too.” I hope the last bit will comfort him. I know he
cares for her.
seems to be mulling something over, but I can’t read his expression. “Cori,
there’s a problem.”
immediately start to backpedal, certain I’ve just offended him. Not respected
his privacy. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it anymore, I promise.”
problem is there’s no way I’ll fit through that vent.”
soak him in, then eye the vent. When I return to him, I realize he’s well over
six feet tall and quite bulky. Though his waist is narrow, there’s no way his
shoulders will fit through the hole in my ceiling. I barely fit through. I
have no idea how I’m going to get him out of here.
pace the floor, trying to think of something. I check the hall one more time.
Besides the scores of girls, there’s a guard on constant duty at the end of the
hall. They rotate twice a day, twelve-hour shifts of nothing but sitting
still, and keeping watch, probably watching for things exactly like this--a boy
in my room.