Authors: E.R. Arroyo
decide there’s nothing we can do until the hall clears out and Dylan doesn’t
seem to mind. I’m not concerned with afternoon classes since my life is being
put on fast-forward.
crawls under my bed in case someone comes in, and I lay on top of it figuring I
might as well rest before the funeral. Maybe the gate will magically be opened
while everyone is distracted with the service and no one will notice me running
as fast as I can to freedom. Unlikely, but a girl can hope.
set my watch alarm for 4:30 so we’ll have plenty of time to get him out of here
before the girls come back from classes to change clothes for the funeral. My
eyelids flutter and I allow sweet sleep to come over me.
a semi-conscious state, I dream of nothingness--just black in every direction.
I don’t see any faces, but I hear someone’s voice, and I have the sensation of
holding someone’s hand. I remember the last time I held someone’s hand and the
memory jars me awake. My alarm is beeping, and Dylan is sliding from under the
bed. I shut the alarm off and sit up, feeling groggy.
a few deep breaths, I slide my boots on over a clean pair of socks. The boots
make the dress look even more ridiculous, and I’m glad. I’m running out of
ways to rebel.
check the hall--it’s all clear except the guard. I can feel Dylan’s breath on
me as he leans over my shoulder to see. “Ready?” I whisper, without looking up
that, I step into the hall, immediately drawing the guard’s attention. I
stretch my arms and fake a yawn as I walk to the restroom. Once I turn the
corner into the restroom, I count to five then let out a blood curdling
scream. When I hear the guard running down the hall, I come out and meet him
at the door.
bug,” I say.
grumbles something under his breath then follows me into the room. I point to
the far corner by the showers and yell, “Over there.” He walks to the corner,
Are you sure?”
there by the drain,” I say, walking towards him. I peek into the drain. “Ew,
did it crawl in there? What if it’s poisonous?”
doubt there’s a bug, but if you see it again, let me know. I’ve got to get
back to my post.”
that was a gross bug. I’m going to run some water down that drain. Maybe I’ll
luck, miss,” he says as he pulls the door open. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
caretaker excused me, had a fever this morning.” I smile a little, trying to
nods and leaves the room. I run the shower for a moment and shout into the
drain, “I hope you die.” I suppress a laugh and shut off the shower.
I get back to my room, Dylan is gone and I assume he made it downstairs and to
his room without trouble. I won’t know until I see him at the assembly later.
hall begins to fill up again, even more than it had on lunch break. I head
toward Alyssa’s room. On the way, I notice about half the girls are already
dressed up for tonight, and of those, not a single one is dressed like me. No
one’s collar bones are exposed, nor their shoulders. I can feel innocent eyes
fixed on me, and I pretend I’m perfectly comfortable in this absurd dress.
finds me near her door, clearly amused by the sight of me.
you seen Ginny? What are you wearing tonight?” I ask.
wearing this,” she says, looking down at a longer, dark gray dress with long
sleeves and a well-covered chest. I can’t help but notice (thanks to Ginny)
that her chest is also bigger than mine, and wonder if she wears a wire bra, too.
I shake the thoughts away and follow Alyssa into her room.
plop onto her bed as she looks herself over in the mirror behind her door. I
don’t have one, but if I looked like her I’d consider it.
you get the pretty dress? I would think he would have noticed me, too,” she
exclaims, envying this stupid rag.
who? What are you talking about?” I ask.
she grumbles. “He chose that dress for you. I helped Ginny sort the pile they
rise and stand face-to-face with her. “What do you mean?”
mean Nathan handed that dress to Ginny and said it was specifically for you.
Something about a ‘big day.’”
catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I’m quite surprised to find the
dress is a perfect fit, but I hate the way it hugs my chest and hips. I hate
that in just a small way, Nathan’s made a decision for me.
stare at myself a moment longer and can’t help but think how much nicer this
dress would look on Alyssa. I think she would be more than happy to put her
curves on display. Her arms and legs are actually feminine, too, instead of
skinny and toned like mine. I look like a thirteen-year-old boy. I’m taller,
though, and I’m happy for that.
sit beside her on the bed and try to relax like she’s doing. Normally, I’m
more careful about spending time with her, but this could very well be our last
chance to hang out. Soon I’ll be in the Guard Division, and next year she’ll
be in the Population Division. I honestly think she’ll be happy there. She was
chosen for reproduction based on her superior genetic makeup, that and her lack
of other specific proficiency. She took it as a compliment.
be a mother some day, though that doesn’t quite mean what it used to. I only
know different because I wasn’t born here, so I had a real one. Here the
mothers only breed. To prevent strong maternal attachments, caretakers like
Ginny do the raising.
course, in order for Alyssa to reproduce, someone’s going to have to touch
her. The thought makes me cringe, and I’m thankful for a brief moment I was
chosen for Guard. If I don’t find a way to escape, at least I can play the
Alyssa and I get to the lawn where the colony is gathered, the air is nice and
crisp, and I enjoy the wind on my cheeks. Cornelius’s body lies in a metal
casket atop a platform. On the same platform, there’s a podium, which I assume
Nathan will take to at any minute.
scans the crowd, and I assume she’s looking for Dylan, same as I’m doing, but
neither of us sees him. We find a place to stand near the back and settle in,
hoping the assembly won’t take too long. The sun’s on its way down and once
it’s gone, the temperature will drop fast. The dark gray clouds are just as
heavy during the day as at night, but the sun is bright enough to penetrate
them and warm the air. The moon and stars are distant memories; nobody’s been
able to see them in years.
me, everybody seems to be nervous, yet solemn somehow, too. I understand
why--I feel the same way. While Cornelius was by no means an ideal leader, he
tried his best to be just.
remember when he took me in. My father had been attacked by savages and an
Antius convoy had picked me up. They were reluctant to bring me to the colony
because, at the time, they couldn’t test for infection. Cornelius looked me
over himself and determined I was fine. Nathan threw a fit, but Cornelius
said, “She’s just a child, and she’s perfectly healthy.”
cried as they dragged me from my lifeless father, but Cornelius held me in his
arms the whole way back to Antius. Now I stand looking at his coffin from a
long distance wondering if anyone held him as he drew his last breaths. I
guarantee Nathan didn’t.
tilt my head back so the pooling tears won’t fall. Nobody has seen me cry in
years. That’s a gem I reserve for the privacy of my own room. I only have my
own room, by the way, because I was deemed an unsuitable roommate when I was
ten. Roommates actually share beds here and apparently I thrash. I’m better
off alone, that’s for sure. Alyssa’s roommate is only nine. I can’t imagine
sharing a bed with a little girl.
hear a high-pitched squeal. At the podium, Nathan taps a microphone that’s
amplified by overhead speakers--the same ones that blare the sirens and
we honor a great man,” Nathan begins. “A man who spent his hard-earned
resources to build a bunker. A man who brought in as many people as he could
to ride out the war safely underground.” Nathan gestures to the compound
around us, “He built this place for us. A safe place.”
all heard this story. By the time the chemical warfare reached its peak on
American soil, half the country had already evacuated to other nations. Of
those left behind, most were killed. The bombs were so powerful, entire cities
were destroyed, and the land was left toxic. The people who were lucky enough
to find room in bunkers survived. Those who left the bunkers too soon were
infected by the chemical fallout that turned them into violent savages. I’ve
heard rumors that the animals had mutated into altogether new things--monsters
was born out of an underground group of survivors that had the means--thanks to
Cornelius--to stay down long enough.
we honor our gracious founder, 0001.” At that we all bow our heads, and no one
makes a sound for what seems like hours.
I open my eyes, Nathan is scanning the crowd and he makes eye contact with me
for a split second before moving on to those around me. Honestly, what he said
wasn’t so bad. But I know he’s not done, especially considering his half-smirk
as he scans the crowd of people who are all mourning his father--something
kids, at least, cared for Cornelius. He was the only leader to ever spend time
in the Underage facility. The adults, I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem like they
care for much of anything. That’s something I definitely have not figured out
in my time here.
takes a deep breath. He nods to a few soldiers who remove the casket and carry
it to a fresh grave by the fence. They set the casket next to the grave and
shove it inside, not bothering to keep it right-side up.
a disgrace, those brutes handling him that way,” I whisper to Alyssa. She
frowns a little, and I keep my attention on the guards burying Cornelius as
Nathan resumes his speech.
your new leader, I will continue to ensure safety and health. If you have not
already learned so, I am a very different man than my father was.”
of the decade
. “As such a few things will change as we all settle into
this great new era of our colony’s history.”
few people here and there muster an applause. I can’t find it within myself,
so I abstain. Finally, I force myself to look at Nathan, and his gaze is once
again already on me.
order of business, we are lowering the age requirement for placement to
seventeen. Effective tomorrow, every seventeen-year-old will be integrated
into their pledged divisions.”
collective gasp escapes the caretakers standing behind us. They didn’t see
this coming, that much is clear. The weight of everything takes a moment to
register, but then it hits me hard and fast.
not just me he’s fast-tracking, it’s all of us. Dylan, Alyssa, and everyone
else our age. I can’t help thinking this is all my fault. Alyssa will be bred
like a pet, and Dylan will be moved into the science division. Although, it
could be worse for Dylan, honestly, since he’s sure to thrive there. That
department includes chemists, physicists, doctors, and inventors. Though he’s
skilled at technology and innovation, he’s pledged to chemistry. Science is
great for Dylan, truly, but if he goes down tomorrow, there’s no way he’ll be
building my new pair of wings. There goes my exit strategy.
is stunned, and I can’t think of a way to comfort her. The panic in her eyes
makes me feel like she’s only a child, and I’ve forced her to grow up almost a
whole year too soon.
no closing, nor dismissal, Nathan leaves the stage and retreats to the
underground facility where Dylan and I will be tomorrow. I try to find comfort
in knowing we’ll still be under the same roof, but I know it will be infinitely
more difficult to see or speak to him.
now all I can think about is the fact that Alyssa is about to be changed
forever, and this might as well be our last night as friends. As the crowd
starts to shuffle around and head back to their buildings, I reach down to grab
Alyssa’s hand but stop short. I picture myself giving her a simple squeeze to
let her know I care, and that I’m sorry, but I can’t make myself do it. I wish
pushes his way through the crowd and a wave of relief takes me over. “Oh,
thank God,” I say softly.
for?” he asks.
know if you made it out okay.”
of where?” Alyssa looks perplexed. I didn’t bother telling her he’d visited
my room because I thought she’d get the wrong idea. I wish I hadn’t said