CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER THREE

I am the fallen life
Raised from the promise of tomorrow
To the death that will never come.

Daniel D. Crow

When I reach the house, the sun hangs low in the sky like a burning red ball balancing on the tips of the factory buildings. A beautiful vision blurred by the clouded fumes. It burns a deep scarlet colour, and drenches everything in the copper and russet colour of the setting sun. I walk down the street, my feet trudging over the crumbling tar, towards the house numbered One hundred and two. My feet kick up clouds of dust that settles around me, as I near the house. The lights burn brightly tonight, but only because of the Prowlers – the citizens that steal the Regimen’s electricity illegally. Without them, the town would be forever plunged in darkness because the Regimen never remember to include the sixth Tract by handing us the fair share of electricity that we should be given. They never remember or they just don’t care.
My eyes brush over the houses lining the street I live in. The houses are packed so tightly, there is only enough space for small pathways between each house and the next. Each house, at one stage, used to be painted a different and brightly coloured shade of paint. The paint has faded now, leaving behind fragments of what it used to be. The cracks dig deep into the walls because the walls aren’t strong and they hadn’t been built to last for such a long time. They haven’t been built with the same strong bricks that the richer houses have been built with. There are too many houses to build for the Regimen to be able to make each house strong and versatile, and the Regimen hoped that we would have died out by now, either due to hunger or sickness – at least that’s what we’ve heard. The sickness spreads like wildfire in this Tract. If one person contracts a disease, more than half of our population will be dead within the next month. The Regimen don’t care. I know this because they could save us all with their fancy medicine equipment, but they never have and they won’t. They want us to die. It’s clear by the way they pack the houses right on top of each other.
We could have lost the house when my father was killed – I have seen it happen to others when there is a death in their family. There is a rule in this town. If the breadwinner of the family – the one physically able to do the majority of the work – dies, then your family is thrown out of the houses. You only live in the houses provided by the Regimen if you work for them. We should have lost this house, because Irene doesn’t work full-time. But, she managed to make a deal. All the money paid for rent goes straight to the Regimen, and if there isn’t any money to pay, they torch the house and set you into the streets, where Vigilum constantly patrol and prowl, hungry for new victims.
My father used to work in their offices. He would work with the people that create the fancy technology that we could never afford. He was given that position as an honour.
He lost it a while later, and was then transferred to various other Tracts. Each time we moved with him. A new Tract and a new town and a new name. “A new start”, is what he told me. Only I didn’t see it that way. He didn’t get to explain why we had to move around so much. I never asked either.
It is almost five o’clock. An hour left until the siren rings out through the town declaring that the hour for bathing has begun. We only get an hour with hot water – if we’re lucky. The affluent citizens are allowed a continuous flow of it. Most of the time, we aren’t even given running cold water. I have to walk to the communal water source and gather a bucket of water, boil it in a pot on the gas stove, and use that for the bath water. It is hard work, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.
I pull out the keys for the front door, and they jingle loudly, filling the quiet air of the First Linea – the first street in the sixth tract, Seni.
Most of the wealthier families in a few other towns have a fingerprint door lock scanner, but you don’t find many here, where every cent goes straight to rent, water and electricity – to the Regimen.
The air around me is silent. That’s when it hits me. The birds have stopped singing. I feel myself slip into the mind of a hunter instinctively – out of habit. I can almost smell the change in the air that occurs when another is in my presence. I can almost smell it.
I hear the crunch of leaves against the bottom of a boot behind me, and my hand instinctively reaches for the silver handle – embedded with a round and red ruby – of the thick metal knife with a spear point blade that I make sure is tucked in to a piece of clothing on me at all times. The Victorian styled, pure silver dagger with gold and black swirled patterns on it, was a present from my father for my thirtieth birthday – in the same year that I had been taught to fight. It must have been a family heirloom that my father hid from the raids because I know for a fact that it’s far to expensive for my father to be able to buy at the market.
My fingers hug the cool metal comfortably, out of habit. A dagger is easy enough to use, if you have been taught to use one, and if you have the right blade for your capabilities and strength. I press the dagger against my back with my right hand – my strongest hand – and my eyes search through the black air for any signs of movement. There is no one in sight. If it were the Vigilum, I would be taken straight to the cages for handling a dangerous weapon. But I don’t take chances. Besides, killing the Vigilum is easy.
I hear the sound of breathing behind me, and I whip around. Nothing.
I hear his warm and amused chuckle drift along with the wind, and I know he’s here. His scent fills the air – the scent I’ve grown accustomed to during all the hours spent together. He’s out there. He has to be. A warm feeling of hope fills my body – before I shoot it out of my mind instantly.
“What do you want?” I call out, annoyed, masking my surprise. He must realise that I know it’s him. I can smell him. I can feel his presence. I know him as well as I know myself.
“How did you know?” he asks. He steps out of the shadows; a still black silhouette against the cerise sky.
It’s him. The thought catches in my throat. It’s really him. He’s here, right in front of me.
“Either it hasn’t been as long as I have thought,” He smiles, “or I must be limitlessly unforgettable.”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t count on it.”
He laughs humorlessly.
“It’s about time you showed up.” I add. “Any later, and you would have been officially declared dead.”
“But they might have plastered pictures of me on the passing lampposts. That thought is particularly appetising.” His smile burns through the darkness. “I wouldn’t mind it all that much.”
“It wouldn’t be up to you.”
“True,” he says, “but it wouldn’t matter. I have an unforgettable face anyway.”
It’s true. I want to say. I couldn’t forget. I hate myself for thinking it.
“I would be so sure.” I answer.
His laughter fills the empty air. He walks towards me; a dark shadow moving unnaturally silently.
“I have missed you.” He tells me.
I have too.
“I’m sorry to say the feeling isn’t mutual.”
“I doubt that.” He tells me, and he steps under the glow of the light from the lamp above the front door. I almost choke on the breath in my throat. “You’re a better liar than before.”
His blue eyes – the eyes the colour of a cloudless sky – burn down into mine fiercely. There is a smile plastered across his face, a smile as bright as a rising sun. But there’s something hard to them – something new. My eyes drink in the sight of him: the muscular build of his body, the broad shoulders, the tall frame. He knows what I am thinking. He reads me as easily as I read him. It’s always been that way.
But It’s been so long. Things change over time.
“I spent a year on the run, and you’ve got nothing to say?” he asks me with raised eyebrows.
I swallow the lump in my throat. “They found you?”
“They almost did. I just got away. It’s why I had to leave.”
“You could have written. You could have sent a message.” I tell him. Anger flares up inside. “After all we did for you; you could have told us that you were safe.”
“I suppose I could have,” he begins, “it just didn’t cross my mind.”
“Of course it didn’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks sharply.
“Leave it.” I tell him. Wrong. It feels wrong. This conversation feels off and wrong. I turn around to open the door, but his hand grips my wrist.
“Let go.” The words slide through my clenched teeth. I manage to hide my flushed cheeks and racing pulse under the dull light from the lamp overhead.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asks me with a small smile, “Because not many could say that to me and mean it.”
“I do.” I jerk my wrist free.
“So that’s it? You’re just going to leave me standing out here? All alone?”
“That’s what I plan to do.”
“We both know that’s not what you want.”
Anger explodes. “How would you know what I want? How would you know anything about me anymore?”
If the words hurt him, he doesn’t let it show. “I’ve made mistakes.” He tells me. “Who hasn’t? But what choice did I have? We both knew that I would be next. It had to be me. I had to leave before they got to me.”
My anger dims, slowly fading through my fingertips.
“It’s done now, anyway.” I answer curtly.
He is silent. It hangs between us like a veil. Things are different now. I can feel it in the air between us.
“Will it ever be the same?” he asks.
“I don’t know.” I admit tiredly. “Honestly, I don’t have the energy to care. I’m different to how I was. Everything is different. We both care about different things.”
He nods slowly. “If it counts for anything,” he tells me quietly, “I am sorry.”
I turn to go, but I stop just before I close the door completely. He hasn’t moved. He stares at me with an unreadable expression. I was right. We are different. He has changed as well. There’s something hard to him – something dark and hidden. Reserved. Myseterious. Dangerous. That’s what he is.
But the more different we are, the more similar we become.
“Goodnight.” I tell him. He looks to the ground. He doesn’t answer.
I close the door behind me. I don’t look back.

**

I slip under the thin duvet, and I nestle into the rough sheets. They’re all we can afford, but I don’t mind that much. It smells like home – the cinnamon and ginger scent of the cheap washing powder – the smell lingers on the fabric scattered around the house. It’s comforting and familiar. I turn on my back.
My stomach grumbles painfully, but by now, I’m used to it.
The bag of rice, the half a loaf of bread, the bag of flour, and the slab of butter – the provisions – didn’t arrive tonight, but that is often expected. Hunger is a common feeling – if you aren’t hungry, you’re one of the luckier ones, and you know it. The Regimen isn’t reliable with the delivery of our provisions. That’s why the citizens have resorted to their own methods of obtaining the necessities. Bartering is an old form of trading one good for another. It’s a simple concept to grasp, and it’s become the only way to survive.
Two to three oranges or apples will get you half a bag of grain, but not a whole bag. Fresh meat is popular with some, but not with others. It’s simple once you’re used to it. Meat is hard to obtain though, and it’s worth a lot more than fruits or vegetables.
I close my eyes, but sleep doesn’t wash over me. All I see when I close my eyes is an uncomfortable darkness.
I turn over to my side, and I curl into a ball. It was how I managed to sleep the few nights’ after my father’s death, yet it doesn’t work now.
My head reels with a whirlwind of memories and thoughts, mainly due to Rhys’s unexpected appearance. It’s brought memories into my heads that I’ve tried to forget.
I thought that I could force myself to forget all of the warm days evenings or the chilly mornings spent hunting in the Outlands – the reachable parts at least, and then trading them for the necessities. The Outlands is the area beyond the High Walls – the area left unprotected against the unnamed predators that live there. No one knows the names of the animals. If they eat meat, we call them beasts. The small, furry creatures that live in the trees are called darters. The small creatures that live on the ground are called critters. Those are the basic ones. But you have to be very careful in the Outlands, even if there is no officials watching. You have to be sure that you don’t get too close to the cupola – to the invisible wall that keeps us from escaping the tracts. I remember, once not too long ago, Rhys and I were out in the Outlands on one of our first explorations of the world outside of Seni, before we knew where the cupola walls began. Rhys was whistling the tune of a song we aren’t supposed to sing, and I was walking ahead, eager to get as far away from Seni as possible. It all happened at once. I, out of habit, kicked a stone in front of me forward – as I had been, and all of a sudden the stone smashed into flaming crumbs that rained down around us like snowflakes – or what I imagined them to look like, anyway. If the stone hadn’t been in front of me – I would have ended up like the stone did.
I snap my eyes open. Air. Fresh air. That’s what I need. I need to feel the comforting freedom that the cool air and the light of the moon bring.
I climb out of bed. I walk out of the small room, my feet leading the way, towards the front door. I throw open the door and I step outside. The chill in the air makes me breathless, but it is a welcome feeling. I feel calmer out here. The room makes me feel like a trapped animal. I sit down in front of the door, and I rest my head against the thin wood of it. I close my eyes, breathing in the air around me.
Tonight the smoke left over from todays’ work in the factories is thick. I can smell it even when I try not to. The events of the day run through my head quickly, without hesitation. They will still be looking for me, trying to figure out my real name. It is only a matter of time until they find me. They know how dangerous one heretic can be. It only takes one to crush the Regimen to dust. To light the spark that will burn the Regimen to ashes. “One light to start a wildfire,” was what my father always said.
I know what this means. It means that I only have a matter of time before I must run. Running is second nature to me. I’ve done it often enough to be able to do it again easily.
The stars are bright tonight, brighter than usual. It’s the only source of light tonight. My father used to love the stars. He used to spend most of his time under them, watching them, studying them. We used to laugh about it, Irene and I, but now I understand his fascination with them. It’s comforting to know you aren’t alone, even if a part of you won’t admit it.
I look across the empty road. Everything is still and asleep. Not a thing stirs. But then I see a shadow, moving quickly and quietly. I am on my feet in a second, the dagger placed firmly in my hand. I shift into the shadow of the house, and I hide there – waiting. The shadow moves towards me. I clamp my hand across my mouth, camouflaging my breathing.
I blink slowly – and then the shadow is gone. I rub my eyes. I must have been seeing things.
I turn towards the front door, ready to go back to sleeping.
It only takes a second. A second too late. I’m pressed against the wall, thrown against it. Someone presses a hand against my mouth tightly. I can’t scream or cry out. The person presses my back into the wall with their weight, and presses their hand more tightly across my face. It’s too dark to see who it is. I punch the side of the body, I kick the legs, but the person doesn’t react. They don’t do anything.
“Would you calm down?” the voice whispers roughly in my ear. The voice sends vibrations through my body. I immediately recognise it. My hands drop to my side, paralysed.
Annoyances flares through my body. Why is he back here? He came back.
“Shut up,” he tells me, “they’re looking for you. They’re almost here.”
He’s right. In a few moments, I hear their voices and fancy tracking software as they drive down the street. They’re looking for me. They would have found me. Which means Rhys saved my life. I owe him. I hate owing people.
He presses his finger to his lips, indicating that I must stay quiet. I do. With my back against the wall, I see nothing. He sees it all. I hate being the blind one – I have to trust him. It’s something that I don’t do easily.
I hold my breath, waiting. The wait takes forever. I can hear the Vigilum knocking on the door and asking for me. Irene tells them they have the wrong address. That she doesn’t have a child. It’s the lie my father since I was a child, and Irene has kept it up since. There are no photographs, no records of any family outings. We are never seen together. She said it is for my own good. She said it protects me. I don’t question it. I do as I’m told.
The Vigilum demand to search the house. They say that I’m supposed to be here. She lets them in, telling them again that she doesn’t have a child. She tells them that she can’t have a child. They don’t listen. They’re certain that they’re right. The door closes and the connection is lost. I glance towards their car. There’s no other Vigilum in sight. I seize my chance. I raise my knee and I throw my fist into his chest. While he doubles over, I spin him around and throw him against the wall so that our roles are reversed. My fist grabs hold of a handful of his shirt, and I throw my elbow into his throat. He is taller than I am, so it is slightly more effort, but it is nothing that I haven’t had to deal with before. He is surprised, there is no doubt about it, and slightly amused.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you,” I tell him sweetly, “not to sneak up on an angry woman?” I release my grip on his shirt, but I keep him pinned to the wall because a Vigilum might return at any minute and I can’t risk being seen.
“You have to admit. This is kind of pleasant.” He tells me with a flirtatious wink. “You can’t tell me that you’re not enjoying it.” his breath is hot against my skin. It burns where it lands.
“I can and I’m not.” I tell him, battling to keep my voice steady.
But the situation makes my cheeks flush. I’m not as fierce as I would like to be. He knows it’s affecting me. He smiles a small smile of victory.
“You’ve acquired a few new skills since the last time I was here.” he whispers.
“I told you; I’ve changed.”
The door flies open. I press myself closer into the shadows – into Rhys. He smiles again, enjoying the situation. I nudge my elbow into his chest, and his face crumples in a brief flash of pain. A slight distraction. A distraction too weak – it doesn’t last long. It doesn’t affect him as much as I would like it to.
The Vigilum mutter angrily as they walk to their car. They say that their leader will be angry, that they’ll have to start the search all over again. One of them mutters that they’re lucky they hadn’t reported to the leader yet. That he won’t know of their mistake. That buys me another day. One more day at the most.
When they reach their car, a small smile of victory creeps across my face. We did it. They didn’t find us. I’m safe, until tomorrow.
The car speeds off in a huff, and I release my grip on Rhys as soon as they’re gone. I step away, my balance unsteady.
He smiles a one-sided smile in my direction.
“We make a good team.” He tells me.
“Too bad we won’t get to be one any longer.”
His smile almost falters. I like how I can get to him.
“So you just happened to be here at the right time?” I ask. “Or were you stalking me?”
“I was coming to try and apologize again, actually. I saw their cars coming and I heard them talking into their radios about a young girl presumably living with an Irene Mae – and I knew it was you.”
“It buys me one day.” I tell him. “I have to leave before then.”
“I’ll go with you.” He tells me suddenly. “You’re going to need someone as brave and strong as me if you’re going to survive.” He flashes a dashing smile.
“I’d rather do this on my own, thank you.”
“Come on. Admit that you need me.”
“It’s not polite to lie.”
“You’re lying to yourself. You know that we need each other. We’re stronger together. Always have been.”
“I don’t need to bring anyone else into this. It’s not safe for you.”
“When have we ever been safe?”
He’s right. He’s always right. Always has been.
“I don’t want to string anyone else along.” I try again.
“You won’t be,” He tells me, “If I’m choosing to go.”
I roll my eyes.
“Who knows, maybe we simply happened to be going in the same direction, at the same time.”
“You won’t give up, will you?”
He smiles at me. He knows I’m giving in. He shakes his head: no. I sigh loudly.
“I guess you could accompany me.” I tell him with a reluctant sigh. He smiles at me. “But don’t get any other ideas.”
He turns to face me and flashes a flirtatious smile. The moonlight rains down, setting us ablaze in the pearly white glow of it all. It highlights his white teeth as he smiles. “I wouldn’t dare to.”

**

I climb back into bed, my head spinning. By the time I came inside, Irene had already fallen back asleep. It was a strange night.
I close my eyes and darkness envelopes me. The night is silent once again.
I remember my father telling me about creatures that sang during the night. Creatures that filled the silence with a unique sound unlike any other. It’s hard to imagine these creatures. Nothing sings these days.
I breathe in, letting myself relax. It only takes a few moments, and then I’m unconscious.

The sky is dark. Ash falls all from the sky, landing all around me. It covers the ground like a thick blanket of snow – the kind I’ve only seen on television. The ash falls slowly around my ankles. I choke on the coppery and bitter taste of it when I breathe it in. Large, black clouds clog the sky and block out the blue, if there ever was. Everything is coated in the grey colouring. The sky rumbles loudly; the sound clatters in my head so that I cannot think straight. Through the clouds of ashy mist, my vision is blurred. I look around. I’m alone. There’s no one in sight. The thought makes me feel uneasy. Something tells me it’s a bad sign. My eyes dark across the burning landscape, searching for movements – for anything. A wave of hysteria builds up in my chest. My feet plunge me forward, in every direction. Something crunches under my feet. I look down, blinking rapidly to clear my vision. My hands reach forward. They brush the crusty shell of dried bones beneath my feet. I look closer. A dead person. An old skull. When I look closely, I realise that dead skulls litter every inch of the dusty floor. Something tells me that I used to know these people. I used to live with them and talk to them. Recognize them just by the sound of their voice. Now I couldn’t even try to imagine who they are. A sick feeling fills my stomach. Dead. Everyone is dead.
It’s my fault. It’s because of me. I don’t know where the thought comes from, and it scares me.
The sky thunders and lightning flashes across the sky in a blaze. It blinds me and it knocks me to the floor. I breathe in the ashy air as I fall. I choke on it and my body convulses. The poisonous fumes leave a sour and bitter taste in my mouth that I cannot get rid of. I choke on the taste of it. It clogs my lungs and envelopes me. I pull my body up from the sea of skulls and dead bodies. Dead bodies. The words ring in my head, louder than the thunder, louder than my raging thoughts. It should mean something. A part of me realises this. That’s when the realization of it all hits me. I suddenly smell the stench of it. I see the disgust of it. I hear the eerily silent whispers of the voices I used to hear on a daily basis. The voices of those now dead beneath my feet. I feel sick. The smell. The sight. The sound. The feel of the dead beneath my feet. It’s all too much. All too much. My hands feels damp. I look down at them.
Blood. Red sickly blood. My hands are covered in it. They reek of it. My eyes search desperately for the injury because it must be serious. Then it hits me.
The blood isn’t mine.
It’s not mine.
It’s theirs. I killed them.
I killed them all.
I’ve killed before. But this is different.
These people were good. They didn’t do antything wrong.
The sky rumbles overhead. The wind gathers around me like a whirlpool. It dances wildly around me, angrily, hungrily. The ash falls faster. It burns my skin. It’s hot. Too hot.
I glance closely at it. It’s actually ground hot coal dust, raining down on me.
The wind roars in my ears. The thunder clashes across the barren land like the sound of an unsteady heartbeat, increasing in speed. The lightening streaks across the sky, blinding me. The wind gathers around me. The ash and coals clog the air. They are swept along into the wind, and they dance around me, forming a thick curtain penning me in. Caging me in.
I scream, but the screams are swallowed up by the noise around me. I can’t breathe. The wind closes in. I’m surrounded. I can’t run. It chokes me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
My vision blurs. The darkness washes over me, blocking off my sight. Blocking off my voice. Blocking off my hearing.
It isolates me so that all I’m left with is my screaming thoughts.
And then that’s cut off too.
I’m alone.
I’m alone.
I’m alone.
I’m drowning in a sea of darkness.

My eyes snap open. I push the remnants of the dream out of my mind. I don’t want to think of it – any of it. It disturbs me. Unsettles me.
I unwrap the tangled blankets wrapped around me from the previous nights’ sleep, and I wipe the beads of sweat gathered on my forehead, on the blanket. My feet hit the cold tiles and I climb out of bed swiftly. I know what today means. I know what I must do. Run. Leave, while I still have the chance, and the confusing dream won’t help me at all. I know that I must be quick. I don’t have a lot of time left, and I need a head start.
I walk to the window and I pull the curtains open. Light dribbles into the room like water from a rusty tap, soaking everything in the warm glow of it slowly, delicately, gently, as the sun slowly rises.
I open the simple-looking cupboard purposefully. The backpack is kept on the highest shelf – hidden away but easy to reach for situations like this. I pull it down carefully because it’s old and worn. My fingers draw a line through the thin layer of dust as I place the bag on the bed. I work effortlessly and quickly.
I pull out the essentials from the cupboard – only the necessities because I don’t know how far a distance I’ll have to travel, and for how long. Carrying an extra load is pointless.
I pull out my grey jumpsuit and I slip it on in front of the cracked mirror. I watch the reflection of myself as I dress. My body is slim and slightly muscular from the hours of training and running. My skin is slightly darkened from the time spent under the sun. I look nothing like Irene. My hair is brown while hers is blonde. My eyes are green while hers are blue. Somehow, we’re related. I pull the brush through my hair and I scrape it into a knot. I’m ready.
That’s when I hear it. The sound of movement outside the window. I pull the bag onto my back and I head towards the window. Saying goodbye to Irene seems pointless. She probably won’t notice that I’m gone at all. But, I rip a piece of paper out of my diary and I leave a note in a brief and quick explanation anyway.
I slip my feet over and out of the windowpane smoothly. I land on my feet. I drop to my knees because I don’t want to be seen. I breathe in the air as the breeze blows – I will be able to smell out a person by their scent. It’s a trick I learned from my father.
I listen closely. Someone is there. Somewhere hidden from sight. The scent of vanilla and cinnamon – the cheap spices in the market – drift through my nostrils. That’s the giveaway.
I walk out from around the corner of the house.
“You’re on time.” I tell him.
He smiles at me. His eyes dance a gleam of a gloating smile. He walks confidently towards me, his hands clasping the straps of his backpack.
“I’m always on time.” He tells me with a shrug as he walks up next to me.
“You haven’t had the most reliable record of it in the past.” I remind him.
“Everyone else is simply early.” He answers.
I ignore him. I turn around and I start walking.
“This is serious,” I tell him, “so I expect you to treat it that way.”
“Of course.” He tells me. “I’ve run away too.” He sounds defensive. It annoys me.
“There is only one way this…thing will work.” I answer.
“Really?” he asks with mock enthusiasm. “And what way is that?”
“If I take the lead.”
“What experience do you have?” he shoots back.
“I’ve left before. I’ve run. I could do it again.”
“Not that.” He tells me. “What experience do you have being a leader?”
I don’t know what to say for a while. The silence hangs on our shoulders like a wet and heavy blanket. “I don’t trust you.” I finally say.
He doesn’t answer. We walk in silence. I cannot see his reaction.
“You used to.” He whispers. My foot hits a twig on the floor as I lurch to a stop at his words. The sound of it snapping replaces the silence filling the street.
“Stupid move.” He tells me angrily, and he pushes me against the wall of a house because someone’s coming. Their footsteps echo loudly, the sound growing with each step closer.
“No one must see us.” Rhys barks into my ear.
I shake him off. “I know.”
The seconds drag into hours. The waiting makes me nervous. What is taking the person so long? I know they’re here. Someone’s here. Have they seen us? Are they calling the authorities? I can’t trust anyone here – they’ll call the Regimen in a second if it means an extra share of Provisions.
And then I can’t take it any longer. I pull out of the shadows before Rhys has a chance to pull me back.
“I’m not going to wait for death.” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “You’re crazy.”
My eyes scan the street. Nothing. There’s nothing in sight. I turn back to Rhys. I start to tell him that it’s clear – that nothing is coming…
And then I feel it. Something hits me from behind. Something like a copper pan. I fall to the ground. The surprise is stronger than the pain. The embarrassment and shame burns through my mind, blocking out the rest of the pain. My eyes search for my attacker, but Rhys is quicker. He pulls a knife from his boots and throws it straight towards the attacker. My eyes follow the direction that the knife travels – right until it hits the mark. I watch the body crumple to the floor. Anger flares through my mind. A child. It’s a child.
“How could you?” I snap. “It’s a child. It couldn’t hurt me!”
“It did.” He answers. “It deserved what it got.”
Sure, I’ve killed before. But I’ve never killed a child.
He turns away, but not before I get a look in his eyes.
There’s nothing. There’s no emotion. There’s no remorse. He doesn’t feel anything for what he’s done. At least I feel something after killing – even if I hate it. It makes me human.
“The child was only protecting itself. It’s suspicious for us to be walking the streets this early – especially alone, like the child must have thought one of us was.”
“It’s done now.” He shrugs; he doesn’t care. “There’s nothing to change what’s happened.”
“You want to know why I don’t trust you anymore?” The words tumble from my mouth in an angry rush. “It’s because of that. Because I don’t even recognize what you’ve become.”
That does it. He whips around, as he turns towards me. He throws me into the tree behind me – a tree at least a meter away. My back slams against it and pain seers through my body. Unease spreads through me. He shouldn’t be that strong. It’s wrong. It’s inhumane. He walks closer. He doesn’t stop till he is right in front of me. He’s angry. He’s fuming. His breathing is heavy, uncontrolled. He stares into my eyes, but he doesn’t see me. He doesn’t see anything. There’s something about him – something unnatural and animal-like. Suddenly I’m afraid. The feeling scares me because I don’t feel it often. I try to move but I’m stuck. I’m trapped. I know what happens next – I’ve killed enough to know when it’ll happen to me.
“Rhys…” I begin, pleadingly. He’s not in control of himself. I can see the anger spreading through him as quickly as wildfire. It’s wrong. Wrong. He’s not himself anymore.
“Don’t!” he shouts, and he slams his fist into the tree behind me. I hear myself yelp in fear, as the tree creaks and then topples to the ground. “Don’t look at me like that – like I’m an animal you’re about to kill. Like I’m just like the Vigilum. Like you hate me.”
Now I’m terrified. He’s far too strong. It reminds me of my father’s strength, and that’s not a good thought.
“Calm down!” I tell him fiercely. “I’m sorry.”
He looks at me again. He starts to listen…I can see it on his face…
“Calm down.” I tell him again. I place my hand on his shoulder. The physical contact works. His breathing slows. He lowers his hands. He steps away.
“I’m sorry.” He tells me. “I don’t know what happened.” He looks ashamed.
“What are you?”
He looks away. He doesn’t answer.
“Sometimes I get a little carried away.” He tells me. He’s hiding something. I can see it straight away.
“That was more than just getting ‘carried away’, Rhys. What happened? What are you?”
“Leave it.”
And there it is again. That awkward curtain hanging between us once again, separating us, tearing us apart. It didn’t even exist before.
So I do. I leave it.
We walk in silence, none of us saying anything to the other, right until we reach the rough texture of the High Walls.

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