Thursday, May 5, 2011

(Branded) I

Here is a little something me and my friends have been working on. We don't really know what's happening so some of the details clash. Nikki Melanie Heather

I rounded the corner only to find a chain link fence blocking me. But I didn’t have time to pause. With a ferocity I didn’t know I had, I threw myself at the fence. As I did, a melancholy thought struck me. Why was I there? What did I expect to find? I’d known my time was limited. But that didn’t make me feel any better. Just a little more time, I pleaded silently. Just one more solitary hour.

But alas, no. I was stuck inside. I’d been able to pretend I was a normal person living a normal life. Pretend I wasn’t one of the “Unclean.”

“What are you doing?” a voice called from behind me.

I spun around quickly, expecting to see the Watchers, but it was Rick.

“What are you doing? You aren’t even supposed to be here!” I snapped angrily at my little brother.

“Oh, and you are?” he countered. I turned away in shame, thinking of how I could get away without involving my brother. It wasn’t him that had a problem with the strict schedules and so-called life that all of us stuck within the chain fence were forced to live by. There was nothing wrong with us, and yet they insisted that there was.

“Don’t leave.”

I turned back to Rick only to see his eyes glassed over with unshed tears. With a sigh I walked up to him and pulled him into a hug.

I put my hand on his shoulder and made as if to go with him home. Something caught my eye. Two bright blue eyes were watching me from the foliage. My fantasy was over. Time to get to reality. Accept my “uncleanliness.”

When I glanced over my shoulder, the eyes were gone. I released a shuddering breath. He was gone. It was for the best.

“What’s wrong?” Rick asked.

“Nothing,” I said with a sigh.

I hated that place. Eyes always watched. No privacy. No secrets. Someone must have let it out that I was leaving again, or trying to. But who would let it loose? Josie, Kyle, Eric? None of them would, but someone had to.

‘I have to get out of here,” I thought after Rick had gone to his room. There had to be a way. With a heavy heart I sat down on the chair closest to me. My eyes wandered around the place I’d called home ever since I was seven. Plain cement walls were devoid of any imperfection. A rule we were forced to live kept all pictures or personal belongings locked up in a chest at the foot of a bed —my bed to be precise, so the floor and table were completely clean.

Everything was regulated. The Watchers made sure of that. Every choice that should have belonged to us didn’t. That privilege was taken from us after the war.

I pushed myself off the couch with a shove. “I’ll be back in a sec,” I called to Rick as I walked outside. I went a few feet in front of our home and closed my eyes. If I was like this, I could almost pretend I was outside. I released a sigh and began to turn away.

A sudden commotion down the road brought me about. A group of teens my age were running up the lane. I immediately knew what they were. They were Perfects.

Behind them I could see the Watchers giving chase. I couldn’t move. They began to flash by me. I met the eyes of one of them and was startled to see that they were the same eyes I’d seen outside.

The boy met my glance, and last second, snatched my hand, dragging me along. “Come on,” he laughed. I felt panicked. Rick’s face peered at me from the window. His shock matched mine. And I was gone, with the strange group of Perfects, and the even more strange blue-eyed boy still holding my hand.

The group ran on, Blue-Eyes dragging me behind him. The group was laughing as the distance grew longer between them and the Watchers.

Blue-Eyes darted around a building with me in tow. He pushed me up against the wall and covered my mouth.

I heard the Watchers run past the building. Blue-Eyes smiled and then released me, but stayed close, his hand resting on my shoulder. He was a full foot taller than me. So I found myself staring at his chest. I took an interest in his shirt. Not only because it hugged his torso in a way that showed off his muscle, but the color was a shockingly warm brown. It was nothing like the dead scratchy color we Unclean had to wear almost every day.

“I think it’s safe to leave now,” the boy’s voice pulled my attention up to his face, “don’t you think?” I recognized the tone he was using as sarcasm, yet another thing I’d been robbed of.

His laughter rang out again as my face turned bright red. Sadly, it was probably the only thing about me that had any color. My drab, nearly colorless, brown hair fell limply on my shoulders. My ugly brown eyes matched it perfectly. I dropped them in embarrassment. What was he doing here? Why did he drag me here with him? Wasn’t he afraid my uncleanliness would rub off on him?

I glanced up at him before dropping my eyes again. His golden blond hair gleamed in the sunlight. He had a small dimple on his cheek when he smiled. That was another thing. He was smiling. It’s been so long since I’d seen genuine happiness. He really was a Perfect. I was an Unclean.

“Sure,” I mumbled in response.

I tried to walk away, but his grip only tightened. His eyes bore into mine, as if he was searching my soul.

“Let go of me,” I said casting my eyes down. “I need to get back to my little brother.”

He sill failed to let go of my shoulder. I panicked and did the only defense move I knew against a boy. Soon he was on the ground moaning and I was running back to my “home.”

I opened the front door, flung myself through the opening, and slammed the door behind me. My back was facing the main part of the house so I didn’t see Rick as he walked up to me.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice tired. When I turned to face him, I could tell that he’d been asleep before I’d so rudely woken him.

I kneeled down in front of him and took his hands in mine. “I’m sorry. Were you sleeping? I didn’t mean to wake you.”

A knock sounded through the house. I felt a nervous sweat break out on my back. The Watcher’s must have seen me with the Perfect. The consequences of such a thing would be disastrous. They would take me away and Rick would be left on his own. I couldn’t move.

The knock resounded again. I knew I couldn’t ignore them. Slowly, I shuffled to the door and eased it open.

I leapt back in shock. Blue-Eyes was standing there, casually leaning against the frame. I went to slam the door closed, but he’d lodged his foot in the way. He reached out a hand and easily reopened it.

I backed away in fear as he sauntered in and closed the door behind him.

“You know,” he said smugly, “you have pretty good defense.”

As he crept forward, I grabbed Rick and put myself between Blue-Eyes and him.

“Please, just leave us alone,” I begged, my voice quivering.

Blue-Eyes stopped and looked at me with surprise. Slowly I started to back away. What did he want? I considered calling for help, but I would be the one in trouble for being with a Perfect. I was on my own.

“No, no, no,” he said putting his hands up. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to talk to you.”

I stopped, but didn’t drop my defensive stance. “Why would you want to talk to me?” I asked. “I’m just one of the Unclean.”

The pain that appeared on his face after I’d spoken made me want to walk up and comfort him. But I didn’t. I still didn’t trust him. I couldn’t. His kind were the ones that had locked the Unclean away. At least, that is what I kept telling myself. The Perfect took a step closer towards me and Rick, and in response I pushed Rick into the next room. I made to follow him, but a hand on my wrist stopped me.

“Wait, I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry.” He slightly tightened his grip on my wrist to keep me from pulling away. When he spoke again his voice had returned to the same teasing tone he’d used before. “Besides, where would you run off to anyway?”

I turned to see a smile on his face — a smile that made his blue eyes shine in a way I’d never seen.

“My name’s Joshua.” He slowly released my hand, as if being on a first name basis made me feel comfortable. “What’s yours?”

I did not feel comforted. There was no way I was going to tell him my name. But before I could catch my mouth up with my brain, I heard myself blurting, “Sam.” Would somebody please kill me?

His blue eyes glittered. “Sam? Isn’t that a boy’s name.”

My cheeks flared and I felt very self-conscious. “It’s short for Samantha,” I mumbled. I felt a sudden flash of irritation. “What is it you wanted to talk about?” I asked curtly.

Josh stood for a moment, thinking.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said quietly.

At first I wondered why, but then I felt my guard go up. What would a Perfect want with me?

“Sorry!” Josh said quickly. “I probably shouldn’t end a sentence like that.” He shifted awkwardly. “Like I said, I’ve been watching you for a while now and well . . .there is something different about you.”

Now it was my turn to shift awkwardly. “What do you mean?” I asked.

He sighed and said, “I don’t know. You’re now like the other Unclean. You seem perfectly . . . well, perfect.”

“Should I take that as a compliment?” I asked, looking down so he couldn’t see the blush on my cheeks.

He took a step closer, and I took a step back when he reached his hand to touch mine. “ I don’t know why you seem different, but just watching you . . .,” his voice faded away. When he continued his brow was furrowed in concentration. “You always look outside the gate. Your behavior isn’t like the other Unclean, and after hearing that the Watchers could have made a mistake—.”

“Wait! What?” I interrupted, “The Watcher’s made a mistake? When? How?”

He paused and watched me before continuing, cautious now. “It’s been found out that the Watchers have locked up Perfects and made them Unclean. No one knows why. But rebellion forces have started showing up here and they’re attempting to free the Unclean.”

“But . . . but . . .,” my mind whirled around in search of something to grasp onto in the chaos of my thoughts. “How could there have been a mistake?”

I was an Unclean. It was one of the only things I was sure of. I knew it surely as the sky was blue and the grass green. I couldn’t breath.

Joshua must have seen it in my face. He caught me as my legs gave way. He led me gently to the couch and sat me down. I took deep breaths as my brain tried to overheat.

A knock on the door echoed in my eardrums. Seconds later it slammed open. In walked a Watcher.

He signaled behind him and five more stormed the room. They couldn’t do anything to Joshua; he was a Perfect. But I had broken the rules.

Some of the men grabbed me and dragged me towards the door. Joshua tried to get to me, but the other guards held him back. The last thing I saw as they pulled me outside was Rick’s horrorstruck face peering through the door.

“No!” I heard Rick scream. The sound pierced my heart. Rick was going to be all alone. I knew what happened to the Unclean when the broke the rules.

Joshua ran to catch up with the Watchers. The guards held him back, but did not hurt him. He may be breaking the rules, but he was still a Perfect.

“What has she done?!” he shouted at the Watcher leading the way.

Simultaneously the group stopped. The guards holding me gripped me tighter. The leading Watcher turned towards Joshua and walked slowly up to him.

“She,” he said, “has tried to escape. Such actions are not tolerated here at the Waste.”

Joshua stared the Watcher down. Anger and hate seemed to radiate from his eyes, but he said nothing.

The Watcher turned back to me. “Samantha Grey,” he said calmly. “What do you have to say about these accusations?”

My mind tried to wrap around the situation at hand. I knew I had to respond fast otherwise I could be punished for not speaking when spoken to. Without thinking I blurted out, “I never planned on escaping.” I had meant to keep my tone calm, but it came out more hysterical.

The leading Watcher took a menacing step closer to me and I shrunk back as far as I could as he leaned closer to me.

“Plotting were we?” He practically hissed, “a much worse punishment than escaping.”

My hear thudded in my chest. “I was just looking,” I whispered weakly.

He gave me a malicious smile. The men started dragging me away again. Joshua demanded they let me go as he hurried along beside us. The Watchers wouldn’t respond or make eye contact with him. Why would they want to? He was their better. He was what they were trying so hard to become. I would have joined the Watchers myself if the thought of being one of them didn’t make me ill.

Ignored, Joshua became increasingly angry until finally, he stopped walking altogether. I looked at him anxiously over my shoulder, and saw him turn and run in the opposite direction. My breath caught in my throat as my only ally disappeared.

Looking forward again, I saw the Watcher’s headquarters looming over me.

The cold iron doors creaked open. A burst of blistering cold air rushed through me. As we walked through the dimly lit hallway, the doors closed with a resounding thud.

I could feel the darkness all around me. Our footsteps echoed down the hall. My heart sped up the deeper we walked. Soon the lead Watcher stopped and opened a door. The guards walked to the door and then threw me through the door. As I struggled to regain my balance, I heard the door slam shut. As I turned to look at my new “home,” I was the lead Watcher. I stood my ground, but my hands shook with fear.

“Please, have a seat,” he said calmly.

I spun around to see what he was talking about, and saw the table and chairs. Cautiously, I took my seat on the far end of the table. The Watcher took the other chair opposite of me.

“Now,” he began, “now, we can talk.”

I could feel my hands sweat as the Watcher stared at me, waiting, almost willing me, to speak. My throat felt dry and each time I tried to swallow it felt as if I had to cough. Trying to disguise my fear as nonchalance, I looked around the room.

The walls were made of a silver metal that seemed to absorb all the light in the room and reflect it at the center of the table. There were no mirrors, windows, or doors. In fact, the only d├ęcor in the room was the table and two chairs.

The Watcher cleared his throat and sat back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head.

“As you can see,” he explained, gesturing at me with his hand, “you aren’t tied up. You can freely move about the room, but you will never be able to escape this building . . .,” he paused, “you will NEVER escape, unless you cooperate with me and tell me what you were doing by the barrier.”

Still, no words could escape my mouth. I could feel the Watcher’s impatience as second after second ticked by. Eventually, he stood, so abruptly that I jumped nearly toppling over my chair.

“Very well,” he hissed, walking over to the wall, “we’ll see how you fare after a few days in quiet solitude.” With this, he knocked on the wall, and a door was pushed open, materializing from the smooth metal. The Watcher gave me one last hate filled glance before stomping out of the room.

I rested my head on the table and my breath came out in a short hiss of frustration. I knew I shouldn’t have lingered by the fence.

My emotions and thoughts swirled through me as if I were a blender on high. I was surprised they hadn’t been angry at me for talking to a Perfect. I was worried about what would happen to Rick because of my stupidity. I was also angry at myself.

Amid the blended mess, my mind kept returning to what Joshua had revealed before the Watchers arrived. There had been a mistake. How could there have been a mistake?

In my head, I clearly saw that fateful day all those years ago . . . The war was lost. Father was dead. Mother was missing. I could hear Rick crying in the other room. I wanted to comfort him, but I lacked the energy to do anything. The door crashed open and soldiers poured in. Our parents were deserters. We were being relocated to somewhere special. Somewhere they could keep a close eye on us. As they put us into the truck, I looked out and my eyes met those of the small blue-eyed neighbor boy next door.

I gasped and came back to myself. Only now I remembered my best friend from before. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I closed my eyes, and floating before me was the one and only, blue-eyed Joshua.

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