Sunday, May 22, 2011

(Branded) II

How could have been so stupid?! I had tried to erase those memories over the years, and I had completely forgotten my best friend.

My thoughts were interrupted by the door slamming again. I looked up to see who it was. It was a huge man.

He had a dark mask over his head, so I couldn’t see his face. The only part of his face that I could see were his eyes. They were a deep crimson red. They seemed to be searching my soul for my darkest secrets. With sickening recollection, I realized who this man was. He was the Seeker.

The Seeker was sent out to catch those who had rebelled against the Watchers. It was also his duty to protect the Watchers and the Perfects. This man was the figure who haunted the Unclean’s darkest nightmares.

I could feel a scream building up in my chest as he took another step closer to me. My eyes were focused on his every move, fear pinning me down in my chair. If he were to attack, I knew I would have no chance against him.

Just as the scream made it’s way up to my throat and I opened my mouth to let it escape. The seeker jumped forward.

My scream froze in my throat. I didn’t recognize this boy, but he appeared to be my age. It was with a shock that I realized he was a Perfect. As I realized this, he pulled a red contact from his eye, revealing bright green beneath.

“Follow my lead,” he whispered, replacing the contact and mask. He grabbed my wrist and spun me in a circle so my back was pressed against his chest. His giant arm wrapped around me, pinning my arms to my side. His other hand came to rest over my mouth.

With his elbow, he pounded on the wall in the same place the head Watcher had prior. The door swung open, and we stepped out into the dark hallway beyond.

“You need to look as though you are fighting me,” the masked Perfect whispered in my ear.

There was no need to pretend. I started to fight back with all my might. His grip around me tightened, and he slowed down.

“No need to be that realistic,” he hissed.

The scream started to build up again. I didn’t know him. He said he was trying to help, but fear was still gnawing at me.

We were half way down the hall when two Watchers turned the corner. I started to struggle harder.

“Hey!” one of them called out.

The Perfect stopped and, once again, tightened his grip. As the Watchers came closer, something seemed vaguely familiar about them.

“Sedate her,” the first Watcher ordered. He had on dark glasses, but a thick mass of blond hair fell over them.

As my eyes widened in recognition, the other Watcher pulled out a long needle from his bag. He came forward and pushed my sleeve up. My heart rate accelerated as I felt the cold sting off the needle.

My eyes felt heavy, and my arms and legs seemed to relax. The masked Perfect lifted me into his arms, and started down the hall again.

* * *

Josh paced the hallway. Up, down, back up, and down. Impatience filled him to the very core. His eyes flitted over to the room then turned back to the imaginary line he paced.

I watched him through half-lidded eyes. I felt sick. It seemed as if the world wouldn’t stop spinning. And there was Josh. I’d see him appear momentarily while passing the door. He would then appear an instant later, walking in the other direction. He wasn’t helping my nausea any.

A small groan escaped my lips as he disappeared again. He appeared, again, in an instant, backpedaling. Seconds later, he was kneeling down by the side of my bed. Worry creased his brow. He took my hand gently and held it in both of his. Eyes the color of sapphires gleamed at me. MY mind flashed: Eyes in the forest, eyes of a child, eyes of a Watcher.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I rasped. “You knew me before.”

His eyes dropped, the last conformation I needed. When they lifted, I could see a deep sadness. “I was waiting for you to remember. After I told you my name, I thought you’d know for sure, but there was no recognition.

I thought that over for a moment. “Where am I?”

He watched my face closely. “Totus.” *

Totus! I was in the city of the Perfects! Another thought jumped at me. “Where’s my brother? Where’s Rick?”

His expression told me everything I needed to know. Slowly, he shook his head.

Tears welled up in my eyes. They had left Rick in the Waste. Sadness turned to anger. I threw my pillow at Joshua’s head.

“How could you?!” I screamed. “He is just a little kid!”

Josh ducked as the pillow flew past his head. “Hey! I’m sorry! We didn’t have enough time to get both of you out!”

My breath was coming out in hysterical sobs. “You should have tried! Do you know what they will do to him? No! Of course you don’t! You have absolutely no idea!!”

My anger faded away and my voice came out in a whisper. Josh had to lean closer to hear. “He was still a baby when we first arrived at the Waste. I was the one who raised him. He was all I had left.”

Making a sudden decision, I climbed from the bed, and headed to the door. Before I’d made it two steps, Josh stopped me. He pulled me toward him, and I collapsed against him as his arms wrapped around me.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he whispered, “we don’t think he was taken. We think he probably ran away after you were taken yourself.” He released a sigh. “I’m sorry Sam. We would have searched for him, but the Watchers were onto us. We still have people, though, hiding out in the Waste, watching.”

I rolled this over in my mind, and my sobs quieted. “Thank you,” I croaked with a voice that could barely be heard above the wind.

We sat there holding each other for a few more moments. Strangely, it felt right . . .
“Break it up!!” a voice shouted from behind. Instantly, Josh and I separated. Laughter broke out almost as instantly.

We turned around to see two more teenage boys, both our age. One had thick brown hair that cascaded right above his chocolate brown eyes. The other had strawberry-blonde hair and florescent green eyes. Both looked oddly familiar. Something in the way they held themselves.

“Hey there,” Green-Eyes greeted. “My name is Shawn, and this quiet thing beside me is Carson. We welcome you to Josh’s humble abode!”

It’s then that I realized that Shawn was the boy I’d mistaken for the Seeker. I offered them a smile of gratitude. “Thanks, you know, for everything.”

Shawn laughed. “Don’t mention it. Josh has been talking and planning to rescue you ever since I’ve known him. It’s an honor to finally meet you. In fact―”

He cut off as Josh plowed into him. Josh’s face was bright red.
The two then commenced to fight as boys do. So I turned and began looking around the room.

Everything about it was . . . perfect. Smooth walls. Nice furniture. Clean floors. It was homey and filled me with a sense of security. But I couldn’t linger long on such thoughts, I had to make sure that Rick was safe. Somehow I had to leave to make sure that Rick was safe. Somehow I had to leave Totus without being noticed as an Unclean.

I paused in thought for a moment. Perhaps if I changed my appearance―

At that moment, a knock sounded at the door. The boys stopped fighting and looked at each other.

“Were you expecting anyone?” Shawn asked.

Josh came and stood close to me, grasping my shoulder. His grip was tight and frightened. He brought his hand to his lips and signaled everyone to be quiet. With his other hand, he pushed me behind the bed, and motioned for Carson to open the door.

Before he even took a step, the door swung open. There stood a girl with short blonde hair. She wore dark jeans with a white shirt.

“Seriously! You guys take forever to open the door!” she said, letting herself in.

I could practically feel the tension drain from the room. Josh still seemed a little tense, shifting his weight from side to side.

“Maybe there was a reason for that, Tesla,” Josh commented irritably.

The girl named Tesla turned towards Josh and placed a hand a hand on her hip. “Well excuse me, but I received a phone call from a very hysterical person telling, practically commanding, me to sprint over here with a bag of my clothes. Which, by the way, are mine and very expensive. Whatever you’re planning on doing with them better not involve scissors or the neighbors pet dog.

I stood up while she was talking. She barely gave me a glance as she continued her rant.

As the girl continued talking, Josh had somehow snatched the afore mentioned bag away from her grasp. He face me, rolled his eyes and mouthed, “drama queen.”

I barely contained laughter from erupting, but smiled as Josh handed me the bag.

“Here, we’ll go so you can change.”
I waited for them to go, but Josh didn’t move. *** Shawn gave me a significant look I couldn’t interpret, before following Carson and Tesla from the room.

I looked into Josh’s eyes. He crossed the small distance between us with his hand until it grasped mine. Softly, he said, “I’m not sorry.”

I felt a prickling behind my eyes as his hand left mine, and he was gone.

My dead, scratchy colored clothes felt extremely uncomfortable against my skin. I snatched the bag from the place I’d set it on the floor. In an instant, my breath was coming out in short gasps when I thought about the way he’d looked at me. The worst part was, I still knew I had to go back to the Waste to rescue Rick.

As I thought of Rick, my stomach churned. I had left my brother. He had always counted on me, been there for me, and I had deserted him. All because I couldn’t pull myself away from the stupid fence.

Unwanted tears seeped out of the corner of my eyes. I quickly wiped them away, and grabbed the first clothes I touched from the bag.

I pulled out a beautiful white blouse that was light-weight and seemed to float around me. I had also grabbed a pair of blue skinny-jeans.

I looked at myself in the mirror across the room. My jaw dropped slightly. The clothes seemed to be made for me. They fit my non-curvy body like a glove. The only thing I didn’t like was my hair, but I would worry about that later.

Turning towards the door, I suddenly felt self-conscious. What would Josh think?

I shook my head at myself. I was being ridiculous. I had no reason to feel this way. So, with my head held high, I raised my voice. “I’m ready.”

Trying not to appear self-conscious as they entered, I tucked my hair behind my ear and looked towards where Josh was standing. A look of awe crossed over his face, but was quickly replaced by something I couldn’t comprehend. He shuffled his feet awkwardly, and looked down.

“You look . . .” Josh began, the same look of awe I’d seen before was prevalent.

Shawn didn’t feel the same reservations. “Hot!” he finished for Josh.

He wasn’t the only one that finished the statement, though. “Atrocious!” Tesla declared.

I looked at her in shock. She could at least try to say something nice.

“Don’t give me that look, darling. Sure the clothes are cute, but your hair needs a bunch of work before that outfit will look as fabulous as it has the potential to be. A little make-up wouldn’t hurt anything either.”

I kept my eyes firmly on the floor,

Tesla sighed and walked over to me, running her fingers through me drab brown hair. I heard her gasp, and she jerked away. I suddenly realized what she’d seen. My hand shot to the back of my neck, and I retreated to the far side of the room, away from her accusing stares. My small number brand seemed almost to burn beneath my hand. ‘I’m an Unclean,’ it seemed to scream. ‘I’m a mistake in your perfect world.

“What is going on here?!” Tesla demanded, looking at each of the boys in turn. She was wiping her hands vigorously on her jeans, trying to get my uncleanliness off of herself. Her eyes leapt to Josh. “Why is there a filthy Unclean in your house?!”

“Oh come on Tesla! Grow up,” Shawn said crossing over to her.

“Grow up?! No! I think my actions are quite appropriate for this time and place. It’s a filthy . . . thing!” she screamed.

Josh stood up straighter, and glared at her. “She’s a person, the same as me and you.”

“Ha!” she burst. “That brand on her neck says otherwise. I’m going to go find the Watchers right now!”

She turned on her heel. Shawn sidestepped right in front of the door. Tesla stopped in front of the door. Tesla stopped in front of him, and, without a word or warning, slapped him hard across the face.

As he looked at her with surprise she said with malice, “Out of my way Shawn.”

All I could do was watch as Shawn stood up straighter, glaring down at Tesla, and puffing out his chest.

“Make me,” he practically growled.

Tesla tried hard to hold onto the sense of duty she felt. She held her head up high, and glared right back at Shawn.

“Get out of my way, brother.” Each word was emphasized until she practically spat out “brother,” as if the taste of the word displeased her.

Shawn stood her ground, taking a step closer to Tesla so their noses were inches apart. “Like I said, make me.”

With a huge intake of breath, Tesla’s cheeks began to burn red, and she brought her hand back menacingly. But before she could release her wrath, Josh grasped her wrist, and twisted it behind her back. His other arm wrapped around her waist, just as she began to struggle.

“Josh! Josh, let me go!” She opened her mouth to scream, but Shawn put his hand over her mouth, silencing her. Tears of betrayal fell down her face as she thrashed around. Quickly, Josh and Shawn ushered Tesla through the door behind me that Carson held open. As she passed by, she threw me a glance that seemed to scream her displeasure at having me there. Her fury hit into me, and I crumbled against the wall as my knees buckled.

“Is that how everybody sees us?” I asked the floor in question as the door closed. I knew they were my betters, that I was beneath them. But I’d never faced it up front like this before. Living among the other Uncleans in the Waste had, in a way, protected me by shielding me from people like Tesla. It was only now that I realized Josh and his friends were in the minority.

I raised my head slightly, and was shocked to see that Carson was still in the room with me.

“Not everybody,” he said softly. I remembered I had asked a question. “Just a vast majority,” he finished.

Something in the way he’d said it made me start laughing. He examined me thoughtfully for a moment before walking toward me and extending his hand.

“Come on,” he said, “I want to show you something.”

Cautiously, I slipped my hand into his, and he pulled me to my feet. He led me out the door and into the hall. Soon, we reached another door that opened to outside.

I gasped as the sight of thousands upon thousands of stars greeted me. Carson caught my attention. He pointed to the brightest star in the sky. “You see that one?” I nodded. “It’s name is Sirius. While it is the brightest star in the sky, aside from the sun that is, it’s not actually the closest. It’s over eight and a half light-years away. That one, on the other hand,” he pointed to another bright star, “is called Alpha Centauri. It is the closest, at four light-years distance.”

“What’s a light-year?” I asked in confusion.

He was silent for a moment as he pondered how to answer. “You know how when you turn on a light, the room is instantly filled with said light. When light doesn’t have a stopping point, like walls and a ceiling, it keeps traveling. The distance the light is able to travel in one year is a light-year.”

“But, isn’t light without delay? Instant,” I said, grabbing onto the word he’d mentioned before.

“No,” Carson laughed, “that was a bad word to use on my part. Let’s put this in better terms. If something was to disturb the light from the sun, we wouldn’t become aware that any such disturbance had occurred until roughly 8 minutes later.”

I was so shocked at this. For the first time, I had a glimpse of how small we really were.

“Makes you feel insignificant, huh?”

I nodded.

“Tesla and others like her are like Alpha Centauri. Through pomp and circumstance, they were placed closer to the center.” He indicated the world at large. “But you,” he continued, “are like Sirius. You might be farther away, but you are still the much brighter star.”

I felt his eyes on me and turned to look at him.

“Is any of this helping you feel better, or am I just rambling on?”

I gave a small laugh. “Surprisingly yes, it does help. Thanks.”

“No problem.” He smiled.

“Sam?” I heard Josh suddenly call from inside the house. “Carson?”

Quickly, I dropped Carson’s hand I’d noticed I was still holding onto. “We’re out here," I called back, my voice shaking slightly.

The door creaked open and Josh stepped through. “What are you guys doing out here?” he asked curiously.

I gestured toward the stars. “Just looking.”

Josh gave a short bark of laughter. “Knowing Carson, you probably did some talking to. Ever since we found that book, he can’t stop talking about the stars. I hope he didn’t bore you too much.”

I looked at Carson, then back at the stars. “No, actually it was fascinating.”

Josh laughed again. “Don’t worry about hurting his feelings, Sam. We’ve all said it to him.”

Before I could argue my position, Josh continued.

“Are you ready to come inside?”

I glanced at Carson. He was leaning up against the railing, eyes fixed on the stars. “Yeah, I am.” To Carson, “Thanks again.”

He gave me a half smile out of the corner of his mouth, but didn’t look over.

I felt Josh’s hand slid into mine, and he pulled me inside.

* Totus – Latin word for whole

*** Just for fun, insert the following to where you see the *** in the story, then read until the end of the bolded part after the ***. It takes on a whole new meaning, and teaches you something about assumption words like gone.

“Can I have a moment?” When we were alone, he continued. “I’ve had a lot of time to think. Ever since they took you away I’ve been thinking. The first week after you were gone, I decided I wanted my friend back. I was angry at the Watchers. One day I followed a supply truck into the forest to the Waste. I saw you immediately, gazing outside the fence. You were so beautiful and so . . . sad.

“I went again and again after that day. I couldn’t stop going. Sometimes Rick was with you. Most of the time, though, you were alone. Other times you didn’t come at all, but that didn’t stop me from hoping to catch a glimpse of you.

“Then yesterday when you ran at the fence, Sam, it broke my heart. I couldn’t wait any longer.”

He gazed deep into my eyes. My mouth was hanging open slightly from shock. I was trapped in his deep blue sapphire eyes.

“I couldn’t stop myself.” His eyes darkened with need as he drew closer. His next sentence was hardly above a whisper. “Just like I can’t stop myself now.”

His lips met mine. All the air escaped from my lungs as I melted into his embrace.

There was a sudden gasp from the direction of the door. Josh pulled back and looked over. Tesla was standing open mouthed in the doorway. In a flash, her shock transformed into anger, and she had a gun in her hand. With a smile that a Watcher would envy, she pointed the gun at me, and pulled the trigger. I barely had time to see it happen when something slammed into me. My breath rushed out of me as something landed on top of me.

I pushed it off and realized it was Josh. I gasped and reeled back. A bright spot of red blood was blooming across his left shoulder.

Tesla growled from the doorway, and aimed the gun again. “Josh was mine!”

Carson’s arms were suddenly around Tesla. He pulled her from the room. Shawn looked shocked.

Now you see what I’d meant about gone. The first time you read it you probably assumed it meant he left the room. In this version, however, we see that gone meant death. You now know the power of the words of vague.

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