Chapter 44: Claire
I squinted down at the scrap of paper I held in my hand, then back up at the numbers painted crudely on the wall in front of me. The scrawled handwriting on the paper read “2581” and as I looked back up at the wall, I couldn’t tell if the bricked-backed graffiti read “2581” or “Z587”. I shrugged and stuffed the paper in my back pocket, glancing up and down the street to see if someone noticed me. Seeing as there was no one around, I took a few tentative steps toward the building’s old wooden door and knocked on it, hoping someone civil wound answer. A slot half the size of ruler slid open a foot above my head and I jumped at the sound of it being moved. It blended in completely with the rest of the door, but still, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it. Two dark eyes stared down at me and from where I was and I couldn’t tell who they belonged to.
“Your name?” They asked. The voice was high and feminine and sounded slightly familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
I cleared my throat, trying to push away my uneasiness, “Claire,” I replied, making my answer sound more like a question. The eyes looked down and I heard what sounded like papers shifting.
“Okay,” the eyes confirmed my identity and the door opened just enough for me to get in. As I wiggled through I noticed with slight surprise how dim the lighting in the building was. I looked over at the person who had opened the door and recognized Liberty, the original founder of the Council.
I wasn’t all that surprised that Liberty was here, despite the topic of the meeting I was about to attend. “Do you know who else is coming?” I asked, praying that Derek and Chaz wouldn’t be on the list.
Liberty glanced down at the small stack of papers she held in her hands and nodded, ‘Yeah.”
“So who’s here? Who’s coming?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you,” she replied, “That’s confidential. Go down that hallway and make a right once you get to the end. Then you’ll get to a door that opens up to the back stairwell, which will lead you down to the basement where everyone else is gathered. I will tell you that you’re one of the last to arrive, so you probably won’t have to wait long.” I turned around, about to follow her instructions, when her voice suddenly pulled me back, “Oh, and I need your slip of paper with the address on it,”
“This?” I asked, pulling out the 2581 paper. “Why?”
Liberty shrugged and held out her free hand, “We just don’t want the word getting out about this place.” I put the paper in her hand and chose not to point out that 2581 was literally written all over the wall outside.
The hallway I was walking down smelled of mildew and another unpleasant scent I didn’t want to think about. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to reach the door Liberty had mentioned. My eyes weren’t completely adjusted to the dimness of the hall, so I had to bend forward slightly to find the doorknob. When I finally did, I twisted it, pulled it toward me, and was hit in the face with a blast of cold, moist air. As I shut the door behind me I realized with dismay that the stairwell was even darker than the rest of the building. I inched my foot forward until I discovered a step and made my way down to the basement in a similar fashion.
When I was finally on solid ground I was happy to find that the light began to improve and I no longer had to feel around with my feet to keep myself from falling. Voices began to reach my ears and I followed them until I came to the room I was looking for. Inside of it about thirty to forty of Reyesent’s citizens were conversing with each other, some sadly, some angrily, some urgently, but none were happy. The only light was a flimsily shaded light bulb dangling a foot away from the brick ceiling. Dust and cigarette smoke would enter someone’s lungs from time to time, making them choke for a few seconds before getting back to what they were doing. There were a couple of chairs here and there, but for the most part people just stood. The only other piece of furniture was a threadbare pool table, void of balls. I looked around for someone I knew, preferably someone who wouldn’t rat me out to Svetlana. My eyes settled on Ray and Scarlett, who appeared to be having a somewhat private conversation in the back corner. I made my way over in their direction but, not wanting to disturb them, stopped a few feet away, hoping they wouldn’t notice me.
I stood silently for a few minutes, trying to make out other people’s conversations. The feeling of being watched made me look up and I caught the eye of a young man across the room. He was leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets, staring at me with red rimmed eyes and a hard line for a mouth. The cigarette he’d been smoking lay crumpled near his feet, but the smoke still emanated from it, giving him a bit of an ominous appearance.
I switched my gaze to the doorway I had come through, praying that I wouldn’t catch anyone else’s eyes. Finally, finally, two people came through the door, followed closely by Liberty. There was a young blond girl, probably a year older than myself, accompanied by a dark haired boy in a tattered yellow shirt. I wrinkled my nose as they passed by me, guessing that they hadn’t showered in a few days. Everyone fell silent as the two of them made their way to the back of the pool table and looked around the room. “Thank you all for coming,” the girl said, looking around. “Remember that you’ve all been chosen to attend because we’re 99% sure you won’t betray our location or ideas, and because we’re 99% sure that you don’t like the way things are being run right now. Unfortunately, there is that 1% of doubt, but at this point, we’re willing to take that risk.”
“You got food?” The man who’d been staring at me asked, cocking his head slightly to the left.
The girl’s partner sighed and replied, “No, we don’t,” About half of the room’s shoulders slumped and a few began to mutter disappointedly.
“My name is Candy,” the girl announced, quieting everyone. “And this is Edwin,” she motioned toward the black haired boy beside her. “We’ve called you all here for a few reasons. The first one is this,” The boy, Edwin, placed a blue plastic bag on the table and dumped out its contents. The only thing in it was a picture of a man and his children on the beach, encased in a frame.
“I’m guessing you all remember that first night, when those creatures came? The rakes?” Edwin asked, prompting the congregation to nod. “And then, suddenly, they all just disappeared?” More nodding. “Well, um, we think this picture might have something to do with that.” He concluded, holding up the picture so that everyone could see.
“What are you talking about?” Someone asked.
“Yesterday*, this picture somehow summoned a bunch of rakes. They attacked us. If any of you know Violet, the rakes are the reason she’s not here,” someone gasped silently while others clenched their fists and bit their lips to keep from crying. Noticing the peoples’ reactions, Edwin quickly added, “No, no, she’s not dead. Her leg just needs to be amputated, that’s all. After this meeting is over, our good friend, Kyra, will attend to her.”
“So you guys are pro-mutants?” The ominous young man from before asked, lightly pushing himself off the wall he had been leaning against.
“Well, yes,” Candy began. “Even Edwin here is one. But that’s not what we need to talk about, we have a feeling that Walker and some of the other members of the Council are-“
“This is a joke, right?” The man asked, smiling, as if expecting everyone to burst out laughing. “How many mutants are in this joint anyway?” He moved his arms in such a way that his tattoos became fully exposed.
“James, calm down,” A dark haired girl whispered sternly to the man, James, as she reached out and touched his shoulder, trying to make him relax. He said something to her and nodded reluctantly before returning to his position on the wall. She glanced over at me and I realized I had been staring. I quickly averted my eyes and tried to refocus on Candy and Edwin.
“Anyway,” Candy began again, trying to quiet the people who had begun to mutter once more, “We think the Council’s up to something. Liberty here has been able to listen in on a few conversations that go on between Walker, Skip, and Esma. It’s almost certain now that they can’t be trusted.”
“What are they saying?” Dragomir asked from the other side of the room, near James and his companion. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed him and Flameheart when I first arrived; maybe they had come late.
“I’ve only heard snippets,” Liberty replied, speaking for the first time, “But it sounds as if there’s going to be some big attack, some ‘solution’ that’ll let us start new. Something that’ll let us rebuild the town. I’m not sure what, but it doesn’t sound good.” A few people began to shift around nervously. An old man shivered visibly at the word “solution” and felt what looked like writing on his arm that I couldn’t make out.
“And I have a good feeling that the Council is responsible for Rosalie not being here, either,” Edwin added, “Do any of you know her?” A few people nodded, but they didn’t say anything. “At first, when they came for her, I thought they were trying to round up the mutants or something- but Kyra, Flameheart, Violet, and I were all there too and they didn’t so much as glance at us.”
“Natalia’s gone too,” Liberty said, looking at Edwin as if he had just reminded her of something. “I don’t see her that often, but I know she’s in the Council and an hour ago we had a meeting and she wasn’t there. Her friends Buddy and Lyndsay are usually with her and I didn’t see them either. I don’t think any of them are mutants, so maybe it’s just a coincidence.” As people began to talk amongst themselves, scared and wondering if anyone else had disappeared, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block them all out. I knew I could just teleport away if I wanted to, but something was holding me back. Maybe I wanted to stay to see what the rest of the meeting would bring? When I opened my eyes, it was like I was seeing everything for the first time. Everyone looked so gaunt and shadowed, as if they were merely empty shells of who’d they’d been two months ago. I looked down at myself and saw my collar bone jutting out sharply, my knees clearly visible under my muddied and torn pants. There were still some washing machines to use, but I had never learned how. I shuddered and folded my bony arms against my sunken chest, wondering how it had all amounted to this. How had I even gotten in that cave on that first night? I don’t remember anything clearly until I saw that blue haired man….Raphael. Yes, that was his name. I had met him somewhere before, but I couldn’t think of where….
I was starting to get dizzy. The combination of hunger, smoke, dim lighting, and the clashing symphony of people’s voices did nothing to benefit me. I looked over at Candy and Edwin through the greasy strings of hair dangling in my face. They seemed to be lost in their own conversation, one of them occasionally glancing down nervously at the photograph, as if rakes were about to pop out of it. It didn’t seem as if the meeting would go on further any time soon.
I pushed my way to the door as quickly and quietly as I could. I didn’t know where I would go once I got outside, all I knew was that I needed some fresh air. As I got to the door, I thought I felt someone watching me and I looked up to lock eyes with James. His friend followed his gaze and soon I was being stared down by two menacing people I didn’t care to meet. I made my way out the door and took the dark stairs faster than I should’ve. It was a miracle I hadn’t slipped, for if I had, that probably would’ve been the end of me. My body was much too weak at this point, so even though I couldn’t die until I clashed with someone with the opposite power, the fall I could’ve taken would’ve left me on death’s doorstep for eternity.
No sooner had I reached the top of the stairs that I heard a pair of footsteps behind me. I turned around and my heart nearly leaped out of its chest when I saw the dark figure of James below. The girl followed soon after, but I didn’t stay to look at them. I bolted out the door and ran down the hall. I was probably running for no reason, but I knew I didn’t feel good knowing they seemed to be following me. Once I reached the front door I yanked it open, slammed it behind me, and breathed a sigh of relief. I stepped back and waited for a few moments, as if expecting James to come crashing through. But nothing happened.
My heart beat began to slow down as I started to walk away from the building. The sky was still foggy and I couldn’t see the sun, but I was sure it was shining up their somewhere. I turned the street corner and was met with a clean punch to the face. My body crumpled on the sidewalk and I had landed in such a way that while the majority of my body seemed to be facing upwards, my face was planted right in the ground. Someone grabbed my shoulders and yanked me to my feet. Blood began oozing into my eyes and I couldn’t see anything. I was being held tightly against something solid and before I had time to think, someone punched me in the gut, driving all the air from my lungs. Whoever had held me let go and I blacked out before I hit the pavement.