Why Are My Fingers Tingling?
“Fight! Fight! Fight!!”
The words pound into my ears. I duck to dodge a punch, but I have never been good at fighting.
The punch lands on my jaw and I see stars. The world tips. I rub my jaw, fighting back tears.
I glance up and find Al, a sneering adolecent boy standing over me.
“How you feelin, Smell?” Al snickers, and kicks me in the stomach. I land in the dirt, the marketplace tents coming in and out of view.
“Absolutely brilliant, thanks for asking.” I grit my teeth, tasting blood. What was Rolia going to say when she noticed the brand new bruises that never seemed to go away.
The group of teenagers that are clumped around call for blood. How did the world become like this?
“They all want to see you bleed, you disease,” Al whispers in my ear, his breath hot.
I should run. I’m fast. I could get away.
If only this place wasn’t so crowded.
“Then let them,” I say, meeting his cold eyes. He scowls, wishing I would fight more.
“As you wish,” he says, standing up, readying his fist to draw the blood the jeering crowd wants to see.
But a voice cuts in, my salvation.
“Al Buckley, you leave my best friend alone right now!” A petite blonde girl shoves her way through the circle. She places her hands on her slim hips, lips pursed.
I’ve never been happier to see someone.
You may be asking why this petite girl has a say? Because a pretty face can sway anyone. At least here, on the dirty streets of Ractia.
“We were just having some fun, Ri,” Al whines, pouting. Ri scowls.
“If you don’t leave my best friend alone, I’ll personally pound you.” To Al’s credit, he doesn’t laugh.
Instead he raises his hands, in surrender. “I still don’t know why someone like you hangs around with her,” he jerks his finger at me. I scowl at his back and stand up, my body aching. If only I could fight, but I just am ground into the dust again and again.
“Muriel Wiley is one hundred times better then all of you combined, now shove off!” Ri glares at every single one of our peers till they’re gone. Then she rushes over to me, her face in a worried pinch.
“El, you can’t let them run you over like that,” she says and takes my shoulders in her soft hands. She only comes to my chin though, so her arms are at an angle.
“I know, but when someone bigger than me starts to beat me up, I have no hope. And Al is way bigger than me.” I hang my head, and she pushes dark strands of hair out of my eyes.
“Chin up, Muriel Wiley, for goodness sake.” I lift my chin and give her a crooked grin.
“Thanks, Ri,” I say and shake off her hands.
“Ri Simons! What have I told you about talking with that street rat?” A piercing voice cuts off whatever Ri is going to say. Ri rolls her large grey eyes and faces her mother, a woman with a dagger-like glare and an even nastier smile. “Get over here, right now.”
How my amazing, kind friend ended up with that witch, I have no idea.
Ri sighs loudly, but doesn’t argue. She starts to walk away but whispers over her shoulder, with a small grin, “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
I nod and watch her retreating form, her black and white clothes much more pristine than the shops and booths around us.
I glance down at my dark shirt and pants, they’re mostly brown now. I sigh, trying to beat some of the dirt off, but it sticks. Shrugging, I start making my way through the market, grabbing an apple here, a biscuit there.
I don’t classify myself as a thief, just a lucky passerby that stumbles upon food every so often. And the food here is much better than the rations that me and my robotic mom receive.
I come to my favorite place in all of Ractia, a small bookstore with a peeling sign. I can just spot the books through the dirtied windows. If I could get my hands on them…. I grin and continue to stand, knowing what is about to come next.
“Get out of here girl!” A pudgy man emerges, scowling at me.
“I have every right to stand here and exist, and you know it, Hadley!” I yell right back to the owner of the book store. The round bookstore owner begins throwing books at me, which I find very offensive for two reasons. One, he is throwing books at me and it hurts. And two, he was throwing books.
I hold up the black backpack I always carry to try and deflect some of the blows. Truthfully, standing here and driving Hadley nuts has been my plan all along, since it’s the way I get my hands on real paper books. When he throws, I gladly receive.
The barrage subsides and leaves me standing in front of the small shop, surrounded by books. I scoop them up, shoving them into my backpack. I take off down the road, scuttling around grey stands, which hold no promise of escape from this world.
I scoop up an apple from a vendor, whose shouts of anger fuel my run. The market is easy to get lost in, which is perfect for me. Sprinting behind the vendors, a smile lights up my face. This is the one place where I can get lost in the crowd and be myself, away from hateful looks. This is the one place where I can run and feel free. The books jostle around on my back while I run. The apple clenched between my teeth.
I jump onto the ladder, who acts as an old friend, that takes me to the top of the grey concrete wall that surrounds our city. Graffiti adorns the walls in colorful patterns.
I scramble up the rings, my long arms and legs coming in handy as I reach the top. I regain my balance and sprint across the wall, which is barely wider than my shoulders. Shouts echo behind me, but no one pursues me. Street rats running in the streets is normal for Ractia, California.
I slow to a walk and brush the stray dark brown strands of hair that have escaped my bun, out of my face. Sitting down on the wall, I let my legs dangle. The apple is delicious, the flavors of fresh fruit bursting in my mouth. It must come from a province that rains every so often.
The land is grey and dead. Effects that came after World War III, which had left the world barren. And now here we are, struggling to regain… well our lives.
The government doesn’t leave very much room for living though. They tell us what to eat, when to eat, what to wear, where to work. If you were not born into a family that was higher up in the chain of wealth, it was very likely you would be swallowed by the world. My robotic mother and I almost get swallowed every day.
But it doesn’t matter. I will climb out of all of this some day. Somehow, I will find my freedom.
I throw my apple core off and it lands thirty feet below me on the grey grass beyond the wall. No one will notice, we already dump all our trash out there anyway. Climbing to my feet, I wave my hands to remain balanced.
I walk along the wall as I always do, every day, since the day I started school. And now, ten years later I’m still walking the same grey walls.
The marketplace ends and I spot the bus station. I jump onto a house’s roof then down to the hard concrete. I roll to lessen the pain, which doesn’t even hit me anymore. My legs have gotten used to the shock of landing on something solid from high above.
Walking down the cracked sidewalk, I pass horrors. People left to starve because they refused to work or go to school. Their rations were neglected. And now they’re paying for it.
I pass a small child, barely four years old, sitting on the curb. She looks so lonely. Her eyes are filled with a hollow light. Hair a tangled mess.
I stoop beside her and pull an apple from my pocket. I put on what I hope is a bright smile.
“Here,” I say, extending it to her. Pudgy, dirty hands reach out. Her wide brown eyes shine. A smile cracks some dirt from her cheeks. I rub a thumb along her face. “I’m sorry.” I stand and walk away. I can’t do anything, I have to tell myself. I wish I could take her into my arms and sweep her away to somewhere green and safe.
The only ways to get around the city is either walking or riding the public buses.
Waiting for the bus, I tap my Ear Rings and tell Rolia, my robotic mom, I’m headed home. The silver bus slides into view on its magnetic tracks and I climb aboard, backpack in tow.
I sit on the bench, leaning my head against the metal back of the bus. It sways gently beneath me. Since it doesn’t have any wheels, the wind always shakes it a little. Magnets keep it hovering midair.
The bus comes to a halt at my stop. I grab my backpack and get up to stand, but someone sticks their foot out. I tumble to the ground, books spilling everywhere. A couple laughs echo above me.
Gathering my books, I slip my hands through my backpack straps, slinging it onto my back. My cheeks are burning.
“See you tomorrow, Smell,” a boy says, laughing. The one who tripped me. I give him a nasty glare, realizing he is a kid from my school. He isn’t worth my time. My real name is Muriel, but El is what I prefer to be called. However, those who don’t like me (everyone) have nicknamed me Smell.
I hop off the hovering silver autobus and wave to the driver, who waves back. One of the rare people that show me kindness and I have become friends with. Even if teenagers don’t love you, there are other people in the world who will.
After placing my hand on the lock sensor, I push open the gate that leads to my house and slam through the door. My home is silver, like every other home on the street. The houses are the same color, a dull grey asphalt. The same technology. Our governor won’t have it any other way in 2421.
“Rolia, I’m home!” I call through the house, storming into the kitchen. I lay out my days’ spoils. A couple apples and some oil for Rolia’s squeaky wheels.
Rolia found me on the street when I was a child. She asked if she could keep me as her own. Surprisingly, the governor said yes. But once I got older, Rolia explained to me that it was purposeful. I was an experiment child: a way to see if abandoned children could be raised by robots. Apparently they can, but that does not mean people won’t hate you for being different.
But we can’t do anything about it. And I’ve kind of gotten used to it by now, since it has been happening since the seventh grade. Three years of hatred. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I got teased before for my good grades and robot mom, but not like this. This is something… different.
I go to my room, which is just off the living room and kitchen. Our house only has two rooms. The kitchen and living room are squished together and mine and Rolia’s room is basically a closet.
Stacks of books line the rooms. A small window lets a dim light filter in. My thin blanket is crooked on my bed. I lay my backpack down, quickly slipping off my shoes, which I place in the drepsler, an auto cleaning machine. I snap off the lights in my room as I traipse back outside to get some fresh air. Even though the air isn’t that fresh.
My favorite part of the day is right after school, when I swim for hours in our inground swimming pool, which was installed for me when Rolia discovered how much I love swimming.
There aren’t even swimming suits but my clothes are just fine. It’s not normal for people nowadays to have swimming pools. Especially robot raised children. The amount of water taken up is considered a waste, hence why it is only a ten by ten pool. Rolia could have been taken apart for putting it in for me, but she did it anyway. The strange thing is, Rolia normally never lets me step out of line, in any way. But she agreed and insisted on having it.
I race back outside and almost fall as I jump off our front porch. Splashing into a cannonball in the deep pool, which has become my sanctuary. Sure, it might not be wide, but Rolia ensured it was deep. A sneaky way of rebellion. I paddle around for a little bit then go to the top, floating on my back and staring at the fog ridden sky of Ractia, California, the capital of the Golden state. The cool water soothes my overheated skin and I feel the day’s frustrations melt away as they always do when I’m swimming.
Suddenly, my eyes catch on a small silver square hovering above me. I cock my head just as a small needle flies at me. I lunge to the left, trying to dodge the needle but it embeds in my thigh. I wince and let out a tiny scream. A tingling sensation shoots up my legs and through my arms, stalling my heart. My body releases a spasm.
The world goes silent… but only for a moment.
Then water shoots up around me. I try to scream but the sound catches in my throat. I swim as fast as I can to try to escape but the minute square chases after me. My fingers tingle and my whole being calls for the water.
Craves for the water.
I twist my fingers, trying to make sense of what is happening. Sure, I like water. But the fact that I might be able to feel the water inside me is too terrifying to wrap my head around.
If I ask the water to go down, would it listen?
My fingers tingle again and water drops back into the pool.
My adrenaline rages.
But the scarier thing is. I knew how to ask it to go down. I knew how to make it obey.
As if it is in my genes. Like it was bred there. And had just been triggered into action.