When I was little, I didn’t have too many friends. I was a bossy child with a lot of ideas on exactly the way that things should be done. It didn’t really occur to me that being so headstrong meant that people wouldn’t like me as much. I had just always been myself, even if that meant I spent most of my younger years entertaining myself.
It became easier when I joined the gymnastics team because by default, they became my friends and family. They taught me discipline, strength, hard work and focus. Which has come to help me in my later years but even then, I often look back on my lonely past.
Katie saved me in that way. Our personalities just clicked and even though she was shy and timid, she didn’t let me walk all over her. I had quite the tendency to do that by accident and she found ways to not allow it to happen. She taught me how to be more lenient with people; more trusting about their ideas.
That’s just the kind of person Katie was. She was always listening and observing so that she could help other people. My brother used to say that me and her had a “give one, take one” type deal. She taught me kindness and patience while I taught her confidence. We grew into better people just by being together.
Ever since she’s been gone, I find myself slipping. Pushing my ideals to the front and drowning out anyone else who might have another opinion. Katie taught me that I have the capacity to listen and think instead of being on a one mind track. I have to think of it as multitasking.
Cala has been the one to really revert me back to my one way thinking. I can tell that we have the same way of dealing with things. We’re both very strong willed and want -maybe even need- our voices to be heard. She’s a lot meaner than I ever have been but I don’t know her story yet. That’s another thing Katie taught me; not to judge until I know someone’s full story.
… but damn, does she really get on my nerves sometimes.
“You’re kidding me right?” is the first thing she says the next morning in the locker rooms. Miri had gotten me up bright and early for our little day out in the town and brought me down here to supposedly get ready. We were the first ones to arrive. Until now anyway.
“No.” Cala says with determination. “No, she isn’t coming. You can’t just make decisions like this about my squad. The squad that you gave me full control over.”
“Control that I can take away.” Miri says back calmly. “Have I ever made any decision that has caused damage to you or any of the guardians?”
She’s silent for a moment, giving me a little side glare before continuing. “…No, but- “
“But nothing. She’s going.”
This time Cala gives me a full-on glare, the wings on her back flare out around her shoulders and her hands clench at her sides. “Fine, but if she gets caught, I’m leaving her.”
Without another word she storms across the room to where Nat is sitting and opens up a locker behind her. She slams it against the others causing Nat to jump and flash to the other side of the bench, using a speed I can barely register with my eyes. Cala almost immediately apologizes to her for her outburst, which surprises me.
I never thought I would ever see guilt from a person like her. It makes me wonder just how close they are.
“Don’t worry about her.” Miri says, pulling my attention back to her. “She has Soteriophobia.”
“Yes, poor thing refuses to depend on others out of fear of being disappointed. It’s one of the reasons I put her as a leader.”
“Oh, um cool.” Is all I really know to say. I don’t think I’ll ever understand this woman in front of me.
She gives me a little pat on the back then leaves the room. Leaving me to fend for myself
I stay seated on a cold a metal bench, wondering how the air in the room went from humid to suddenly so dry. My tongue ticks across the top of my mouth, parched.
The quiet room becomes filled with loud jabbering. Two boys come in through the hallway, laughing and joking with each other freely. One is taller with ashy brown hair and freckles covering most of his face. He has a cocky air to him, holding his head high and arching his thick dark brows mischievously. The other boy is short and skinny, wearing basketball shorts that show off his bony knees. He looks young, maybe twelve or thirteen. His hair is short and thin, allowing me to see some of his scalp through the dark locks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he toppled over just by someone breathing on him.
Reid sneaks in behind them, holding the same laptop she was yesterday. She goes up to the smaller boy and messes up the mini Mohawk on his head causing him to groan and hit her on the arm. They have similar features, from their nose to the curve of their lips.
“Thirty minutes before the crowds are big.” Reid says shortly. Her eyes sweep the room, counting on her fingers. When she passes by me, her lips purse tightly before letting go with a pop. I can’t quite decipher the look on her face but it disappears quickly when she starts typing on her laptop.
“Here put these on.” Nat says and comes over to hand me some black clothing. “It’s easier for Candace to disguise us if we’re wearing black. It’s sort of like a green screen.”
I nod to her with a thank you and slip on the sweat shirt and shoes she gave me. I’m already wearing dark jeans so there isn’t too much to change.
“You’re gonna need to take off that.” she says wincing and pointing up at my maroon beany.
Even though I want to, I don’t argue. I just take it off and put it in my pocket.
Everybody’s gathered in a circle in the room. Candace and Carter are here now too, they must have come in while I was talking to Nat.
“Listen up everyone.” Cala says, grabbing the attention of the room. “We only really need two things on this trip: Water and air filters. After we for sure have those items then we can stock up on whatever else we can get our hands on. Usually I wouldn’t go over rules for the sake of time but thanks to someone specific I have to.” She pointedly glares at me. “Don’t talk to anyone besides the vendors, keep your voice low, stay in groups of two or three -no more no less- and most importantly if you see any sign of SIFA tell me immediately. Got it?”
“Yeah I got it.” I say a little more forcefully then I mean.
Her glare somehow intensifies, almost making me shrink back, almost. I stand my ground.
“Would you do the honors Candace?” she says while still looking at me.
“Sure thing.” Candace comes to the middle of the circle, holding some type of jar with weird liquid in it; I think it might be water but I’m not sure. Quickly she goes to each person and draws a symbol of some kind on their heads, using the contents inside. When she gets to me, she gives a reassuring smile before doing the same. Only when she does Nat do I see what it is. It looks almost like a sideways figure eight with a circle around it.
“Repeat after me.” she says standing back in the middle of the circle. “I am hidden and safe.”
“I am hidden and safe.” We all say back in unison. She nods her head which makes me assume we’re done with our part.
Her eyes shut and she whispers words that I can’t understand. When finished, a burst of light connects between all of us. My heartrate spikes, but in a good way. Like warm water has just been dosed over my head and is slowly seeping into my veins.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Nat leans in and nudges me. “Now not only are we all connected for a short while but it also makes us very unnoticeable. Like we’re just pretty wall flowers.”
“Very cool.” I give her a smile, trying to get used to the warmness in my body. “Who are those two?” I ask gesturing to the boys.
“Oh, that’s Asher and Mitchel. Mitchel is Reid’s little brother, he’s not supernatural but he’s pretty smart. Helps his sister out with a lot of the programing for this place.”
“He’s a hybrid.” She whispers to me cautiously. “Half Genie and half umm-. “
“Dragon.” A male voice whispers just an inch from my ear. His breath is hot and his tongue darts out to touch my lobe. My fight or flight instantly kicks in and I find my elbow jetting back and connecting with a stomach. His groan is loud but he doesn’t move much farther away from me. “I wasn’t expecting that one.” He wheezes.
Laughter choruses from next to me, a contagious one with snorts and fits of airless breath. It captures the attention of everyone in the room.
“That was amazing.” Nat says through her fits.
I ignore her and instead turn to the boy who I just practically stabbed in the stomach. I can see now that its Asher. He’s holding his lower stomach and rubbing it gently. Our height difference makes it so I just narrowly missed his manly bits.
“Do you have a problem or something?” I ask him, folding my arms over my chest after wiping his saliva viciously off of my ear.
“That doesn’t sound like an apology.”
“You were in my personal space. Why would I apologize for getting you out of it?” This morning has somehow turned into the most irritating of them all.
“Ooh straight to the point aren’t you, or should I say my almost groin.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does to me.” he mocks back using my same tone.
“So, the answer is yes?” I smirk, knowing I’m about to win this little battle.
His face drops and he sits into his hip. “Yes, to what?” he asks, confusions lacing through his voice and face.
“That you have a problem,” I then look him up and down, putting on my best judgmental face. “or something.”
I don’t wait for his response and instead turn back to Nat asking her when it’s time to go. She just stares at me in shock, like I just told off the devil himself.
A loud ding resounds around the room, coming from Reid’s direction. She claps her laptop shut and gives a curt nod to Cala, who is slipping a black trench coat over her shoulders.
“Everybody ready?” She asks and everyone nods their heads, except for me.
In unison the room turns and we all exit. Luckily Nat grabs onto my arm and starts pulling or else I would’ve just stood there like an idiot.
We travel down the hall to the cafeteria where the entrance and exit is. Reid types in a few more things to her laptop and the door opens easily for us to go through. The tunnels up to the museum are warmer than I remember, but that might be because I’m actually dry going through them this time.
When we reach the door, I recognize as being the one to the museum, I have a little mini panic attack. Even with the Awakening happening, places like this are still pretty packed most days. I can’t imagine anyone not noticing us go right through here then out the front doors. What’s even crazier is how calm all of the squad currently looks; some even look bored. It makes me wonder how long they’ve been doing this and if they have been underground this entire time.
I can’t imagine living down there for months let alone a year. It makes me feel like I’m in some sort of psych ward or prison.
The door clicks open and a burst of jumbled voices leaks through into my ears. Random families, mostly young, are bustling around the museum. Unbeknownst to the supernatural creatures laying hundreds of feet below them and now walking among them.
As soon as we step into the crowds, not a single person looks our way. Were practically invisible. I have to look down at my hands just to make sure I’m actually not.
It’s been so long since a regular person hasn’t looked at me with fear in their eyes or scattered across the room like I was an infection. If I had been a little bit older or even younger then I wouldn’t have as much fear as these people carry around with them… at least that’s what I like to tell myself.
A little crowd of what looks to be fourth graders comes right for us I notice out of the corner of my eye that Nat isn’t paying any attention. I grab her arm and pull her towards me and shove her away again so she doesn’t hit any of the kids. She looks a little dazed when we get through but is able to give me a nod of thanks.
We walk as a close group to the doors and walk out them with no problem. The sun is high in the sky, confusing me because I had thought it was early in the morning. The bunker really is so disorienting.
“It’s noo-“ I begin to say but am cut off by a chorus of Shh’s.
We make our way down the semi crowded street for about six or seven blocks before turning down a dark alleyway. A door appears to our right and without a thought, Cala opens it and begins to usher us inside. When I walk past, she shoves me as hard as she can, making me bump into whoever’s in front of me. Which just so happens to be Asher.
“Watch it sweet cheeks, can’t have you falling for me so soon.” He retorts with an annoying smirk. His hands have grabbed onto my shoulders so I wiggle out of them quickly, giving him my finest glare while doing so. “You’re almost as fiery as me.”
I shake my head and finally take a look at my surroundings, gasping in shock once I realize where we’re at.
“This is Brimstone Marketplace. I thought it shut down after the Awakening.” I say to no one in particular.
“Well, technically it did.” Mitchel says, this being the first time he’s spoken to me. “That doesn’t stop the venders though, they gotta make money somehow.”
“Let’s just get this over with.” Cala cuts in. “Let’s split off and meet back here in ten, not a minute after. I’ll get the essentials, the rest of you get food. Now scatter.” She walks off without another word, Reid and Mitchel following close behind.
“You can stay with me and Asher.” Nat says kindly. “Let’s go.”
I begin to follow without another word, but a nagging feeling that something terrible is going to happen fills my stomach. Especially when the slight smell of gas enters my nose.