I place my old clothes onto the bed, unsure what else to do with them. I’m certain someone will come and remove them at some point before I return, they’ll most likely be burned. I wipe a hand down the front of my grey sweater, leading down to the thigh of my grey sweatpants. This outfit is actually rather comfortable, it’s the type of clothes I’ve always wanted to wear at home, I’d even sleep in them--I imagine they’d be extra comfortable to sleep in.
My two minutes is suddenly up. Madam Katelyn stands in the doorway, narrowing her eyes as she observes my alacrity.
“Comfortable, are you?” she says.
A smile lights up my face. “Is there anything wrong with that?”
She snorts, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling as she spins around.
“You’re going to be a fun one,” I mumble under my breath.
I jog to catch up to her and then I slow my pace as I realize that really doesn’t take much. The woman walks as though someone is twisting a screw driver into her spine. I’m not sure if it’s a medical condition or if something happened to her to cause her to walk that way, but she limps so frailly like she’s in unbearable pain.
“Where are the rest of my group?” I ask her as I exit through the dull door and rake in the fresh, cool air.
“Your introduction is over,” she says. “You’re not permitted to speak anymore.”
I scowl at the back of her head, rolling my tongue across the front of my teeth as I fight to remain silent. Does she mean I’m not permitted to speak now? Or ever? There’s many more questions I want to ask, there’s so much more information my brain yearns for. Such as, where can we get water from? When is the time period in which we’re allowed to write a letter home?
My thoughts drift slowly to Nathan. I’ve been trying not to think about him because the reminder of him, of everything we were, will distract me from remaining focused. I can’t lose myself to sadness, I can’t lose myself to the light sting in my heart--I have to stay strong. And if I linger too long on the image of his face, I might just break down. I haven’t come that close yet, it takes a lot to reduce me to tears, the last time I cried, properly cried, is after my parents water-boarded me.
That was the moment I was reborn. That was the moment I was forced to appreciate the strength I never knew I had. I found what I needed to keep me going, I discovered a part of me that had always been suppressed by their manipulation.
I know how to easily access it now. I know how to easily access courage now. And I’d like to think that my time here will only make it magnify.
But I still need to write Nathan a letter. I still need to explain the situation. I need him to have closure because the thought of him banging on my door in several day’s time (demanding to my parents why I haven’t replied to his messages) breaks my heart. He has no idea how far I am.
Madam Katelyn stops around a corner, and as I curve myself around it, I notice that she has stopped to talk with a tall-built man wearing a grey v-neck shirt and black jeans. He’s a member, that’s obvious, but why is he lurking around the women’s side of the Academy?
“Take this one to group C,” Madam Katelyn instructs. “She’s new so be sure to stick to the guidelines.”
The man just nods in response, his hands entwine at his waist as he glares at the ground--afraid to meet Madam Katelyn’s eyes. Is this woman that scary? She can hardly walk. I could push her over and walk a mile away from her before she had even got back to her feet. I quickly vanish that thought, before I break out into laughter.
She meets my eyes, somehow noticing my amusement like she can read my thoughts. “See you at assembly,” she says.
“Looking forward to it,” I say loudly as she limps past me back in the direction that we came. I wait for her to turn around the corner and then I stare at the man. “What’s assembly?”
“This way,” he says, nodding his head forwards and ignoring my question completely.
He begins walking, and it is a pace I’m not yet used to. I genuinely do have to jog to catch up to him. He remains silent, keeping his hands astride his jeans as he trots along the path towards a giant canvas of field in the distance.
“Is that where we’re going?” I say.
He doesn’t respond.
“Do you know where I can get a drink of water?”
Still no response.
I sigh, staring at the heavy bags under his eyes from the side of his face. He doesn’t seem irritated that I’m glaring at him, he just looks forwards, not daring to prize his eyes away from the destination in his mind. He looks to be in around his twenties, but his face is so dry and musty that it’s unclear.
“Hello?” I say, waving a hand in front of his eyes. “I know you can speak, and I know you understand English.”
Still nothing. Not even a flinch. Every human’s reaction is to flinch when something comes close to their face unexpectedly, it’s not only a natural instinct but it’s a type of defense mechanism. The brain sends a distress signal issuing a response that can momentarily protect us, so we’re more expectant and less likely to be surprised if it happens again.
Annoyed by his mysterious self-control, I reach out and I grab his arm, twisting it around--forcing his eyes to finally meet mine. His eyes glare into me, solid and straight. But I notice the piercing green of them, the shattering bedazzlement leaps from his pupils like electrifying waves. He’s amazed that I managed to break his attention, even if it was just for a second, I’ve got him.
“You’re human,” I say. “You can speak. Talk to me.”
“You shouldn’t do that,” he says. “We can’t touch.”
My eyes flick down to my hand that is still gripped around his strong, athletic arm and I pull it back quickly, gently placing it beside my leg. “Okay,” I say. “What else can’t we do?”
“Because we’re the opposite sex?”
“Because we’re not from the same group.”
“Which group are you?” I say.
His lips curl into a smile, just for a moment, and then it vanishes, leaving me to ponder if I’d imagined it. “What’s your name?”
“Biblical, like all the others,” he says. “Come on, we need to move.”
He turns away from me, giving our surroundings a quick glance over before he begins walking. I stare after him for a moment, lost in confusion, before jogging to his side.
“What do you mean by Biblical?” I say.
He stares forwards again, not daring to flick his eyes across. “You’ll find out soon enough. Just count yourself lucky that you were born with that name. Other’s aren’t.”
I catch on quicker than I’d like to. It’s one of the dreaded disadvantages of having this dooming IQ of mine. “They change people’s names if they aren’t Biblical?” I say.
“Did they change yours?”
He shakes his head. “I’m one of the lucky ones also.”
“They change people’s names,” I say, repeating it to myself in disbelief. If you take away someone’s name, you deprive them of identity. You erase everything that they are, everything that they have fought to become. You eradicate them from having purpose. “What else do they do?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he says. “If it isn’t already, then you will learn soon enough.”
“How long have you been here?”
“All my life.”
I stop walking, staring at the side of his face in a state of shock. He turns, meeting my eyes with seriousness.
“Word to the wise,” he says. “If you want to survive here then play by their rules. Whatever you see, whatever you hear, whatever you feel, you can’t act on it. They’re testing you by placing you in C, they want you to react. But you can’t do that. Because if you do, you’ll be placed in D. And trust me, you don’t want that to happen.”
“Why are you helping me?” I say quietly. “A few minutes ago you wouldn’t even look at me.”
He continues walking and I snap back to life as I stroll beside him. “I’m not helping you,” he says. “No one can help you. No one can help either of us.”
A few silent minutes befall us, and although I itch to get his attention to ask more questions, I know it’s best not to because up ahead within the field is a shadow of grey bodies baking in the strong heat as they rake the ground like their lives depend on it.
“This is the work?” I say, unable to hold my tongue any longer. “Harvesting?”
I suddenly become painfully aware that I’m wearing a baggy sweater that is already beginning to make my armpits sweat, and by the looks of all the women, they’re close to passing out already.
“That’s your group,” he says, nodding towards the grey bodies, not realizing I’ve already clicked onto that. “The men’s group B is over there.” He nods his head farther left, towards a cluster of bodies in the far distance that are too far away to see clearly. The stretch of field goes on for miles and it blurs my vision the more that I try to see into it.
I glance back to him sadly. “So, that means you’re in group A.”
“Well I definitely wouldn’t be standing here talking to you if I was D.”
“What do you mean?” I demand. “What happens in group D?”
“You should get to work, before they come and drag you there,” he says, taking steps backwards. “Thank you, Elizabeth.”
“For what?” I say.
He lifts his arms for a moment, giving me a gentle shrug. “For demanding my attention and bringing me back. Even if it was just for a few minutes.”
“What’s your name?” I say.
“Elijah,” he says. “Remember what I said.”
“If I ever need reminding again, where can I find you?” I say quickly, before he turns around completely. “Where is group A?”
“I’m not in group A,” he says, almost grinning. “I think you can work it out for yourself.”
I narrow my eyes at him as he turns and begins walking back towards the compound. He’s not in group A? But if he’s not in group A, and he isn’t joining group B in harvesting, he isn’t in my group and he’s definitely not in group D then. . .
A sudden chill comes over me as I do exactly what he says, and I work it out. I glare at the shimmer of the sun that shines from the back of his puffy, black hair and I hold my breath.
He’s a leader.