I walk towards the edge of the harvesting field while glancing at the sky to allow the sun to warm the haunting chills that are making my fingers tremble. The women are spread out amongst the field, too focused to look in this direction. I flick my eyes across each of them, catching my breath as I observe how exhausted and faint they are. There is a young girl, around twelve, that is aimlessly drifting back and forth across the corn as though she is day-dreaming.
Not one of them has a bottle of water. Not one of them stops to take a moment, or to sit out for a few minutes. This is slavery.
“You. New girl.” a voice calls from my right.
I turn to look at a young woman wearing a supervisor’s gown, she leans against the bonnet of a red truck with giant silver tires, her arms remain firmly crossed as she stares at me. She is blonde, and unlike other supervisors, she doesn’t wear a bandanna. Her hair is tied back into a ponytail--making her beauty shine from her pale, flawless skin.
“Name?” she says.
“Elizabeth,” I respond.
“Elizabeth,” she repeats. “You’re late.”
“How?” I say. “I had to walk here and-”
She uncrosses her arms, lifting herself up from the bonnet and walks over to me. “Your group has already begun,” she says. “You are late."
I stare into her sharp, blue eyes, showing her no fear. “Madam Katelyn gave me my introduction, I couldn’t be here any sooner. I didn’t know where here was.”
“So is it Madam Katelyn’s fault?” she demands. “Is that your excuse?”
Is she trying to trick me? I roll my eyes across her face, measuring her solid expression as I reach the conclusion that she’s enjoying this. I know exactly what she’s trying to do, and I’ve known her approximately a minute.
“I can only deliver an excuse if it’s a lie,” I say. “And thou shall not lie.”
She smirks at me, and I can’t tell if she’s impressed or taking a severe dislike to my attitude. She turns her attention back to the members and steps sideways. “Group C, meet your new addition,” she shouts towards the field. “Be sure to inform her of what happens when members act smart.”
The group stops their work for a moment as they wipe sweat from their foreheads and glare in this direction.
The woman looks at me and then nods her head at the field. “Get to it then, you’ve got catching up to do.”
I begin walking towards the field, wriggling my fingers beside my waist as I try to make it seem that I have a clue what I’m doing. I’ve never even been in a field, let alone worked in one. I glance around, trying to catch a glimpse of what everyone else is doing. Some are raking the ground, others are digging holes with their bare hands to extract vegetables but most are limping across the field with giant baskets that are brimful and over-flowing with potatoes. I notice the remaining three supervisors are out here also, treading the ground back and forth with whips in their palms.
I flinch as a young girl becomes a victim of one of those whips in the far distance, it hits her so bluntly that I can hear it clearly. I see the girl curl over as the supervisor, a tall brunette woman, springs it upon her again and again while screaming at the girl to pick up the pace. The girl is merely a baby--she looks older than the twelve-year-old that I saw, but she is still just as fragile and innocently petite.
“Don’t stare,” a voice suddenly says. “You’ll be next.”
I look down to the ground, meeting the eyes of a woman that is digging so hard into the soil that her fingers are bleeding. “What do I do?”
“Get on your knees,” she says, turning her attention away. “You can share my basket.”
I fall to my knees, searching the ground for something to use to begin digging. I see a rock just a little further ahead on the ground and I push myself forwards to retrieve it. It’s small and not blunt enough to penetrate the soil for a deep hole, but it’s all I have.
“Thank you,” I whisper to the woman as I scrape the soil. “What’s your name?”
She digs harsher suddenly, her face scrunches up into an expression of resentment and anguish. “Ruth.”
“That’s not your real name, is it?”
She glances at me, calmness befalls her as she mentally questions my observation. “Yes, it is.”
I blink at her, confused as to why she wouldn’t admit it. “Is that what they told you?”
“Stop talking,” she says through clenched teeth. “You’ll get us both whipped.”
A supervisor suddenly comes into view as she paces herself in front of us, swinging the thick whip gently through the air at the back of her body. This one is older, not as old as Madam Katelyn, but the dooming grey in her hair is visible. At her arrival, Ruth suddenly stiffens, her head falls down instinctively and her eyes become dedicated on the soil. I notice how her body trembles just a little, as though she is anticipating an attack just for the sake of it, and not because she’s doing anything wrong.
But I don’t do that. I’ve been whipped before, I’ve been belted before, I’ve been water-boarded before. I’m not afraid of the weapon she holds, I’m not afraid of the authority she holds--my eyes remain up, my face remains solid and I glare upon this woman’s face with bravery that makes her pause in her tracks.
Then I remember Elijah’s warning. Whatever you see, whatever you hear, whatever you feel, don’t act on it.
And my eyes fall down. I rake the levelled soil with my right hand, pushing as much strength into my shoulder as I can reach without tearing a muscle in the process. Whatever I did, seems to work, because the supervisor walks on by--like she’s impressed.
As soon as she’s out of my peripheral vision, my head goes back up and my surroundings finally make sense to me.
I turn to Ruth. “This isn’t an Academy at all, is it?”
“No,” she responds, not daring to glance up again. “It isn’t.”
My eyes snap over her head at the sound of another whip hitting an exhausted, fragile body and I hold my breath for a moment before the truth rolls off my tongue quietly. “It’s a cult.”