Note: New draft available on my profile. Thank you so much for clicking on my story. I hope you enjoy the ride.
At 11:56, the only sound was the roar of the waves slapping against the shingle, down by the cove far below. I stared over the rumbling waves into a cloudy horizon. Thoughts burst through my head in short spasms of black. Over my shoulder, a few lights blinked good night in the village and silhouettes roamed across the peat path I’d followed to get here. For the first time today, no voices spoke loudly in the streets. The night had almost come to a close, only to be replaced with the worst day of the year.
I turned my thoughts back to the ocean, unreachable. A splinter dug itself into my hand as I rested my hands on that pitiful excuse of a picket fence, craning my neck to peer over the sides of the white cliffs. Somewhere along this island, or perhaps somewhere out across the sea, Vera and my parents might await our return. Perhaps they’d thought we’d have a better life without them. Perhaps that was why they’d left us in the cornfields, with Vera sleeping in a little basket beside my toddler form.
Below, the waves whispered and murmured. I heard the spray of water against smooth rocks, smelt the bitter salt-water tang. And all the while, the ocean stretched out in a rolling, inky expanse, uncaring, unknown.
Restless, I wrenched myself back out of bed. The wheelchair squeaked as I hoisted myself up into it, my muscles straining. Shadows blanketed the room. Outside the three-paned windows, tree branches rustled and shook green-veined fists, making silhouettes rise and fall around me.
It was the kind of night you never wanted to experience awake - the kind of night that rang with doubts, frozen fears and ghostly memories. My head throbbed; my nape was covered in a sheen of sweat.
As I rolled myself towards the window, where moonlight filtered through the white organdy curtains, my tongue traced nervously over my lips. I wanted to go back out into the night; to feel the warm air breeze against my skin. But going out was frowned upon; twice in one night was wrong. I shout a longing look at the droneboard lying on the floor beside my bed: a metallic chair clipped onto an oval board, with four rotator blades underneath ready to lift me on command. Already, I could hear the soft whirring of the blades, but I tried to ease the temptation. I would not leave the house. I would stay here and face this night of blacks and greys.
I reached the window ledge, propped my arms up on the cold fake-marble. The cold jolted me out of my thoughts momentarily, and I grinned. With a flourish of my hand, I swept the curtains aside to gaze out into the predatory night. A banner hung from the imposing, white building opposite my room. Its electronic fabric fluttered in a light breeze, one of the corners flapping, untacked from the wall. I watched it with a pitcher of scorn. How many times had I scoffed at the lying adverts it displayed? Whilst I cowered in my bed, unable to sleep, this energy-waster flashed messages advertising the very day I was so afraid of: the 12th August - my birthday and the day of the Pickauth. I shuddered. In this village of sleeping souls, every child had looked forward to their birthdays, and here I was, too worried to rejoice that I’d been born.
I forced my eyes away from the banner, which had turned a flashing scarlet. The right colour, to be sure. A nice, angry, deceiving colour.
Behind me, in my room, shadows shifted and loomed like trolls. I was reminded of the shadows I’d loved as a child: The Monsters. They’d pop up in my dreams as teddy-bears or black, shapeless beings, usually carrying an apple or a skipping rope. In the morning, I’d scare my sister with tales of their appearance, and she’d shriek, giggling. “I’m going to meet a scary hag in my dreams someday!”
“Nah. Vera, scary dreams are reserved for me.”
“And I have no idea why you too are happy about that,” Mum shook her head. We shrugged, giggled, and then I chased Vera around the house.
Tonight, several years later, sleep was a slippery fish, hard to catch and impossible to hold onto. Because tomorrow, my future could be taken from me. Tomorrow, they could steal me from my sister - and I was powerless against it.
11th August 2075
My senses remained alert in the dusky-eyed dawn of nightfall. The digital clock by my bed ticked with fervour, as if it needed its presence to be known. As I twiddled my thumbs, my back resting against my bed’s headboard, the emerald bed sheets hugged my body – tight.
I sighed, glancing at the bedroom doorway. Then my eyes closed, and when I awoke, it was to a white figure creeping across the floorboards. The moonlight tainted her tumbling, golden hair a faint silver and painted hollows beneath her eyes. Her nose and eyes gleamed. “So you are awake,” she whispered, grinning.
“Right.” I watched Vera approach with a certain joy. At least my sister hadn’t left me yet. How could I describe the warm feeling I felt as she joined me in my bedroom, late at night? Trying to clear my head, I took hold of my legs, lifted them and placed them on the edge of my bed.
“Wheelchair or Droneboard?” Vera asked.
I pointed in the general direction of the floor, where a certain black, metallic board resided. Vera nodded. She disappeared by the edge of my bed, and the next I saw of her was her hand on the edge of my Droneboard, which she placed on the floor by my feet. It took me three minutes to haul myself into the black chair attached atop the D-board, and then I knew it was time. “Your dares are crazy,” I let Very know.
“As they should be. Make the best of life or resign.”
“Or in your case, you don’t get caught.”
“Right-o.” Vera winked, and then she started to run, her hair swishing behind her in a cascade of glossy curls. With one tight, rapid motion, I pulled a lever on the D-board’s control panel. Two leather straps snaked around my legs, and another reached across my waist, promising me safety. Pressing my back into the cool, plastic chairback, I reached forwards and my fingers alit on the joystick. Time to go.
A few hours afore, Vera had come to me at lunch break in a blue tee and denim shorts. “You know what you said about us not knowing anything?”
“About the world! The Earth. Remember? We were talking about the bible, and realised we knew none of the places in it...”
“The Bible is just an ancient myth.”
“Right. Because there’s no evidence to prove it’s true, etcetera, etcetera. The point is, we don’t know any country other than Uliev, and it can’t be the only one.
“Okay,” I nodded.
“So I was thinking. We should look for some information - sneak away and find some.”
“Another exploring quest?”
“Nope. Information. It’s not going to come to us. We’re both over a decade old - doesn’t that sound older our actual age? -And we’ve never heard of another country. So let’s go find one!”
“If you mean we should race into the distance - or ask our teachers, I’m sure that would work real well.”
“No. I mean that I’ve got a dare.” I winced. Vera’s eyes gleamed. Another one of her crazy ideas. Well, that was sublime. But Vera looked serious - almost solemn - as she leaned forward and spoke, “We should go to the library.”
For a moment, I stared, and then a derisive laugh bubbled up inside me. “That’s a dare?”
“I’m not done! We’ll go to the unseen sections - restricted even, maybe; the library must have archives!”
I swallowed. “Oh great.”
Vera’s grin grew suddenly wider, “So you’re in, I’ll take it? Brilliant!” And she flounced off down the corridor, smiling at all the people she passed.
Which is why I had found myself here in my bedroom, awake in the full darkness, knowing there was no turning back. Once you set out to do something, you had to finish it off.
I jolted the joystick with expert fingers and slid forwards, the drones on either side of the board whipping the air, keeping me airborne so I hovered at Vera’s waist level. Through the door I went, and Vera was there, waiting like a spectre at the top of the stairs. She put a ghost-pale finger to her lips and slowly - slowly - started her descent. I followed, leaving the D-board down level after level, aware of every whirr of the rotor blades and every creak of the floorboards beneath Vera’s footsteps.
Finally, we reached the hallway downstairs, where a mirror reflected the image of two pale, petite girls. My eyes pierced the mirror glass while Vera, beside me, looked like a wide-eyed maiden in a creased, snow-white top and blue shorts. For a moment, we both watched our reflections. I eyed my straight hair with a critical stare as it tumbled down to my shoulders. “Aren’t we a pair?” Vera quipped; opened the door and, stepping through, flung her hands out to the side. Cool air seeped through the open entrance, brushing my skin lightly. Goosebumps rose along my bare arms; my hair stood on edge.
We rushed out into the cool night.
I hurried past our yard without looking at it fully, and only when I reached our blue picket fence did I venture a look at the house. All the windows were dark but one. Soft light filtered through the cracks in Mum and Dad’s shutters. “Keep her nice and distracted,” Vera whisper-shouted at Dad, giggling, before hissing, “Come on!” Before we could be called back inside, we were on the move.
“I’ll be careful,” I whispered to the house. Then the D-board picked up speed, and the wind picked up too, thrashing my hair into tangles. My heart started a horse race in my chest and there was a strange rushing in my ears. It had been a long time since I felt this way, but now my fingers tingled and the darkness closed in around us. What an honest fiend.
Night had never given the promise that everything would be alright. Yet who was I to love daylight, either? It was too bright, and people could lie to your face. At least you could assess how they looked. In the dark, the human lie-detector was faulty. I shivered as beside me, Vera started to run and then sprint. With quiet footsteps – as soundless as possible, we hurried up the main street and turned left onto a dark lane. Shop windows glimmered; I expected someone - anyone - to peek out and see us, the running girl with the loud footsteps and behind her, the silent silhouette. Yet then we were past all the colourful houses and human-infested streets. A single road was left of our way, and it was the quietest in the whole of Melson. Clusters of hazelnut trees bridged the gaps between the tall, coniferous pines, whose limbs rustled and shook. Vera’s pants and the whirring of the rotor blades interrupted the quiet, but still, the air seemed calmer. Here, where moonlight alit on the weaving blades of grass, I could imagine Night as a friend, not meaning to hide the devil, but show the beauty of nature in its full splendour. I breathed in deeply.
Already, I was going fast enough, keeping pace with Vera’s slowing footsteps, but now a sense of adventure took hold of me.
A devilish grin slipped onto my face. I slid a look at Vera. My eyes darted back and forth between her and the control panel. Finally, I jolted the the joystick forwards. “Race you!” I called.
Vera’s face whipped to the side. “What?” she responded automatically, and then I was speeding - speeding through the night, and as I accelerated, the wind picked up, waging a war against me. It cut at my cheeks like a million shards of ice, each touching down upon my cheeks, burning. Why did the cold burn? And why was it so cold, all of a sudden, at the start of August?
I smiled like a maniac as my chapped lips were set on fire. The world became a blur as I sped up further. My hoodie flapped behind me, and I was acutely aware of every noise, every sound, every movement.
Behind me, Vera’s footsteps picked up again. I daren’t look back. I was going too fast; this wasn’t safe. Even on two working feet, speed hadn’t been safe- but this was freedom; this was letting loose. Here, with no offender to see, I could cut myself from the cage that was our society.
A whoop hollered into the night, echoed closely by Vera. I urged the D-board on, faster, faster, and how I wanted the moment to never end! I was enthralled by the speed and the fun. My eyes caught the slight swaying of my legs. I reached out for my thighs, but they didn’t feel my hands grazing against the skin. My feet tingled. I whooped again, and it was a perfect moment in time. The ghostly moon shone above, grinning down on our play. Vera’s feet pounded on the uneven asphalt. I imagined rocks skidding around beneath her feet.
But then we’d reached a white building. Plain, practical black letters spelt out, ‘L I B R A R Y’ with uneven spacing between each letter. A flashy, red door awaited.
I really hated red.
The wind died down. The moment was over, just another memory.
Silent as cement, I waited for Vera to catch up, the smile still playing on my lips. Before long, she was beside me. I could only see the damp back of her t-shirt and the honey-coloured skin of her nape, for she was bent over, huffing and puffing. I wished, for a moment, that I could feel the exhilarating pain in my legs, but I knew I never would again. A paraplegic girl didn’t have the ability to walk or run - much less the ability to sense anything except the occasional spasmodic pain.
But I dispelled my thoughts and, remembering the embrace of the wind, managed a genuine smile. Vera righted herself, “Mind me using your D-board for a minute? I’ll gladly deposit you on the floor.”
“No thank you,” I said in response to her gleaming eyes. She chuckled and skipped towards the door. Talk about ‘no energy.’ She was about to touch the door handle when I startled, “Wait, we’re not using the front entrance!”
“Of course we are! The library is open all night for a reason.”
“Yeah, for scholars to study.”
“Well, today we’re scholars and we’re studying the... lifestyle of arthritic pine trees.”
“Sounds convincing,” I muttered, but I followed her towards the entrance. Vera’s fingers twisted the silver handle, and the door gave way. Light spilt out onto the lane, illuminating a muddy, brown doormat. Vera wiped her feet in a rush before stepping over the threshold into a wide hallway. Light bulbs lit the faded-orange corridor with a golden glow, and tiny lanterns lined the floor at regular intervals.
Swiftly, we hurried towards the steel-and-bronze librarian’s desk. Little carvings crept up the sides towards the glass counter top, depicting battles between dragons and gnomes and wizards. A small smile reached my lips.
“Names?” a nasal voice asked. I looked up quickly. A woman with a diamond-shaped face, owl glasses and freckles was watching us.
Leaning against the table, casual-like, Vera said, “Vera and Marlene Rae.” I wondered if she also felt like the secretary’s gaze was grilling a hole in the side of her head. The woman nodded. Perhaps I imagined the scowl on her lips. But then we’d walked past, with Vera trying to look innocent and failing utterly. She walked at the speed of a snail, looking like a guilty puppy.
I wasn’t any better. Although I tried not to, I looked back often as we walked down the corridor, and I wondered how many guilty-looking teenagers had wandered down this very path. I could almost imagine the ghosts of their footsteps and see the soft swinging of moving arms, some with watched glinting on their wrists. Vera cleared her throat. It sounded too loud. Furtively, I glanced over my shoulder, but there was no-one. I told myself to stop looking guilty and focus my attention on the passage in front of me. A small corridor had appeared, bending off to the right. At Vera’s knee height, a red-and-white chain link held the message, “Only for library crew.” Interesting word choice, Crew.
Without looking back, Vera climbed over the chain-link. A man appeared somewhere behind us, whistling softly. I hesitated. The man came closer. And then I’d slid past the hallway Vera had taken, off down the real corridor. An increasing dread built up in my chest. I looked back over my shoulder. The man, a brown-skinned worker with a scrawny back and a slight, protruding belly, seemed to have slowed down. He still walked towards me, but his eyes were absent, and he looked as if he was listening for something. I turned around a corner and stopped to peek around the wall.
Now that he was alone, the man stopped completely. A finger rubbed circles across the defined jaw-line, and he smiled. He turned, and then he, too, stepped over the chain link.
I felt a spasm seize hold of my lungs; I released the breath I’d been holding and breathed in sharply. Had Vera gone further down the hallway or had she waited for me? Was she caught?
I was all for self-protection, but Vera’s safety was more important than my own. Nothing could happen to my sister. I couldn’t let it happen. Whether this had been her idea or not didn’t matter. I turned around and followed the man in impatient silence.
Like a shadow, I followed him down the passageway until we reached a grand staircase leading down into a tiled foyer. Everything here seemed to glow golden. Amidst all the bright colours, it wasn’t hard to spot the light blue colouring of Vera’s t-shirt in the middle of the foyer. A moment passed. The man’s footsteps rang – loud -on the marble. Vera turned towards us as if in slow motion. She seemed to freeze as her eyes latched onto us. The man chuckled to himself - would he remember Vera’s face?
Before he could look at her longer, I’d rushed forwards. The D-board tapped against his shoulder. Again, I rammed it forwards, and the man looked back. He paused. He stared. And then he tried to grab hold of the D-board.
But I was too fast. “Try to catch me,” I said, feeling like a mischievous child, but the man seemed uncertain. Impatient, I ducked towards him again. And then I slid backwards, turned around, and fled. Miraculously, he followed.
I could only hope Vera would finish what we had come to do. Within minutes, I’d made it out of the library’s front door, the man right on my heels. There, in the dim lighting from one of the library windows, I turned around.
A moment passed - a long moment that made me wonder he had followed me at all - and then he had stepped out of the door after me.
“Pretty brave,” he remarked. “The way you saved Vera.” My breath caught in my throat. He knew our names. Dash it! “Marlene... Rae. The girl in the wheelchair. The girl that doesn’t trust. Very brave indeed.”
I bit down on my lips. Hard. “Who I am is none of your business,” I wanted to say, but I remained silent.
“The girl who never says anything revealing,” he finished and winked. I felt like shrinking into the ground.
“You watch us, always,” I murmured. “That’s interesting.”
The man’s lips twitched. “Your sister is currently in the archives, as she wanted to be, but she won’t find much of importance. She’ll be outside in a minute.” He glanced at his watch. “Goodbye, Marlene. Enjoy the night.”
For a moment, I stared at his retreating back. For the first time, I realised that my hands were shaking. Goosebumps had prickled up on my arms and a stillness had swept over me. There I waited, wishing the night would swallow me up.
Vera appeared a couple minutes later, her eyebrows drawn low but her eyes bright as stars. “Thanks,” she murmured.
I nodded, numb.
“I didn’t find much. But I did find this.” She showed me the three badges in the middle of her palm. Each was circular. Each was metallic. Each was engraved with an unknown, foreign word.
The three words: Scriptima, Isiana and Patrish.
They seemed irrelevant - unimportant - compared to the ordeal we’d gone through to get them. A long breath escaped my mouth and disappeared into the warm air, which now felt cold against my bare skin. My shoulders and fingers trembled with a fear I’d never known existed. A fear greater than the one I’d felt after the accident which lost me my legs.