Chapter 6: Departure
“You can leave your things here.” James spoke, softly and soothingly as he led her back to the basement, “They’ll probably let you keep the glasses, but nothing else. They’re weird about that. Henry told me it’s a hygiene thing. People get sick while in holding.”
Kai nodded, crossing her legs on the bed. “And when I come back it’ll still be here?”
James paused, which she found concerning, “Yes, we’re not thieves. Some people have come back.”
The idea of returning was comforting, but she knew that his statement was meant to be ambiguous, to give no indication of what he thought her future would held. He clearly knew, as she did, that in all likelihood she wouldn’t be coming back, but didn’t want to outright say it.
She respected it, she didn’t want to say it either.
Kai folded her jacket, sports bra and jeans, which James had brought back from the bathroom, sliding her fingers into the pocket and taking her student ID card, slipping up her sleeve before he could notice. She set the garments aside with a final pat, exhaling. Next she laced up her boots and set them up neatly, noting that her socks were gone. It was probably for the best, they were ruined anyway. She looked up to James, whose watchful gaze had not left her.
“Should I leave my clothes on the bed?”
He nodded, “I’ll label them and put them with the others.”
That sent a jolt through Kai’s chest --she was no different than the others- but she forced herself to nod, thumb rubbing over the card concealed up her sleeve.
“It’s a bit of a walk to the site, I’ll get you some shoes.”
James moved back up the stairs, leaving Kai sitting on her cot. She rested her head in her hands, letting the card slide down her sleeve.
Some part of her knew the card couldn’t stay here, no part of the girl she used to be could ever be found. That part of her needed to die.
James held out a pair of moccasin-like slippers.
Kai wondered how many times they’d been used.
It was damp and chilly outside, and barely light out, and though both Henry and James wore coats, Kai had not been offered one. Either way, her mind was elsewhere, and her heart was pounding. She didn’t even register the discussion between the two brothers, not able to hear what they were saying over the pounding of her heart. She held her ID card in her fist, bending it as much as she could, keeping her eyes fixed forward. She walked behind James and Henry, though Henry had a rifle slung over his shoulder, clearly meant to deter her from running. She couldn’t help but wonder if it was actually loaded, or simply meant to scare her. She didn’t intend to find out, rather walking in such a “docile” fashion that Henry would have been proud. Biting her tongue, Kai squeezed the card harder, suddenly angered at herself.
With a quiet snap and a satisfying give, the card broke in two. Kai couldn’t keep herself from smiling, though she did not look at the broken object, only tightening her grip to feel the sharp broken edge press into her palm. Some part of her wished to squeeze it until she bled, to give herself a physical reminder of the person she used to be. Thinking the better of it, she simply held the pieces, turning her head to look for a place to drop them.
“What’re you looking at?”
Kai turned her gaze back to Henry, “Nothing.”
She bit the inside of her cheek as she was led through a patch of tall grass, slowly extending her hand and allowing half the card to fall among the plants. It made no sound, yet still her heart leapt as she glanced to Henry and James, praying neither had seen her.
Neither had, and they kept moving.
“Kai. Try to keep up.” James spoke with all the kindness of a friend, as if simply chastising her for lagging behind.
“Sorry.” Kai jogged to keep up, finding her heels popping from the back of moccasins. They were more worn than she’d originally realized, with the soles nearly worn through in some places. It was clear these shoes had been used by many people, probably all walking the same route as was now walking. James laid a hand on her shoulder as she stepped up between the two.
“Didn’t want you to get lost.”
You didn’t want me to escape.
Kai only shrugged, keeping her hand clenched around the ID card. She wondered which half was still in her hand, if she’d left her picture behind or mostly blank card with the school mascot. It didn’t really matter to her, she just knew the last piece needed to be discarded as quickly as possible. It was better to see this walk as a mission to dispose of a card rather than a walk to captivity, to a place she’d never return from. She exhaled and looked up, finding herself staring at a line of trees sheltering what clearly used to be a field.
The field had long since been overtaken by grass, grass that seemed to have been flattened by some force, perhaps wind or pressure. Kai froze, her breath catching, fear hit her like a punch in the gut, restricting her breath and causing tears to prick her eyes. This was the end of everything she’d held dear, her freedom and quite possibly her life. She had no intention of submitting to this test and allowing herself to be given up to some monster. She’d die first. Kai grit her teeth and lifted her gaze to the sky.
The sky bled red and orange as the sun began to rise, casting light over the dying-place of Kai’s past. She closed her eyes, imagining that she could feel the heat of the far-away star, giving her strength, strength to fight back and to adapt.
Kai opened her eyes and let the card drop.