Chapter 22 - Isolde
I stare out of the living room window.
Without fail, they have been here for the last three weeks. I feel like they know that I am an Antithetical, though they would have captured me by now if they did. All the same, the fear doesn’t go away.
I drop the curtains and retrieve my hot chocolate, cupping my hands around the hot mug and sipping the relaxing, creamy drink. I can feel it running down my throat, and spreading throughout my body, warming me. Small things of small comfort.
I pick up a book and absent-mindedly flick through the pages. It used to be one of my favourites, but now it seems so asinine, so trivial.
I try to dig up some feelings of happiness from my past, but I can’t grasp them properly. All I feel is depression, weighting heavily down on me. My whole body aches with it.
How I wish I could do something other than lie here, miserable. But school has finished. I have passed my tests, receiving more than adequate marks. Further education is possible. Finding a job would be normal. But how could I casually mill around people when I’m dangerous like this? When they’d hate me if they found out? I don’t believe that being an Antithetical warrants so much hatred, but I can’t change the views of people. It is how it is.
I tighten the blanket around myself and climb the stairs, before sitting on my bed and looking around, deep in thought.
What can I do here? I need to ask myself that. I need to do something that has worth. How can I do that here, when my every move causes trouble? How about I lessen my desires. At the very least, I need to not harm people, or cause them great inconvenience.
I’m like a bomb waiting to go off, and I won’t explode once; I’ll detonate many times. I really, really don’t want to hurt anyone, accidentally or otherwise. I don’t want to be a monster. But how could that be possible, with my volatile powers?
I think on the subject for a while, but . . . maybe I’m not thinking in the right direction. Maybe it’s not really a how, but a where.
Like in the NS.
I interlink my fingers as dissent and assent war with each other in my mind. That poses many problems; for one, how am I to get in? The electrical barrier works both ways. Secondly, Antithetical Hunters regularly go there, every day – I would be at constant risk. And how could I up and leave? Mum would never agree. I wouldn’t be able to survive alone, either – how would I get food? I don’t want to poison myself by eating deadly plants. Plus there would be some murderous Antithetical, and I don’t want to mix with them. Additionally, there’s the matter of the weather. It’s bitterly cold; winter has just begun.
I cover my face with my hands, and force myself to think of other options, but despite all the problems that I will face, going into the NS sticks in my head, and refuses to budge. I sigh, and pad back downstairs to fix myself some lunch. No rash decisions. I am going to think everything through, very carefully.
I set my jaw and fix the straps of my backpack, which I have checked and double-checked and triple-checked.
Suicide? Maybe. It’s unlikely that I’ll last long, anyway.
I cautiously open my bedroom door, and creep down the upstairs hallway, pausing by my mother’s bedroom.
“Bye,” I say softly, touching the door, and bite my lip before continuing out of the house.
Isaac came back for a visit yesterday. I didn’t see him, because it would have broken my will. My plan is to sneak into his house, steal his AH stuff, and use that to get into the NS – Hunters have equipment that can deactivate the electrical barrier. My future is resting on getting his Antithetical-hunting paraphernalia. I sigh in frustration. This method isn’t the most reliable, but what else can I do? Knock out one of the patrollers?
I swallow, and mentally shake my head. The whole point of me leaving is to do the exact opposite of that. But what would Isaac think if all his AH stuff suddenly disappeared? I’ve thought of this exact same thing hundreds of times, but have come up with no good enough way to do this.
My huff of exasperation creates small white puffs in the chilly air. It can’t be perfect. I’m thinking that I’m just going to have to go with the original plan, when I see an AH, slumped against a tree, looking fast asleep.
What if he or she has any . . . ?
I look around, but no eyes watch me as I silently approach the man.
Breathing as quietly as possible, I slowly inch open the rucksack next to him. If he finds me rifling through his belongings, I don’t know what will happen.
I shine a dim torch into the backpack, and sure enough, there’s a full change of uniform.
Smiling a little at my fortune, I carefully extract the garments from the bag and stuff them in my own carrier. Things are already going well – though I can’t help thinking that this will be counter-balanced with something bad. The clothes look a bit big, but I’m definitely not complaining. All I need to get now is the Disabler, which is probably on him.
I bite my lip and shine the flashlight on his sleeping figure. The man is young, my age, or perhaps a few years older. I feel a little bad for stealing his stuff and surely causing him trouble in the future, but then I remember that he probably would shoot me without a second’s hesitation if he was awake and knew the truth.
My eyes land on a thick belt with various objects on it. There’s no real way to determine which the Disabler if any one of them at all, so I just carefully slide the belt off of him and put it in my rucksack, examining the quiet lane to make sure that no-one has seen me. The other sentry is placed somewhere to my left, I know, out of sight, but not too far away.
What else do I need? A weapon, to make it believable.
The Antithetical Hunter holds a rifle in his hands. I shake my head at myself. Best not risk it. What I have now should be enough to get me into the NS. If questioned, I’ll make something up about my lack of weaponry.
I hurry away from the man, going over my journey. From the main road, I’ll get a bus to the southern border of Brackleby – the one adjacent to the NS. There’s a huge open field which the Antithetical Hunters go through to get into the non-sector. That’s how I will enter, too.
I stand in the dirt track leading to the main road, closing my eyes. I turn back round, and look at the cottage that has housed me for all my sixteen years, look at the forest in which so many good times have been spent, and some very, very bad times.
“Bye,” I murmur, a single tear sliding down my cheek, and turn to jog away.
I sit on the bus, trying to look inconspicuous. My head is buried in a book that I have zero interest in. My hands repeatedly turn the pages, keeping up the façade. Meanwhile, my whole body is buzzing with apprehension. I jiggle my knee up and down, trying to let out the jitteriness.
I stuff my mouth with food, just for something to do other than worry. Because every second of my journey is filled with dread and anxiety, so much of it that I get extremely frustrated with myself. Peace of mind evades me as I gnaw anxiously on my jagged fingernails.
Eventually, the bus reaches its destination, and I step off. It’s a good two miles to that huge expanse of grass, and then a few more miles walking across it. Mostly north now, though, so I glance at my compass and my map and just start walking. My nervousness makes me move faster, and I get very paranoid. Every small sound has my head whipping round and the pace of my heart frantically increasing.
I try to roll up the sleeves of my new uniform, my hands damp. They slide across the sturdy material, unable to find purchase. I clench my jaw and force myself to act normally. Being so fidgety will make me look very suspicious.
I reach the edge of the field in a speedy half hour. There are a few AH there, stationed at the entrances to the field – the eight feet tall, sharp barbed wire fence screaming at people not to trespass must not be convincing enough. The protection is another brutal reminder of how this is built because of people like me.
Making myself stand straight and confident, I try to fit in as best as I can. This is a crucial part of my plan.
I march up to one of the gates in the fence. The person standing there looks young – though it’s probably due to the freckles – and friendly enough.
“Going in?” the sentry asks, jerking a thumb behind her.
“Yes,” I reply, as firmly as I can.
This throws me. “They’ve already gone there,” I fib. “I’m late.”
She peers at me, her left hand thoughtfully running through her chestnut hair. “You’re a five? I think I’ve seen you before . . . Ania, is it?”
“Yes,” I say, grateful for this doppelganger of mine. This woman will soon figure out that I am not her, but I will be long gone by then. I know of the AH’s number system – 5 doesn’t contain inexperienced people, so I will have to be even more convincing.
“Right, well, where’s your gun, then?” I am asked.
I look at her sheepishly, willing for not too many questions.
She rolls her eyes and points to a big yellow container to her right. I walk over to it, open the lid, and stare at all the weaponry before grabbing a random one.
“Thanks,” I say.
She nods, jamming a key into the gate and granting me entrance to the green. “Good luck.”
I dredge up a weak smile, and try not to sprint past her as I walk into the empty area before me. I feel a huge urge to turn round and look back about every five seconds, but I resist it. Being so on-edge in a safe enough place would be quite fishy, though a bit of nervousness wouldn’t be out of place. I am heading to the NS, which is a very dangerous place. Or so they say.
I begin to feel like I’m lost – I can’t see anything at all, but the endless green of grass. I stop after about half an hour of walking, and consult my compass. I’m going the right way; north-east, so I push away that worry, and continue travelling. My eyes sting from tears that badly need to be released. Mum will wake up soon, and realize that I’m not there.
“Miss you already,” I whisper into the almost silent night air.
The dark, rather than menacing, is comforting. Here, in the dark, I can hide who I am. In the daylight, where I am in full view . . . not so much.
It’s over an hour until I reach the barrier. It has grown quite dark; I can’t see any detail – just that it’s there. It emits an eerie hum that makes my skin crawl. I look back in the direction I came – emptiness. I look forward – fear.
For a few minutes, I stand there, not saying anything or doing anything or feeling anything. Just. Stand.
Then I snap out of my reverie. 5 is a high rank; this Ania I’m pretending to be would have been in the NS before. Until I get in, I have to act like a 5, so I need to pretend that it’s all normal to me. That I am not escaping.
Stationed at the barrier are some Hunters, about hundred meters apart. I try to remember how long the NS is, but I’ve forgotten.
I approach another person, my heart beating furiously. This is it. If I’m turned away now . . . I take in a deep breath and address the Hunter.
“I’m a five,” I say, like it means anything to me. “Just going in late.”
The guy nods at me, looking tired and not that interested. “You should wait for someone.” The words seem concerned, but his tone is flat and facial expression indifferent.
I shake my head. “I’m good.”
I look down at the belt I pilfered and panic a little. I don’t know which of the objects the Disabler is, and I can’t ask – a person with rank 5 would know. What consequences might I face if I choose the wrong one? Apart from drawing in unwanted attention, I could injure someone – there might be weapons on the belt. But what else can I do?
I randomly pluck an item, wishing that it’s the right one. Feeling awkward, I extend my arm and press down on the button on it, moving the device around. A small section of the barrier disappears, and I resist a grin. I guessed correctly.
The hole isn’t big enough to permit my body though; I enlarge it before stepping inside.
I then turn around and re-activate the barrier before letting out a deep breath and looking around the dim forest.
Against all odds, I did it.
I am in.