My Name is War
Book 2 of the Scream Series
Entire book available on Ama
Human Trafficking Facts:
“Trafficking involves transporting someone into a situation of exploitation. This can include forced labor, marriage, prostitution, and organ removal.”
“It’s estimated that internationally there are between 20 million and 40 million people in modern slavery today.”
“Globally, an estimated 71% of enslaved people are women and girls, while men and boys account for 29%”
“Estimates suggest that about 50,000 people are trafficked into the US each year, most often from Mexico and the Philippines”
“Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation.”
I’ve put all my trust into an eighteen-year-old boy. A boy I met ten minutes ago.
Not the stupidest shit I’ve done, but pretty close.
For four months, I’ve been a Rat, a clanless kid, rejected even in Myers’ School for the Unwanted. I came here without a memory of the world outside, believing that this violent schoolyard was the only reality. I wasn’t encouraged to think otherwise.
A man-boy named Tobias took me under his devilish thumb and tried vehemently to keep me obedient. It was a wise choice to follow his rules. I was protected from beatings and saved from Auction where children get sold. But it came with a price. He abused me whenever he felt in the mood. The fear he produced lingers in my soul, even after everything that’s happened.
Sirens continue to wail, piercing sounds that make it through the closed doors of the Boundary building. We travel down a hallway; white tile and bright fluorescent lights ignite our path. Behind me, a red-headed giant boy follows, wearing a yellow Boundary shirt, black shorts, and gray shoes. He ignores my inquisitive look, peering over my head with ease.
“What’s that sound?” I ask.
“They’ve caught on,” the giant says.
Shakes cackles, “Only took ’em fifteen minutes.”
I once again question, “Who’s caught on to what?”
“The teachers found out we shut off the cameras,” Shakes announces. He’s proud of it like it’s a giant prank. “Oh, Ember, this is Brick. He’s my bodyguard.”
Brick snorts and gives me a quirky smile.
I watch Shakes. He’s a stranger to me, and I study him like he’s a new species. He walks with the stiff back of a soldier. He has old black boots that thump when he walks, shorts that go past his knees, and a long black sleeve shirt. He doesn’t appear to be a clan member, but he clearly belongs to Boundary. The clan members listen to him like he’s their leader.
I increase my speed, heavy oversize sweatpants trip up my bare feet, and I pull at the gray slacks. It’s cold in here; the air conditioning feels like winter. The only time I was allowed to sit and enjoy cool air like this was in school. Now I wonder if I can ever go back.
Not that I want to.
Five days ago, I fought a girl at school. I was being overconfident, and I was a show-off. I had gotten good at scrapping, having never been taught how to actually fight, but I wanted to impress Charles.
Charles was a little nine-year-old boy who believed in me so much that I could have taken on the world for him. He came into my life a month ago and made me realize I was kidnapped. And though I didn’t remember it, I had a mother and father somewhere. He ignited the passion for escaping.
And maybe we would have gotten out eventually. With him, I could have found a way.
Until I lost that fight.
There are rules to Myers’ School for Unwanted, and they repeat in my head.
Number One: Do Not Attempt to Escape.
Number Two: Obey the Teachers.
And then there was number five:
No killing on School Property.
Charles interrupted the fight between the girl and me. He killed her with a knife I don’t remember him possessing. Her blood was spilling out of her faster than rain in a downpour. No one tried to save her. They were too busy coming after Charles and me.
It was my fault. But Charles paid the price.
Tobias killed him, shot him in the head like he was target practice.
My hands fist at my sides. There’s a rage inside directed at myself, but aside from beating my chest, what more can I do to punish myself? No, my rage should be put to good use.
I’m gonna kill Tobias.
“Where are we going?” I skip a step trying to catch up. Shakes’ is sure-footed in the Boundary Building, while I’m not as confident. The Boundary Clan are the only kids that are allowed guns.
“Into hiding. You can’t go back to school. You understand?”
“Because of the fight?”
“No. Because now you are the face of the rebellion.”
Shakes glances over his shoulder. His green eyes are evergreen trees, but his messy brown hair gets in his way, and he unconsciously flicks his head to get the bangs out of his sight. I notice on the back of his neck is a tattoo of a barcode and I almost question when Shakes stops suddenly.
He removes a blindfold from his pocket and faces me. “You are here because you trust me, right?”
I nod, but even so, I’m a little hesitant. What will my trust require?
Shakes holds it up, his hand trembling uncontrollably. “I need you to put this on.”
I’ve been alone for a long time, and I’ve stopped trusting anyone. I trusted Tobias the first day I got here, and I’ve lived with that regret since. But even though I know little of Shakes, his green eyes remind me so much of Charles. His green eyes remind me of how Charles tried vehemently to get me to be a better version of who I am.
I take the blindfold and put it on.
“Where are we going?”
“To Anarchy,” he says with humor, and I can’t help my smile. It sounds like something I’ll like.
Shakes holds my hand, guiding me along. It gets colder, the floor becoming more like ice. The wall changes in texture as we go through a doorway. It smells damp and musty, and the cool atmosphere gets swallowed by hot and unbearable air.
“Do you remember anything outside the walls?” Shakes asks.
“Not even my name.”
“Ember’s a good name. You think of it yourself?”
My cheeks heat up, thinking of the person who gave me the idea. Light is a member of the Rain Clan, and he’s been the nicest person I’ve met here. He called me an ‘ember to the flames’, a way to trigger a rebellion that I didn’t know was brewing underneath.
“Have you ever tried to remember?”
“Not really,” I admit. Remembering wasn’t going to save me, and I was too busy trying to survive, trying to find ways to eat, places to sleep, ways to keep me safe, and ways to make Charles happy. There wasn’t enough time in the day to think of my past.
“Well, now, that’s all I need you to do. Remember.”
“Because, Ember, hold on, let’s get up here,” he slows us down, “Foot up.”
I feel around with my foot, find a step, and then another. I’m unsteady and slightly scared, “Can I take off this stupid mask?”
He chuckles, “Almost.”
“It’s not like I know anyone to tell.”
Shakes instructs me to climb over broken concrete, and I would have slipped if he hadn’t been there to catch me. I’m fed up, and I rip the mask off my face. Shakes stands in front of me, humored by my temper, “You good?”
“Fine,” I bite unnecessarily. The big ginger soldier is behind me, and I eye him for no reason. I blow out air and say again, sweeter, “I’m fine.”
I look around. It’s a dark hallway with a light at the end of it. It’s hot, but there are sounds from a big fat fan interrupting the quiet.
Shakes crosses his arms as he stands in front of me, “The reason I need you to remember is that you were sent here–”
“You were,” he adamantly states. “I know who you are, and you trust me, right?”
I nod, encouraged by his confidence. My self-doubt tries to win out but with him, it swivels and dies. I believe him, but most importantly, I believe in him. He’s gonna make me someone.
“You were sent here by Memory.”
Memory was the leader of the last rebellion that happened a year ago. She was the only person able to escape. Her name is taboo, written in secret places throughout the schoolyard. She’s the symbol of hope for all the kids that want to go home.
“Your name,” he rests a hand on my shoulder, “is Jennifer Stymes.”
I thought if I heard my name, the floodgates would open up, and all my memories would return. Instead, I stand here like an empty vessel, numb. The name is foreign. It’s like someone coming up to you and saying hey, you’re a tree. I don’t feel like a tree, and I definitely don’t feel like a Jennifer. But what do I know of names? Scream and Ember don’t fit me either, yet I go by both.
“Why did she send me here?”
“You have a message for us.”
He nods, full of conviction. “A message that will help us get out of here.”
Shakes turns away and walks toward the doorway, but I can’t find the will to follow. I want to believe him more than anything, but I’m afraid he’s wrong. And if he is wrong, and I’ve got nothing to give, he’s wasting his time with me.
But I’m not going to waste his time.
Even if I’m unsure, I’m gonna try. I’m gonna do my damndest to remember. If I can’t, then I’m gonna give him all of me to bring down this wicked place. If he needs a martyr, I’ll become it. If he needs a soldier, I’ll fight. If he needs a cook, I’ll figure out how to freaking cook. I’m gonna be useful.
Shakes swings at the end of the hallway, “You coming?”
I step forward, “How did Memory get out?”
“Through the Teacher’s Lounge. But since the attack, they have revamped their securities.”
“Are there other ways out of here?”
“One that we know of, but it’s blocked.”
“Can’t we unblock it?”
He snickers, “Great idea.”
“Sorry for the suggestion.” I nip.
Shakes suppresses a grin, “I didn’t mean to be insulting. It’s all I’ve been doing since I got here five years ago.”
I could have never made it here for five years. Everything I’ve thought of, he has too.
“Sorry,” I mumble, “Tobias always made me feel stupid.”
He’s quiet as I finish walking. There’s a door in front of him, a gateway to the future. I feel like I’m on the edge of a portal, ready to jump in.
Shakes looks up, “I promise you won’t have to see him again.”
To rid me of my tormentor would be the most glorious gift to give me. The fact that he understands and wants to keep me away from Tobias makes him my protector. And for his protection, for his hope, I’m gonna remember. I’ll do whatever he asks to bring those memories to the surface.
Shakes taps on the metal door, and the sound echoes down the vastness of the black hallway. I look back the way we came, but the darkness is too frightening. The door opens, shining a light on us, on Shakes, and it’s another moment of clarity. I’m not looking back anymore. All that’s behind me is misery. My future is here in the light with Shakes.
A boy soldier stands on the other side, “Boss,” he greets, tucking a small handheld gun in his back.
“Is everyone here, Tango?”
Tango’s brown eyes flick to me, and his face riddles with surprise. He blinks and sputters before replying, “Yes. They wait for you in Cell Row.”
Around us is a square plain room with a big rectangular mirror on the wall. There is another door across from us, and Brick heads into that room. There’s an open entry to the right; otherwise, the space is empty. There’s noise coming through, the humming of the giant fan, and a bunch of people talking. I unconsciously step closer to Shakes and bow my head. I’m not much for crowds.
“Let’s do it.”
Tango takes that as an order and walks out of the open door.
Shakes taps my chin, and I tuck brown hair behind my ear, “Head up,” he encourages. I straighten my back, a small smile pulling at my lips. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore.”
Tears billow in the back of my eyes.
All I’ve felt since I’ve gotten here is fear. For him to come and take it away feels like I’ve been released from Hell and I’ve finally gotten to Heaven.
“Everyone, listen up!” Tango hollers from beyond the doorway. I watch it as if I can see anything. The crowd goes quiet.
The cheers that follow reverberate off the walls. It’s overwhelming and a bit frightening, and I shrink into myself. Shakes adores it and closes his eyes to listen to it better.
“Trust” Tango shouts.
“Trust!” the crowd shouts back.
The number of voices that chant has to be more than a couple dozen, if not a hundred or more.
How? How could there be more kids lost in this world?
The shouts repeat, “Honor!”
Tango steps into the room, proud of the chaos he’s caused. “They’re ready for you, boss.”
Shakes slaps Tango on the shoulder, and walks out.
I tiptoe forward, peeking my head out the doorway.
Shakes climbs up on a metal table, and the crowd beyond him goes crazy, “Shakes! Shakes! Shakes!” They chant. Fifty students celebrate in front of him. Red and yellow shirts for Boundary, blue and white for Rain, purple for Sky, and a handful of bald-headed mine members. Their voices echo and ricochet off the walls and broken concrete.
It’s an army.
Lining the outer walls are Christmas lights, hundreds going in and out of the jail cells. There are ten sets of bars on each side, and they are open with kids hanging out, watching from inside. It’s not a big place, and the roof had caved in some time ago. Large immovable pieces of concrete lay scattered along the floor, but the kids use it to sit. There isn’t an inch of this place untouched.
That’s including the art work. Spray paint covers the wall, decorative pieces that catch the eye. ‘Anarchy’ is written in big bold letters over the top of the back double doors. There are vines stretching along the wall, weaving in and out of the cells. They spread over the ceiling and weave onto the floor.
“Anarchy!” Shakes hollers.
They start screaming.
Shakes laughs, loving it, and he looks back at me, grinning from ear to ear. All these kids believe in him. They trust in him to get them out because they want the same thing: Freedom. And he’s found a way to keep them hidden from cameras and teachers. He’s done something no one else could do.
He holds up his hand. The commotion takes time, but it slows. “How are we doing?” He wonders, and the replies are random and general. “That’s what I want to hear. Remain positive. Remain strong. Life will get better, but we must reach for it. And how do we do that?”
“One step!” came the room’s reply.
Shakes holds up a trembling finger, “One step at a time. Every day is not lost. Every day we are making improvements. Do not give up because you are tired. Because you are scared. Because of doubt. You deserve freedom!”
They holler loudly, but Shakes is quick to quiet them. “We are weeks away. Weeks, days, hours from getting out. The countdown begins now. You must be careful out there. Do not be a martyr. Our army stays alive because we go unseen, unheard, and ignored. When you take a risk, you risk our chances. So please, don’t do anything that will jeopardize our plans. We are always moving. And we are always,” he holds up a finger.
The crowd interjects, “One step!”
“One step ahead.” Shakes studies them, eyeing random kids as if he’s mentally reaching out and taking their hand, giving them courage and strength. I can feel it in how they regard him, silently begging him to meet their eyes if only to get a part of his energy.
“Now, you have been waiting for me to bring someone in. I was skeptical. Our safety is imperative to the rebellion. But now I have no question, and you shouldn’t either. I’ve brought in who Memory sent us, and I want you to help me make her feel welcome.”
Shakes turns to me and waves.
I shrink back, shaking my head. I didn’t think I’d have to show my face. No one likes me. No one wants me around.These kids have hated me since day one because of Tobias.
Shakes jumps off the table, approaching. Tobias would be pissed if I didn’t do what he said. Will Shakes punish me for not following his direction?
Shakes holds out his shaking hand. “Don’t be afraid.” He tells me again.
His faith in his people, in me, in this rebellion sinks into me like fresh air. I don’t want to be afraid.
I want to be brave like Charles was.
I detach from the door and join him.
There’s a soft whisper. Some point, like they did in school. Shakes helps me up on the table and keeps a hand on my back as he looks out. That’s when I see it, beneath all the bodies, the reason for the vines, but they aren’t vines at all. They’re roots. Painted into the floor is a giant oak tree with hundreds of roots sprouting from the tree trunk.
Shakes steps beside me, “Here she is. Our key to freedom.”
They burst into cheers.