Authors: Maggie Sunseri
I had no recollection of Aunt May’s death. Her funeral. The last words we exchanged.
After my accident, I felt great—aside from the headaches—but after my parents and Head Councilman Tomlinson explained what had happened pre-accident, I was so thankful that I had a clean slate. It didn’t matter how many memories were lost in the process if it meant that I was back to normal.
As I began to regain those memories, I was struck with a feeling of loss. I couldn’t even recall my own aunt’s death. There was something terribly wrong with having this gaping hole in my head—this hole that threatened to consume me.
After I caused the scene in the kitchen, I fled just as I had in my childhood, but instead of to Aunt May’s, I fled without a destination. I hastily pulled on some tennis shoes and rushed out the door, ignoring Mother’s voice begging me to stay and warning me that I was too sick to go outside.
I found that the fresh air was much better for my case of the flu than the suffocating walls of the house. My muscles protested against movement, and I had to slow my pace to a painfully slow walk. I followed the main road until I reached a dirt path. The narrowness of the path made it obvious that it was meant for walking, but where it could possibly lead to was puzzling. The trail disappeared into the array of trees that could barely be considered a forest, but everyone called it that anyway.
No one went into the forest. I almost turned away and continued my aimless trek along the road, but a nagging feeling crept its way to my feet, pulling my body forward.
I cautiously dragged myself along the trail, stopping every so often to scan the area around me. I was too paranoid…the forest frightened me to the bone. It was something about the way everything was so much darker, and I was constantly among the contorted limbs of tall, eerie masses. The shadows haunted me, the birds’ sharp, black eyes glared at me from above, and each twig-snap sounded like a creature closing in on me. Branches reached out, threatening to drag me into the earth and become lost in the darkness forever.
Sunlight crept through the spaces between the tops of trees, filling me with warmth and confidence. A flutter of familiar feelings erupted inside me, and I pushed all of my flu symptoms to the back corner of my mind as I walked on for another ten minutes. A voice inside my head told me to break apart from the path at one point, and as crazy as it sounded, I listened without hesitation. Somehow, I knew where I was going; but I didn’t at the same time. It was like the half of my brain that knew was only telling me how to get there, but not what the place was or why it seemed so significant.
I stopped when I reached a small clearing, and what looked like an abandoned playground. Difficult-to-identify emotions overwhelmed me. What was left of the swing-sets and slides were overrun with vines and moss. Among all of the green, there was a single bench, completely cleared of any brush—as if someone made a habit of coming to an abandoned playground just to sit on a bench.
I wrapped my arms around my middle in a hug. A ridiculous laugh threatened to bubble up and out. This whole time, I was being led to a vine-infested swing-set, and a
? My theory of hallucinations from my first day with the flu was fitting well with my new theory of pure insanity.
I was about to turn on my heel and find my way back home when I saw a figure among the trees in front of me. A chill skipped down my spine. I clamped my mouth shut and just stood there, staring. A pair of dark eyes stared back.
doing here?” The figure stepped out into the sunlight, revealing his identity: Jasper. His words held a level of disgust and anger that sent a stab of pain through me.
“Should I not be here?” I stepped back without meaning to, the coldness in his eyes sending my stomach into a fit of nausea. I took in a breath as he stepped closer, resentment radiating off of him strong enough for me stumble a little.
“Are you being serious?” he spat, making me want to crawl under something and hide. “Was the letter not enough for you? Now you have to torture me some more? Well, you can’t. I’m done with your little games. This is
place, and you aren’t welcome here anymore. You understand?”
I couldn’t even open my mouth. Not only did I not know why he was so angry with me, I also didn’t know why it was hurting me so much. I couldn’t control the sudden tears swelling up in my eyes, and I struggled to keep them from spilling out.
“I—I’ll just go,” I mumbled after a few long seconds. At the sound of my voice a flash of something other than anger came into his eyes, but it was gone before I could decipher it. I stole one last look at Jasper before I turned and hurried back to the path, my heart racing unevenly.
My whole body was shaking. When I felt I was far enough away from the clearing—and Jasper—I leaned against a tree for support. I sucked in air and allowed the conversation to repeat over and over again inside my head until it started to make even less sense than before. Jasper had mentioned a letter…what letter? What happened between us to make him hate me so much?
I pushed away from the tree and stared down the path in the direction from where I had just come—toward Jasper. I was done being in the dark. I no longer cared if my memories dragged me back to my state of disobedience. They were mine, and I wanted them back. I
The house was empty when I returned, and I felt like jumping into the air with joy. I had no desire to confront my family after my behavior in the kitchen. I didn’t even know what I would say to them, especially since I had decided to keep my memories to myself.
I would have to face them eventually, but thankfully not right away.
Remembering that I needed to call Jenna, I grabbed the phone off the wall and locked myself in the safety of my room. I dialed Jenna’s number, seven digits that I could never forget, and waited for someone to pick up.
“Hello?” answered a deep, masculine voice.
“Hello, Mr. Anderson, I was wondering if I could speak with Jenna? It’s Luna.” I waited as I heard him call Jenna to the phone. There was a shuffling noise as the phone was being transferred from one pair of hands to the next.
“Luna!” Jenna squealed. “How are you feeling? I heard that you had to cancel your OGS. That must be terrible.” I had to stop myself from groaning. Why did everyone have to bring that up?
“I feel better,” I said, completely ignoring her other comments. “I have kind of an odd question for you…” I could feel my heart speeding up as I prepared myself for any possible information she could have for me.
“Okay…let me hear it,” she said slowly. I could almost see her biting her lip like she did when she was nervous.
“Did I ever hang out with a boy named Jasper during our senior year?” It was painfully silent on both ends.
“Jasper?” she repeated in a monotone voice. “I don’t remember any Jaspers…oh wait, yes I do. That guy was a weirdo. You had to do a science project with him during first semester.” Jenna rattled on, “I think I remember you hating him.”
I felt deflated, disappointment churning inside me.
“Oh,” I mumbled, my voice barely audible.
“Why do you ask?” Her voice held a faint urgency.
“I saw him on Oportet Day, and he acted like he knew me. He also seemed really upset, like I had done something to him.” I withheld my other encounter with him. It felt wrong to keep information from Jenna, or from my parents, but in the name of self-preservation, it felt necessary.
“See. I told you he was a weirdo. Promise me you’ll stay away from him, okay?” Jenna’s voice seemed strained.
“I will,” I lied.
“There you are—I thought you wouldn’t show,” Jasper said as he looked up at me from a park bench. His eyes scanned the length of my body before he leaned back and stared up at the sky. “I’m guessing the only reason you did was for your grade’s sake.” He smirked in the most infuriating fashion. His jokes were becoming tiring.
I crossed my arms. “Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.” I couldn’t help but stare at him as he gazed up at the dark clouds above us—the clouds that warned of a big storm’s approach. “Maybe if we hurry we can beat the rain.”
Instead of reading into my call to action, Jasper stayed leaning against the bench. “I’ve always loved how the world looks just before a storm. It’s like everything is tinted a shade darker than normal.” Jasper shifted his gaze back to me, as if searching my eyes for something. For what, I had no idea.
“You’re delusional.” I refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I agreed with him—that what he said reminded me of something I had always wished I could put into words. “Now come on, let’s go.”
He slid off the bench and moved to stand directly in front of me. “Do you like it here? In Oportet, I mean.”
My entire body tensed. Was he crazy? What kind of question was that? Like the rest of Oportet, thoughts of what dwelled beyond our walls made me squirm. That was why I couldn’t tell my parents that Jasper was my science partner—his family came from the Outside. A portion of Oportet believed that our gates should close indefinitely—my parents included—while others believed it was our moral duty to recruit as many Outsiders into our society as possible. Because our leader, Tomlinson, believed the latter, anyone with prejudices against Outsiders had to keep those biases to themselves.
I shrugged. “Does it matter? Oportet is the right way—the right place—to live. Liking it is irrelevant.” I thought I saw something like disappointment in his eyes.
I suddenly became aware of how close our faces were, and how just one step could close the distance between us. I looked away, to anywhere but Jasper. I felt a raindrop on my head and started walking toward Oportet’s Museum of Science.
The museum was a large, modern-looking building with glass walls on the first floor. The glass next to the doors was plastered with colorful posters advertising different exhibits and special events. Jasper and I walked in a comfortable silence, like we could sense each other’s minds deep in thought.
A group of children gathered just inside the building next to the bathrooms. They were all sitting, except one boy who appeared to be telling the others something very important. The boy waved his hands around as he spoke, and the other children listened attentively. The audience of other children appeared quite troubled.
I glanced at Jasper to see if he had noticed this peculiar scene, but he was staring off into space, still lost in his own thoughts. I had the sudden desire to know what he was thinking about, but this urge was blurred when I picked up on what the animate child was saying.
“I swear I’m not lying. It’s the people here who are lying to everybody. It isn’t really that bad on the outside—there are just some bad people. That’s why my dad brought us here. He didn’t want me to get hurt.” The boy shrugged his shoulders. “I just wanna go back home though. I like it in California better than Oportet.” The boy had bright red hair and freckles dotted his nose and cheeks.
“What’s California like?” a girl asked, her eyes full of curiosity. The girl beside her scowled and crossed her arms.
A woman exited the bathroom behind where the red-haired boy stood, and a man who had been observing the children hurried over to her and angrily explained what they had been discussing.
“Christopher!” She bellowed, halting the boy mid-sentence. He whipped around, his entire face turning an unnatural shade of white.
Curious onlookers stopped in their tracks to absorb the unfolding conflict before them, and others quickly turned away to carry on with their business. I didn’t have the strength to look away. I could feel Jasper beside me, but I couldn’t peel my eyes away from Christopher’s crippling fear and the woman’s unflinching anger for even a second.
“Yes, Mrs. Tonya?” His voice shook slightly. The other children looked down at the ground or their laps.
“I thought I warned you what would happen if I caught you breaking another rule.” She pulled out a paddle from her enormous purse and gestured for Christopher to stand up against the wall. She knelt down and repeatedly whipped the paddle across his rear with such force that his whole body trembled. Christopher had to be no older than nine years old.
After what seemed like forever, I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned away, meeting Jasper’s hardened eyes. I nodded my head towards the staircase, and we moved accordingly, haunted by Christopher’s wailing echo against the silence of the first floor.
When we reached the second story, either the paddling had stopped or we were too far away to hear it. I breathed hard—and not from climbing the stairs.
Jasper remained silent as I pulled the research prompt from my backpack. I tried to swallow down my own feelings of discomfort. I suddenly wondered where Jasper was from, and if Christopher was telling the truth when he proclaimed that the Outside was better than what we had been led to believe.
Jasper’s hand touched mine. My skin tingled from the electricity that jolted me from my thoughts. It lingered there for a few long seconds before he silently eased the prompt out of my hands to read over it.
Jasper broke the silence first. “You said that living by Oportet’s standards is the right way to live. Why is it? What makes it the right way?”
I could only assume this outburst had to do with what we had just witnessed. I looked around to see if anyone was listening to us, but there was no one around.
“That—that was just screwed up,” he said, then repeated, “Why are you so sure that
is the right way to live?”