Authors: Katarin Haley Pope
“This is propaganda.” Agni informs me after I read the last sentence.
Have you seen this flyer before?” I ask curiously.
“No, this is the first time I’ve seen it actually. I think now we can put a name to the people who are attacking the United States.”
Agni says as he picks up one from the ground, folds it, and shoves it in his back pocket.
Enlightened,” I say as I start reading the paper again.
He nods and says, “We need to keep going.”
I fold mine, as well, and I stick it in Agni’s backpack. It’s easier than taking mine off, unzipping it, putting the piece of paper inside, zipping it again, and then putting it back on. Just thinking about doing all that is exhausting.
Before continuing, I pick up Miss Kiki.
She doesn’t fight me, which I’m surprised. She usually barks at me if I even try to reach for her, but she relents today. I guess because my mom and Chloe aren’t around, she realizes I’m the next best thing to family as she’s going to get.
We notice as we go further down the road
that there are a lot less dead bodies. I hate looking at them, anyway. All of those poor people are just gone, dead on the side of the road, and no one to bury them. There has to be another way to get to our destination. Calla Lily is the only road, but there’s a more scenic route to take.
” I call to him. “There used to be a path in the woods to our left that will take us to Allium Center. Is it still there?”
Yeah, Fuji Mum Trail, but we have to go through the brush to get to it. It’s not that far away.”
“I think we need to
take that route. I’m going to have nightmares if I continue walking next to all these dead people. Not to mention, it smells awfully bad out here.”
“There’s an opening up ahead about a quarter of a mile
that will lead us to the trail. We’ll get off the road up there.”
, and I can’t wait to get there. I decide to let Miss Kiki walk. There’s still plenty of propaganda flying around, but I’m dragging her along hoping to keep her attention ahead.
re approaching the clearing, I notice all of the doors facing inside of the road are opened. Agni is glancing in each car, but he isn’t stopping. I’m trying to keep up with him, but it’s taking me a little longer to look in each one. It’s creating a huge gap between us.
Right after he rounds a red car
and head towards the clearing, I happen to see a cooler in the backseat of a SUV, and it’s the only vehicle with the doors closed. I can’t help it. I have to try the handle. I pull on it, and to my disappointment, it’s locked. I try the front side driver’s door, and it’s locked, too. I refuse to go to the passenger side near the grass. I don’t want to get close to the bodies.
Miss Kiki starts barking and pulling at the leash. I
snap at her, but she’s furiously barking and lunging. I look up and see a guy coming towards us, and he’s running with a bat in his hands. He looks like a maniac with his eyes wide open, and I can hear his heavy breathing. I pull Miss Kiki back to me, grab her, and I run around the SUV trying to get away from him.
The next thing I hear is the shattering of glass. He’s taken
the bat to the driver’s side door, and before I realize it, he’s already inside. The SUV is rocking as he’s going through it and tossing things around. I’m so scared out of my mind that I have no idea if I should run, hide, or simply watch.
The man glances up at me quickly and just as fast returns to what he’s doing. He looks to be in his fifties, but I have nothing really to base his age on. It’s just a guess. One thing for sure is that he has short light brown hair. His skin is pale, and he has the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen.
Agni and King are coming back towards me. He’s yelling my name, and I wake up. I take off for Agni. I feel like a gazelle as I cross the street in between the cars, and I nearly knock him off his feet when I run into him. King is growling and has a protective stance. He isn’t pulling on Agni, but I can tell if that guy comes at us, King will show him we’re not to be messed with.
“Are you alright, Breanna?” He asks as he looked me up and down.
“Did he hurt you? Did he say something to you?”
I take in a deep breath before answering, “No, I think he’s just looting, and I was in the way.”
Agni glances over to the SUV as the stranger is getting out. He is counting money, and he has the cooler in his hands. The guy isn’t even looking our way, and he starts walking
west in the middle of the road.
“You can’t fall behind like that, Breanna.”
Agni chastises me.
I try to explain, “I saw something in the car
, and I was trying to get it.”
“What did you see?” He is clearly perturbed when he ask
s that question.
“It’s nothing, okay,” I remark. Telling him that I found a cooler is not even an option. I don’t want to feel foolish.
“Breanna,” he says with a scolding stare. “You have to keep up.”
“Okay, Agni, okay. I won’t fall behind again. I’m sorry.”
He exhales and a small grin of relief appears on his face. “Alright, let’s go. We need to get some distance from him. I don’t want any more problems from that guy.”
I think he may be mentally ill, Agni.”
It doesn’t even matter. We just need to keep going.” He says as he takes my hand.
trudge through the thick weeds and vines. I keep looking back to make sure the stranger isn’t following us. It looks like he’s gone to the next car ahead of the SUV, and he’s looting again. I think my conclusion is right. He has to be mentally ill.
Several times I almost trip
and fall. I’m hoping we don’t run into any snakes while we’re stumping through the thick undergrowth. Anacondas have made Florida their home, and I’m not trying to run into one. I cling on to Miss Kiki like one’s going to gobble us up at any moment.
We finally make it to
Fuji Mum Trail. Agni and I use to walk and play in this path when we were in middle school. We use to think we were so cool back then when we were out there on our own with no parents telling us what to do. Agni used to tell me we were in a jungle, the fiercest jungle in the universe. I had to agree, or he’d call off the game. He always threatened he’d go home if I didn’t agree to play along with his version of make believe. So, to avoid cutting the fun short, I agreed that we were in the fiercest jungle in the entire universe and we were knights. But I added my own twist to it. I aptly named myself the Pink Knight. I’d pretend I had red and pink hearts all over my silver glittering armor with a pink feather sticking out of the top of my helmet. My weapon of choice was jelly beans, and I’d throw them to fight off the monsters that Agni invented.
Being a boy
back then, he thought my version of being a knight was lame. Agni was the Red Knight with black armor that couldn’t be penetrated by any manmade weapon. He was invincible, and he used a crooked stick as his magical sword. He’d protect the jungle domain from fire breathing dragons and one-eyed monsters coming straight out of unseen lava pits. As I think about it now, it’s hysterically funny. How cool was it back then to be a kid and not have a single worry in the world? That’s just pure bliss.
Agni unhooks King, and I unhook Miss Kiki. I let her go, and she stays right with me. King jogs ahead, but not too far. We continue at a good pace, and
I’m hoping we’ll reach Allium Center soon.
After two hours of walking, we finally reach the end of the trail where
nature meets with civilization. I have to admit that the trek isn’t the same as I remember as a child. Weeds have overtaken the path and are choking the little signs that have information on what certain plants and trees are. Garbage was everywhere, and those yellow flyers made it all the way in the woods. There were several broken branches that we had to climb over. Some spots in the path had huge mud puddles, and the mosquitos were everywhere. That place isn’t an imaginary jungle anymore. It’s a forgotten wasteland, no more suitable for a child’s imagination.
The edge of
Allium Center now stands before us. It’s the town where Calla Lily Road ends at Sun Drop Highway. Allium Center is like any main street in America. It’s a cozy, friendly place. It boasts of mom and pop shops with hometown pride and character, a gigantic fairground behind Allium Cultural Hall, an auditorium, move theatre, restaurants, and a few art stores and galleries. Allium Center is considered to be a cultural melting pot where people can show off their creativity.
I really like coming here
during the summer months. There are plays and concerts in the auditorium and at the fairgrounds every weekend. Sometimes the shows are free. For two weeks in July, a fair comes to town, and then during the beginning of every August for a week, a circus sets up camp. I love going to the circus and seeing the different performers. I’m not too keen on the clowns, but my ultimate favorite is the trapeze artists. They’re amazing people, and they are so graceful. My parents use to take me every year before I turned 11 years old. It was hard to get them to take me after that. Maybe, they thought I was too old.
Agni and I notice that
Allium Center is deserted. We are standing in the middle of Kangaroo Paw Street, and every single store is closed. We can see up the road where Calla Lily Road passes through, and there’s a pileup of cars. That explains why traffic was at a standstill yesterday in front of the cove. No one could go anywhere with the huge accident blocking all avenues and side streets into Allium Center.
Our attention returns back to the
store in front of us. The curtains are drawn, and the lights are out. The store is what I call a handmade knick knack place, and it doesn’t specialize in just one thing, either. It has everything from crochet bookmarks to reborn dolls to original oil paintings. All direct from local artists on the island. My dad bought a handmade cuckoo clock out of there once. He loves that thing, but it cuckoos at strange times instead of at the top of the hour. Honestly, I think my dad broke it before he got it home.
t’s spooky to be the only two people in a town where normally it’s busy with people shopping and enjoying the sights. Cars are abandoned in the middle of the street. Some are blocking both lanes. The only thing that’s moving is the yellow pieces of paper the helicopters released.
Finally, we reach
our first destination, the drugstore, and of course, it’s closed. Agni and I both peek through the glass doors. The lights are off inside. Agni steps back from the door and consider what to do next. He slides his backpack off, and he unzips it. He brings out two medicine bottles to read the labels, and I take this moment to get something to snack on. I sat down on the bench next to the front door, and Miss Kiki jumps up in the seat beside me. I bring out one of my snacks, and she starts whining.
“I don’t think you’ll like this, Miss Kiki.”
“Don’t feed her. They both ate a big breakfast before we left this morning.” Agni says as he puts the drugs back into his satchel.
“So, what do you want to do now? Y
ou want to break into the drugstore or what?” I ask.
“I don’t think
that’s a good idea, Breanna. There are a lot of pills in these bottles according to the labels. I think my aunt will be fine with what I’m bringing her.”
drops the containers back in his backpack and zip it back up. As he puts it back on and adjusts the weight, he starts staring at the glass door. I stand and try to see what he’s looking at. There’s nothing different inside the store. It’s still dark. Nothing is moving inside.
“What are you looking at, Agni?”
He points and moves toward the door. There is a rectangular sticker with a capital letter ‘E’ in the center on a yellow background, and the word ‘ENLIGHTENED’ is spelled vertically from top to bottom. It’s the same kind of background that’s on the flyer. Agni takes out the sheet of paper, and he compares it. He looks over my head and goes next door which is an instrument store. I’m right with him, and the first thing we see is that same sticker on the glass door. I scratch at the glass to see if it’s on the outside. It’s not. Agni looks directly at me as he’s thinking.
, “What is it?”
When was the last time you came here?”
“I don’t remember,” I answer with a shrug of my shoulders. “I wouldn’t have paid attention to that sticker before today anyway.”
“This sticker matches the background on this flyer.”
“So, what does that mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe, the people that own the drugstore and this store are part of this Enlightened. The stickers are on the inside of the store, and that means someone put it there before it was closed up.” Agni puts the paper back in his pocket. “We need to find out what this all means before we go running into Titan City.”
“How are we going to find out?” I ask him.
“We have to go to the meeting, Breanna. It’s going to start in an hour.”
This is only going to hold us up, Agni. I don’t want to go.”
“Breanna, think about it for a minute.
The people behind the bombings will be there, and we can find out what’s going on. That way when we get to Titan City, we won’t run into any surprises.”
Agni, I don’t believe anything we find out will help us when we get there.”
“We have to stay for the meeting, Breanna.” He firmly states. “We need to be prepared.”
I huff impatiently and ask, “How long do you think it’s going to take us to get to Penny Valley?”
“If the meeting is no longer than an hour, we could be there before nightfall. Sooner than that if we find bicycles.”
“Okay, Agni, so what are we going to do with the dogs? I’m sure they won’t allow pets in the cultural center.”
“I didn’t think about the dogs.”
“Why don’t you stay with the dogs?” I remark. “King will listen to you better. I’ll go to the meeting.”
“You have to make sure you listen to everything they say, Breanna.”
“Agni, you act like I’m going to plug my ears the entire time I’m in there.”
“No, but I know how bored you can get
. You’ve been known to tune people out.”
You’re worried about nothing. I’m going to pay attention this time.”
He doesn’t believe me, but that’s okay. He’s right in his assertions. I do tend to tune people out if I’m bored with them, but I don’t think
I’ll have that problem today with everything that’s going on.
After I get my things together, w
e go down to where the sidewalk ends at Sun Drop Highway. We can see the intersection where Calla Lily ends up two blocks, but we also see something else.
All of the helicopters we saw earlier are
now lined up on the road, and there’s a lot more of them. There are also numerous people in black uniforms, and they have yellow rectangular patches with a green letter ‘E’ in the center, and it’s attached at the top of their sleeves. Everyone is wearing black baseball caps that cover their eyebrows. They look like soldiers.
Agni pulls me back behind the building. I’m actually curious, and I peek around the corner to see what they’re doing. One man seems to be in charge. He is pointing in different directions, and soldiers in groups of two are running off where they are told to go.
One group stops at a telephone pole in a median before the parking lot of the only gas station in town, and it is right across the street from us. One soldier in the group is holding a black cylinder. That thing is about twelve inches or more long, but probably a quarter of that size for the circumference. The second soldier has a black satchel. From what I can tell none of them are armed.
“Agni, take a look at what they’re doing.”
He steps from behind the building enough to see what I’m talking about. The second soldier takes off his satchel and brings out a silver clamp and a power drill. He starts attaching the clamp using the drill to the telephone pole. The soldier with the cylinder is waiting patiently. Once the second guy is done, the first soldier hooks on the contraption to the clamp.
“Agni, can you tell what
they’re attaching to the telephone pole?”
He narrows his eyes trying to focus and answers,
“I have no idea.”
The thing starts flashing
a bright white light. One of the soldiers brings out a palm size silver electronic notebook and a stylus. He starts pecking on the screen, and then he starts writing. The other soldier has opened a small compartment below the flash on the cylinder, and he’s messing with whatever is inside of it.
This is happening all up and down Sun Drop Highway, and two soldiers are
now coming towards me and Agni. We take off running back towards direction of the drugstore. Agni has a strong grip on my hand, and he isn’t letting go. The dogs are with us. Just as we are about to round the corner, we come face to face with two more soldiers. They have the same devices in their hands. King is growling, and Miss Kiki is barking and trying to nip at the closest soldier. They give us blank, unemotional stares, and we’re watching them with frightened eyes. I am ready to faint. I know we are about to die. I swallow hard and prepare for a gunshot or a hit in the head or something.
To our surprise, the soldiers
go around us. Agni, the always mindful one, grabs King so he won’t chase them. They rush up one more block, and they cross the street. They begin to set up another one of those contraptions on another telephone pole.
I am so confused, and I know Agni feels the same way. We are both watching those two, and they don’t even look in our direction.
It’s like we don’t even exist. I finally begin to breathe again. I have to put my fear in check. First of all, those soldiers might not be soldiers at all. They’re not carrying rifles, and I don’t think I see a pistol, either.
When they finish,
they run right back by without acknowledging us. Agni and I are kind of stunned as we watch them run all the way up Kangaroo Paw Street to Calla Lily Road. They make a left and disappear behind the building.
“Can you explain what just happened?” I ask Agni.
He doesn’t answer, but he is looking back at the black cylinder perched on the pole. His curiosity is peaked, and he heads over to that thing. King is right with him, but Miss Kiki hangs with me.
white light starts blinking as Agni gets closer. I stay right where I am. I’m just too afraid to go near that thing. I can only hope it’s not dangerous. When Agni is within arm’s reach, that thing flickers like a camera flash. He doesn’t move, and I’m thinking that thing has frozen him in place. Or it has hypnotized him. Why hasn’t he moved?
“Agni!” I call to him.
He straightens up and twists around. He waves for me to come over. King is up on his hinds legs trying to sniff the device. He gets down and lifts his leg to the pole. Boys, I swear. Any kind of weird new device, be it man or dog, they have to check it out. In King’s case, he has to pee on it. I’m not interested, and I shake my head and cross my arms. Miss Kiki barks the same exact sentiments as I’m thinking.
“Now, you’re being a chicken!” He yells.
“Better to be a yard bird than dead,” I shout back.
“Breanna, you really need
to see this thing!”
“Agni, it could be a mine. It could be a nuclear bomb. It might even be a deadly laser. I’m not going near it.”
He backs away from it, and King pees on the pole before coming back, as well. Agni is enamored with that thing. He keeps looking over his shoulder until he’s finally at my side.
“I don’t think it’s a bomb.” He states. “There is a
light and a display screen on it. When I got close enough, it flashed. I looked at the screen, and it had the word ‘unknown’ flashing on it with numbers below it.”
“What is it supposed to do?”
“I’m thinking it’s some kind of device that supposed to sense who I am. Maybe, it can read DNA or my eyes un-invasively.”
“That sounds ridiculous, Agni.”
“I’m telling you, Breanna, I believe that’s exactly what it is. The technology exists. I’ve seen other instruments online that can do it. It’s like an x-ray machine that scans your bones, but the only difference is that thing reads DNA or eyeballs.”
I laugh at his assumptions. It sounds real silly to me. I ask,
“Why are they putting those things in Allium Center?”
“I bet they’re mounting them all over the place, not just here. That’s going to be their way of tracking people. No one will
be able to move around without the Enlightened knowing about it.”