Authors: Amanda Thome
Tags: #Novel, #dystopian, #series, #trilogy, #Fiction, #Young Adult, #Suspense, #Action, #amanda thome, #thriller
Athena Alley Press Book
Copyright ©2014 by Amanda Thome
All Rights Reserved
Cover design by Janet Thome
Text design by Janet Thome
No part of this book may be reproduced in any format without permission. Please do not encourage or participate in any piracy of copyrighted materials which would be a violation of the author’s rights. Please only purchase authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are formed from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual places, events, or persons is purely coincidental.
First Edition: March 2014
This book is dedicated to my family and to all those who have shown me support before, during, and after this process. A special thanks and dedication to my husband Clint, without him I wouldn’t have found my inspiration.
There were so many hands and minds that helped to create what you see here today. I was just the initial step and I am so thankful for all those who helped get me to the finish line. A special thanks to my husband Clint for his constant support. I couldn’t have done it without my family, they are great supporters. Thank you so much to all the friends I trusted to read the drafts and whose feedback made the book all the better for it. Those trusted friends are Emily W, Lori G, Ginny Z, Clint T, and two of my biggest supporters Katie R and my wonderful mother Lori. A big thanks to Janet Thome for the cover design, book layout design, and all the support her and her husband Mike have given me. Lastly I would like to thank my very talented editor Cassandra. Without all these people my book wouldn’t be where it is today.
Emma’s spending her first night in this world howling inconsolably. I’m not mad at her for keeping me awake all night, I wouldn’t sleep anyway. Not with Mama’s lifeless body lying in the next room. I pace endlessly in the pitch-black living room, blood still trickling from my knee. I gently rock Emma in my arms. My thoughts bound so fast that my head can’t keep up. It’s losing ground the same way I do when I try racing the shuttle.
My head cramps and hurts as it tries to organize and contain my thoughts. I’m reminded of the post, the way the supplies are all labeled and stacked. So structured and clean. I wish I could contain my thoughts, I wish I could organize and store them away somewhere. Anywhere so I don’t have to feel them beating inside my head. I keep thinking there’s no way the sun will ever rise again, positive that light and goodness will never reach us now that Mama’s gone.
My eyes flutter briefly then snap open as night is fractured by hues of orange and pink. Bright bold colors that are meant to symbolize a new beginning, a beginning to another day here in the Inner. Oranges and pinks, colors that are good and pure, nothing like the darkness I feel inside. I stare through the fogged window, amazed that somehow earth continues forward and life continues without her.
The sun just breaks the tree line as the hovercraft from Central arrives. My chest squeezes as the ramp drops from the bottom of the craft, time freezes. The reflecting sun blinds me but I can’t turn away.
These are the last moments I’ve got, after this everything will change. I know it all changed yesterday, but somehow having Mama’s body here makes it seem so indefinite. I know she’s gone, that her body is empty and cold. I don’t feel her spirit in the air like I did yesterday but even still, I know it will only be harder once they’ve taken her.
The Central representative is an indifferent woman, neither impolite nor inviting. To her this is purely business, nothing personal. She paces around the sitting room, her steps are hollow and echo straight to my chest. I involuntarily sink with each step, I feel like a wounded animal that’s too scared to trust.
Her job is twofold today: she has to initiate Emma into society and usher Mama out. Her steps fall silent and I slowly straighten my knees trying to regain my strength. Why am I so weak? Is it fear or maybe the grief? It might be because she’s from Central, she’s in a league higher than me. Higher than anyone here in the Inner. My arms shiver, it’s not because I’m cold, they shake in anticipation I suppose. She brings her head around, staring from wall to ceiling then landing on me. Her smile, one of indifference squeezes between her lips as she dislodges the bag carried under her arm. It’s the paperwork validating Emma’s Inner sector citizenship and the first in a series of grey clothes that all children under the age of six are required to wear. I brush my grey sleeve off, I hadn’t noticed the blood on it until now.
She opens her arms directing me to hand Emma over. I hesitate, it just feels wrong. It should be Mama that hands Emma over, not me. I place Emma in her arms and step back as the representative opens her briefcase. Cradling Emma in one hand, she deftly uses the other to plunge a syringe into Emma’s shoulder. My hand instinctively grasps my own shoulder, my immunization scar feels more prominent now than ever. Emma’s shrilling scream reaches its peak just as she pulls the needle from her shoulder. Something inside me crawls and squirms hearing her cries, they turn my insides around like the washing machine does to our clothes. Her crying breaks just as fast as it started and my gut relaxes itself.
She hands Emma back to me, “You can go store the documents and then we’ll begin the next order of business.” I nod, turning toward the back of the room.
The representative waits patiently for me to return from storing Emma’s papers. I’m taking extra time locking the safe Central provides for documents, delaying the inescapable moment of letting my mother go. Avoiding that final moment when this will all become reality, the point of no return. I stare ahead hoping I’ll hear Mama call to me. It’s silly I know but I can’t help hoping I’ll hear her voice again. Maybe this was all a mistake, maybe she’ll come back to life and hold me.
The hollow sounds of the representative’s boots echo from the sitting room again, I can tell she’s becoming anxious to leave and I can’t delay any longer. I know what I need to do, I just don’t want to.
Hesitantly, I lead the representative back to Mama’s room. My eyes are fixed to the brown floor, I’m terrified they’ll reflexively travel to the red sheets covering her lifeless body. I let my eyes travel there last night, I let my evil mind play tricks on me. If I stared just right it looked like her stomach was moving. Like maybe there was still breath in her trying to push its way out. Countless times I went to her, grabbed her hand and shook it but Mama was gone. No breathing, no life, just gone. I keep my eyes cast down now. I’m afraid I’ll see the breathing again and be left crushed as I learn it was all just a trick.
“Any last words for her?” The representative asks as Mama’s body wheels by. All I can do is shake my head ‘No.’ I’m ashamed, like I’ve let her down. Mama was always so good with words. I never met a person she couldn’t converse with for hours. She would have wanted something said, I should’ve had words prepared.
I shrink again as the representative takes her scan card and work articles. I wish things were like it was before the divide when they buried their dead and had funerals to honor them. If they had funerals I could have prepared something to say. I wouldn’t have let her down. Now Central disposes of the bodies and mourning is private and short-lived. There’s always work quotas for the living to meet.
The echoing steps intermingle with the grinding wheels as Mama’s body rolls towards the craft. It’s a horrible noise, insulting to the ears. The last noises of my Mama’s life, nothing like she would have wanted. The representative loads Mama’s body into the craft and takes-off like nothing happened.
I sit outside for hours, waiting to hear Mama’s forgiving voice echo from the sitting room. Maybe to hear her soft footsteps against the floor. Her steps wouldn’t have echoed like the representatives did. I never want to go inside again. It’s over now, its done for me. Mama is gone and while I’m not alone in this world, it sure feels that way.
Soon gusts of arctic wind whip my face, biting hard into my bare skin, pushing me inside. Into the house that’s no longer a home. I walk through the doorway, I don’t want to go to bed. It reminds me of her. I lie on the ground next to Emma’s crib. Loss consumes my heart. I could tolerate little pieces of my heart being taken away bit by bit but this is too much. It was torn apart with such haste and fury that it feels like the fragments have been tenderized to oblivion. It’s too much pain for a child to endure and I’m not sure I can.
Papa’s gone to work, he left this morning just before first light. His body looked weakened, like he was shattered from the inside out. My eyes met his as he bent forward to kiss Emma. I saw the raw pain inside and I saw it melt for just a second as his eyes met mine. I know he would have stayed if he could but work called, it’s a duty Central requires.
A relief worker’s scheduled to come provide assistance with Emma. I think of their uniforms, black, the color Central issues to all retired citizens, with a single grey arm sash signifying their role assisting children.
I hear the sound of feet traveling our walkway. I imagine the relief workers boots making their way along our drive, unknowing of all the horrors that happened only yesterday. Then a knock sounds. I slowly rise from the floor reaching my hands in front of my small body. I try navigating by memory and touch. With every step towards the door my swirling head fogs like mist creeping and rolling inward. The mist parts as I see myself opening the door, welcoming Mama home. Every fiber that holds me together wants to believe that she will be on the other side.
Deep down I know that the mist will never part, that Mama will never come home, but I need to open the door, just to be sure. My puffy eyes don’t allow much clarity of vision but I reach the door, pulling it open. The mist rolls back, it’s not Mama. Through the fog and broken hope I realize it’s not the relief worker either. This person’s far too small, my size just bigger. I blink, the cloudy tears escape and I see a golden haired boy my age.
I wipe my eyes and see his acorn-brown eyes looking into mine, his face twists with pain. He fists flowers in his small hands. They’re blooming in yellows, purples, and blues. Once I spot them I can’t take my eyes away, I follow them all the way to the ground as he places them at my feet. I’ve seen those colors in my mind before, laid out in front of me, all of them beautiful and bright.
“I wish I could’ve helped more” he says.
It wasn’t his Mama, he doesn’t even know me. I want to ask him why he cares and I actually feel the words tickle my throat as I try to get them out. He turns his eyes down just before he runs away.
I lift the flowers and take them to my room. Over the next three months I care for Emma with the help of the relief worker. I don’t know what’ll happen to us when I turn six and start education. Papa said other families cope and we will too. His words are somewhat comforting but even they can’t ward off my lonesomeness.