Chapter 4

Ry peeled himself from the ground and stood.  The last light of dusk was clinging to the edges of the sky, stars creeping into the darkening blue.  Ry barely glanced at them.  Where he once would have seen beauty, he now only registered protection.  The world held no beauty for him any longer.  He had been waiting for the cover of night to end what must have been the longest day of his life.   It had been nearly unbearable: trying to sleep, trying not to sleep, fighting against his dreams and memories, needing to forget, wanting to remember.  He would almost have preferred fighting, lying on the ground next to Thomas, protecting him while his mind went numb with the blasts of guns and screams of the dying.

He shook the thought off and wished for clouds to hide the blasted stars.  He wanted total blackness, wanted the void to swallow him up so the world couldn’t see him.  And so he wouldn’t have to see it.  He started walking and took a mental stock.  His body wasn’t sore.  After two years of Drove-life, it was too accustomed to being prone on the dirt for the muscles and joints to protest.  He knew he should be hungry, but he didn’t feel it.  Like exhaustion, he had refused to acknowledge the sensation for too long to accurately recall what it felt like.  He hadn’t taken any food with him.  It had been a risk, leaving without rations, but a calculated one.  Drovers were not accounted for at the end of the day, but rations were.  Rations and weapons.

He slid his hand to the butt of the pistol, jutting out from the waistband of his pants.  Another risk.  One he probably shouldn’t have taken.   But weighed against the thought of going AWOL without a weapon, he had decided it was worth it.  Given the choice between a pistol and nothing he would choose the pistol every time.  Even this time.  He had known better than to try to take a bigger gun.  All weapons were collected at the end of the day, from the living and the dead, stockpiled, and guarded by the Strikers.  His hope was that, even if noted, the handgun’s absence would be put down to being hidden by the dark, the grass, a fallen body.  Pistols were so small, they were easily lost.  It had happened before.  He could only hope they would assume it had happened again.  At least until they realized he was gone as well.  Then the coincidence would not, could not be overlooked.

He wondered if they had figured it out yet.  He wondered what Thomas was doing, if he was still alive, if he had gotten in trouble.  He wondered if Thomas would have been better off if he’d never taken Ry under his wing.  Would his life be better now?  And what about Evey?   He wondered why he couldn’t keep his blasted mind from wondering.

*************

Ry ran his fingers over the soft, nearly shaved tips of his hair and was glad he had not seen a mirror since arriving.  He had never considered himself exceptionally vain, but the generous number of glances from girls his age told him he was reasonably attractive.  And he was aware enough of the general concept of beauty to know his appeal was largely due to his hair, thick and wavy and black.  Now, his scalp prickled in the air, nothing but a layer of fuzz left from the standard Drover shearing.   One more step towards looking like he fit in, all the while knowing he never would.  It was Thomas’s doing.  He had taken it upon himself to give Ry the first-day crash course of Drove life.   Ry brushed at the stiff, tan cloth of the shirt he was wearing: another concession to Thomas’s coercive prodding.  More of a knuckling under, really.

Before leaving Tent 9, Thomas had picked up the uniform from where Ry had dumped it next to the bedroll and shoved it into his hands.

“Here, put these on before we leave.  You can’t really go walking around Camp in your civies.”  Ry just held the clothes and looked at Thomas.

“You do know how to dress yourself, right?”

“I’m not wearing these.”

“Everyone wears these.”

“I’m not like everyone, remember?  I’m a Priv.”  He realized how superior it sounded as the words came out, but it wasn’t what he meant.  They wouldn’t want him trying to fit in, to be like them.  They’d resent it.  In a manner that was becoming increasingly less surprising, Thomas seemed to understand him.

“Everyone wears them,” he repeated.  “Even Privs.  Look, they’re not going to like you any more or any less just because you’re dressed like them.  And refusing to dress in uniform will only get you in trouble with the Staffers.  Now, put them on.”  Ry scowled at him, resenting how easily Thomas got him, resenting his abnormal kindness.

“What do you care, anyway?”  Thomas shrugged.

“There’s not a whole lot to care about around here.  You seem like a worthy cause.”  The comment threw Ry off stride.  No one had ever verbalized that he was worth caring about; no one had ever called him a worthy cause.  Again, Thomas seemed to understand what he was thinking, and grinned.

“Now, put them on, or I’ll put them on for you.”  Ry put the clothes on.

As they walked along, Thomas pointed out the mess tent, training areas, the armory.  Ry paid half attention, more focused on trying to simultaneously avoid the gaze of others and see if they were staring at him.  As Thomas pointed out the tent he called the armory, however, Ry’s curiosity was piqued.

“Why are all those guns lying in a pile out here instead of inside?”

“Those are the dysfunctional weapons.  They won’t work, for one reason or another, so they’ll be pulled apart.  Staffers’ll keep whatever they think can be recycled and toss the rest.”   The pile of weapons scheduled for destruction seemed insanely large.  Ry bent down and picked up a handgun, running his fingers over it.  It looked to be in perfect condition.

“Do you know anything about weapons?” Thomas asked.  Ry released the cartridge from the gun, examined it, then slapped it back home.

“A little,” he muttered.  He opened his mouth to ask Thomas who decided when the weapons were no longer useful, but snapped it shut when another voice called out.

“Thomas!”  Ry watched from his stooped position as the newcomer approached.  It was the girl the one he had seen with Thomas earlier.  Up close, he could still see the similarities between them, but he noted the differences as well.  Her hair, pulled in a tight bun, was a darker, more vibrant red than Thomas’s , which had more brown.  Her eyes were a grayish-green, whereas his were bright like grass.  She had a spattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, her smooth skin recovering from a layer of sunburn.   Ry tried not to look at her; she was beautiful, and he had no right to admire her.  But his gaze kept flitting towards her face.  She was shorter to Thomas, the top of her head just at his chin, but she carried herself with a confidence and purpose that challenged her small size.

“I thought we were going running before mess.  Where’d you disappear to?”  She had barely flicked a glance in his direction when she walked up, but as Thomas turned an intentional smile in Ry’s direction, the girl spared him a proper glance.  Ry stood, and in the moment it took him to straighten, she must have seen past the buzzed hair and tan uniform and recognized him.  Her gaze hardened and she turned fully towards him, feet splayed, hands on her hips.   Not sure what to say in the face of her obvious hostility, Ry glanced to Thomas for help.  As with everything, Thomas was taking it all in good-natured stride.

“Ry, I’d like you to meet my cousin,” he said.  “Evey Wilde.”

 

– S.D. Bullard

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

 

 

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~ by sdbullard on August 19, 2012.

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