Chapter 6

Ry stayed behind the rock, long after the sound of the truck faded.  In part, because the sun was creeping into sight.  In part, because he was still fighting demons.  His breath was calm now, even.  But the trembling hadn’t stopped.  He didn’t know if it was still an aftershock of the pain, or if it was his body’s way of responding to the hunger he refused to recognize.  He tried to focus on the hunger, to focus on something other than his own thoughts.  He was stuck in his mind and he knew if he stayed much longer, he would never get out.  How many days had it been, now, since he’d eaten?  How long since he’d left?  It seemed like a lifetime since he’d walked away from Thomas.  Maybe more.  But concentrating on the days and nights he’d traversed, he realized it had been only two days.   Two days since he’d abandoned the one man who always believed he was more.  Two days since he’d eaten.  That was what he needed to think about.  The food.  The hunger.  He reached out and wrapped a piece of sweet grass around his finger.

He’d learned quickly being picky when it came to food was not an option.  Resources were scarce.  Flavor, textures, amounts: they were luxuries from his former life, back when he was a Priv.  They had no place in the Drove and if he gave into them, he’d starve.  And nobody would care.  One fewer mouth to feed.  One fewer Priv to hate.  He tugged at the grass.  Drove life was all about survival.  And each person was responsible for his or her own.  The rules were simple.  When food was available, you ate it.  If you left it, it was fair game.  And anything that could be eaten should be eaten.

He stuck the blade of grass in his mouth.

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

Sleep did not visit Ry that first night.  More like it gave him a passing nod as it went by.   Part of it was the intense revolt his stomach seemed to be staging against the food he’d eaten.  He’d followed Thomas to the mess tent, against his will.  He wasn’t hungry, he’d insisted.

“Doesn’t matter.  Someday, you will be.  You eat whenever you have the chance because you don’t know when you’ll have another.”  So, he went.   The food smelled awful.  It looked worse.  But Ry ignored aroma and sight.  He could feel the others watching him, seeing if he’d fulfill their expectations of a Priv and refuse the appropriately termed “mess”.  He didn’t.  Then, he’d wished he had.  He didn’t even know what the food was supposed to be, but he was certain it didn’t taste like it.  He managed to choke it all down, drinking both his ration of water and half of Thomas’s in order to finish it.  Thomas chewed, if not contentedly, at least easily, beside him.  On Thomas’s other side, Evey wolfed down her portion in silence, and stormed off.  Ry wondered if it was just that they had learned to accept the food in the two weeks they had been there already, or if regular people ate like this all the time.

The meal was trying to come back up almost before he managed to get it all down, but he fought his body’s desire to purge itself.  As soon as he was done, he’d headed for Tent 9 and his bed roll, hoping to find a little solace for his misery.  He wished he hadn’t.  As soon as he pushed through the flap, he felt the hostility pummel him.  Whispers, comments, snickers, glares.  And none more heated than Evey’s.  Ry kept his head down, slinked through their beds.  As he passed Evey, though, he lifted his gaze, briefly, to meet hers.  For a heartbeat, she looked surprised.  By his boldness?  By something she saw in his expression?  He didn’t know.  And then, it was gone, and her eyes were hard again.  Green stones.  No warmth.  He walked past.

Having him in a bed roll at the far end was, apparently, not good enough.  The two Drovers on the end were not content with sleeping in such close proximity. As though the status of “Priv” might rub off on them.  The one man was able to make an easy getaway: Thomas offered to switch cots with him.  The other girl did not receive a similar offer.  She stood up and marched through the line of beds to the front of the tent and out.  Ry never saw her come back.

Ry lay curled on his side facing the back of the tent and failing to sleep for most of the night.  Thoughts curdled in his mind like the food curdling in his stomach.  Thoughts of his first day, of how much worse it would get.  Thoughts of the hatred in Evey’s eyes.  Of the kindness from Thomas that washed him with feelings of unworthiness.  Thoughts of…but no.  He couldn’t think of them.  He wouldn’t.  He’d promised himself, for the sake of his sanity.  And so, desperate to focus on something, something other than his stomach, something other than them, he thought about the guns he’d seen.

Ry hadn’t been completely honest when he told Thomas he knew a little bit about guns.  Truth was, he knew more about them than probably anyone.  He’d spent the last year or so in constant study of them.  He could have identified every one of the weapons lying in that pile outside the armory.  And not just as “pistols”, “rifles” or “shotguns.”  He knew their actual names.  Knew what type of ammunition they took.  Knew how to load them, how to hold them, how to take them apart and put them together again.  He knew the benefits and shortcomings of each.  He knew the best ones for killing a man at close range.  At long range.  And he was fairly confident in saying he knew that most of those weapons in a pile for disposal were not ready to be scrapped.   Sometime before dawn, he didn’t know when, he rolled up and crept through the line of cots and out of Tent 9.

By the time the sun came up, he had most of the guns separated into two piles.  Those that should be trashed and those that were perfectly functional still, albeit in need of some attention.   He was in the process of examining one of the last handguns when a voice made him jump.

“There you are.”  It was such an inane statement to make.  Almost absurd.  Telling someone “there” he was.  It had always seemed ridiculous to Ry.  But in that moment, he was flooded with a sense of warmth, gratitude.  Because it struck him, then, that the comment implied someone had been looking for him.  Wondering about him.  Missing him.  He looked up to watch Thomas approach and almost smiled.  Almost.  And he might have, if he hadn’t seen Evey walking right beside him.  Her gaze was more reserved.  Not welcoming, of course, but at least it didn’t seem aggressive.  He wondered if Thomas had talked to her.  He wondered why she followed him if she really hated Ry so much.  There was a level of loyalty between them Ry had rarely seen.  In anyone.

He rocked back as they stopped in front of him and squinted up at them, the gun still dangling from his hand.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“You seem to take a great interest in those guns,” Thomas nodded towards them.  “You ever shoot one before?”  Ry hesitated, but before he could say anything, Evey laughed.

“What business would a Priv have shooting a gun?  He probably never even laid eyes on one before yesterday.  Honestly, Thomas Wild, sometimes I wonder about your intelligence.”  Ry dropped his gaze to the gun, not wanting to look at either of them.  How was he supposed to tell them he knew more about weapons than they could ever hope to?  That he had studied them as though his life depended on it.  That he had thought long and hard about buying one.  About using it.  On another person.  Even Thomas could probably not overlook that.  And so instead of trying to explain it, he decided to focus on something else.  Something that had caught his attention, now, twice.  He laid the gun down and looked up again.

“You two are cousins.  Why do you have the same last name?”  He caught it.  It was brief.  Just a flicker. A slight flit of their eyes towards each other, a brief expression he couldn’t quite place.  As if this was a question they were constantly expecting, but always hoping wouldn’t come.

“We don’t, really,” Thomas said.  “Mine is W-I-L-D and Evey’s is spelled W-I-L-D-E.  They’re just pronounced the same.”

“Oh.”  Ry chewed on the thought for a moment.  “Is that allowed?”  Thomas squatted down, so he was on level with Ry.  Evey, looking reluctant, slowly followed suit.

“Normally, probably not.  You’re supposed to expand on the name.  But here’s what happened.  My dad and my uncle are twins.  Identical.  My dad was the oldest, but my uncle never really accepted that.  So, when they turned twelve and my uncle was supposed to choose his new modification of the last name, he refused.  He kind of threw a fit about it, saying his brother was only two minutes older and that shouldn’t count.  He should be allowed to keep the pure form of the family name, too.  When he was told he couldn’t, he did the next best thing.  He added one letter, insisted that expanded and modified the name, and they eventually let him go.”

“There’s a new law in place because of it,” Evey said, “adding that the modification must be pronounced differently than the original form. After all, we wouldn’t want to all be allowed to have the same family name.  Then, we might accidently get mistaken for Privs.”

 

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on September 2, 2012.

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