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My sister never knew that they would find the Untouchables. She never for one moment suspected that she was being watched. But deep in the shadows of the night when she walked to and from the old warehouse down on Eighth Street, they watched her. They saw her go one way, laden with a heavy backpack and return again, her load considerably lighter. They even searched her apartment, although she didn’t know about that either. They found the news stories hidden deep within the files of her computer and they saw the drawings taped to the inside of the bathroom closet door. They looked up what she bought at the supermarket and compared it to what was in her cupboards and refrigerator and saw that the amounts did not match.
Then, last night, they followed her.
There were two of them: One who had a beard and one who didn’t. They took the 11:15 subway from Tulley Circle and watched her as she took off her earrings before she left the train. That was a precaution, but one that did not matter; once they had found you there was really no need to track you. They followed her as she hid her face in the hood of her sweater and moved through the side alleys that led to the warehouse district. They even saw her check over her shoulder several times to see if she was being followed, but they were careful not to let her see them.
My sister never knew what she was bringing back to her Haven. How could she have? She had thought that she had covered her tracks quite well, and indeed she had. In fact, if it had not been for the hair ribbons, she probably would have never been found out at all.
The one with the beard had not taken his eyes off my sister since she boarded the train at Tulley Circle. He was the sharp one; the clever one. He prided himself on the number of Social Traitors he had been able to bring single handedly to justice. He looked at my sister with his pitiless eyes and tried to imagine what she was leading him to. He imagined a cache of five, perhaps ten if he were lucky. If he had known ahead of time what he was to find, he might have smiled.
His clean-shaven partner, who had never exactly seen a Social Traitor himself, was fixated on the lumpy form of my sister’s body. He knew from the clothes that they had found in her closet that my sister was several sizes smaller than the woman they saw now. He also knew that hidden beneath the folds of her sweater was a small fortune worth of rations and other illegal commodities that she was attempting to smuggle out of the city. Ordinarily, the beardless man would have stopped her for such suspicious and blatant behavior, but tonight was a different night. He knew, as the bearded man knew, that my sister was hiding something that was bigger than a mere ration violation. He wondered briefly of what it would be like were he to walk forward silently and ever so gently place his hand on her shoulder. No doubt she would spin on him in an instant and he entertained himself for a few moments by imagining what her face would look like. There would be terror, of course, and he pictured the way her eyes would widen as she recognized who he was and what he wanted. He wondered if she would attempt to run or whether she would be too paralyzed to move.
Each of the two men’s thoughts was suddenly interrupted as my sister turned unexpectedly and headed towards the river. The men were temporarily wary but then relaxed once they discovered that she was merely attempting to vary her route to ward off the possibility of being followed. My sister didn’t know that it didn’t work if your pursuers found your point of origin and simply followed you from there.
My sister never knew about the value of a shifting hideout. The Haven had been in the same spot for months and my sister was foolish not to think that it would be discovered. But my sister could not have known because in her eyes, there was not a chance that they would suspect her.
The two men watched as my sister approached the warehouse. Faintly, they heard her humming a song. They were too clever to believe that the song was simply a sudden bout of whimsicality that had struck my sister as she walked – they knew it was the message that those inside would be anticipating. They watched her as she paused in the shadow of the building, the one farthest away from the streetlight. She had believed she was invisible, that no one could see her because she had disabled the earrings. The man with the beard counted what she removed from underneath her sweater silently to himself. He was pleased to see five water bottles, two boxes of crackers, a stuffed bear, and a jar of what looked like peanut butter. He knew that my sister had stolen the peanut butter from Governor Johnson’s private pantries because you could not buy peanut butter in the supermarket anymore.
The man without the beard watched as my sister loaded all of the foodstuffs plus the toy into her discarded sweatshirt and he watched her tie the arms of the shirt together to form a little package. He watched as she stood on tiptoe and raised the package to the broken panes of glass high above her head.
The bearded man’s eyes left my sister for the first time and instead rested on the broken window. He saw the top of the sweatshirt bundle bump lightly against the jagged edge of the glass and then he saw the three pairs of grubby hands that shot out to seize it. Though it was hard to tell at this distance, he thought he saw my sister squeeze one of the hands encouragingly before it disappeared back inside.
As my sister left the warehouse that night, she did not know that the men were no longer following her. She tugged her sweatshirt back on as she headed back towards the subway station with a sense of relief because she had successfully completed another outing. If my sister had known what had happened at the warehouse after she had left, she might have been tempted to jump in front of the train as it roared into the station.
My sister left Tulley Circle and headed back to her living quarters. On the way, she happened to come across a small fortune: Someone had dropped their ration booklet in the street. My sister picked it up and straightened, looking around for a full ten seconds. She needn’t have looked because no one was around to see her, even after she slipped the booklet into her pants pocket. About fifty meters away from her living quarters, she remembered that she had not reactivated her earrings. She was certain that they had not been able to track her on her journey to the warehouse, and she was right. But the men who had followed her did not need the earrings.
Using the ration booklet she had found in the street, my sister decided the next day to call upon a favor with a man she knew who worked for the supermarket. He smuggled her two loaves of fresh bread and 250 grams of butter along with a liter of milk. The man at the supermarket knew about the Haven, but my sister trusted him (wrongly so) and picked up her things to take to the warehouse the next night. She used the backpack this time because the jug of milk and the two loaves of bread were too bulky to fit under her sweater.
As my sister once again disabled her earrings at Tulley Circle, she made the trip alone. There was no one there to follow her, no one there to question her, no one there to wonder why an Educated woman was leaving so late at night. If she had known, if only she had known, she might have tossed the backpack of food into the river and never boarded the Tulley Circle train again.
My sister stopped at the same stretch of warehouse as she always did, right beneath the shattered window. She hummed the song to let them know she was coming and then with some difficulty hoisted the backpack into the air. Because the backpack was so big, she could not see the hands that grabbed it, but if she had, they might have caused her to turn and run. Instead, what my sister felt was a rough hand, larger than her own, grab her wrist and before she could jerk away, she felt the snap of a cold ring of metal on her skin.
The man without a beard got his wish from the previous night. He got to watch as my sister whipped around with one loop of the handcuffs on her left wrist. He got to watch the way her eyes expanded and he got to watch the fearful step she took backward, causing her to bump into the warehouse wall. He expected her to scream as he grabbed her, forced her face first against the wall and finished handcuffing her wrists, but my sister made no noise. The man could not see her face, but my sister’s eyes were wide with terror and her mouth was open in a soundless scream.
My sister didn’t make a sound as she was pulled away from the wall. The clean shaven man expected her to shout and dig her heels into the earth, but she did neither. He was temporarily surprised because that was what everybody did once they were caught. He didn’t know that my sister was not like him. He led my sister around the side of the warehouse and to one of those big doors that lifted up from the ground. The door was open and the inside of the warehouse was dark.
The man hesitated for the briefest moment as he stepped up to the threshold. He wondered if he had the ability to lead my sister towards what awaited her. But the feeling was so fleeting in his mind, he hardly paid it any attention. If he had been a weaker man, it might have taken root in his heart altogether.
It took about two hundred steps to get from the door to the broken window. My sister counted them off silently in her head, never missing one. The man holding her arm stumbled slightly in the dark at one point, but still my sister kept walking. It almost seemed as if she was leading him into the pressing darkness at the back of the Haven.
My sister winced and flinched backward, bumping into the man behind her and bringing both of them to a stop. My sister had not wished for many things in her life, but when blinked away the tears caused by the sudden light, she wished that she would have had the mercy of being born blind so that she might have been spared the horror of what greeted her. All along the grease-stained concrete were smears and splatters of something dark and ominous. The smell of metal was heavy and sharp in the air and as my sister’s eyes adjusted further, she saw that the smears were dull, reddish brown in nature. The floor was littered with what looked like snakes, but when my sister looked closer she saw that they were ratty hair ribbons, some of them still half-tied as if they had been ripped out of the hair of the people who had worn them. Pieces of paper were mixed in the assortment of rubbish that coated the floor; some of them had big, stained footprints on them, footprints of men that did not belong here.
The man with the beard had been anticipating my sister’s arrival since he had followed her on her last excursion. He rarely dreamed, but during the nights leading up to this moment, he had imagined what my sister’s reaction would be. Sometimes, he pictured her falling to the floor in a moment of insanity, screaming and thrashing about as if the sight was too much for her to bear. Other times, he imagined anger twisting her lovely face as she spit at his feet and screamed curses at him. His preference, however, was what she was giving him now. Straight-faced silence with her swiftly coursing tears being the only indication that she was aware of what had happened to the children in her Haven.
Slowly, her eyes never leaving the man with the beard, my sister lowered herself to her knees. Leaning forward, she pressed her forehead against the cold concrete and felt the brush of a ribbon close to her face. She gently placed a kiss on the stained stone before she heard a clap of thunder and knew no more.