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A Fresh World (Ch 2)

The next week and a half goes by rather slowly. Every time I pass the Exit fence, I shudder. That place still gives me the creeps. I always feel as if I’m being watched; yet if I turn around nothing will be there. I tell myself that it’s all nonsense and that there is just too much tension between everyone, but I still can’t shake the mysterious feeling of eyes pricking at the back of my neck, willing me to turn around. The scenery among the battered streets accents the lifestyle of its residents. Not only does this affect the Rebels, but also the Keepers use it to scare the rest of us to avoid any more conflict. They do a good job too.

On Friday after school, Casey and I walk back to her house for a haircut before the ceremony on Saturday. Afterwards, Casey and I sit in her room to talk. These are the only times alone we ever get. My father doesn’t like company. Personally, I think it makes Casey uncomfortable when she comes over to my house too. I sit at her desk chair while she talks on and on about the ceremony and whom she thinks will transfer to the Rebel side. I twirl around in the chair while she talks until I begin to feel sick to my stomach.

“I wish that people in our school wouldn’t be so down on the Rebels, just because they’re different.”

“The Rebels scare me.” I say.

“Why?” She asks.

I think about this for a second. For one, they tend to make fun me for my father. I think, but I don’t voice that thought.

“I’m not sure. They seem so much braver because they want to be different from the rest of us. I wish the Ordinaries wouldn’t just sit around and do nothing.” My mind is running a mile a minute and I can’t stop things from coming out of my mouth.

“I’m tired of hearing about murder every single morning when I wake up. I’m tired of people making fun of me for who my dad is. I know he’s a monster and a murderer, and I can’t do anything about it.” I gasp a little bit at my last words. I know it’s true, I was just too afraid to put it into words. I glance at Casey, who just stares at me as though I’ve killed someone. I can tell I’ve made her uneasy.

“I know.” She says, quietly. I almost don’t hear her say it. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, or maybe I do and I just don’t want to accept it.

“I wish things were different too, but we’d be killed for thinking it could be.” She says.

“Maybe,” I say. “I should go.” I can’t stand talking about my father this way, no matter if it’s true. He’s still my father. Casey nods, but still only sits there on her bed. I smile a little to comfort her, and myself. It has little affect on both of us, so I turn and leave her.

I walk down the street thinking about what was said, and what was left unsaid. Everyone knows my father is a tyrant and a murderer, so why does it hurt to hear it put into words? The Rebels kill too, but only because they feel threatened. Like a snake strikes when it’s frightened, the Rebels do the same. It’s unnecessary pain. The Keepers are power-hungry and will step on anyone to get what they want. Maybe my dad isn’t the one in charge, but he is just as responsible for the death and destruction as everyone else who works there. I miss being younger and not knowing what my dad was talking about, not understanding why my mom would cry after she thought Ryan and I were in bed. I wish I didn’t live here, but I know that I’m too afraid to go anywhere else.

Conveniently, I look up and see the old electric fence staring me in the face. The Exit. I stop momentarily to study the ruins. It’s so quiet, eerie. Despite the mysteriousness, the scene is strangely beautiful in the setting sun. The orange light from the setting sun bounces off of the hoods of the wrecked cars and touches off of the rusting metal supports. Everything is misshapen, yet lovely. Again, I find myself walking through the gates. I stop myself and am about to leave, when I am aware of someone standing to my left.

“Hey.” She says, harshly.

“I was just leaving.” I say, facing away from her.

“Don’t. Yet.”

“What?” I say, completely caught off guard by this sudden outburst. A week and a half ago she hated me and was eager to scare the heck out of me, and now she wants me to stay?

“I want to apologize for being… rude. And tripping you.” She looks at her feet.

“Thanks. I guess.” I say, awkwardly.

“I need to show you something.” She says, grabbing my hand and pulling me after her. I try and tell her that I have to go home, but she continues to pull me farther down the street. We pass the corner that I turned down to get back to my house and I start to panic. She pulls me to a stop about two blocks away from where we started. I glance at the green street sign: Light Street. The destruction seems to make the street stretch longer than what it should. I count six buildings that have been completely leveled and about twenty more that have holes gaping in their sides. Four police cars create a roadblock up ahead, smashed with layers of brick and plaster. They must be at least 15 years old. Moss has begun to creep up the tires. The paint has also started to peel off, marking its age. Recognition sparks inside my head.

“I know this place. I’ve seen it before.” I say.

“Yeah, probably. Someone was murdered here last week.” She says, very matter-of-factly, like I should already know this. I should. My dad’s colleagues were most likely the cause of it.

“Why did you bring me here?” I ask, turning towards her. She stares out at the broken street ahead for a few minutes and I wonder if she even heard me in the first place.

“President Mackey put in the newspaper three weeks ago that my cousin was killed when he wasn’t even dead. Then he hired a guy to murder him last week to make it look like an accident. For what? you ask. Apparently, he had important information that the Keepers wanted hold of.” She says.

“What information?” I ask. She looks at me, hard and cold.

“Wouldn’t you like to know? The Keepers kill for anything. It could be about the war, it could be about the Rebels, it could even be about Outside. All I know is that my cousin died in order for the Keepers to have more power. It wasn’t worth it.” She starts trembling and I don’t know what to do. I knew that my father took part in many things like this. If the Ordinaries knew all of the details of each murder that took place, the Keepers would have a riot on their hands, despite the neutrality. What better way to keep it silent than hire a hitman and make it look like an accident?

“What does this have to do with me?” I’m scared to know the answer.

“You are the only one who can help us. You hate what the Keepers do to us. I saw it when you came here the last time. You can tell us what your dad is doing. Better yet, you can tell the Rebel leaders what your father and the other Keepers are planning.” She says, crying now and grabbing at my arms. I pull away.

“Whoa. Hold on a second. I can’t take sides in this war. I don’t know anything about what the Keepers have planned. What my father does is wrong, but I can’t betray the rest of my family. They’d be killed, you know that.” She looks up at me again.

“What about Ryan?”

“How do you know about my brother?”

“He’s the leader’s son. Who doesn’t know about that? And what about our families? Everyday we live in fear that the next victim might be one of us.”

I feel bad for them. I can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up to the feeling of not knowing what will happen to them, but I’m not prepared to just open myself up to a group of people like this. I still don’t even know what this girl’s name is.

“Don’t bring Ryan into this. Just because he left doesn’t mean it had anything to do with the murders.”

“Don’t lie. You know this had everything to do with the murders.”

“Well, so what if it did? Maybe he was right to leave.” I raise my voice louder than expected.

“So you do care.” She says. I exhale sharply.

“You have no business talking about my brother and snooping in my business. I disagree with the things our government does, but I am in no place to help you guys. I don’t even know your name. If I help you, I turn my back on my family and I can’t afford that.”
As I turn my back, I think of any way to get away as fast as I possibly can. I don’t remember the exact route she led me through but I try my best. Right. Right. Left. Straight. No, left. Straight. I stop running for a few minutes to catch my breath. I begin to cry. I cry out of confusion and desperation, I cry for Casey’s sake. I cry because of my father and everything he’s done. I cry for this girl that I hardly know. I cry for the Rebels. But most of all, I cry for Ryan. What if that is the reason he left? What if he wasn’t killed like they said he was? That means my brother is out there somewhere.

Finally, I begin walking again. The pain in my legs distracts my thoughts and I focus on that instead. It has started to grow dark and I try to think of an excuse to tell mother why I’m home so late. She will understand if I tell her that Casey’s mother asked me to stay for dinner, but I know she wouldn’t if I told her that I had been wandering around the Exit with a ten year old Rebel. I hate lying to my mother, but I can’t risk my father finding out about it.

Suddenly, I catch movement to my left. I jerk my head to the side, caught off guard. My heart has begun to pound and I’m thinking of all those horrible things that girl told me about what goes on around these streets. At the time I thought they were fake, but now they seem as real as the ground I’m standing on. I keep walking. I see movement and look again to see someone standing there. They have their hood up so I can’t make out any features. He moves toward me and I am frozen to the spot. I find it in me to take a step back. As I do, he lowers his hood and I recognize him as the guy I bumped into a couple weeks ago after I met that girl the first time. I relax a little, but not too much. I still don’t know him. He smiles a little bit, but I am still on edge.

“You look a bit lost.” He says.

“No.” I answer too fast. He laughs, showing perfect, straight teeth.

“Right. So, where you headed?”

“Lantern Lane.” I say, embarrassed. I must look awful. I can picture my bright red nose and tear streaked face.

“You’re a bit out of league.” He says leading me farther down the street.

“Yeah, well I really didn’t have a choice in coming here. I was sort of dragged here.”

“Huh. I’m Jamie Trent. It’s nice to meet you.” He says, almost sarcastically. I can’t find it in me to care. I feel like I can trust him, I just hope that my gut is right to trust him.

“I’m Hudson. Jennifer.” I stumble.

“Which is it?”

“Jenni.” He chuckles.

We walk for a long time. Part of me thinks he’s doing it on purpose just to irritate me, but eventually I see the old electric fence that leads to my street. I sigh with relief.

“Thanks.” I say. He stops and stares down the street.

“See ya.” He replies. I hope not. I think. Before he turns, he does something strange. The American salute that soldiers used to do fifteen years ago. Not as formal, actually, it’s a bit humorous the way he does it. I catch a tattoo spelled over the knuckles of his right hand: LIVE
I slip through the fence and down the street towards my house. Guilt creeps into my mind and plagues my thoughts as I think about lying to my mother. But as I walk into the living room, I find my father sitting in his recliner. I’m startled, but I try not to show alarm on my face. He glances up from his newspaper, and the lamplight glints off of his reading glasses. On the front page is yet another murder taken place among the Rebels. He looks at me with curiosity, so I lie.
“Casey’s mother asked me to stay after dinner.” I say, as smoothly as I can. I think he buys it, because he wishes me an insincere good night and goes back to reading the paper.
I tromp up the stairs, my legs aching from running through the Exit. I open my bedroom door and kick off my shoes to find Chase sitting on my bed with his ratty stuffed dinosaur Dinky. He doesn’t even acknowledge my presence; he simply gazes up at the sky through my window.
“Chasey?” I say, softly. He looks at me with his big glasses and scoots over to free up a space for me to sit. He’s only six but he looks so much smaller now.
“What are you looking at?” He doesn’t answer. “The stars are really pretty tonight, don’t you think?” I look at him and hug him close.
“I miss Ryan.” He says, so quiet I almost don’t hear him at all. I’ve never heard his voice before; I’ve only heard him laugh.
“Me too, buddy.” I say back.
Later, he goes back to his room. I lay back and let darkness claim my body almost immediately.



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