It has been a while since I’ve posted anything. Here’s the first two chapters of a story I’ve been rewriting off and on for a while.
Chapter One – The Circle
The circle, which looks more like a giant wheel fallen over on its side, lies just outside the southern compound. Scattered around it are enclosed, canopied seats, most broken and unusable, but one or two are still somewhat intact. Adira comes here at least three times a week—sometimes alone but usually to meet Tarak. Today she marches over a half mile of overgrown weeds and grass, debris and glass from fallen and forgotten buildings, and the occasional wild critter. Though it is only four in the afternoon, the sky is blanketed in thick black clouds. Wind carries the scent of rain not too far off, and leaves goose bumps over her pale skin. She hugs her arms and trudges forward.
Tarak’s silhouette comes into view as Adria approaches. Against the darkening sky he looks like a statue, arms and chest noticeably well-muscled from years of physical labor. A flash of lightening in the sky brightens her view of him—dark copper skin and green eyes momentarily visible—and she smiles back at the smile he wears.
“I wondered if you were going to make it. I thought your shift ended at noon.” Tarak holds out his hands to grasp hers, helping her up.
“It did, but then they picked me for a random inspection.” Adira rolls her eyes. “You’d think they would realize I’m not a spy after the last thousand inspections.”
Tarak shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. They want others to see them do it so no one will get any ideas.” He leads her along the circle’s edge to their spot. This particular seat is wedged between two other seats, propped up in the back by the edge of the wheel. Its canopy leans slightly to one side, but it offers enough cover to keep them relatively dry when it rains. Tarak grips Adria’s hand as she steps down.
Once they are beside one another, she feels more comfortable. Wrapped in his arms is like hugging pure warmth. Heat radiates from his skin as though it is meant as a natural heater. He sighs as he sits back with an arm draped over her shoulder. “We only have two hours.”
“I know.” She frowns but not where he can see it. “I think Mother knows.”
Tarak is uncomfortably silent for a few seconds. He looks away, those haunted, green eyes scanning the jagged horizon. “It’s better that she doesn’t,” he says at last.
“Maybe, but that won’t stop her from finding out.” Adira looks up at him. His jaw flexes, the scar on his cheek dancing with it. “Something else is bothering you.” She pulls away. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m just…thinking.” He faces her.
His lips do not fully commit to his vain attempt at a grin. Instead they shiver near the peak of their upward turn. Even his nose seems to disagree with him—wide nostrils flaring as he waits for Adira’s reply. “I know that look, Tarak. What are you not telling me?”
Tarak sighs. “How do you do that?”
Adira doesn’t answer. She crosses her arms and narrows her eyes.
“Fine,” he says—a deep, guttural groan coats his tone. “I’m just worried. I—”
He stops and draws a deep breath. “I love you too much. I want to be with you all the time. I can’t stop myself from thinking about you all day. I’ve got this stupid smirk on my face while committee guards are screaming at me to get back to work. Do you know how I’m supposed to explain that? Some of the guys at work even call me ‘Smiley’ now. If we aren’t careful…” He swallows. “I can’t lose you, Addie.”
Adira tries to prevent the smile drawing across her face. She should worry. She should share in his fears, but all she can think is… “You love me?”
Tarak chuckles. “Of course I love you. What kind of revelation is that?”
“You’ve never said it.”
He’s silent again, but this time his jaw is relaxed, eyes bright, lips naturally turned upward. His fingers intertwine with hers as he grabs her hands again. “I guess I’m realizing I should say it.”
A distant rumble immediately follows his words, as though the storm agrees with him. Adira leans forward, just inches from his full lips. Before they can fall into a deep kiss, Tarak freezes. His eyes grow dark again, and his jaw clenches.
Adira jumps at the start of a booming voice and looks around. Small, round beams of light surround them, moving with the motions of the guards who wield them. “You are out of bounds, citizens. Come out with your hands where we can see them.”
“How did they—”
“Just do what they say,” he whispers. A subtle shudder is in his voice now.
They stand together, Tarak ducking as he exits and reaches for Adira’s hand.
“I said hands where we can see them, citizen!”
Tarak sighs and retracts his offer to help Adira out. Both his hands rise over his head, but she hesitates to step up onto the circle.
He eyes her for just a moment before looking straight ahead toward one of the beams of light. “My apologies, guard. I did not realize it had grown so late.” He shifts into his formal tone, the one he half-mockingly uses when speaking to anyone of authority.
“This will be marked as an infraction on your conduct report. How many does that make, Tarak?” The committee guards chuckle in response.
Adira starts to climb out, but as she does, Tarak flinches. A quick twitch of his head indicates she should remain, and so she stops.
“Come on, Tarak. That’s another night in the Committee’s Holding Tower for you.”
“And what of his friend?” Another guard stands opposite the one in front of Tarak, one he and Adira hadn’t seen. “She’s a pretty one. Don’t think I’ve seen her copy.”
Tarak shakes his head. “That is my friend. She isn’t at fault here. I wanted her to see this place.”
“When you have a say in who is at fault, I’ll be turning in my uniform.” The committee guard—the one who appears to have the authority—steps closer and peers below the tilted canopy where Adira stands. “What’s your name, citizen?”
Her head swims, throat constricts, and she draws a sharp breath. “I’m…Adira.” She looks up at Tarak, tears prickling the inner-corner of her eyes as she watches his jaw flex like he means to crush his own teeth. “I’m sorry, sirs. I meant no harm.”
“Intention has no bearing on punishment. You’ll come with us.” The committee guard who stands behind Tarak moves forward, a punishing rod in hand.
It is then, as lightening strikes not more than a mile from them, that time seems to crawl. Adira falls back in her sudden fright when energy wages war against matter and shatters the uncomfortable conversation. When she opens her eyes again, Tarak is moving, and the guards are on top of him. Punishing rods ping and ding as they swing them wildly, hitting Tarak in the abdomen, legs, arms, chest…everywhere.
“Stop!” Adira’s voice is lost in another thunder clap. She scrambles up onto her feet, only to collide with a hard, unyielding body. The black uniform makes him almost invisible in the storm’s darkness. It is when the sky lights up, can she make out the guard standing inside the small space with her. His face twists into a sinister expression, made more so by the sporadic flashes of lightening.
“Pretty little citizen, trapped in here with me. Not to worry. My methods of punishment are fun.” He wraps a giant hand around her throat and squeezes. “At least for me.”
Adira sputters as she instinctively reaches up to pull his hand away. There is no reward for her effort however. Instead, he squeezes harder—so much so that she feels her eyes start to bulge, her temples pulse more slowly, and her mind beginning to darken. The world around her is nearly black when she feels herself flying backward. A hard surface greets her head, and then everything stops.
Chapter Three – A Woman with no Name
This is where she will die, she thinks. This cold room with gray walls, no comforts to speak of. She stares up into darkness until daylight filters through one small window. It is too far from the floor for her to peer out. Occasionally she sees a black bird flitting past. When it rains she sits below it with her hands cupped. It tastes of dirt and sweat, though not enough to drown the stench wafting from the bucket in the far corner.
The door, a massive impenetrable barrier to the outside world, moans as metal grinds against metal. She looks up, but only half-committed. In this place, she must hide her desire to be free, hide any desperation. Otherwise, Samael will use it, and she will find herself teetering on the edge of giving in. No. She will not allow this. Her secrets will remain her own, and her name will remain unspoken.
“Tired of wasting away in here?” His voice is calm, almost playful in its tone and rhythm. He steps slowly, as though he enjoys the echoes of his own footfalls, listening to the cadence of intimidation.
She refuses to answer. Her voice is weak, and that can only make her sound weak. Perhaps she is, but he has no business knowing that. She eyes the floor again, the dust and grainy concrete that has scuffed her hands and knees for weeks.
Samael stops beside her so that she can just make out the toe of his boot. She bites her lip and tenses, expecting that toe to kiss her cheek at any moment.
“Come now, Chloe…is that what you are going by now? I forget. You have so many names it is difficult to keep up.”
She squeezes her eyes closed and clenches her fists. No one has called her Chloe in years. She has no name now…deserves no name.
There is a deep sigh coated in a groan, which Samael deliberately uses to show his impatience. For him, it is his way of warning her. “Well, it displeases me to say that The Committee has ordered me to free you this day. I told them you were on the verge of spilling your secrets, but they refused to listen.”
She almost smiles. He must know that would not get her to speak.
Broken concrete grinds and pebbles pop. She opens her eyes to see he’s knelt beside her.
“Well?” He reaches out and lifts her chin, which she promptly pulls away. There is a brief moment of silence before he chuckles. “Fine. Stay here if you like. I’m not allowed to close the door, so leave whenever you wish.”
She watches as he rises and walks away, and as he said, the door is left open. The echoes of his footsteps grow quieter as he moves farther away from her cell. She remains, unmoving.