The following three chapters of text come from a fantasy/dystopian novel that Claire McLeod in Year 11 is busy writing, and has written for most of the last calendar year. Enjoy.
Alex woke up and groaned. When you get a knock on the door at 2am in the morning, it almost certainly brings bad news. She knew this, but answered the door anyway. She didn’t know who it was, but if it was who she suspected it might be, for all the trouble answering the door would bring, ignoring it would bring more. She supposed it was the lesser of two evils.
She was average size for her age, and liked adventurous and dangerous activities. She loved a challenge. She liked to wear clothes that she could move in, and despised any dresses or skirts of any kind. Right now, she was in dark blue loose pajamas, and groggily spoke to the stranger on the other side of the threshold. She knew he was from the Institute, but that didn’t really do much to wake her up, even though it should have done.
“Hello?” She tried to appear awake, but failed miserably.
“Come to the Institute.” No emotion, no feelings. Nothing was in that voice whatsoever. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, but in her groggy state, it was a shock. And definitely not a good one.
“Now?” Alex was now wide awake, and the man had her full attention. Naturally, she didn’t know who they were. That was the Institute’s way of doing things, and everyone had to accept it, whether they liked it or not.
“No. 9:30 this morning. Don’t be late.” With that, they walked away.
She sighed, shut the door, and trudged wearily up the stairs, climbing into bed with another sigh to accompany her actions. Of course they had to come over at 2am. It would have been great if they’d have had something called a ‘ phone’, but, of course, they were all destroyed in the crash that got them to where they are today. On Icarus, the Earth a distant memory.
“Are you awake?”
Alex waited, but there was no response.
Slowly falling back to sleep, her thoughts filled with the visit that held so much promise, but so much dread.
Light streamed through all the carefully cleaned and shining windows, but never got to the floor.
The sun was shining brightly, the wind was blowing gently, and the plants were in full bloom. The sky was a scene from a beautiful painting – but inside the building, and on the ground, it was a different world altogether. Even as time passed, nothing was able to penetrate the mass of people that were simply there. They invaded every nook and cranny, every corner and ledge, every available space possible, and then some. Nothing ever ceased to move. Everyone had a different purpose and no-one would let anyone else stop them. People alike arrived and were gone, seemingly faster than the eye could follow. The squeaking of shoes was like a cry for help, a pitiful cry in the overwhelming chaos that no-one would ever listen to. There had been attempts to slow things down with plants, barriers, shops and benches, however they were largely ignored and regarded as an inconvenience, nothing more.
However, breaking the physics laws of the building, one person was still in all the madness – they were another inconvenience, not too big to be anything but looked at, but not small enough for the crowd to ignore. Nothing more, nothing less. Alex stood rooted to the spot, desperately trying to face what was ahead.
She managed to walk across the room into the outside world, but this had changed from the morning’s painting. It was now controlled pandemonium, if such a thing was even possible. She fought viciously over to the building opposite, expending some of her carefully built up strength. She was met with a welcoming blast of cool air and the music she most loved – silence. Not many people did, but Alex liked silence, because she could hear everything. She was safer in silence. It was her friend, along with darkness. It was dark at night, and she loved to slip out and survey the orderly mess of the city. Having very good vision, she felt comfortable, and she could be peaceful without being disturbed.
However, she knew she couldn’t stay there.
“Jesse, I’m at the Institute. I’m about to go in.”
“Ok Alex, I’ll talk to you when you come out. Remember, whatever you do, don’t talk to me when you’re inside in case they get any indication as to the power we have.” They had managed to keep their power hidden from the Institute for so long, they didn’t want them to find out now.
“Agreed. See you on the other side.”
The Institute was a place of melancholic darkness, where people with ‘powers’ were monitored. They were not taken in, but they had to go to weekly meetings, and anyone who had them, or even anyone who worked for them (even if they were ‘normal’) were under constant surveillance. The Institute claimed it was to help people use their powers and not become a threat to society, but some people thought that was total nonsense, Alex and Jesse included. However, they were the power in the South, so no-one dared challenge them and was seen again. No-one remembered what it was like without them in power – they had built a life after the crash. Most people just accepted it as life.
As well as this, they owned all the science businesses in the country. It was a large criminal offence to be a scientist and not report to the Institute – so great it apparently merited the death penalty.
Also owned by them was all the schools. This was probably why they called themselves ‘The Institute’ – they were the only source of any education. They were all the institutes. They had immense power over everyone’s lives.
It was obviously corrupt, but there was no evidence of this inside – there were cream walls and a white ceiling, with a plush carpet. They were showing off their money too, for they had ornately designed leather seats in one corner. It was meant to look perfectly normal, which is actually what creeped most people out, she supposed, because everyone knew this was not at all anywhere near normal.
Alex took all this in and then sat down carefully in one of those seats, being careful to keep a white blanket in the psychic area of her mind – one of the things that she had practiced with Jesse.
After about an hour of waiting, something they liked to do to either intimidate or show power over people, Alex was called into the office of the Director – the Head of the Institute. He was tall, with dark eyes and light hair, and was fairly muscular, creating intimidation with his posture alone, never mind with his facial expressions.
She took a glance around the office, and noticed that, unlike anywhere she’d seen in the Institute, it was furnished. It wasn’t furnished like all the other places, but it had a hint of the Director’s personality. She didn’t have time to consider what this meant, because the Director decided to get straight to the point, and motioned for Alex to sit down. However, he started speaking before Alex could do so.
“You are here because we have a use for you. You are going to be a spy for us.”
“Why… why do you need a spy? What for?” She was immensely confused, but managed to rein her emotions so they didn’t show in her voice.
“We have heard you are rather good at sneaking around, and we have a job for you…“
Another half an hour later and she emerged from the building with full details of what she needed to do, and immediately contacted Jesse and told him everything.
“So I don’t know if you can help me because the Institute will be watching. We don’t want to give them any indication at all about what we have. Plus they told me not to tell anyone – I could think of any number of things they might do if they found out you knew, and none of them are particularly pleasant.”
“I don’t care. You must be mental if you think I’m going to watch you go over the Wall without any protection. They’re making you go pretty much ON YOUR OWN. That’s suicide!” The Wall was what it was called – a wall. However, it wasn’t just a wall, it was The Wall. It was the barrier between the North and the South. Not of the continent, but of the world. Between the two powers – the Institute, and the Other. Its name was unknown, for the Institute had withheld it. Separating them was a physical barrier in all the lands, and there were constant patrols across the sea. It was possible to sneak over, but very few were successful, and most didn’t come back. It was the most dangerous mission possible for Alex to be given, and both of them knew it. “You can’t!” Except she had to.
“Jesse, I’ve got to do it. I don’t particularly like it either, but that’s the way it is.”
“Can’t you at least take Az? He’s trained.”
“They’re giving me Ben to go with. They took him into the meeting and he looks like he’d be alright in a situation. Besides, they said he was trained.”
“Trained my -”
“I know what you feel about their training, but it’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”
“I suppose.” Jesse sighed down their bond.
“Why don’t you come over? We can talk, even if it isn’t about this. I’ve got 2 hours before I need to be back.”
“Ok. See you in 5. And I’m bringing cake.”
“Yes!” Alex loved cake – who didn’t? And Jesse’s cake was way better than anything you could find in a shop. Once you’d tasted his cake, you never wanted to eat shop-bought cake ever again.
It was late evening. People piled out of their various buildings and swarmed into the street, the chill breeze helping them along their way. Despite living in opposite areas to each other, they mainly behaved like a pack: directed by the paths, they all hurried in the same direction. Despite the fact that it was the city, they were behaving like animals travelling across a plain. The pack was faster than the trail – the rain was forcing the swarm forever onwards. Not one made a sound, or at least an audible one. If they heard heeled shoes screech across the rain-covered surfaces, this was the only sound that was discernible from above the rain, but it was far from peaceful – some vicious things took advantage of this and behaved like cats trying to survive, pouncing every so often on the lone members of the pack and taking advantage of their preoccupied state. Meanwhile, the glistening golden leaves heaped on the side, unwanted and unknown.
She couldn’t be seen in the middle of the pack, in a large, light brown overcoat and black boots, where she trudged along, completely immersed in her own thoughts. Amazingly, she was still fully aware of her surroundings, and all the little details that came with it. In the pack, she was a survivor. Something glimmered in the piercing lights so she swiftly shot her attentive eyes up to find a sparkling leaf land on her clumping hair, teeming with water. Flicking it off impatiently, she glanced around furtively, to find that no-one, as hoped, was paying her even the slightest bit of attention. Good. She had a job to do.
She was glad for the crowd – she had picked the right time – because they were hiding her, and no-one would give her a second glance. Unbeknownst to her, there was a menacing figure closing in behind her, the crowd being the only reason she didn’t see this predator.
BANG! Thankfully, it was trigger happy. The pack screamed and ran for their lives in unison, screeching around corners, swarming into the sidestreets, congregating in safety. They were here, there, and everywhere; it was like a wildlife park. Despite the numbers, they all managed incredible speeds.
Alex ran like the wind along with the pack, scattering the broken leaves and dodging the fatigued people scampering home. She was going to make it! She was going to make it back, where they wouldn’t find her. She could go another time. It was impossible to see her in this crowd – there were too many other beings, and she blended in with them all. She would …THUD. Damn. The earlier figure tackled her and she didn’t even have time to lift so much as a finger before she was bundled into the building, a bag hastily shoved over her head – which did the trick. She struggled, but the bag disorientated a person, so they couldn’t fight back effectively, unless they could hear, which she couldn’t. Of course. They turned what she’d been told was the perfect night against her. Hopefully the crowd would notice her…. Or not. The pack has to keep running even if one is down. If they noticed her, they didn’t seem to care; it was everyone for themselves.
The bag was whipped off abruptly, and she tensed, ready for a fight. Blinding her, the light shot from the powerful bulb hanging above her, tantalisingly close, yet miles away. Her vision soon came back and her eyes adjusted to the not at all surprising but still largely unwelcome sight before her. She wasn’t supposed to have been seen – what went wrong?
“How are you?” Pleasantries. As always. He sickened her, and she fought for control over her emotions, wanting to know what was going to happen. She spoke in a slightly flat voice, not wanting to give away her emotions.
“I am well, you?” Unfortunately, she had to add that last part, for they wouldn’t get anywhere otherwise.
“I suppose you know why you’re here?” She refrained from giving a response, and instead took the chance to glance around the room, taking it all in, while mere seconds had passed since Haydn had asked the question. She had always had a fairly photographic memory. Uninteresting grey walls, dirty white ceiling, no decoration of any kind whatsoever. She was sitting on a hard but comfortable wooden chair in front of the three people – one of them Haydn – and they were at a table full to the brim with mouth-watering food. Her own mouth started to water – she was starving – so she glanced away to the window, also filthy, before looking back at him.
She wanted answers, reasons as to why she was here, but he wouldn’t give them, so instead she bit her lip and sat there, defiantly silent. Alex didn’t know why she was here, but if Haydn knew that, he would exploit her morbid curiosity until she found out, and put herself at more of a disadvantage than she already was doing so. Alex really wished this hadn’t have been her first part of her assignment, or even part of her task at all, but sadly there was nothing she could do. He apparently had important information that could jeopardise the whole mission, especially the secrecy, and she had to make sure he stayed silent. One way or another…
She decided to wait until they got fed up and left the room – locking the door as they went – and crept over to the window. She was bright, but it didn’t take a genius to calculate that if she jumped out the window, she would badly injure herself, and they would take her back inside again. She scanned the room for anything that was useful. A cupboard! That she hasn’t seen before. Running over, she discovered it was locked, but the key was left in the door on the other side – idiots. Grabbing a hairpin from her pocket, she poked the key out. It made a noise hitting the floor and she froze, terrified that they would come back and find her. Hearing nothing from the other door, she grabbed a book and ripped a page out, working faster now. On her way over, she stuffed some food in her mouth, as she didn’t know if her escape attempt would be successful or not. The book page, 42, was slid under the door and the key onto the page, and the whole thing was taken back onto the useful side of the door.
“What’s up?” The voice came, shattering the silence.
“Your shields are down.”
“Oh. Right. Hang on.”
Promptly reinstating her shields and then putting her mind back to work, Alex slid into the room, and was delighted to discover it was a bedroom. She took the sheets and tied them together, still opting for the window route as she had less chance of being seen. They got fastened to the seemingly secure radiator, and she shimmied rather quickly down, afraid the radiator would break. The leaves still glistened at the side of the pavement, but she ran behind a wall paying no heed to them, petrified that someone would see her and give chase. Alex was also afraid that it had been set up – it was almost too easy to escape. She hid behind the wall to make sure no-one was following.
If she’d have looked the other way for a second, she would have seen a figure bolt towards the house. “Haydn, she’s escaped!”
“Good, good,” came the arrogant response. “I knew she would…”
“Do you think she can hear us?”
“No.” Coming dangerously close to the wall she was hidden behind, Haydn replied. “She’ll have legged it home by now. Nevertheless, she knows we want her, and we now know her skill. We’ll be ready for her next time.”
Alex longed to jump from behind the wall at him, but knew that wouldn’t help her at all, and they would know she knew they had wanted her to escape. Now they knew what she could do. Haydn 1, Alex 0.
Instead of doing something reckless, she waited until she was sure he had gone, and then calmly walked home. She worried the entire way that someone was trailing her, but she knew it would have been easier for someone to spot and follow her if she was running. She would have stood out from the crowd. She also knew it probably was a better idea to find out what they wanted now, as they wouldn’t be expecting her, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
She settled into her room, and waited for someone to come. However, much to her delight, no-one came, so she was, for the moment, safe. Or as safe as she could be, so she decided to contact Jesse.
“What went wrong?”
“I’m not sure yet. One of them saw me and fired at me, and scattered the crowd, but they found me…” Once she had finished telling the story in more detail, Jesse finally replied.
“Ok, well you’re out now, that’s what matters. We can figure out what went wrong later, but for now you’d better just stay indoors. I don’t think they were following you, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m coming round – see you soon.”
“But won’t they know if you come in here?”
“That doesn’t matter if they don’t know that I know. If they know they’ll have me to answer to. Besides, you’re worried and I don’t want you to be alone.”
“Thanks. Ok, I’ll see you soon.”
Written by Claire McLeod
Images courtesy of David Clarke, John Salvino, Ian Battaglia, and Kin Li @unsplash.com