The Fallen

Imagine a world where anything you do wrong – from detonating a dirty bomb in a kindergarten, to murder, to theft, all the way to running a red-light or returning a library book late – will result instant, merciless death. In the world of the Fallen, the death penalty has spiraled massively out of control, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Fallon McKenna, the adopted daughter of two rich government politicians, was raised in a sheltered life, protected from the fear and pain that surrounded her.
But all that changes when she meets Viper. He’s alluring and charismatic. And he’s dangerous. Viper knows the real truth behind the system that has the world split in half, and he’s fighting to bring it down. Now Fallon must make a choice. Will she bend before the fear that overwhelms her, or stand with Viper and fight… and fall.

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            “Rise and shine, princess. Time to get up.” A vaguely familiar hand shakes me awake, but I’m way too out of it to respond. Even when I try to speak – to tell the girl to leave me the hell alone, actually – my tongue doesn’t move. I just feel mired in the sludgy muck of the medication.

            As if sensing my thoughts, Viper’s voice sounds from a few feet away. “She’s totally gone, B. Sorry, probably shouldn’t have given her such a high dose, but I felt bad. I mean, that was a wicked fight, I have to say, but little girls shouldn’t beat each other up.”

            “I’ll show you a wicked fight,” I try to say. It comes out sounding mushed, like a mouthful of marbles, but still clear enough to understand, I think. I try to push the hands away, and for once they actually obey me.

            “Thank god.” There’s a pause and then, “Making threats is a good thing, it means she’s coming around.”

            “I know you. How do I know you? Who are you?” My voice is a little better this time, the words distinguishable. That voice, that hand. I know them from somewhere. I can feel the familiarity tugging at me, reminding me of something I’d forgotten. Something I’d lost. I open my eyes, but the world is too bright. I can see vague silhouettes above me. A man and a woman, I think, judging by height and build. I think that the boy must be Viper, because that was his voice I heard. The girl is tall-ish, with long hair tied back into a braid. As things slowly come into focus, I’m struck by the way her eyes change from brown to green whenever I look at them.

            The specific details don’t coalesce. I can see the pieces, but not the picture. My mind cannot comprehend what I’m seeing, cannot understand it. “Bailey?” My right hand comes up and touches her arm, but she doesn’t disappear. She smiles at me, and suddenly it’s like she never left. I try to block out the world as her arms come around me, as I clutch to her jacket and let the tears come. But I can feel a throbbing, agonizing pain in my arm and the burning warmth of Viper’s gaze. “Bailey, where are we?”

            “Safe. That’s all that matters.” Her words are meant to sooth me, but they don’t. I want to be home, not locked in some damp, dingy room waiting to die. My tears come again, faster now. More hysterical.

            “I want to go home. I want to go home, Bailey. Please, please can we go home.”

            It’s Viper who responds. “This is your home now, Fallon. This place is safe for you, I promise. No one will hurt you here.”

            I wrench myself out of Bailey’s arms, registering the faint look of shock and hurt in her eyes. But she doesn’t get to be the one feeling betrayed right now. “This place will never be my home. This place will never be safe. I want to leave. Bailey, please come with me. Please,” I beg, scooting back away from where my sister and captor are kneeling beside each other. I don’t miss the look they share.

            “Fallon, there’s something we need to talk about,” Bailey says as she moves toward me again. My eyes don’t leave Viper’s face until I see him stand slowly and push through a door I hadn’t noticed in the wall. As soon as he’s gone I let my sister come close again, let her rest her fingers on my arm and sooth me. The miracle of seeing her alive is too much for me, and I feel the ache in my throat that preludes another round of sobs.

            “I thought you were dead. Where were you?” My question comes out harsher than I intended, and I wish I could take it back when she winces. But Bailey doesn’t back away, doesn’t run from the question. For the first time in months, someone looks me in the eye and answers my question.

            “That house was stifling me, Fallon. I’d have taken you with me if I could, but it would have been too conspicuous. No, I had to let you escape on your own. But I made V promise that he’d take care of you when you did.”

            “You chose to leave me? Us? And what? You and Viper on nickname basis now? Last time I checked it was considered a psychological symptom when people become friends with their kidnappers.”

            Bailey’s look is solid and steady. Sane. “I chose to leave. I didn’t like it, leaving you all trapped there, but it had to be done. But now you are here, and you need to know about the world. Because everything you think you know is wrong.

            “Listen to me, Fallon. Everything Mom and Dad taught you is seen through a colored lens of half-truth and outright lie. The world isn’t what they say, and neither are all the people in it. Now I’m willing to admit that some people are monsters, that some people deserve to die. But not everyone. The way things are going, innocent people are dying by the hundreds. So I came here, and I joined Viper’s army, and I’m trying to do something good and worthwhile for once in my godforsaken, sheltered life. I’m trying to make a difference.”

            I just look at her like she’s crazy, because I think she is. Viper must have brainwashed her into thinking this. I mean, he’s had her for months now, so he’s had plenty of time. I feel a wash of sorrow and grief for the sister that I’ve lost. My Bailey’s gone forever now, and she isn’t coming back. They didn’t kill her, true, but they took everything that made her Bailey away. Now she is just an empty shell of a woman, waiting to die. Waiting to fall apart from the inside as the corruption eats her soul away.

            “They said that the world was dangerous, but I honestly never believed it. I never believed that there was anything that bad out here. I guess I was wrong. There really are monsters who can steal your soul, fiends who can suck your spirit away. Aren’t there, Bay?”

            Bailey lets out a sad sigh and shakes her head. “We are not your enemies. Trust me, if only for old times’ sake. Trust me, and trust my friends. They’re not all bad. You’ll see.” And with that, my once-sister stands up and pads wordlessly toward the door. Unlike Viper, she doesn’t push through immediately. She pauses, and uses her knuckles to rap a strange little pattern on the door. A moment later, it opens and she’s gone.

            Curiosity gets the better of me then, and I push myself to my feet. My left arm hangs lifeless and limp in a sling around my arm, but it doesn’t hurt that much. Whatever painkiller they gave me is still in effect, at least for now. When I get to the door, I try turning the handle but it doesn’t budge. I try throwing my weight against it, but it doesn’t move. I’m trapped. When I knock, unlike for Bailey, it doesn’t open.

            I turn away from the door in disgust. They can pretend all they want, but I’m still a prisoner here. I’m still locked in a dimly lit stone room, waiting for whatever they decide to do to or with me. When I survey the cell, I realize that it’s nothing like the one I’d shared with Wendi earlier. This room is small and dark, true, but it’s nicely  furnished. There’s a cot, with a pillow and quilt, and a desk. A mirror, table, chairs, and a stack of drawers round out the room. Two different door lead out, besides the one Viper and Bailey left out of.

            The one on the far side of the room leads into a remarkably clean, sterile bathroom. A fresh set of bandages and some antiseptic still sit on the counter, waiting for me to use them. The other door – the one in the wall beside the desk – leads into a small walk-in closet. There are a few changes of clothes, mostly generic and shapeless shirts and pants combos. A few nice things catch my eye. A floor-length silk dress the color of Viper’s eyes, with matching heels. A short clinging dress of the same material but in red. A pair of stylishly ripped black jeans so like the ones I’d left behind in my own closet that I knew Bailey was involved. But my favorite things are the pair of knee-high lace-up black boots and the plain black shirt with a hood. They fit my mood perfectly.

            I close the door to the closet and plunge the tiny space into complete darkness. Now that I’m sure I’m alone, I let myself truly break down. My tears with Bailey were just a foreshadowing of what I release now. The raw, ragged sobs that force their way up my throat were never meant to be made by a human. They sound guttural and animal, like a dying beast. They are the sound of a broken and lost soul, mourning for a life that was lost before it had a chance to live. They are the sound of the despair I feel knowing that, no matter what I do, I will only hold on to myself for a little while longer. Because Bailey was the strongest – and the best – of us, and she’s gone. She’s lost herself completely.

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