The ShAr

Alina's life had always been like this. Bland. Dull. Hollow. Dot Corp had made sure of that. It affected everything in her life, even her best friend. And Alina hated it. But what if there was a way out? What if there was something that she could do to take a stand? Something stronger than a simple smile, or a kiss on her brother's forehead? Of course, something like this existed, but Alina could never imagine herself being part of it. Sophia had been, and look where that got her. This solution was called The ShAr, short for Shiller's Army. Alina was close to her breaking point, but how far was she willing to go?

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3. Chapter Two- Escape

Chapter Two

 

 

“Hey, Maxxie!” Alina said, throwing an arm around her younger brother’s shoulder. The ache in her throat eased. He was okay. He was here. She had been worried sick for the past twenty minutes, roaming around the schoolyard, looking for him. It was nerve-racking. But, now he was here, and that was all that mattered. The eight year old grinned, and Alina felt pride swell in her chest. Smiling didn’t mean anything at his age, but at her age, smiling was defying Dot Corp. Not that people especially noticed.

“How was your day?” she asked. He shrugged, making her arm rise.

“It was fine. We didn’t do much.”

The pair was silent for a few moments.

“Oh! I made something for you!” he exclaimed. He stopped suddenly, and dropped to the ground, shrugging his tan backpack off his shoulders. Alina collected her arm back. He unzipped the bag and dug through for a few seconds. His eyebrows were knitted in concentration, and suddenly, Alina just wanted to squeeze him in a giant hug. After a some moments, his hand emerged from the bag, and there was an “Aha!” look on his face. It looked to be a piece of paper, but it wasn’t flimsy. He zipped the bag back up and put it on, standing up. He thrusted the paper at her, an embarrassed smile taking over his face.

“I made this for you in art class,” he told her. She carefully extended her arm, and took the paper. It was a solid, sturdy material, and it was a plain white. Her eyes traced the paper. It was a drawing of her, she finally realized. A quite good drawing actually. In between the pencil lines he had carefully painted in her features. Alina was astounded at his talent.

“They didn’t let us use colors in class, but I know how much you like them, so I snuck into the classroom after and painted these parts. That’s why I was late,” Max admitted. His voice sounded anxious. Abruptly, she closed the distance between them, and caught him in a bone crushing hug.

“I love it,” she breathed into his ear. She could feel his smile. When she pulled away, she was wiping some small tears away. It was amazing, and so, so thoughtful. The drawing and the colors brought some happiness into her death-filled day, and that was a fine thing. “You have amazing talent, Maxxie.” 

His face reddened. “Thanks.”

“But no sneaking into rooms after class,” she added seriously. 

Max nodded. “I know. I just wanted to add the color. Sorry for sneaking in and I’m sorry for being late.”

“It’s alright,” she whispered, pulling him closer to her. “I think that it was very worth it,” she said, but it was only loud enough for her to hear.

“And no telling Mom?”

“No telling Mom,” she repeated. If Donna saw the color, she would have a fit. And by “have a fit”, it actually meant that Donna would stonily make Alina give the painting to her, and then she would turn it into the Dot Corp Collectors. 

The Dot Corp Collectors were a group that came door to door every day at an appointed time-- theirs was 4:18 PM-- and they would collect anything that defied Dot Corp in any way. Max always hid in his room, being much too scared of the white suits and cleaned appearances, and Alina hoped that he would stay scared of them, for if he got on Dot Corp’s side and turned into a solemn statue, she would never forgive herself for letting it happen. Alina would usually sit on the couch and just watch as Donna interacted with the Collectors. She never smiled, and neither did they, and the exchange was always awfully painful to watch, because it was so dull and dreary. It made her want to throw up, just as the rest of Dot Corp did.

“Alina?” Max suddenly said, tugging a bit on her black sweater. She looked down.

“Yeah, Max?”

He swallowed, and she saw his fingers curling into a fist, and then uncurling. It was a nervous habit, she knew. “Are you part of The ShAr?”

Alina stopped breathing right then and there. She wasn’t. Why would he even ask? And what was worse, what if someone heard him ask? Her hand swung down and gently smoothed back the hair on his forehead. His blue eyes were looking so deeply into hers. 

“What makes you ask?” she finally responded, keeping her voice steady and calm. Her head surveyed around them quickly. Nobody was near them. Phew, she thought.

“I- I want to join.”

What?!” 

He looked down, ashamed. “Well, I just... I hate living like this. I want to join a rebellion!” There was a fire in his eyes and strength to his voice. He had been thinking about this a lot. She just prayed that he hadn’t said it loud enough to draw attention from anybody.

“Max, I’m not part of The ShAr. I don’t want you to be either.” Until I figure out what it is, she wanted to add, but didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” he replied softly, a tear leaking out of his eye. Regret instantly came.

“Oh, Maxxie. Don’t be sorry. Just remember the rules.” She stopped, bending down in front of him. “Can you tell me the rules?”

He nodded. “Rule One: stick with Alina.”

“Perfect.”

“Rule Two: don’t smile or laugh around Mom.”

“Exactly.”

“Rule Three: hide anything that is colorful or bright.”

“You’re spot on.”

“Rule Four: don’t talk about The ShAr around anybody but Alina.”

“Great.”

“Rule Five: save yourself.”

“Amazing.” 

The ‘save yourself’ rule was strictly for Max only. She had her own set of rules, and one of them was ‘save Max’. She would never let anything happen to him. She just couldn’t.

“Max? I think I’m going to change Rule Four a little, okay?”

“Rule Four: don’t talk about The ShAr around anybody but Alina?”

“Rule Four: only talk about The ShAr around Alina when you’re alone.” He stared at her with big eyes. “Can you repeat that?”

“Rule Four: only talk about The ShAr around Alina when you’re alone.” 

Alina grinned at the little boy. He was much too small for his age, but she loved it, because he was easy to pick up. If he was the normal size for an eight year old boy, she would worry much, much more, for if she had to get them out, she needed to be able to carry him and run.

“Awesome. Now, can we take a little detour?” she asked him. He cocked his head. 

“What type of detour?”

“A cool one.” She smiled, taking his little hand. “Come on.”

Alina led them to the old train station. It wasn’t in use, and hadn’t been for at least thirty years. Some people hung out there, but it was considered a place where good teenagers came to die, whatever that meant. Alina had heard some people refer to it as “off the rails”, which would’ve been a funny pun, except it was Donna and another woman saying it. 

The inside of the train station wasn’t as light as it was outside, and the air was stuffier. There was a musty smell in the air, and she could tell it was scaring Max. She felt bad for that, but knew that he would like where they were going.

“Alina,” Max whimpered, not liking the dark shadows that danced along the walls. She gave his hand a squeeze as a response.

Half of the train station was lit dimly by the sun, and the other half had fallen into quiet shadows and darkness. At the edge of the light, Alina bent over in the way meaning for her to give him a piggy-back ride. He understood and jumped onto her back. His hands locked around her neck, and she held on tightly to his knees. 

“If you’re scared, just close your eyes,” she whispered to him, before stepping into the darkness. She moved in baby steps for the first few seconds, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the black. Then, she moved her feet slowly, counting her steps. In past times, she had counted out a variation of it taking 23 steps to reach where she wanted to go. As they moved deeper into the dark of the train station, it became easier to breathe. The air felt cleaner and the musty smell was disappearing. Finally she finished the 23 steps, and she stopped. 

Alina extended her hand to the right, feeling along the wall. After a few seconds of her hand blindly reaching around, it grazed a doorknob. She turned the knob and opened the door. It was still very dark. Inside the door, she felt around again, feeling for a light switch. Then suddenly, there was light. Alina had to blink a few times for her eyes to adjust again, and she slowly let Max off her back. She turned around to see him rubbing his eyes, and gazing at her strangely.

“Where are we?” he asked. Alina simply smiled, and delved further into the room. He followed her.

The room was bigger than their apartment, and Alina liked it much more. The walls were splatter painted all different colors, and words were spray-painted on in the graffiti-font. There was an old couch on one side of the room, and three chairs on the other side. In the middle of the floor, there was a large fluffy carpet and it looked like it had been recently vacuumed. Next to the couch on both sides, there were two small wooden tables. 

Alina loved the room. 

“I call it the Escape,” she told him, collapsing onto the old couch. He carefully sat down next to her with scared eyes. 

“D- did you do all this?” Max gestured to the walls and the couch and the chairs and the carpet and the tables all at once. 

Alina shook her head. “No. It was all here when I found this place.” He nodded. “I found it a week ago, while you were in school. I’ve been coming here a lot after work. What do you think?”

As Max looked around, she noticed his mouth turn into a small smile. “I like it.”

She grinned. “Maybe we can bring some things in here, and come here after school so you can do your homework. That might be fun.”

“Yeah! Except I don’t want to do my homework.” His older sister laughed, and it all felt so nice and so right. She was allowed to laugh. She was allowed to smile. She was allowed to be bright and spontaneous in this little room. It was an escape from her awful hollow life, and she absolutely loved it.

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