My trembling fingers rubbed slowly against my palm, sweaty and warm. Once more, I wiped them on my trousers and attempted to keep up with the others, who were quickly increasing the distance between me and them. A mass of black and white, a slowly undulating wave of heads and bodies.
I cried out, my too-large shoes having been caught in a dip in the pavement, and I tumbled downwards, hitting the ground with a nasty thud.
Nobody turned around.
I didn’t expect them to.
With a sigh, I picked up my glasses, rubbed them, and brushed my knees off. A hand appeared next to me, beckoning for me to grab. My mistake was to blindly trust that the hand had only good intentions; I took it and started to pull myself up, only to fall back down to the pavement even harder as the hand was pulled out of my weak grip.
Following the hand up, I saw the smiling face of Tomas, broad shoulders shaking from laughter. “You wore that for initiation day? Jesus, you almost look like a factionless!” As he spoke, it was difficult not to focus on his large chin bobbing up and down into his almost non-existent neck. Most in Candor would voice this, but having the smallest shred of self-preservation, I remained silent.
I stared solidly at the ground until I heard his footsteps echo ahead; my legs shook as I stood up once more, increasing my pace so as not to get left behind. Today was possibly the most important day of my life, and if I was late then there was no guessing what would happen.
The hub towered above my nervous frame, shining and glorious, though the grey concrete pavement in front of it was scuffed with the footprints of a thousand hopeful teenagers, about to decide the course of the rest of their lives. People poured into the wide archway at the front, all colours of the rainbow merging in a massive crowd as each faction merged together: children and adults, Dauntless and Amity, Erudite and Abnegation, the highest officials and the lowest farmer; all in one cramped crowd.
A deep breath, and I was in, carried through the tides of people into the main hall. The large domed ceiling towered above the five sections of benches, clearly separating the factions once more. My curly mop of hair stood out from the crowd of my classmates I found myself entangled in, yet my mother failed to notice me, keenly looking around the room.
Pushed up the stairs by a well-placed shove in the small of my back, I dutifully took my place next to her, squeezing her hand slightly. “You look scared,” she commented, moving a stray lock of hair from my forehead. “Where are you going to go?”
“I, um, I don’t kn-.”
She gave me a pointed look.
“Have 16 years here taught you nothing? The truth. Don’t stay here for me; I’ve got your brothers and sisters, I’ll be fine.”
About to stutter an answer, I breathed a sigh of relief as the leader of Amity tapped the microphone, beginning a monotonous speech about the ceremony. The truth was, I didn’t know where I was going to go. Tossing and turning all night had done nothing for making the decision I had put off for so long. The decision that would decide the rest of my life.
The speech ended, and they began rattling off the names. Alphabetical order, so I was spared a little time, my mind spinning like clockwork, but still not reaching a conclusion. The only initiate that I paid attention to was Joseph, who swaggered up to the stand; carving a large gash into his hand, as he confidently held it over the Dauntless bowl. It wasn’t a surprise, he’d been bragging about it for weeks. Usually adding that I would end up Factionless.
I took a step forward, legs trembling and palms sweaty, into the middle of the ring.
The results of my test had been conclusive.
Maybe Abnegation at a push, I’d been told.
Candor, Erudite and Dauntless were all a definite no.
But it was hard to imagine myself chewing a piece of hay on the back of a pickup truck, picking carrots all day.
All eyes on me, I took another shaky step. The five bowls stood in front of me, the bowl of soft brown soil in the very centre, seeming to draw me to it.
I remembered the aptitude tests clearly. I was no stranger to injections and tests, truth serum probably made up half my bloodstream the amount of times I’d been put under it. Each awful day that I’d ever been put in that awful black chair and made to confess my secrets was carved into my memory; each another reason to leave.
That cold voice in the background was the first thing to break through the icy fog of the serum, cold and emotionless. A child appeared, lying on the floor in front of me, softly moaning. A loaf of bread, far less than I'd been expecting, lay on the floor between us. Though I'd eaten a full breakfast, my stomach rumbled loudly, and I became aware that I was starving, so hungry that I felt I would collapse if I did not eat soon. But still the child moaned, clearly unwell. I walked towards the crusty loaf and picked it up, casting a longing look at its soft insides, before leaning over the child and holding a piece to its mouth, smiling slightly as the chapped lips opened, accepting the food. But then a shriek filled the silent air, the child spasming beneath me whilst blood began to pour from its open mouth, screaming all the while. Suddenly, a knife was held in my left hand, a syringe of something I felt sure was medicine in my right. "End it," the child moaned, spasming and letting out a shriek. Doing the only thing I felt possible, I jabbed the needle into its arm, pushing the plunger in as I looked away, stomach churning.
I'd woken up gasping for air, the man who'd administered my tests nodding as he surveyed a monitor, my body drenched in sweat.
And now I was stood in front of the bowls, knife in my hand, raised above my left hand. I slashed downwards, looking away from the crimson spurt and scrunching my eyes tight shut through the pain.
It was so easy. In the middle. The earth. Amity. Go there.
Almost with a mind of its own, my arm swerved left, into the bowl that nobody, let alone me, would think that I would go for.
The sizzling coals.
Heart almost soaring out of my chest, I felt strangely free as I walked into the crowd of black. Sure, the shoulders were hard and unwelcoming, and Tomas attempted to trip me up as I melted into the pack of bodies, but I’d done it. I could see my mother muttering something to a neighbour of ours, whilst many of my old classmates blatantly stared at me in confusion.
The rest of the ceremony seemed to go by in a haze; I was stuck in a dream-like state. A new start. Something completely new. Maybe somewhere that I could finally fit in. It was difficult not to laugh with the pure joy of it all.
So when everyone began shuffling around me, I was eager to follow and one of the first in line, for the first time in my life. Black moved all around me, some of the original Dauntless already with dark tattoos adorning their shoulders and arms. One girl had even shaved tattooed her scalp, flames leaping up from the back of her neck. I couldn’t wait for one of my own.
A twenty-something year old stood at the front of the group that had streamed out of The Hub. I was proudly at the front, ignoring the constant elbow jabs by Jospeh. This would be my time. All mine.
“Now, remember to jump when getting on the train. If you don’t make it, you’re out of Dauntless. Forever.” Mutters followed this from transfers, whilst the Dauntless-born nodded and grinned, clearly commonplace knowledge amongst them.
But before I could gather my thoughts, the cold stone beneath my too-big shoes was rumbling and shaking. I looked around, startled, to see everyone else sprinting towards the train tracks that I had seen running through town. Joining them, I found new strength in my weedy legs; pumping my arms and making each stride faster than the next, it was hard to believe that I’d ever hated running. I was overtaking people, those dressed in black and those in all other colours, slowly moving towards the front of the pack.
Over my shoulder, a huge black shape was moving towards us, the rattling and screeching sound growing louder and louder in my ears as it gained speed. Then it was next us, a gigantic metal train that could flatten a car without pausing. By this time I had reached the front of the pack, only the instructor in front of me. But he was whisked away, grabbing a metal handrail and yanking himself inside.
This was the beginning. My first act of bravery in a new life of fearlessness.
I braced my legs to jump, seeing an opening in the next carriage. But as I was about to push myself into the air, into the path of the great metal beast, I froze. I stumbled, legs locking up, and almost in slow motion, tumbled to the ground. It was horribly reminiscent of earlier, though this time so much more was riding on this.
All I needed to do was get up. Up, and on the train. There was still time. Even as trainers ran past my face, dust kicked into my eyes as they leapt for the train, there was time. I could make it.
But I just lay there. Hopeless. Watching as the final set of shoes launched from the tarmac and landed with a clang, as the back of the final carriage screeched past, smoke churning out the back, and as my entire life fell apart.
Slowly, movement returned to my limbs and I clumsily got up. My neatly ironed clothes were coated in dust and small pieces of gravel, but it was difficult to find the motivation to care. Looking around, there was a small girl standing a shirt distance behind me, hugging her chest and trembling like a leaf, clearly too scared to have attempted the jump. "You okay?" I called, my voice cracking halfway through.
She nodded, but here eyes were wide as she realised, at the same time as I did, what this meant.
The outcasts, the nothings of society. I'd be a bus driver, or a litter collector. Abnegation would hand me bags of food when they passes me by, pity in their eyes, and disgust in a few. There would be no faction clothes, no proud uniform, just a mis-matched rainbow of hand-me-downs.
How stupid to think that I could ever be brave. I was a coward, and always would be.
A small group of people had gathered at the edge of the tracks, bony bodies barely disguised in baggy clothing. They smiled knowingly at us, and one beckoned. A traitorous tear slipped from my eye, carving a path through the thick layer of grime covering it, as I walked towards them. I seamlessly melted into the group of Factionless, as if I had always belonged.
Stupid, stupid decisions.