Jackson has made me swear to never ever tell anyone about his status in the Chocolate Society’s government, not even Alice.
She comes home one after, waving her arm around and talking about snitches and Collin. I wonder if she’s ever given much thought to him, how he got to be so smart and just where does he get his equipment. I wonder what he would do if I told him I knew.
It’s not a small thing, working for the government. It’s something that can destroy you.
Amelia knows, of course and Toby as well. The main people of the camp know, meaning the leaders and rebels. He really did take a risk telling me.
I now have so many questions to ask Jackson, much to his annoyance. He even takes to coming home late in the hope I won’t be waiting for him.
I always am though, and there’s no real way he can get rid of me.
“Was your wife a government official, too?” I ask him one afternoon as soon as he climbs into the tent.
He glares at me, even looks like he wants to choke me, but refrains from it. What does he expect?
“Yes, she was, if you must know.”
“How do you know than that she’s dead? Maybe they have her cooped up somewhere.” I’m trying to sound hopeful, because maybe it is a possibility that she’s still alive. Beside Amelia, Jackson’s the only other person I’ve really warmed to and I know he really misses his wife. I’d do anything to get her back for him.
Jackson’s eyes have gone steely.
“I know she’s dead because I saw her body, all mangled and strung up. They didn’t know we were married, that was done down here. Up there, we pretended to be associates and that’s how we were seen together. Just a couple that would walk in and out the front doors together.”
My throat constricts. He senses my discomfort, but does nothing to ease it.
“You could imagine my horror, I’m sure. I had the crazy thought that maybe, they’d let her live. I got to see her being dragged away, you see. I was by the queen bee’s side when it was announced she was a traitor. I saw her on the ground, forced there by the people I worked with. I saw her crying and I couldn’t do anything. We always vowed if something like that was to happen, the other would stay silent to protect Amelia. So I did. I was asked to conduct the interrogation, but I said no. At first, they thought that was a bit strange but I told them I was sickened over the fact I spoke to her. Can you imagine how that feels? To say you were sickened by your beloved wife?”
As he tells me this, he sort of starts to rock backwards and forwards in place, not a lot, but it’s there. His eyes are wide, almost crazy looking and at the end when he asks the questions, he lets out a sort of maniac laugh.
“Jackson,” I try to stop him, but he goes on anyway.
“A few days later, I come in to find her strung up in the government office like a trophy. They had her in a noose, but that’s not how she died. I’m not really sure exactly how she did, even. It was that bad. All the interrogators were gloating how they touched her and raped her. I came so very close to ripping their heads off. It was the thought of Amelia that stopped me.”
He looks close to crying now and I feel the same way. I’m not entirely sure how I should handle this situation. He looks on the verge of madness and I’ve never had any experience with that sort of thing.
“You know, Eliza,” he says coldly and I feel myself freeze as his eyes stop me in place. “I thought you were an okay girl and maybe you don’t mean not to be.”
“What?” I ask, confused.
“You ask so many questions about my family, but you’ve always missed one, probably the most important one that would show me you really cared.”
“I do care,” the words immediately come to my lips, and I stare him in the eye so he can see I’m not lying.
“You lie,” he hisses and leans forward, looking deadly.
Something tells me I should get out before he loses it, but I stand my ground. It’s my fault he’s going crazy.
“Okay than, what did I miss?”
He looks almost delighted that I asked.
“Never once have you asked what my wife’s name was.”
Back in the above world, my dad was probably the person who knew me the best beside Alice. For as long as I could remember, he would always come in to my bedroom and lie down on the teeny tiny bed with me. I never got sick of it, even though I’d pretend to hate it sometimes. When I got older, we’d have to manoeuvre ourselves so we’d both fit snugly. No matter how many minutes it took, we’d always keep trying until we succeeded. That’s how I really knew he loved me. He never gave up that we would be separated. We’d always fit as one big family.
In the rebel camp, when someone asks if I miss my old life, I say I do, but only a little. I pretend I don’t really care, but the fact remains that I really, truly, do.
I’m walking down the tunnels now, determined to get out, if only for a second. I’m not authorised to, but who’s going to stop me? Feeling on the verge of madness, I know that if I don’t get out now and breathe, I’ll end up screaming.
Unlike Alice, I do not belong here. I wasn’t born to fight he officials I was raised to be scared of, but trusted in. Unlike Alice, I wouldn’t give up my family to fish a cause.
Unlike Alice, I’m a massive ball of selfishness. Jackson was right. I don’t really seem to care, even though I try.
If they were to let me go, right now, I would do it, with or without Alice. She’s happier here, the happiest I’ve seen her before. The squeals she lets out in the morning as she checks out her skin bring a smile to my face. She was born to be this girl. Someone who stood out and took action.
Me? I was born to be a sheep, a faithful follower of my owner. I don’t own myself. The Chocolate Society owns me.
Somehow, I refrain from crying as I make my journey. I’m really too confused to even try. No, I’m not leaving this place. They’ll shoot Alice if I do and that’s a guilt I could never live with.
I need… out.
Since the other one is most likely watched, I head for a different tunnel exit than the one we arrived in. It’s amazing, really, how much I’ve started to memorise this place. If I really wanted to, I could lead the government right to the camp no worries.
But I won’t of course. I’m not that against the cause.
I climb up the ladder quickly, feeling more claustrophobic than ever before. Out, out, out. That’s all my body seems to really understand.
Removing the grate carefully, I pull myself from the tunnel frantically before slamming it back in place and stepping back.
Now, I’m free to do what I want.
I don’t exactly have a solid plan of what I wish to do tonight. Now that I’m out, there’s so many things I could do.
Stepping back, I survey my surroundings.
Like the other grates, this one’s in an alley not to different from the first one. There’s a dumpster against the wall, overflowing with trash. It seems they must have forgotten about this one. It happens.
Kicking aside a tin can, I turn away and start heading down the alley, close to the wall so I’m not seen. I haven’t been out on my own, always with Amelia and right now, anxiety begins to build, that I’ve done the wrong thing.
Sternly reminding myself I can survive on my own, I step away from the wall as soon as I hit the main street.
Its late afternoon, dusk almost so there’s plenty of people walking around. They barely blink as I leave the alley, though some nod their heads respectfully. I find nodding back to be difficult. I’m losing the old ways and I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good thing or not.
I look around as I start walking in the general direction of my home, searching for any red throbbing lights that tell me someone a rebel is about.
There’s no one up or down the street.
As I start to walk quickly, I smile at a vision of Toby finding me. I can just imagine the whole situation. No doubt he’s standing in the middle of the pavement again, but maybe I’m wrong, too. If he thinks there are officials keeping a watch, maybe he won’t be that stupid to use the tunnel.
Making a note in the back of my mind, I tell myself I’ll check on my way back.
Finding my house isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Months have gone since I last saw my parents, and yet everything’s the same. I’m able to walk down the street like it’s only been an hour, sort of light skipping in place, excited just to glimpse my parents.
I’m not going to knock at the door, of course. That’s a suicide mission in the making.
No, I’ll be a total stalker like Alice and peer in the windows, keeping an eye out for them.
2231. That’s the number of the house we live in. The Chocolate Society of each state and country is made up of blocks containing from one hundred, to one hundred thousand houses. In my block, along with Alice, there’s about 5000 the last I checked.
You never know though since they’re always adding on where possible.
When I reach my house, I feel my throat clog up as I look at it. It’s just as I remember. The warm glow coming from the windows, the sound of footsteps inside. Every house may look the same down to the doormat, but there’s always something different for each one. Something you can’t put your finger on exactly.
Looking around to check no one’s watching, I jump over the patch of grass and head for the side of my house, thinking my mum and dad might still be eating.
It turns out, it’s just my mum.
At first, as I peer through the window, I only really look at the room itself, familiarizing myself with it.
There’s plates on the sink, two actually along with cutlery and pots and pans. They can’t be dinner’s since its way to early for that, so I’m guessing its lunch, though even that doesn’t make sense.
You eat at work, not at home.
As I drag my eyes away from the mess, I conclude that it was last night’s dinner.
Or… comfort food?
When I spot my mother, I have to clamp my teeth down on my tongued so I don’t call out. She sits at the table, her back to me, bent over herself, probably doing one of those crosswords she loves so much.
Her hair hangs down her back, somehow styled without it actually being. She had a knack for that, something I’ve long since stopped trying to copy.
After looking at her still, bent form for a minute, I head to the next window, searching for my father. The bathroom? No. The lounge room? No. The mast bedroom? No.
I’m about to give up when I reach the window of my own room and come to a pause, feeling a small, sad smile appear.
My father lies on the bed, facing the window with his eyes shut. Going off of his slack facial expression, no doubt he’s fallen asleep. He’s done that a lot over the years and I feel a giggle rising in the back of my throat. It was something we always laughed about.
I wonder what he would do now if I was to reach out and tap on the glass. Would he wake up or would he stay oblivious to the fact his daughter it right outside the window?
I know it’s risky, and it is. But I can’t stop myself from rapping my knuckles on the glass and biting my lip in hope.
He doesn’t wake, but remains still as ever.
I should have walked away than, but like the stupid girl I am, I don’t.
Instead, I rap harder, getting more excited by the second. Still doesn’t wake.
I end up getting louder and louder, panicky as he doesn’t so much as let out a deep breath and it’s at that thought that I realise what’s wrong with this picture.
My dad isn’t breathing.
Stumbling away from the bedroom window, I sprint back for the kitchen’s, practically smashing against the glass as I mentally beg for my mum to make a movement, any movement.
It all makes sense now, the dirty dishes.
Both my parents are dead.
The thought’s only just starting to settle in when a hand clamps over my mouth.