I watch with a feeling of dread as Alice lowers herself into the hole, pulling the grating over the top. Her fingers stay there for a moment, peeking through before they too disappear.
There are two things I could do. One, call for help. Anything could be down there and just because we live in a “peaceful” world doesn’t mean everyone’s nice. There’s the occasional news story where somebody punched someone else of a body turned up in a back street. You can never ever be truly safe and if that boy, or man, is down there, too, there could be others.
My other option is to follow Alice down there, but I don’t want to do that, too. I’m utterly scared of these things. Alice is all for adventure, but I just want to live in the everyday flows of humanity. Yet, there’s another side of my brain, right now, telling me to go after her. She’s my best friend and I was the one who promised to do this with her. If she dies down there, I’d never forgive myself.
So of course, I decide to go after her. When I get my hands on her though, she’ll see the not-so-peaceful side of me.
I heft the grate up and sit down at the edge, fumbling for the ladder. I can hear the dripping over water and I start to feel sick. Wishing I listened to my mum about carrying flashlights at all times, I pull myself in, close the lid and start my decent into the darkness.
I’ve never been one for claustrophobia, but as I see the light slowly disappearing above my head, I feel like screaming and running away. The walls seem to press in on me and I find myself gasping for air.
I’ll kill Alice for this.
My feet hit the bottom and I let go of the ladder, trying to figure out where to go. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness and I can see silhouettes of walls. Either I turn right, or turn left.
Staring at both corridors, I try to figure out which way Alice would. She writes with her right hand and she calls that her productive side, but she says she wishes she was left. So, hoping I’m not wrong, I head down the left corridor.
It’s not a sewage system like I thought, but more so an underground tunnel. My feet occasionally encounter the odd puddle, but I don’t panic. Instead I focus on the task at hand.
Get Alice. Get out. Kill Alice. Hide the body.
Shouldn’t be too hard.
A few minutes later, I’m thinking I’ve gone down the wrong way when the darkness slowly starts to lighten. Feeling sick, because I know for sure Alice sure doesn’t carry a torch with her, I keep moving forward because if Alice is anywhere down here, she’s probably right at the source of light.
Being extra quiet, I turn the corridor to find a room closed off with crates. Light pours through the cracks and I can hear voices inside.
The crates are covered with a white sheet, but there’s one part where it’s not covered so, creeping forward, I peek into the room.
There are more crates stacked up and one, used as a sort of table, has a lamp on top. Five people, three men and two women, sit around the light, discussing something. I don’t really understand what they’re saying, but soon my brain starts to function and I can hold some understanding.
“You don’t understand,” a woman who looks like me (haha) growls to an older looking man. “That’s my daughter they have in their hands.”
“It’s too risky,” he shakes his head. “We can’t risk our cause for...”
“She’s a part of our group,” pipes up the other guy, probably the one we’ve stalking all this time. “We promised to protect one another, remember?”
“Liliana is in no danger,” the older man sits back in his chair and rubs his forehead with his thumb. “They don’t hurt the girls.”
“Abortion does hurt,” the first women hisses against. “Emotionally and physically. Besides, you said yourself the officials were developing a suspicion. Whatever if they torture her?”
“You know they won’t do that.”
“Shane,” the young guy lays a hand on his arm. “You and I both know that the whole peace law doesn’t matter to the officials.”
“Look,” Shane shoves out of his chair and I flinch as it hits the ground. “It’s impossible.”
“We weren’t exactly asking you for permission anyway,” the other girl, she’s around my own age, pipes up. “I’ll be getting my sister out with or without your help.”
“That’s suicide!” Shane yells. “You’ll risk the lives of everyone here.”
“We’re risking them keeping her there,” the first women stands up, too.
I’m really confused by now. What group? Who’s Liliana? How does having an abortion kill a whole group?
I’m starting to back away when a hand sneaks around my neck and clamps over my mouth.
I try to scream and kick out with my legs, hitting my attacker in the knees.
“Eliza,” Alice whispers in my ear. “You have to be quiet.”
She lets me go and I whirl on her, bringing my face close to hers.
“When we get out of here, you had better run. I’m going to murder you.”
“Okay, okay,” she looks distracted. “Just hush. I’m trying to listen to what they’re saying.”
“No,” I grab her hand and tug her away. “We’re leaving. Right now.”
“No,” she shoves me away. “You can leave, but I’m staying.”
We glare at each other, blue eye to blue eye. I wish we looked different as I look at her right now. Something, anything, to symbolise our different personalities.
“Alice,” I say quietly. “If they catch you... I can’t let you get hurt.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You can’t know that for sure.”
“Please, Eliza. Just let me stay for a little longer. There’s something going on here and while I’m not sure exactly what it is, I think it’s big. We need to hear this.”
Want to throttle her, but she’s right. Even I have no idea what they’re on about and I do admit, shamefully, that there’s a tiny part of me that wants to keep listening, too.
“Fine,” I sigh, “but when I say we’re leaving, we’re leaving. Got that?”
She nods quickly. I take her hand because yes, I admit, I’m pretty scared. She squeezes my wrist before tugging me back towards the wall of crates.
They’re having a full argument now. Shane looks like he wants to hurl and the mother of Liliana, whoever that may be, keeps prodding him in the chest. The other girl sits in the corner now, head resting on her clasped hands. I wonder for a second if she’s praying, something we learnt about in History, but I shake my head. That’s impossible. Religion isn’t allowed anymore. I scan the room, but I can’t see the other guy.
“My girl will die!” the lady prods Shane. “You know she will.”
“Girls do come out,” Shane takes a step backwards. “Not all, but some. You have to remain optimistic.”
“Optimistic?” the women says in disbelief. “I told you want happens in there! Yes, girls come out, but they aren’t them. They’re gone.”
“What does she mean?” Alice mouths to me, but I shake my head.
I don’t know much about abortion. They don’t tell us the proper details. I only really know the history of it, why we do it now and the basic outline of how it’s done and that’s it.
To control the ever growing population, the government of The Chocolate Society made a law based off the old country, China. Every family is allowed one child and one child alone. Now, because back in the old days they would often dispose of their child if it was deformed or wasn’t a male (they preferred male children back then), it was made law that whatever your child looked like, whatever ever gender it was and whatever the behaviour, you kept that child and raised it lovingly. There’s none of this abandonment thing. Now if your child is stillborn, you’re allowed to have another. The moment you hold a living baby in your arms, that’s your one child and you’re never allowed to have another.
So, obviously, that’s why they brought in the abortion hospital. If you fall pregnant before you’re married, you get an abortion. If you’re under eighteen, you get an abortion. If you have another child, you get an abortion. There’s no running and there’s no hiding from it. That’s why my mum says it’s so awful. None of the girls get it by choice.
I lean forward now, wanting more information. Yes, obviously, the babies die, but what’s this about the girls being different?
“What you’re saying isn’t fact,” Shane shoves the women aside and starts to pace. “You’ve never actually worked in there.”
“I’ve heard these things,” she follows him, backwards and forwards. “I’ve had women tell me. That’s why they get so down and depressed because it isn’t one life they’re taking, it’s two. It’s sick and messed up.”
“That’s not real,” Alice whispers in my ear. “She’s got it wrong. They don’t kill the women. Remember when my cousin got an abortion? She was okay. Depressed, but okay.”
“Ssh,” I hiss at her.
“I can’t risk it!” Shane yells and it ricochets off the walls of the tunnel, causing Alice and I to clench hands tighter.
“Fine!” the woman shoves him and he stumbles back. “But when my daughter is replaced by a clone, what secrets will she spill back to them? I told you. They’re hardwired. They look like our women, but they’re not. They have the brains of our women, but it’s not them. They don’t get to control themselves and even if they could, they probably wouldn’t be trustworthy. I showed you the pictures. If my daughter goes in there, they’ll kill her and you know it. When that clone comes out and starts registering our secrets and reverts them back to the government, it’ll be your fault and yours alone.”
“Oh my God,” I stumble away and feel sick.
They can’t possibly kill the girls. No one would allow that. I remember my mother coming home the other night, tired and upset. Part of me says she’d never kill someone like that, but there’s the other part telling me she’d have to. We don’t get a choice what we do.
I clamp my hand over my mouth and stumble backwards.
“Come on,” Alice looks grim. “We should go.”
She tugs on my hand and I follow after her, threatening to spill my guts all over the tunnel floor. I can just picture it. The unsuspecting women laid out on the table, thinking they’re going to be okay. I imagine the needle that’ll knock them out followed by the scalpel that would kill them. I wonder how they’d do it. Does the needle kill them? Or do they get shot or something?
Alice shoves me at the ladder and I quickly climb it, hungering for the open air.
As soon as I’m out, I curl over and puke out the coffee I had before with Alice.
She sits behind me, holding back my hair and rubbing my back.
“It could be a ruse,” Alice tries to calm me. “She said so herself. She only heard this stuff. She’s never been in there.”
“My mother was there the other night,” I croak out and sit back on my heels as I wipe around my mouth.
“I don’t know what to think,” I put my face into my hands and take deep breaths. “Even if it is just a rumour, who the hell started them? What gave them that idea?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m thinking out loud, Alice.”
I stand to my feet and start to pace.
“What’s the group they keep talking about anyway? Why doesn’t the government abide by their own laws?”
“Alice, hush. I’m thinking.”
I whirl on her to see her worried expression.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her and she just points behind me.
I turn slowly and only get a glimpse of the young man from before; at least I think it is, before the shovel slams into my face.
I hear Alice scream as I slowly fall to the ground.