I’m leaning against the alley’s wall, head back so I can stare up at the sky. It’s completely blue today. No clouds at all.
If only everything else could be perfect.
I was told to stay here alone with about fifty other rebel camp survivors. They split us up, it seems, so we’re not that easy of a target. Usually I’d be claustrophobic in this situation, but not this time. It’s like I don’t care anymore.
They were going to drag Toby back into the tunnel, another of the dead. Apparently there were ten all up. I refused of course, even started to scream and attack them when they so much laid a finger on his still form. We weren’t the best of friend, but he was a friend and I’ve always vowed to protect them when I can.
Liliana’s sitting next to him now against the back wall. I can only just see them around the many legs that block my view.
She’s sobbing into his chest, clutching his shirt in tight fists like she can drag him back. I had to tell her that Carmen was gone, too. I’m responsible for bringing the almost okay world around her ears.
The shooting has long since stopped and I have to wonder if we’ve been caught or if we’ve over taken. We heard cheering at one stage, but it could have been anyone’s side. Our communication systems were left in the tunnels and have long since smashed, leaving us with no way of contact.
My thoughts, which are starting to make me loopy, drift to Alice now and I smile. She’s a fighter, she is. Whatever happened, I know that either way, she fought.
Than, like it can’t stand the idea of being happy for at least a moment, my brain decides to ask mum,
“If she is alive, how will you tell her about Toby?”
I roll onto my knees and vomit. People jump out of the way, muttering, but I couldn’t give a damn.
It’s only a few minutes later when the sound of feet marching alerts us of someone’s coming. There’s loads of them, more than a hundred. Some of the people skitter away, heading back down the tunnel in case it is soldiers. I want to remind them that there’s no camp to go back to, but I lost my ability to speak after Toby died.
Voices now. Excited chatter and the occasional yell that sends others yelling. I’m thinking they’re going to walk past our alley all together when, after a quiet pause, the marching starts up again and comes towards us.
I crawl around the legs of people, not trusting myself to walk, and kneel besides Liliana who’s still crying violently.
I will my tongue to move and when I finally master,
“She sells sea shells by the sea shore”
I lean forwards to whisper in her ear.
“People are coming, Liliana. I’d prepare to run if I were you.”
Her cries stop for a few moments before starting up again.
“I’m not leaving him here alone with them. Who knows what they’d do to him?”
Probably parade him around on a kart or something else. Who knows? If the officials did win, they’ll probably behead us all as a message. Or torture us into death.
Anything’s possible with these sick people.
“IT’S THEM1” someone screams and that’s followed by another scream and another.
My stomach has sunk by this point and I turn to where Toby lies, refusing to drag my eyes away from his face. If I’m going to die, I’d like to die looking at something nice and yes, Toby was a butthead, but he was nice when he wanted to be.
The people are still screaming and rush around the place, but it’s not until Liliana shakes my shoulder that I realise these people aren’t rushing around to get away, but that they’re reacting out of excitement.
“No way,” my mouth drops open when everybody clears the way, moving to the side, and revealing three lines. One the left, a line of our people, all grinning and clutching guns. The other line is made up of our people, too, judging by the snitch that gives me a name with each look at a face.
The middle, and smaller, line seems to be made up of our captives that all stand with hands on their heads.
“What are you all doing out here?” someone yells and than a woman appears in the front, clutching a rifle in one hand and a communication device in the other.
“Amelia”, my snitch tells me.
“We were bombed!” someone to my right yells. “Surely you heard it.”
“Course we did,” she frowns. “But I thought they’d... they’d miss the camp.”
“They knew our exact location, ma'am,” another person speaks up. “They circled the camp with bombes before hitting it in the centre.”
I’m glad Toby and I weren’t the only ones who noticed this. Well, I did anyway. Toby was too concussed to focus on the details.
“How many were killed?” Amelia asks, looking pale.
“There’s no exact amount,” a nurse who worked on Toby says gently. “There could have been any number of people in the tunnel that were killed. We do know, however, that ten people died from injuries trying to escape.”
Amelia relaxes a little.
“Oh... oh okay.”
She turns around, facing the three lines again before yelling extremely.
“I want half of you to start searching every building in the Society, taking everyone captive that looks suspicious. If you find their leader,” she jabs a thumb at the middle line, “bring her to me immediately. You, soldier Anglican, lead our captives to the shopping centre.”
I hear multiple boots breaking away from the group as everyone cheers and suddenly everyone’s moving again. Loads pat Amelia on the back while others beg permission to help search.
Pretty soon, Liliana and I are the only ones left around and that’s how Amelia finds us.
“Is that a dead person?” her eyes lock on Toby instantly before flicking to me. “Who are... oh God.”
I stagger to my feet, stumbling towards her until at last I’m able to wrap my arms around her frozen figure. I don’t even realise I’m crying until I try to speak.
“We.. We tried to get everyone out and most people did. I went to find him and he was at the edge of the tunnel, nursing his mum. We got out alright, but he had this massive head wound and he.. He was too concussed and his eyes were rolling around. At the end, he could barely speak properly and than he..”
“Who is it?” Amelia asks calmly. “The snitch doesn’t work on the dead.”
I pull away, taking a step back so I can rub my eyes.
“You know who it is.”
She bites her lip, nodding furiously.
Than she runs forwards a few steps until she’s kneeling beside Liliana.
“Oh Toby,” she mutters softly. “Why did you have to go? You were so close to seeing victory.”
When she starts to cry, I can’t help but feel shocked. After Jackson was shot, she barely showed any sign of emotion. No tears, no real anger. Just a cold numbness.
The same numbness that’s settled on my heart.
“Toby,” she sobs, pressing her forehead against his. “Why?”
Yet another question to add to my list for the universe.
In the end, I go searching for Alice. She was one that headed to the shopping centre so at least I have a distinct area to search instead of the whole city.
She stands out like a beacon with her pale skin and light hair, but it’s navigating my way towards her that’s the hardest. I bump into quite a few people, mumbling apologies, determined that I will be the one to tell her about Toby and no one else.
On my trek towards her, I meet the eyes of another familiar pale face. Red hair, bright eyes, I don’t need a snitch to tell me who it is.
“Hey,” Rose wraps her arms around me after stepping around two kneeling people.
“Hey,” I say, giving her a quick squeeze back. “I need to get to Alice.”
“You look sort of sick. What happened?”
I remind myself that Toby was her friend too and therefore she has every right to know.
“Toby,” I say after a while. “Toby’s dead.”
At first, her face remains exactly the same until my words seem to hit home and her face falls like a tower of cards.
“Both my parents are dead,” she says, voice breaking. “I also watched my niece being crushed by a wave of panicking people. So many people I love have died today.”
I look away, feeling like crying again. I need to hold it together for Alice’s sake because I know she’ll need me to handle this.
“I need to get to Alice,” I repeat again and Rose nods, rubbing her hand under her nose.
“Here. I’ll help.”
They’ve set up the place pretty well so the captives can’t escape, but it also means it’s hard to navigate through the people. Basically there’s just one massive circle of rebels around a small group of officials. I almost smirk at them when I see how uncomfortable they are. I wish we could just shoot them, but I can settle on this no worries.
Alice is sitting cross legged on the ground next to one muscled up hottie named Keegan Berry and another guy named Jordan Lokan. She isn’t talking to them, just picking at her shoe laces and eyeing them intently.
“Excuse me,” Rose mutters harshly, pulling me through a group of grumbling woman. “We’re the deliverers of death news.”
It would have been funny if it weren’t for the circumstances.
Alice sees us coming after looking up, confusion first and than complete happiness.
“Liz!” she cheers, pulling herself to her feet.
My heart takes a plummet. She got that nickname from Toby.
“I’m so glad you’re alive,” I say honestly when she’s thrown her arms around my neck. “Did you get hurt?”
“I was shot,” she pulls back and points to her bandaged arm, “but it was just a grazing of a bullet. It’s painful, obviously, but I can live with it. What about you? I felt the explosions more so than heard them. Did you all get out in time.”
“Most of us did,” I say honestly. “Some weren’t so lucky though.”
“Did Toby get out?” she asks, eyes widened for a moment.
“He did,” I tell her around a thick tongue. “Actually, can we head outside? I’m starting to get claustrophobic.”
Wrong. I’m actually trying to prepare her for the worst.
She happily skips out of the circle, pulling me after her as we head for the door. Some people yell out, but she turns on them and lifts her middle finger.
“I try not to swear, but I’m far from caring today, boys,” she yells and some let out hoots of approval, the Keegan guy included.
“Right,” she turns on me once we’re out of the centre and standing in the sunlight. It’s verging on sunset now, so it’s not as bright as before. “Tell me everything.”
“Wait, Alice,” I hold up a hand, feeling suck. “I need to tell you something.”
“Can’t it wait?” she eyes me suspiciously.
“No, you’ll kill me more if I keep holding off.”
“Fine,” she crosses her arms. “Hit me with your best shot.”
“Toby… Toby…” I’ve turned into a stutterer again.
“Yeah? What about him?”
“He.. He.. Got..”
“He got what?” a note of panic. “You said he got out.”
“He.. Did,” I nod gently, “but… he…”
“Liz,” she grips my arms, shaking me ferociously. “Tell me, NOW!”
“He was concussed,” my voice breaks. “He was hit on the head and the wound was too big. They couldn’t..”
She lets go of me, moving backwards and holding up her hands like she can fend me off.
“Is he dead?” she asks outright.
I don’t know what I’m meant to say so I stay silent.
“Nod for yes, shake for now,” her voice has gone high pitched.
Since its much easier then talking, I’m able to nod slowly.