“Don’t freak out,” Toby holds up a strip of fabric, “but I’m going to blindfold you now.”
“Thanks,” I say sarcastically as he steps behind me to cover my eyes.
“Your welcome,” he ties it tightly and I try not to cry out when he yanks a few strands of hair out in the process.
“Eliza?” I call for her. “You’re still here, right?”
“I sure am,” she huffs. “Dude, this totally sucks.”
“You don’t say.”
“Stop the sarcasm. It fails on you.”
I can hear the anger in her voice and I bite my lip as we’re pushed forward. I’m glad for Amelia who guides me along since I’m pretty sure I’d fall flat on my face.
“I’m sorry,” I tell Eliza.
“You should be,” she bites back. “We wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for your obsession.”
Feeling surprised that Jackson, Amelia, Toby and Shane are letting us talk, I take a deep breath.
“Nothing I say will make you forgive me, correct?” I ask.
Sighing, I bow my head even though I know she can’t see me and let myself be led along.
“You know,” Toby unties my blindfold, “you two are doing awfully well not to freak out.”
It is kind of weird. A panicky feeling stirs around my chest, but I’ve been doing my best not to let it show. Besides, I doubt crying and begging would work.
I look around the shelter-like area we are now confined in.
“Where are we?” Eliza asks from the corner. When I catch her eye, she glares at me and I look away.
“It’s a truck and we’re in the back of it.”
“What’s a truck?” I ask and he looks a bit confused for a moment.
“It was used for transport. I thought you guys would have learnt that in school.”
“We did,” Eliza rolls her eyes. “Alice never payed any attention in History.”
I bite back a remark as the truck rumbles to life.
“We only use trains,” Eliza explains.
“Oh yes,” Shane nods. “I used to use them everyday. Horrible things, aren’t they? So slow and crowded.”
“Why did they get rid of these things?” I tap the wall of the truck.
“Not everyone can afford a car,” Shane sighs. “Since we’re all meant to be equal, it wouldn’t work with only some having cars or trucks while others don’t.”
“So I have a question,” Eliza rests her chin on her hand. “If you guys are meant to be a secret, then how come you’re driving a truck where everyone can see you?”
“Ha,” Toby snorts and Amelia elbows him. “What? Do you honestly think we’re that stupid?”
“Yes,” Eliza smiles sweetly.
“She’s a funny one,” Shane chuckles and elbows Jackson. “She reminds me of Liliana.”
“We’re not travelling where people can see us,” Toby smiles back just as sweetly. “We’re still in the tunnel.”
“Why on earth do you have a truck in a tunnel?” I blink. “How did you even get it down here?”
“Our whole group lives down here in this tunnel,” Jackson explains. “No one ever bothers us since tunnels aren’t meant to be used anymore. It’s massive and goes under the entire Chocolate Society.”
“How did you get it down here?” I repeat.
“Some openings are massive and we expanded some ourselves. Most of our vehicles were stolen from the transport museum.”
My mouth flops open.
“What?” he grins. “We have to survive somehow.”
“Does that mean you steal food?” I ask.
“Nope,” Toby grins.
“Then how do you eat?” Eliza asks for me.
“It wouldn’t work if we just stayed locked up all day. We have to eat somehow so since we look just like everyone else, some of us go out and shop for food.”
“How do you manage that?” I ask. “Without being noticed?”
“We’re barely going to look odd, like I said. We just buy enough food for a normal family and roll with that. So really, about three hundred of us get food with the other two hundred do stuff back at our base.”
“What stuff?” Eliza demands.
“Sorry,” Toby smiles sweetly. “I’m not allowed to say.”
The truck eventually rumbles to a stop and I jerk back to consciousness.
“Do we blindfold them again?” Amelia asks as she prepares to open the door.
“No point,” Shane shrugs. “They don’t know where we’re stationed.”
Nodding her head, she flings open the door.
“Oww,” Eliza covers her eyes with her hands. “Why is it so bright?”
“It’s not,” Toby grabs my arm and yanks me from my seat, causing me to practically stumble out the vehicle. “You’ve just been in the dark to long.”
“Oh my gosh,” I gasp as Eliza jumps out beside me and grab her arm for support.
The tunnel has opened up to massive area which I can’t even see the end of. Tents cover the area as far as I can see and people, so many people, roam around. I look to the left and right, but there’s literally no end to the mass. There’s hundreds here, just like Toby said. He wasn’t exaggerating.
“How did you make it so big?” Eliza asks with shock in her eyes as she tries to take it all in.
“It wasn’t always this big,” Shane shrugs and reaches for a big duffel bag. “It used to be very small, but as our forces grew, we had to expand. We’re still doing so today.”
“How though?” I force my feet to move as we follow him down a row of tents. “Did you blow it up?”
“Hardly,” Toby snorts and Amelia glares at him. “What? It’s a stupid question.”
“Toby,” Jackson sighs. “Shut up.”
He places his hand behind my back to help me along. I know I should be scared of him, but he’s too much like my dad and since my dad is one of the nicest people I know, I just can’t.
“We use pitchforks to chip away the stone. Men take it in turns each day since it’s extremely hard work.”
I nod my head. That makes better sense than blowing it up.
People sitting outside their tents look up as we walk by and I feel a flush rising in my cheeks. I’ve never really been the centre of attention but I guess when you have guards guiding and following you, it’s hard to hide.
Kids run around, tripping and falling over one another as they try to catch each other. One runs across Shane’s path and he pats him on the head.
“How’s it going Joshua?” he asks.
“Can’t talk now,” Joshua jumps from foot to foot. “Mia’s searching for me.”
“Then run a head,” Shane gestures and Joshua bolts.
I’m getting caught up in the scenery when Eliza comes to a stop and I barrel into her.
“Sorry,” I quickly jump back, but she’s not listening.
“Oh my God.”
I follow her line of vision and nearly stumble back.
The girl coming towards us is white. Not chocolate skinned, but white. Pearl white. Her hair’s a dark red that falls to her hip, something I’ve never seen before. As she gets closer, I realise her eyes are black, too.
“Hello,” she stuffs her hands in the pockets of her shorts. “Mum sent me.”
“Good good,” Shane turns around and realises for the first time just how shocked we are. “Oh woops. Probably should have said something.”
“You think?” Eliza’s mouth is open in amazement. “How is that even possible? Why don’t you look like everyone else.”
The girl goes to talk, but Toby butts in.
“Not now, Rose,” he shakes his head. “You can talk to them later.”
Rose. Even her name is beautiful. For the first time I feel what must be jealousy. I want her hair, I want her eyes. I want her skin and her name.
I want to be her.
As she turns to walk away, I don’t even have to be guided along. Feeling woozy, I follow after her.
“What’s wrong with you?” Toby asks as we turn down yet another pathway.
“What?” I glare at him. “Seriously? She’s different! I’ve never ever seen anyone different!”
Even on the old interviews we watch at school they aren’t different. They waited until after the Chocolate effect took place to film them. All old pictures were burned and for once, I can actually see why.
Jealousy, if that is what I’m feeling, could make you do anything.
“So she has red hair and white skin,” he shrugs. “It’s not that shocking.”
“Umm, yeah. It is.”
“You do realise that if you didn’t have your needles every single year, you’d probably look like her? You’re probably white with blond hair or something.”
I’m slightly taken aback because I’ve never thought about that, not properly anyway. There were times where I’d stay up late at night, looking at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out what I would look like if I weren’t forced to have the vaccinations.
“How long does it take to go back to normal?” I ask with a feeling of hunger. I want to see.
“Well the needle starts to wear off on each birthday. That’s why you have to have them. So I guess maybe a year would do it.”
“Have you ever done it?” I turn to him, trying to imagine what he’d look like.
“Not yet,” he frowns. “I’ve been waiting for the right time. Besides, I can’t very well gather resources for our colony if I looked different, could I?”
“Oh yeah,” I nod. “True.”
For the first time, I see him give me a genuine smile, not a sarcastic one and it makes me smile back.
“You’re going to love it here,” he tells me.
I know it’s awful and I know I shouldn’t be thinking this way, but I agree with him. Even though I’m already missing my mother and father, I’m starting to feel excited.
I want to stay.