Two thirds of the day would be spent scratting at the edge of my wrist guard with frenzied nails after I’d had ‘Zaiden’ surgically implanted into my skin.
His signature anointed the ruffled flesh of my wrist, a constant reminder of my loss of freedom, my loss of control. I wasn’t my own person anymore but rather the government’s -just another regimental robot programmed to function according to its instructions. I lacked diversity and sustenance.
My mind played tricks on me some days; it would insist that everyone was staring at me even if they weren’t. My insides quivered with condemnation -I sensed that they were judging me. It felt as if Zaiden’s name was more blatantly obvious written instead on my forehead rather than indelibly on my wrist. In my mind they knew about the betrayal- the switch of soul mates, the unthinkable. I’d always make sure to press my index finger to the edge of my wrist guard to double check it was still firmly locked in place. My secret secure.
Teachers asked if everything was ok at home, students crudely gossiped, doctors issued more drugs, nurses gave me discouraging frowns and a psychiatrist even recommended I keep a diary. “To enable Jacinta to release all her repressed emotions,” she’d said. But all the same my nails continued tearing up my skin, causing long ragged gashes to emerge alongside the protracted green-blue roots of my veins. Everyone assumed I was just having another one of my episodes. I wasn’t. I sensed myself rotting inside out like the neglected cabbages at the outskirts of the garden –worms and caterpillars gnawing at their fleshy leaves, the phloem and chloroplasts that ensured its vibrant green hue, ripped apart, draining it of its life support.
“If you’re really that fond of staying at the hospital, watching the unfortunate few fall deeper and deeper into the void, why don’t you go do what a normal sadistic loving creature does?” Corin glowered at me one day through the edges of her peripheral vision, “Get a medical degree.”
“All doctors have to be sadistic to want to be able to duel with death on a day to day basis. Its animal cruelty; better let them come to terms with their illnesses then draw out their suffering and offer false hope to their relatives.”
“Oh.” I mumbled in response staring blankly at a spot on the wall where the paint had begun to retract, revealing the haggard plasterboard of its innards. Was she referring to me? Was there to be no hope for me?
Corin was leant against the doorframe of the kitchen; her pale blonde hair a drift slightly- static compelling it to defy gravity- and her razor blade sharp eyes scanning me up and down disgruntledly, “Where’s the flashy come back wizard?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “I’m tired of your games Corin.”
“I wasn’t aware we were playing.” She stood up and propelled herself towards the fridge, grabbing a coke can and turning her back away from me. It hissed as she punctured its seal.
Without her evasive eyes on me I felt somehow more secure, protected. Safer from the dagger like edges of her optics, the way they dug deep into my soul, retching it apart and exposing my secrets.
“Corin… I…” My throat dried up, “I…”
She turned around her fingers raising the can to her lips, “What?”
Mum burst into the room.
My shield tumbled back down in place. “…Nothing.”
Corin upon our mother’s entrance immediately scowled. She downed the rest of her drink and crushed it in her palm and exited quickly.
“Why is she so stubborn?” Mum slotted her palms onto her hipbones and I shrugged in turn. A quaint aura had been casted over our family since the day we’d been taken in.
Corin didn’t talk to mum. Mum didn’t talk to Corin. Whenever mum stepped into the room, a shadow passed over Corin’s features –her eyes suddenly ablaze with the knowledge of mum betraying her. Originally she’d thought when she’d returned that I’d told them about her joining the cynicism movement. In the heat of the moment I’d revealed it was mum. Now she hated us both.
However unlike the Corin-mum situation at least Corin and me were talking, even if it was only to lob insults at each other like a broken record. Mostly things had carried on as usual but from time to time when we felt the odd sensation of beady eyes latched onto beings and when our hairs stood on end -we knew we were being watched. There was a third party in the room, a foreign spectator tainting the atmosphere with their heavy breathing and subtle coughs. We were never truly alone, they were always listening, always analysing our every movements. Were we a threat? No? Yes? Maybe…
Who knew? It’d been 3 months.
It was when I’d just been released from hospital that they’d called upon me for a favour. I wasn’t expecting it- they’d left it just long enough for everything to settle before they decided to kick up the dust again. When the nurses had told me they were going to let me go (I’d ceased to scratch at my arm for a good 24 hours now and my crazy mumblings had relented for a good while) I’d phoned up and told Corin to arrive a couple of hours later than what they’d said was the release time.
Instead I ambled down the road to a spot amongst a section of trees; there was a bench there. Engraved in it were words of adoration for a man called Ben Huxley, whose beloved carpinomen Jane, declared this to be his favourite spot. It dated back 20 years. He’d died in his 30s. No doubt one of the ‘unfortunate few’ whom had fallen ‘deeper and deeper into the void’. A hospital victim- Corin would say.
I wondered what it would be like to have been Ben Huxley.
Would he have had died having lead a full life? Did he love his carpinomen Jane? What was it about this spot that entranced him so? It wasn’t anything particularly special. Just a rotten old bench next to a couple of young oak trees they had brought in from somewhere else to try and generate a bit more wildlife. They weren’t even standing up on their own; they were supported by an artificial plastic stalk and clip. The bench was facing a road. The rush of mainstream traffic hustling by in a daze -if you blinked you missed it.
I unzipped my bag and pulled out a couple of pills they’d given me to ‘try calm my nerves’. I swallowed them. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the void –it looked somewhat like the night sky on the beach I’d seen that day. It was stunning. It reminded me of the good times and the bad. Of the times me and Corin used to meander on down there with dad- we’d always come back reeking of fish and chips and we’d still find sand in our clothes and hair months later. Mum would hate it. I thought back to the times I’d spend down there with Brett –that night forever intrinsic in my head. The blood. The bruises. The stars.
Maybe Ben hadn’t of particularly liked the view. Maybe he’d just told his carpinomen he did so she’d be comforted that he had somewhere to go if he needed peace, if he needed to fill the void. The sound of traffic clogged up my senses. I felt myself keeling over, my throat clogging up with car fumes. Maybe Ben Huxley had only liked the concept- the idea of being able to get a glimpse of so many people’s lives whizzing on by, being able to capture a second of their lives and claim he’d been in it.
I didn’t want Ben Huxley’s life or lack of it, I soon realised.
I wanted to live and learn making my own decisions –not to follow orders and become a government stooge. I opened my eyes; light flooded in and I heard a rustle beside me. Turning my head I saw Henrik.
“We’ve got a little job for you Jacinta.” His ghostly complexion made me blink twice. Was he really there or was my mind playing games with me again? An apparition, a manifestation of my conscious?
“What do you want?” I candidly stated, “You promised to leave us alone.”
“I promised you I’d leave your family alone Jacinta. Not you.”
“You tricked me.” It came out of my mouth a fact. A deadly cold hard fact.
“How could you think so lowly of me?” His teeth glistened in the headlights of a dark SUV that sauntered around the corner. It had no number plate. “This little favour I want- it involves your carpinomen.”
He clasped his fingers around my wrist, unlatching the spring on the trap door concealing my fate. His name made my stomach lurch.
“He’s not my carpinomen.”
His thumb glided over the swirling font on my wrist. “That’s funny. I swear you just said ‘he’s not my carpinomen.’ I must be mistaken.” His lips curled over his teeth.
I scowled at him. I didn’t like playing his game. “I don’t have a carpinomen.”
“That’s not what your wrist says.” He pressed his thumb into my skin. I swallowed.
“You’re taking everyone’s freedom away from them.”
“They once had it and they blew it. This is their penance.”
“But…” I wanted to say more. I wanted to prove humanity's worth.
“But nothing. You’re going to do me a favour. If you don’t- well I have no need to explain to you what will happen if you don’t. The cynicism movement isn’t the only fugitive group out there and definitely not the most extreme.” I attempted to tug his hand out of his hold but his hand latched on like a vice, “You’re going to help us take down the CRG.”
“The Carpinomen Removal Group. A bit boring a name if you ask me though.” He let go of my wrist and I drew it back to my chest cradling it, “I prefer to call them- the Autograph Disposal Unit.”
“What?” I edged to the side of the bench, half sitting on it, half hovering in mid air -ready and poised so to manoeuvre myself out of the way of any pesky government henchmen that might decide to tug me into the scary looking SUV that had pulled up 10 metres down from us.
“The Autograph Disposal Unit," As if on cue, the prophesied bulky looking sidekicks tumbled out of the car, their sunglasses hung low on their thin tipped noses. "the same group your boyfriend is in charge of."
"My what? He...?" My brain refused to process.
"Your carpinomen is an antagonistic bandit," The sidekicks stepped closer, "a bigot and a con artist. He proclaims he is fighting the unjust system, giving everyone freedom by wiping their contrived soul mates off their wrists, flushing away our control," another couple of steps closer... "and then when we finally get ahold of the hypocrite we find he still has his blasted name on his wrist!"
"Hey Boss, shall we...?" A pair of copious blue eyes blinked from behind sunglasses at Henrik.
"Yes, yes of course! Places to go, people to see." He stood up dusting of his grey suit with his hands. I got a glance at his wrist -no wrist guard.
"You're going to leave me here." I frowned at him.
His response was to laugh -a deep rooted sound that plundered out of his mouth in loud gasping fits. "Have a nice trip home with your sister Jacinta." He licked his lips and began to step away.
"Wait?" I jumped up from Ben's bench. "You're leaving? Just like that?"
"Oh, don't worry we'll be back Jacinta," He called from over his shoulder. "and when we are, you're going to help us bring down Zaiden Turner."
They drove away leaving me alone with the remnants of Ben Huxley's fading anamnesis.
An unsettling breeze rustled the leaves and caused me to wrap my arms around myself protectively. I was alone again. More alone than I had ever felt with my wrist baring no name. I decided then and there that I had had enough of being analytic. Being analytical had gotten me into this mess in the first place. I was fed up of having to obey the scrupulous rules that had been both instigated into the roots of my psyche and the prohibitive walls of the contrived world around me.
Instead of complying I was going to do the one thing that went against my very being to do.
You'd better watch out Henrik Walcott.
Zaiden, Corin, Brett- prepare yourselves.
By the time I'm done with you world, you'll be wishing that I'd never begun.