SHADE (for writelongandprosper)

Yellow for mild swearing and some scenes of a sensitive nature.

To the north, there lies the old lake. South, the mountains. The west of the city is bordered by desert. To the east, there stands a wall.

Myles Lakeman is 18. He is a man, and it is time for him to receive his mission. His mission? Survive the night.
Myles must capture the rebels, conquer the landscape and most importantly, escape the elusive Shades... but along this journey he meets a girl, a girl with a mission of her own: she must find her brother.
Together, they discover that their world is hiding so much more than they once thought: what are the Shades and where do they come from? What are the rebels doing? What is on the other side of the wall?

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4. Chapter 3: Lydia

She stands in the middle of the street, frozen with shock. The soldiers point their guns at the line, marching up and down the queue of people with expressions like stone. They show no emotion, seeming to care very little whether the people before them live or die. In fact, with their metallic eyes and robotic, even movements, Lydia would hazard to guess that the guards standing before her had nothing human left within them at all.

                It feels as though there is something lodged in her throat, but she doesn’t dare cough. Instead she stands dutifully behind the man in front of her, her eyes focussed on the back of his head. Slowly, the line begins to move forwards, and soon she sees a number of people walking back towards her with crinkled bottles refilled with water and handfuls of food clutched in their palms.

                Only when she gets closer to the distribution point does she discover why the man who decided to run was shot. On their way into the building- into City Hall- each person is forced to stop. A small gun is pressed to their wrist and the trigger pressed, and then they are allowed to collect their supplies. They head through a set of scanners that glow green as they walk past, and come back out a minute later with a crinkled bottle of water and a morsel of food.

                By the time Lydia reaches the front, she has the routine memorised. She presents her wrist to the guard on her left, watching with wide eyes as the man, little more than a boy, presses a contraption that looks like a gun against her skin. What would be the barrel is almost flat, and he adjusts his hand so that it lies at an angle to her skin. When he pulls the trigger, a sharp, quick pain flashes up her arm and she has to force herself not to pull away. She looks down at her wrist, where a thin red line oozes blood across the pale, soft skin of her forearm. Blinking away tears, she steps through the doors of City Hall, passes through the scanners, and looks up.

                The atrium is little more than a vast, square room. A collection of shiny metal doors are embedded in the far wall, each one flanked by two armed guards. Lining one wall of the room is a row of tables filled with food scraps, a hydration station made up of large blue water barrels marking the end. On the other side is another row of tables, scattered with bright scraps of fabric, shoes and other items.

Lydia walks over to the food tables and stops in front of the first guard, as the person before her had done.

“Select one item from each table. Collect a bottle of water from the end. You may select one item from the other side of the room to take with you, as a reward for allowing yourself to be tagged. You will be searched on your way out, and your selections logged against your identity number. Any attempt to steal additional food, water or miscellaneous items will result in prosecution, exile or death.” His tone is monotonous, his speech rehearsed and automatic.

She nods and walks to the first table, picking up a small basket woven from plastic strips. At the next table, she browses a range of past-fresh vegetables and selects a slightly bendy carrot, putting it into the basket and hooking the handle around her arm. Next she picks up a small purple fruit the size of her palm that feels soft and squishy to the touch, then a stale roll of bread the size of her fist. Lastly she finds a handful of nuts packed loosely into a plastic bag, slips it into the basket alongside the rest of the food and moves on. Several other citizens wander behind her, each one blurry-eyed and dazed at the vast selection of fresh-ish food laid out before them.

A guard at the blue tank on the last table fills a large crinkled bottle with vaguely murky water and holds it out for Lydia to take. She follows the man who was stood in front of her across the hall, the stretch of empty floor feeling endless with the scrape and tap of her leg against the pale linoleum. The other tables contain a mix of ripped and worn clothing, though each piece at least appears to be clean. There are a range of shoes set out on one of the tables, a meagre supply of blankets folded on the next.

Out of all the items, only one really catches her eye. A faded blue t-shirt, frayed at the edges but washed clean and folded, sits between a pair of jeans and a pink cardigan. She reaches out for it, her fingers tracing the black text printed across the front, and lifts it to her chest. On the back of the t-shirt there is a small hole, just big enough for her to poke her finger through. The edges of the hole are stained orange with what she suspects to be blood, and his smell has long been extinguished by the bitter smell of chemicals, but there can be no doubt that this shirt was his. Owen’s.

She turns away from the table, his shirt still in her hands, and walks numbly back towards the entrance. A guard stops her, his robotic voice instructing her to leave the basket behind, so she empties the food into the shirt and gathers up the edges, using it as a make-shift pack to carry her items home. She tucks the bottle under her arm, allows the soldier to inspect what she holds, and waits as he runs a small, handheld device over her wrist. He types in a description of what she has in her arms, runs his hands roughly over her body and pushes her towards the door. She stumbles out into the sunlight, her eyes not really seeing past the blur of a puddle of encroaching tears.

They took him, she thinks, her leg clicking against the pavement as she moves past the growing line of people still waiting to head inside. While she had long since suspected he was dead or worse, she couldn’t help but feel a deep stone of unease settle in her stomach as the memory of him is unfairly pushed back into her world. He was taken from her, brought into City Hall and then what? At the very least, whatever belongings he had on him were taken away. They’d been cleaned, and then set out for anyone to help themselves to.

She reaches the old house she calls her home, slips in beneath the leaning sheet of metal and stumbles towards the stairs. Her heart feels heavy as she lets herself fall onto a wooden step near the bottom, the heel of her good leg just touching the dusty floor. She lifts the shirt to her face, letting the food fall into her lap, and tries desperately to find some evidence of him within the fibres of it. But nothing comes through except the same bitter, acid smell as before, and she lets her hands fall. Two damp patches are visible on the shirt, evidence of the tears on her cheeks.

Something about finding this part of him, this relic of the past, makes her feel as though she should do something more to connect with him. Ordinarily she would wander the streets in search of more food or items she could trade, taking over the tasks he used to undertake to attempt to look after her. Sometimes she would spend the day searching for the rebels she knows still exist in the city, as though they could help her to find the answers she so desperately seeks, but today she has a different quest. Today, she decides, is the day to break the rules.

She wraps the fruit and the bread roll in the shirt and slips the bundle into the hole in the wall. The hole had probably once contained an electrical socket, but since then the plastic casing and all the wires have been ripped from their nest. In their place is a gap in the brickwork, just big enough for her to slip her arm into. The inner and outer walls sit a few inches apart, and she supposes that pipes and wires must have one day run through them. In this cavity is where she stores her leg at night, but for now that space is taken up with the crinkled bottle of murky water. She takes a big swig, letting the lukewarm, grainy liquid swill around her mouth, and slides the bottle into place.

The stairs creak under her weight as she climbs them, stepping carefully across the rotting floorboards until she reaches her blanket, which she ties around her neck like a cape. Then, preparations somewhat complete, she clambers back down the stairs and ventures into the street.

The sun is already high in the sky, the heat quickly building on her bare skin. As she walks, Lydia rubs her finger along the small cut on her arm. It’s stopped bleeding by this point, and the red crust flakes away at her touch. Beneath the soft white skin of the inside of her forearm, she can feel the outline of something small and rectangular, the side of her thumbnail and rounded at the edges. It’s almost paper-thin, but rigid to the touch. The guard had said she’d been tagged. She doesn’t know what it means and she can’t connect it to anything in her mind, but the word makes her uneasy.

 With no plan in mind and no real goal, she heads west towards the old fields. In her mind’s eye she can see Owen running along ahead of her, his forehead beading with sweat under the orange light of the rising sun. Beneath the canvas straps and against the worn wooden seat, she can feel her leg beginning to blister. She could turn around now, go home and sit on her mattress with her leg at her side, using a dampened corner of Owen’s t-shirt to soothe her raw skin, but instead she walks on, the bendy carrot clutched tightly in her hand.

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