This week’s Wordy Wednesday was the winner of the Fringe Society Contest on Figment a couple years back. It was also part of my Senior Writing Portfolio for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which received an honorable mention.
(Sorry you’re not getting more of an update on things–I’m absolutely swamped right now between college and scholarship apps and prepping for the Writer’s Digest Conference this spring. Everything should slow down at least a little bit in a couple of weeks though, all right?)
There’s a scar on my left leg that They don’t know about. It’s from this one time my friends and I tried bungee jumping off the bridge at Eastbank Esplanade with bike cords two summers ago. The doctor in the ER said I was lucky that my leg was the only place I needed stitches. The scar is so far up on my thigh that it doesn’t show even now, as I scope out the street from behind the glow of a Blackberry, overheating in my cutoffs and rose colored tank top. I hate New York City in the summer, but this is where I heard They’d be, so here I am.
As a woman in a designer business suit passes by and shoots my clothes a dirty look, my hand moves. It’s barely a flinch and she doesn’t even notice, but I still wait until she’s a good twenty feet away before opening my fist to reveal her Neiman Marcus wallet and deftly slipping it into my overloaded tote bag. I don’t usually pickpocket, but the woman deserves it. I can tell just from that one interaction that she’s a total Scrooge.
I glance back over the street, check the address on the Blackberry screen again to make sure, for the hundredth time, that I have it right, and hope that this time’s the last. My feet itch, hot and uncomfortable in my worn violet high tops, and I resist the urge to shift back and forth at all. I’ll get more looks that way and I need to remain invisible.
Just another teenager on East 49th Street, I tell myself. You’re just another teenager.
Finally, at 3:05 P.M., I spot a movement out of the norm on the corner opposite me. A middle aged man with salt and pepper hair and a Jersey Shore tan, scrupulously dressed down in cargo shorts and a polo, pauses on the corner and pulls an iPhone from his back pocket. He hasn’t seen me so he doesn’t know to turn away as he utters the one word, the command, and I’m just close enough to read his lips and make out what he says.
He means that the Distracters have done Their job and there aren’t any police officers anywhere in a two mile radius. It’s safe to begin the exercise.
Or this part of the exercise, anyway.
They’ve surely been playing games for weeks now. Stealing passwords and sending out fake obituaries. It’s Their favorite part of it all. Messing with people before finally pulling the trigger. Before stating the last command, the death sentence, “Clear.”
The Blackberry says it’s 3:06. I know what comes next and I know what vehicle Their victim is in the instant it enters the block, because it’s the traditional style They go for – sporty and expensive. It’s a red Porsche with an important-looking businessman inside, preoccupied with someone on his Bluetooth. They’ll have to disconnect his phone an instant before the crash or somebody will know what happened right away and They need at least two minutes to get away from the scene of the crime.
Trailing right behind the Porsche, maybe a little too close, is a dingy yellow Jeep that looks out of place within its surroundings. They never use Their own cars for this kind of thing.
I remember the day They came for me, but I try not to think about it. It’s the day that everything changed. They didn’t kill me, but They tried. They might as well have. They took my life anyway – social security number, credit card, driver’s license. The Driver who spared my life told me just enough to get by, to escape, but the following I’ve had to do all on my own.
I want to get back at Them.
I’m here because someone wasn’t there for me. I’ve watched it happen a hundred times as I’ve tracked Them all over the country, slowly turning into one of Them as I go, picking up Their tricks and skills, like the pickpocketing thing. They’ve become the only thing that matters.
The rich guy in the Porsche doesn’t deserve to have this happen to him.
As the Society member across the street begins walking, I begin in the same direction also, copying his pace. I drop the Blackberry in the nearest trashcan and pause when I get to the next corner where a dusty child in ragged clothes calls out for money. I snag the Neiman Marcus wallet from my bag and drop it at her feet. She screeches in amazement, that something so wonderful could be bestowed upon her, and I smile before continuing on, casually stopping once to tie my sneaker and another time to buy a dirty water hotdog, always keeping the Society member in sight. He’s still blissfully unaware of my presence, which I find mildly amusing.
I know where They’re going to stage the accident and I know how They’ll do it. There’s an intersection coming up and I see a twenty-something woman slouched on a bench over an expensive laptop. She’ll have hacked into the sequencing of the traffic lights. The Porsche will be just about to pull through the intersection when the light turns straight to red and the Jeep rams him from behind, pushing him into the oncoming traffic. The man will be so startled he won’t even realize his fate as a second Jeep slams straight into the driver’s side door.
For a split second I wonder who’s pulling the stunt this time. The Board will have set the target, but it’s up to the rest of the Society to squabble over who gets the gun. It’s a competition amongst Them. Who can kill the rich guy and steal his identity first?
“April, shouldn’t you be in school?”
The voice is cool and smooth and although the tone is not unpleasant, it isn’t warm either. Sucking in a breath, I don’t turn to look at the boy behind me because I already know who it is.
“I haven’t gone to school since I was a sophomore, Tristan. You should know that.”
Tristan. Dark brown hair and light brown eyes and a smileless disposition. He’s the youngest member of the Society, at just nineteen. Most of them are college graduates, but he managed to sneak his way in. It’s his older brother’s fault I’m tangled up in this. His dead older brother’s. The Driver who saved me.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you should be there instead of here,” he breathes into my ear. I bite my lip because he knows I hate it when people get close to me.
“You’re one to talk about should and shouldn’ts. Isn’t stealing morally wrong?”
He laughs once, the sound short and sharp, and I turn, stepping away from him. His face is drawn – so much worry for someone so young, but I’m sure I’m not a very pleasant sight either.
“Morals don’t count anymore, April. You know that.”
“I wish I didn’t.”
Together we watch the accident happen, and I don’t move because I know Tristan has a syringe of anesthetic in his hand, just waiting for me to take a step toward the curb. I don’t feel a thing. My body’s numb. Ice. My brain is frozen, and my thoughts are foggy, and I can’t bear to watch but I can’t look away.
There are screams and horrified expressions and two minutes later the sirens start up in the distance, but They’re already gone.
Failed. Again. All because of Tristan.
I asked him once if They assigned him to the duty of keeping me away, because he’s always the one who does it, always the one who carries the shot. He said no.
It’s onto the next stop after this, as Tristan and I turn and go in opposite directions, acting the part of perfect strangers. We should be. He may have asked for this, but I didn’t.
He drops the unused syringe in the trash.
I hope the next target is at least somewhere cooler. The sweat’s dripping into my eyes and making my vision blur. I know it’s sweat because it can’t be tears – I stopped crying months ago.
And all I can keep thinking as I walk, averting my eyes from the scene of the crime as emergency workers rush about, too late, is the fact that there’s a scar on my left leg, and even though They stole my identity – my whole life – They don’t know about it. Which means that at least some part of the old me is still mine. Which means that They didn’t win.
PS. If you’re as big of a fan of Veronica Roth’s Divergent as I am and happen to live in the state of Illinois (lucky, lucky you if you do!), then make sure to check out the Facebook page for the agency casting extras for the film adaption: https://www.facebook.com/DivergentExtrasCasting
I seriously wanted to be in this movie (I think my faction pictures can prove that), but because I’m an out-of-stater, I can’t. SO GO BE AN EXTRA IN MY PLACE, PLEASE!