The door thuds closed behind us and I try to swallow my fear. He could’ve shot me down anytime he’d wanted. He’s either kept me alive so my enemy can claim me again, and continue running tests, or he’s a friend. I’m praying for the latter.
“Names, Mud,” he says, lifting a hand in greeting. Heavy dark circles are already starting to appear under his eyes, Shifting has made him weak and tired. His body isn’t built for it. “What’s yours?”
I ignore his question, “How are you able to Shift?”
Squinting in the dusk, my bare feet slap against wet pavement, making more noise than I desire. It’s been too long since I felt the breeze against my face. Too long since I worked my body past the point of endurance. Too long confined to a bed.
But I won’t let them take me back.
The high-pitched scream of sirens quickens my heart, making my feet stumble over themselves. I’m exhausted, but I must keep going. If only I had enough strength to Shift. I’d shake this pursuit within seconds. Or even fight them.
Something is different about this day. I don’t know the source, but there’s a forboding bite to the chill air as my friends and I walk toward the elevators. We’re a large group. And I’m loathe to mention this unnamed sense, I don’t want my friends to be afraid.
We step on the elevator and the doors thud, echoing my heart. I try for a relaxed pose and lean on the wall of the elevator. It begins to burn against my body, before turning cold again.
I don’t know how, but I know we’re about to step into fire. An overwhelming sense to tell someone turns my head to the nearest of my companions, a fellow named Dan, I don’t know him well, but I need to tell him. Someone needs to understand what we’re about to face.
“There’s a fire up ahead,” I say, “I think the building is on fire.”
He was meant to be there as the match-maker, the Weaver, not the Matched. I watched it all, unable to stop it, but also not wanting to.
Who wants to stand in the way of love?
I was there the day he brought two Matched together. Part of the camera crew to document the further success of the Weavers. Never before had I struggled with a Matching. The Weaver’s choices always made sense. They always followed a pattern. But when this Weaver showed up with his boy-man. I wasn’t the only one to scoff at the match.
Like the best cliche of any opening move my feet pound against the pavement. Men pursue me like an escaped convict. Or a wild animal loose from its inclosure at the zoo.
Perhaps I’m both convict and wild animal.
My mind races faster than my feet, jumping to crazy conclusions of what’s become of Jacob, Lacey, Mother, Father and all the rest. Have they survived? Why are they being held like prisoners?
My hands tighten with sickening dread around the key card. My arm burns from a long scratch where the man tried to stop me from taking it.
“There she is! Stop her.” The voice just pushes me to run faster.
I live with Mary and John. They’re polite and uncomplicated. But their simple life gives me too much time to focus on the intricate and confusing web of my own. I miss everyone, Lacey. Jacob.
Sometimes at night I hear Father’s hammer or saw at work in the barn. Or Mother’s gentle hum as the rocking chair creaks against the floorboards of the porch. Even the thud of the pigskin landing in strong, wide hands brings quick tears to my eyes as I lay in bed.
I curse myself. I brought this on my own head. Too bright. I complained about a perfect world.
The grass glows green. It’s too bright, but no one else seems to notice. I lay back on the picnic blanket and little blonde ringlets block the saturated blue sky. Lacey’s giggling face fills my view. She’s all sunshine and daisies. A line from We Bought A Zoo comes to mind, her ‘happy is too loud.’
Does no one else sense something off about this too perfect, too bright world?
I force a smile and tickle her until she falls back on the blanket. Her happy getting louder.
Reaching for a too red apple, Jacob catches my eye. He and the other young men of our farming community are tossing a pigskin back and forth. Their bare feet seem to bounce too high off the ground like gravity has lost a bit of its power here.
Something is definitely wrong.