Crossed(12)By: Ally Condie
“It’s about someone hoping for more,” I tell him noncommittally. “It’s part of a poem from before the Society.” Not from the poem that belongs to Cassia and me. I won’t speak those words to anyone again until I can tell them to her. The poem I say now is the other one she found in her artifact when she opened it that day in the woods.
She didn’t know I was there. I stood, watching her read the paper. I saw her lips forming the words of a poem I didn’t know, and then of one I did. When I realized what she was saying about the Pilot, I stepped forward and a stick snapped under my foot.
“Doesn’t do them any good,” Vick tells me, gesturing to one of the bodies and then shoving his sandy hair back from his face in irritation. They won’t give us scissors or razors for cutting our hair or shaving—too easy to turn into weapons to kill each other or ourselves. It doesn’t usually matter. Only Vick and I have been out here long enough to have hair that falls into our eyes. “So that’s all it is? Some old poem?”
It’s a mistake.
Usually, Vick doesn’t care when I don’t answer him, but this time I see a challenge in his eyes. I start planning the best way to take him down. The increase in firings has affected him, too. Put him on edge. He’s bigger than me but not by much, and I learned to fight out here years ago. Now that I am back I remember it, like the snow on the plateau. My muscles tense.
But Vick stops. “You never cut notches in your boot,” he says, his voice back to even and his eyes back to calm.
“No,” I agree.
“No one needs to know,” I say.
“To know what? How long you’ve lasted?” Vick asks.
“To know anything about me,” I say.
We leave the graves behind and take a break for lunch, sitting on a group of sandstone boulders outside of the village. The colors are the red orange brown of my childhood, and their texture is the same: dry and rough and—in November—cold.
I use the narrow end of the decoy gun to scratch a mark into the sandstone. I don’t want anyone to know I can write, so I don’t write her name.
Instead I draw a curve. A wave. Like an ocean, or a piece of green silk rolling in the wind.
Scratch, scratch. The sandstone, shaped by other forces, water and wind, is now altered by me. Which I like. I always carve myself into what others want me to be. With Cassia on the Hill—only then was I truly myself.
I’m not ready yet to draw her face. I don’t even know if I can. But I scratch another curve into the rock. It looks a little like the C I first taught her to write. I make the curve again, remembering her hand.
Vick leans over to see what I’m doing. “That doesn’t look like anything.”
“It looks like the moon,” I tell him. “When it’s thin.”
Vick glances up at the plateau. Earlier today some air ships came for the bodies. That hasn’t happened before. I don’t know what the Society has done with them, but I wish I’d thought to climb up to the top and write something to mark the decoys’ passing.
Because now there is nothing to say that they were ever there. The snow melted before they could make a footprint in it. Their lives ended before they even knew what they could be.
“You think that boy was lucky?” I ask Vick. “The one who died in camp, before we came to the villages?”
“Lucky,” Vick says, as if he doesn’t know what the word means. And maybe he doesn’t. Luck is not a word the Society encourages. And it’s not something we have much of out here.
There was a firing our first night out in the villages. We all started running to take cover. A few of the boys ran out into the street with their guns and shot at the sky. Vick and I ended up in the same house with one or two others. I don’t remember their names. They’re gone now.
“Why aren’t you out there trying to shoot back?” Vick asked me then. We hadn’t talked to each other much since we put the boy in the river.
“No reason to,” I said. “The ammunition isn’t real.” I put my standard-issue gun on the ground next to me.
Vick puts his gun down, too. “How long have you known?”
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed