Crossed(6)By: Ally Condie
Behind me, I heard him turn and run back toward the camp. “Look up on the plateau!” he yelled, and the others stirred and called back in excitement.
“We’re going up to get the snow, Ky!” someone hollered at me a few moments later. “Come on.”
“You won’t make it,” I told them. “It will melt too fast.”
But no one listened to me. The Officials still keep us thirsty and what water we do have tastes like the insides of our canteens. The closest river now is poisoned and rain doesn’t come often.
One cold swallow of fresh water. I can see why they wanted to go.
“You sure?” one of them called back to me, and I nodded again.
“You going, Vick?” someone called out.
Vick stood up, shielded his hard blue eyes with one hand, and spit down into the frosted sagebrush. “No,” he said. “Ky says it’ll melt before we get there. And we’ve got graves to dig.”
“You’re always making us dig,” one of the decoys complained. “We’re supposed to act like farmers. That’s what the Society says.” He was right. They want us to use the shovels and seeds from the village sheds to plant winter crops and to leave the bodies where they lie. I’ve heard other decoys say that that’s what they do in the other villages. They leave the carcasses for the Society or the Enemy or any animals who might want them.
But Vick and I bury people. It started with the boy and the river and no one’s stopped us yet.
Vick laughed, a cold sound. In the absence of any Officials or Officers he has become the unofficial leader out here and sometimes the other decoys forget that he doesn’t actually have any power within the Society. They forget that he’s an Aberration, too. “I don’t make you do anything. Neither does Ky. You know who does, and if you want to take your chances up there, I won’t stop you.”
The sun climbed higher and so did they. I watched for a while. Their black plainclothes and the distance between the village and the plateau made them look like ants swarming a hill. Then I stood up and started back to work, digging holes in the graveyard for the ones who died in the firing the night before.
Vick and the others worked next to me. We had seven holes to dig. Not too many, considering the intensity of the firing and the fact that there were almost a hundred of us to lose.
I kept my back to the climbers so I didn’t have to see how the snow was all gone by the time they reached the top of the plateau. Climbing up there was a waste of time.
It’s also a waste of time to think about people who are gone. And judging by the way things out here are going, I don’t have a lot of time to waste.
But I can’t help it.
On my first night in Mapletree Borough, I looked out of the window in my new bedroom and not one thing was familiar or seemed like home. So I turned away. And then Aida came through the door, and she looked enough like my mother that I could breathe again.
She held out her hand with the compass in it. “Our parents only had one artifact, and two daughters. Your mother and I agreed that we would take turns sharing it, but then she left.” She opened my hand and put the compass inside. “We had the same artifact. And now we both have the same son. It’s for you.”
“I can’t have it,” I told her. “I’m an Aberration. We’re not allowed to keep things like this.”
“Nevertheless,” Aida said. “It is yours.”
And then I gave it to Cassia to keep and she gave me the green silk. I knew they’d take it from me someday. I knew I would never get to keep it. And so that’s why, when we walked down from the Hill the last time, I paused and tied it to a tree. Quickly, so she wouldn’t notice.
I like to think of it out there on top of the Hill under wind and rain.
Because in the end you can’t always choose what to keep. You can only choose how you let it go.
I was thinking of her when I first saw the snow. I thought, We could climb up there. Even if it all melted. We’d sit and write words on the still-damp sand. We could do that, if you weren’t gone.
But then, I remembered, you’re not the one who’s gone. I am.
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed