If you haven't seen it yet, you might want to check out my character post about this series.
You can also read this story on Wattpad.
A short introduction:
The city of Thera is not all it seems-- the people there live controlled by the cuffs around their ankles, forced to comply to whatever Ferucil wishes. But there is hope: The Resistance, the rebel faction, fighting for the true ruler of the land. Four members of the Resistance find themselves in dire situations, some a result of the war, some a result of their personal struggles with anxiety, pride, doubt, and worth.
This series of allegorical short stories will alternate POV's, and slowly the secrets of each character will be revealed---- will you join the adventure?
And, without further adieu,
I just need—
Free. But I can’t. I never can.
I collapse to the floor, my face buried in my hands. Everyone else is happy with their cuffs. Why am I different?
An image flashes across my eyes, giving me my next assignment: sleep. But I don’t want to sleep. I’m tired of sleeping! The cuff sends a buzz through my body as the image disappears. I want to tear it off, to disconnect the device from my nervous system. But I can’t. It controls me, and I can’t break free. “Sweetheart, the anklets are our freedom,” my mother always says. “The tasks Ferucil gives are pleasurable, are they not? We are free to enjoy life, and he makes sure we do that.”
Sure. Usually, my assignments make me happy, but the happiness is short lived. At the end of the day, I find myself here, desperately trying to rip the cuff off. But every day, I fail. And every day, the cuff gets heavier. I open up one of the Resistance pamphlets I’ve been handed over the years, glancing over the words once again, and tossing it away as I’ve done countless times before. I can’t be that.
I stand up, brushing back the stray wisps of ebony that cling to my face, and open a window. The street looks as it always does: perfectly paved, flawless topiaries adorning the sidewalks. I lift myself onto the windowsill, and climb through the opening. This isn’t the true face of Thera. This is just what Ferucil wants us to believe.
The air is sickly sweet here, the moonlight sprinkling silver ashes in its beams. I take a deep breath before plunging into an alleyway. Here the putrid smell of rotting trash fills my lungs, the images of the rejected filling my vision. The crumbling brick is splotched by grime and dirt, accented by eerie shadows. This is what the city really looks like.
A woman grabs hold of my ankle, pressing the cuff deeper into my skin. I cringe as the metal cuts into my ankle, drawing blood.
“Please, I need”-- she breaks to cough violently--“I need food. Water. Money. Anything you have!”
I shake off her hand, and she releases her grip. I take a step back, looking at the floor. I’m not allowed to help her. “I don’t have anything to share.”
Her face grows angry, and she lunges at me. I jump backward and run, but I’m not afraid, for once. She can’t run after me; the weight of her cuff has grown so heavy over the years she can hardly stand. She is helpless. I could be her one day.
That thought scares me more than anything. A shudder runs through my limbs, and my breath goes short.
My cuff vibrates again, distracting me from my fear, and my orders flash across my vision again. He knows where I am; the tracker in my cuff relays my location at all times. And he knows I’m delaying.
I rush back home, hiding within the shadows. My window is still open when I arrive, and I climb through it, falling on my bed.
I have to sleep. I have no choice.
I’m in the middle of a lake, the cool water gently flowing over my shoulders. I look up to the sky, blinking out the sun. There’s no clouds in the sky—in fact, it’s a perfect day-- but something feels wrong.
That’s when it hits me.
I can’t swim.
I start to panic, my pulse racing as the water pulls me under. I gasp for breath, flailing my arms and kicking my legs, but I move in the wrong direction. Icy cold envelops my body as I realize: I’m falling. I can’t swim. Water fills my lungs, and I choke.
I can’t escape. I’m pulled deeper and deeper into the cerulean void. My head pounds, and my limbs grow weak. I won’t make it. I’ve tried hundreds of times and the dream always ends the same.
I hit the bottom; my vision blacks.
“Zayla! You’re gonna make me late again!” Tristan yells in my ear, jerking me into consciousness. I gasp for air, forgetting for a moment that I’m alive, and on solid ground.
He jumps back as I climb out of bed, my knees still shaky. One deep breath fills my lungs, then another. “Get out, I need to change,” I growl at my little brother, who is still standing in front of me with his arms crossed. He leaves the room with a mumble under his breath, and I watch my orders for the day as I pull on a black sweater and change into my jeans. I swing my messenger bag over my shoulder and step out of my bedroom door. Tristan waits outside, tapping his foot. For an eight year-old, this kid has serious attitude. “What took you so long? I’m late for school!”
“Oh, I just stopped to read a book.”
He arches his eyebrow.
“I just woke up, dimwit. I’m moving as fast as I can.”
We duck into the busy street outside my house. The road is a mess of bustling people and oversized cars. Busy citizens rush past us, bumping into our shoulders and smacking us with their bags. I half-jog down the street whenever an opening appears, dragging my brother by the hand.
We’re not going to make it on time. I’ll be punished. Or worse, Tristan will be punished.
I feel nauseous as I realize my breathing is erratic. I can’t do this now. I can’t have an attack, we’re late already! I try to calm my breathing, but the feeling in my chest is getting worse. I’m running now, trying to fight off the fear. My head is spinning with what-if’s and could happens, and I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
We’re at his school now, but I can’t move anymore. “Go. Just get in there!” I choke on my words.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His attitude is gone now, masked by concern.
To be honest, I can’t shake the fear that I’m trapped, unable to get where I need to be. We made it on time, I should be fine. But instead I’m terrified, and I feel like throwing up.
“Zayla?!” He places his hand on my shoulder, but I can’t feel it. I can’t feel anything anymore. I’m trapped, stuck with my head between my knees on the sidewalk.
“Com’ on, you’re fine! Snap out of it!”
His voice is distant, as if I’m deep in a tunnel. No one can help me. And I can’t get out.
I can’t get out.
“Breathe, Zayla! You have to breathe. I’m here with you.”
I try to breathe, and to my surprise, it works. The air fills my lungs.
My heart rate slows, and I realize that I’m still here. I’m okay.
We made it.
I made it.
I stand up, still shaky from my panic attack. “Get in there! You’re late now!”
My brother nods, and runs into the building.
I run my hands through my hair and catch my reflection in the rear view mirror of someone’s vehicle. I look pale and disheveled, making my emerald eyes stand out even more against my black hair. I turn from my reflection, smoothing out my choppy bangs and taking deep breaths. It takes me a minute--several minutes-- to readjust to the world.
I walk the streets, half an hour of time before I have to show up to career training. I wonder how many of the other citizens were given the same career as me, if any of them had a choice what they would do with their life.
A few drops of rain land on my nose and cheeks, and I let the water run down my face undisturbed. I cross my arms to keep warm, and duck inside a coffee shop to wait for classes. I don’t order anything--caffeine always leaves me more vulnerable to attacks; but I sit in the corner booth. The owner shoots a glare at me for using her shop as refuge, but I try to ignore her.
After a few minutes she starts to approach me, her frustration evident. Please don’t kick me out. I’m sorry. My breath goes short again as she comes closer.
She is interrupted by a rustle in the doorway. The whole room goes quiet as they observe the new customer. He scrapes his boots on the doorway rug, breaking the silence. He wears a wool coat that’s beaded with mist, and his dusty blonde hair hangs over his chocolate eyes in loose, wet waves, but what stands out the most is his headset-- a small contraption hooked onto his ear. He glances around the room with a smile on his face, cocking his head when he notices me. I duck a little behind the newspaper I’m pretending to read, but I don’t take my eyes off of him. He clenches his jaw, sensing my apprehension and taking in the suspicious glares of the room. What did he expect? A warm welcome?
No one in the resistance is welcome in Thera. I honestly can’t understand why they’re even allowed within the city walls, but Ferucil can’t seem to get rid of them. And here’s one, close to my age, in the same room as me.
He addresses the owner in a calm voice, drawing her attention away from me. Thank you.
I can’t seem to tear my gaze away. The Resistance intrigues me—they always have. They’ve always had so much confidence—so much surety. Better yet—they didn’t wear cuffs. Somehow, they escaped. But the Resistance is the rebel faction. They aren’t members of society. They’re outcasts, essentially fugitives from Ferucil’s rule. But they are free.
I try to think of something else to distract me. I can’t exactly join the resistance, can I? I’m not even sure if I’d want to. Ferucil keeps me safe, keeps us all safe. I’m guaranteed a career here. He protects me; makes my decisions for me. I can trust him.
At least, that’s what he tells me. I think back to the woman in the alley. Is he telling the truth?
I’m deep in thought when the Resistance boy comes over to my booth. He wears a comical grin on his face, and the shadows of the raindrops on the window trickle down his cheekbones.
“This seat taken?” he asks.
I put my paper down. What was he doing? Could Ferucil see this? Would I be seen as a traitor for sitting with the Resistance?
I’m terrified, and I want to say he needs to find another seat. Instead a shake my head no. “It’s open.”
“Wonderful. I’m Cameron, by the way.” He extends a hand at he sits down, and I take it cautiously. “Zayla.”
“So I’m guessing you’re around seventeen? Probably started career training already, huh?”
“Maybe. What about you? Do you even have career training?”
“I’m seventeen too,” he winks, “And we do things a little differently, so not really.” He takes a sip of his coffee. I sit there motionless, wishing I had something to do with my own hands.
I want to ask him so many questions. How did he join the Resistance? What was it like to choose a career? Was it worth it to leave his family? Why did he stay within the city? Were the rumors true? Was there really a war going on outside the walls?
Muteness keeps my jaw in place.
He cocks his head to the side. “So what career are you training for?”
I manage to respond, barely whispering the words. “I’m going to be a guard.”
“Really? Is that what you want to do with the rest of your life?” He raises an eyebrow in curiosity.
“It’s what Ferucil has appointed me. He knows best.”
Cameron clenches his jaw again and cringes. “Okay. But do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do?”
“I don’t have time for hobbies. I’m busy with career training.”
“So no hobbies, none at all?”
“I have a falcon.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere! How old is she?”
“Three years.” He nods slightly. The shadows have stopped pouring over his face, so I look outside. The rain has cleared, and just in time for training. “I have to go now.” I rise from my seat. “Nice chat.”
“Yeah. It was good to meet you, Zayla.”
I walk out of the room without responding, deep in analysis of the conversation. I told him too much. I didn’t tell him enough. I was awkward. I shouldn’t have spoken to him at all.
Self-doubt carries me to class.
I try to concentrate on my training, but I can’t seem to keep my mind in the moment. I think about Cameron, about the Resistance, about Ferucil. I wonder if I am doing the right thing. I wonder if I should question Ferucil’s judgment, but I push the thought from my mind. I just want to blend in. I want to go unnoticed.
But I also want to be free.
I leave classes a few hours later, funneling through the doors surrounded by other people my age. No one talks to me. No one even acknowledges my presence. I’m okay with that.
I hear a racket, the sound of metal on metal, of shouts and screams. I spin on my heels and creep around the corner. Behind the training center there is a scuffle—if not a full-out fight—between a few Resistance members and the city guards.
I recognize one of them, his blonde hair flying as he is pushed to the ground. He notices me, and grins despite the blood dripping from his burst lip. I watch as he rises again, and faces the guard. He doesn’t back down, but the guards do. They start with few steps back, then their expressions change to fear and they run. I should run with them. I’m going to be a guard someday myself.; I should stand up for them. But deep inside I feel a foreign sense of happiness that the Resistance won the fight. After all the times the guards have made me nervous, all of the panic attacks I’ve had on their account, I am glad that they lost.
I stay still.
Cameron rushes over to one of his companions on the ground, a Japanese boy probably a little older than me. Cameron checks his pulse and breathing, then nods at the girl next to him. She drops to her knees, slowly, relief in her crystal blue eyes. Her hair falls in a platinum blonde mess on the ground near the Japanese boy’s face. Cameron says something to her in a hushed voice and nods toward me, and she nods, her features taught again. He rises to his feet and walks toward me.
My throat tightens. Why can’t I turn away? Please, leave me alone.
“Long time no see,” he says as he wipes the blood dripping from his lip. “How long have you been standing there?”
I don’t speak. I can feel the panic seizing my stomach and twisting it up, but I can’t walk away. What I just saw—I could get in trouble if I stayed around to chat. I should take off running. But my feet won’t move. Part of me wants to stay, but I know I shouldn’t, so my body is panicking, desperate to find a solution I don’t have.
“I’m guessing that’s an ‘I saw the whole thing’ silence,” He looks at the ground. “I’d really like to explain, but I have a feeling the guards are going to be back with more—weapons.”
I need to run. I need to escape before the guards see me. I take a step back. Good. My legs are working.
Cameron notices my retreat. “Can I see you again? I really want to talk to you.” I should shout no, or at least shake my head. But his eyes are so—trustworthy. His voice is sincere. And I nod yes involuntarily.
In my bedroom, I crumple to the floor, a trembling mess. The guards will find me. They’ll know I talked to him. They’ll think I betrayed them. They’ll punish me. I’ll lose my career. I’ll lose everything. Ferucil might even imprison me. I don’t want to go to prison.
I realize it’s happening again. I’m having another attack. The revelation makes it worse. I can’t breathe. My pulse races. My hands shake, and my vision blurs. I feel the intense nausea as my mind disconnects from my body, leaving me powerless. Time becomes irrelevant. Whether minutes or hours pass, I don’t know. All I know is I’m terrified. Terrified the guards will take me. Terrified of being trapped in a cell. Terrified of seeing Cameron again.
And terrified I might not see him.
I hear a knock on the door, and the pounding echoes in my mind. I half consciously realize that I’m still on the floor, but breathing normally.
Tristan enters the room and drops to his knees. “Zayla, not again!”
My eyes flutter as I try to focus my vision on him. My hands feel clammy, but my pulse beats a steady rhythm. “I didn’t mean to--I’m sorry.”
“You have to get a grip on reality! This can’t happen anymore.” He backs away as I pull myself to my feet.
“It’s not like I plan it, dimwit! I just lose control. I can’t stop it.” I feel weak, and collapse on my bed, letting out a long sigh.
“Yeah.” He shakes his head. “Look, someone called for you. He said his name was—Carl or something. He mentioned meeting you at the coffee shop before your classes tomorrow.”
My insides churn. “Okay. Got it.”
I sit in the coffeehouse, avoiding eye contact with the owner. What am I doing here? I couldn’t seem to keep away. I jump at the sound of the front door opening. Cameron walks in and scans the room, smiling when he catches my eye. He motions for me to follow him, and I obey, following him outside, and then around a corner into one of our alleys. The stench in the alley is a stark contrast to the streets.
“You wanted to see me?” I try to hide the anxiety in my voice.
“Yeah.” He checks over his shoulder before speaking in a hushed whisper. “You’re smart.”
“Not especially—“ I mumble.
“I think you are. And I think you have some doubts. I think you can see past the mirage Ferucil has constructed for you.”
“I—I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I shift uneasily and look out to the street. What if someone heard us?
He starts again in a harsh whisper. “Look at this street, Zayla! He makes everything seem perfect out there, but this is what the city really looks like! He forces you all to do his bidding with promises of happiness, but you end up helpless on the streets.” He glances down the alley at the crumpled mess of what was once one of our successful merchants. His clothes are torn, and his back is bent in a perpetual curve over the meager food and contaminated water he’s managed to scrounge.. “It’s inhuman.”
I follow his gaze, the familiar feeling of dread rising in my stomach as I see my probable end. I have to think about something else. “What about outside the walls? Is there really a war going on?”
“Yes--it is happening. Ferucil wants you to think that all is peaceful, but outside the walls, it’s a different story. He wants you to believe the Resistance is powerless, but reality is the opposite.” His face is inches from mine now, his voice intense.
I don’t respond. My mind is spinning with a thousand thoughts at once. Was he telling the truth? Was the Resistance trustworthy? Were they the good guys?
“Okay, look. He promises fulfillment with all of his tasks, right? When was the last time you truly felt fulfilled?” He stops, his eyes burning into my soul.
“I—“ My voice falters. He’s right. I’m not content with my life. I’m not happy here. And I don’t want to believe the charade anymore. But I can’t escape. “I’m trapped.”
“You don’t have to be.” He digs around in his backpack, and pulls out a bottle. “Our leader makes these pills. They disrupt the connection of the cuff with your nervous system. It’s the only way to be free. If there’s no cuff—“
“Ferucil can’t control me.” I consider his proposal. Could this be the answer to my questions? “But I can’t pay for it.”
“You don’t have to. You just—you just have to have faith that the solution inside the pill will work, and it will. You just have to take it.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” My voice shakes when I speak.
“Don’t worry about trusting me. Trust Adiano. He’s never let anyone down. Ever.” He extends his hand to me, the bottle resting on his fingers. I want to take them, but I’m scared.
“What will I become? If I’m not controlled by Ferucil? If I leave my family? Who will I be then?”
He gives me a lopsided grin. “You’ll be the newest member of the Resistance, under the leadership of Adiano.” He extends the bottle towards me, and I take it in my hands. The pills inside hold the power to change everything about me—to change my life. It’s terrifying.
But I’ve never been more sure.
I open it and take one of the pills, letting it dissolve in my mouth. I feel a rush of adrenaline through my body, and then a release. The cuff falls from my ankle, the wires disconnecting from my nervous system. I watch as a hologram alert disappears from my vision, and joy runs its explosive course through my body.
For the first time in my life, I’m free!
First of All, thank you so much for reading!!!
Second, I would love it if you offered suggestions for real world topics/struggles to cover in my future stories. :)
Thanks again for reading, it means the world to me. :)