Remnants of Tomorrow
By Kassy Tayler
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Kassy Tayler
All rights reserved.
I have always had a fear of falling. Heights do not bother me at all. It is the thought of having no control, of spinning through the air with my arms and legs flailing about as I scream in terror that terrifies me more than anything. Especially when I think about the chasm that was discovered in the tunnels where I used to live and the knowledge that the bottom was way past where any light filtered down. Not knowing where the bottom was, when I would hit, yet knowing that eventually it would come ... I shake off the chill that rattles my spine as I look down from the windowsill I crouch upon.
Here I can see the bottom. It is the streets of the dome twelve stories or more below me. I really don't want to know how far it is as I am reminded of my fear with the same impact as a punch to my gut. Instead of looking down I turn my face to the wind whistling in through the hole in the roof of the dome. It carries with it the smells that became so familiar to me in my time outside. I take a deep breath of sea and evergreen to steady myself as I try to decide my next step.
I am two floors below the roof of the government building. The floor above holds my father's office and his quarters, I think. I don't really know, as I'm not privy to my father's personal life. I perch like a bird on the sill of the small window in the water closet attached to my room. Even though my accommodations are luxurious I still consider them a prison because I have been locked inside for the past two weeks, ever since I surrendered to my father with Levi and Pace so that James and Lyon, and hopefully our other friends trapped inside the dome, could get away. This is my father's building, and from here he rules the people of the dome with an iron fist and outdated notions.
I have no idea what has happened to any of my friends, as I have had no contact with them since the night we came into the dome through the hole in the roof. I can only hope that they are faring better than I at this moment. Down is definitely not an option. I must go up if I am going to escape.
It took me two weeks to remove the bars that kept me imprisoned. Two weeks of scraping at the bricks with a spoon I managed to conceal from my tray. I worked at night when I knew I would have long hours alone. Two weeks of hiding the scrapes and bruises on my fingers from Ellen, who brings my meals three times a day with a sullen face and a sense of resentment. Two weeks of praying that my father's man, Findley, will not notice the disturbance around the window.
Finally, I was able to remove the bars and squeeze through to the outside. It is the middle of the night and the buildings that surround me are dark. A few lights flicker down by the street, nothing more than a couple of candles sitting behind windows because there is no power in the dome now. It does not matter to me that there is no light. I can see quite well with my shiner eyes without it.
There is a window above me, but it is as small as the one I came through, and the sill is too far above me. There must be another water closet above mine. There is a tall window six feet to my right. I think it is one that lights the staircase that is next to my room, if the memory of the night of my capture is true. It is the only way to go because to my left is the corner of the building and around the corner the window to my room. All the windows I can see have bars, but the one to my right is tall enough that I can use it to get to the top floor, where there are no bars. From there I hope to make it to the roof, and from there down to the streets and then to the tunnels below that used to be my home. It feels like several lifetimes have passed since I lived there. In reality several lives have passed. I hope mine is not the next.
Most of the windows are tall enough for me to stand on and set deep into the bricks, with wide spaces on the bottom and narrower ones on top. Unfortunately the one I am occupying at the moment isn't. Still, I stand as best I can and stick my right foot into the corner of the window between the bricks and a bar and grab on to the same bar with my right hand as I try to gage the distance.
I am going to have to jump. There is no way around it. Still it takes me a while to gather my courage. If I miss I am dead. My only hope is in catching the bars. I place both feet on the edge of the sill while holding on with my right hand. I crouch and push off and drag my right hand along the way with a wish that it will give me some purchase as I reach out with my left.
I catch the bar with my left, and my upper body jerks to a stop as my legs thump against the brick and I hang sideways with my face to the wall. My cheek burns where I scraped it against the wall and my shoulder cramps with my effort to hold on. I pry my fingers into the mortar and scratch my right hand up to grab on to the bar.
Don't look down ... My heart is pounding. I hold on tightly as I try to find something to brace my feet against. I pull my knees up and place the soles of my boots flat against the wall. I quickly move my left hand over to another bar and try to walk my way up the wall. It turns out to be a lot harder than I thought, but I finally get a knee on the ledge and am able to pull myself up until I can stand.
The window is taller than me. It is taller than I can reach. But the one above it is within reach if I can get to the top of this one, and if I can do the same again getting to the roof will be easy. First I have to get to the top of this window.
My fingers cramp because I am holding on to the bars too tight. The only way I can go up is to slide them up as far as I can reach and then toe myself upward. The leather soles of my boots are slick against the bars, and I slide nearly as much as I move upward. I am glad it is dark because someone would surely see me in the daylight. I feel as if I have been out here for hours, yet I know it's only been minutes. The longer I hang on to the side of the building, the better my chances of being caught.
I hike myself up an inch at a time. The hardest part is releasing my hold on the bars long enough to move my hands up and start all over again. Every muscle in my body screams for relief, but I dare not stop. I just grit my teeth and refuse to give up. I refuse to stop until, finally, my fingers grasp at the top ledge of the window and I wrap my legs around the bars.
My foot bangs against the windowpane with a sound similar to a gunshot, and I hold myself motionless for what seems like an eternity waiting for someone to discover me. There are no shouts and no lights appear. The only thing I hear is the cooing of pigeons. They must be resting on the rooftop. If only I had wings to join them.
It takes some thought to figure out my next move, and then I realize it is quite simple. I just have to reach up and grab onto the next window sill. The problem is there are no bars on this window. Why would there be? This is my father's floor.
Getting to the roof will be harder than I thought, but I've come too far to turn back. Turning back means admitting defeat and that is something I will not do. Especially to my father.
I push up as far as I can with my legs braced against the glass and grab onto the sill with the fingertips of my right hand. I hang there for a moment, paralyzed, because I am afraid my grip is not good enough to let go with my left hand. I take another stab at it and get a firmer hold before I let go with my left hand and reach up. Now it is just a matter of once more walking my legs up. The muscles in my shoulders groan in agony as I pull myself up until I am able to swing a leg onto the sill. I spread my arms and grab on to the sides as I slowly stand on trembling legs.
I am sweating. I lean my forehead against the cool glass for a moment as I try to gather myself once more. The thought that my father could be asleep on the other side of the glass does not escape me. I will survive without seeing him. I have survived my entire life without his notice, so I see no need to have it now. If he wanted to see me, he's had two weeks to do so.
I must get to the roof. I have no bars this time to help me. It is going to take all my strength to get there, and I know I have little of it left. I decide just to go for it, instead of thinking about it, because thinking about it might turn me around.
I grab on to the top of the window and walk myself up once more. My boots bang against the glass. I have no time to worry about the noise. I just keep going until I manage to get my knee up, and then I just let go with my right hand once more and grab onto the roof.
Simple. Until I try to put my left hand beside it and miss. I am so surprised when I don't grab on that my legs flail and I swing sideways, barely hanging on with one hand. My shoulder screams at the abuse as I try to bring my left arm up again. It is out of my reach. I feel my fingers slipping and I clamp down. Somehow my body twists and the strain on my arm makes me yelp out in pain. I see the buildings around me, dark and still, and the streets below me darker, beckoning ... I am going to die. They will find my broken body on the cobblestones, and I will simply be gone. My friends will never know what happened to me.
"Pace," I say. Is it a prayer, or am I begging for forgiveness?
A hand clamps around my wrist, and I am boldly yanked upward by my arm, over the ledge and dropped onto the roof.
"Wren!" Findley exclaims. "I wasn't sure you were going to make it."
I need a moment to gather myself. To catch my breath. To realize that I am not dead. I look up at Findley, my father's man. His face is pleasant, handsome in a way that is hard to define, and his age hard to say. He could be ten years older than me or he could be twenty. His hair is dark blond and his eyes a shade of bluish gray. He's the same height as Pace but broader and harder. He wears the uniform of the enforcers, what we shiners have always called the bluecoats. I have yet to figure him out.
"Were you watching the entire time?" I finally ask when I am able to breathe again.
He pulls me to my feet. "Yes. Yes I was."
"What would you have done if I'd fallen?"
"Luckily, we will never know," he replies as he pushes me to an enclosure with an open door. I realize now that the stairs do go all the way to the top. If not for Findley I simply could have walked down the stairs and to my freedom.
"Where are we going?" I ask.
"Back to your room," he says.
I want to cry. But I don't. I would never give Findley or my father that satisfaction. The trip back to my room is relatively short. Just down two flights of stairs and through the door, where Findley shoves me in the general direction of my bed. I land on it with a bounce and twist around when I hear the rattle of a chain.
"Where did that come from?" I ask.
"I picked it up while you were out," he replies. To my horror I see that it is looped through the bed frame and attached with a lock. The end of it holds a shackle and he grabs my ankle. I kick out at him but he is much bigger and very much stronger. He grabs my ankle again and twists it so hard I have to flip over to keep it from breaking. When I land on my stomach Findley presses his knee into my back and quickly closes the shackle over my ankle and locks it into place.
"This will hold you until we can do something about that window." All I can do is glare at him. "See you in the morning," he adds and walks out, closing the door behind him. I hear the turn of the key in the lock, and I am alone once more. I jump up from the bed and check where the chain is attached. There is no way I can release the chain or lift the bed to release it. It is so short that I can only move two feet away, so I have no choice but to lie down, defeated.
But only for the moment.
Memories have a way of coming to you when you least expect it. The littlest things, long forgotten, suddenly sneak up on you and capture you. As I lay on the bed, seething in anger, the memory of the first time my grandfather took me above comes over me and leaves me with an ache of regret for things left unsaid.
I could not have been more than four years old the first time he took me aboveground. At first it was painful because the light was so much brighter than I was used to, underground where we lived. After my eyes finally adjusted, I stared at the dome soaring high above the rooftops, marveling that the world could be so big. My only reference was the cavern we lived in below. My grandfather lifted me onto his shoulders to sit as he walked, and I felt safe, since I was above those who milled about us as we made our way to the library for the single day of the year we were allowed in. I stretched my hands high above my head, certain that if I tried hard enough, I could touch the glass that covered us and kept us safe from the flames that raged outside.
My grandfather was a practical man and did not encourage my dreams, so I kept them to myself. I dreamed about going outside when I was old enough to go up the lift on my own and climbing up to the rooftops to watch the light come to the dome. I had no idea how to make my dreams come true, nor did I realize the price that we would all have to pay. I was younger then, and in my heart and mind I was certain that once I and everyone else was outside our lives would be perfect. I would have achieved the pinnacle of my desires and could live out the rest of my days content that I had nothing more to worry about and nothing more to strive for.
I realize now how foolish I was.
Once outside it did not take me long to find that I was wrong. Opening a door and stepping through does not solve everything. For me and for those who believed in me, it led to another set of problems, and to another set of principles, with the sure knowledge that mistakes are made by everyone. The best that you can hope for is that you learn from your mistakes and are able to move on to make things better for yourself and the ones that you love.
If only we had the ability to look at our lives in advance and know which path to take. I suppose that would take all the mystery and maybe even the joy out of life. How can we appreciate what we have if it all comes easily? Is it something worth having if it does not come with trials and tribulations? Do we take the things we are used to for granted? Things like food, water, and air? Things like freedom?
I know now that I did not really appreciate what I had, even with all the problems that came with it. I had thought myself a prisoner of the dome and its society before I escaped. That was before I knew what real freedom was. Freedom was my ability to choose. I chose to leave the dome. I also chose to come back inside, even though I knew there would be risks involved. Even though every fiber of my being cried out to me to stay outside. Perhaps in my heart I did know what the best decision was and I just ignored it.
Or maybe I just have a habit of making terrible decisions. The last one I made led to this. Are Pace and Levi locked up also? I believe Pace intended all along to stay inside, because he was worried about his mother but also because he knew I was conflicted about my feelings for both him and Levi. To Pace, choosing to stay inside meant I wouldn't have to choose between them. Pace thinks he is considerate that way, taking the decision away from me, so I wouldn't have to deal with it. Right now I hate him for it.
I don't know why Levi surrendered. Maybe he thought that because he was an outsider to our world that my father would value him as a hostage. Maybe he thought that because he was a prisoner of my father, his uncle, Lyon Hatfield, would be that much more determined to rescue all of us instead of leaving us to our fates. All the things I don't know greatly outnumber the one thing that I know for certain.
I am a prisoner in my father's house.
* * *
"Got in a bit of trouble last night I see." The woman, Ellen, is the only other person I've seen since I arrived here, except for Findley. She smiles in satisfaction when she sees the chain around my ankle. I sit up and push my hair out of my eyes as she sets my breakfast tray on the table and leaves, knowing full well that I won't be able to reach it. I throw a pillow at the door as I hear the key turn in the lock and flop back down on the bed. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Remnants of Tomorrow by Kassy Tayler. Copyright © 2014 Kassy Tayler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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