a short story by ANALICIA TORRES

Imogene Wallis was a woman of many things, but kind was not one of them. She sat across from me at the silver table in the silver room of the silver hall, her hands neatly clasped before her and her head tilted in concentration. I could tell by the look in her eye there would be no chit-chat or sugar coating. Today, something was wrong with her and she wanted answers. How or if I would give them to her, I wasn’t quite sure yet.

“We found you wandering the streets after Statewide curfew,” the Director went on, and the computer above us showed us her every word. “Before you were detained, where did you come from?”

For the millionth time, I sighed. “ I don’t know.”

“Who were your caretakers?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you associated with the group known as the Defects?”

I buried my head in my arms on the table. “No.Please end this already.

“Do you know what this symbol means?”

I looked up at her. She pointed off to her left, and I followed her finger to the wall, where the monitor projected an image of a bunch of tangled limbs stemming from one large root. They were thin and thick, the branches, and curved in all directions. I squinted at it, confused, yet intrigued at the same time. The sight of it warmed something inside of me.  Suddenly I didn’t care who this lady was, I didn’t care that she could shoot me now and kill me. The picture was comforting, reassuring, and damn familiar.

“What is it?” I found myself asking, and I felt the need to push my chair back so I could stand and go over to it, stroke it. My arms trembled with the urge and the hairs on my neck stood on end in response to it.

“It’s an insignia from a group that’s been threatening our way of life here in Atriam. They’ve been infiltrating our homes, carving this symbol into signs and buildings. They’re dangerous and we want to know how to stop them.”

I scoffed. “And you think I can somehow help you?”

She cleared her throat and sat up straighter. Folding her hands together and resting them on the table, she leaned forward and stared me down the length of her sharp nose.. “I know you don’t know much, but I know that this state of obliviousness will wear off. You’ve been here for over three months and you’ve done an impressive job at keeping your life. So I will grant you my approval.” She stared intently into my eyes. I feared that if I even breathed this woman would pounce. The safe feeling the symbol radiated was now gone, almost like it had never existed. I felt weak again.  “You know nothing of who you are, where you came from, who you came from. You know nothing of our way of life here, as if you’ve never been in any of our States at all. You seem intent on causing me trouble and making me look like an idiot.” I suppressed a smile. “As far as we knew, you were an anomaly, a one-of-a-kind mystery.

“That is, up until a week ago when we received a new Novice amongst us. Her case is a lot like yours: she knows nothing of our way of life, where she came from, who she came from. The only words she knew when I first met her were her name: Kadence Ainsley.” She paused, as if to let the effect sink in., but I remained impassive. Just like the symbol, her name was familiar, sacred. Just like the picture, I felt the need to keep it a secret. “Unlike you, she has no abilities and is a great humiliation to our academy. But we are keeping her around to see if her state of ignorance would wear off and if she will provide us with information of where she came from.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know her.”

“The matter isn’t whether you know her or not, it’s if somehow you two are part of something in the making. Something big. And if you are, we want to stop it.”

I wanted to smile at the thought of seeing this woman behind the same bars that had held me back for so long. But they were the same bars that had kept me alive for this long, and I didn’t want to grant that chance to her. I wanted to see her corpse, rotting and infested with insects, parasites. I wanted her to feel the pain that I did every day just by being here. “I can’t help you,” I finally said after moments of utter silence.

She sighed and got to her feet. “Well, then I guess I cannot return the favor. Enjoy your last fight.”

My ears perked. “Last?”

A crooked grin stained her thin lips. “Last, Maks. Because I know for a fact you won’t survive this one.” She slammed the door shut.