Day of Reckoning
So, this is Texas. Vicksburg to be exact. The capitol.
Dawn’s hand rests in my, lifeless. I squeeze her fingers, trying to pretend that nothing has changed. She’s here with me. A sigh pushes past my lips. In truth, nothing is the same as it was before. They tell me that she'll wake up when she's ready, but what about when I’m ready?
“Dawn,” I whisper. “I need you.” I want her back.
My stomach twists as I think about what waking up will mean for her. When she comes around, I'm going to have to be the one to tell her that Drew is gone.
Gone. Dead. Never coming back. A tear rolls down my cheek.
They found Drew in the woods with Dawn but there was nothing they could do for him. Sam was there too, a bullet lodged in his skull. Happy, smiling Sam. Dead like so many others. I blink away the tears and rip my hands from Dawn’s.
They were going to pay.
I have to get out of this hospital room, with its beeping monitors and suffocating stillness. Walking by the mirror over the sink near the door, I pause, barely recognizing myself anymore. I’m nothing but a grotty wreck. My beautiful hair is no longer sleek and smooth. It’s been frayed and damaged by months on the run. I have a scar above my right eye that’s still red and painful to touch. My clothes hang off my now thing frame like sacks, clothes I’d never have worn back home; lightweight blue pants and a white shirt; the same as about half the people here. I hate it because I was made to stand out, not to disappear in the crowd. I take the stairs two at a time and slam my hands into the door desperately to open it. It swings open and I gasp in the fresh air.
The Republic of Texas stretches before me. It's a strange place. Everything is so…orderly. The streets are pristine and the buildings, every one of them, are made of red brick to match the wall that encircles the city. I've been told that this is only one of three walled cities that make up the Republic. I don't know whether to feel safe or trapped. I’m going to go with trapped. Then again, I’m not sure I’d know what freedom feels like anymore.
People stare as I walk by. In London, I basked in the attention when I caught someone’s eye, but now it’s different. Their gazes didn’t infuse me with confidence as they once would have. It’s no longer my blond hair or long legs catching their eye. It’s their suspicions and curiosities. I’m not a freaking side show.
It's close to noon and the streets are full of people. None of them talk to me. Of course.
A bell rings from somewhere on my right and, all at once, the crowd on the street starts moving in the same direction and I'm pulled along. We wind through the streets until we reach a large building, the only one not made of brick. Instead, it's white, with a domed roof and large windows. The group funnels through the front doors and we're in a long room lined with benches. There’s a table in the front and a man in a black robe standing behind it.
The entire town must be here. No seat is empty and many people stand at the back. I'm one of them; opting to stand close to the door so that I can easily leg it if I need to. Why are we here?
The man at the front raises his arms and the room falls silent. A chill races up my spine. “My brothers and sisters,” he begins, “welcome to the house of the Lord. God invites his chosen people into his prophet's presence.”
So, this is church, right out in the open. I've heard about underground churches in London, but mostly only the ones that got raided. I’ve been taught my entire life to fear church; that it's forbidden for a reason. I don't know if I believe that anymore. I'm about to sneak out when a woman appears up front. She too wears a robe but it's white this time.
“Faithful followers,” she says, “as mayor of this city and prophet to the people, I must inform you of the heathens that breached our borders. As God willed it, we took care of the enemy soldiers. Just remember, that those who choose the righteous path that we follow will not go without while those who stray will find this world a harsh place.” I look around and some people are nodding their heads along with this woman's words while others mumble, “Amen.”
Uncomfortable, I move to leave. I barely take a couple steps before two men block my way. They stand with their arms folded across their chests and their feet shoulder width apart.
“The service is not over yet,” one of them says, his voice stern. I can feel the eyes of curious worshipers burning into my back.
“You're not going to let me leave?” my voice goes up an octave on the last word. They don't respond. I try to go around them, but they force me back. The woman at the front hasn’t stopped her speech and shows no indication that she sees what's going on. Anger rushes through me, but there’s no use unleashing it when it would only cause problems for me and Dawn. I take a step back and turn to face the front once again.
When the service ends, the men from before are nowhere in sight so I book it out of there as quickly as humanly possible. I run the entire distance back to the hospital.
What the hell is going on here? I’m not sure I want to stay long enough to find out. If Dawn were better, we’d already be gone, but she’s not and I have no choice but to stay put. For now.
Back at Dawn's side, I sit by her bed and only look up when a nurse comes in. She’s one of the only people who will tell me anything. She smiles at me as she checks the monitors for my sister's vitals.
“I was here an hour ago and didn't see you,” she says as she changes the IV bags around.
“I went for a walk,” I respond.
“How nice. Did you attend the service? I'm always sad when I have to miss it, but working at the hospital, you can't just leave.”
“Yes,” I say coldly. I don't want to talk about it and she doesn't press me further.
“How do you like the city?” she asks.
“I haven't decided yet,” I answer, though that’s not entirely true.
She must hear the doubt in my voice because she says, “they'll warm up to you. People here have been through a lot.” I want to say that I doubt they've been through as much as me. I want to say that none of their sisters are lying in a coma. I want to say so much more, but I don't. The nurse is only trying to help. Instead, I just nod and watch her leave the room.
“Dawn,” I whisper. “I love you and I'm so sorry. Don't leave me here alone.”
I look up just as the London skies are about to split open and pelt us with a cold rain. “Shite!” It's fittingly gray for a day like this. A day that England will never forget. A day that I will never forget.
This morning I wake just like any other day in London. I live in one of the army barracks and by the time I force myself out of bed and across the cold floor, the lav is jammed with people. I push my way towards the showers and ignore the irritated glances directed my way. I'm not in the mood today and I don't have time to wait in line. None of these women know what the day has in store for me. I shower and let the freezing cold water run the last bits of soap from my hair before wrapping a towel around myself and stepping out. If only the last forty years of my life could be so easily washed away.
I’ve been part of the rebellion since I was young. I was born into this role, in part, because my father is one of the movement's leaders. I haven’t always wanted to play this part, but I've never been able to escape it. I thought I had for a few years, but I was wrong, dead wrong. Wanting to get out and live my life cost me dearly. I was fated to be a soldier and there's no escaping destiny.
Once again, I bull my way through the crowd and hurry to my bunk. I put my uniform on and look in the mirror as I button up my collar, hating what I see. I'm a soldier in the British army. Sworn to keep the peace on London's streets, but I’ve been betraying this uniform since it was given to me.
I tie my hair into a tight bun and cover it with my cap. There was a time when all I was, all I had to be, was the young and beautiful mother and wife. Now I see an aging widow who abandoned her children. I slip down the back staircase and out onto the street. When I'm sure no one is following me, I head for my father's pub and step in the back door.
I latch the door and find my father waiting for me in the kitchen. He doesn't look up from where he’s sweeping the floor. I watch him in fascination. He looks so ordinary performing this simple task. To his customers, he is ordinary; just another barman who was unlucky enough to be assigned to the service industry. It's the perfect cover for a rebel leader. When no one expects much of him, no one will be suspicious of him.
“Were you followed?” he finally asks as he sets aside his broom.
“No,” I respond quickly.
“I'm not a rook.”
My father nods, distracted. He has a lot on his mind today. Today is the biggest day in the history of our movement.
“I have patrol soon, so why am I here?” I ask. “I already know what I have to do.”
“There's been a change,” he begins. “The drop will take place a block further north. You must make it there in time to obtain your package.
“Okay.” I turn towards the door. “I have to go.”
“You don't want to eat anything? I've got a morning nosh on the cooker.”
I sigh. He’d like me to think he cares about my well-being, and he might, just not as much as he cares about his cause. I'm more like him than I would care to admit.
“No.” I couldn't eat if I tried.
“At least take coffee and a biscuit in case anyone asks where you've been.”
“Fine,” I concede as he hands me a mug and wrapped food. I keep running over the plan in my mind as I step back out into the pouring rain. I look back at the pub one more time before I leave. From the outside, it looks like any other pub. The difference is that there are automatic weapons underneath the bar and a hidden door in the kitchen. Nothing in this world of rebels and cruelty is as it seems.
Twenty minutes later I'm out with my patrol. The morning moves along slowly. I joke around with my fellow soldiers. We harass a few homeless and roust a few young toughs. I check my watch again. It's almost time. When I spot my contact, my breath lodges in my throat.
A young boy in worn clothing with a grotty face is sitting on the street corner with a rucksack at his feet. His name is Caleb. I don't know anything else about him. Only that it's another child risking his life for the rebels. I force myself to avert my eyes and show no interest as my unit passes him.
My unit breaks for lunch and I tell them I’ll be back by the time our break is over, even though I doubt I’ll see any of them again. When I'm out of their sight I double back to where I saw Caleb. He’s still there. Thank God. I release a long breath and walk slowly towards him.
He sees me and gets to his feet before turning and walking in the opposite direction, leaving the pack on the ground. I pick it up without stopping and swing it onto my back. I glance around nervously, but nobody seems to have noticed. My destination is only blocks away so I make it there in no time. I have to remind myself to breathe; in and out. My heart pounds in my chest and sweat dots across my brow as I step onto the escalator that will take me down into the largest tube station in London.
The platform is teeming with people going about their busy Saturday. The children, their parents, their grandparents, I see them at every turn. I want to scream as the tube comes and goes as I stand in the middle of the station, unable to move.
I remind myself that I’m not alone. Rebels have spread across London to follow the same orders I’ve been given. The best of the best, they’ll call us. I’ve been told we’ll be heroes to the cause. Our names will not be forgotten. I grip the strap of the back until my knuckles turn white.
I’m afraid. Fear is a weakness, my father would say. Right up there with empathy or guilt. Useless, destructive emotions. My name is Miranda and I choose not to be afraid. Freedom comes at a cost. We all must do what is necessary. My muscles loosen as I take back control from my emotions, turning them off.
Feeling nothing is better than being weak.
I move one foot forward and then the next until I'm in front of the wall of lockers. I open locker 132 and stuff the pack inside. I jump when I hear three short beeps. It must be time. I only have two minutes now to get away. I run to the nearest escalator.
Coming down the escalator are people who have no idea what's about to happen. Men in business suits. Teenagers chatting away. A woman looking bored. And a child; a little girl with long blonde hair, a yellow dress, and a sunflower hat. I see my girls in her angelic face and sweet smile. I look away.
Our escalators pass each other and as soon as I reach the top, I start to run. Suddenly, the ground shakes beneath my feet and I'm thrown to my knees. Explosions sound in my ears, followed by a loud ringing, and the world moves in slow-motion. People begin to move, groaning as they do. They pick themselves up in a state of stunned disbelief. Cries ring out through the air as a wall of smoke wafts over us.
I choke on the thick air as people in uniform start sprinting past me towards the station. One of them stops to see if I'm okay. When I convince him that I'm fine, he goes to help someone else.
My eyes scanning the destruction in my wake, I tell myself I had to do it. Today is the day when everything changes. Today is the day we become known.