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Chapter no 5

Shatter Me

I don’t know when it started. I don’t know why it started.

I don’t know anything about anything except for the screaming.

My mother screaming when she realized she could no longer touch me. My father screaming when he realized what I’d done to my mother. My parents screaming when they’d lock me in my room and tell me I should be grateful. For their food. For their humane treatment of this thing that could not possibly be their child. For the yardstick they used to measure the distance I needed to keep away.

I ruined their lives, is what they said to me.

I stole their happiness. Destroyed my mother’s hope for ever having children again.

Couldn’t I see what I’d done, is what they’d ask me. Couldn’t I see that I’d ruined everything.

I tried so hard to fix what I’d ruined. I tried every single day to be what they wanted. I tried all the time to be better but I never really knew how.

I only know now that the scientists are wrong. The world is flat.

I know because I was tossed right off the edge and I’ve been trying to hold on for 17 years. I’ve been trying to climb back up for 17 years but it’s nearly impossible to beat gravity when no one is willing to give you a hand.

When no one wants to risk touching you.

It’s snowing today.

The concrete is icy and stiffer than usual, but I prefer these freezing temperatures to the stifling humidity of summer days. Summer is like a slow-cooker bringing everything in the world to a boil 1 degree at a time. It promises a million happy adjectives only to pour stench and sewage into your nose for dinner. I hate the heat and the sticky, sweaty mess left behind. I hate the lackadaisical ennui of a sun too preoccupied with itself

to notice the infinite hours we spend in its presence. The sun is an arrogant thing, always leaving the world behind when it tires of us.

The moon is a loyal companion.

It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human.

Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.

I stare out the window for so long I forget myself. I hold out my hand to catch a snowflake and my fist closes around the icy air. Empty.

I want to put this fist attached to my wrist right through the window. Just to feel something.

Just to feel human.

“What time is it?”

My eyes flutter for a moment. His voice pulls me back down to a world I keep trying to forget. “I don’t know,” I tell him. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea which day of the week it is, what month we’re in, or even if there’s a specific season we’re supposed to be in.

We don’t really have seasons anymore.

The animals are dying, birds don’t fly, crops are hard to come by, flowers almost don’t exist. The weather is unreliable. Sometimes our winter days hit 92 degrees. Sometimes it snows for no reason at all. We can’t grow enough food anymore, we can’t sustain enough vegetation for the animals anymore, and we can’t feed the people what they need. Our population was dying off at an alarming rate before The Reestablishment took over and they promised us they had a solution. Animals were so desperate for food they were willing to eat anything and people were so desperate for food they were willing to eat poisoned animals. We were killing ourselves by trying to stay alive. The weather, the plants, the animals, and our human survival are all inextricably linked. The natural elements were at war with one another because we abused our ecosystem. Abused our atmosphere. Abused our animals. Abused our fellow man.

The Reestablishment promised they would fix things. But even though human health has found a modicum of relief under the new regime, more

people have died at the end of a loaded gun than from an empty stomach. It’s progressively getting worse.

“Juliette?”

My head snaps up.

His eyes are wary, worried, analyzing me. I look away.

He clears his throat. “So, uh, they only feed us once a day?”

His question sends both our eyes toward the small slot in the door.

I curl my knees to my chest and balance my bones on the mattress. If I hold myself very, very still, I can almost ignore the metal digging into my skin. “There’s no system to the food,” I tell him. My finger traces a new pattern down the rough material of the blanket. “There’s usually something in the morning, but there are no guarantees for anything else. Sometimes . . . we get lucky.” My eyes flick up to the pane of glass punched into the wall. Pinks and reds filter into the room and I know it’s the start of a new beginning. The start of the same end. Another day.

Maybe I will die today. Maybe a bird will fly today.

“So that’s it? They open the door once a day for people to do their business and maybe if we’re lucky they feed us? That’s it?”

The bird will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head.

It will fly. “That’s it.”

“There’s no . . . group therapy?” He almost laughs.

“Until you arrived, I hadn’t spoken a single word in two hundred sixty-four days.”

His silence says so much. I can almost reach out and touch the guilt growing on his shoulders. “How long are you in for?” he finally asks.

Forever. “I don’t know.” A mechanical sound creaks/ groans/cranks in the distance. My life is 4 walls of missed opportunities poured into concrete molds.

“What about your family?” There’s a serious sorrow in his voice, almost like he already knows the answer to that question.

Here is what I know about my parents: I have no idea where they are. “Why are you here?” I talk to my fingers to avoid his gaze. I’ve studied my hands so thoroughly I know exactly where each bump cut and bruise

has ravaged my skin. Small hands. Slim fingers. I curl them into a fist and release them to lose the tension. He still hasn’t responded.

I look up.

“I’m not insane,” is all he says.

“That’s what we all say.” I cock my head only to shake it a fraction of an inch. I bite my lip. My eyes can’t help but steal glances out the window.

“Why do you keep looking outside?”

I don’t mind his questions, I really don’t. It’s just strange to have someone to talk to. It’s strange to have to exert energy to move my lips to form words necessary to explain my actions. No one has cared for so long. No one’s watched me closely enough to wonder why I stare out a window. No one has ever treated me like an equal. Then again, he doesn’t know I’m a monster my secret. I wonder how long this will last before he’s running for his life.

I’ve forgotten to answer and he’s still studying me.

I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear only to change my mind. “Why do you stare so much?”

His eyes are careful, curious. “I figured the only reason they would lock me up with a girl was because you were crazy. I thought they were trying to torture me by putting me in the same space as a psychopath. I thought you were my punishment.”

“That’s why you stole my bed.” To exert power. To stake a claim. To fight first.

He drops his eyes. Clasps and unclasps his hands before rubbing the back of his neck. “Why’d you help me? How’d you know I wouldn’t hurt you?”

I count my fingers to make sure they’re still there. “I didn’t.” “You didn’t help me or you didn’t know if I’d hurt you?”

“Adam.” My lips curve around the shape of his name. I’m surprised to discover how much I love the easy, familiar way the sound rolls off my tongue.

He’s sitting almost as still as I am. His eyes are pulled together with a new kind of emotion I can’t place. “Yeah?”

“What’s it like?” I ask, each word quieter than the one before. “Outside?” In the real world. “Is it worse?”

An ache mars the features of his finely chiseled face. It takes him a few heartbeats to answer. He glances out the window. “Honestly? I’m not sure if it’s better to be in here or out there.”

I follow his eyes to the pane of glass separating us from reality and I wait for his lips to part; I wait to listen to him speak. And then I try to pay attention as his words bounce around in the haze of my head, fogging my senses, misting my eyes, clouding my concentration.

Did you know it was an international movement? Adam asks me.

No I did not, I tell him. I do not tell him I was dragged from my home 3 years ago. I do not tell him that I was dragged away exactly 7 years after The Reestablishment began to preach and 4 months after they took control of everything. I do not tell him how little I know of our new world.

Adam says The Reestablishment had its hands in every country, ready for the moment to bring its leaders into a position of control. He says the inhabitable land left in the world has been divided into 3,333 sectors and each space is now controlled by a different Person of Power.

Did you know they lied to us? Adam asks me.

Did you know that The Reestablishment said someone had to take control, that someone had to save society, that someone had to restore the peace? Did you know that they said killing all the voices of opposition was the only way to find peace?

Did you know this? is what Adam asks me. And this is where I nod. This is where I say yes.

This is the part I remember: The anger. The riots. The rage.

My eyes close in a subconscious effort to block out the bad memories, but the effort backfires. Protests. Rallies. Screams for survival. I see women and children starving to death, homes destroyed and buried in rubble, the countryside a burnt landscape, its only fruit the rotting flesh of casualties. I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favorite lipstick all smeared into the earth.

So much everything all the things dead.

The Reestablishment is struggling to maintain its hold over the people, Adam says. He says The Reestablishment is struggling to fight a war against the rebels who will not acquiesce to this new regime. The Reestablishment is struggling to root itself as a new form of government across all international societies.

And then I wonder what has happened to the people I used to see every day. What’s become of their homes, their parents, their children. I wonder how many of them have been buried in the ground.

How many of them were murdered.

“They’re destroying everything,” Adam says, and his voice is suddenly a solemn sound in the silence. “All the books, every artifact, every remnant of human history. They’re saying it’s the only way to fix things. They say we need to start fresh. They say we can’t make the same mistakes of previous generations.”

2

knocks

at the door and we’re both on our feet, abruptly startled back into this bleak world.

Adam raises an eyebrow at me. “Breakfast?”

“Wait three minutes,” I remind him. We’re so good at masking our hunger until the knocks at the door cripple our dignity.

They starve us on purpose.

“Yeah.” His lips are set in a soft smile. “I wouldn’t want to burn myself.” The air shifts as he steps forward.

I am a statue.

“I still don’t understand,” he says, so quietly. “Why are you here?” “Why do you ask so many questions?”

He leaves less than a foot of space between us and I’m 10 inches away from spontaneous combustion. “Your eyes are so deep.” He tilts his head. “So calm. I want to know what you’re thinking.”

“You shouldn’t.” My voice falters. “You don’t even know me.”

He laughs and the action gives life to the light in his eyes. “I don’t know you.”

“No.”

He shakes his head. Sits on his bed. “Right. Of course not.” “What?”

“You’re right.” His breath catches. “Maybe I am insane.” I take 2 steps backward. “Maybe you are.”

He’s smiling again and I’d like to take a picture. I’d like to stare at the

curve of his lips for the rest of my life. “I’m not, you know.”

“But you won’t tell me why you’re here,” I challenge. “And neither will you.”

I fall to my knees and tug the tray through the slot. Something unidentifiable is steaming in 2 tin cups. Adam folds himself onto the floor across from me.

“Breakfast,” I say as I push his portion forward.

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