"Where were you?" My father demands, standing up from his usual couch of choice. I groan; I don't have the time for this, nor am I in the mood, what with the headache that threatens to crack my head in two. I'm definitely hungover, but this is more than just a normal hangover: this is my illness, seeping into my skull in waves of pain.
"Fuck off, dad," I mutter as I try to get back into my room. To my surprise, my mother stands in front of me, stopping me in my tracks.
"You were out all night; you think it's okay to just come back in the morning like it never even happened? It's a school day, Valerie! What were you thinking? Do you ever think?"
"She's a drunken whore, do you expect someone like that to think straight?" my father says disapprovingly. "I can't believe we raised this. Where did we go wrong?"
"We went wrong in not disciplining her enough," My father says. I want to shut them up, to smash their faces like glass. Instead, I just stand there, trying (and failing) to hold my tongue.
"Leave me alone!" I yell, trying to sidestep my mother but finding that she has grabbed me by the shoulder. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"You were out drinking, weren't you? How many people did you sleep with?"
I was out drinking, but it enrages me that even my parents think that I have to go around fucking everything that moves every time I'm out. I want to scream."I'm not a little kid anymore, mom!" I exclaim. "I can do what I want. I would be out of here if not for-"
"If not for the fact that you can't hold a job and you can't take care of yourself?" my dad accuses. I clench my fists. "you're nothing to us but a liability, Valerie. A liability and a waste of money and time. I wonder why I haven't kicked you out of here yet."
"Go ahead, then!" I dare him, knowing that it won't make a difference now, anyway. "Go ahead and kick me out! I'm out of here tomorrow, anyway!"
"Fine, then!" My father says, obviously exasperated by his walking "liability" of a daughter. "Let her go, Carla. Let her sleep off that hangover that I know she has."
I push past my mother to my room, where I immediately burst into tears. So it seems that I have a choice between disappearance and death. I wonder what the difference is between the two, at this point.
I feel sick again, a searing pain in my stomach causing me to collapse onto my bed, sobbing and clutching at my midsection. I'm nothing to them but a waste of time? Fine, then. My dad will regret saying that when I'm dead.
Or at least, when he thinks that I'm dead.
I open up my purse, take out a pen and a pad of paper despite the animal of agony gnawing at my belly, then scribble down a hasty, hateful suicide note:
Dear mom and dad,
You didn't want me. You didn't care about me. I was just a "liability" and a "waste of time", remember?
To my friends, fuck you. You never cared, either.
To everyone else at my school, fuck you, too. I was never what you thought I was.
If you ever see me again, I will not be breathing.
I tear out the note and stare at it for a second, then get up to stare into my closet instead. What should I bring with me? I decide that I'll carry only a few outfits in my bag; it shouldn't fit much more, considering the fact that I need to bring money, toiletries, blankets...I sigh. What has my life come down to? Oh, wait, I don't have a life, I'm dead. Never mind.
I get my things together and, by the time I should be in school, I'm ready. I leave the note on my bed, then manage to get out the door without encountering my parents. As I touch the door knob, a debilitating flood of images, smells, and sounds hits me in a wave of sensory overload. I recoil; hating every moment of it; this doorknob fills me with anger, sadness, worry, euphoria, and a million past hangovers. How strange, that something so conventional could show me so much. Stupid psychometry.
I don't know why I'm out so early when I'm not even going to go to school, but I know that I have to be. Scratch that, I do know. Declan is the reason. If there is anyone that I need to say goodbye to, anyone at all, it's him. He is done with school and works a late shift, meaning that he must be where I think he is right now: in the Underground.
For what seems like the millionth time in the past few days, I head to the subterranean metropolis, fighting back the urge to turn around and run back home. I'm carrying a big bag of necessities and a burden on my shoulders, and both make me feel like an idiot.
My heart just about melts when I see him, standing against his usual wall and smoking a cigarette. He looks different, sad. I miss running up to him and having long chats about nothing, I miss hugging him and kissing him instead of using verbal greetings. Most of all, I miss him. Declan. I swallow hard, gather up all my courage, and approach him.
"Declan," I say. He looks up, his beautiful eyes meeting mine.
"Val?" he asks. He doesn't seem to have shaved in a while, and I feel a sick sort of satisfaction at the idea that that might be because he's in the same "mourning" state that I am in. "What do you – is everything okay? You look...different. Pale."
It hits me then that I do look pale, and that that's because I'm sick. Deathly sick. I had never really thought about it before, never taken the time to realize just how scary it is or how weak it has made me; and now here I am, coming upon this terrifying realization in public. Oh, wonderful. "I'm leaving, Declan."
"What?" he asks. "leaving? To where?"
"Wherever life takes me, I guess," I reply lamely. "away from my parents. I'm staying with a friend, and then I don't know where I'm going to go from there."
"And why do you feel the need to tell me this?" something about his tone tells me that he suspects that I'm lying, but I stand my ground.
"Because I may never see you again," I say, gulping down tears. "and you were an important part of my life for a long time. You were the only thing that I had to hold on to."
"Val, are you," he breathes slowly, the syllables falling like cinder blocks. "are you dying?"
"I don't think so," I whisper. "but I'm not sure."
. . .
"You ready for this?" Honey asks me later that day, blinking her big long-lashed doe eyes at me. She's carrying a pile of important-looking documents and booklets, which makes me wonder: Ready for what? "Yeah, sure," I reply. The bag slung over my shoulder is starting to feel very, very heavy. I hope I don't have to carry it for much longer.
"Then let's get going," she says. She hands me a booklet and some documents from her pile, nodding at me as if giving me permission to look at them. I open one of the booklets and see that it's a fake identification card, along with an equally fake passport. Of course, they're extremely convincing; the only reason that I know that they're fake is because my name, contrary to what it says on the passport, is not Samantha Sumner.
"What's all this, Honey?" I ask, confused. Where the Hell are we going that requires passports?
"Special permissions, identification, and passports to go to the Outside," she answers with a smile. "We're supposed to be dead, so for now, our names are Samantha Sumner and Rena Vernetti, twenty-seven year-old Resource Officers who are going to the Outside to scout for water. Got it, Samantha?"
"The Outside?" I gasp. "isn't that some uninhabitable desert with giant monsters and shit?"
"It's a desert, yes," 'Rena' grins. "but I promise, the 'giant monsters and shit' are a myth. The High Council likes to spread things around to scare us out of leaving."
Eventually, Israel pulls up in a sleek, new-looking scarlet car. Like the other cars in the Megalopolis, it has no wheels, hovering inches off the ground via magnetized rails underground. Honey hops in first, followed by me. We must be going to the border, I realize, if we need a car. So I'm leaving the Megalopolis completely. Well, I need a change of view, a place where people don't taunt me for sexual favors constantly, don't I?
The border is guarded by a giant edifice of geometrical municipality that goes on for miles. It's a huge and imposing fortress, with gray lines of metal crossing over each other in patterned formations. The whole thing has an aura of gray, an iridescent coolness hanging off the edges. It's the Bridge, and it is so cold and unforgiving that it makes me wonder how anyone would have the courage to try and sneak past it. Which is exactly what we're about to do. I shudder slightly.
"Y'ready?" Israel says as he parks the car in front. He turns away from the steering wheel and gives us a look full of apprehension. "you better remember your new name, Val. If you slip up, those border dogs will be all over you as if you were a piece of meat."
"Are you talking about actual dogs, or people?"
"People. They act like animals, though, if you provoke them. So be careful."
I inhale deeply and open the car door; Honey follows, opening hers, too. I stumble out, combat boots hitting the sand-covered concrete. It's already starting to look like a desert – just more proof that the Megalopolis's grass-green beauty is at least somewhat fake, though it must be in a less-desert-type area, because at least it gets enough rain. We enter the Bridge to see lines upon lines of people, all standing erect and waiting their turns to be called. I sigh, hating this. Lines? Orderliness? Not my kind of thing.
Israel leads us to the nearest line, where we wait a good fifteen minutes to get to the window where an old, jaded-looking man is waiting with a large stamp in his hand. The inside of the Bridge is dimly-lit and unbearably gray, full of tired people and cracks in the ground. This old man right here seems right at home, what with his icy gray stare and the wrinkled line of his pursed lips. He doesn't like people our age, I'm assuming.
"Twenty-seven years old, are you?" he questions as he looks through out individual booklets. "You all look a bit young, hm?"
"We're Resource Officers," Honey says hastily. "we get to go to all of these oases in the Outside. The water there keeps us looking fresh and young."
He eyes Honey suspiciously, but says nothing as he stamps all of our booklets, the stamp making a loud thud against the paper. "Bring me back some oasis water, then. I obviously need it." I can't tell if he's serious, or making a joke. I choose the latter, because there's no way we're going to bring back anything for this guy.
I linger for a bit, looking around at this place with childlike interest, until Israel mutters "Come on, Samantha, let's go". I follow him to a new line, where we get our passport booklets stamped once again. We wait for over half an hour in the next line of people to get our permission forms stamped; the woman at the window was middle-aged and tired-looking, with multiple bags under her eyes and frizzy dyed-red hair.
When she finally lets us through, we're loaded onto a bus that drives us far, far away. I choose a window seat where I can stare out at the desert in all its waterless glory: the warm sands, the piled rocks, the spiky shrubs. To be honest, I'm absolutely enchanted by it. It's a dry glory, a sand swept demonstration of survival of the fittest. It is life, real life, without the easily-attained amenities of the Megalopolis.
When we're let out of the bus, we're introduced to the desert: spikes and sands abound, and somehow, I feel almost as welcome here as I did in the underground. The sun is warm against my skin, warm against my mind. It's a great break from the hustle and bustle of Megalopolis life, but I wonder how long my fascination will last.
"Ugh," Honey groans, doubling over. "My entire body aches. What the hell?"
"It's this stupid disease," Israel mutters. "it-"
"It tortures you half the time, and then the other half, you don't even know it's there," Honey completes. "I can hear your thoughts so clearly here."
Israel frowns. "That's scary, you know."
"What you can do is scary, too," she counters. "don't be a hypocrite."
Israel says nothing. This makes me curious as to what his disease-given ability is, but I decide not to ask any questions about that just yet.
"What are we waiting for?" I say, coughing a little as sand is blown around into my face. Honey passes me a black bandana, and then ties a matching one around her mouth. I gladly do the same.
"Transportation," she answers. "one of Israel's buddies from the Resistance should be here soon."
Soon enough, Devon and an unknown man appear, the former on a hover craft resembling one of the magnetized motorcycles of the Megalopolis and the latter in a car very similar to the one that Israel had brought us in...only smaller. Much, much smaller. Honey takes a seat behind Devon, while Israel and I board the car with the strange man. Israel sits in the front passenger seat, while I sit in the back, stuffed in next to plastic water containers.
"Hey, I'm Val," I say to the stranger, attempting to get into a comfortable position but failing. "what's up?"
"Yo," he says. "just drivin', you know..."
"This is Clyde, Val," Israel says. "he's in charge of transport with the Resistance. He's going to take us to our little desert hideout."
"He'd better do it quick, then," I say, aggravated. "because these water...container...things are not very comfortable in this small-ass car."