2023, Fort Dallas
Seven Years After The Rift
As far as jail cells go, this one’s pretty decent. I mean, I’ve been in my fair share over the last few years, and most of them are converted storage closets or small, reinforced rooms. This one has a small cot in the corner, a bucket for personal use, and the door’s a barbed wire frame that allows me to look out on the rest of the makeshift jail. Considering that the last time I spent a few days in one of these places I was left in the dark entirely, this feels posh.
Which means I am probably completely and totally screwed.
I’m not a negative person. Not normally. I’m more of a ‘let’s make lemonade and sell it’ person. Doesn’t do any good to cry over lemons. Then again, I’d kill to have a lemon right about now. I don’t think I’ve seen a bit of fruit since the Rift. I imagine fruit trees were one of the first things to go. Anyhow, it isn’t in me to cry and weep over my fate. That interferes with getting shit done, and there’s always entirely too much shit to get done. If there’s a setback—and let’s face it, there always is—I regroup and attack it with a new game plan. I have people depending on me, and there’s no time to mope.
But I can’t help but feel a little worried when the two guards in the jail keep glancing over at my cell and whispering to each other. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing good. I give them my best hard stare and try to look fierce. Girls that are weak and soft—like Amy and Sasha—get taken advantage of. I’m not letting anyone do that to me.
Amy. My sister. God, she’s going to be so worried. I’ve been stuck here for almost two weeks now. While my little sister is used to me flitting in and out thanks to my scavenging runs, two weeks is too long. She’s going to be frantic. I hope she doesn’t go after me.
I really, really hope she doesn’t pay someone to go after me. We don’t have any money, and girls our age only have one other option in Fort Dallas. I’ve told Amy she doesn’t have to do that, but I worry she won’t listen. That panic will take over and she’ll do something she regrets.
Stay put, I mentally command my sister. Stay calm. I’ll be home soon.
Or…not, I think as I eye my jail cell once more.
The guards are watching me again. Shit. I’ve been here a while now, and with nothing to do but people-watch as others come and go, I’ve learned which expression means ‘time to change the poop bucket‘ and which expression means trouble.
The look I’m getting right now? Major trouble.
I just smile innocently. No big deal. This is me, absolutely not freaking out.
If they came over to harass me and comment about my tits, that’s one thing. I know what to expect from that. All this whispering and staring? I worry that something bad is happening. I can’t quite shake that feeling. Given that this is the longest I’ve ever been held in a cell, I’m afraid I won’t make it back home again.
That feeling only gets stronger when they both take a look over at the yellowed dry-erase board on the wall and then glance at the door to the jail.
I’m not wrong. Something’s happening today.
In a way, I guess it’s a good thing. No more of this endless waiting-in-limbo crap. No more biting my ragged nails down to the quick, worrying. No more testing the concrete seams of my cell, trying to determine if there’s loose rock somewhere and I can dig an escape tunnel. No more watching shift after shift of the guards leaving, only to be replaced with a new shift.
I should be happy. And yet…
I bite my lip, thinking of my sister. Amy is at home, waiting for me to bring food and supplies and money after my scavenging trip. She’s still there and still hungry and helpless. I hate that. I hate that I’ve been stuck in this jail cell for two weeks. Our friend Sasha will take care of her, but…Sasha has her own worries. And Amy needs help. She’s only two years younger than my twenty-five, but she’s soft where I’m all hard edges. Amy can’t scavenge. She can’t hold a knife or throw a punch if someone tries to overpower her and steal what’s hers. I’m the one who watches her. And yeah, Amy’s been babied, first by our parents when they were alive, and by me and Sasha in the After. Amy’s leg broke during the Rift and it never set properly, so she walks with a bad limp. It never bothered me before because I was there to take care of her.
But now? I’m beating myself up, imagining Amy at home, starving. Amy limping to the nearest scavenger shop with whatever she can exchange for food. Amy selling herself, spreading her legs for one of the soldiers to make a little meal money like Sasha does…but Amy wouldn’t do that. Amy would starve first.
One of the guards—the one with the gut—glances at the door again and saunters over to my jail cell. He peers down through the barbed wire gate at me. “How we doin’ today?”
“Same as yesterday.” What, does he think I have a full schedule or something? I’m in a freaking jail cell on bogus charges. Well…a little bogus.
Teeny, tiny bit bogus.
At least, not entirely legit.
“Long night,” he comments, then rubs tired eyes.
“Oh, not me. I slept like a baby.” I give him my most winning smile. I’m going to try charm, I think. Weasel a few answers out of him. He’ll either run with the ball and start fingering his nightstick in a gross sort of way, or he’ll get suspicious. This is one time I’m hoping my guard’s a creep.
He just frowns at me. “You slept through the dragon attack?”
All right, now he just thinks I’m a dummy. No one sleeps through a dragon attack, especially not one that’s out of pattern. I was up last night, too, huddled in a corner, hugging my knees to my chest and praying for it to end, which is how I spend every dragon attack.
The dragons usually attack like clockwork—the big golden ones attack every three days, just before noon. The smaller red ones attack daily for a week and then nothing for another three. No one ever attacks at night.
Except last night. And I don’t know what that means. And I can’t think about it because then I’ll worry about Amy, and it does no good to worry about Amy while I’m stuck in here.
“Sleep through the dragon attack? Me?” I shake my head and try to keep smiling. “I meant otherwise.”