I pull the rusting, metal bar down for the thousandth time that today, my arms straining to use that last bit of energy, my muscles practically numb with soreness. Franny just stood there watching me. Mezmorized.
It was my job to lead her around, show her the ropes. They always picked me for this type of thing. I was the perfect slave. I never complained, worked hard, and worked quietly. People like me got chosen to be the role models for them. I don’t understand why though, we were just the weak ones. The ones who didn’t have any courage.
All of the newbies are pretty much the same. They are weak and scared, just like me. But they are also young, which makes them even more vulnerable. There was something different about Franny, though. I could feel it. She was peppy, a little too peppy, and eager. Like she didn’t really understand what was happening and she wanted to find out.
“You don’t remember anything, do you?” I ask, my voice raspy because it is the first thing I have said all day. I usually just got by, by nodding my head and giving a half smile.
Franny shook her head and looked down, shamefully. Even she seems to know that not remembering is rare, and it’s never a good thing. Especially not here.
I know that she has to leave, if she wants to live. She needs to get out of this region. There is nothing I can do to help though, but there is a little part of me saying I should.
Cole Draydon was a scary person. There was not one part of that man that was not intimidating. Just the way he walked; clunking down the halls with his big combat boots, his arms swinging carelessly at his sides ready to knock down any unfortunate slave in his way. His low raspy voice, his scraggly beard, the aroma of smoke circling him. He was built to be a terror.
He was the boss. The real deal. He was surrounded by thousands, but not one even came close to being his friend. That man was a real mystery, but if I wanted to maybe help this girl, I would need his help.
I had seen some of them before. The non rememberers. Most of them were caught at evaluation, when they ask you questions about your past, and other random things to make sure you remember. If you pass, you go directly to working and if not you are either killed, or used. Franny was headed there, she was very vulnerable, because she was curious.
I could tell things about people. It’s a gift. I’ve noticed that the quieter you are, the easier it is to focus and observe. Watching is a hobby. Figuring out others thoughts so that I don’t have to deal with my own.
The more I show Franny around, the weirder I feel.There is a feeling in the pit of my stomach. A happy sort of feeling. It happened when I first saw her.
I do what I am supposed to do. I show her everything. How we get dressed, making sure the sleek white coats are buttoned to the fullest, the glasses secure. How we work in the basement, pumping the metal bars to push the water up the pipes to the canal to be cleaned. The food we eat, the places we sleep. Everything.
Day by day she learns, becoming more curious as we go along. Day by day I start to care for her, want to help her.
One particular incident I can’t get out of my head. It was only the third day of her being here. She still had no memory. But even without anything to go on, she was still bright and cheerful. This particular day I was showing her around the dorms. Where we sleep, eat and dress. We were in the mess hall, and she was chatting like normal:
“Rae!! Come over here, what’s this?” she asks, touching the grinder, her soft hands stroking it, her eyes staring at it intently.
“That’s the grinder,” I say with a little laugh, “We put all the extra food in there to get mashed up and used as compost.”
“EEEEWWWWW” she yells, quickly retracting her hand, a look of disgust plastered on her face.
“Shhh,” I smile “Someone might hear us,”
“And what would be so bad about that? You people should have more fun!” A reality check, she still doesn’t understand, no matter how hard I try. We are slaves, we don’t have fun. We work. The smile disappearing from my face.
“Franny, we gotta move on.” she looks devastated. Her shoulders drop, and she looks at the ground. I think part of her realizes she’s not supposed to be here. That smile didn’t come back for a few days, and even then it seemed forced.
I wish I could give her everything she wants. Promise her it will be okay, but there is nothing I can do to make absolutely positive that it will.
One thing I know, is that I care for her a lot. Almost like she could be someone I have known for a long time.
Today was even worse than normal. Seeing her standing above me smiling when I wake up, those little freckles splattered across her nose so randomly, her almost perfect teeth, and her bright blue and green eyes, so innocent. I almost burst into tears. I really need to help her. There is a connection, she looks so familiar.
It is time.
I draw out the plans tonight. A map of the building with the exits marked in red, the hiding spots in green, and the secret room in blue. They keep all the files there, the information about each slave. On that day, Franny needs to get up early. Put on the clothes I leave for her. Walk confidently down the right wing, and duck into the secret room.
There, she will grab her file and walk straight out exit #5 without even a look back. From there she will ride the train to the Salomon region, where if I can convince Cole Draydon, there will be an escort set up. From there she is on her own.
If all goes as planned, she will leave in exactly 29 days, one day before the evaluation.
Now all I have to do is make sure everything goes as planned. I am going to talk to Cole Draydon today.
I walk down the white tile hall, my shoes clicking and echoing of the naked walls. The dim strobe lights reflecting across the floor making my shadow small and timid like I feel. The wooden door is right there, with the metal plating in cursive writing stating ‘Cole Draydon’ , perfectly polished and beautiful, almost like he cares more about that plaque then the entire factory itself.
I reach for the polished silver doorknob, so clean I could see my reflection around the rim. I touch it and it sends shivers down my spine. I retract my fingers, pulling them into a tight ball. My rough, uncut nails digging into my palms. I take my final deep breath and turn it to the right, hearing the satisfying click as it cracks open.
His back is to me, in his comfortable swivel chair, his slicked back hair, only half visible over the pillow he is resting his head on.
I step farther into the room, careful not to open the door any more than I need to. He still doesn’t turn around, so I am guessing he is sleeping. I tip-toe closer praying that I don’t make any noise. I am close enough now to just peek over the chair and see if he is sleeping.
“What do you want?” his low grumbly voice fills the room.
I jump feet into the air, and come crashing down, twisting my ankle.
“I..I’m sorry sir...I” I stutter
“What do you want?” he repeats the question, more annoyed this time
“I only came...sir..to ask for your help?” it sounds about as scared as I feel.
“Yes sir. I am worried about one of the newbies and I need your help,” I am getting more confident now. My voice no longer shaking as much.
“Do not bother me with your questions, leave now, or I will report you.”
“Leave.” I turn on my heel and spin away, annoyed and embarrassed. I am about to give up completely when I get a glimpse of her through the crowd of them walking by. The smile still on her sweet face. I need to make a plan.
There are three stages. Stage One, convince Cole to help me. Stage two, convince Franny that she needs to leave. Stage three, get her out. I have been doing my own little research about Cole Draydon and some stuff turned up that I think will change his mind. I am going back to his office. This time only saying one thing. If this doesn’t get him to budge I don’t know what will.
I stand. My dirty white shoes grounded into the scratched up tile, my toes curling inside my mitch-matched socks. My stomach churning with butterflies but my poker face showing no sign of nervousness. I graze my thumb over my newly cut fingernails, and knock loudly on his door. I see the doorknob turn and open a crack.
“What do you want this time?” he growls,
“I think you are going to want to help me.”
“And why is that?”
“Well, tell me, would you like everyone here to know why you no longer live in the Salomon district? Maybe it had something to do with the law?” Sometimes you don’t need all the information. Just pieces of it. At this I raise one eyebrow and when he doesn’t reply immediately, I turn swishing my ponytail into his face, and swinging my hips a little as I walk away. As I turn the corner, I move my lips to form three words.
“Stage one complete.” I take a deep breath as I turn into the hall where Franny is working. I can do this. I approach her, and calmly say
“Hey Franny, could you help me over here please?”
“Oh hey Rae! You don’t even wor-” I shush her with a look, and she re evaluates her sentence. “Yeah of course!” She steps away from the bar and lifts down her hood, smiling as she walks over. “What’s up?”
“Franny, you can’t stay here, and I have a way to get you out. You are going to need to trust me.”
“I’m not going. Not unless you come with me.”
“Franny, you know I can’t,” but this puts something in my head. Why can’t I? What is holding me back here?
“Meet me outside my dorm at 8. Please. This is for your own good.” She turns away and walks back to her station. As she resumes I can see a little less force in her push, no enthusiasm.
I return to my dorm, and start preparing. I grab some clothes that I have kept under my mattress since the day one, just in case I could ever get out. I have some money saved too. I’m giving Franny my get out of jail free card. I put them all into a small bag, and tuck that under the bunk. I quickly dress and return to my work.
The minutes pass slowly. I feel like the clock in the corner is torturing me. My insides are churning.
At 7:45, I lift the bar for the last time, unzip my coat and hang it up. I nod at my instructor and head out. Walking at normal pace as usual back to my dorm. I slip out of my shoes, and lay down on my bed. I open my only book to my bookmark, but instead of reading it, I unfold the bookmark and study the map. After a few minutes, I glance up at the clock in the corner. 7:55. I slip the map into the bag, and go and stand near the door, opening it a crack so I can see when she comes.
Finally I see her black boots round the corner. She stands outside nervously. Bouncing her knees. I slip out careful not to make much noise. I hand her the bag with the instructions and start to hug her goodbye but she pushes me away.
“Rae. I’m not leaving without you.”
“Yes. Yes you are.”
“I can’t. I don’t know where to go. I will be lonely. At least I have a life here.”
“Trust me, Franny. If you do not go now, most likely you will be killed. You have to get out while you can.” She takes a deep breath, finally getting it. The tight ball in my stomach releases and a wave of relief washes over me. She takes the bag, dropping her shoulders and closing her eyes for a moment. She turns to leave but then swings around one last time. She wraps her arms around my shoulders and hugs me really tight. After a moment I hug her back, hard.
“You will be okay, I promise,” I whisper into her ear. She nods and unlatches her arms. She turns to go, and looks back at me with puppy eyes one last time. It is more than I can take. For once in my life I have been happy and had a friend. One that I am about to let go.
I make a split decision that I might later regret, but for right now it seems dreamy.
“Hold up,” I call to Franny. She turns around, her face filled with hope “I’m coming with you.”