Chapter 5: Fight Me

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The five separations

Miriam woke up the next morning to Emma rattling her by the shoulders.

“Wake up” Emma “It’s morning. They’re about to announce the groups”  Miriam sprang right up. “Why did you let me sleep?!” she gasped and ran her fingers through her tangled hair “Oh no no no! I shouldn’t have slept!”

“Relax, we’re still waiting,” James assured her, putting a hand on her shoulder to calm her down.  

“What time is it? And where is Ethan?” Miriam demanded from James and spun around.

“It’s 6:55 am. And, and Ethan, I don’t know… I don’t know where he is.” James stuttered and stepped away from her a little “Probably just getting water” he assured before Miriam could say or do anything else.

“Five minutes” Miriam breathed. She sighed and rubbed her eyes. She wanted to wipe away the memories of yesterday and her nightmare, but the faces kept flashing in front of her eyes. She looked at her friends and tried to remember every detail, drink up everything she could of the people she loved most in this world.

Emma’s brown skin and big, black eyes that always shone so bright with her smile. The round-edged glasses that she earned from the excessive reading after hours.

Four minutes. James and his smile that was always there. That goofball grin that always made everything a little better. His reassuring green eyes that always understood and trusted.

3 minutes.  Miriam didn’t hear Ethan come back from the machine. When she turned to look for him, Ethan standing just a few steps behind her. The corners of her eyes began to tingle and there was a lump in her throat. Miriam blinked fast and gulped. She looked at her best friend. His eyes worried and his hands shaky, just like they always were when he was nervous. The friends all stepped closer, wrapped their arms around each other and bent their heads together.

Two minutes. Miriam listened to the clock tic. Tic-Toc. ‘We will be fine’ she told herself. Tic-Toc. ‘What if I lose them’. Tic-Toc. ‘I just want this to be over’. Tic-Toc.

One minute. The clock ticked too slowly, yet too fast. Miriam gripped James and Ethan’s shoulders to bring them all closer together. Just when the clock’s arm struck seven, the door slid open and Head instructor stepped in, followed by two men. The men were absolutely identical, except for the fact that one was dressed in white, and the other one in black

“Good morning children” she gave them a shiny smile and scanned the small crowd. “Remain silent and do exactly as you are told.” Head instructor paused and looked up from her clipboard, “Now,” she said, “ Leo, Emily, James, Emma-” Miriam jumped at the mention of her friends. She exchanged a look with Emma. No. Miriam thought she somehow knew she wouldn’t hear her own. Head instructor finished reading and pointed her pen at the man in white. “The children I just listed will now follow Mr. Bonman” Head Instructor said and Miriam nearly cried out; Ethan’s name wasn’t called“As for the rest of you,” the Head instructor looked at Ethan and Miriam over her glasses, her lip curling slightly in disgust “Miriam, Ethan, you will follow Mr. Badde.” she pointed at the man in black and gave the two a sneering smile “As of now the two groups will be permanently separated.” Head Instructor gave each of the groups a look. “You do not belong together and you cannot exist together. This is final”

Miriam desperately threw her arms around Emma, pulling her into a tight hug, and tried to memorize every single detail in case they did get separated. The smell of something light and sweet. Emma’s bushy and tangled hair that she didn’t brush that morning. The elastic fabric of her uniform against Miriam’s fingers. Both girls buried their faces in each other’s shoulders. She then,  let go and threw her arms around James. Miriam wanted to remember her friend, and how his arms felt around her, and how her arms felt around him. How he smelled of something she couldn’t recognize and how she could rest her chin on his shoulder. But most of all, what a great friend he always was. Unfortunately, that story is for another time.

Miriam gave Emma and James one, last, desperate look and as they turned to follow the man in black, who eyed them all with a disapproving look and shook his head. Mr. Badde led them to a wall at the other end of the room. The man pressed his left hand against what appeared to be the wall until his palm glowed green. However, it was not the hand that glowed, but the wall behind it.

“Remain silent” Mr. Badde commanded, just barely moving his thin lips “I will take questions and give further instructions,” he paused and scanned them with an empty stare, “later.” The young man had a thin, pale face and darker circles under his inky black eyes. Badde’s hair was brushed back and his black suit was a little too narrow for him in the shoulders. This caused him to shrink down and restricted arm movement. It was clear that Badde was still young, certainly not older than mid-twenties, yet there was something about him that made him seem old. Much older than he really was. Maybe it was the tired and hopeless look in his eyes or the thin creases in the skin around in the corners of his mouth and between his brows. The wall slid open to reveal a hallway passage. Mr. Badde stepped in and with a wave of his hand, called for them to follow. They walked down a narrow cement hall with occasional yellow light bulbs. The lighting was dim and sent long shadows down the hall. Miriam didn’t know how long they walked. She lost any track of time and sank in her thoughts and worries. Funny, how much her life transformed unjust twenty-four hours. Just yesterday at this time, she was in her room and Ethan came in to wish her happy birthday and they hugged. She remembered the warm feeling she got when they hugged. But at least he was there with her now. Right behind her, like he always has, and like she has always been for him.

Miriam sank so deep into her thoughts that she didn’t notice that they had reached the end of the passage. Ethan caught her sleeve and pulled her back, just in time so that she wouldn’t walk into Mr. Badde put his hand on the familiar black hand scanner, the same kind that was used in the academy. The door opened to an underground train platform. Miriam remembered that they talked about those in class one time and tried to remember what they were called. She was sure there was a name for those things. The platform was once beautiful, but only once.  There was chipped paint on the walls and ceiling. What was left of the chandelier hung high around the two. Complicated patterns were carved into the pillars, but there was very little left of them. The floor was covered in dirt and trash. Miriam couldn’t imagine the last time it was washed. Mr. Badde raised his hand and signaled them to stop and stand still. He turned around to face them.

“You will board the train that will come,” he said  “Find a compartment- do you know what that is?” he interrupted himself, they nodded. “Good” the man in black continued dryly  “You will stay quiet in these compartments until the end of the trip. There will be further instructions later. You may speak now…” Yet nobody dared to. Mr. Badde turned in his heels, walked back to the door and disappeared.

The door slid shut and they were left there, alone on the platform. In the dark. Ethan sighed and moved closer to stand next to Miriam. She heard a whooshing noise coming from the left side of the black tunnels. The noise grew louder and louder. The two turned their heads towards the noise. Miriam stepped closer to the edge of the platform. The train came crashing into the station and raised a wind and dust. It came to a hasty stop, and the doors glided open right in front of Miriam’s nose.

“Enter,” told a mechanical female voice from above. The train was advanced but wrecked and dirty. The train’s outside was beaten and bruised, rust had nibbled on the edge and doors. Miriam and Ethan stepped on to the train just before the doors slid shut.

“Find compartments” reminded a mechanical voice “They can be found in the halls on either side”

Ethan motioned for Miriam to follow him and led them through the door their right. There was a slim hallway with many doors on the left side and the floor was covered with a thin rag instead of a carpet. Ethan opened the third door and to let both of them into the small compartment. It was a tiny room with hard seats on both of the long sides that were ripped in several places with moldy orange stuff coming out of them. The curtains were drawn on the window, but there was nothing to see anyway. Only the pitch-blackness of the metro. The thin shelves under the low ceiling were half full of dust. They sat down on one of the couches, closer to the window.

“I wonder-” Ethan broke off “I-I-I… ” he tried again and failed. He looked down and shifted away slightly towards the window

“You’re scared for them, aren’t you?” Miriam asked and put her hand on his arm. He nodded.

“And for us,” Ethan added and looked her in the eyes. “Are you?” Miriam nodded. As much as she didn’t like to admit it, she was terrified.

For we often fear the unknown. So often scared of not the thing itself but scared because we don’t know what will happen if or when we meet it. You see, dear reader, it is not that we are scared of the dark, but we are scared because we don’t know what we might find in it. But don’t worry reader, they won’t be there when you turn on the light.

Ethan and Miriam were both scared and had all the reasons to be. Not knowing where were they taken, how their friends are or where their lives will lead. Miriam, her mind too overwhelmed by worries, nerves, and lack of sleep.

“You know,” Miriam said as they sat down on one of the benches “I’m so glad you’re still here,” she leaned her head on Ethan’s shoulder

“Me too…” he whispered and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “Hey Miriam” he sat up a little straighter as he suddenly remembered something.

“Mhm?” she asked and looked up at his face.

“I forgot I wanted to ask you something”

“Yeah?” she raised her eyebrows and gave him a questioning look.

“When we were walking down to the room yesterday, you-you, were very distracted by something… what happened? Was something wrong?” Ethan questioned her with concern written across his face.

“Oh that…” she muttered “it’s nothing really. Just… ” Miriam shifted away from him and looked down.

Ethan raised an eyebrow “Just…?” he grinned “C’mon tell me,” He nudged her softly with his elbow.

“Well,” Miriam began with a sigh “There was this picture… or, or a photograph. I don’t know, but it was terrifying.” she murmured and found her shoes quite an interesting sight. “It was a dark street, I think. I was covered in trash and dirt, and there was a crow eating something. I don’t know why I was so scared… but it just sent shivers down my back…”Miriam finished in a small voice. Ethan went pale and serious with concern.

“I understand. I’m sorry…” he apologized and looked down to his shoes.

“It’s ok… I guess I did want to talk about it,” Miriam shivered and looked up at him. Ethan met her eyes with a gentle smile and put his arm around her shoulders.

All of a sudden the train jerked forward, jumped a little and threw Miriam out of her seat. The seats on the seats on the opposite side broke her fall, but not enough. A spring popped out when she fell and went into her right palm. Miriam yelped in pain and surprise. Before either could do or say anything the door slid open and what appeared to be a metal box rolled in. The top slid open to reveal two bowls of some sort of food. It was light brown in color, and chunky. Two metal arms sprung out of it and thrust the bowl to them so hard they almost spilled. Miriam squealed at the boiling bowl against her cut skin. Ethan yelped and set the bowl on a little table between the two seats. Miriam tried to put her bowl down too and almost dropped it because of her blood-covered hands.

“Ugh” Miriam grunted before jumping back against the wall. The metal box flung open it’s sides and sot out two duffle bags, one black, and one purple. Next, the explosive metal box wheeled around a little, but soon found the exit from the compartment and zoomed away. The pair stared at the door in astonishment for a few moments.

“Right,” Ethan came back to his senses and shook his head from side to side. He was not as fast at reacting as Miriam and didn’t duck when it was shot at him. Ethan moved it aside and looked up at Miriam to see her hand and dress covered in blood. “What? What happened?!” he gasped. Ethan didn’t quite understand where it was all coming from so she rushed over.

“It’s fine, I’m fine, don’t panic-”Miriam tried to explain, but Ethan cut her off.

“You’re covered in blood!”  he shouted at her.

“Well, at least it’s mine… could have been someone else’s.” Miriam tried to joke.

“Not funny.” Ethan snapped and his face turned serious with worry. He took her hands into his to asses the spring has caused  “Don’t move, I’ll find something to covered and clean it with.” he ordered and turned to his duffle bag to search it. Miriam noticed his hands were trembling again.

“Ethan!” she barked, “I said don’t panic. Please…” Miriam begged. She hated to see him like this, especially over her.

“Yes, right, sorry.” he apologized and took a deep breath. He turned away from the duffle bag.

“But you are right, I think I might need bandages,” Miriam guessed and took a closer look at her cut “I’ll look through my bag too”

“Please be careful” Ethan warned.

“I’m fine, you don’t need to be so worried. It’s just a small cut.” Miriam assured him and gave him a stern look over her shoulder as she searched her bag. In there she found some clothes, a pair of shoes, a backpack, more clothes, a jacket, and a red pouch. Miriam pulled it out. Meanwhile, Ethan found a similar one in his bag and unzipped it with no trouble (he did, unlike Miriam have two good hands).

“Ahah!” a hint of triumph played across his eyes. The small pouch, to their disappointment, contained even smaller bandages.

“This will have to do,” Miriam sighed with noted of a disappointment. She took out several small rolls of bandages from the pack, some band-aids and sat down by the table. Miriam put her hand on the table to have a better look. The cut was hard to make out in her bloodstained hand, but she could see it’s rough coordinates on her palm. She ripped open one of the bandages with her good hand and the help of her teeth. She struggled to wrap the bandage with one hand. The cut was still oozing blood and it easily soaked through the thin wraps. Ethan shook his head and took the seat on her left. He took her cut hand into his as gently as he could, like it was fragile glass.

“Let me help” Ethan murmured without looking up at her and started wrapping her hand in fresh wrappers. Making it just tight enough to stop the bleeding, but not numb her fingers.

“Your hands are shaking again…” Miriam noted gently.

“So?” he snapped at her.

“You’re talking about like like I told you-you have blue eyes or black hair.” she argued, “Why are you so shaky?” Miriam demanded and lifted his chin to force him to look her in the eyes.

“I’m not… I’m just-just… I’m sorry” Ethan stuttered and tried to look away, but Miriam forced him to look at her again.

“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong… What’s going on?” Miriam questioned him with concern and worry “Why are you so nervous all the time?”

“It’s just…” his voice trembled “I-I-I was so… so scared of losing them… And I did…” he paused and looked up at the ceiling “And… and I won’t be able to bear losing you.” Ethan’s eyes were glistening and Miriam saw tears build up at the corners of his eyes. He wiped them with his elbow. “I shouldn’t have” Ethan blamed himself, sprung up and turned away turned away to face the wall. Ethan tried to pretend like he was looking through his bag again.

“Oh Ethan,” she breathed “no… you should. It’s ok to cry” she protested in a soft voice. Miriam hugged him from behind and rested her cheek between his shoulder blades. “Whatever they told you there,  at The Academy, about having to be someone…” she tried her best to comfort him “It…” she struggled to find the right words “it isn’t true” Miriam whispered and pulled him closer “I’ll still be your best friend, even if you cry your eyes out every day. Do you understand that?” she assured him. Ethan put his hands on her’s and gave them a little squeeze.

“Yes,” he whispered with a shaky voice and closed his eyes. Ethan let another tear roll down his cheek. Then another. And another. He wheeled around and wrapped his arms around her. “I just can’t bear to think what would have happened if the spring would… If it would have gone in some centimeters higher….” he paused and took a deep breath in the hopes of calming himself down “And when I saw you covered in blood like that-” his voice broke off and he muffled his sobs in Miriam’s shoulder.

“Shhh… It’s okay,” Miriam whispered to him as she ran tender strokes up and down his back. Ethan just buried his face further in her shoulder as his sobs grew more violent. “Look, I’m here and not even bleeding… anymore” she continued to whisper in his ear “It’s ok, I’ll never leave you. You’re safe. I’m safe. We’re both safe and sound… ” Miriam stroked his back until he calmed a little, and she only heard faint whimpers from him. “We should eat before the food freezes over” Miriam murmured and stepped away from him.

“Mhm,” Ethan hummed and pulled away. He looked up at her face. His eyes stained red with tears and swollen. Ethan’s face was pink from all the crying and wiping his face. He shook all over as he lowered himself to his seat. Miriam picked up her spoon and bit her lip to stop herself from yelping from the pain in the bruised knuckles of her left hand. ‘A nice start of a story’ she thought and cringed at the pain as she lifted her spoon. All the events of the day made her forget of the ache that burned the bruises on her knuckles. Miriam took a deep breath and tried to hide the pain from her face as she put swallowed a mouthful of the food. It was nothing like anything she ate at The Academy. The food tasted creamy and slightly sweet. The texture was soft and didn’t require chewing, yet it was nothing like the thing they ate at the school.

“This is… interesting…” Miriam commented after she swallowed the first mouthful.

“Mhm,” Ethan nodded and put his spoon down. “I’m not hungry, though”

“Ethan Chase! Don’t even try to play that game with me!” she hissed at him and crossed her arms on her chest. “The last time you ate was hours ago. Eat!” Miriam commanded Ethan and pointed at the food with her spoon.

“I’m fine, really…” he tried to push his plate away and leaned away from the table.

“No,” Miriam insisted and pushed the plate back towards him. “You will finish this even if I have to feed you” she commanded and gave him a stern look. Miriam glanced at the spoon, then back at Ethan and gave him a demanding glare: “Are you fifteen or four?”

“Fine” he grunted and picked up another spoonful to stuff in his mouth. Miriam watched him finish his food. She only took a bite of her own when Miriam was sure Ethan wasn’t looking in her direction, to hide the pain on her face.

“Your hands still hurt, don’t they?” Ethan pointed out as he leaned back in his seat after he finished his food. Miriam looked down. She despised to admit, but the palm of her left hand really did ache and throb at every movement, but she didn’t want to lie. Not to her best friend. Miriam nodded and bit her bottom lip.

“I’ll be fine” she shook it off and picked up the spoon with her right. Ethan raised a doubtful eyebrow.

“Will ya though?” he questioned her with worry. Ethan always became so overprotective when it came to his friends’ health. Miriam sighed and started pressing her nails in her knee under the table to distract herself from the throbbing ache in her cut arm. She gobbled up her food before Ethan could start giving her concerned looks and asking questions. He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Like I said, I’m fine” she assured him, but couldn’t deny the pain in her voice.

“You need to stop pretending, you know,” Ethan noted and pretended to look through his bag again. “How bad does it hurt?” he asked without looking up, notes of worry and slight frustration played across his tired voice. Miriam sighed, who was she kidding? They have known each other for as long as she could remember.  

“Bad…” Miriam mumbled and looked down at her bandaged hand. Some blood had seeped through the thin bandages and pooled in a red stain. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she leaden back in her seat.

“Tired?” Ethan asked in a soft voice.

“Mhm,” Miriam hummed and leaned her head against the window. “You should-” an exhausted yawn interrupted her “…sleep a little too” she opened her eyes a little to give him a look. Ethan nodded and lay down on the seats, taking up all of the three spaces.

The wind whistled outside the window in the blackness of the tunnel and the train rocked from side to side a little, as Miriam fell into a restless sleep.

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