Steel Lily(5)
Author:Megan Curd


    I shook my head and laughed. “If you had your way, you’d dress me in a tu-tu.”

    In one fluid motion, Alice grabbed the nearest cushion and launched it my direction. It flew past my head and connected with the side of the refrigerator. Some of the colorful United States of America magnets rained down and clattered on the floor.

    I chuckled. “Good thing we don’t need your aim to keep us alive.”

    “Bite me.”

    She smiled, her eyes crinkling at the edges. Sheets of inky black hair fell around her naturally tan face as she focused on the pants again. “I guess you’ll want to get back to your house soon, right? So no one sees you leaving?”

    I plopped down on the arm of the couch. A plume of dust clouded the air, making me sneeze. Yet another perk of furniture shopping in condemned housing. I picked at a hole in the fabric, pulling out a thin strand of filler.

    Hot tingles prickled my insides, setting my nerves on edge. “Legs told me that the Polatzi are doing another sweep tonight. Keep away from the windows, okay?”

    Alice paled, fear etched into her otherwise perfect features. “Already? They did one last week. Do you think they’ll find me?”

    “Of course not.” I said, placing a hand on Alice’s shoulder. “Have they found you yet? You’re careful. They aren’t going to find you.”

    As if the Polatzi had heard me making a promise I couldn’t keep, the worn carpet rumbled under our feet. Alice’s face paled as the vibration turned into a low drone that quickly became a roar. Bits of plaster fell from the ceiling.

    The hovercrafts were outside.

    “It’s not curfew yet!” she cried as she ran to get the lights, “Why are they here? The sun hasn’t gone down!”

    My stomach sank as the steady pounding of footsteps echoed along the road. Then it happened.

    Heavy thuds of boots hit the wet cement of the basement, and then someone hit the sixth step on the stairs. Moments later the wood snapped, giving way under the abuse.

    I tried to think of a way to escape, but we were trapped. It was dusk, I was on the wrong end of town, and the Polatzi would break the door down any minute.

    So much for fate being on my side today.





    CHAPTER


    THREE




    “Oh God, Avery, we’re screwed!”

    Alice scrambled to open the hidden nook we’d created behind the dilapidated bookshelf for a situation like this. Books tumbled from the crooked shelves and pages flew from the tattered old spines, littering the wood floor. She threw her tiny frame against the side of the shelf again, each time with a grunt. If the Polatzi wondered if someone lived here, their suspicions were confirmed by the racket. “Avery, come on. Help me!”

    Panic welled in my chest. The thought of the Polatzi bursting through the door was almost paralyzing, but I couldn’t let them get Alice. I ran to her aid, and together we pushed the shelf to the side.

    A tiny crevice barely big enough for one of us came into view. An old blanket and pillow lay at the back of the nook, holes in the cloth chewed away by moths. The musty scent of wet wood and disuse filled my nostrils, but that didn’t make me pause.

    The turning of the locked basement door handle did.

    “Alice, go,” I said as I shoved her into the tiny space and began to push the shelf back in place.

    Alice’s eyes grew wide. “What are you doing? You can fit. We’ll squeeze—”

    “No, we won’t,” I argued, the bookshelf grinding against the wooden floor, “I’m not the one that’ll get arrested and end up God knows where. Stay quiet and don’t come out until it’s been silent for at least an hour. You know the Polatzi linger.”

    Before she could argue, a yell sounded from below, followed by gunshots.

    “What the hell…” Alice whispered through the remaining crack, her shadowy figure leaning toward me.

    The muscles in my legs burned as I crawled toward the kitchen. “I don’t know. Let me go listen.”

    “No! It might be a trick.”

    “Do you think they’d waste stunning bullets to trick us?”

    Alice said nothing, and the scuffling downstairs became louder. The sound of boxes and junk getting tossed around echoed up the stairs, and I pressed my ear against the cool metal lining of the door to try to get a better listen.

    “What were you doing down here, squatter?” An unfamiliar voice questioned.

    A squatter? Downstairs? Alice and I were the only ones here. Who had the misfortune to hide down there tonight?

    Then his voice floated up the stairs. It was Legs.

    “I was running late getting home,” he said in a muffled tone. “I saw you good soldiers coming down the road and panicked. Slipped in here. Didn’t think you’d take well to me being on the street.”

    “And you thought we wouldn’t find you? It looks like you’ve been here quite a while, what with all the shit you’ve got down here. Do you have buddies upstairs?”

    “No, Sir, just me. No friends.”

    A cold laugh echoed. “Of course not. Who’d want to be friends with a scab like you?”

    What sounded like a punch and then Legs groaning floated up the stairs. I cringed. A warm hand rested on my shoulder, and I jumped. “Shhh!” Alice whispered as she covered my mouth. She nodded toward the door and mouthed, “Who’s down there?”

    “Legs.”

    Alice’s mouth formed an O, and it was my turn to cover her mouth. We both pressed our ears to the door, glued to the spot in horror.

    My stomach lurched as Legs cried out in pain from another blow. “I’ve seen you in the market before, selling junk that nobody wants,” a Polatzi said, “so where’s your stash? Are you going to give us anything of use?”

    Another punch. Legs coughed and gasped for breath. Alice covered her ears. I squeezed my eyes shut in hopes to block out the world.

    It only took me back to the day Alice and I came home from the market to find my home in disarray. My desperate attempts to get in the house. The Polatzi stopping me; Legs watching it all from across the street as his parents pulled him into the house and shut the door. We had been the first wave of people from outside of Detroit to make it to the Dome, and our homes were all situated together. Who could have imagined we would be forced to live on our own, to grow up so quickly, in such a grotesque way. Our lives had forever been changed by the war. Alice and Legs, forced to survive without family for their own reasons and me, forced to give of myself until the government felt I’d given enough.

    Damn radiation.

    If only my parents and I hadn’t gone on that vacation to Indianapolis. If only the bomb hadn’t hit a mile away. If only we could have gotten away quicker.

    If only we hadn’t been exposed.

    Alice gripped my shoulders and shook me. “Avery, don’t you dare cry; they’ll hear you.”

    I opened my eyes and saw Alice had gone into self-preservation mode. Steps sounded up the stairs once more, and the voice of the Polatzi came closer. “Legs, is it? You’ll sit there if you know what’s good for you while I go check and see what you’ve got upstairs. Jennings, watch him. We haven’t hit this house before; there might be something good. Effing Governor doesn’t pay us well enough to deal with Traditionals.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    We scuttled away from the door as fast as we could, but there was nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. The door shuddered under the weight of the Polatzi on the other side trying to break it down.

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