Most fifteen year old girls are trying to figure out who they are; I’m trying to stay alive long enough to figure out what.
I’ve always been on the run. From my guilt about the things I couldn’t change, and from the voice in my head that won’t let me be normal. But yesterday Tommy and I were in a car accident on the way home from school. When I woke up, Tommy was gone, and so was the world I grew up in. Now I’m running less in a metaphorical way, and more in a “pick up the pace if you don’t want to die” way. Why? Because my eyes are blue, and I’m lost in a fantasy world where that means I’m different. It means I might not be human. It means I should already be extinct, and someone called “The Regent” is determined to make me that way.
I need to find the way home, and before I do that, I need to find Tommy. He’s only in this mess because of me. I can’t do it on my own, but it’s hard to know who to trust when everyone keeps trying to kill me.
I pushed my way through the crowd. My fears of being noticed proved idle, everyone far more interested in the prisoner than in me. I shuffled closer, inch by inch, until I finally got my first glimpse of the grim display. On the platform was a Posman standing next to what appeared to be a bell-jar-shaped cage of lightning. The air around it shimmered and hummed. Every now and then it would crackle and a spark would fly off. A man lay within, curled up in the fetal position. His face was level with my eyes, but I didn’t recognize him.
Or did I?
His skin had an ashen tinge and was taut against his face. He was very thin, emaciated even. I had the suspicion that he was lying on his side because he lacked the strength to sit up. Shadows circled eyes framed by greasy, lank black hair that had grown shaggy and long, and was beginning to show streaks of gray. His clothes weren’t even fit to scrub the bathroom floor, and though the day was scorching, the man shivered beneath them. His dry, cracked lips were parted just the tiniest bit, and through them I could see teeth that had somehow remained perfect, shiny and white. As I was thinking about the teeth, I met the man’s eyes and a memory from just a few days passed came rushing into my mind.
“Don’t worry about that,” Tommy said, flashing me his charming smile. “It’s my brother’s car.”
I let out an audible gasp. The man, Tommy—a ghastly, deteriorated version of Tommy—saw me, an expression of wonder and hope spreading on his face. He tried to sit up a little, rolling nearer to me as he raised a hand, reaching out to me. I stood rooted to the spot, tears in my eyes and shivering with the horror of it, only capable of one thought. My God, what did they do to him?
Already weak and overheated, the sight of Tommy did me in. I felt for a moment as if my head was lifting off of my shoulders, and my knees were far more wobbly than knees should be. But before I passed out, someone roughly grabbed my upper arm and started pulling me away. A tall man in the garb of a farmer was hauling me off somewhere.
“Who are you?” I demanded, trying to wrench myself free. He just continued to pull at me, his mouth set in a grim line as he pushed people out of his way. A short way off through the crowd, I could see a covered wagon surrounded by Posmen. He had to be one of them. If he got me to the wagon, I’d never get away. I struggled furiously.
“Let go, you monster!” I cried out, beating on the man’s arm with my free hand. “Get your filthy hands off of me!” I was angry again, in a blind rage. The adrenaline of being seized ignited my fury at the Pos, for what they had done to those kids and for what they had done to Tommy, and the wrath consumed me. Forget being subtle. Forget blending in. This was personal now. I was ready to start something.
“See my eyes?” I yelled at the nearest person. My voice sounded louder than it should, amplified. “They’re blue, see? I have blue eyes, and my name is Serendipity!”
My proclamation was loud enough to be heard by everyone, and had the desired effect. A murmur rippled through the crowd, and Tommy was forgotten. People surged forward to see me, pushing each other out of the way to get close. A little ways away, I could see the other Posmen trying to break through to me and my captor, but they didn’t stand a chance. The crowd was fast becoming a mob, and if I had my way, it would soon be a riot.
“If you let them take me, you’ll never see me again! I’ll be gone for good! Stand up for yourselves! Don’t let them oppress you! Fight back! Fight for me!”
“Is it really her?”
“I see them! Look at how they glow!”
“They really are blue!”
The scene was chaos as I had never known it. As I struggled against my guard, the people pushed in as close as they could, grabbing at me, trying to pull me away. The man panicked and pulled a billy club from under his shirt, hitting everything he could reach. He caught my forearm, and I howled in pain. That thing was no ordinary club. It felt like it had bitten my skin with red-hot teeth. My arm was not only bruising, but blistering from a burn.
“HE STRUCK HER!” someone roared. “HE STRUCK THE PRINCESS!”
The uproar that followed was fearsome. There was an explosion of sound, the thundering of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of angry voices. The mob gushed forward, finally separating me from the Posman. I was shoved aside as people tried to get to him, and only then did I fully appreciate the consequences of my actions. I had indeed started a riot, and it was beyond me now. Fighting broke out everywhere, with me in the middle. Only those who had been near me knew that I was the one who had proclaimed herself Serendipity. In the madness I had created, I was just another face in the crowd.
Bodies pressed in all around, people fighting and shoving, no one really knowing what they were doing in the midst of the confused violence. I was suffocating. I had been pushed around so much that I didn’t know which way it was to the platform on which Tommy lay. I didn’t know how to get out. The mob was a solid mass all around me, a vertical coffin. It was impossible to move anywhere voluntarily. The heat was incredible, the air impossible to suck down. A stray fist caught my cheek. I staggered back. Something cracked over the back of my head. Incoherent, I fell forward. Someone caught me his arms.
“Well, it’s not the roof,” said a voice in my ear, “but it’s still nice to see you again.”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. I was only dimly aware of my surroundings, and of being picked up off my feet. I blinked, and we were moving quickly through the melee, making way by shoulder and elbow. I blinked again, and I could breathe, much cooler air blowing across my face, bringing with it little droplets of water. On the third blink, the thundering noise of the mob grew dim. I relaxed completely, carried along as easily as a child, safe from the crowd and the Pos as rain eased away the heat.
SaraJean Panek has loved books since before she could read. One of her earliest memories is of sitting with one of her two older brothers and following along the page as he read her “Rapunzel.” She’s been telling her own stories nearly as long. “Between the Layers” is SaraJean's debut novel. She travels at every opportunity, but currently lives in her hometown of Virginia Beach and spends most of her free time writing, the work she loves.