the highlighted mind

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 24, 2016

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Submitted: May 24, 2016

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The Highlighted Mind



 

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By Bryce Ward

Animas High School

May 2016

 

Arwen watches from the corner as the boy goes crazy.  In the last five minutes she has helped a complete stranger, been grazed by a bullet, gotten trapped in a small room, and watched that same stranger pound his body against the walls and doors in anger.  And while interacting with people like this boy is new to her, she can’t help but feel intrigued by his behavior.  Although she should be afraid to be alone with one of them, strangely she’s not afraid of him.  After about 10 minutes of useless thrashing, the boy sinks to the floor of the opposite wall in frustration, the anger still glistening in his bright blue eyes.  Arwen sighs loudly.

“If you don’t do something about those knuckles they’ll keep bleeding and will eventually get infected.”

He looks up at her, arching his eyebrows in surprise. “What do you know about this kind of stuff?”

She ignores the hostile retort and considers the question:  “Not very much but I saw 30 minutes of one of those stupid medical tv show dramas once.”  He looks at her quizzically.  “But I know you’re supposed to bandage wounds so they don’t get infected.”

 

In the short time he’s spent with this girl, Zayle doesn’t know what to think of her.  She’s very aloof and arrogant - as if she owns the world and it owes her a favor for allowing it to exist. He glances down at his hands and thinks the girl might be right - his knuckles are still bleeding.  She notices with a smirk, the corner of her mouth tilting up just slightly and her green eyes sparkling with amusement and satisfaction.

“What are you looking at?” He glowers at her, hoping to cover up the fact that he’d been watching her.

“You,” she says simply.  “You don’t seem to be very smart.” She looks weary and a little puzzled, as if she can’t figure him out.  Her arms are crossed loosely over her chest and her eyebrows are furrowed slightly.  Her body posture shows him she still thinks she’s superior.

“Excuse me?”

“Well it’s just that most normal people don’t repeatedly shove themselves into walls while expecting different results.” He just stares at her.  “Then wonder why they’re bleeding,” she continues flatly.  This girl is infuriating.  Calm down Zayle.  Calm down.  

“What are you, royalty or something?” Not his best retort but it’ll have to do.  To his surprise she ignores the joke and seriously considers the question.

“No, but my aunt Lucinda is a Princess in some European country.  I’m Arwen by the way.  Arwen Hayes.”  With a sinking feeling, Zayle realizes he may have taken it too far.  

“I’m Zayle Thurston.  You’re a Hayes?”  She nods, her expression neutral.  “Wow.  So tell me, what’s a Hayes doing down here?”

 

...................

 

“Arwen darling?  Arwen Lucille? We’re going to be late.  This event is really important to your father.  I told you to get ready two hours ago.”  Arwen looks at the fancy gold watch on her wrist.  It’s 9:32.  The brunch doesn’t even start until 10:15.  

“Mother, I can’t find the bracelet that Mr. Winders gave me.  Father says he is going to be there today and I must wear it.” A blatant lie but she hopes her mother will buy it.  “Go on ahead and I’ll meet you there.  Lewis can take me.”

“Very well darling.  And have Lydia clean your room while we’re out.  It is such a mess.  And losing such an important gift as that bracelet.  But remember darling, it’s not the Butler’s job to be your personal chauffeur, that’s what we have Daniel for.”  Without another word she hears her mother leave the house.  Arwen knows she’s bought herself a few minutes, but not long.  She pulls out the keys she stole from Lydia earlier that morning and hurries to the 2nd floor study, her father’s private study.  Although her parents don’t know it, Arwen is applying for art school.  She knows she’ll never go, but it can’t hurt to apply, right?  

“It’s got to be here somewhere.  Father keeps the birth certificates locked in the study.  I’m sure of it.”  Although Arwen has never seen her birth certificate, she knows what one should generally look like.  She can hear Lydia humming very quietly to herself down the hall.  Oh the fit her mother would throw if she knew.  Closing a drawer she quietly creeps across the room to a locked cabinet.  Dead end there too.  She checks drawer after drawer in the large desk.  In one she finds four folders.  There’s Mother’s official documents.  Father’s official documents. Below them she finds her younger sister Mila’s.  She quickly grabs her folder and hastens to put the others back.  In it is her birth certificate, brain scan showing she’s safe, school records, and other official fancy things.  But before she puts the others back, something catches her eye.  There’s one more folder, this one without a name.  She opens it to find a birth certificate for Jasper Albert Hayes, born on September 14.  He’s 22 - three years older than her.  Quickly she puts the others back and locks the drawer and study doors.  The folders will have to wait until later.  If she’s late to that brunch...

 

The brunch is long and tedious, as they all are.  She never remembers the details much.  Her father is one of the wealthiest and most well-known men in the country.  His opinion weighs heavily on everything from policies, to politics, to personal choices.  Smiling politely, Arwen answers the obligatory questions with poise, telling the story of how she will be attending the most prestigious university in the world in the fall, etc.  As the clock in the great dining hall slowly ticks by minutes, Arwen pretends to be listening and engaged while her mind processes the older brother she didn’t know existed.

 

Alone at last, Arwen digs through the folder.  There’s a death certificate stating he died of “unknown causes” when he was four years old.  Noticing the absence of a brain scan she wonders if he died before they took the tests.  Closing the folder she notices a small pamphlet fall out.  It’s for the highlighted camp on the farthest edge of town.

 

“Mother?” Arwen has found her mother powdering her face in her bedroom, mercifully alone.  “Who’s Jasper?”  Her mother freezes before taking a moment to compose herself.

“Wherever did you hear that name?  I’m sure it’s nothing.”  Arwen prepares herself for the lie, one she knows will have devastating consequences.

“I overheard Elaine discussing it with one of the staff, I don’t remember who.”  Elaine had been one of the maids for four years, and Arwen knew the disloyalty would cost Elaine much more than her job, but she had to find out the truth.  “Was he my brother?”

“Yes and he died young.  It was a tragic loss so we covered up the whole scandal and pretended he never existed.  It was better for everyone.  I am so sorry you had to find out darling.  Let’s just forget this ever happened, alright?”  Her mother doesn’t sound all that distraught over the death of her son.  In fact she sounds bored, as if all this is requiring a great deal of her attention and she’d rather direct it towards her appearance.

“Mother,” she says quietly, “Did you even care about him?”

“Arwen darling, please, don’t say things like that.  You’re upsetting me.”  And with that she turned back to the mirror, signaling the conversation was over.  Walking back to her room, Arwen came to a realization.  While she wouldn’t confront her mother about it, she knew the truth.  Jasper didn’t die.  She knew the dates matched up.  Her parents locked him up then invented his death to try and protect their reputation and dignity.  It was then that she made up her mind.  Tomorrow morning she would go and visit Jasper.  She would visit this brother and get to know him.

 

...................

 

After she finishes Zayle looks at her, quiet for a moment.  Then he says “How many staff do you have?!”  Arwen sighs.  Is that really all he got from her story?

“We have nine if you include Father’s pilot.”

“Pilot? You have a private plane?”

“Two actually.  The commercial private jet, and the small scenic plane.”

“Wow. That’s so cool.  Why the hell would you want to leave that?” Zayle sees her face cloud and quickly adds, “I mean that’s impressive that you had the strength to run away from an oppressive family like that.”  She nods, looking a little uneasy.

“It was really unnerving meeting Jasper.  At first he was cool and polite but it was awkward.  Then he freaked out - lost it.  Apparently the idea of our parents keeping him from us, and the controlled way they were raising us really upset him.”

“What does he have?”

“The nurses and guards told me he has schizophrenia - the kind that makes you violent as well.”  Zayle nods slowly, thinking about this.  

“I think I saw Jasper a few times.  He was in the dorm block next to mine.”

Arwen processes this, then says “so what about you.  I know you’re from the Northwood Highlight Camp but is there more?

...................

 

Zayle sits in the visiting room impatiently.  The guard looks disinterested and tired.  Zayle wonders if last night was a rough night.  Sometimes fights or things break out and it gets everyone riled up and often takes hours to sort out.  It’s 3:05.  They’re late.  The last time he saw the twins was 3 weeks ago for their 8th birthday.  They used to come twice a week, but after Mom was fired for having a Highlighted son, she stopped bringing them.  Now he only gets to see them when they can slip away after school or convince Jenny, the babysitter, to stop.  Jenny doesn’t like Zayle, so that seldom happens.  He can see the waiting room entrance through a small sliver of hallway.  Zayle fights the urge to get up and pace, knowing it would attract the guard’s attention.  Pacing would be seen as a sign of agitation or even aggression.  Only the Highlights on best behavior got to have visitors.  

The door opens and he sees a head of messy dark blond hair bob through the door.  The sneakers are worn and the Spidermen sprawled across them are covered in dried mud.  The jeans are faded and the striped t-shirt has a few holes near the collar and bottom hem.  Although very outdated fashion-wise, he knows Mom can’t afford anything better than the cheapest thrift shop clothes.  Zayle waits to see the brown curls and bright colored skirts that are Sirra’s signature appearance, but they don’t follow the Spiderman sneakers.  Where’s Sirra?  Max bounds into the room, let in by the guard, filled with a bubbly energy.  Two guards take position right outside the room, while the first guard follows Max into the room.

“Zayle Zayle Zayle Zayle,” coos Max bouncing up and down.  “Guess what! Guess what? Guess what.” Is that dried blood on Max’s lip?  Zayle begins to feel uneasy, but he sweeps his little brother into his arms anyways.

“Maxie, where’s Sirra? Did you make her race you from the bus stop again? You know she can’t keep up and it scares her to be alone around... here.”  Zayle looks down the hall again, expecting to see her skipping down the hall, fear and anger on her face.  But the hall is empty except for the guards that patrol the halls.  The way Max’s expression falls makes Zayle feel sick to his stomach.  Is she alright?

“Sirra went to after school program...” Max won’t meet his gaze.

“Why? She hates after school program?”

“Well she said... she said she didn’t... want to come today.”  Zayle nods sadly.  It hurts but he understands.  It was only a matter of time before this happened.

“Ya but I’m here.  I don’t care what those stupid kids say about you,” he pouts, “or me,” he adds proudly.  “We don’t need Sirra to have fun!  You and me always have more fun without her anyways.”  The way he sticks out his bottom lip while puffing up his chest makes Zayle smile.

“Ya you’re right buddy.” He ruffles Max’s hair, making it even messier.  “So what was it you were dying to tell me?”

Max’s face lights up at the prompt.  “You have to guess!”

“Okay.  Uh... did you lose another tooth?  Fall asleep in class again?  Turn your homework in on time?” Max gives him such a deep scowl for the last one before shaking his head no again.  “Okay what? What happened?”

Max bounces around again, unable to stand still for even a few seconds.  “Mom got a boyfriend.  They kiss and stuff and it’s gross.  But he plays ball at the park with me sometimes.  He even got me a real glove and everything!”

“Mitt,” Zayle says absently, “it’s called a mitt, not a glove.”  This news is shocking.  Mom dating?  Max is already onto the next thing in the time it took Zayle to process the news.

“Billy called you stupid and said you were a monster today in science, so I hit him.” Zayle’s attention zeroes in on that instantly.

“You what?!”

“I punched him.  Said nobody calls my brother a monster.”  Max seems proud of himself, but Zayle has started thinking fast and his breathing is shallow.  “Then he said we must be related because I’m a violent monster just like you, so I hit him again.  He hit me back so I kicked him.  Mrs. Strim was in the bathroom so she didn’t see it.  Then we started rolling around on the floor hitting and kicking each other.  This girl named Lily ran and got Mrs. Strim and she separated us.  One of the kids tattled on me and said I started it.  So then she said ‘your brother? This is about your brother? He’s a waste of air and precious resources.  Your brother, along with the rest, should have been killed when he was four, not locked up.’ And I was so mad cuz no one talks about you like that, right? I told her that and she kicked me outta class.  I stood up for myself like you’ve always told me to! Are you proud of me?”  It was as if Zayle’s worst nightmare had come true.

“No.  No I’m not.” Max looked crushed.  “This is very very serious Max.  You don’t realize how much trouble you’re in.”

“Five minutes left,” interjected the guard from the corner.  Zayle wasn’t sure how much he’d heard or if he was even paying attention.

“I’m sorry Zayle,” whimpered Max.  “I just wanted to stick up for you and I thought you’d be proud of me.”

“Promise me you’ll never ever do something like that again?  This is very bad okay?”

“Okay, I promise.”  Zayle held Max tight for a moment, wondering if this might be the last time Max ever visited him.

“Alright, you’ve got to get going kiddo.  Let’s put your shoes on, and get your stuff together.” After tying his brother’s shoes and picking up the spilled backpack Zayle gave Max a kiss.  “I’ll see you soon buddy.  Be good.  I love you.”  Max waved bye as the guard ushered him out.  Once the door had securely locked behind them, the door on the other side of the room opened, letting Zayle back inside the depths of Northwood Highlight Camp.

 

...................

 

“Oh no...” Arwen whispered in horror.  She knew the Highlighted family member rule.  She knew what was going to happen to Max.

“I can’t let that happen to him.  I was on my way to get him and maybe we could find a way to escape the society.  There are rumors of places far North that banned the Highlight tests on immoral grounds. But then you know, here we are.”  Arwen nods slowly.  The tunnels hadn’t been used in decades, and the gunfire triggered an explosion, trapping them here.  

“Do you even know how you could find one?”

“No, but I have to try.”  He expects her to question him about his escape from the Camp, but to his surprise she doesn’t.  Instead she says something he’d never expected.

“I’ll help you.”  He looks at her then, really looks at her.  “Hey I need somewhere to go too and both our odds are better if we stick together.”  She notices his grimace and trails off.

“I just hope it’s not too late for Max.”  She can see the worry in this eyes and in the way he holds himself.  She reaches out and squeezes his hand awkwardly.

“It’s not.” Out of habit she glances down at the stupid gold watch another one her father’s associates gifted in hopes of gaining his attention.  “Shit.  We’ve been in here four hours.”  Both are quiet for a minute.  Arwen digs around in her backpack producing two granola bars.  She’s never eaten one before, but the only food in her house is prepared by the chefs and she couldn’t exactly ask for a to-go basket.  Zayle takes it gratefully.  Feeling comfortable enough with Zayle now, she turns her back to him and eases onto her side, tucking her backpack under her head.  The pain in her side hasn’t gotten any better, but even so she falls asleep quickly.  This day has been long and exhausting, filled with many things she never thought she’d experience: visiting a Camp, running away, buying something from an average grocery store, going into the dangerous and abandoned underground tunnels, being shot, meeting and actually interacting with a boy from the Camps.  The excitement and fear of it all has taken its toll.  In the final moments before she drifts off, she thinks of Jaden, the boy she likely would have married if her parents had gotten their way.  Although she only met him three times, she knew their parents had been discussing the possibility of an arranged engagement.  Smiling she thinks about how that won’t happen now.

 

In what feels like minutes later she’s gently shaken awake by Zayle.  From the way he holds himself and the droop of his eyes, she can tell he stayed awake to keep watch.  There’s a look of concern on his face that immediately alerts her and she looks around quickly.  “How long was I asleep?”  Zayle glances at her watch.

“Three and a half hours.  But I had to wake you up.  Look.” He points at her side and she runs her fingers over it.  “You’re bleeding.”  Sure enough her hand comes away covered in blood.  She grimaces.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were hit?”

“It just grazed me and in case you forgot when we first got trapped you were a little preoccupied throwing yourself against the walls in a rage.”  Arwen feels a little light headed and she’s not sure if it’s from sitting up or blood loss.  Zayle looks down ashamed and she softens a little.  In a smooth motion he pulls off his shirt and deftly tears a strip from the bottom.

“Here.” She lifts up her shirt while he takes off the blood soaked strip she’d fastened around her waist when they first got to the room.  “May I?”  She nods and he carefully fits the strip of the cloth in place over the wound, tying it comfortably.  

“Thanks.”

“You got lucky, looks like it’s pretty shallow.”  He’s about to pull what’s left of his shirt back over his head when Arwen stops him.

“What’s that scar from?” She reaches out to touch it but stops when he flinches.

“Oh that?” He looks down, surprised.  He must have had it so long he can’t remember it not being there.  A long scar stretches from his lower armpit to his waist, ending just above his hip.  “When I was 10 a man attacked me with a knife.  He was big, maybe 6 feet tall and 250-300 pounds.  I did manage to crack two of his ribs and break his nose though.  He was executed three days after the fight.  The rules about fighting are very strict.  Even though I didn’t start it, I was still put on probation for about 2 years, meaning if I did anything wrong I could be executed.  I spent three weeks in the Camp hospital letting the stitches heal.  I had lost a lot of blood by the time the nurses were allowed to get near me after the guards had sorted everything out.”  Arwen slowly lets her fingers trail down the top of the scar, resting briefly on Zayle’s hip, where it ends.  Zayle breathes out slowly, and she realizes he’d been holding his breath.  There’s layers of pain and lies and unhappiness in this boy’s past.

 “What was it like?  Growing up in Northwood Highlight Camp I mean.”

 

Zayle takes a deep breath and looks across the room.  Years of memories and emotions flash through his mind.  He remembers when he was 8 and his mom came for her monthly visit.  She was pregnant with the twins at the time.  When she came in she immediately knew something was wrong.  All it took was one glance at his stance and the way he held himself.  At first he denied it but she knew better.  He was too ashamed and scared to say anything when she realized the day before wasn’t the first time.  He remembers how angry she was and the way it filled her whole body.  His Mom had stormed straight to administration and explained the whole situation, demanding that protective measures be taken.  It had felt so great to know someone was there for him, to know there was someone willing to protect and defend him.

“It was lonely.  I never really developed any close friends.  I mean it wasn’t as bad for me as it was for a lot of the kids.  After the brain scans came back most families disowned their children and refused to acknowledge their existence.  My mom wasn’t like that.  She wrote me letters and sent toys and came to visit once a month.  She loved me despite what I am.  That gave me a lot of strength and courage.  The others, the ones who didn’t have that, it was hard.  They grew up knowing no one loved them or even wanted them alive.  Our education consisted of basics from age 5-12.  After that it was up to us to be self-motivated.  We learned if we wanted to, not if we didn’t.  But it was a lot harder to find time because once you turn 12 you start working.  The guards didn’t care enough to make sure things were fair or comfortable.  The older and bigger Highlights always gots the most food, the most privileges, the most resources.  They were bullies who went out of their way to make things hard for us.”

“Did it ever get easier?”

“The twins helped.  I loved seeing them all the time.  They were always so happy and fun and nice.  They never judged me for who I am or treated me differently.  And they were always so happy and excited to see me.  Especially little Max.  They’d bring me books to read them or games to play.  Mom saved up all year to buy me a guitar when they were little and I taught myself to play.  Then every time they came to visit they brought along the guitar so I could play for them.”  Arwen watches Zayle’s eyes light up when he talks about Max and Sirra.  She thinks about Jasper, alone all those years with no visitors, or letters.  No proof that anyone in the outside world knew he existed or cared about him.  “What about you? What was it like being rich and getting everything you ever wanted”

“Well I have a younger sister, Mila.  She’s 12 and even more of a stuck-up spoiled brat than I am.  We grew in a huge mansion with staff to do everything for us.  I’ve never driven a car, because as my parents pointed out, why learn to drive when we have hired chauffeurs 24/7 whose entire existence is for driving us around.  I mean hell, before today I’d never even set foot in an average grocery store.  The kitchen staff bought food and the maids bought anything else we needed.  My parents have never chosen a birthday gift for  me, or taken any interest in me or my sister.  That’s what the staff were for they’d always say.  I’ve always gone to a super elite private boarding school.  My weekends have always been filled with fancy dinner parties and important events and galas.  My parents have planned out my entire life for me, and to them I’m just a trophy to parade around at special events.”  

 

As Arwen is talking the lights flicker a few times then go out.  Zayle guesses they burned through the emergency generator that powered the lights.  Although they were dim and only half of them turned on, their absence makes him wish for the pathetic lights to return.  Arwen inhales sharply and presses against him, grabbing his hand tightly.  Her breathing is shallow.

“What? What’s wrong?” Surely she’s not scared of the dark.

“Every since I was little I’ve had a deathly fear of the dark.  When I was really little I wandered off while the nanny was talking to one of the maids and somehow managed to get myself wedged behind my mother’s dresser.  While everyone was looking for me there was a huge power outage and it took 45 minutes for our back-up generator to kick in.  Of course my parents were furious when they got home from their dinner party and discovered the negligence of the nanny and house staff. “  Not sure what to do, Zayle lets her grip his hand.  She seems to relax ever so slightly as she talks.  After a few seconds of silence she says, “tell me about yourself.”

“Uh I kinda already did didn’t I?”

“No I mean your likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams, secrets...”

“Ok.  Well my name is Zayle Peter Thurston.  My birthday is August 15 and I’m 17.  My mom got the twins a dog four years ago, so I guess he’s kinda mine?  He’s a big golden retriever named Kai, and although I’ve never seen a real dog before, the kids bring pictures and talk about him all the time so it kinda feels like I know him.  I do a lot of swimming at the Camp - it’s nice because it’s something I can do alone.  Uh my favorite food is Salmon, but I’ve only had it once.  I love those little chocolates that have a creamy chocolate filling.  I’m afraid of heights, which is weird because I’ve never even been on anything higher than a ladder, but that scared me enough.”

“If you could be anything what would you want to be?”

“I don’t know.  For me that’s never going to happen.  I’m going to spend my entire life in that Camp remember.”

“Well you’re not in the Camp right now.  Surely there’s something you’ve always dreamed of.”

“Teacher.  I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.  But even if I make it out of this alive, I’m going to have to live my whole life in hiding - that will never happen for me.”  He turns away from her in frustration.

“My full name is Arwen Lucille Hayes.  I just turned 19 on June 2.  We’ve never owned a pet but when I was little I used to befriend the stray dogs we met on the walks the nanny took me on.  My favorite food is pizza and ice cream sundaes, but I’ve only had it once or twice, at classmates’ birthday parties.  My parents would never let something like that into our house.  I want to be an artist, and I’ve secretly been painting since I was six, but my parents would never allow that.  I’m afraid of the dark, as you know,” she shudders and draws closer to Zayle, “and water.  I honestly don’t understand how you can like swimming.  It’s just so dark and foreboding and unforgiving.” He laughs at this.  “My favorite color is lavender.  What’s your favorite color?”

“Green,” he says slowly.

“Like a forest green?”  He hesitates and she realizes he’s never seen a forest before, and if he has it’s been a tiny crappy picture in one of the books at the Camp.

“Mmm no.  More like your eyes,” he pauses for a second.  “You have beautiful eyes.”

“You can’t even see my eyes.”

“No, but I saw them when the lights were on.  Your eyes are my favorite color.”  Zayle slowly reaches up and touches her face, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.  Without thinking he quickly leans forward and kisses her.

 

Arwen’s never kissed anyone before.  She wasn’t allowed to date or interact with boys except the sons of other wealthy and important people her father knew.  And that was only at sanctioned events where there wouldn’t have been an opportunity, had she even liked them.  The kiss surprises her, and she realizes clumsily that she’s not entirely sure what to do.  Surprising herself, she finds herself kissing him back.  Slowly she puts one arm around him and lets her other hand rest on his thigh.  Immediately she feels him tense up and pull away, curling in on himself protectively.  Of course.  The truth hits her and she feels awful.  It’s been there all along in the way he holds himself and the way he flinches anytime she gets near touching him.  Very quietly she whispers, “you were raped there, weren’t you?”  

 

Zayle doesn’t say anything for a long time.  He drops his head, biting his lip uncomfortably.  He can feel her close to him, but she doesn’t touch him, and he’s grateful for that.

“I spent almost my entire life in Northwood.  There was never anyone to stick up for me or protect me.  It started when I was five.  Both older guys and girls.  Even a few guards or teachers over the years.  It’s like that for almost everyone though.  It’s not like anyone really cares about it happening, if they even know.  And with the sterilization laws for the Highlighted, no one had to worry about anyone getting pregnant so there was never any real problem with it.  I had it better than a lot of kids though.  I was always tough and big enough not to get roughed up too much.  But that’s why I have to get Max out.  They’ll tear him apart in there.  I’ve seen younger kids come in from infractions before and it’s worse for them then it is for those of us who grew up with it.  The kids that come in when they’re older don’t know how to deal with it or protect themselves.  They’re not Camp smart like the rest of us.  If Max goes to a Camp, he won’t stand a chance.  Especially with me in there.  Being my little brother will make him a target, a way to manipulate me.  He can’t go to a Highlight Camp.”  As Zayle went on he got angrier.  For the first time in her life Arwen realizes how bad the Highlight Camps are.  They’re not the peaceful happy homes they’re made out to be.  After what her parents sentenced Jasper to, her resolve to escape only strengthens.  If what Zayle says is true then she has to do everything she can to make sure that little boy doesn't end up there.

“I promise I will make sure Max gets out.”  He nods at her gratefully.  Changing the subject Zayle brings his hand to her side.

“It hasn’t bled through yet but we should still change the bandage.”

She nods, “easier said than done in the dark though...”  Zayle frowns, contemplating the best thing to do.

“I don’t suppose you have a lighter and a knife?  If you did we could try to cauterize the wound.”

“Do you know how to cauterize a wound?”

“Well I mean how hard can it be? You heat up the metal then stick it on the wound right?”

“Mmm I don’t know how I feel about this.”

“I’m not sure we have much of a choice.  Do you have the stuff or not?”  Arwen digs around in her backpack and produces a lighter and knife.  The knife glints in the light from the lighter.  “Jesus Arwen.  What did you plan to use that thing for?!”

She shrugs, “I don’t know.  I’ve never done anything like this.  I stole it from the kitchen before I left, just in case...”

 

An hour later they've finished.  The wound is only partially cauterized because they could only get the knife so hot with the lighter, apparently not hot enough to do it correctly.  It would have to do until they could figure out something better.  Zayle had replaced the bandage with a fresh strip of his shirt, it stop the rest of the bleeding.

“You know, those officers will be back sooner or later.  What do we do when they do come back?”  The question hangs in the air, unanswered.  Neither one has an answer.  Eventually they drift into a fitful sleep.  Zayle tosses and turns while Arwen tries to lay very still, not wanting to upset the already angry and painful hole in her side.

 

Zayle wakes up to see that Arwen is already sitting awake next to him.  He estimates they’ve been trapped in the room for about 18 hours.  Zayle suddenly notices how cold the room has gotten.  He didn’t realize how much heat the lights had provided.  Shivering he scoots closer the Arwen, hoping to share body heat.  They huddle there in silence for a few minutes.  After a moment Zayle can make out a faint ringing sound.  Over the next hour the sound gets louder as it gets closer.  Zayle and Arwen make small talk, talking more about what they like or don’t like, trying to make the time go faster.  Soon the sound is right outside the door and they know they don’t long.

“Who do you think it is?” asks Arwen quietly.  Zayle doesn't have an answer for her.

“Whoever it is, it won’t end well for me.”  Arwen reaches out and takes his hand.  She knows he’s right.

“Whatever happens I’ll get Max out.”

 

Twenty minutes later when the door opens and light floods the room, Zayle is calmly standing in the middle of the room.  He holds the kitchen knife in one hand, the blade digging into Arwen’s throat.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers to her.

“I’m sorry too,” she mouths back.  As the men step into the room, and the lights blind her, she whispers one final thing.  “I promise.”

“We have located Highlight 2436, Zayle Thurston, and he has the Hayes girl hostage.”  The radio crackles in the silence.

 

Her heart heavy with sadness and grief, Arwen waits in bed where she feigns illness until Lydia hurries out of the room to bring her tea.  In seconds Arwen is dressed and slipping out the servant entrance, headed to Lilian Roadside Elementary School, located in the dilapidated streets of the Northwood residential community.  Newspapers on driveways and in stores tell a headline story about the escape, capture, and execution of a very dangerous local Highlight.

 


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