World of Radiation


Continued from ‘Who is She?

The clothes sit in a neat pile on the other side of the metal door. A short ways down the hall is Arabella. She sits with her legs crossed and her back against the wall. Her eyes are closed.

I watch her a moment. Can I really trust her? I don’t even know her. My stomach clenches at the idea of being kidnapped by strangers. But that’s already happened. My throat tightens. I swallow hard, trying to open it back up as I snatch up the clothes and vanish back into the tiny room.

Light’s scarce in the small room. The sun’s already behind the wall, but now it’s trying to hide behind the horizon. I want to hide, too. I want to disappear, to slip under the blankets on my bed and pretend like none of this is happening, but it is. The red water in the bathtub and the bruises on my body tell me that. But they make it worse.

Reality weighs heavily on my shoulders as I drag the clothes on. They cling to my wet-body, but I don’t care. The clothes are clean. A little big, but better than the blood and dirt. Yet, the two still cling to my mind every time I glance at my hand, waiting to see the mixture sticking to me still.

I shudder.

“Are you done?” Arabella calls from the hall.

Stepping forward across the slippery metal floor, I open the door.

The young brunette stands a few feet away. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. “Would you like something to eat before you go to bed?” Her voice is quiet, soft, controlled. “We don’t have much, but we can offer you something.”

I shake my head. My stomach rolls at the idea of food. I can barely look at my hands without thinking about blood. I really don’t want to touch any food in case the blood returns. Saliva thickens at the thought of eating blood. My hands wrap into the new shirt, coiling until they disappear.

“Okay.” Arabella nods. “I have a small bed prepared for you.” Her hand extends towards me as if asking me to follow her.

With tiny steps, I follow back down the hallway to the first door on my left. The ground is lined with blankets, but no bed accompanies them.

I glance up at Arabella.

Her dark eyes flicker to me. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles, ducking her head. “We don’t have enough to afford a bed.”

Shame claws at me. I duck my head and step into the room. Grabbing a couple blankets, I settle onto the floor against a wall. “It’s… okay,” I offer, my voice cracking still from the exhaustion of screaming.

Pity washes over her face. She takes a step into the room and hesitates, watching me a moment. “Ma and I will sleep in here, too, when she returns. Will that be okay?”

I nod.

The tiniest smile tugs her lips before vanishing once more, drooping her mouth into a sad expression. “I’m so sorry,” are her last words before leaving the room, closing the door behind her.

Moments after a door creaks.

“How’s she doing?”

Arabella answers with, “I don’t know, Ma. How would you be reacting at her age?” A bite snags her voice.

“Keep it down, Arabella,” the woman scolds. She pauses a moment as if waiting for something. “From what I can tell, the air adaptations have managed to seal the wall completely. Metal adaptations have been attacking the wall ever since it occurred, but it’s solid. Nothing’s moving it.”

“So, what happens now?”

The woman sighs. “I don’t know.” The floor creaks like she’s walking around. “Food comes from the west city. Water comes from the east. Frankly…” Her voice trails off.

“You think they’re going to let us starve?” Arabella gasps, the floor creaking under foot.

“I can’t be sure,” the woman counters. “We don’t know anything about what the air adaptations have planned for us, but one thing’s certain. We’re not getting out of here. This is now the section of the city for metal adaptations only.”

Silence settles between the two of them. I strain to hear their words even as I cower under the blankets in the tiny sleeping room. Why would the air adaptations want all the metal adaptations in another part of the city?

“There’s more, Arabella.”

“What now?” Arabella grumbles like her mood’s darkened.

“No, I mean, there’s more of them.”

Arabella doesn’t respond.

The older woman steps into the frame of the door to the sleeping room.

I remain motionless, my eyes closed tight as I pretend to be asleep.

“More orphans?”

“Hundreds,” the older woman confirms.

Arabella sucks air through her teeth in a hiss. “You can’t help them all, Ma.”

The old woman sighs as if the weight of the world sits on her shoulders. “Maybe not, but we’ll help as many as we can, Arabella.”

“Ma,” Arabella pleads. “We can barely feed ourselves much less more mouths.”

“What do you want me to do then, Ari?” The old woman snaps, her tone harsh like it was when she spoke to the air adaptation. “We can’t just let them starve! They’ve lost everything!” Her voice softens as she adds, “You know what that’s like, Arabella.”

Arabella sighs in her mother’s place. “Fine. Help as many as you can. I’ll… I’ll find a third job.”

Next Installment: Clara

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