The marketplace was a droning nest amid the stacked decrepit Toronto skyline where the only real colour was the New Atlantis projections splashed against the shattered glass towers. It was going to be impossible to find chocolate. I was perhaps among the wealthier clientele of the marketplace that morning, what this a backpack weighed down by five potatoes, thirteen cherry tomatoes, and three apples. The marketplace was a pavilion of booths and tents set up on the cracked pavement along the banks of Lake Ontario. Someone could spend a month there and not see everything. The wares were always changing and the most valuable items you had to ask around for.
It took every ounce of my will not to hug my backpack tight to my chest. Fresh produce was rare and strictly controlled. You were permitted to grow your own if you could, but few people had the knowledge or space. People have been mugged for less. It was safer to act as if you had nothing of any real value and blend into the churning crowd.
I was lucky. It only took an hour to find a couple dealing candy at the centre of the tent city. Most of what they had to sell I'm not sure I would ever risk eating. There were old lemon candies, probably stolen from some abandoned old folks home. The dust was still clinging to the creases of the twisted wrapper. There were fruit gummies in faded packaging that let me know the product would break my teeth off. But right in the middle of the table, half hid under a string of brittle liquorice and a pack of foil wrapped gum were two lonely squares of bakers chocolate.
I waved the woman over to the side of the booth, "Five tomatoes for the chocolate," I offered, speaking just low enough to drown our conversation under the constant drone.
"Ten and something else," The trader replied, looking me over for something of worth. Her eyes fell on my left wrist, "That's a pretty thing."
It was my bracelet - blue and green threads knotted together in a pattern of chevrons, "That's not for trade," I moved my wrist out of her sight. "Nine and an apple."
The trader shrugged, "Ten and two," and put out her hand.
I made the point of muttering under my breath that this was highway robbery as we made the exchange. I took off my backpack and unzipped it just enough to slide my hand in. I fished out the ten tomatoes and the two apples and put the chocolate in the pocket of my battered jacket where they would be safest. The chocolate would be bitter, but we had wild honey at home to sweeten it.
I slipped back into the crowd. There was nothing left for me to do here and I had to hurry home. Outside of the pressing closeness of bodies, I looked up at the nearest projection for the time. I had two hours until Grey came home. If I hurried, there would be plenty of time.
The world crumbled in two waves. First, the oil ran out and industry was thrown into chaos. Deliveries halted. In the cities, people were starving. Second, Telluria came. Telluria is a disease that causes it's victim to decompose into one of the four elements; earth, air, fire, or water. Like wildfire, fear spread as fast as the sickness. Anarchy reigned from the desperate need to survive. Families were torn asunder. There was no immunity. There was no cure.
Grey didn't get sick in the first wave of Telluria. Close as siblings, we had each other as his father and my parents fell victim to the disease. New Atlantis developed the cure just in time to save my parents, but not soon enough for Grey's father. I was there when Mr McNair took his last breaths. He had been so pale and insubstantial, little more than a human-shaped cloud laid upon the bed. When he let out his last breath, he faded away like mist at sunrise. Only the faintest breeze remained in the room to remind us that he had been there at all.
When Grey showed the first signs of Telluria - spidery lines like quartz across his shoulder - we were all afraid. His mother especially, after already losing her husband. The day New Atlantis came for him, Grey put up a good show. He hugged his mother and kissed her cheek. "I'll be alright Mom. I'll be back in a week, good as new."
Mrs McNair smiled back, doing her best to be strong for her son, "I know sweetheart. You're in good hands."
He turned to me next and hugged me too. "Take care of them, Terra," he whispered before pressing something into my hand. It was a bracelet made of blue and green threads, knotted together in a chevron pattern.
"Until you come back," I promised and slipped on the bracelet. I glanced over my shoulder at my parents and his mother. Mrs McNair had her hands clasped together so tightly the knuckles were white and she wore a strained smile. My parents, however, were calm, happy even. They wore matching proud smiles. That was some relief. They had the procedure after all. If they weren't worried, was there anything to be worried about?
Grey made an affirmative sound in the back of his throat. Without further goodbyes, he turned and climbed into the New Atlantis ambulance. I stood on the sidewalk as the ambulance drove away, holding back my tears until it was well out of sight.
Grey would be home today. His welcome home gift felt like two bars of gold in my pocket. The chocolate probably was just as valuable. Growing up, his favourite treat was always chocolate chip cookies. From the day I found out he would be leaving for treatment, I started saving bits of flour, sugar, and whatever other ingredients that could be spared from the ration deliveries. Chocolate was the only thing that you would never find in the rations. At best, New Atlantis might manage a tiny square as a Christmas treat. But I didn't have that long. My parents weren't even sure I would manage to find it in the marketplace. Mom was prepared to make honey cakes if I failed.
I was filled with an odd mixture of pride and weariness. While I found the chocolate, I still had to get it home. We lived far outside of the urban centre, but thankfully New Atlantis had implemented a fleet of buses retrofitted to run on Essence in most cities. As I waited for my bus, I kept my bag crumpled in my hand as if it were empty. I kept my head down and my body small to be as unassuming as possible. I looked up only when I heard the crunch and pop of tires over a rough road. Mom and Dad used to tell me about the wall-to-wall traffic that plagued the city in the time before. It was hard to imagine now, as the bus bumped along the empty cracked streets. There were a few rusted relics littering the sides of the highway but soon they would be gone like the rest, recycled by New Atlantis and put to better use.
The bus dropped me off about a block away from my house. I ran the rest of the way, leaping over the gravel filled potholes. All of the houses out here looked generally the same. They were all two-story detached homes with peeling paint and falling fences. Mine was no different, neither was Grey's. Both of our yards were converted into gardens rather than all the useless grass. To avoid being raided, it was mostly herbs and useful flowers in the front yards, planted in such a haphazard way that it looked more like wild overgrowth then a garden. The vegetable gardens were in the backyards where they could be protected by a fence. Our houses also bordered an old nature preserve. The forest provided an excellent source of food, which was how we survived fairly well before New Atlantis started passing out rations.
"Mom!" I ran into the house. I found my mother in the kitchen, her hands still caked in rich earth. She must have just come inside from the garden. "Mom I got it!"
Elation chased the confusion on her face, "You didn't! Oh, Terra, that's wonderful! Was it very much?"
"Only ten tomatoes and two apples. A steal. Can we make them now?" I peered out the window as if Grey would be rolling up the street any second. "He's supposed to be back soon isn't he?"
Mom turned the water on in the sink and started scrubbing the dirt from her hands, "Not to worry, we have time. Hurry now, get the flour."
We wouldn't be able to make much. From the careful rationing over the last week, we had enough for a small dozen. But it would be enough. I fetched the other ingredients from the pantry and laid them all out on the counter before taking the chocolate and handing to her directly. "I'll leave it in your hands." We didn't have enough to make a second batch if I messed it up, so I started on supper instead. We would all be having supper together. All of us being me, my parents, Grey and Mrs McNair. It was just a small celebration to have him home.
I took the potatoes from my bag, chopped them into small cubes and put them on to boil. Mrs McNair promised she had a little butter saved, enough for us to make mashed potatoes. We also had fish, which I fried with onion, garlic, and rosemary.
Mom was working the real magic though. With her careful preparations the house soon filled with the smell of fresh cookies. She took them out of the oven just before they were fully cooked, leaving them soft and gooey on the inside.
The meal was almost ready when my father came home. He was coated in a layer of sweat and dust from working in the city greenhouses. In order to qualify for ration deliveries, someone in your home had to work for New Atlantis. Dad was a botanist in the time before, and he made sure the greenhouses were working as efficiently as possible. Mom had a job in the ration warehouse, but she had taken the day off to help me. While I could take junior work positions, New Atlantis encouraged young adults to focus on education instead. They liked to insist we were the future.
While Dad went upstairs to clean up, Mom and I packed up supper to bring next door. While we waited for Dad, I kept looking at the clock. A half hour until he came home, twenty minutes, fifteen. With five minutes to spare we were crossing the yard to the McNair home.
Mrs McNair was sitting on her porch in an old rocking chair. She got up when she saw us and opened her arms to me, "So good of you to come. Grey will be so pleased and- Oh! What do we have here?" She peered into the dish of cookies I was carrying. "My word Terra sweetheart. How on earth did you manage?"
I grinned, feeling rather victorious, "Luck mostly. Mom baked them though."
Mrs McNair chuckled as she released me, "Well, as I recall, last time you baked anything, you made a brick that you called bread." She opened the door and held it open for us, "Hurry now. Just set it on the table. Grey will be here any second."
Inside the table was set. Mrs McNair, who had worked in hospitality in the time before, had gone all out. Her scrubbed wooden table was dressed with a pristine white tablecloth, gleaming silver cutlery, and an antique set of floral china that had belonged to her grandmother. The china and silver I knew were usually hidden under the stairs behind boxes of dusty Christmas decorations. She had roasted a medley of vegetables and baked an aromatic braided bread. We placed our dishes around it and went back outside.
I held Mrs McNair's hand as we waited. She jumped when the clock inside rang the hour. "They were supposed to be here. Terra dear can you see a van coming yet?"
I stepped down onto the driveway and walked out to the sidewalk. "Not yet. But I'm sure it won't be long." I thought of suggesting a cup of tea, but I knew Mrs McNair wasn't going to go inside until her son was here. I walked back towards the step.
"I hope his scar won't be too bad. Such a horrible thing to have to carry with you." Mrs McNair said with a sigh, "He won't mind it of course. Lord knows he'll think it dashing."
I shook my head and stood on the bottom step of the porch, "I'm sure it won't be too bad. Look at Dad's." Dad had the water strain of Telluria. In the days before the cure, his skin had turned transparent and started to drop off him like water. After the cure, all that remained was a small patch the side of his right knee. It was just big enough to see the ghost of his kneecap, but that was all. Mom's scar was a little worse. She had the fire strain and it left a charred black spot on the back of her neck. When she was sick, it looked like fire burning just below her skin.
Our conversation ceased the moment we heard the soft hiss of an Essence engine. A retrofitted ambulance in the blue and yellow of New Atlantis navigated the many potholes on our street and turned into the McNair driveway. My parents stayed on the porch while Mrs McNair and I walked up to the ambulance. I wondered which of us was more excited, or nervous. The driver stepped out with a clipboard in hand, "I have a Grey McNair. Are you his family?"
"I'm his mother," Mrs McNair answered, eyes darting towards the back of the ambulance.
The driver handed her the clipboard for her to sign the release form. "Right this way," He said after she handed it back.
He made his way towards the back of the ambulance and swung open the patient doors. A stocky boy hopped out. Grey was clad in the same dark t-shirt that might have once been black and faded jeans that he was wearing when he left. He had dark hair and sharp grey eyes that made him look older than our seventeen years.
Mrs McNair ran up and enveloped her son in a bone-crushing hug. He was a little stiff at first, but eventually softened and hugged her back, "Hey, Mom. I'm okay."
Mrs McNair released him and put a hand on either side of his face. Her eyes were sparkling, "My sweet boy. It's so good to have you home." She kissed his cheeks then stepped away to have a quick word with the driver. I spotted her discreetly dab the corners of her eyes with the edge of her sleeve.
"Good to see you’re still causing trouble."
I looked to Grey and turned to hug him. Much like with his mother, he was stiff at first but then softened. "Whatever do you mean?" I asked, feigning innocence.
"You just have that look. Like you were up to something." After a delayed second, Grey smiled. It was warm and familiar, but the delay made it feel a little forced. Well, I suppose he did just get out of treatment after all.
I laced my hands behind my back with a grin, "I have a surprise for you."
"Oh?" He raised a singular dark eyebrow.
Back inside we settled in for a feast. While we ate, Grey told us about his week in treatment. "I can't really remember much of it. Just going to sleep, and a few days later I woke up and was moved to recovery. I slept mostly. I was so tired..." He stopped and waved his hand, "Recovery was alright. I played checkers with this other patient mostly. He said he came from Muskoka and New Atlantis sent an air transport for him rather than attempt the roads."
My eyes flicked to his shoulder. The t-shirt was covering whatever scar he might have left, "But what do they do? How do they cure it?"
He shook his head, "I...Like I said I just kinda went to sleep."
"It was the same for us Terra honey. We told you this." My father chastised gently. They had a nearly identical experience. Both described just falling asleep and then spending the remaining days in sleepy recovery.
Mrs McNair was pouring herself a cup of tea, "All that matters is that it's over and you're home." She smiled at her son. She was doing that a lot during supper, relief and ease flooding her face with every glance.
I shrunk down in my seat a little. I wanted to know more, but people didn't really talk about the cure. I didn't know why. Grey would probably tell me later through when all the parents weren't around.
We finished supper and the cookies came out to the general applause of everyone. Everyone had one, to begin with. They were still warm and the middle was still soft. They were better then I imagined they would be when I set out that morning for the chocolate. Afterwards, the parents sent me and Grey off with the rest of the cookies so that they could clean up
We escaped to the back porch. While it was still light out, the sky was just beginning to take on the red-orange glow of evening. "Terra I can't believe you managed to find chocolate." Grey was just finishing his second cooking, savouring every crumb.
I laughed, "It was nothing. I think people are getting worse at bartering. They practically gave it away."
"Or they just met a formidable opponent? I didn't think people even made chocolate anymore." Last time either of us had chocolate was probably ten years ago or more. Before Telluria went rampant. Before New Atlantis. At the twilight time between what the world was and what the world became.
"Grey..." I looked over my shoulder at the window, just to be sure that it wasn't open. "Won't you tell me now? What it was like?"
Grey froze. His face turned blank and twitched like a machina rebooting. His familiar smile quickly replaced it, "You've heard about it from your parents."
I bit my lip, frustrated between wanting to know and wanting to give him his space. But this was Grey. "But...other sick people were there. Did you see anyone far along?"
"A few." Grey's expression darkened. "I really don't want to talk about it yet Terra. I just got out remember?"
Grey used to be just as curious as I was. I was hoping that he would come back full of stories. But, I had to admit it made a certain kind of sense that he wouldn't want to talk about it. I sighed and looked up at the darkening sky, "So you're okay now? It's all gone?"
"It's never all gone." He pointed out, "But yeah."
"Is it scarred much?" I didn't dare ask at the supper table. I pushed the topic too far at the time as it was. Plus it probably would have upset Mrs McNair.
Silently, Grey pulled up the sleeve of his shirt. A thin tracery of pale lines was etched into his skin. "That's most of it. It wraps around to my shoulder blade a little, but at least it won't spread now."
My breath came in sharp. It was bigger then I remembered. How much did it grow just during his treatment? "Does it hurt?"
Grey pulled his sleeve back down. "Not anymore. I don't feel...anything now. Nothing."
There was a strange tone in his voice that I couldn't quite place. "What about the cure? Did it-"
He shook his head before I even finished the question, "I didn't feel anything. Like I said, I was asleep." In a sudden reappearance of his old self, Grey flashed a grin and messed up my unruly dark curls. "Stop worrying about it. Nothing's going to change. I'm back now and it'll be the same as it always has been."
The Truth That Binds Us
I assumed that Grey and I would fall back into our own habits. Before he left, we were inseparable. We would always take the same junior work positions. We always went to the market together. When Dad sent me into the woods for wild mushrooms or honey, I could usually count of Grey to come along. Things seemed easier when we were together. We had an unspoken language, we made a good team.
I should have expected that things would be different when he got back. Telluria had that effect on people. When they left for treatment, they never came back quite the same. It was never that something was wrong exactly, just different. New Atlantis explained it away as the normal response to a traumatizing event. For years Telluria was a death sentence. The cure was still so young that the fear and stigma of the disease was carried in everyone's hearts.
I first encountered this change in my own parents. They came back from treatment as the same people, but something was just slightly...off. Mom stopped listening to the old records she adored. Dad didn't laugh as much. It was the same for Grey. Grey was just a little too serious. He was just a little too dedicated to paying back New Atlantis for curing him. I understood, I really did. I was just waiting for the day when I would stop noticing the subtle differences between my Grey, and this new one.
It was three days before I was able to talk to him properly. He took a permanent job with New Atlantis that kept him busy throughout the day. At night he buried himself in his studies. New Atlantis (and our parents) encouraged young people to strive for an education, we would be the ones rebuilding this world. But still, I missed him. I wanted my friend back.
Wednesday was cloudy but nice. I spent most of the day in the woods behind our house. It was late summer, but I had already started building up our winter stores. My father taught me just about every edible plant that could be found in our woods. Those woods kept our two families alive before New Atlantis.
I returned mid-afternoon with my backpack bursting with herbs and berries. I stopped in the shed to bundle and hang the herbs to dry. Inside the house, I washed the berries and put them on the stove to cook down into jam. It was mostly blueberries. Maybe if we started saving up flour rations now, we could have blueberry pie for Thanksgiving.
Once the jam was done, I set it aside to cool. With nothing else to do, I fetched the battered calculus book with a shiny "New Atlantis" stamp on the front cover from my room and went to the front porch.
I was midway through some practice questions when I heard the crunch of gravel. I looked up and I saw that Grey was just coming home.
"Grey!" I dropped my book on the front step and ran across our yards.
He was nearly at the door and had the look of a startled bunny. "Oh. Hey, Terra."
"I found some wild blueberries," I blurted, trying to stop him from locking himself inside again. "I made jam and we'll probably have some tonight with supper. You should come."
I was expecting something in the range of delight but his face barely rippled from blank passivity. "I'm behind in my studies."
I stood up a little straighter. "Oh good! I was just working on some calculus, come quiz me." I reached for his arm, meaning to tug him along to my front porch but it was like holding a rock.
I let go and tried not to feel the defeat pressing on my shoulders. "Oh... well... I mean it doesn't need to be calculus. I'm disastrously behind in history, or-"
"I would prefer to work alone Terra."
My breath caught and I tried not to feel wounded by his sudden snap. "But-"
"I-" There was a flicker of something, just behind his eyes. Almost like a flinch but not quite. He smiled. It was the warm Grey half smile that I'd seen a million times before. "No sorry. I'm just... really busy. I'm so behind and I've been trying to help Mom. It's just her and-" he sighed as he ran a hand through his hair, "How about a sleepover? Tomorrow night? Like old times."
It was like watching a subtle Jekyll and Hyde. I raised one incredulous eyebrow. "Just like old times? You won't snap at me again?"
Rather than defending himself he just looked confused at that statement. "Uh... sure? I'll even pile all the blankets in the den and you bring some jam. If there's any left. I'll even let you pick the movie."
I had no idea what was going on but I would accept it. At least he was starting to act a little more like himself. I managed a half-smile of my own. "Oooooh, you are going to regret that offer, McNair. You have a deal."
There are seven things that you need for a proper Grey-Terra sleepover; clothes, toothbrush, hairbrush, flashlights, movies, food and duct tape. Why duct tape? Because it's damn useful and that is all that need be said on the subject.
Six of the seven were packed in my backpack, which was sitting on the front porch. Food took some planning. There was the jam (obviously) and Grey was supplying bread. There was also one solitary cookie, a couple apples and - after walking around the edge of the woods for a little while - I found wild hazelnuts.
The sun was setting, and the sky was on fire when I crossed the yards and to Grey's house. Grey and his mother were both in the kitchen, cleaning up from their own supper. "Oh, Terra dear. Good, you can help put these away." Mrs McNair handed me a pile of clean dishes. She looked exhausted. There were dark circles under her eyes.
"Are you alright Mrs McNair?"
"Oh certainly. It's been a long week."
"Are you sure there's no way I can help?" I asked. I didn't usually work, so maybe I could help her around the house or something.
"You are too sweet. But we'll manage," she patted my cheek and crossed the room. "I'll be right next door if either of you needs me, okay?" She kissed both Grey's cheeks first and then did the same to me. "Your parents were kind enough to invite me over. You two have fun."
"Sure Mom. Have fun!" Grey said with a wave as she slipped out the front door.
"What are they doing?" I asked once she was gone.
He gave a small shrug. "Something about your father's rhubarb wine being ready," I gagged and Grey laughed. "Oh come on. It wasn't that bad."
"Speak for yourself." Once, a few years ago, we had gotten into Dad's homemade wine. My parents thought that the splitting headache and nausea the next day were punishment enough.
We went downstairs into the den. The den was Grey's self-appointed man cave. The rest of the house was very much his mothers. All ancient doilies and little pretty odds and ends but this part of the house was Grey's. A dull brown sectional was squeezed into a corner. A screen and disc player sat lovingly on a pedestal of Grey's old toy box. As promised, in the very centre of the room was a pile of probably every blanket and pillow in the house. Including the quilt off Grey's own bed and throw pillows from the living room.
Grey grabbed my hand and pulled me into the blanket nest. "So what movies did you decide to torture me with?" He asked, flicking on the TV. The New Atlantis Broadcasting Channel flickered to life, the only channel.
"Disney. Sappy romances. All your favourites,"
"I take it no Sixth Sense?" He asked with a pout.
"You've watched that a thousand times!" Perhaps literally.
"But that ending!" He threw his hands up like a teacher giving up on a student. "Fine... mm... 'Beauty and the Beast'?"
I peered up at him through my lashes. "You decided quickly for a man about to be 'tortured' McNair."
He slumped back against the seat of the couch. "What can I say? I'm a fan of the singing candelabra."
I didn't remember falling asleep. I remembered a dancing dish rendition of 'Be Our Guest', AKA Grey's favourite part. Then a pillow collided with my face.
"Better wake up before I eat your share of the jam." He was sitting in the middle of the nest, a piece of toast with jam balanced between his hands. On the TV the evening news was on, the volume turned down low.
I sat up slowly, shivering. Was it this cold earlier? I dug my way further under the nest of blankets and took the offered piece of toast. "Did you actually watch it all after I fell asleep? What time is it?"
"Yes, and eleven o'clock," he gestured to a bowl next to him, "I cut up the apples you brought too."
We feasted on the toast and apples and split the single cookie, feeling much like kings. I wondered if this was how New Atlantis higher ups ate every day. On the TV, the image flickered to a riot outside of a New Atlantis building. On one side, sign-wielding citizens were shouting something. They were too far from the microphone to be heard properly. On the other, New Atlantis Guards stood impenetrable in machina suits. Curious, I turned up the volume.
"Protesters were outside a New Atlantis facility in Seattle, Washington today. Reports say the protesters voiced opinions about the use of the Telluria treatment, citing that New Atlantis officials have not disclosed the full side effects. New Atlantis President Nikolai Wolfe released a statement saying that the cure was perfectly safe and only caused minor fatigue for 2-4 days after administration. Protesting groups such as these have been reported outside New Atlantis buildings worldwide. As of yet all reports indicate that protests have remained peaceful, but the increase in volume-"
The screen when black. Beside me, Grey was holding the remote. His face was contorted with rage, his body was tight as a bow about to fire. "Grey, what's wrong?"
"Them. Those worthless sacks of shit," he hissed, pointing at the TV. "You know I saw them when I went for treatment. They were outside with their signs and their shouts."
"The protestors?" I looked from the blank TV to him. Last time I saw him this angry someone had attacked his mother in the street. "You can't be serious Grey. They are just more of those idiots who don't trust modern medicine. It's the same as those anti-vax moms from when we were kids. We laugh at them remember. Come on Grey, it's not like they can do anything to stop it."
"That's not the point Terra. These are the kind of people who would see the cure taken away." A growl ripped from his throat and he turned to look me dead in the eye. "Don't you understand! If they had their way I would have died! Your parents would have died! Honestly, Terra, I thought you were smarter than this."
That shouldn't have stung as much as it did, but I felt tears welling in my eyes. "You don't think I remember what it was like to watch Mom's fever get so high that her eyes were literally glowing with the heat inside her? You don't think I remember my Dad melting? Melting, Grey. You don't think I remember you-" I wiped at the tears, determined not to let him talk to me this way. I wasn't a child who didn't know better just because he was sick and I wasn't. "You don't need to slap me in the face with it Grey. Jeez, calm the hell down. It's just silly protesters. They can't stop the cure."
Grey opened his mouth to start a reply and then stopped. The fury drained from his face. He looked almost confused. He blinked, and his body relaxed. He slumped back down in the nest of blankets. "Sorry. I overreacted. Your right, they can't stop it." While he had calmed down in an unexplainable number of seconds, I could still hear the venom in his tone.
I could only assume he overreacted because of what he had just been through. But still, it was so unlike Grey to fly off the handle like that, then to calm down just as quickly. He was acting like a flash flood, miles from the calm and sensible demeanour I always knew.
Grey reached over and picked another movie from the pile. 'Frozen'. One of my favourites and I suspected he picked it just to placate me. Still bitter, I pulled blankets up on the couch with me and settled in for the movie.
Even under the blankets, I shivered, why was it so unnaturally cold down here? Grey didn't seem to notice the cold at all. Under the blankets, I was so snug and warm that I was asleep again before 'Let it Go'.
For the second time, Grey was shaking me awake. The TV was splashed with white noise. Grey was sitting on the floor next to where I was sleeping moments before. I was lying on my stomach, my left arm hanging out of the blankets off the side of the couch. "Mmm...what is it now Grey? What time is it?" I murmured. It was near midnight last time I checked.
"You need to leave," his voice was tight. "You need to leave now."
I sat up, an uncomfortable beat stirring in my chest. "Why?"
"Hurry up. Get dressed. You need to be gone before they get here," he tossed my backpack at me.
"Grey what's going on?! I'm not doing anything until you tell me why you are kicking me out at-" I finally spotted the tv remote and switched on the NABC. It was 4:24. "I am not going out at 4 in the blessed morning! Whatever you're on about can wait until at least sunrise." I threw a pillow at him and pulled the blankets over me again. At least, it wasn't cold anymore. I felt heavy with sleep. My eyes drooping before I even reached the pillow.
Grey grabbed my left arm and twisted it. "Look!" He commanded, holding my left wrist towards my face. Along my forearm, thin grey lines stretched out across my skin like quartz veins. Exactly like quartz veins.
"N-no. No!" I tasted bile in my throat. "N-no I can't. I can't!" I yanked my arm away and rubbed the lines with my thumb. They were sharp and gritty and they weren't coming off.
"You have it, Terra," Grey whispered. He touched his own shoulder where I knew matching scars laid just under his shirt. "You'll be Earth-type then... like me."
"B-but..." I swallowed hard. With clumsy fingers, I pulled a warm sweater over my t-shirt. "I need to go to the clinic. I need to-"
Grey grabbed me again. He yanked me close by the next of my sweater and made me meet his eyes. "They are already coming. I had to call them. I saw it... I had to. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't stop it." He pushed me away and handed me my backpack. For just a second there was a flicker of tenderness in the wild gleam of his eyes. "I had to call them understand. I couldn't help it. I had to."
I slipped my arms through the straps of my bag. My head bobbed in a small nod. "I... I know... it could kill me. I need to go..."
"NO!" Grey's rejection was so sudden that I jumped. "You can't go with them! Don't get the cure! D-don't Terra!" Grey winced as if it hurt to say no. He took my wrist and pulled me up the stairs. "They'll be here soon. You have to run. Get out of town. Keep it covered. For the love of God Terra don't let them get you. They'll be here soon. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I had to call them. I had no choice. I... I had to."
I was trembling once we made it to the kitchen. Grey let go of me and was pulling food from the cupboards. He reached for my bag and started dropping in whatever he could.
"Grey stop! STOP!" I screamed. "I don't understand. I have to get it. If I don't..." Tears started to sting my eyes. The image of my parents on the verge of death danced behind my eyelids. "I have to. I d-don't want to die Grey. I have to."
His eyes were frantic. The grey irises he was named for were flecked with dancing gold in the pale moonlight streaming through the back window. "D-don't. Worse...worse than death. It breaks you...it breaks..." Grey hissed sharply and his hand flew to the back of his neck. He stumbled and I held on to steady him.
"Grey... Grey, you're not making sense. You said the cure was good. You had it yourself and you're fine. Grey please!"
His smile was weak, the pain was shining in his eyes. "They make me say it's good. They make your parents say it. They make everyone-" Another sharp hiss and Grey tumbled to the ground. I was pulled down with him. "They take the illness. They don't cure it. It's not a cure...it hurts..."
It was the sound of tires and engines that made us both look up. Lights streamed across the house from the front window. Grey pulled himself up by the counter, wincing from a pain that I could not see. He took my wrist and pulled me towards the door. "Run. Don't get caught. Don't trust New Atlantis. Don't trust the cured. Show no one..."
They were knocking on the door. Polite at first, but it was getting more insistent. We could hear them calling out. Grey braced against the counter and pushed me towards the back door. "Run," he hissed and crushed his lips against mine. He tasted of salt and sweat. I could smell his sharp soap. He never kissed me before. Ever. My heart clenched amid the staccato beats.
The door broke open. He pushed me away. I stumbled out the back door just as the kitchen was swarmed.
"Run Terra! Run!" Grey screamed.
The New Atlantis officers surrounded him. They pulled his arms behind his back. Others were advancing on me. I turned and ran through the back door. I just needed to get as far as the woods. There I could hide.
I scurried up the fence, muscle memory alone guiding my feet to the right footholds. Officers were running across the yard after me. At the top of the fence, I looked back. They had Grey on his knees on the kitchen floor, his arms still held behind him in a way that suggested shackles. "RUN! RUN! TERRA RUN! RU-" There was the flash of cold steel. The explosion of a bullet. Grey's screams were silenced.
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