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Fiction Fantasy Teens & Young Adult

It’s the cold that wakes me up. It’s a damp cold, mainly coming from below me. Seeping into my core through the hard surface the left side of my body is curled and pressed against.

I open my eyes and push myself up to sit, wrapping myself in a hug to try to warm up a bit. I don’t recognize the cement floor I’m sitting on. Or the room I’m in. I don’t remember falling asleep, for that matter.

A quick chill runs through my body. Though I’m not sure if it’s from the air temperature or the strange feeling I’m getting in the pit of my stomach as my brain and body work to puzzle out what, exactly, is happening. I instinctively curl more into myself to ward off the chilly feeling. This makes me take notice of the deep purple bands of cloth around my arms.

I don’t recognize these clothes as my own but I do recognize them. And I don’t have to look down to know that I’ll see a simple gray dress beneath the bands of purple that wrap around my arms and torso, and black leggings that will no doubt stop mid-calf rather than at the ankle because my height is never taken into account.

My heart immediately begins to pound out a quick, irregular rhythm. Like a three-legged dog running for its life. I force myself to take a deep breath in. To try to calm myself. To force myself to understand and deal with this reality.

Just as I begin a controlled exhale through my mouth, the thought that had been wildly tumbling through my mind is given a voice. Not mine though. 

“Decision robes,” I hear softly but confidently from behind me.

I stand and spin around all at once. Trying to be on guard and prepared without looking like I’m startled. Though it’s clear I’m startled and unprepared as I hadn’t even assessed the whole room.

“Jonah,” I say, rushing over to hug my older brother.

As I take in his warmth, my mind races in a new direction: backward. What did we do to end up in decision robes? They’ve taken our phones, of course, and there are no screens in this room. There’s not even flooring or furniture, so of course there are no screens. But nothing to help me remember what Jonah and I could have done wrong. So wrong that would land us in decision robes.

Jonah takes a gentle step away from me. “Figure it out yet?”

“No,” I say, searching Jonah’s face, trying to see whether he knows and is testing me, or doesn’t know either.

He doesn’t know either. We’ll have to work on this together.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” I ask him.

Jonah scratches the back of his next and walks toward the only window to look outside. “Breakfast?” He says, uncertainly.

I nod. “You had oatmeal. I had yogurt and fruit.” Jonah nods back at me and we lock eyes, hoping that will somehow help us remember what happened.

“I rinsed our plates and left them in the sink,” I say. I can picture doing it: gathering up his bowl and spoon, stacking my bowl and spoon on top of his. Leaving the water glasses on the table. Walking to the sink. Looking out the window as I dried my hands on the towel hanging off the cabinet’s knob.

But then it’s a blank. And I can tell it’s the same for Jonah.

I join Jonah at the window now. “The sun is still high in the sky,” I say. “Unless we were knocked out for more than a day, which…”

“Unlikely,” Jonah says and I agree.

“That was only a few hours ago. So…” I’m not sure where to go from here. “Do you think we even need to figure this out?” I ask. Because, really, do we? Do we need to know what we did wrong? They’re going to tell us at our trial.

“Of course, Libby,” Jonah says, sounding exasperated. I wonder how long he waited for me to wake up. How long he’s already been thinking about this, while I’m ready to give up after only a few minutes. “We need to know what we did to end up here. We need to plan our defense.”

“What’s the point?” I throw back at him. I’m getting all worked up and I’m not sure why. “We could have walked on the wrong side of the street. Or stepped on someone’s lawn. Or someone thought we overheard something but we didn’t. The punishment is always the same.”

“You know that’s not true,” Jonah says. “If it’s something bigger, we need to be prepared.” Jonah looks worried. Like he thinks it is something bigger.

“Jonah?” He won’t look at me now. Staring down at his own decision robes instead. The deep purple bands criss-crossing his chest, arms and stomach over a black shirt and pants. “You don’t think…”

“I don’t know,” Jonah looks on the verge of tears. The only time I saw him cry was when our pet cat died five years ago. “I just have this feeling. I’m worried we did something bad. They don’t put kids in decision robes for those little things. Not for first time offenses. And we have spotless records. We’ve always behaved in line, perfectly.”

“Because we wanted to avoid this!” I’m still angry. Jonah knows it and knows we can’t both lose it, one mad one overwhelmed and upset. I can see him trying to pull himself together, so I try to do the same. “Whole lot of good it did us,” I mutter. “We still ended up here. In decision robes. Awaiting a trial.”

“Well,” Jonah sighs out a long breath. “We need to be prepared. We need to figure out…”

He doesn't finish because the door swings open and we both stare silently at the room on the other side. Where our accuser awaits. Where our trial awaits. Where a decision will be made.

May 11, 2022 20:10

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