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Fiction Friendship

DON’T TELL THEM YOU CAN SEE.

A sudden hush descends on me all at once. The noises of chatter and footsteps, which I could hear so clearly just moments before, dull to a muted roar. The light taste of the elderberries and puffer fish I ate for lunch that lay thick on my tongue fades until it is almost unnoticeable. The aches and pains from sparring in Chemistry, so sharp just moments before, almost completely vanishes. The slightly rough sensation of my uniform brushing against my skin turns smooth and bland, almost unfelt. But my eyes . . .

DON’T TELL THEM YOU CAN SEE.

I stare at the black words in reverence and wonder. It’s been so long since I’ve seen black, or white, or anything at all before the Blinding five years ago. I reach up a shaking hand—smooth olive-brown, I notice—to touch the words, though there is no difference in their texture to the wall behind them. Otherwise, I think, someone would have discovered them much earlier.

“Graylen?” Lidalia taps me on the shoulder.

I jump, remembering I’m not alone. Lidalia’s blind brown eyes stare somewhere above my head through her gauzy black veil, and I press my lips shut quickly to keep the small gasp from slipping out. She hasn’t seen it.

“Gray, why’d you stop? Let’s go home.”

“Uh, yeah,” I say, as casually as I can. “Let’s go.”

I look back at the words as we begin walking away, and notice there are more of them, covering every wall. It’s the same message, over and over again.

Don’t tell them you can see.

I see other unknowing students around us, also going home from another day of school. They all wear a uniform, as I do, and for the first time I see its colour—black. I had known what the uniform felt like between my fingers, but I had imagined a pale blue, or a dark green, like the colours we’d had in primary school. Certainly not black.

I finger the veil on my neck, shuddering. All the students passing us down the corridor, fingers running along the word-covered walls as they walk toward the door, have the black veils covering their faces like Lidalia. They look like military special forces members, and if they’d been silent they would have seemed like ghosts—the deadly type that suck our souls out like I’ve read in comic books. Of course, no one reads, now. The Blinding has changed everything.

Don’t tell them you can see.

The words cloud my vision.

“Gray!” Lidalia urges, tugging my dark sleeve.

I’ve stopped again. “Ah, sorry. Coming.”

We continue down the hall, Lidalia propelling us on faster, to where the line waits to be admitted through the doors and out into the sunshine. I feel excitement and anticipation rising inside of me as I contemplate this. I get to see the sun!

But only if the veiled man beside the door lets me through.

As I watch, the line gets shorter and shorter. The man is signing each student out as they pass him. I nervously replace my veil on my head.

Don’t tell them you can see.

The girl in front of Lidalia steps up. The veiled man raises a hand, holding something in it.

The girl doesn’t speak.

“Miss When?” The man says as the gadget beeps and lights up. So that’s the beeping noise I heard every day in the darkness.

The girl nods.

“Admitted.”

It’s Lidalia’s turn, now.

“Miss Current?”

Lidalia nods too.

“Admitted.”

I step up to the man as Lidalia exits the tall double doors, fingers tracing the glass as she finds her way along.

“Miss Hop.”

The man presses something on the gadget in his gloved hand, and a beep sounds as a simple message appears. Lidalia can see. She will take you somewhere safe. They are listening, but they can’t see.

I feel a jolt in the pit of my stomach. He knows.

But even worse. . . .

Someone can hear everything we say.

“Admitted,” he says with a nod that speaks volumes.

I speed up as I exit the doors, trying extremely hard to maintain a hold on my pretense as I walk across the grass (green!), praying that whoever is listening in can’t hear the confidence in my steps. Wow, this is a lot to take in.

I catch up to Lidalia. “Hey, Lidalia . . . can I go to your house?”

Lidalia looks at me, eyes finding mine directly, though her voice stays neutral. “Of course, why?”

“Um—I . . . uh . . .” I sputter a bit, trying to think up an excuse.

“Don’t tell me—you need help with the deadlifts we were practicing in French?” Lidalia raises her eyebrows, pinning me with stare. Play along, it says.

“Yeah! Couldn’t even lift the bar properly,” I reply, leaping at the excuse.

“You can stay overnight, too. Is your bunker okay with that?”

Wow. Lidalia is a total genius. This way, we can figure out what to do next with more time.

“I’m sure they won’t mind.”

“Alright, I’ll lend you some clothes for tomorrow,” Lidalia says, looping her arm through mine and pulling me along.

As I step through the door at Lidalia’s house, I see for the first time its squat, blocky structure and grey-toned paint, like one of those bomb-shelters I used to see on TV in Nazi movies. Mine, that I share with seven other girls, probably looks the same.

Lidalia and I hang up our veils and duffel bags, and Lidalia leads me into the second room. The two girls already inside, Ren and Mitzi, sit up in their bunks against the room’s walls.

“Hi girls, Lidalia and Graylen reporting,” Lidalia announces, walking past them briskly. “Bath in ten minutes.”

“Okay, I’ll let the others know,” Ren says, waving at me.

Huh. She must be able to see too. Can they all see? Was it just me who couldn’t, until today? I didn't know how I should feel about that. Offended, maybe, that I'd been kept in the dark?

I follow Lidalia into their large bathroom, all grey and angles like my own must be. Lidalia, knowing I must need some time to think, thrusts a towel at me and tells me to run the water, and that she and the other girls will come in in five minutes.

Then I am alone with my thoughts.

I set the water to fill the huge tub (basically a huge shallow pool with warm water and jets every half metre) and hang my towel on the rack beside Lidalia’s swimsuit, which is the standard issue (black) that we all receive with our other school outfits, for SEAL combatant training. Then I sit on the edge and wait.

Soon, the other seven girls come in with a few murmured words and quickly undress, joining me. No one clings to the walls or brushes their feet along the floor to know where they’re going, and their eyes are alert. They must all be able to see.

But why? And how?

Everyone finds a spot around the rim and Lidalia reaches into the adjacent shower and turns the shower head pressure to mist, the loudest—and most ineffective—setting.

Then she turns back to us. I notice for the first time the bruises covering her body, leaving only her hands unmarked. A quick glance at the rest of the girls shows me the same thing.

I look down at my own body. I am no different—and now that I’m aware of them, my bruises ache much more than they did before. Ouch.

“As you may have noticed, we have another member,” Lidalia announced, her voice slicing through the shower’s persistent hiss. “Gray, you’ve met these girls before when you stayed over, but here you get a reintroduction.”

I feel my face pull into an expression of confusion. “Okay,” I say. I can't very well object.

“Mitzi, you first.”

Mitzi smiles sweetly and rises, her pale skin glistening with water as she steps daintily out into the middle of the tub. “Hi, Graylen. The Power named me Maria. As my sign of rejection to them, I chose ‘Mitzi’ as my true name. The Power’s lies have ruled us for long enough.”

“Hi,” I reply stupidly.

The girl beside her, Jay, as I know her, stands and takes Mitzi’s place in the middle, holding herself tall and confident, with shoulders like a sport star. “Hi Graylen, and welcome! The Power called me Regina.” She shivers, her tan faced crinkling in disgust. “I hated that name to begin with, but when Mean Girls came out I died. When my sight returned, I chose to be called ‘Jay’. Lidalia managed to switch me out with a meathead in this bunk who was a total suck-up to the Power. I was the first to join her mission.”

The next girl, willowy and bright-eyed, gets up and declares herself ‘Essie’, having rejected the Power’s name ‘Forest’.

Ren confesses her old name was ‘Serenity’, which she hated “because I’m a storm from hell!” (with a wink and a swish of her hourglass hips).

The other two girls introduce themselves as Tal, ‘Talia’, and Ri, ‘Clarise’.

Finally, Lidalia takes her place in the middle. “I’m Lidalia. My old name was ‘Lydia’. My mother was murdered by the Power.” She looks at me. “She told me something just before the order commanded her on her last mission—she said, ‘do you remember how in English class you used to learn grammar?’” Lidalia bites her lip. “I didn’t understand why she told me that. Such a strange thing to say—not even goodbye, just ‘remember school back then?’

“But . . . I remember it. In maths we learnt algebra, and in chemistry we learnt the periodic table, atoms, and moles.” Lidalia shakes her head. “How did it ever come to this? Learning how to shoot a gun in maths, to scale a wall in history, to traverse underground tunnels stretching for days in physical education? Eating deadly plants and animals for lunch to train our bodies to resist poison?”

My heart is pounding in my ears. Woah, I actually do remember. How did we come to this? And it's so normal now. No one seems to realise how weird it is. I shiver, shaken to my core.

“We used to go to school in bright dresses. The only things in our bags were our books and pens. Now, we go to school in military uniforms. We carry bombs, gas masks, torches, army rations and whatever else the Power tells us we need to.” Lidalia clenches her fists. “We’re being trained as elite soldiers. They’re going to make us fight a war.”

The girls around the tub start to whisper restlessly, but none of them seem surprised.

I, however, stare at Lidalia in horror. The worst thing is, it’s true. So blindingly obvious. So why doesn’t anyone else see?

Then it hits me.

The Power blinded us.

They took away our sight so that we would be dependent on them. So dependent we'd believe anything and everything they say.

And now we are being designed to kill.

Jay crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow. “Well, now that the intros are over, let’s let Graylen choose her new name and get on with whatever you wanted to tell us.”

I shake my head roughly. Something else apart from this whole mess? How could there possibly be more?

Lidalia nods and turns to me with a smile. “I kind of already gave you a new name, but you can choose a different one if you like.”

So that’s why Lidalia calls me ‘Gray’. I rub my neck and shrug. “Gray suits me just fine.”

Lidalia grabs my hand and pulls me into the middle of the tub (with a lot of splashing and an embarrassing squeal of surprise) to stand beside her.

“Presenting Gray, our newest member!”

The girls cheer and clap, calling ‘Gray! Gray!’

I nod at everyone with a quick smile and hurry to return to my place, a little flustered but also excited.

I feel like a part of this, now. There’s no going back.

Ren calls for order and the girls’ chant slowly tapers off with a few giggles. “Cool, now what is this meeting mostly for, Lidalia?” she says.

Lidalia grabs her towel and steps out of the tub.

Kneeling in front of the cupboard under the sink, she takes out a small package.

“This,” she says seriously as she rises, “is the Antidote. It will be the Power’s downfall.”

I glance nervously at the shower, but it’s still running loud. There’s no way a hidden microphone could pick up her quiet voice, but you can't be too careful.

Ren’s eyes light up. “You found it?”

Essie slaps her hands over her mouth to contain a gasp of excitement. “I don’t believe you did it!”

Lidalia shook her head. “Credit to Casper for snatching it from the lab. Being a teacher, he’s allowed anywhere,” she added, for my benefit. I realise Casper must have been that man signing people out at the school door.

Mitzi squeals in delight. “This is finally happening! I can’t believe it!”

Lidalia grins at her, her pale hair gleaming in the dim white light coming in through the warped glass window above our heads.

I squint at the vial’s viscous red contents, then glance up at Lidalia suspiciously. “I’m guessing my sudden return of sight wasn’t an accident, then,” I comment, my tone carefully moderate.

Lidalia smiles sheepishly. “I didn’t want to leave my best friend in the dark.”

She must have slipped it into my elderberry soup. I hesitate for a moment, but roll my eyes and settle back against the grey wall. “Whatever.” I like being able to see, anyway.

Lidalia takes the word as forgiveness and grins at me in relief before turning her attention back to her announcement. “We finally have a prototype to base our copies off,” she said. “Ren, Essie and Ri, I want you to start immediately in replicating this drug. Ren, you’ll need to get Casper in on this with you, but you’re in charge.

"Essie, you’ll do most of the practical replication work, and Ri, I also want you to help Essie, but you’re in charge of security.”

The three girls nod and get out of the bath, Ren gingerly taking the vial as they grab their towels and make their way out.

Lidalia turns back to the rest of us, a glint in her eye. “The rest of you, you’re the field agents. Slip this into everyone’s drinks and food at school, and guide them to our designated secret bunkers to be informed of the situation. Tell them to give it to everyone they know, including their parents.”

I look at my friend in awe. She really knows her stuff. I wonder just how long she’s been planning this. . . .

Lidalia turns to me, pinning me with her intense dark stare. “Gray, since you have the most connections, we’re counting on you.”

Woah. I can't help but stare. I suddenly don't see Lidalia as just my sharp-witted, level-headed friend.

She is a leader.

Lidalia raises her fist to cheers.

“The Awakening has begun!”

September 15, 2021 09:45

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2 comments

Nicole Mclachlin
21:42 Sep 22, 2021

You could tighten up the first paragraph by taking out some filler words and redundancies to give the scene more immediacy. For example: A sudden hush descends on me. The chatter and footsteps dull to a muted roar. The light taste of the elderberries and puffer fish,7 thick on my tongue from lunch, fades. The aches and pains from sparring in Chemistry, almost completely vanish. I enjoyed how you employed all 5 senses throughout the piece. We know exactly how your character is feeling. Cool concept, well done!

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Cynthia McDonald
23:23 Sep 18, 2021

I like this story, but it feels like the lead-in to much more, like a first chapter. It's a great concept, just want the full story.

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