The shards of glass glint, ragged daggers on the bedroom floor, as the voices taunting dirty Chalkers echo on the warm breeze flowing through the shattered window. Yasmine tries to calm her racing heart as she slides out of bed and sidles along the wall until she reaches the blue, threadbare curtains fluttering in the wind. Poking a pale finger between the wall and curtain, she lifts the fabric just enough to scan the street. No sound, no movement.
“What was that noise, Mama?”
She turns to see Eyla, barefoot in her nightgown, walking towards her.
“Stay where you are.”
“There’s a note, on the brick,” she says, pointing.
“I see it. Get dressed, quickly.”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. But we need to be ready to hide, just in case.”
Yasmine reaches for the brick, wincing as a piece of glass lodges in her foot. She limps to the bed, brick in one hand, leaving a speckled trail of milky blood. She pulls the shard out quickly, covering the wound with a pillowcase. The purple brick is wrapped with twine. Trapped beneath the string, a piece of yellowed paper. She frees it and unfolds it.
Ur not welcome here
Dirty Chalker Trash
She laughs, a hard brittle thing. Yasmine doesn’t want to be here either. She’d much prefer to be back in her cottage with the little garden, shaded by silver cherry and willow trees, the chimes blowing in the breeze, making snow globes with Eyla. She’d nearly dropped the globe she was holding, the one with a miniature replica of their cottage and family, when the Rangers broke down the door. The crack of splintering wood froze her for precious seconds, before she pocketed it, wrapped Eyla in her arms and waited.
Who is living in her home now, she wonders? Probably some Morado folk. She imagines their purple fingers wrapping around the silver rope of Eyla’s swing, their large feet crushing the Ice Lilies she’d planted in the Spring, their livid lips biting into the silver cherries which would be ripening right about now.
Yasmine was allowed to pack one small bag for Eyla and herself, clothes only, because everything else ‘would be provided for’ when they reached their ReAssignment Community. The RAC consisted of hastily constructed wooden shacks with transparent tarpaulin roofs, stuffed onto a muddy field that was hard and jagged when dry, slick and treacherous when wet, and surrounded by a barbed wire fence guarded by a few shaved-headed Rangers. A flimsy door and two mean windows with milky glass were the only portals into the three-room huts.
Yasmine checks her foot. It’s stopped bleeding. She dresses quickly and goes to Eyla’s room, joins her on the narrow bed, springs creaking under the thin mattress.
“What did the note say?” Eyla asks.
“They don’t like us. They want us to leave.”
“Why don’t they like us?”
Yasmine pauses, looking at the rescued snow globe perched on the wooden stool next to the bed. “Because they don’t know any better. They’re angry and scared.”
“Of losing power,” Yasmine says, twisting a strand of Eyla’s platinum hair in her fingers. “There’s more Pale people now than ever before. In a decade, maybe, they’ll be more us than them, and the Morado folk don't like that."
“Are they a lot different than us? I mean other than their purple skin. I think they look like big grapes..."
A flicker of smile plays at Yasmine's lips. "Well, they are little bigger than most Pale folk, but other than that, we're the same. If you took blood from a Morado person and one of us, there'd be no difference, under a microscope. But we don't live under a microscope-"
An urgent tapping interrupts her. “Stay here,” she says, rising from the bed, and shutting Eyla’s door. When she reaches the front door, she frowns at the thin deadbolt, the only defence from it being blown open by a strong gust.
“Yasmine? It’s Kriker,” a husky voice whispers through a crack.
She presses her forehead against the wall and unlocks the deadbolt, breathing out slowly, and opens the door.
Kriker’s silver hair reflects in the dim streetlights, casting shadows beneath his ice-blue eyes. “I heard the window breaking. You okay?”
“I...yes,” Yasmine says, glancing down briefly before meeting his gaze.
“There’s still room for you and Eyla,” he says, resting his hand on the doorframe. “We're leaving tonight to join the Up-Risers, in Tower Mountains. We could use your engineering skills, Yaz. We're going to sabotage their energy and communications networks first, so we can free our people from the camps, and then-"
"Don't say any more. Once they find out you've left, the Rangers will break down doors, interrogating everyone until they have answers. It's too dangerous. I don't want to put Eyla through that..."
"I understand. But if you don't take a stand soon, there's not much of a future for you or Eyla," he says, stepping away from the door. "If you change your mind, we'll be on the East side of the compound, in an hour.”
“Thanks. I, we...we're not ready, yet. Safe travels,” she says, as she closes the door and slides the deadbolt into place with shaking fingers.
Yasmine's feet feel like lead bricks, anchoring her to the floor. She thinks about the figurines in the snow globe, glued to the ground, slowly suffocating while the world swirls around them. The brand on her right hand pulses, the scarred tissue, shaped like a downward-facing triangle, reminding her of the last time someone asked her to leave home. That was when Arkin still breathed.
He was helping organise the December Rise-Up, and wanted his wife and daughter to join. There would be music, and food, he argued, and yes, people speaking out against the current regime. But it would be a peaceful protest. A family event. Yasmine declined. She worried it wasn’t safe to take Eyla. He’d shrugged and said, would you rather be safe, or free?
She was watching the broadcast of the Rise-Up with Eyla when the heavily-armoured Rangers stormed into the rally, beating the Pales with clubs and fists, shocking them with metal rods, choking them with noxious gas. Yasmine was about to turn it off when she stopped still, her fingers numb and unresponsive. Arkin was on the screen. He was kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind his back. A large Ranger prodded him with a metal rod. Arkin’s body convulsed violently before he fell face-first onto the ground. The Ranger continued to prod him, his big foot clamped down on the back of his neck, forcing his face into the mud. That was the last time she saw Arkin.
The Rangers broke down the door of the cottage a few days later. She remembers the red-hot glow of the brand as they heated it over the fire. A bulbous purple hand clamped on top of Eyla’s head, a voice whispering, take a good long look, that’s what happens to traitors. Yasmine’s arm, stretched almost to breaking. Trying not to scream as the metal seared her skin, sizzling and sputtering. The smell of burning flesh.
“Was that Kriker?” Eyla asks, hovering in the doorway to her bedroom.
“Yes,” Yasmine says, turning to face her.
“Is he leaving?”
“Oh,” Eyla responds, shaking the snow globe. “Can we say goodbye?”
Yasmine and Eyla walk in shadows to the East side of the compound, not talking, on the look-out for Rangers. They see Kriker, his back to them, as he loads a vehicle with an old woman in the passenger seat. They press their backs to the nearest hut, listening.
Then Yasmine takes Eyla’s hand and they walk toward him. They're about twenty feet away when Eyla stops. Yasmine turns toward her, annoyed, before she spots what Eyla is staring at. A Ranger urinates against the wall of a nearby hut. He struggles to zip up his trousers, swaying slightly. He looks up and sees them.
“Hey, what you doing out?” he slurs. “Looking for some company?” he says, as he strokes the front of trousers and makes crude thrusting movements with his hips.
Yasmine swallows hard. The Ranger hasn’t seen Kriker yet, maybe they can distract him long enough for him to get away. She’s about say something when Eyla places something cold and round in her hand.
The ranger stumbles toward them, leering at Yasmine, then Eyla. “Is it a two-for-one deal tonight?” he says, licking his lips.
He reaches for Yasmine’s neck, his breath warm against her face.
A loud crack. He falls to the ground, motionless.
Next to his head, a jagged half of the snow globe. Yasmine holds the other half in her hand, watching the figurine family slosh around for a few seconds, until they rest at the bottom. Then the cracked hemisphere slips from her fingers, falling to the ground with a soft thud.
“Let’s go,” she says. They run toward the vehicle.
“Glad you could make it,” Kriker says, opening the rear door to allow Yasmine and Eyla to slide in.
As he drives up the mountain, Yasmine rolls down the side window, breathing in the fresh air, watching the camp recede in the distance. She grabs Eyla's hand, smiles, and turns to watch the road ahead.