Now, I shove the rest of my food down my throat and clear my plate, not bothering to excuse myself from the table, and scuttle to my room. How long I abandoned my life in there, I couldn’t tell you. But I come back to harsh reality as my mother shakes my shoulders violently. I can’t hear her yet, I’m still on my way back, but I feel a distant ache in my fingers and tears streaking down my face. I wait seconds, then minutes for my hearing to come back. It’s too loud for me to hear anything but an oddly familiar scream. So as my beautiful mother desperately attempts to bring me back, I do what I do best and slip away. And suddenly, the screaming stops, and I realize that I know why it had sounded so familiar, why it seemed to be resounding through my every cell. It was me.
By the time I come to, I know to be ashamed of my actions. The way that I gave up is not acceptable in the City. Giving up is choosing death over life. There are no quitters alive today. They don’t allow it. So I brace myself for a scolding before letting my eyes flutter open and find the one thing that scares me more than anything. My face, morphed into perfection with makeup, the necklace resting at my collarbone, and the dress that has survived in my family for generations, framed by the gilded mirror that sits atop our vanity. My stomach is in my throat, and the hairs on my arms and neck are standing up as if electricity is coursing through my veins. No, it can’t be time. Not yet. I’m not ready to accept my death today. Not ready to give up the life I’ve worked to maintain. But I notice the slight silhouette of my body, the lack of muscle on either of my arms, and my flaming hair, and realize that I truly have no choice.
My mother lets herself in through the door behind me with an oddly determined look in her eye. Ok, it’s not odd that she’s determined, but the fact that her eyes are cast toward my reflection. She kneels down next to me and begins fumbling in the vanity’s drawers, scraping to the bottom of each one, becoming more and more desperate with every attempt. She pulls out the very last one and digs furiously to uncover every corner. Then she gasps with excitement and does some fluent hand motion that I do not recognize, tracing a quick pattern lightly with a delicate needle. The bottom pops open to reveal a second drawer, and she grabs for its contents.
“Look at me.” She pulls my chin to stare directly into my eyes, and enunciates very clearly, “There are things that you do not remember, things that we did to you when you were little. The memory serum has an antidote, and this little bottle”, she holds it up in between us. It’s filled with a clear liquid, but has what seem to be small threads of luminescent colors floating through it. “This bottle, is the key to those memories which have already been stolen from you. Things that will change you. Keep it hidden from everyone until you decide what to do with it.” She shoves it into my hand and stands up to fumble with my already perfect hair nonchalantly, just as a staccato knock sounds at the door. “I love you.” She whispers in my ear. “Come iiinnn!” she says in her nicest singsong voice. A man in a red uniformed suit enters the room, all shoulders and attitude. In the mirror, my mother’s reflection flickers from placid to frightened. Frightened? By the man in the suit? I’ve never known my mother to be frightened by anything; she once arm-wrestled a guy with arms as big as tree trunks. But the emotion was fear, it’s been on my face so often that I recognize it in a heartbeat.
“Hello, ladies.” He has a smooth, cool voice, very low and ominous. It sends ice cold shivers down my spine. “How are your… preparations going?” He folds his hands in front of him and stands behind my mother, looking into the mirror at himself arrogantly.
“Quite well, thank you. I think I’m just about finished. Doesn’t she look beautiful?” She smiles at me sadly and turns to the man so I can no longer see her face. But I can see the man. He grins at her menaciously with glittering white teeth. “May I ask what your business here is?” At this he cocks an eyebrow and frowns slightly with an innocent façade.
“I just thought I’d bring my favorite little niece a going-away present. He opens the door where two guards are standing in the City’s white suits. One of them hands him a cookie cutter white box with one pink ribbon tied in a bow. Turning back, he shrugs his shoulders. “I thought the girl could use a good last meal.” He holds out the box to me expectantly, then folds his hands again. “Well?” So I take my time and untie the ribbon, and open the box slowly.
Inside awaits the most amazing smelling food you could dream of, a type of meat, noodles with cheese sauce on them, and a small but fair sized piece of birthday cake. I basically inhale the plate. Smiling from ear to ear, I look up at the man, my uncle, with his frightening grin covering his strong face. “I’m glad you liked it. Quite addicting, the food is, no?” I nod, slightly confused at the word addicting. Then my mother turns to me with outright horror. A shudder ripples across my body and spasms into bright blooming pain at the crown of my head.
“What did you do to me?!” I cry at him, but he just smiles his evil smile and turns slowly for the door. I rush at him, swinging a claw at the back of his bald, shiny head. So quickly it blurs, he spins and bats my hand away as if it were no more than an annoyance.
“You foolish child. You were lucky that we let you live, that your guardians had the decency to hide you well enough. I simply am determined to even out your playing field, to set things right. Fairness is a difficult thing to come by, and it needs all the help it can get.” He nods tersely to the guards standing at the door, who enter quickly and drag my mother, screaming, out of the door. “Relax, child. The game of Life is about to start. And remember, no cheating.” He teases. Again he spins, slamming the door behind him.