“It’s way worse than drat, but if you swear in here, you’ll get another detention.” A voice sounded from the corner behind her. Davey swung around to see Carly curled up on a small metal bench in the corner.
“Carly!” Davey ran across the room, dropping to the ground in front of her friend. “What the hell is going on here? Detention is in a dungeon?”
“There’s no point fighting it, Davey. This is what happens when you don’t conform.”
“What do you mean? Don’t conform?”
“If you don’t fit in. If you talk back. If you break the rules. You’re sent down here. You serve your detention. You learn not to make waves.”
“Why are you down here?” Davey sank to the ground at Carly’s feet, suddenly exhausted.
“We were talking in class this morning. I’m serving my sentence.”
“You’ve been here since this morning? In this horrible little room? That’s completely unfair. You didn’t do anything. I was talking to you and they didn’t punish me.” Davey called into the air. “Let her out of here!” A wave of frigid air rolled over the room.
“Don’t fight it, Davey. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. I’m used to it. I’m down here all the time.”
“What? Why?” Davey felt heat rise in her cheeks.
“I don’t fit in. You can tell. I don’t look like the other students. I don’t act like them. I don’t follow the attire regulations. No one likes me. At least down here, no one laughs at me.” Carly sunk further into herself. Her pale skin seemed even greyer than it had earlier in the day. She picked at her finger again.
“Carly, you can’t let them do this to you.” Davey pushed herself to her feet and ran to the door. There was no handle on the inside of the flat metal. “You can’t do this! Let us out of here!” She yelled, banging her palm on the door. “This is unfair!”
There was no response from beyond the metal door. No hint of human life outside this room. Davey rubbed her arms against the cold. Nothing about the lacey top of the dress provided any kind of protection. She wished for a sweater more than anything. She would deal with the two hours in this room just to have a tiny cardigan. She returned to the spot on the floor beside her friend. Maybe sitting together would help warm them both up.
“What are you doing here, Davey?” Carly’s voice seemed disconnected from her body.
“I tried to skip last class. It seemed pretty pointless to go when you weren’t there.”
“Never skip. You’re lucky you’re in here and not in the… never mind.” Carly’s cuticle found its way to her mouth.
“In what, Carly?”
“Not important. But what I meant was, what are you doing in Faulery Valley? Why did you come back here? It’s been six years. You left without a word. Without a goodbye. And now you come back, looking all sunshine and roses and expect to just pick up right where we left off.” For the first time all day, Carly’s voice contained a trace of actual emotion. Not much, but a little.
“It wasn’t my fault I left.” Davey took the other girl’s hand in her own, “I was a little girl. My parents moved. I had to go with them. I couldn’t stay here without them.”
“You could have said goodbye.” Carly wiped her nose with the end of her sleeve. “I was in the hospital and you just left me there. I was humiliated and broken and no one, not one single person, came to visit me. Do you know what that did to me?”
Davey watched her friend closely. This should have been a really emotional moment. Carly should have been yelling at her, or screaming, or crying, or anything, but the most she could muster was a slightly less vacant look. Her eyes swam with the hint of emotion, like she was trying to get there but couldn’t. Davey felt so sad for her. Emotions piled on emotions that suddenly felt like they were burying her. She needed to clear her head. She needed a moment of clarity. She reached for her remote communicator before remembering that her purse was somewhere that she was not.
“This is ridiculous.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead.
“Here,” Carly reached forward and opened her hand. A small yellow pill sat in the centre of her palm.
“It helps with the depression. It gets a little unbearable.” Carly dropped the pill into Davey’s hand, “It also makes you warmer.”
“I could use some heat.” Davey dropped the pill into her mouth and swallowed. A tiny wave of heat traveled through her body. Not much, just enough to remind her that they would eventually get out of this room. She curled up next to Carly and wrapped her arms around her. “I’m going to make this better, Charlotte. I’m here to help you.” She let herself drift on a wave of sadness, unable to maintain her strength any longer.
It felt like only a few minutes and several days all at once when the door finally cracked open from the outside. Davey could no longer feel the tips of her fingers or the end of her nose. Carly shivered under her arm as the two girls made their way out of the room. Their bags lay on the ground outside the door. Not a sole wandered the poorly lit hallway. Once out of the room, Davey began to feel the weight that had pressed against her in the detention room lifting. The hallway felt almost warm after the frigid temperature they’re endured for the last two hours. She rifled through her bag quickly, pulled out her sweater, and tucked it around her friend’s shoulders. Carly needed it so much more than she did.
When they got to the top of the stairs, Davey felt her mood change instantly. Warmth flooded over her body and the depression and sadness rushed away. She adjusted the bag on her shoulder and turned to Carly. Her friend was still shaking, but not as violently as she had been down below. The hollows beneath her eyes were deeper than before, a more predominant purple.
“Do you want to come back to my place? We can talk somewhere where I don’t feel like killing myself.” Davey joked.
“That place exists?” Carly mumbled, half under her breath.
“Carly! Are you serious?” Davey took the girls tiny shoulders in her hands and forced her to look up.
“Of course not, Davey.” Carly shook off the hands. “It’s just… it’s harder after a sentencing. Especially a long one.”
“Come over to my place. We’ll eat supper and catch up on the last several years. You have to tell me everything.”
“I’m not really hungry. Are you?” Carly rubbed her concave stomach through the double layer of sweaters.
“Now that you mention it, I’m not.” Davey realized that for the first time since she’d morphed into this body, she wasn’t starving. The hunger was still underlying, but not with its same fiery passion. “But you have got to eat something. You’re skin and bones.”
“I eat when I’m hungry.” Carly shrugged. “Let’s go to your place.”
“Do you need to call your parents or anything?”
“Like my parents care what I do. They haven’t really been that interested in me in the last couple years.”
The girls walked in silence. Davey no longer felt the drag of the lower level corridors, but Carly’s depression waved off her like a poison. They were a few blocks from the school when a familiar looking boy sauntered out of a bright, green house on the corner. His smile was visible even from this distance. He glanced up and down the street, and when he saw them, he quickly turned in their direction. His swagger was full of purpose. He wanted to make an impression. Wanted them to be impressed by what they saw.
“Oh great,” both girls cursed. Carly glanced over at Davey.
“You met Jett, I take it?” Carly hugged her arms around her body.
“At lunch. He’s a giant piece of…”
“Yes. Llama dung. That’s exactly what he is.”
“Ladies!” He sauntered up to them. “What are you two doing in this part of town?”
“We’re going to Davey’s, Jett. No need to get worked up. We’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
“What does it matter to you where we are?” Davey quickened her pace to keep up with Davey. Jett slipped between them, throwing an arm over either shoulder.
“This is a restricted area. Only the highest caliber need enter the Park Zone. Just because there are times you’re allowed to be here, doesn’t mean we want you. You belong in the Dry Zone. Why don’t you run along home?” His face was covered in a wide, bright smile, but his eyes were full of loathing.
“Davey shouldn’t be rejected just because she used to know me.” Carly looked like the touch of his arm was about to make her vomit, but she did nothing to get away from it.
“Damhnait here is classified by her own actions. She rejected me at lunch. She chose you over us. Therefore, she too is a restricted from the Parks.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Davey slipped out from under his arm, swatting his hand away when he tried to grab her back. She was finally feeling like herself again. “But I’m going to my home, whether it’s in the Parks or that other place, or wherever. Leave us alone, Jett.” Davey tossed her red hair over her shoulder and grabbed Carly’s arm. Her anger at the boy almost made her miss how tiny that wrist was in her hand. She pulled her friend away and marched down the street without looking back.
“This town is messed up, Carly. What happened here? It wasn’t like this the last time I was here.”
“I’ll explain everything once we get inside.” Carly glanced over her shoulder, “Let’s go quickly though. Jett is going to be angry, and he has… he can just make things difficult for both of you.” The two girls hurried down the street. The hot sun beat down on them with relentless abandon. The heat drove away the remaining tendrils of the hours in the dungeon room. Davey led the way to the hotel at the end of the city’s main street. Carly’s eyes widened when she saw where they were going.
The front of the building was gilded in gold. The engravings in the façade were intricate. You could spend hours staring at them and never find all the twists and turns. The entrance doors were two large panels of glass with the hotel’s name emblazoned across them. The doorman pulled open the doors as they approached. His nose wrinkled when he saw Carly approaching, but the stack of small silver coins Davey slipped into his palm wiped the expression from his face.
“Welcome home, Ms. Nesbitt.”
“Thanks.” Davey smiled. She wasn’t sure of his name. She’d have to ask. He wouldn’t be in her assignment files. “Can you have housekeeping send up a couple extra blankets?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded and the two girls hurried across the lobby. The carpet under their feet was plush. Not as luxurious as the carpet in The Commune but close. Davey watched as Carly took a moment to feel it squish under her feet. The doors to the elevators were hidden behind a brass lattice gate. The bellhop pulled it open for them and set their arrival floor before closing the door. The quiet bustle of the lobby cut off as the door latched. The low hum of music filled the elevator with a warm pleasantness. The thrumming sound was the same one Davey had heard that morning while she was getting her bearings.
“This is the nicest hotel in town, Davey. It’s right in the middle of the Parks.” Carly leaned against the wall, her ashy skin taking on a pinkish tone for the first time all day.
“You’re going to have to explain a lot of stuff to me, darling. I have no idea what these zones are or why I should care. I just picked a place to live. And I want to know felt like dying in that room. And why you look like a walking skeleton.” Davey raised an eyebrow as the elevator came to a smooth stop.
Inside Davey’s suite, Carly climbed into the chair in the sitting room. Her fingers danced gently along the soft fabric of the arm of the chair. In the golden light of the room, she looked even sicklier, even with the deeper colour in her skin.
“Why did you come back here, Davey? You should have stayed away. It would have been better for you. This place destroys.”
“What do you mean, Carly? What happened to you?” Davey’s hunger was back. Her stomach released an almighty growl. She wandered over to the fridge in the corner and pulled open the door. The shelves were stocked with food. “Do you want something to eat?”
“No, thank you.” Carly pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The chair seemed to swallow her small frame. Her limp hair hung next to her face, as lifeless and uninspired as the body it grew from.
“Remember when we were little girls and used to play together in that field behind your house?” Davey placed a frying pan on the stove and set strips of bacon onto the hot metal. The sizzle made her smile. “We used to run along that fence hidden in the grass and see if we could catch our shadows.”
“Yeah,” Carly smiled a distant smile, “That’s one of the few good memories I have left.”
“What happened after you fell, Carly? What brought you to this?” She waved a hand towards her friend.
“You left me.” Carly sighed, resigned, “You left me and I had no one. I was broken and wrecked and no one loved me the way you did.”
“That’s not true. Your parents loved you. Those girls. They were so mean. But you were better than them.” Davey knew that to be true. That’s why she had been sent to interfere with fate. She had been sure she was meant to allow Carly to live so that she could grow into a powerhouse. That her friend was meant to be a great leader. But now, D was having a hard time believing that this girl could ever lead anything. And now she was on the brink of death again. Once again she needed saving.
“Never let anyone hear you say that. Those girls are revered. They are the image of perfection we are all told to strive for. If anyone heard you talk down about them, you’d spend days in the cage. It’s so much worse there than detention.” Carly shivered.
Davey turned as a knock sounded at the door. Were they listening to her in her room? Did they know what she’d said? Was this someone coming to take her to Carly’s cage? She stepped up to the door and peaked through the spy hole. A woman stood in the hallway in the white garments of hotel.
“Hello?” Davey called through the ornate door.
“Housekeeping. I have the extra blankets you requested.”
Davey pulled open the door as the woman leaned over to the cart against the wall and picked up a stack of blankets. “Thank you.” Davey took the pile and handed the woman a few silver coins in return. She returned to the room, tucked the soft blue fabric around Carly’s body and poured her a glass of water.
“Okay, let’s go back.” Davey settled into the other chair, her legs curled up under her, the plate of bacon in her lap. “Tell me about what happened when you got out of the hospital.”