“Guess what we’re doing now?” Davey skipped along the sidewalk in front of Carly after they’d left the bakery.
“What?” Carly wouldn’t play the game, but she looked less anxious than she had the previous day. Maybe non-school days were easier on her. She’d even eaten half of her petit-four. It felt like progress.
“What has lots of people and marching and music and candy?”
“A Halloween football game?”
“A parade, silly.” Davey grinned and danced around her friend. “There’s one starting in ten minutes.”
“Crap.” Carly rubbed her forehead, “I didn’t realize that was today.”
“What? The parade?” Davey twirled around, feeling her skirt twisting around her legs.
“You’ve noticed the posters and banners and stuff around town?” Carly pointed to the long burgundy and grey banner hanging from the lamppost. Davey had noticed the added decoration, but assumed it was just part of the parade.
“Does that mean somethign?”
“It’s Dedication Day.” Carly chewed on her lower lip.
“It’s the day the town celebrates the Fenton. Well, the Parks celebrate the Fenton. Dries are allowed, but this celebration isn’t about us.” Carly followed Davey to a patch of grass under a row of trees. They settled into a sitting position and watched as people gathered along the sides of the main road. “I don’t think this is the type of parade you’re expecting.”
“Parades are happy. You just don’t know it yet, Carly!” Davey leaned back against the tree and patted her friend’s knee “Just wait. You’ve never been to a parade with me before.”
The atmosphere in the crowd surrounding them was excited. People were congregating together. Groups of girls stood giggled and gossiped. Groups of teenage boys teased them and dashed away. From here, Davey could see Joy and her friends gathering near the corner across from the bakery. Each held a stick with a golden brown ball stuck in the end.
“What the hell are they eating?” She squinted.
“Carmel apples.” Carly looked at her skeptically. “You’ve never had one? But you eat everything.”
“Everything tastes so delicious! What’s a caramel apple?”
“It’s an apple and it’s covered in caramel.” Carly said slowly, almost smirking.
“I have to try that! Where would I find one?”
“There’s a cart over there that sells them.” Carly nodded towards a small-wheeled cart set up on the corner a block away.
“I’m totally going to get one. Are you okay to stay here or do you want to come with?”
“I’ll stay here. I don’t want to get any closer to Joy than I have to.”
“I’ll be right back.” Davey jumped up and skipped down the street, ducking between happy smiling people. In less than a minute, she was standing in the ridiculously long line for the cart. She waited impatiently, bouncing on her toes until she was standing in front of a man wearing a crimson and black striped uniform. His long black mustache was waxed into a curl that made his smile seem even wider. His white teeth glowed.
“Hello, pretty girl. What can I get you?” His voice was full of laughter.
“Oh my…” Davey stared at the row of apples behind the glass. Some were just caramel, others had coloured toppings or tiny marshmallows embedded in the thick toffee. “I’ve never had one before. Which one is the very best one?”
“You’ve never tried a caramel apple? Oh you poor, poor girl. You need to try a plain one to get the full experience. The other ones are good,” He leaned forward conspiratorially, “and they cost more money, but, the plain ones are the best ones. It’s their simplicity that makes them perfect.”
“Thank you!” Davey took the end of the stick and the stack of napkins he handed her. She placed a few coins in his palm and stared at the glistening coating that surrounded the round orb. She couldn’t wait to bite into it. When she skipped back to the spot where she’d left Carly, she found the grass clearing empty.
“Carly?” She called, looking at the crowd beginning to gather just down the street. “Carly?”
“Over here.” She heard a small voice call from behind a tree a few feet away.
“What are you doing?” Davey sauntered over to find Carly hidden behind the tree. Cowering behind the thick trunk, she looked like a kid trying to get out of trouble. Like the last thing she wanted was be surrounded by people.
“Jett’s over there.” Carly jutted her chin. “Hiding seemed like the thing to do.” Davey glanced over to see Jett and his friends showing off on the other side of the street. Joy and her girls pretending to be annoyed from their position further down the street. Jett swung away from the group and grabbed Joy by the waist. He pulled her into a laughing embrace.
“I guess Joy got what she wanted, didn’t she?” Davey crinkled her nose in disgust. “Now, get out from behind that tree. You’re not allowed to hide. You’ll miss the parade.” Davey finally sunk her teeth into the caramel apple, surprised by the resistance of the sticky coating.
“Yeah, that would be a shame.” Carly sighed, chewing on her thumb.
As if cued by their conversation, a deep, thundering rumble began. The strong, rhythmic thrumming seemed to echo off everything, emanating from speakers hidden in the tree branches.
“What is that?” Davey looked down the street, mimicking the expectant expressions of the other Parks residents.
“Just wait.” Carly slumped back against the tree. Curling into herself. The happy moments from earlier in the day washed away.
The thumping grew louder. And closer. Soon the sounds from the speakers changed to a low drumbeat and an underlying series of brass instruments. The music accompanied the stamping. People in the crowd began to cheer. Everyone was clapping and jumping. Everyone except Carly and Davey.
A row of men appeared around a bend in the road. Five across in the matching uniforms of the Fenton guards exactly like the one Davey had seen the night before, except grey. Their feet slammed against the pavement in perfectly synchronous movements. Their arms swung at their sides. As they advanced, another row appeared behind them. And another. And another. Davey watched as more and more rows of soldiers appeared, marching in perfect unison. Their masks covered their faces, but Davey doubted there would be any emotions present even if they were visible. The uniformity of it should have bothered her, but once again she was reminded of how similar these soldiers were to her natural form. The grey uniforms eventually gave way to burgundy ones. They looked the same, but the soldiers stood taller and carried long black stalks that rested on their shoulders.
“What are they carrying?” Davey muttered absentmindedly, squinting at the sticks as she pulled another bite from the apple, feeling the caramel drip down her throat. She stepped closer to the curb looking at the soldiers. The sticks were about three inches around and completely smooth except for two small stubs sticking out each end.
“Shockwaves.” Carly’s mumbled from where she’d slumped to the ground, back against the tree, digging at her cuticles.
“What’s that?” Davey knew she was letting her curiosity get the better of her, but she couldn’t help it. The Masters’ directive to stay away from the Fenton just made her want to know more. She kneeled down to hear her friend better.
“When people really disobey,” Carly kept her voice low, covered by the thumping boots, “Or when the soldiers can’t get a situation under control, The Waves get involved. Those sticks stop people in their tracks. The little knobs press into your skin and send a wave akin to a sonic boom through your body. It’s like having your soul shoved out of your body. It immobilizes you for days. All it take is one little touch and you’re out.” Carly glanced towards the street. “Oh, you won’t want to miss this. It’s the grand finale.”
Davey stood up and watched as a large, black platform rolled around the corner. In the middle of it stood a large, round glass case. It looked like a giant bird cage. The top was made of a black metal sculpture. The inside of the case was full of a thick swirling mist. The crowd’s cheers increased as the float came into full view. The cries were almost frenzied. Davey could feel herself staring at the mist as it swirled. Feel herself being pulled towards it. A warmth filled her body. A warmth and a feeling of power. She felt like everything in her life was right. Was perfect. And that it was all thanks to the people in this parade.
When she finally blinked and shook herself out of the unexpected stupor, she found herself clapping along with the rest of the crowd. Her apple bobbing at the end of its stick with the rhythmic motion of her hands. The mist was doing something, she was sure of it. It continued to pull at her. She allowed her gaze to focus on the swirling again, but this time, D shook herself out of Davey’s head, out of the persona she was living, and put herself back into her own thoughts. She was used to looking into smoke like this. Used to looking below the surface to get the hidden message when she received her engagements.
She squinted and looked deeply into the mist, ignoring the way it pulled at her psyche. And then she saw it, what no one else seemed to be able to see. Hanging in the middle of the cage, was the slack, terrifying body of the boy she’d seen in the basement yesterday. His arms above his head, holding him in place. The bones of his ribcage pushed against the thin, weakened skin. The mist seemed to be coming from his body. Like it was being pulled from beneath his skin.
“Carly. Do you see that?”
“Yes, it’s magnificent. It’s the hub of all things holy and good. We thank the universe for the gift of the Fenton. Ooo, awe, pretty, pretty smoke.” Carly replied stone faced.
“No, beyond the mist.” Davey pulled her friend to her feet. “Can’t you see it?”
“See what, Davey? It looks like this every year. It’s a big swirling tub of nothingness.” Carly pushed Davey’s hand down. “And don’t point like that. Don’t draw anyone’s attention.”
“You honestly don’t see him?”
“See who? Davey, what are you talking about?”
“In the middle of the mist,” Davey lowered her voice and inched closer to Carly, “if you can look beyond it. You’ll see him. The kid from the basement.”
“Morrison?” Carly looked closer. Her eyes began to glaze the longer she stared. Her focus was completely engrossed on the glass pillar. As it moved in front of them, Davey stared at the crowd. Morrison was so clear to her. His emaciated, horrifying body fueling the mist. But no one else seemed to notice it. They all just watched and cheered and festered in anticipation. Even Carly was starting to lean forward, more than the other attendees. They were cheering. She was fading.
As the float pulled ahead of them and started to move away, a large black chair attached to the back of the platform came into view. The chair butted against the glass. The figure sitting in it was large. Wearing the uniform of the soldiers, but in a deeper burgundy with black piping, the body filled the entire chair, head resting peacefully against the towering headrest. The crowd went insane. The cheering became revelry. People rushing into the street to follow, crying cheers of reverence and adoration. The person in the chair lifted a hand in recognition. A fine white dust flew from the ends of the gloves and settled over the crowd. No one seemed to notice.
Davey glanced around, pulling Carly back from the stupor she’s fallen into. The sticky, half eaten orb of candy fell from Davey’s fingers, forgotten. Carly’s body yielded easily and lost its muscle tension as it was pulled away from the grip of the surreal parade. The head of the figure tilted slightly, like it was watching her. Davey settled back into the flow of the parade, remembering Carly’s warning not to make herself a target. She moved along with the fluid motion of the crowd, carrying Carly with her, slowly falling further and further behind as the crowd pushed forward.
When the parade turned a corner ahead of them, and the super soldier and tortured Morrison disappeared from view, Davey pulled Carly out of the crowd and onto a side street. The shadows of the alley hid them as the rest of the celebrating crowd passed by. Davey hurried Carly down the alley until they escaped out the other end. The sounds of the festival still hung in the air, but not as loud and encompassing as when they were in the crowd.
They rushed down the street, well Davey rushed, Carly dragged, even more unaware than normal. The hotel was only a few blocks away. She carried Carly most of the way. When they got to the corner beside the hotel, she shook her friend, trying to bring her back to reality.
“Carly. Carly, come on.” She shook her friend’s shoulders.
“Hmmm? What?” Carly glanced at her vacantly.
“Snap out of it. What’s wrong with you?”
“Where are we?”
“We’re at the hotel. Can you at least pretend to act normal until we get in the elevator?”
“I can try.” Carly shook her head to wake herself up, “I feel weird, Davey.”
“I know. I know you do, but we can’t let anyone know that something wrong. You have to try.”
“I can do it.” Carly rubbed her hands against her arms. “I’m so cold.”
“Let’s get inside and get you warmed up.”
The two girls nodded to the doorman as he opened the large double doors for them. Carly stiffened her back and looked almost normal as she made her way to the elevators. She even maintained her composure through the ride and into the room, but as soon as the door closed behind them, she collapsed against the wall.
“What the hell happened, Carly?” Davey took her arm and led her towards the bed. She grabbed the blanket still thrown over the chair from the day before and draped it over the small girl’s body.
“I don’t know, Davey. I’ve experienced some pretty horrible stuff before, but nothing like this. It felt… I felt like every particle of my being was tearing apart. Like I was being deconstructed molecule by molecule. Not like I was just losing my happiness, but like I was losing everything. Every memory and thought that had ever been my own. Like I was becoming nothing. It was worse than the Cage.”
“How come it didn’t affect anyone else the same way it affected you? Everyone else seemed to be so excited.”
“I don’t know,” Carly pulled the covers under her chin, tucking into herself. “I’ve never heard anyone talk about anything like this before, but Dries don’t normally come to the parade. We have nothing to celebrate about the Fenton.”
“That must be it then.” Davey mumbled to herself, beginning to form a theory but nothing substantial enough to put into words. Something was very, very wrong on this planet. She turned to Carly to ask her more questions, but the girl’s eyes were closed. Asleep, she looked peaceful for the first time ever.