After visiting an art museum and having dinner, they finally arrive back at the hotel. Everyone is exhausted as they trudge to their rooms. Annabella unlocks the door, and everyone files in.
“I claim first shower!” Nora shouts.
“I claim second!” Brylee says.
“Third!” Annabella says.
“You guys will just take all the hot water. I’ll skip,” Kadence remarks.
Nora grabs her pajamas out of her suitcase and steps into the bathroom. Thankfully, the shower is up to date. She takes her clothes off before opening the glass door and stepping into the tank. She presses a button, and water rains down on her. Then the robotic arms begin to wash her hair, making sure to clean off all the grim. Jets of soapy water stream out of the sides, and another mechanical arm scrubs her down.
When she was little, she hated the idea of a shower. It seemed scary to her, all the water swirling around her. She always feared that she would end up drowning. Now, however, she is completely used to it. Besides, it wouldn’t make sense to be scared of both water and fire. Yeah, she loved the idea of showers after the fire that killed her parents.
The whole thing only takes about three minutes. She steps out of the shower and begins to dry off. She wraps her hair into the towel, and just as she’s gotten her pajamas on, someone knocks on the door. “Nora, come see this.” It’s Kadence.
Nora opens the door and joins everyone else by the beds. They’re all staring slack-jawed at the TV.
“…anonymous call tipped off the police. Most members of this group of people have been found, but a few of them have managed to slip through our fingers.” On the screen is an image of a group of people surrounded by police cars. At first Nora doesn’t recognize them, but then she sees the little girl. The one who looked at her at the Ruins.
It all comes crashing down. They were arrested. An anonymous call. Miss Freeman and Mrs. Franklin talking to one another. The looks on their faces when they heard the tune. A poor, innocent child is among them, and she is going to get sent away just for obeying her mother.
“That tune,” Kadence says quietly. “That tune is a sign of rebellion. That’s why they were arrested.”
Nora stumbles back into the bathroom. She takes her hair out of the towel. It hangs in wet, dark red curls around her face. She begins to brush it out, all the while thinking about what she saw.
By the time Brylee is in the shower, the TV has been turned off. Annabella is scrolling through her phone, and Kadence is reading, mouthing words silently. Nora takes out her camera and begins to look through the pictures she took today.
“Why do you have one of those old cameras?” Annabella asks. “Instead of the newer ones with better quality.”
Nora shrugs. “Those ones are just little squares that take the pictures with the slightest tap. For this one, I get to play around with the focus, and I have to decide when I want to take the picture.”
“Hm. I just use my phone. It’s not as heavy.”
They fall silent. Only the sound of running water and turning pages can be heard. Kadence murmurs something under her breath before looking up at Nora. “Puto te bellus.”
Nora furrows her eyebrows. “What does that mean?”
Kadence shakes her head. “Nothing, nothing, I’m just practising.” Heat creeps onto her cheeks, and she practically burns a hole through her book with her stare.
Brylee comes out of the bathroom. “Your turn Annabella.”
Nora puts her camera away and burrows under the covers. A few minutes later, Annabella comes out, and all lights get turned off. Nora drifts off to sleep.
She is running. In the woods. She can feel the heat of the fire behind her. She keeps running, trying to escape. Someone is chasing her, and she knows who that someone is, because she was the one who killed her parents. She grabs Nora by the collar and turns her around. Fire in her hair and fire in her eyes, framed by the flames of the house.
Nora sits bolt upright, her hand covering her mouth. Hot tears stream down her face. Not this again. Not this again. She can’t have another episode. Not now. Not ever, preferably. God, why did it have to be now?
She shakily gets to her feet, her hand still firmly pressed against her mouth to keep herself from screaming. She stumbles to the bathroom, feeling her way so as not to run into anything. She finally finds the door knob and opens the door.
“Hello?” a soft voice asks.
Nora nearly jumps out of her skin. She removes her hand from her mouth. “It’s Nora.”
“Oh. Come in and close the door.”
Nora does, and then turns on the light. She blinks rapidly, and then looks around. Kadence is sitting on the floor by the sink, her face wet with tears. She forces a small smile. “Did you have nightmares too?”
Nora nods and sits down across from her. “I didn’t realize you weren’t in bed.”
She wipes her eyes. “Nightmares tend to make you forget to analyze the world around you.”
They fall into silence. Nora grabs a tissue and blows her nose. She then grabs another one and wipes her eyes, but new tears just replace the old ones.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Kadence asks quietly.
Nora shrugs. “I’m just having a PTSD episode. Normally it comes in the form of nightmares, but sometimes fi… this one thing reminds me of… and I freak out.” She sniffs and wipes her eyes. “You know what, I might as well tell you. I’m an orphan, because both my parents died in a fire when I was five years old. I was there, and I escaped. So fire… I have pyrophobia, and sometimes even the candles on a cake will set me off. Some days I’m totally fine, but others…” She takes a shaky breath. “And the fire wasn’t an accident. Someone burned the house on purpose. And I keep…” She chokes on her words. “I keep seeing her in my dreams.”
Tentatively, Kadence reaches out and holds her hand. “Hey, it’ll be alright. I know how you feel, sort of. I’m not trying to compare my experience to yours. You see… you have to promise not to tell anyone about this. I haven’t told a soul.”
“I wasn’t born in the US like the rest of you. My family is from northern Canada. Somehow, my father was able to make it seem like we had lived in Alaska the whole time. He had help from some people. Then, once we physically started living in Alaska for a year, we moved to Colorado.
“But… something happened. My father was caught by some secret organization that the government has. They took him away. He told them that my mother and I had died, and… they believed him. I remember…” She chokes up, and has to stop for a moment. When she speaks again, her voice is broken. “I remember them coming and taking him away. My mother and I were hiding. They were all wearing black suits and black pants, and they were all wearing these weird purple sunglasses. And I keep dreaming…. I keep imagining them coming to take me.”
Nora pulls her in for a hug. They sit like that for what feels like hours. Finally, Kadence pulls away. “We should probably get some rest. Big day tomorrow.”
Both of them stand up. Nora turns off the light before they both sneak back into bed. The blankets are cold, but it helps keep the fire out of Nora’s mind.
She awakens to a knock at the door. “Wake up everyone!” It’s one of the teachers, but her voice is too distorted to figure out who it was. Nora groans and sits up. The clock reads 6:00 am. She slept surprisingly well, considering the nightmares and the time change.
She gets out of bed and rummages through her suitcase for warm clothes. The other girls move about, getting ready. Nora glances up and catches Kadence’s eye. They exchange a small smile before going back to what they were doing.
Nora heads into the bathroom and changes. She then examines herself in the mirror, trying to decide how to do her hair. She ends up just brushing it out and braiding it.
“Does anyone know where we’re going for breakfast?” Annabella asks.
“I think we’re going to some place called Zulio’s,” Nora replies as she walks out of the bathroom.
“Just out of curiosity,” Kadence says, “do you braid your own hair, or do you have the braider do it?” The braider is a machine that came out in the late 2000s that automatically braids your hair in any style you want.
“I do it myself,” Nora replies. She doesn’t mention that her mother taught her how to do it when she was a little kid.
A knock comes at the door. “Are you girls almost ready?”
“We’ll be out in a few minutes!” Brylee responds. She adjusts her favorite paint stained army sweater before saying, “I’m going to head out. She you slow pokes out there!”
“I’m coming too!” Annabella exclaims. They both walk out, leaving Kadence and Nora alone.
“I know what you saw outside the plane window,” Kadence says.
Nora takes a step back and pretends to be clueless. “What do you mean?”
“Come on Nora, I saw you and Brylee look. Don’t worry, I won’t tell. I’ve seen what’s out there, when my family took a trip to Rome. And I know that you’re questioning what you saw.”
Nora looks down. “Yeah, I kinda am. I want to trust the government, but… that just seems… off.”
“I get it. There are a lot of things about the government that are corrupt. And I know someone who is going to stop it.”
“What do you mean?”
Kadence looks up at the walls. She then motions for her to go into the bathroom. Curious, Nora follows.
“This is the only place here that doesn’t have cameras,” she says in a quiet voice. “There’s this girl, she’s the leader of a rebellion. A rebellion that is going to overthrow the government and free all those enslaved people you saw. During lunch today, we’re going back to the place we were yesterday. I’m meeting her to talk about a few things, and I was wondering if you wanted to come. You could bring Brylee too, if you want.”
Nora takes a moment to process this information. “I’ll go. See what it’s about. Then I’ll decide if I want to join.”
“Good enough for me. Now come on, let’s go.” Kadence gives her a small smile before opening the bathroom door. Nora makes sure she has her camera before following her outside.
“What took you so long?” Brylee asks. Nora just shrugs.
“Alright, do we have everyone?” Mrs. Franklin asks. She does a quick head count. “Okay. We’re going to walk to the restaurant, since it’s not to far from here. Everyone stick together, and do not wander off!”
They begin to walk. As they go along, other people stare at them. Despite being stared at all day yesterday, Nora is still not used to it. She wraps her arms around her chest and keeps her head down.
“Have you noticed that there aren’t many people on the streets?” Brylee says.
“What do you mean? It feels like a thousand eyes are staring at me.”
“I mean, I know we’re in a small part of Greece, but based on the brochure, the population is pretty big. So where are all the people?”
“Maybe it’s just early in the morning.”
“Or maybe…” She lowers her voice so that only Nora can hear. “The other people are the ones we saw on the plane.”
“Brylee, stop,” Nora says. “I’m sure they’re just at work, or maybe they’re all in another city.”
“But what if they’re not?”
Nora glances around. Then she lowers her voice. “During lunch today, we’re going to meet up with Kadence. She’s going to introduce us to someone that is part of some sort of rebellion. Maybe she’ll be able to give you answers.”
Brylee eyes widen and her mouth drops. She’s about to say something, but Nora covers her mouth. “Don’t say anything. Kadence can explain when there are less people.”
They continue walking. Finally, they arrive at the restaurant. The outside is painted white, but the paint is peeling, just like on all the other buildings. Two white columns frame the entrance, and in rusty gold letters it says Zulio’s.
All through breakfast, Nora feels disconnected. She’s lost in her imagination, wondering what this girl from the rebellion is going to say. More importantly, she’s wondering if she will decide to join them.
She kind of comes to reality when she takes a bite of something called a ‘crêpe’. It’s filled with chocolate and strawberries, and takes really sweet. The outside kind of tastes like a thin pancake.
Nora looks up at Brylee. “Is this heaven?” She laughs, but it seems to have a bitter edge to it. Clearly, this is not heaven; it is very, very much Earth. A very corrupted Earth.
As they tour various other places, Nora can’t help but ignore the information and instead focus on the world around her. She takes pictures of everything she sees, from the almost dead trees to the old, crumbling buildings. She can’t but feel like she might be that annoying tourist in movies, but at the moment, she doesn’t care. She’s too engrossed in the beauty around her to care about all the terrible things in the world.
After a few hours, the time finally comes. Nora has butterflies in her stomach, and she can’t help but fidget with her braid. Soon, she might get some answers to the questions she has been wondering.
They arrive at the complex where they went for lunch yesterday. Just as she’s getting off the bus, someone taps her shoulder. She turns around to see Alvaro. “Um, Nora, right?”
“Yeah,” she replies, the butterflies in her stomach growing. “What is it?”
He runs a hand through his hair. “Um, well, I was, uh, wondering if, uh, maybe you wanted to, um… have lunch with me?”
Nora can feel her face heat up. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Brylee and Kadence waiting for her. She clutches her camera tightly. “Alvaro, you have no idea how long I’ve waited for you to ask that. And I’d love to, really I would, but I kinda promised my friends I would hang out with them. Maybe dinner?”
He smiles. “Oh, okay, I understand. Dinner works too. So um, I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah, I hope so.”
She walks over to her friends. Brylee smiles at her and says, “He wanted to talk to you?”
“Yeah! Wanted to have lunch, but I told him I already had plans. But we’re having dinner together instead!”
Brylee squeals, which is something she does not do often.
In a curt, almost angry voice, Kadence says, “Come on, let’s go already. You can have your girl talk later.” She leads them over to the restaurant they went to yesterday. When they walk in, Orion is standing behind the counter. “Why hello again! What can I get you girls?”
“The grass looks lovely today,” Kadence says.
Orion’s face shifts. It goes from cheery to dark and solemn. “Follow me,” he says quietly. He leads them into a back room, where someone awaits them.
She turns around, and Nora stifles a gasp. She looks to be about 27 years old and wears all grey, but Nora still recognizes her. It was ten years ago, but she has seen her in her nightmares. Red in her hair and red in her eyes.
The woman who killed her parents.