Today is their last day in Greece. They’re going to be here until lunch, and then they will fly back to America. Nora is going to miss Greece, but at the same time she is glad to leave. So much stuff had happened here, and she hopes that she can just go home and forget all about it. Go back to how life was like before Aaron, before Kadence, before the Boundless, before the government, before looking out the airplane window, before Kadence getting a knife, before everything.
No matter what they do, Nora never lets Annabella or Kadence out of her sight. She watches them, not letting Kadence get a chance to kill her. If that’s what she even plans on doing. Maybe she has something worse planned in mind, like torturing her to find out her secrets.
Nora shivers, and it’s not from the cold. So much is going on in her life, and it feels like someone else is in control. Like she’s just some character thought up by an author, and said author wants to make her life a living hell. Life is so unfair.
All day, nothing happens. Then, they go to the airport. Nora is positive that Kadence will get caught with the knife, but she manages to get through security with no problem. A stone sinks into her stomach as three possibilities run through her mind: it’s with her luggage, and she’ll get it later; she still has it, but somehow managed to pass security; or she decided to abandon it and not kill Annabella.
Nora gets the window seat on the plane, and Annabella and Kadence are in front of them. She has butterflies in her stomach, and she wishes this is all just some twisted dream.
“Nora, are you alright? You look a bit pale,” Brylee says.
“It’s nothing, I just didn’t get much sleep last night.” Which is true, but that’s not the only reason she feels sick to her stomach.
A flight attendant goes over the rules again, and puts extra emphasis on not opening the windows. Nora is happy to oblige.
While pretending to be asleep, Nora watches the space between the two seats in front of her. Annabella and Kadence pretty much do their own thing the whole time. At one point, Kadence offers her a jelly bean, and she accepts. She makes a sour face, then relaxes. She leans back against the headrest and closes her eyes.
When they arrive at the airport, everyone is instructed to call their parents and tell them they’ll be at the school soon. Nora can feel each second ticking by, stretching out into an infinity. Kadence doesn’t have much more time to complete her mission.
They grab their luggage, and she is jittery the whole time. It’s still dark outside, but there is a tiny bit of light that signifies the rise of the sun. Nora watches Kadence the whole time, and her gaze turns into a creepy stalker-ish stare. But she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
It happens when they are headed out toward the bus. Annabella keeps making jerky movements, and Nora worries that maybe Kadence ended up poisoning her. Then she stops right in front of the bus and turns to everyone.
Annabella pulls the red hilted knife out of a pocket in her suitcase. A collective gasp goes through the group. “We will hide no longer,” she says, but she sounds robotic. She doesn’t have the human emotion that should be there. It’s like someone is using her vocal chords, but is unable to add the ups and downs that come with human emotion. “The day will come when the the government falls. And you will all be left to suffer the consequences.”
Then she plunges the knife into her chest. Nora screams and shuts her eyes, along with most of the people around her. She hears a thump as Annabella’s body falls to the ground. Someone shouts for a doctor, another shouts for security, and people are moving around Nora. But she hears it all through a haze, like she’s drowning in the ocean and can only go down, down, down. But the ocean is not a crystal blue, it is a crimson red made of Annabella’s blood. If goes down her throat and into her lungs and she can’t breath, she can’t breath, she can’t breathe, she can’t breath.
That jelly bean. It wasn’t a jelly bean. It couldn’t have been. It must be something that allows someone to control a person. Kadence must have been doing that. Because Annabella wasn’t part of the Boundless, she was a government agent. She wouldn’t have said those things. Kadence made her say those things.
Pound pound pound. Like the steady beat of a drum. Her heart. Her heart, beating too fast. Beating too loud. Pound pound pound. Making blood flow throughout her body. Blood. Red blood. Red. Red red red.
She forces her eyes open and looks around. Kadence is standing near the back, her jaw set into a thin line. Tears prick her eyes, but it’s probably all an act.
Nora turns to Brylee, who looks just as horrified as her. Nora wraps her arms around her and squeezes tight. They stand like that, holding each other as adults swarm around them.
Out of the haze, Mrs. Franklin’s voice booms out. “Alright everyone, onto the bus. We will discuss this on the way back to the school.”
Discuss? Discuss? Like it’s another history lesson. Like it’s something that happened in the past, something that doesn’t affect them. Like Nora didn’t just see Annabella get murdered.
Students start to shuffle toward the bus. Nora and Brylee link arms and walk on together, both of them too horrified to speak. Every time Nora blinks, all she can see is red, red, red, blood red, fire red, ginger red hair, red red red, red on the ground and red on the knife and red on Annabella’s shirt and red flames licking the sky and redredred.
Kadence now sits alone. Nora is filled with rage and hatred toward her. She killed an innocent girl, just for a stupid mission from the Boundless? No. This is not okay. But who can she tell? It’s not like anyone would believe her. And she can’t confront Kadence, because then she’d know she was out there watching that night. So what can she do?
The guilt eats away at her insides. She fidgets with her braid and bites her lip, not sure what to think or what to do.
Miss Freeman begins to speak. “I know what you all saw was horrifying. We will be providing counseling at the school next week, and on our way back to school, we will be speaking with you individually about how you feel. I know it was horrifying.” Her voice shakes, and for once it sounds like she might cry. “Annabella was a sweet girl,” she says, her voice cracking. “I don’t think any of us could have guessed that she was suicidal. And her parents…” She takes a shaky breath. “We already phoned them. Please, send your regards when you have the chance. I am sorry about what you had to see.” She wipes her eyes. “Mrs. Franklin and I will now talk with you.”
The bus begins to move, and the two of them slowly make their way down the us, talking to the students. Some take longer than others. Sobs can be heard throughout the bus. Nora sits there, fidgeting with her hands. Red red red. Red blood and red hair and red smiles and red sunsets and red hands and red fires and red red red red red. Everything is red. The sky is red and her hands are red and the bus is red and that tree is red and the mountains are red and everything is red red red.
Miss Freeman finally makes her way over to them. They scoot over so she has room to sit. “How are you two doing?” she asks gently. “I know you were her roommates.” She looks tired, and Nora wonders how many people she had to listen to.
Red hot rage.
“How do you think we’re doing?” Nora snaps. “We just witnessed Annabella kill herself! Plunge a knife right through her heart! And you have the guts to ask how we’re doing? As if we had the flu over the weekend, and now you’re asking if we feel better. No, it’s not okay! It will never be okay! No amount of talking or therapy will change that! And don’t start asking us if we saw signs of depression. No, we didn’t! Because she wasn’t suicidal! She was murdered! Kadence murdered her!”
She falls silent, and that’s when she realizes everyone is watching her. Just another redhead, having a temper tantrum. This makes her anger flare up even higher. “What are you all staring at?”
“Nora, dear, calm down,” Miss Freeman says gently.
“Calm down!? No, I will not calm down!”
“Nora, I understand you are upset. But don’t go blaming your classmates.”
“No! She killed her! I saw her with someone yesterday! She gave Kadence the knife, the very one that Annabella had! And somehow, somehow, somehow she got Annabella to kill herself! I saw it! I saw the whole thing.”
“Nora!” she says, more stern this time. “Snap out of it. Annabella killed herself, and you have to accept that. Now stop blaming Kadence.” She turns to Brylee, her voice soft. “How are you doing, dear?”
Brylee just looks out the window. Miss Freeman takes one last look at me. “Do you want me to get you some medicine?”
“I don’t want your filthy drugs,” Nora growls.
Miss Freeman gets up and moves on to Kadence. She talks quietly with her, and Nora is positive she can hear the words “Nora” and “upset” and “you weren’t to blame”. Nora huffs and crosses her arms. Brylee gives her a look, like she doesn’t know who she is. And maybe she doesn’t.
Nora suddenly wants to curl up into a ball and cry. God, when did life get so complicated?
The fire. The fire is what started it all. That damn fire that killed her parents. Before that, her life was sweet bliss. Now she’s been brought to the stone depths of hell, and Life is holding a pickaxe, ready to dig her into a deeper hole.
It’s all Bria’s fault. Bria and the stupid Boundless. She set the fire that killed her parents. The Boundless ordered Kadence to kill Annabella.
If she was unsure about being a double agent, she is sure now. The Boundless are sick, twisted people that think they can change the world. Well, they can’t. The world is messed up enough as it is, and if they start an uprising, it’s just going to make everything worse.
They arrive at the school. The teachers have a meeting with all the parents and explain to them everything what happened. Some look horrified, some looked grief-stricken, some look downright angry that the school would let something like this happen. Miss Freeman begs that they wait until Monday to bring forth anything that they want to say, and that they do it in person and not over the phone. Then the parents are excused to meet with their students.
Herald pulls away from the crowd and makes eye contact with Nora. She rushes over to him and buries her face in his chest. His big, strong arms wrap around her. He still smells a little bit like ash, from working as a firefighter, but it doesn’t bring back any memories. It’s the smell of Herald, not the smell of deadly fire.
He was actually the one who found her. The fire was eventually reported, and the firefighters came racing to the house. It was already burned down, however, but they were looking, hoping, for survivors.
Nora was hiding. After what happened, she didn’t trust anyone. A few firefighters went around, calling out. Herald was one of the ones looking. They were about to leave when he decided to look back one last time. He saw Nora peeking her head out of her hiding spot.
She begins to cry. It’s all too much for her to bare. After a few minutes, he gently leads her over to his car. She sits in shotgun, and they drive home in silence. When they get home, Nora goes right up to her room and burrows under the covers. Maybe she can hibernate like a bear, and just stay here until winter is over. Then she’ll awake in spring, fresh and new, and everything will be forgotten.
Through her sheets, she can hear Herald and Jenna talking downstairs. About an hour or two later, someone knocks on the door. “Hey,” Jenna says. She walks in and sits on the edge of the bed. “I uh, I made you some soup. Turkey dumpling, your favorite.”
Nora peeks her head out from under her covers. Sure enough, Jenna holds a steaming bowl of soup in her hands. Nora sits up and takes the bowl from her. She watches the oily bubbles move around as she blows on it.
After she takes a few bites, Jenna asks, “Do you want to talk about it at all?”
Yes. So much. Nora wants to pour out everything that happened. Everything she is feeling. She wants to tell her about Kadence, and what she did. But what would Jenna say? She probably wouldn’t believe her. But she needs to tell someone.
“Do you promise not to call me crazy, and to at least hear me out?” she asks.
Jenna furrows her eyebrows and nods. “Yeah, I promise. What’s up?”
“Annabella didn’t kill herself. She was murdered. I know, I know, she plunged the knife into her own chest. But that wasn’t Annabella. Annabella is sweet and kind and not at all depressed. So… something happened. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because of… other reasons. Then I heard Kadence get up and leave the room. I decided to follow her.
“When I went outside, I saw her talking to this blonde girl who had a hood pulled over her head. Her name is Hazel, apparently. So they were talking. And Hazel gave Kadence this knife, this red hilted knife. The same one Annabella used to kill herself. Kadence put it into her coat pocket, and they talked about how she’s going to kill Annabella. Something about her having information, and they don’t want to her make it to America to be able to share it.” I leave out the part about them being part of the Boundless and Annabella probably being part of the government.
“So, the plan was set. Hazel mentioned that there was something else, and Kadence said she knew how to use it. And I left so I wouldn’t get caught. So then, on the plane, I saw Kadence give Annabella this jellybean. And I was like ‘oh, yum, a jellybean’. But then Annabella started to act weird. Then when we got outside… that all happened. But when Annabella talked… she sounded like a robot. Like someone was… controlling her vocal chords. I think that wasn’t a jellybean, and that it was something else.”
Nora shakes her head. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s all true. I know you probably think I’m insane. Go ahead, laugh at me. Tell me it’s all fake. Assure me it’s something else. Go ahead.”
Jenna is silent for a moment. Then, slowly, she says, “I get it. I know what you’re talking about.”
Nora is startled. “What? You do?”
She nods. “My father was in the war, as you know. He used to tell me stories about the times he had. One of the stories he told me was… disturbing, I guess. He told me how he and his crew were fighting against a group of Russians. They were shooting and all that, and then suddenly, the Russians stopped moving for a second. They, they turned and started firing at each other.” Nora’s eyes widen, and she takes another bite of soup.
“My father later found out what happened. A new serum, chemical, whatever you want to call it was injected into the food they had that morning. It was a test run, to see if it would work. And it did. You see, the serum or whatever allowed someone to control their actions. A bunch of scientific junk that makes it work. That invention was one of the tide turners of the war. It sounds similar to what you were saying happened with the jelly bean. But, the only thing is, after the war, if became highly classified, and is supposed to only be used during war. So I don’t know how she could have gotten her hands on it.”
Because she’s part of the Boundless. But of course, Nora doesn’t say that. She takes another bite of soup, thinking. “So… what should we do about it? Should we turn her in?”
Jenna thinks for a moment. “I don’t know. There really isn’t a way to prove that she was put under the serum, and it would be hard to find evidence that it was Kadence who did it and not someone else. I’m sorry, Nora, but I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”
“But, Jenna, that means she got away with murder!”
“I know. It’s not right, but that’s the way the world is. But trust me, she will pay for what she did. Someday.” She gives Nora a smile before leaving.
Nora sits there, quietly eating her soup. Kadence got away with murder. She got away with murder. She’s gotta do something about it. Somehow, she will find a way to make her pay.
She spends most of the day in her room. That is, until Brylee texts her at 6:00pm. I’m waiting outside. We’ve gotta talk.
Confused, Nora grabs her things and goes downstairs. “Brylee’s outside, and I’m gonna hang with her for a bit,” she tells Jenna.
“Oh, okay then. Have fun!”
Nora goes out the front door. Brylee is waiting on the front porch. “How about we go for a walk?” she suggests.
They begin to walk, the cool evening air encircling them. Nora can feel the tension hanging in the air, almost palpable. She wants to say something, anything, but doesn’t know what to say or how to say it.
Finally, Nora says, “Annabella didn’t really kill herself.” When Brylee gives her a skeptical look, she explains what happened, and what Jenna said about it.
When she’s done talking, Brylee thinks about it for a moment. Then she says, “That is really, really messed up. But… the Boundless told her to do that?” Nora nods. “You know what, she kind of deserves it. For being part of the government and all.”
Nora is shocked. Brylee just said that it’s okay Annabella died. Because she’s part of the government.
She decides that Brylee can never, ever find out about her being a spy. Well, she’s almost a spy. They haven’t come to talk to her yet, but when they do, she will be able to spy on the Boundless.
“So you’re excusing murder… because she was part of the government?”
“It sounds bad when you say it like that. But… yeah, basically.”
Nora falls into an angry silence. Brylee, her best friend, is okay with Kadence getting away with murder. And not just murder, but the murder of a FIFTEEN YEAR OLD!
Brylee has become a stranger.
Something in her ear crackles. Then, a voice comes over the little device in her ear. “Nora, Brylee. Meet us at Baxter Park at midnight tonight. Sorry about the short notice,” an unfamiliar voice says.
Brylee taps her ear and replies, “I’ll be there.”
Nora taps hers and adds, “Me too.” Then she taps it again and turns to Brylee. “We should head back, and then sneak out later tonight.”
How does Nora expect herself to gather with a group of rebels after what happened to Annabella? And how Brylee reacted? They walk in silence, and Nora can’t help but feel like an invisible barrier has been placed between her and Brylee. Her best friend.
She lays in bed, staring at the ceiling. Time crawls by, and every time she checks the clock it’s only been a minute or two. Finally, at 11:30, she gets out of bed. She opens her window carefully and climbs onto the branch of the tree outside her window. She’s only done this one other time, and that was when she got grounded and Brylee brought her doughnuts. So yeah, this is her first time sneaking out.
As she nears the park, she checks the time. 11:57. Ahead of her, people in dark clothes mill about. The swings creak, adding an eerie sense to it all. Seems like something straight out of one of those cheesy, horribly written horror movies. She joins the crowd and doesn’t bother looking for Brylee. But Brylee finds her. She moves through the crowd until she is standing right next to Nora.
At exactly midnight, two people stand on one of the park benches. One of them is a guy, around 32 years old. He has light blonde hair that shines in the moonlight. His light brown eyes appear lifeless and cold. The other person is a girl, no older than ten. Odd, she is standing in front of all these people at such a young age. Is she one of the leaders? Her black hair is pulled into a ponytail, and her skin is the color of tawny brown. People of color are rare in America, since a lot of those people were kicked out as World War four began.
“Thank you all for gathering here on such short notice,” the girl says. Her voice is strong and bold, carrying across the group of about thirty people. “All of you here have been recruited within the last month. I am Yadira, and this is Felix. We are the leaders of this area, and have direct contact to the people in charge. Today, we will be deciding what positions you will be holding among the Boundless. Before we begin, are there any questions about the Boundless?”
A boy, around nineteen years old, asks, “Why is someone young like you in charge?”
Yadira gets off the table and walks up to the boy. She looks up at him, and in a quiet yet resonating voice, she says, “I don’t know who the hell you are, but if you decide to question the authority, you don’t have to be part of us. I am in charge because I worked my butt off to get where I am. So you can either be part of us, or you can be part of the government. Which do you choose?”
She sounds like someone from the government. Don’t question the authority. They think they’re different, that they can change the world, but deep down, they’re human just like the rest of us. And they are just as flawed.
“I’m sorry Yadira. I shouldn’t have disrespected you like that,” the boy says.
“Thank you. Now, we’ve already assigned jobs for a few of you, but the newest recruits will have to meet with us personally, since we haven’t had enough time to look into your background.” She begins to call out names. Since Nora just got recruited, she is sure she will have to meet with them one on one. Which is why she’s surprised when Yadira calls her name.
After exchanging a look with Brylee, she goes up to her, slightly confused. Yadira gives her a smile. “So, you’re the famous Nora Tenebris.”
“Um, I’m not famous.”
“Maybe not, but I’ve heard of you. Your parents were Arielle and Kelton, government officials. I’m glad you decided to join us.” She looks down at the clipboard in her hand. “Alrighty, so based on your history, we’re having you be a Scout. That means that when we want to infiltrate a base or something, you scout ahead to count guards, look for entrances, etc. You might also be working with some of the older Scouts to find blueprints, maps, guard shifts, that kind of thing. Sound good?”
“Um, yeah, that’d be great.” That will probably be perfect, because the government can use that to manipulate the results the Boundless get. At least, she hopes that’s the case.
She heads back over to Brylee. “What’d you get?” she asks.
“Ooh, that sounds fun. I wonder what I’ll get.” A few minutes later, the remaining people are called up. They talk with Yadira and Felix individually before being sent on their way. Brylee comes skipping back, beaming with happiness.
“They’re going to make me a Captain! It will be a small group at first, but she’s going to let me give those people orders! I mean, I’d get my orders for what to tell them from someone else, but I will actually be able to be part of the action! It will take some training, but I’m up for it.”
“Good for you Brylee! You deserve it.”
Then, they can hear the sound of sirens. They are awfully close, and seem to be getting closer.
“Scram!” Felix shouts. Suddenly everyone is moving in opposite directions. They disperse into the night like shadows.
“Let’s go,” Brylee says, grabbing Nora’s wrist and yanking her away. They stumble through the park, and once they reach a street, start running. They go their separate ways, and by the time she is on her street, Nora slows down to a walk.
They could’ve been caught, and that would have been bad. She kind of half hopes that everyone got out safely, but at the same time she hopes at least one person got caught so that they can pay for their crimes.
She climbs back up the tree and into her room. She gets her pajamas on and goes to sleep.