Jennifer Alice Chandler

Chapter 16 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — The Train/ The Shop)

I wait until the following night to move Mark. At first I was tempted to try to move him during the day when Kurt would likely still be in school. But there seemed to be too high of a risk of running into Nan during the day. And there was no way Nan would go for my sneaking Mark into the mansion. And I have concluded that the mansion is the best place to hide Mark. Not only is my absence likely to be felt if I stay away from the school and the mansion for too long, the mansion also has plenty of space available for me to hide him in.

Mark seems to be in good enough shape for me to move him. Certainly, I doubt he will be getting much better than this anytime soon. I am gratified that at least he’s stable. Mark is particularly cooperative about my plan. And I am tremendously relieved when I am able to set him up in an empty room in the mansion, not far from my own room, seemingly without being detected.

The next order of business, I decide, is to get Mark some more supplies. I take a new train the following day after school to go into the city to get those supplies. At first, the train ride is actually pretty boring. The train clacks along to a steady beat. There is just one moment on the route where there’s darkness. That moment is rather startling. There’s nothing quite like the moment when the lights go out and you begin to wonder what would happen if they never came back on.

“How tenuous it all is.” I remark to myself.

In the paper I am reading during my journey, there’s an announcement about “Winter Aid.” Has no one ever heard of Hitler before? The circumstances are different for this version of Winter Aid. Prices are to go up, which will affect the poor and those on fixed incomes disproportionately. But those who still have money can “voluntarily” give it to the poor. Why not instead of gauging the poor beyond their means, you let them keep their money and pay for their necessities themselves? Then, they won’t have to beg to survive. Now there’s a thought.

My eyes then light upon one word in their manifesto. “Herd,” it reads. They want to herd people into the ghettos.

“Herd.” I repeat.

I have suspected for a while that they view us as chattel. But to have it staring me in the face so obviously is a bit of a shock to me all the same.

It’s probably the fact that I am hiding Mark that has me on edge, but I’m noticing how tense everything around me seems, even on a seemingly stable day. Most everyone appears to be on edge around me, even when they try to hide it underneath some of the fakest smiles I’ve ever seen.

They don’t all look scared, though. Actually, most of them don’t. Instead, it’s almost as though they’re waiting for something to happen. Is there something slated to happen that I don’t know about? Perhaps I should have researched this train before I got on it. But then how could I have possibly done that without exposing my hand?

Suddenly, a guard enters the cabin from the front compartment. I watch as most of the others passengers sit forward in their chairs with anticipation. Observing the man make his way down the aisles, glancing at each set of eyes as he passes, is sort of like being mesmerized by a snake that’s about to strike. He looks at me, but I don’t flinch. I’m too intrigued to flinch. It’s like a scenario; it just doesn’t seem real. Then suddenly, the guard whirls to his left. He turns on the man opposite me from across the aisle. He erupts in a burst of unexpected rage — at least I didn’t expect it. He pulls the man from his seat and proceeds to start pummeling and kicking him. I edge to the front of my chair. I feel a creeping compulsion to stand, but the man to my left pulls me back down wordlessly.

“I thought you might be a problem.” he later mutters under his breath. “Get used to it.”

I look at him with confusion. But just then, I am distracted by the sight of the guard pulling the man back toward the front of the train. Instantly, the room relaxes, and the people sit back in their seats. The man to my left starts to read his magazine again.

“It’s all a show.” I think.

Then, I recall the beaten man and conclude, “No, not just a show.”

It has already become a police state.

To say that I am unnerved as I exit the train would be an understatement. There is a chill in the air as I make my way from the train station to the store where I have ration privileges. True, the Instructor could have sent someone to get food for me, but he wouldn’t dream of depriving me of the experience of going to get it myself, I guess. As it turns out, it’s for the best. Now I can get things for Mark that would have aroused suspicion if I had asked Nan or Fraulein Blankenship to go get them for me. And yet, I’m keenly aware of how much danger I am in doing this myself. I may be escaping the Instructor’s notice, but I am learning there are worse things than the Instructor. So it’s hard to figure out which is worse: the Instructor inevitably suspecting that I’m up to something or the off chance I will be reported to the authorities of the elite.

I bite my lip briefly as I stand outside the door of the shop I’m intending to enter and prepare to cross the threshold. They don’t really know me here. Is it better or worse that they don’t know me? Should I get to know them or try to blend in and avoid notice?

There is a soft dinging noise from a bell as I open the door. Almost at once, faces turn in my direction. Obviously, avoiding all notice will be impossible. I force an awkward smile, which is met with cold indifference. Most of the eyes turn away and re-engage in what they were doing before — all but the eyes of the woman behind the counter, whose gaze seems fixated on me. I want to run out of there, but I resist the urge. If I do that, I can never come back. And the Instructor will insist that I come back eventually. I brace myself … I can do this! I don’t have to buy anything particularly suspicious. I’ll just take my time, buy what’s essential, and then leave. She knows nothing. She may think she’s made out a target in me, but I’ll prove her wrong.

I force the smuggest look on my face that I can muster and proceed to walk toward the aisles as though I own them.

“Can I help you?” I hear a rather shrill voice ask me suddenly.

I brace myself again then whirl around toward her. I know it is the woman from before … from behind the counter. I know it.

“Yes.” I sneer. “If my onkel happened to leave a list of things I should pick up here that is.”

The woman blinks first. That’s good, I figure.

“Your onkel?”

“Yes.”

I give her his assumed name.

“I don’t think …”

She rifles through some papers on the counter. She then eyes me with suspicion. She is trying to get the upper hand; I won’t let her.

“Are you sure …?” she begins accusingly.

“Of course I am.” I respond. “About him telling me to come here. I’m supposed to get my supplies here from now on. I have my vouchers.”

I pull the neatly rolled up vouchers from my bag. That seems to give me some credibility.

“I hate to go all the way back with nothing.” I bemoan. I look around me. “Then again, if I got a few things that I know are needed …”

I step aside out of the way of a customer who is waiting behind me. Then, I proceed back to my business of searching out items on my own. Though I try to look as nonchalant as possible, I am careful not to look back at the woman. I’m afraid my bravado won’t last.

As I scan the items with my eyes, I see it. Oh! The dreaded ersatz has reared its ugly head again. What is this stuff anyway? Does it have any nutritional value? It’s now the only “food” most people can afford. There is a top tier of food — made the way food used to be produced — now labeled as a specialty product, so that people will pay the higher prices, assuming they can, without balking. The food that used to be reasonably priced at around cost is being removed from distribution. Greed being what it is, people probably weren’t making much of a profit off of that.

For a while, they actually sold food as “real.” Yes, that was its advertising pitch, I don’t know if they considered raising the prices of the “real” food for a while rather than just eliminating it altogether. Perhaps, they thought it would be too messy to let it be known that most people were being priced out of the “real” food market. It’s hard to say.

Either way, the “real” and reasonably priced food is being phased out. And all that’s left is the exorbitantly priced food only the elites can afford and the ersatz or fake food that seems to be just calories with little or no nutritional value. Of course, this ersatz serves a dual purpose. People earn a lot of money selling what amounts to little more than nothing — mostly chemicals. But it also plays into the hand of the eugenics system. The general population will be starving nutritionally while still packing on the pounds. Life expectancy can, therefore, be reduced on the cheap while people weakened by malnutrition will succumb to diseases — both contagious and otherwise. And there you have it — the perfect storm — greed and sadism.

Then, that gets me to thinking. A policy of mass starvation caused by nutritional deficiency would probably be nearly impossible when people have access to meat. But if you cut off the meat from people’s diets then add in ersatz or fake food then you have the mechanism to reduce longevity and increase vulnerability to disease. This strategy would be particularly easy to implement in inner city ghettos where access to food and health care could be tightly controlled. A eugenicist’s paradise!

I then hear the front door to the shop open. When a male voice booms out a greeting, I know this is my chance to get out of here with what I can without too many questions being asked. I grab what I can remember needing and dash for the counter. The woman behind the counter seems upset when she sees me approach. Just as I suspected, the man had been greeting her. She is fully turned toward him at this point. He likewise seems disappointed by my presence.

“Don’t mind me!” I insist while laying my load in front of her all the same.

Fortunately, my brazen attitude pays off. To pay me back for my rudeness, she opts to give me and my purchases as little attention as possible. She is obviously snubbing me. What she apparently doesn’t realize is that is exactly what I want!

Then, I sense there is a guy who has come up behind me in line. This guy may be a little too close — perhaps a little too curious. So, I step to the side to block his view of my items. Once I’m checked out, I make for the door with the bell. I try not to appear eager to leave, but I am eager all the same.

The wind outside blows cold. I take the bag of groceries in one hand, so I can pull my coat tighter with the other. Right away I question myself. Was I wrong to choose items so quickly in the end? I have this nagging feeling that I have probably forgotten something. How could I not have? I didn’t have time to think. I resist the urge to go through the items that I grabbed to see if I missed anything. That will have to wait until later when I’m alone with Mark.

I really don’t feel comfortable leaving Mark in the house for too long. What if someone discovers him? Someone like Kurt or the Instructor? Boy, does that bring back memories. And yet, I know I couldn’t have left him in that dank, dark hole he was hiding in either. There is no way I could see him recovering there — not this time of year. It is like a dungeon. At any rate, the decision has been made. Now I just have to make the best of it. I am just beginning to consider how best to sneak the supplies into the house when I hear footsteps strike the pavement behind me. I freeze inside. Should I turn around and see who it is? I can’t seem to resist the urge to look. I try to look back as casually as I can — as though I’m not troubled at all. There, on my trail, is the man who had been behind me at the counter. He looks away at first when he sees me looking back at him; that just convinces me that he is indeed following me.

What could he want? I can think of nothing that could be good for me. I look ahead of me now. I am determined to find a way out of this mess. I just have to keep my eyes open and observe. I see a group of school girls around my age not all that far ahead of me. I make the impulsive decision to move toward them. After all, in the very least the man is more likely to be intimidated about approaching me if there are witnesses around.

I start to quicken my gait. I don’t want to run and potentially unnerve the group of girls by my odd behavior. If I spook them, it might embolden my stalker to try and pull me away as he might figure they’re liable to do nothing to stop him.

I want to create the illusion that I’m one of those girls the best I can. I slow my gait when I get within a few feet of the group. Fortunately, they are so engrossed in talking to each other that they don’t seem to notice me. I cast a look back to see if the man is still there. He is. And he’s looking right at me. I look forward again. I need him to at least be distracted for a moment, so I can slip away without him noticing. Just a moment … I’ll have to wait.

“But how long do I have?” I wonder.

If the girls head somewhere I can’t go, for example, I’ll lose what little cover I have.

Fortunately, when I glance back again the man just happens to be looking at a noisy car that had just passed by me and is now passing by him. I take the moment without really thinking it through. I know instinctively that another opportunity might not come along.

I veer to my right and head down one of the paths that leads into the city park. I walk as quickly as I can … until my breath begins to shorten. I’m afraid to all out run, however. I’m afraid someone will stop me thinking I’m trying to evade the authorities. I figure it is dangerous enough at the pace I am going. After all, I am already drawing attention to myself. And yet, I know the farther I can get away from the street the less likely the man is to see me. I am relieved when I finally reach a bend in the path I am traveling on. I can at last allow myself to slow down. I’ve been hungering to take a look behind me; now, I finally can.

“So far so good.” I think. I can see no one behind me.

I walk a little farther and then look back again. Still no one. I keep repeating this process until I am fairly certain he didn’t see me enter the park. But then, he could still catch up with me, I realize. So, I quicken my pace once again — though I don’t walk as quickly as I had before.

The park is massive. It is also rather gloomy this time of year. The rain as of late has left the barren skeletal branches with a drowned appearance. Everything is twisted shades of rain-soaked gloom. Even the air, when you breathe it in, has a heaviness that hurts your lungs. This is not only from the cool dampness but also from the lingering pollution from the factories, which remain open despite the constant mentioning of the environment.

It will take awhile for me to reach the other side of the park. I remind myself to be cautious when I exit. For all I know, the man could have figured out by now that I had probably entered the park and could be waiting for me on the other side.

And who is that guy? Does he have any importance, or is he just a busybody? How can I possibly return to that store now? That guy could be dangerous. Or, he could accuse me of being up to something, which could be just as dangerous.

I start to relax a little once I realize that with my slackened pace hardly anyone is taking notice of me anymore. But then, there is the exit, and I can’t help but wonder who might be waiting for me on the other side of it. I brace myself. Just one more thing to do — just one more obstacle to overcome before I can go home to be with Mark. I blush despite myself.

Fortunately, the journey out of the park winds up being uneventful. That man from before … I don’t see him again. Though, I do look for him repeatedly. I look for him so often, in fact, I become concerned it will make me look suspicious. Though I can’t stop myself from looking occasionally, just in case, I do restrain myself and look less often.

Now it is time for the train … I take the same one as I did before. I have to take it in order to connect back up with the line that services the area of town the Instructor’s mansion is in. The same sort of thing happens that had happened before. A guard walks the aisles looking for a victim. He finds one — a woman this time. She isn’t beaten; she is just pushed to the front of the train — apparently in order to be interrogated. I now know why so many people on the train look numb. I am numb. It’s like we are all being emotionally throttled. And still, that doesn’t explain the people who appear to be turned on by the scene.

I find I too am grateful that it wasn’t me this time, but I feel too drained and too ashamed to be happy. I cast my thoughts to what may have become of that woman … maybe nothing. Maybe they just wanted to scare her — scare everyone. Maybe she was released. Who knows how many people they do that to. Is that the kind of thing the Instructor wanted me to see when he sent me to Mison? Will he insist on my seeing it again?

It has been a far too stressful day. When I return home, I lean back against the now closed front door, feeling a sense of relief rush through me.

“Thank goodness that’s over.” I tell myself. It’s hard to imagine going through that gauntlet again.

I sigh. That is a problem for another day. The important thing right now is I survived the day. And … I get to see Mark again. I remove my coat. Then, I look around me. Every time I enter this front room I analyze if anything has changed. I memorize certain details before I leave and go over them one by one when I return. If the world I lived in were any less disturbing than it is, I realize my behavior would be bizarre. But this is the way it is.

I feel gratified when I conclude that nothing has changed … not here at least … and that’s something. I proceed onward and upward … heading slowly toward the wing where my room is, where Mark is hiding. How glad I am that Kurt stays in a different wing!

I hold my breath when I get to Mark’s room. My reaction is probably mostly due to the past when Mark was hiding at the complex while looking for his sister. Kurt had tried to kill him then, but it seems it was the Instructor who had been responsible for his sister’s disappearance. Fortunately, the Instructor never did … or, at least, never seemed to have found out about Mark.

I open the door to the darkened room and slip through the opening. If I am being watched, there’s really nothing I can do to avoid drawing attention to myself.

“Mark.” I whisper.

“Yes?” he answers.

I turn on the light.

“You’ve been gone awhile.” he observes, sitting up from the mat that he has been lying upon.

I can hardly argue with that statement, I think, looking back.

“It was an ordeal.” I admit. “It is pretty rough out there.”

“Yeah.” he responds.

“I just hope I managed to get everything you need. It could be a problem for me to request these things from the Instructor’s staff.”

I set my bag on the table. I finally have a chance to scrutinize my purchases.

“We’re going to have to do something about that.” Mark adds.

“About what?” I ask absentmindedly.

“We’re going to have to have a plan where I can come for you if you get into trouble. I need to know where you’re going to be.”

I look at him with alarm.

“It’s necessary, Aronade.” he insists in an even tone of voice.

“All right.” I finally agree, still not liking the idea of a wounded Mark walking the streets — let alone what could happen to him on the train.

“We will have to talk out the details.” I conclude.

He nods in agreement.

“Well, it looks like I got most of your medical supplies, thank goodness. I’ll have to raid the kitchen to get you more food — just like before.”

I start to unpack the supplies and arrange them in some sort of order. I have a lot of antiseptic and bandages. It will hurt — undoubtedly —but that can’t be helped. Even if I could find someone professional to help Mark, who knows if I could trust anyone to keep Mark’s whereabouts a secret … particularly if that person were threatened.

Then again, sometimes I wonder if I’m being paranoid being so cautious. Maybe my upbringing has given me a distorted view of reality. But then, I reflect on what happened before on the train, and I realize I don’t want to ever get used to that idea of “normal.” And still, it is a concern. I can’t allow myself to trust in what I learned from the Instructor. Some of it may have been useful, but I am fairly certain now that most of it was just manipulation in order to gain control over me. So, I have to keep an open but wary mind. To that end, I now pray every day and read the Bible. It is far too easy to be deceived otherwise.

I bring the supplies over to Mark along with a chair that had been next to the table. Mark appears to be bracing himself for the worst.

“I wish I’d gotten pain killers.” I admit.

“I don’t.” he states to my surprise. “The people at the store would have made you for sure.”

I return my attention to his dressings.

“You’re right.” I say. “But I do wonder. There was a man who was following me from the store, but I don’t know why. I’m not sure it’s safe to go back there.”

“Probably isn’t.” Mark responds.

He moves his fingers then clenches his hand into a fist after I finish wrapping it.

“But maybe he thought I forgot something …”

“Then why wouldn’t he have just yelled that out?”

“Maybe he couldn’t speak …” I reply drily.

I smile at him with a wink in my eye. We both get a chuckle out of that one. I return to my work. Then, I’m struck by another thought.

“What if someone followed us from the police station?”

“I kept an eye out. I’m fairly sure nobody followed us.”

“It’s weird they would have just let us go — the police, I mean. Why didn’t they follow us?”

“Who are you? And who am I? To them we’re nobodies, and they have plenty of nobodies.”

“I did pray.” I add.

Mark looks at me steadily for a moment then mentions, “That probably helped.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 14 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — Decimation)

It is surprisingly simple to make it through the hole in the wall. It is disturbingly simple. Oddly, there were more people around when Mark had brought me through this passage before, and that was at night. Plus, I had been surprised at the time how few people had been around there then. Still, I would have thought that there would have been more people gathered around here during the day. But I can’t see anyone around at all, and that troubles me. It is also strange to me that they would bother having a guard at the main gate but leave this breach in the fence completely unguarded. It is true that the opening had been partially concealed … but then maybe it has more to do with the size of the hole than anything else. Maybe they are trying to prevent something large from going through — something like a truck perhaps? Maybe nobody cares if people pass through. But then why did that guard manhandle me before? Of course, I have no idea how long that guard has been here. Maybe he is a recent recruit and doesn’t know about the hole.

It doesn’t take me long to realize the scarcity of people isn’t just around the hole; there doesn’t appear to be anyone around as I enter the main grounds either.

I look around me questioningly. No, things do seem to be actually deserted. I bite my lip. Should I just leave and go on my way? What would Mark make of my being here alone? He probably thinks I am safe at school — that is where I should be. Am I a fool for letting the Instructor send me into these situations? And yet, I’m here now … and I really don’t want to have to come back.

I decide to have a look around. I have to admit I’m a bit curious to see if anything unusual is going on. Then again, what about this place isn’t unusual? And would I even notice a difference if I saw one?

Then, I see a stream of people heading toward the center of the ghetto. A wave of people flowing toward death, I think inexplicably. They are all walking on the main street; the streets surrounding that street have been closed. Is that why so many people seem to be flowing through the street that remains? After all, where else is the traffic going to go?

 “Our glorious future!” someone cries out from the crowd.

The voices and the footsteps get louder as I make my way into the crowd. There is a tension in the air that seems to suggest we’re drawing closer to something. I can’t help but feel the energy in the air. It is almost electric. I start seeing people … more and more. They are running from me … to and fro. It is a chaotic mess. It’s hard to describe the sense of oppression in this place; it’s beyond words. The sadism is not only palpable — it is contagious. Eventually, as I make it toward the center of town, things begin to slow down. There is nowhere left to go, so people begin to amass as a group.

What they could possibly be gathering for is hard for me to fathom. And yet, it’s clear they are all assembling for some purpose. I stop walking and observe what is going on around me. It has become pretty obvious that I am not going to be getting any answers standing where I currently am. Seeing beyond the crowd is turning out to be harder than I originally thought. For one thing, most of the people in the crowd are taller than I am. There is also not much space separating the members of the crowd standing in front of me. Where one person’s shoulder ends another seems to begin. I don’t want to attract unnecessary attention to myself by jumping up and down attempting to catch a glimpse beyond the mass of people. Once again, I am met with the decision to either leave this place altogether or move further in. I decide to go further. So, I wait — wait until spaces open up between the people milling around. After awhile, I start slowly moving forward toward the front. And yet, I begin to find this process rather scary, for I soon realize that the spaces are sealing up behind me.

“There goes my escape route!” I think.

I could go back … try to break through before something happens. But the stirrings of the people towards the front of the group draw my attention back around. I am not far from the front of the crowd myself. The members of the crowd are being kept back by some guards. In front of the masses I can now see a line of ten men. The men aren’t all that well-dressed; their clothes appear a bit raggedy and well-worn. They are mostly young adults. They are varying heights and complexions. The only things they appear to have in common are that they are all men and none of them appear to be wealthy.

I look from one man’s face to another … trying to gather what these men could be here for. Whatever it is, I imagine it isn’t good. Then, my eyes fall on the tenth face. I blink several times. There is a familiarity about this young man’s features. What is it about that face?

“All right. We are ready to begin. The money has been assured. As you know, these brave men have come today to better the lot of their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. They are willing to put their lives on the line for this opportunity. They have also accepted the reality of the world, and that there aren’t enough resources for everyone. So, for three to have enough — seven must die. But none of those deaths will be in vain.”

I gasp and look around me. No one else seems surprised. Perhaps, I misinterpreted the speaker … I must have misinterpreted! It can’t be true. This must be some sort of cruel joke!

“Will the first man step forward.” the announcer demands. “As usual there are seven bullets in the weapon. The cartridge will now be spun … the results will therefore be random.

“He can’t be serious.” I say this aloud, though not to anyone in particular. I don’t have the nerve to address anyone directly lest they start to ask me questions I’m in no position to answer.

This scene is dreadful and shameful. They not only want most of these men to die, they also want them to submit to death. I realize I don’t really have any business being here. And yet, do any of us really? Couldn’t we all just walk away? And yet, there is a certain paralyzing fear involved in drawing attention to one’s self during a situation like this. But then, panic is starting to take hold of me anyway in being forced to witness this. I look back toward where I had earlier squeezed through the crowd. People appear to be even more tightly knit together than they had been before — as though that were even possible.

I suppose I could use my growing nausea to my advantage and see if the crowd would allow me to pass on that pretext. I figure it would be worth a try. I certainly don’t want to feel like I am participating in this grisly scene — if it in fact is going to take place … and I have a sickening feeling that it will. I start to move toward the back of the crowd when something — some memory strikes me. It seems to come from nowhere. I whip back around — it can’t be! I focus on the tenth face. Then, I shake my head in denial. It is he — I think — my brother!!

What is he doing here? And more importantly, what is he doing there in that line of ten men — seven of whom seem to be doomed to die within the next several minutes.

There is an audible click, which seems much louder that it should have been. I visibly recoil. Then, I shake all over. But nothing happens. The first man grins in relief. I can hear people in the audience trying to stifle their enthusiasm that the man has been spared, and they no doubt have become rich as a result.

But I can’t help but think about what this means for my brother. One slot is gone and only two remain. I’m frozen inside. What should I do? Should I call out to him? What if he’s about to die? Should I try to orchestrate a short reunion? Let him know I’m here? Or … maybe I could save him! I could yell at him to run. If he runs now, maybe they will let him go. After all, he could still forsake the two winning slots. There was no way to know at this point if he is slated to die. Maybe something can still be arranged!

And then I hear it, a sharp piercing sound rings out. I almost feel as though I’ve been stabbed. I shudder convulsively. I hear a partial scream and wonder for a moment if it had come from me, but it hadn’t. The scream came from a section of the crowd diagonal from me and to my left.

The announcer taps his cane loudly against the wooden platform he’s standing on. The sound of the cane echoes into the microphone standing beside him.

“Silence! There must be silence!” he intones.

Whoever shouted out in the crowd attempts to stifle their sobs. What a peculiar and disturbing situation this is. The man — the second man lies dead. He had agreed to put his life on the line voluntarily — even though the odds were against his survival. And yet, the people who seduced him into this situation are around his dead body ordering his loved ones to shut up. They don’t want to hear their grief.

I look at my brother, who appears to be trying to control his nerves. He is staring straight ahead and biting his lip. What is he doing? What could he be thinking? How is this worth it?

Then, a second shot rings out, and the third man is dead. Is that a glimmer of relief in my brother’s eyes? How sick a situation this is!

Bang! The fourth man is dead. It’s happening so fast — too fast to process. Numbness is setting in. But my nerves are still shot, and I flinch at the noise. Another — what is it — number 5?

Then 6 … then 7 … then nothing. I look up with the eighth. He is still alive! But how do I feel about that … how does it bode for my brother? He now has a 50/50 chance of surviving. I catch sight of the bodies — bloody and strewn about.

The announcer makes a motion with his hand and some men come forward to collect the bodies. He clears his throat into the microphone.

“There are only two left.” the man announces, apparently trying to build up the suspense again.

The man begins to tap lightly upon the ground with his cane. As he repeatedly looks back at those men who are clearing the platform of the bodies it becomes obvious he’s growing impatient.

His face reddens as his frustration grows. At one point, he turns completely from the crowd and toward the men. I know this is my chance. I rush forward toward the two remaining men. I have to admit I am not without doubts still that the man I’m approaching could be my brother. Perhaps, he is just a look-alike. And yet, I can’t just stand by without speaking to the man who only has a fifty percent chance of survival. How can I live with the knowledge that I had had a chance to speak with my brother but hadn’t taken it?

The crowd is apparently too stunned by my maneuver to react, for no one tries to stop me. And yet, I figure it won’t be much longer before someone comes forward to drag me away.

“Mitchell.” I speak softly.

I have no desire to draw any more attention to myself than is absolutely necessary. I know the crowd can see me, but the announcer and the guards don’t seem to have caught sight of me yet.

Unfortunately, the man whose attention I’m seeking doesn’t seem to notice me. His eyes are still cast downward, and he appears to be deep in thought.

“Mitchell!” I call out again, this time with a sharpness to my tone.

Something seems to jolt the young man from his reverie all of a sudden, and his eyes snap up to meet mine. Then, I know. The recognition I see on his face as a result of hearing his own name confirms it: this is my brother!

Whether he recognizes me or not, I cannot tell.

“Aronade?” Mitchell speaks.

It must be him; my name isn’t something one can guess at. His voice sounds subdued. His eyes are dilated. Has he been drugged? Perhaps all the men were … to make things seem more agreeable to the crowd. Perhaps, unbridled fear wouldn’t leave the right impression on the masses. I grasp his hand.

“Come with me!” I beg him. “We’ll ask to forfeit the prize. Then, maybe they’ll let you go.”

Mitchell’s eyebrows lower.

“Or they’ll just shoot me outright!” he rebukes me.

I am shocked and release his hand.

“But you could die!” I utter. “How is this worth it?!”

“Then, I’ll take it like a man.”

I can’t believe this is happening! The men in charge of this fiasco turn toward me then. They instantly become as agitated as my brother.

“Get rid of her!” the announcer barks at the guards.

What are the two men going to do with me? Should I run from the men? I look to my brother for answers. He doesn’t seem to care. In fact, I think he’s relieved to be well rid of me. Isn’t he afraid I’m going to be harmed?

I rush from the stage then, but I don’t get very far. The crowd forms a sort of wall in front of me; I crash into it.

The guards soon catch up to me. One guard grabs me roughly by the arm.

“Where are you going to take me?” I stammer.

“No where.” the man states. “You’re not going anywhere for now. You’re going to behave yourself until this is over.”

The crowd forms a hedge around me, blocking me in. I don’t really know if I’d be motivated to move at this point anyway. My interaction with my brother hadn’t gone terribly well. I doubt that there is anything more I can say that will change anything. I am off the hook as far as guilt goes. Grief, however, is another matter entirely.

This is my only known living relative. I hadn’t seen him in years, and he could be taken away from me in a matter of moments. And yet, he seems to care less than I do.

There would be a ton of unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions he would leave behind in the wake of his death such as where has he been all this time? How did he come to be here? How did it come to this?

With the men standing in front of me, I can no longer see the stage anymore, but I figure the announcer will speak again before any more shots are fired.

“What is taking so long?” I think.

But then I feel a tremendous amount of guilt for having thought that.

I wring my hands from the anxiety. I start to feel hot and suddenly don’t feel like I’m getting enough air. I have to get out of here — have to pretend this whole day never happened … but I can’t. I’m trapped.

I don’t suppose it would help if I suddenly fainted? Or, if I attack the guards surrounding me? No, doubtlessly not — it’s bound to have happened before. It appears this “decimation” has happened previously. How could all of this stuff have been happening in this one isolated community, and I’d never heard of it before? What about Mark, does he know? Is he so used to it he doesn’t think much of it anymore? Does he figure I already know? Has it been a long time since this last happened? Is he trying to shield me from this reality? He certainly couldn’t know about my brother; I never told him his name. Suddenly, it feels like a shot across the bow in a much bigger battle to me.

I look around me — unsure where to cast my eyes. Then, they fall on someone familiar. I think it was his ceaseless stare that drew my attention.

“Kurt?” I gasp with disgust in my voice. “What is he doing here?”

I am seeing Kurt from a distance, and his figure is partly obscured by one of the guard’s forearms — that is how closely we are all packed together in the sidelines. I wonder if Kurt knows that I am here. How long has he been here? Did he just arrive? Then, Kurt looks over at me directly, and I have my answer. He doesn’t appear at all surprised to see me here. In fact, he seemed to know exactly where I was standing. He also seems keenly interested in my reaction to the scene that’s unfolding.

There is a tightening in my throat, and I struggle to swallow. Could it be possible? Could Kurt know about my brother? How? I look away and down; I try to focus despite my overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Did Kurt know I’d be here? Was I sent here to witness this — my brother’s demise? Could even the Instructor be this cruel?

For a second, I feel the rush of a drive to do something.

But then, just moments later, it is replaced by a sinking feeling of utter helplessness. I am a captive audience. Even though I can seal my eyes, there’s no way I can completely block out the impending sounds of death.

And then it is time…

“Attention! Attention! We are ready to begin our final showdown! Which will survive?! We will begin with contestant number 9!”

I shut my eyes … tightly. I bow my head and press my hands against my ears. I try not to wish to hear the now too familiar sound of a gunshot. Instead, I hear my heart pounding … and … and … nothing else. What could this mean? I open my eyes wide once I realize.

“No!” I stammer. “No!”

There was no shot, which means my brother! My brother has to be the one with the bullet! I think to claw at the guards in front of me, even though I realize it will do me no good. It’s too late now. There’s no way they will let him go.

“So, number nine is safe! Ah, but that means … yes, but I’m afraid number ten must pay the price for playing our game!”

My eyes begin to pour forth uncontrollably — not only for the impending loss but also for the cruelty of the entire situation. It had been hard enough to imagine those other men waiting for the click of the gun — not knowing if they were going to live or die. But this! To know it is coming! I can only imagine what my brother is going through. Is he shaking like a leaf? Are his knees about to buckle from underneath him? How can he stand it? I can’t stand it! I start to see dark spots, and there is a tightening in my chest as panic sets in.

I am near hysteria as I wait … wait … wait … My head lifts up suddenly when I hear the crowd gasp. But there had been no shot! I couldn’t have missed it. Something else must have happened, but what? I can feel my heart pounding and racing in my chest. The crowd is now murmuring. I look around me, trying to register what could be going on.

I am really tempted to shove the guard in front of me. Instead, I ask him in a soft voice, “What’s going on?”

He looks back at me with disdain in his eyes. I know he’s not going to be of any help to me. Fortunately, it is then that the guard to my right steps forward — probably to get a better view of the platform. I take this opportunity to rush forward and slip around the man. I continue to head to the right and weave my way through the crowd until I can manage to get to the front of the pack again. By that time, I’ve come close enough to the announcer that I can make out his words without the microphone. He is standing next to the platform muttering and sputtering.

“How is this possible? How can there be only two bullets in the gun? You checked it before, didn’t you?”

One of the nearby guards nods but says nothing.

“Why don’t we just add a bullet to the last chamber?” another man states … only a bit too loudly for the comfort of the announcer.

The announcer seems to be stunned speechless. I, however, am not.

“You can’t do that!” I exclaim. “How can you tell which slot the bullet would have been in — if it was there at all! You can’t!”

I intentionally yell all this out as loudly as possible. The announcer looks over at me with an ashen face. The guards near him are angry. The crowd begins to mutter and groan. I have no idea whose side they will take. Does anyone here know of or care about my brother? Surely the relatives of the other three men would rather just see my brother shot right now … I think of suggesting to the announcer that my brother can just forfeit the prize and walk away. But then, that might send the message that my brother is admitting he has no claim to the money — that he is, in fact, one of the ones who was supposed to be shot. Why else would he volunteer to give up the money at this point? The money apparently means a lot to my brother — as it had or does to the other men. Too much, in fact.

So, I decide to take the opposite tack.

“You’re just trying to back out of the money!” I proclaim.

My stomach ties in a knot. I am unsure whether I am doing the right thing. I haven’t had the time to think it all through.

“That’s not true!” the announcer retorts angrily.

“You have to pay up!” I declare. “There’s no way of knowing who would have gotten the seventh bullet!”

My goal was to say that last sentence out loud. Now that I have done that, I couldn’t care less what they do with the money. I figure they will be more likely to negotiate with my brother to walk away from the money now — at least that is what I am hoping. The only problem is that the crowd has seized upon my accusation and is now accusing the announcer of trying to rig things to avoid payment.

That really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there are six dead men to consider. I even get the impression that some of those men’s families are hoping to be compensated.

The announcer seems intimidated by the accusations that are being leveled against him. Then, out of nowhere, he comes up with a shocking decision.

“Fine. We will have a runoff of the remaining four.”

My eyes widen. Some people in the crowd begin to grumble. I can only assume they are the relatives of the other three men. I have no desire to turn around and confront their stares. Having a redo of the shootings had certainly not been my intent, but what argument could I possibly use to protest this bizarre decision? Even if the officials would listen to me now, I would just end up getting my brother killed outright. Couldn’t someone … any of these men just walk away?

“Quiet, people! Quiet!!” the announcer screams. “Shut up!!!”

The murmuring in the crowd becomes a dull hum.

“I am simply not authorized to award more than three lifestyle changes.” the man informs the crowd.

Suddenly, all and everyone become silent.

I look around me aghast. What are these people thinking? We should just call the whole thing off. I realize that these people signed up for this lottery. They were willing to risk death for the money, and now the odds are even better than they had been at the start. But how could anyone stand to have a gun placed to his head or the head of his/her loved one once let alone twice? I mean, having experienced that terror … I couldn’t imagine.

I try to seek eye contact with my brother. I want to plead with him to come to his senses and offer to walk away before someone else dies. But he’s looking over my head; it seems he is purposefully avoiding looking at me. Surely one of these other men or one of their family members is somewhat sane. I know I can’t call this thing off … nor can I apparently convince my brother to.

“Someone stop this!” I find myself screaming out loud.

“You just want someone to drop out, so that he can have the money!” I hear a woman’s voice scoff. I turn around in order to face the woman … in order to object, but I can find no one looking directly at me.

“No, that’s not it …” I protest, without having anyone in particular to protest to.

“We should get on with it.” a male voice calls out. Who was that, a sadist?

Once again, I can’t place the source of the voice. I tremble inwardly … then outwardly. A guard is already moving toward the first man in the row of four with the ceremonial gun cradled in his hands. The guard presses it to the side of the man’s head. The man’s face winces — one of his eyes squints. A shot rings out … everyone gasps. Then, it all goes black as I collapse to the ground just seconds after the dead man does.

I really can’t take it anymore. I lie there. Still, my brain goes back to thinking pretty quickly. And yet, I don’t want to get up … not yet. I can hear people milling around me, but no one comes to check on me. That’s fine by me.

“That concludes today’s presentation.” the announcer declares. “Congratulations to our winners! Their lives are changed forever.”

A new level of darkness falls over me. There is utter silence all of a sudden. Then, the crowd begins to clap. The applause is tepid at first, but it grows in intensity over time.

Eventually, I can hear the shuffling of feet upon the stage, and I open my eyes. It occurs to me that the guards are beginning to leave, and I might be in danger if I’m still lying here once they’re gone. The family members of the first man are unlikely to be too favorably disposed to me. My head spins as I draw myself into a sitting position. I wait a moment to catch my breath. My eyes drift toward the stage.

It’s hard for me not to look at the lump that is the dead man. I am overwhelmed with guilt. I helped to save my brother’s life but lying there is the cost of that. That man would still be alive if I hadn’t intervened. How do I live with that?

My brother and the two other men appear to be giving information to the announcer. My brother’s eyes land on me momentarily … then he looks away.

I, too, look away. Then, I force myself to stand. I brush myself off. My eyes wander toward where I last saw Kurt. He’s no longer there.

“What was he doing here?” I mutter.

I limp off in a dejected state. I just as soon never come back to this place again.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 11 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — Kurt Reappears)

When I arrive at school, I am surprised to find that Kurt is back. Yet, there was no sign of him at the mansion. Though, I didn’t search his room or anything. To think, I had just been worrying about Kurt finding out about Mark, and now Kurt is back from his trip. I wonder where Nan is. Is she back as well?

Kurt is holding court — surrounded by a group of adoring fellow students. People seem very interested in what he has to say about his adventures for some reason. A couple of girls eye me with jealousy. There’s nothing positive between Kurt and I, of course, but they don’t know that. All they know is that there is some relationship there. I really wish he weren’t around. It makes things far more complicated for me. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. It doesn’t serve much purpose. There’s only so much I can do to keep Mark and Kurt apart.

I decide to go ahead and sit down at my desk. If Kurt has something to say to me, he can come to me later. I do have to wonder if Kurt knows anything new about the Instructor or Mison. But even if Kurt does know something, I am not desperate enough to ask him about it.

Eventually, Kurt blinks first and comes to stand next to me. I look up and over at him. I try to read his expression as I do not trust a word that Kurt says most of the time. Still, there’s not much I can glean by just staring at him.

“So, your trip went all right?” I finally ask him.

“Yeah. It was fine.”

“Is Nan back?”

“Yeah. But she’s at the guest house.”

“Today …”

“She dropped me off here then headed over. But be forewarned, she considers herself to still be on vacation. So, she isn’t going to be at the main house at your beck and call.”

“Oh.”

“Why? Why are you asking me all these questions?”

I take a moment to consider whether I should be forthcoming or not. But since Kurt appears to be trying to be forthcoming with me, I decide to reciprocate. I don’t like or trust this guy, but I’m in an awkward position. Kurt can act normal when he wants to. In fact, everyone in the class seems to think he’s normal … unlike me. But anyway, as long as he’s playing nice, I feel pressure to follow suit.

Still, something inside me rebels. I want to confront him and get everything out in the open. I’m sick of pretending. And I feel guilty for Mark’s sake even talking to Kurt as though everything is fine — as though he hadn’t tried and, almost succeeded, in killing Mark.

“The electricity is out at the house.” I finally admit.

“Oh?” Kurt stands up straight.

Something in his tone suggests he thinks that it could be significant. But then he and I always have cause to think that any change is significant. Most times it is … sometimes it isn’t.

“Hey, I bet you think I had something to do with it. Am I right?”

“Not necessarily.” I respond.

“Come on. I show up right after the electricity goes out. You tell me you think that is a coincidence? You disappoint me … Liesel!”

Kurt is getting animated at this point, which is unfortunately drawing the ire of my rivals for Kurt’s attention. Could it be they are actually jealous of me for having Kurt’s abusive attention?

“I did wonder what brought you around now all of a sudden.” I acknowledge.

Kurt grimaces suddenly. Then, he stares at me with an intense glare. He doesn’t say anything. I guess this is his way of saying that his actions aren’t up for any real discussion. He can needle me about my not being suspicious enough about him in regards to the lights, but anything else is off-limits. So much for being forthcoming, I think. I try not to be unnerved by his current display of defiance. Fortunately, I’m beginning to feel more annoyed than intimidated.

“Suit yourself.” I state uninterestedly. “I couldn’t care less what you do.”

“Yeah right.” he scoffs. “We both know that isn’t true.”

I can tell he’s referring to Mark.

“I wasn’t referring to that.” I say. “But consider me done asking you about your trip.”

“Is that what you were doing? All you need to do is eavesdrop, and you’ll hear the whole thing.”

He stands up then returns to the crowd.

“Yeah right.” I remark under my breath.

I doubt I will ever get any solid information out of Kurt. He will probably always leave me guessing as to whether he is actually involved in something or just wanting me to think that he is. The only confession he made that I’m inclined to believe is that he did indeed try to kill Mark. I’m inclined to believe that because the facts fit, and I think his motivation in telling me was so I wouldn’t inform the Instructor about what he had done.

There is a warm breeze in the air as I walk down the cobblestone road toward the Instructor’s house. It had temporarily slipped my mind that the electricity hadn’t been on when I left this morning. I wonder if that has been rectified. I am in a pretty good mood as I walk. I anticipate catching sight of the stone and wrought iron fence surrounding the estate. And yet, for the moment, I’m relishing the sense of freedom I feel in having this moment to myself — unaccountable to anyone.

I can breathe wholly for the first time in a long time. I inhale deeply — feel the air fill my lungs — then slowly let it release. It feels good.

But then, there is the fence stretching out before me. I find I now have mixed feelings. I slow my pace. I’m no longer in a rush to get back. I realize I have some anxiety in just being at the house. And yet, going back there seems to be my best opportunity to run into Mark again. I sigh. The sigh feels a lot less refreshing than the deep breath I had had before.

“Liesel!” Fraulein Blankenship calls out when I enter the front door.

I look on her with anticipation.

“I forgot to give you this note this morning. Your onkel left it for you.”

She hands me a letter. She seems to be waiting for me to open it.

“Thank you.” I tell her.

The note is in the Instructor’s peculiar handwriting. It simply states that from now on I am to use the tram to get to school. It offers no further explanation.

“The tram?”

That will take me through the middle of town. I have no idea whether it will take me more or less time to get to the school than the train did. I decide I will probably take the suggestion tomorrow. I think I remember seeing a tram pickup on one of the side streets nearby.

I also decide I will show the note to Mark when I see him again. I will see what he makes of it. Maybe he knows something about the trains that I do not — something that will explain why the Instructor has redirected me away from the train and toward the tram.

The following day I am on my way to the tram. That’s when my eyes catch sight of a movement to my left. Then, my eyes widen. It’s Mark!

At first, I am tempted to just run over to him. But then I stop midstep. I will ease my way out of view then head back toward Mark once no one from the house can see what I am doing. I bite my lip then veer slowly toward the left. By the time I circle back, Mark has partially concealed himself in the shadows. I find myself blushing despite myself as I reach him. How immature am I? At this moment, I feel less mature than I did when I was twelve.

“I’m glad you came back.” I say.

He nods. I’m glad he didn’t misinterpret what I said. I had thought he’d come back eventually … I just didn’t know when.

“Looks like you got your power back.” Mark mentions.

“Yes, it’s good.” I say. “I’ve always find it unnerving when the lights go out.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

I blush again upon remembering that one incident at the complex.

“I never did figure out whether my power was turned off or if the light bulb just blew. I did shake the light, and it seemed fine. But you never can tell.”

“No, you can’t.” he acknowledges.

Mark seems to be listening to every word I have to say, which would most times seem flattering. But since I don’t have anything interesting to discuss … wait a minute. I start to rifle through my bag looking for the card the Instructor had left for me yesterday.

“Here.” I state, handing the note to Mark as though he is expecting it. I realize my mistake moments later when a look of confusion crosses his face.

“Oh, it’s a note from the Instructor. For some reason, he wants me to take the tram instead of the train back and forth from school from now on.” I point out.

Mark examines the note closely.

“Do you think he knows something we don’t?” he questions.

“I don’t know, but it does trouble me.” I admit, taking the note back from him.

There’s no point in letting him hang on to it any longer; it is very short and barely says anything.

I put the letter back in my bag.

“So you’re taking the tram today?”

“Yes.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Well, it can’t be any stranger than the train …” I say.

“How so?”

“The people on the train are strange.”

“Actors?”

“No. I almost wish they were. But then … maybe it’s just my imagination.”

“I doubt it. From what I’ve seen, the people these days are a bit hostile.”

Speaking of sudden changes … I suddenly remember my other piece of news, which I also don’t know what to make of — the reappearance of Kurt. I am not sure what to say about Kurt to Mark as Mark is still unaware of what Kurt had tried to do to him. I’m hesitant to break that news to him — worried about what will happen.

“That reminds me. Another strange thing has occurred. Kurt suddenly came back into town.”

“Yeah.” Mark states distractedly.

Then, I think, “Wait a minute! Mark not only doesn’t know what Kurt did to him, but I don’t even know how he could know Kurt exists!”

I guess Mark isn’t listening closely to me after all.

“In any event, I’m not sure what to make of anything anymore. I thought maybe you could ponder on what could be motivating the Instructor to have me ride the tram and let me know if you have any ideas.” I tell him.

“I will.” he agrees, looking at me directly.

I smile wanly.

“I’d better get going.” I tell him. “I hope you will come visit me again soon.”

“Sure. I plan on it.”

We both smile then we part ways. I then look around me but see no one else around. In the back of my mind, I wonder where Kurt may be.

I am sad to leave Mark. I know I will not be able to have another decent, honest conversation until I see him again. But I can’t just run off with him and stay with his family. Not only is the Instructor liable to track me down and cause more grief to his family, but Mark seems to have his hands full dealing with family issues already.

I do feel fortunate that Mark has found time for me. I also feel fortunate that most of my resentment of Mark for leaving me behind is almost gone. The only thing that really continues to nag at me is the wondering whether he would have indeed been okay with it if he never saw me again. If we hadn’t run into each other at Mison, would our separation at the complex been permanent? That is a hard thought to get over. It makes me think he cares less for me than I obviously still care for him.

I take the tram to school. The people on it eye me with suspicion — even more so than on the train. Possibly, it’s because they’ve never seen me on the tram before. Or, it could also be the academy uniform I am wearing, I guess.

Even though I try to come up with a solid reason why these strangers are staring at me so coldly, it unnerves me all the same. I realize that in order to get from my school to the Instructor’s mansion, the tram has to travel near the Mison area. The section of the metropolitan area surrounding Mison seems to have a different attitude than other communities. I sense an open hostility among the people from this area. It’s as though they have instinctively labeled me as an outsider.

I find myself relieved when any of these people dismount the tram and filled with dread when any one of them gets on. Eventually, their numbers appear to diminish the further away we get from the Mison town center. I wonder silently how Katie can stand to live in such a place by choice.

I marvel that this hostile atmosphere doesn’t appear to extend far beyond the boundaries of Mison. And yet, I wonder how long that will continue to be the case. Things seem to be a lot less oppressive in the tram as we pull up to my stop. I try to smile at the driver as I get off, but he avoids eye contact with me. I shrug. Maybe next time he’ll be friendlier.

I don’t see Kurt when I return home. Actually, I don’t see anyone. I figure this is probably a good thing. It means to me that Fraulein Blankenship has gone about with her usual duties — whatever those are — now that the power has been re-established. As for Kurt, I’m just hoping he hasn’t seen me with Mark recently. But whether I find Kurt in the foyer or not won’t tell me that. One of the things I’ve learned about Kurt is that he’s a lurker.

I do wonder where Nan might be. Kurt said …

“There you are!” Nan’s voice rises above my thoughts.

I look up to find Nan standing there. It feels as though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen her. She looks pretty much the same. I’m sure I don’t.

“Nan.” I acknowledge her with a nod. She seems a bit taken aback. Perhaps it’s my air of aloofness that surprises her.

“Well, dinner’s almost ready …” she announces.

I am a bit surprised to hear that. I really don’t have any idea what she’s even doing here. Didn’t Kurt say she considered herself to still be on vacation? Is she going to take over for Fraulein Blankenship? Is she here to keep a watchful eye over me? That could certainly complicate things for me. But I have learned to control my panic — at least outwardly.

“That’s nice of you.” I acknowledge.

Nan’s eyes narrow. She appears to be trying to decipher my response. She can’t seem to read me.

“Be ready in fifteen minutes.” she instructs.

I nod.

I eat dinner. Kurt still isn’t here. Then, I go up to my room. It amazes me that even though I’m bigger now, Nan still has an unsettling effect on me. I look down at my bag, which I have currently propped up against my feet. I hadn’t put it away before dinner. Instead, I had gone straight to the dining room to do Nan’s bidding. I find myself resenting her. I ask myself again, what is she even doing here? But in actuality, I am resenting myself for falling for her manipulations. Perhaps, the only way to truly get out from under these people’s thumbs is to grow up and leave. But then, that thought scares me as I don’t know that they will allow me to leave.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 10 (Aronade: age 16 — Worsening of Tyranny)

It is the third time I have been on the train route to the school. I used to be driven back and forth on the occasions I would stay at the Instructor’s house. But the Instructor had recently requested I take the train. And I did end up taking it when I went to go meet with him — the day he sent me to Mison. I feel used to it now. I have even managed to sit in the same seat I had had the day before.

I inch back into my seat and will my muscles to relax. Under most circumstances, I would have felt more comfortable but today isn’t a normal day. Something happened yesterday. People died. Today few people are on the train — at least in the compartment I am in. A song is being played over the intercom. I’ve heard it many times before, but I feel this time it will always stay in my memory. I will always associate the song with this event.

Though there are less people around than the last time I was on the train, I suspect that isn’t what makes the atmosphere seem different. It is as though everyone in the space has taken a collective breath and is holding it. It is like a scenario … only these aren’t actors. Though they seem to be working from a script that had been ingrained in their minds, they aren’t actors. They are real people — as real as people of the world can be.

I am waiting, waiting to see what will happen. I rather wish I could go back to the last time I was on the train and start from there. For I had hope then that something would change for the better — that truth would find a way to crack through the façade of the world. But it hadn’t. Instead, the same old lies are being ushered in, forming a spider web that encases the whole world — spinning stories that strengthen the position and ideology of the powerful. Everything has become about strengthening the delusion. I look back with fondness at a time before the delusion had taken its hold … a time when the truth still seemed to matter to people. It is a time that will probably never recur in this world.

This world is like being slapped in the face out of nowhere. Then, things just go on as if nothing untoward had occurred at all. At first, you’re in shock. You expect something to be done — some recognition to be made, but you’re met with an unnerving silence instead. Eventually, you get lulled back into the seeming normalcy of everyday life. You grow accustomed to it — the violence. And the abnormal becomes the normal. If something bad happens, people check the façade. If the facade still appears to be intact then they go on with their day as though nothing has happened. I hate that droning sound that lulls people to sleep …

Their insistence that things aren’t bad because they could be worse doesn’t reassure me. Things to me are awful enough as they are. I shudder to think of them worse. Still, it’s not enough apparently for them to destroy you; they have to gaslight you, too. They’ll say, “You’re imaging things” as the noose continues to tighten around your throat.

Yet, it takes awhile for the façade to crack. At first the façade seems to hold, but eventually the chaos under the surface begins to break through. I figure it won’t take all that long for the façade to come down this time.

We pass through a checkpoint; I hold my breath …

According to the paper, there was an explosion on Main Street this morning. People died, and there was a lot of blood and chaos. Of course, the media spins it the way it wants to. There is always propaganda from the media and little else. But all the voices didn’t used to agree with each other before. That they do agree now has me disturbed. I suspect the bombings are being facilitated by the same people who give the media their words. Sadly, I think many people will believe them.

I can’t help but feel if the bombings had been truly random that people would be more nervous and more of their daily routine would be disrupted than it appears to be. But the media makes it clear — over and over again— that the scapegoats they’ve chosen, who of course deserve what they get, are the only targets; everyone else is safe. Of course, that isn’t true. The regime’s policies endanger everyone, but the reassurances seem to be effective, nevertheless. The world lulls the people into a false sense of security. Normalcy appears as safety even if the norm itself is dangerous.

In the past, things like war would cause chaos. Then, there would be a loosening of the suffocating control of the tyranny. Those in power would lose track of their victims among the dispossessed masses. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Now they have anticipated that their actions will lead to chaos and have planned accordingly. Now there is no escape from their torment. Basically, they have managed to combine the worst aspects of tyranny with the worst aspects of war. People are becoming trapped by degrees until it’s too late. The war zone siege keeps moving in — shrinking the space in the city.

There are, in fact, two styles of genocide going on simultaneously: the Nazi bureaucratic style and the Rwandan style — where flash mobs of killers slaughter people then disband. I’m not sure how common it is for these two styles to occur simultaneously, but apparently when they have a common enemy to attack they are bound together.

Acts of violence have begun to escalate. Over time, the boldest perpetrators will cross that line where a reaction will be expected by the general community. This will usually occur once the perpetrators are pretty convinced nothing will happen to them legally should they act. And nothing will happen. The victim will either realize that law enforcement won’t respond and therefore won’t call them in. Or, they will call them only to have them either do nothing or actually harass the target group members. Either way, the effect is the same. People in the community will see there are no legal repercussions for violent behavior against the target groups. They will also probably see there is no outrage on the part of society either. The target groups are labeled as powerless in the world-system. They are perceived of as open to attack. Those who wish to be a part of the gang of harassers will now feel emboldened to participate as there won’t appear to be any consequences to it.

And it all began with the propaganda. The insults were subtle at first; they were testing the waters. They grew bolder over time. Eventually, they became downright brazen in their scapegoating. It’s amazing to me how effective the propaganda is. Even to someone like me who knows better it is easy to be affected by it. There is the script being set up … played out. There is a message repeated — propaganda infusing the air with its methodic repetition. Lies repeated become the truth to those who don’t care to see the difference. Yes, repeat things over and over again and eventually most people will believe it. Their grasp of reality is tenuous at best.

The propaganda serves two purposes. One purpose is for the masses that are not in the target groups to be put on notice that the target group members have been rejected by the world-system. The propagandists make it clear which groups are on the outs with the world-system. They unleash their message through the media — blaming the target groups for the ills of the world. The elderly, the children, the poor, the sick, always seem to be targets. They appear to be the target groups within target groups. For example, they were oftentimes the first people to be targeted for murder within the Jewish population in Nazi-occupied territories. And then, when those people are singled out for murder, people of the world don’t seem to react much — they have accepted it as a part of the way the world works — how it thinks.

Of course, the conformists reason those other people are impotent, rejected by the world, and, therefore, don’t have full human status. Some people don’t seem to get that they’ve been indoctrinated with this viewpoint … but they clearly have. How else can one explain buying into such a bizarre belief? They must have reconciled themselves to it in order to stay within the world-system. If they took issue with certain people being sacrificed, then the world-system would have to be changed — or worse yet, the conformist would have to reject the world-system. That is apparently unacceptable to most. Better, I guess to go along with the world pretending there’s not a problem and let those other people be destroyed.

The second purpose of the propaganda is to convince the members of the target groups that they deserve to be abused, for sadists have a need to justify themselves. They want you to apologize to your enemies for existing. It has the effect of justifying their hatred of you. You don’t even have to know they existed beforehand for you to be found guilty of ruining their lives. There doesn’t even need to be direct interaction. For example, non-elite people have been encouraged to lose their dignity in public. Now footage of them acting out makes great fodder for the propagandists. They say, “Here they are in all their glory, a herd of wild beasts — completely dehumanized.” They say that the mass of humanity should be treated like stock animals and herded into a prisonlike ghetto system. You can see the argument being set up.

It surprises me how personally they’re taking it that the target groups are still alive. They seem agitated that it isn’t progressing as quickly as they would have liked.

The next thing to be done after the propaganda takes its hold is to not enforce laws that are designed to protect the target groups. One way to do this is to label the target groups as perpetrators and other groups that are not targets as victims of the target groups. Hence by protecting the target groups, the argument goes, you are enabling them to victimize other people by depriving them of their “rights” aka social status as well as the “right” to pursue their own pleasure at someone else’s expense. The target groups are offensive to others and cannot be tolerated. They are setting up the argument that it is okay to persecute groups you don’t find likable on behalf of groups you do find likable. I reject this premise. It should be the corrupt world-system people turn against. Instead, they are claiming the world’s actions are justified so long as the people of the world hate the people being attacked.

The final stage of genocide seems to be when the sadists take control of the government and use it as an instrument of overt persecution and murder. New laws will be created to make it essentially illegal to be a member of the target groups. People who hadn’t desired to be a part of the group of harassers but nevertheless do not desire to share the same outcome as the target groups will disassociate themselves from the target groups, if they haven’t already, and even turn on them in order to save themselves. Having succeeded in isolating the target groups from the rest of society, the sadists will now begin inflicting their unique brand of pleasure onto the target groups. Their efforts will be an attempt to break down then destroy the target groups. It’s bad for everyone when the government persecutes a group of people, even if you don’t like or agree with that group. Because, if for no other reason, it will eventually turn on you. There is nothing that says more target groups won’t be selected later.

A notice in the paper says that the ghetto city of Mison is now being closed. Apparently, there has been an outbreak of some kind, but assurances are being given that it will be contained. The article pushes the narrative that having ghetto pockets — self-contained cities — is an excellent way to control the spread of disease. Everything the residents need to function during the course of the quarantine is ready at hand. I don’t buy it. I figure people will die in there, and they will cover it up. It’s happened before. Then again, maybe the population outside of those walls are just so indifferent about the whole thing that the media won’t even bother hiding it this time.

It seems to me these outbreaks of viruses are peculiar. I guess the elite can’t help themselves but do something with the viruses they’ve managed to stockpile, even though they appear to be hesitant to make an open declaration of it. I wonder how the Instructor is taking the news … whether he views it as an open challenge to himself … whether he even cares. Are they calling his bluff that he’s willing to die? Will they become more emboldened over time? Or, are they and the Instructor in agreement that a certain number of people should die?

I’m not really all that familiar with how quarantines were done in the past, but I have serious doubts that the intention of them was to kill people off — as it seemingly is now. They seem to have two different contradictory policies going on at the same time, and the net result seems to be maximum carnage. On the one hand, they trap people without food, water, or medical treatment. Supposedly this is to keep the disease from spreading. Of course, once word of this policy gets around, people will start hiding the fact they are sick from authorities, bringing about unnecessary transfer of disease. Then, you’ve got the general public who isn’t yet sick, who will be turning people in right and left. The panic that will ensue will be enough of an excuse for any despot to declare martial law. Then anyone, sick or not sick, can be rounded up and detained. So then you can kill off not only the original detainees but also those who are later rounded up in the name of quarantine. You can kill them with the disease or with starvation … or, really with whatever means you want to kill them. All of this is supposedly being done to save the lives of those who aren’t infected. But if saving the lives of those who aren’t infected is the intent, then how does one explain policy number two? The second policy is to allow known infected people to be released into the general population without any precautions being taken. This seems to be purposed to actually spread the disease. It seems to be an instrument of eugenics. If a disease kills a target group — the elderly for example — then this is a perfect way to do so without reaping any legal consequences for it. After all, in a slave labor system an excess of slave laborers is considered a burden to financial gain. But people who are no longer able to be used as slave labor are also viewed as such a burden. Why not therefore spread the disease to reduce the population of excess and undesirable slaves? As I’ve said, who would be held accountable for a virus? If society no longer believes in ethical standards, then the efforts to enable the spread of the virus will just be seen as errors in judgment rather than actions with malicious intent.

So, there you have it — the actual fruit of the policies is death not life. And it is, in fact, murder wrapped in a pseudoscience façade.

The hypocrisy of the politicians is evident as they run around in their little paper masks. Like everything else, it’s just for show. It does very little good. They are all like actors in some sort of deranged dinner theater.

The water is also tainted. Everyone who drinks it becomes ill. Strange that there isn’t more outrage about that.

Years ago people tried to make sanitary conditions throughout the world better. Now they are intentionally making the better worse. Why are they dismantling an already functional sanitation system? To make people sick? To kill people off? I’m wondering if they think it would serve two purposes. First, it will kill off right away ordinary people the elites already believe are expendable. Plus, it will inevitably reduce the life expectancy of those able to adapt in the short term. Since they view those able to adapt as already being more than enough people, poisoning said people will not matter and will save money. After all, once the elite establish themselves, they’re not going to want to pay for the services that taxes used to pay for. Since they view all resources as belonging to them, they’re unlikely to want to pull from their own pockets. What’s more, they seem to take pleasure in denying people the option to provide for themselves. Every regular person must learn to live in squalor. Such is the worth of non-elite people in this new world order.

Still, surely the elite don’t want to live in the squalor themselves. But if you improve the environment then the population will grow. They don’t want the population to grow … they want it to shrink … drastically shrink. Ah! There’s the dilemma! So their solution? Cut people off from the environment. Make a pristine environment out of the reach of the common man. The countryside spaces will be rehabilitated at the expense of the cement prisons called cities. What difference does it make? The inhabitants of the cities are merely surplus people, after all. And there you have the answer: pristine, uninhabited environmental pockets coupled with human prisons that will hasten the death of the general population.

Speaking of the ghetto, an influx of workers has recently been moved into the cities. The “common man” will be contained in city centers of squalor and pollution — where they can be used as slave labor in factories to continue to produce profit for the elite. The conditions there are substandard and downright dangerous. They are worked to the maximum extent to squeeze out the maximum profit. Then, they are replaced from the large pool of other workers — most not well-trained or educated. The prior workers who are no longer in any condition to work are funneled into the all too ready eugenics programs. The eugenics programs cull people at both ends of the age spectrum plus the ill and disabled in-between. Abortion kills off the young; “right-to-die” programs, some of which don’t require the patient’s consent, kill off the elderly by depriving them of food, water, and antibiotics, making them easy prey for opportunistic diseases such as the flu and their associated complications such as pneumonia.

Then, when they die they are cremated. What waste the land on the bodies? Human life has no value in the eyes of most people anymore. And it’s like those workers — those slaves — never existed, not in the minds of the people of the world.

The economy is a sham. There is no longer production of manufactured goods. People can only afford necessities. So now they are driving up those prices to make money off of those necessities. Someone must have been artificially funneling money into the economy to hide the fact that the economy is in a slump. But why? It was planned that way. They need to have people in the ghettos — trapped — before they reveal the truth. And in those ghettos they can pick people off. There are far too many slaves to be useful to the elite — especially vulnerable populations like the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the children. With the elite it doesn’t matter what the issue is or what arguments they initially use, it all eventually comes down to the same old refrain, “Let’s kill people.”

They kill the elderly, the poor, and the ill to avoid paying for social programs as well as for sadistic pleasure. They use disease, eugenics, drugs, street violence, introduction of toxic chemicals … eventually the mass executions will begin. They attempt to reduce the population to just those who they deem necessary to serve them as a slave class. They want a world where they can exploit and abuse anyone who isn’t one of them without fear of being punished or criticized.

I had wondered before why they were so invested in lowering everyone else’s standard of living. They claim it’s equality, but that doesn’t really make any sense. If that were the truth, then why not raise everyone’s standard of living to an acceptable level? But now I think I finally understand. Wealth and elitism are purely relative. To be truly powerful in this world, you have to have significantly more than the majority. Creating that kind of discrepancy through earning wealth is much more difficult and time-consuming than bringing down others to a new low. Plus, the power trip involved in having control over the things people need to survive such as food, water, and medicine must be intense.

Despite all the cynicism that prevails these days, I’m still shocked by naked displays of it. Apparently, people who already have control over most of the world’s resources are compelled to strip away what they can from those who have anything left to steal. Extreme wealth seems to come from sin and people’s addiction to it. It also comes from slave labor. In this country, up until recently, we had in theory abolished slave labor. But now they apparently want to reintroduce it and even get at those who had escaped from it earlier when they had actually been paid for their work. They do this by dissolving those workers retirement funds — basically taking a large portion of the money the workers had been paid away from them. What these people are supposed to do now that it’s too late to earn more … Of course, there are no jobs to speak of that pay more than slave wages now: room and board if you’re fortunate.

So yes, the elites are that spiteful. They apparently have hated the retirement lifestyle. They are consumed with resentment that the “common man” would ever have the opportunity to live at any point in their life without the yoke of forced labor about their necks. They must figure that if you aren’t working for their benefit at any point in your life than you shouldn’t be alive.

And now that the government is being absorbed into the world-system, those in control no longer want to prop up the population nor provide them with services. In other words, they are no longer willing to subsidize our lifestyle — which even when barebones is in their minds excessive.

There is no nation any longer and, therefore, no responsibility to care for its people. The people are considered a waste of resources. The elite act as though they own the world — that we are all guests in their house, and we have to convince them we are worth keeping around. And if we don’t … we die.

Those in power want to keep the money and the resources for themselves. They don’t want the government — nor any other government that this government has been borrowing from — to provide these resources.

The resources have already been squandered, and people don’t realize it. Greed has driven the elite to amass a fortune by exploiting the world’s resources, including the labor of the masses. It hadn’t occurred to me until recently but most of the world’s resources have been stripped away by greed. It’s all about resources not pollution. And now? No one wants to reduce their prosperity and consumption. It’s funny how those that argue for death to counter what they say are too few resources never give up their own opulent lifestyles. The conformists buy into the false narrative that they don’t have the attention and wealth they believe they deserve because there are too many people in the world. But the ones the world targets are those who aren’t competition — such as the poor or those that reject the world-system. They can’t, after all, target the now large numbers of the greedy for death, for then they’d be targeting themselves. No, it is much better in their minds of those who follow the world to murder and steal from those who individually have little but collectively have much and use much. For if you multiply the consumption of the individual common man by the number of total common men you get quite a number! It doesn’t matter apparently that the elite consume much more per person than the poor. Or, that the powerful set an arbitrary price for life-saving medicine and drive up healthcare costs.

And then there’s the fact that most people around here do not view themselves as the common man. They grew up viewing themselves as special: mini kings and queens. They don’t get that the powerful don’t see it that way and don’t respect them. The elite believe the non-elites need to be taken down a notch — everyone else’s standard of living and even their life expectancy must be reduced. That way there will be more for the power brokers of the world — not enough, never enough, but more.

When they say there are too many people it really means there are too many for everyone to be able to live a hedonistic lifestyle. And people of the world have no intention of giving that up or of having anyone put pressure on them to give it up. It’s not enough for them to be able to do what they want — they have to normalize it. They need it to be the norm of society. Then, the behavior they wish to normalize just gets worse and worse until there are no limits at all. This level of society-wide narcissism and hedonism cannot be maintained. Pleasure-seeking used to be part of people’s lives now it’s become the totality of people’s lives.

With God there is abundance. Scarcity is caused by sin. When people turn away from God and towards Satan there is rationing — stealing from and harvesting of others. Satan can’t create anything. People who are obsessed with scarcity are that way because they want and think they can have a world without God’s influence. But they have no concept of how bad that reality would be. People tend to take for granted God’s presence in the world. I can’t imagine life without Him in it. Without God there is nothing good; the only thing left is depravity. A world without God is literally hell.

So, what’s next in the takeover bid? The grip of tyranny seems to tighten daily. And then you have the advertisers selling an illusionary reality to the masses. “Normal” is apparently still with us despite everything. I wonder if those trapped in the ghetto feel that way. I also wonder how people felt when they heard the government wanted to expand the ghetto system.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 15 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — Enforcement of the Law)

I am stiff and tired as I walk back towards the exit that Mark had shown me. I am grateful when I see the crowd thinning as I get further away from the center of town. I remember as I walk that I told the caretaker to leave me here. It probably wouldn’t have worked out if I had asked him to stay. And yet, the idea of having to walk all the way to the tram station is less than appealing to say the least.

I stop short. There is a figure standing next to the hole in the wall, which is my only known exit. I recognize him immediately.

“What are you doing here?” I challenge him.

Kurt pushes himself off from the wall and smirks.

“Same as you. Catching a show.”

“Do you know my brother?” I demand, eyes glowering.

He seems taken aback by the directness of my question but only for a moment.

“I may have met him once or twice.”

“You set him up, didn’t you?”

“Some setup?! The guy’s set for life!”

“But he almost died.”

Kurt looks off to the side.

“Is that why you left the gathering?” I continue. “You’re hiding from my brother? Surely what happened today wasn’t part of the plan.”

Kurt shoots up, and he casts a startled look onto me.

“What plan?” he manages, though his tone is unconvincing.

Now it is my turn to smirk. I begin to walk toward him … then past him. I have my answer, I conclude. Things make sense to me now. And yet, a surge of crippling guilt suddenly flows through me all the same. I try to shake it off and think about Kurt and the details of his probable machinations instead. I hope that will distract me as I walk on.

If Kurt knows my brother, and clearly he does, then he probably was involved in what happened at the decimation. He probably had something to do with my brother being there — participating in that twisted game. It seems likely that the seventh bullet being missing was not a fluke. My brother and Kurt had probably cheated to get that money. And the bullet had probably been removed from the tenth slot, so that my brother wouldn’t die. That means that the first man did take my brother’s place in death … And there it is again … the guilt.

But if they had had access to the gun to change the outcome, why did they leave only six bullets in the weapon? Had some mistake been made? Was the guy who volunteered to shoot my brother … was he in on it and just trying to cover his tracks? Or, did it show he wasn’t conspiring with Mitchell and Kurt?

And would Kurt have allowed Mitchell to be shot by the guard at that point? Would he have even had the power to stop it? And then there is the possibility that Kurt actually wanted the guard to shoot my brother, and that he is avoiding my brother because of that. Then again, there is also the possibility that my brother was never in any danger at all.

“Aronade.” I hear Kurt calling out after me.

I turn around distractedly as I had been deep in thought. I had made it through the hole in the wall, and now I see him climbing through it as well … following me. I wonder why he’s calling out to me. Has he somehow gotten himself stuck in there? I just stand there. Even if I could help him, why would I?

“What is it, Kurt?” I ask him with ice in my voice.

Kurt doesn’t answer but does manage to make it through the opening. Apparently, he wasn’t stuck at all; he was just seized with some sort of enthusiasm to catch up to me.

“What is it you want, Kurt?” I ask him again in a tired voice.

He stops where he is — about ten feet away. He straightens himself up and smirks at me. I find this display preposterous.

“You going back to school?” he asks me. “I could go with you.”

“That’s okay. I’m fine.” I dismiss him.

I turn back around.

“Aronade!”

“What?!” I shoot back over my shoulder without turning.

“Weren’t you surprised to see your brother there?” he chides.

I don’t know what his point is in following me, but I decide to ignore him and keep going. I make it to the tram station.

“Why are you following me?!” I turn toward him once I get there.

I could hear him following me the entire time. He has gotten much closer than I expected or am comfortable with. I try to spin around, but he grabs my arm. I attempt to shake his hand loose, but he holds fast.

“Let me go!” I snarl at him.

“I’m surprised you’re going to leave without seeing him.”

His eyes lift above my head, and I can hear the tram approaching from behind me.

“My brother?” I mutter while still trying to wrench my arm free.

He smirks as the tram pulls to a stop. He then releases my arm. I turn from him in disgust and begin to mount the tram. As the tram begins to pull away, I can hear Kurt shouting something at me. At first, I can’t make out what he is saying.

“Mark! I said Mark!!” he repeats.

He begins to walk beside the tram as it moves away. He cups his mouth in his hands in order to amplify his voice.

“Aren’t you going to see Mark? He’s at the police station!”

Kurt had started to run at this point. But when my eyes narrow, showing that I have registered what he has been saying to me, he stops suddenly and grins. The moving tram continues on, leaving Kurt in its dust. It is too late to jump off and go after Kurt, which was probably Kurt’s point in waiting to run alongside the tram.

I grip the metal pole near the tram door tightly. I know I will have to ask which stop is closest to the police station. I won’t be able to rest until I find out if Mark is there. I decide it has been too long since I’ve seen Mark. There is probably something wrong. With Kurt lurking about in Mison, it seems almost certain there is trouble. I am determined; I must find Mark!

“Excuse me.” I approach the tram driver.

He looks at me from the side briefly then returns his eyes to the front.

“Yes?” he finally responds with irritation in his voice.

“Where is the police station?”

The man shoots me a quick look of alarm. He then looks up at the mirror facing the crowd behind him. My eyes instinctively dart toward the back of the tram as well. No one appears to be listening in, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t, or that they weren’t just moments before.

“Which one?” he asks me in a low tone of voice.

The question surprises me, though it really shouldn’t, I suppose. There has to be more than one. Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure which one it is. And yet, the odds are that since Kurt is involved it has to be one nearby … on this route.

“The closest one.” I decide to say.

“Have a seat.” he tells me. “We’ve already passed it. You’ll have to go around again.”

I look at him questioningly.

“How long ago did we pass it?” I wonder to myself.

I suspect the tram driver’s behavior and his questions had been a way to deter me from going to the station for some reason. It certainly hadn’t been helpful to me to have him drive past the place. Maybe there isn’t even more than one station on this route. His question had seemed odd at the time actually … still, I have no intention of giving up if that’s indeed what he’s hoping. I take a seat and wait.

I watch the other passengers exit at various stops along the way. The ones who had been on board the tram when I had spoken to the tram driver seem curious about me. They cast looks in my direction as they depart. Their faces contort in various odd ways. Some look as though they are trying to smile — but they fail. I am glad to see the last one of these passengers disembark. Now it is time to circle back around.

I would have been tempted to get off and walk to the station if I knew where it was. I don’t trust the tram driver. He keeps looking back at me in his driver’s mirror. I wonder if he’ll even tell me when we get to the stop for the police station this time around. I decide to request that he do so.

“Let me know when we’re at the right stop.” I call forward. “Please.”

At first, I wonder if he heard me as he doesn’t show any sign of acknowledgment initially. Finally, he nods. Still, I look up and over at him every time we reach a stop and people get off and on. I get antsy as time passes.

“Is …” I start after we pass by the gates of Mison.

“This next one.” the driver states in a tone so low I can barely hear him. But I did hear him, and I jump up from my seat and place myself at the door of the tram. I can feel my heart pound as I await my opportunity to step off.

I can see the driver’s eyes looking back at me as he slows us down. I make eye contact with him as we roll to a stop. He is staring at me intently.

I look toward the exit again and step off. I have to do a little maneuvering to avoid those people pressing to get on. It doesn’t occur to me until I step off that the tram driver could have lied to me about this being the right stop. But then, he might have to explain to the police why he would have lied to me in order to keep me from going to the police station. Why would he put himself at risk like that?

Still, I probably should have asked the tram driver where exactly the police station is located, for I don’t see it. I look around me, but I can see no official building.

But then I see him — a man in uniform. He is walking toward me. At first I think to ask the man where the station is. But as he approaches me, the hard look in his eyes causes me to hesitate.

I stop short and look at him funny.

I manage to say, “Hello.”

He grins. He seems to find my reaction to him amusing. How would I have reacted under “normal” circumstances? I doubt I would have frozen midstride. But these truly aren’t normal circumstances. In this society, this tall, blonde boy — powerful-looking in his tailored uniform — has all the power. My power is only equal to my ability to pass myself off as “normal” and to appear to be one of the masses. There are still too many of us to go at directly. They still have to pick us off in small numbers when they find us on the outside of the herd. Yet, they get further and further toward the center of that herd with each passing day.

“Hello.” I state again — this time with a renewed confidence that comes from a jolt of anger inside of me. Now he seems to be the one taken aback.

“Nice weather we’re having … finally.” I add, trying to mask any rudeness I may have conveyed.

“Yeah.” he says, looking around absentmindedly.

I take this opportunity to walk on. There’s no point in drawing out this awkward moment. I can’t afford to be asked any questions.

I let the man walk past me without saying another word. He doesn’t stop or turn around; he doesn’t even look at me again. And yet, I am none too eager to follow him … but still, I figure I must. It’s the quickest way to find the police station. So, slowly I force myself to trail him … for Mark’s sake. I am just hoping that this isn’t some sort of setup by Kurt.

I trail the man at what I think is a reasonable distance. Fortunately, he doesn’t turn back around and see me. Just to be on the safe side, however, I do try to keep a couple of passersby between the two of us.

Eventually, the man heads into a large, marble building, which is several stories high. It looks like an apartment building to me. I begin to fear my pursuit of this man has been in vain. But then I see a couple of more men in uniform coming out of the same building. What are the odds of that?

It occurs to me that this building may have been converted into a police station. I gather myself together. There’s only one way to find out. I decide to head inside and see if I can find someone I feel comfortable asking.

The front room of the building has tall ceilings and white marble floors. There are quite a few people milling about this space, but, because it is such a large space, it doesn’t feel crowded. There are mostly men around, but there are also some women as well. The men are all in uniform. Only one of the women is wearing a uniform; the rest are wearing business attire. Everyone appears to be busy, and no one seems to notice me. However, I dare not go into the elevator without asking for permission first. I figure that could be a dreadful mistake. Besides, I figure that if Mark has been arrested for some reason, I will more than likely need permission to see him, and they’re unlikely to grant that permission if they catch me sneaking in. It strikes me odd all of a sudden that Mark could possibly be being held here. It would have to be some kind of mistake … assuming it’s even true.

I decide to approach the least intimidating of the women — one of the women in business attire who is lurking behind the reception desk.

Talking to her doesn’t turn out to be a big deal … or at least it doesn’t appear to be. Actually, I am a bit unnerved by her lack of reaction to my asking her where any detainees are kept. She simply points me toward the elevators and gives me a floor number … as though it’s the most natural thing ever. I look at her funny … but only for a moment. Then, I’m on my way; I have somewhere to be.

“I really don’t belong here.” I hear a woman pleading when I reach the designated basement floor. Her eyes are rather frenzied. Her hands nervously twitch at her sides. Then, with a shaking left hand she pulls back her hair from her face. “I really don’t know why I’m here.” she stammers, her voice filled with agitation.

“Yeah, yeah. I hear that a lot.” the officer handling her case declares.

The man, who appears to be in his early twenties, then looks up at me. He is sitting behind a desk in front of the woman. At first, when he looks at me with interest, I figured I must have been staring at then. But then suddenly, he winks at me as though we are a party to the same inside joke. I find this disturbing. I shift uncomfortably. Then, I realize that I am still wearing my school uniform. His gesture may be flirting, for all I know. But I am certain of one thing: he is trying to convey a camaraderie between the two of us. In his mind, the two of us are the same. We are the elites — the woman is an inferior. She barely counts. Or, perhaps, she doesn’t count at all. Does he find interactions like this one with the woman as unnerving as I do? Is he looking to me to give him reassurance that he is doing nothing wrong? I look down, feeling impotent. I won’t give him confirmation or approval, but I have to admit for a brief second I am tempted to. Given where I am and that I’m here looking for Mark, I can’t afford to draw the ire of this man. I simply don’t have the power to … if he only knew how little power I actually have.

“And who are you, fraulein?” he asks me, purposefully turning his attention away from the woman.

I approach the desk.

“I’m Liesel Frankfort.” I announce, trying to sound confident.

“And why are you here?” he asks me in a sickeningly saccharine tone.

“I’m looking for someone. His name is Mark Grayson …”

The man then abruptly cuts me off with a wave of his hand. I turn around to see what he is pointing at. It appears I am to sit on a nearby wooden bench.

“Liesel Frankfort?” I hear a voice behind me call out in a sterile tone sometime later.

I flinch involuntarily. The voice is coming from an old wooden door with a frosted window. The door creaks when it moves, but I was too distracted to notice it when it first opened. I only notice it now. I am grateful for the window at least. I figure it will be harder for them to abuse me since people can hear and possibly see it happen. But then, I think, what people? People like me who avert their eyes and pretend they don’t see? People who have no power? Even that one guy who took my name is clearly not intimidated by me … and to such an extent that he felt comfortable enough to flirt with me. No, I will get no help from that quarter. People can’t help me … even if they wanted to.

I stand up slowly, trying to look as dignified as I can. I figure the more presentable I can look, the better the reflection it will have on Mark. Maybe if they believe that I am an elite, they won’t view him as an “inferior.” The man inside the room is a bespectacled, round man with a comb over. He eyes me with impatient curiosity. He wonders why I am here; I can tell. But despite his seeming interest in the reason for my presence, he’s clearly not glad that I am here.

As I walk through the old door and into the little room, he asks me in a rather stiff voice, “And what brings you here?”

I can tell by his tone that he doesn’t believe that I should have come. I should know my place, and it isn’t here. My interference isn’t appreciated. I flatten out my skirt with my hands after I sit down on the chair the man pointed out to me. I clear my throat.

“I’ve come to visit a …” I catch myself before I say the word prisoner. “… someone here.” My voice sounds weak to me. That won’t do.

The man eyes me with skepticism as he sits in the chair opposite me. He then leans back in his chair and openly scrutinizes me.

“Do you know what this place is?” he suddenly asks me while gesturing with his arms in a sweeping motion.

“It is a police station.” I utter in a barely audible voice.

His left hand comes down upon the old table, and he begins drumming the wood with his fingers. My eyes fix on the wood that he’s striking; his fingers trace the wood’s rivets. I have to wonder how many foreheads have been smashed against that wood. There is a peculiar stain near the edge of the table in front of me …

“So it is.” he says, leaning back again. “Where are your parents?”

“Dead.” I state.

“Then who … is responsible for you?”

I want to say “I am,” but I figure that would be too clever.

“Onkel Frankfort.” I respond.

I am hoping he won’t ask me for the Instructor’s supposed first name because I don’t know it. In fact, I am convinced that Frankfort is an alias. The Instructor has connections I’m sure, but I can’t use them — not for this situation. I want the Instructor to know as little as possible about Mark. It doesn’t appear as though this man recognizes the name Frankfort anyway. That is probably for the best. It’s doubtful that the Instructor’s interference could do anything but hurt Mark.

The man reaches into his breast pocket then and pulls out a little memo pad. He then flips it over to an empty page.

“Onkel Frankfort.” he repeats, apparently writing the words down. I sense the man is trying to intimidate me — make me afraid that he’s starting a file on me. But I am too concerned about Mark to worry about myself at this point. Though, the thought does occur to me that maybe I should be concerned. Still, the defiant part of my nature wants to ask him if he needs help spelling that. But I know better than to aggravate this man; I need his help to get to Mark.

The man eyes me suddenly. He seems to be assessing me — assessing my reaction. I just stare at him. He closes his notebook and puts it back into his pocket.

“What’s the name of the one you want to see?” he asks me.

I hold my breath for a moment. Now I am nervous. Mistakenly or not, I don’t believe the man will hurt me. But Mark is a different story. Though, I don’t even think I would need to give him an excuse to hurt Mark … And hesitating — especially for too long — could prove disastrous.

“Mark Grayson.” I force the words out. Fortunately, I somehow make my voice sound confident as I speak this time.

“Wait here.” he speaks gruffly.

The man stands abruptly. He then walks to the door and slams it. I am left alone in the room waiting to see whether my venture to this place will prove to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

It is nerve-wracking sitting in the room waiting. As the time ticks by, I find myself fighting the urge to fidget.

“No,” I tell myself “Someone could be watching.”

If someone is watching, I wonder who it could be. Would it be that guy who just left or that flirtatious guy from before? No matter. Whether they are trying to get some incriminating evidence against me or just trying to intimidate me, I will give them nothing. I fix my gaze straight ahead. I make my face as expressionless as possible. Let them get bored staring at a girl with a blank wall for a face! I doubt they have that sort of patience!

It doesn’t take much time after I had determined not to show a reaction that I can hear the doorknob begin to turn. My gaze shifts toward the door expectantly … automatically. I am really not prepared for what I see next. Not since I first beheld Mark have I seen him in such a distressing state. In fact, it takes a moment for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it really is him.

I jump from my seat.

“Sit down.” the bespectacled man barks at me.

He walks in behind Mark and another man, who had manhandled Mark into the room. I grudgingly do as I am ordered, but I can’t stop myself from glaring at the bespectacled man with a mixture of anger and disgust.

The bespectacled man then laughs at me; that isn’t the reaction I want from him.

“My name is Dienst.” the bespectacled man boasts. “Remember it.”

Had they beaten Mark because of me? I am horrified at that thought.

“No.” I quickly conclude to myself. Some of his injuries appear to be too old to have been made recently.

It shouldn’t matter to me so much that I’m not to blame — at least not entirely to blame. I shouldn’t feel too much relief that I didn’t cause his pain. I should be too consumed by the fact he is in pain to worry about any guilt that I may feel. But I’m relieved nonetheless.

I look upon Mark with wide, aching eyes as they lead him past me and plant him in a chair by my side. At first, he just sort of slumps there … but he doesn’t crumble. He manages to rally himself. Shortly thereafter, I can see his face concentrating. He manages to straighten up his posture. I can’t help but think he might be making such effort partly for my benefit. Though doubtless he wants to impress upon his captors that he is still defying them.

Mark’s situation reminds me of the time he was left out in the cold while he was soaking wet. Then, he had managed to hang in there until I could get to him. Still, that seems like such a long time ago now.

Mark is pretty close to me, I think, looking over at him. If I made the effort to reach out my hand and he did the same, our fingers would be able to touch. And yet, we are far enough away from each other that we could be spotted. And I don’t even want to imagine what the results of that would be.

Suddenly, Mark looks over at me. I can feel myself begin to flush under his gaze. No, that won’t do. I can’t let the men see how much I care for Mark … even though it’s probably pretty obvious already. So, I look away.

“So, this girl came to see you.” Dienst states while sitting back down in his chair. “Do you know her?”

Mark looks over at me again. Mark had turned briefly toward the man when the man had spoken to him. Mark hesitates … but only for a moment. He probably thinks, as I do, that this is more than likely a trick question.

“Yes.” he responds.

“She seems quite worried about you …” Dienst begins.

As though one couldn’t tell by looking at Mark that there is good reason for my concern.

“I suppose you’re the reason for that.” the man needles.

Then strangely, Dienst sits there in silence as though waiting for some sort of response. Mark’s eyes shift skeptically.

“What does that mean?” Mark utters.

Almost as though on cue, the second man makes a motion as though he’s about to strike Mark. But then Dienst calls him off at the last possible second.

“Now we can’t have such things done in front of the young lady.” Dienst prattles on with complete insincerity.

It occurs to me that this whole show is for my benefit, only it doesn’t have the desired effect. It reminds me so much of the scenarios from years past — only those scenes were better acted. Still, I know better than to give into instinct and laugh out loud. This is a serious situation even if these two men are buffoons.

I take a glance at Mark. I’m trying to decide how to proceed. I have more clout in this system than Mark does … but only if I can maintain the façade that I am one of them. But then, my being here at all for Mark would tell them that I am an outsider in their system. They don’t know who my “onkel” is. That must worry them a little; he could be somebody. They also can’t prevail upon him to get me to leave since he isn’t here. I haven’t backed down yet. They want me to, but I haven’t. The question is how much do they want to keep a hold of Mark? Is there any chance they’ll just let me take him out of here? I decide to pray.

I close my eyes in order to block Dienst’s face from my mind — to get some relief from it. Being there with my eyes closed is sort of like sleeping, and I am able to distance myself from what is going on around me. Then, I hear a banging noise — the sound of a fist on the table, and my eyes open. But I don’t flinch; I am eerily calm. I just stare at Dienst, who’s clearly trying to intimidate me, with skepticism.

He looks back at me in disbelief.

“So, when can I pick him up?” I find myself asking.

“What?!” he demands.

“When will you be done with him? With the interrogation, I mean.”

The man’s eyebrows lower. He looks at the second man in disbelief.

“I can come back in the evening. My onkel can bring me around to fetch him. I’m assuming he’ll still be able to walk then.” My tone is flat.

Something strikes Dienst as funny, and he begins to laugh out loud.

“So, he’s going to go back with you?”

“Sure.” I say.

“And who is he to you?”

“A friend.” I reply without hesitation.

“And your onkel knows about him?”

Now I hesitate. Dienst laughs again.

“So you’re bluffing.” he accuses. “You’re slumming behind your onkel’s back!”

I redden in anger.

“Hardly.” I respond. “I am perfectly willing to bring my onkel here if I have to. I just don’t want to have to.”

Dienst eyes me with amusement. Then suddenly, he yawns.

“Fine.” he says. “I’ve got a whole floor of people I have to interrogate tonight. I think we’re pretty much done with this one. None are really worth my time today. It’s just the principle of the thing — the message it sends to those we really want.”

He yawns again.

“It’s not worth my time to try to keep a hold of him. I was just curious as to why someone like you would want him. Now that I know that you’re just a little fool, you can leave …” He dismisses me with a wave of his hand. “Oh, but don’t come back — even if he does …” he warns. “Or your onkel will be the least of your problems.”

I wait to stand. I figure it would be better to be chastised for remaining seated and lingering in the room than to offend Dienst by being too forward. I am afraid to move actually — afraid that this man will retract his offer to let Mark go. I am even afraid to look him directly in the eye. And yet, I can feel him staring at me, even though my eyes are focused just below his chin.

Eventually, my eyes dart to the motion of his fingers as they drum upon the wood of the table. Finally, I look up at him once I conclude that my looking at him is probably what he is waiting for me to do.

He laughs again.

“Oh, there is one more thing …” he trails off.

He leaves me waiting for the sentence to end for quite a while.

“I certainly hope you and your onkel have access to a doctor. You’re going to need one.”

With that, he abruptly stands with a flourish. I look over at Mark with alarm and notice for the first time how distinctly labored his breathing appears. But I don’t have the opportunity to ask Mark how he is. For at that moment, the second man comes forward and swiftly lifts up Mark by his collar. He half carries Mark, who seems to be struggling to stand, towards the door to the waiting room. I follow mutely behind, trying to keep the sense of deepening shock at bay.

I am glad when we manage to step across the threshold of the main gate of the building. It is raining now. I can feel the wind —the rush of freedom smack me in the face. But then, it sends a chill through me. It is one of those moments where you can sense something miserable could happen suddenly, and you brace yourself waiting to see if it will occur. It is a turning point. You can almost visualize a separate scenario setting forth in the other direction. But fortunately, that other way doesn’t happen

I allow myself to breathe again when I see Mark being flung forward toward the street. Mark remains standing, though unsteadily. He stands defiantly in front of the second man and me. I walk past the second man. As I start to walk toward Mark, I can hear the second man’s footsteps recede behind me.

Then suddenly, Mark falters, and he collapses. I scream. Unfortunately, Mark’s efforts to keep his pride in front of the second man have failed. I hear the man laugh behind me. I brace myself without turning around. I’m afraid the second man will come toward us … but he doesn’t. Then, I hear the metal gates behind me clang shut, leaving me alone with the unmoving form that is Mark. I run to Mark, though I am still unsure what I will do once I get to him.

“Mark!” I whisper but with emotion. “Mark!!”

Mark suddenly opens his eyes. He rouses so quickly that I wonder whether he hadn’t faked his collapse to maybe get the second man to leave with some satisfaction … so that he would leave us alone. But one look at the stark paleness of Mark’s face tells me that the seriousness of his condition is real.

I look around me — unsure of what to do. Who could I possibly turn to for help? I don’t want to go to the Instructor if I can avoid it.

“Can you help me up?” Mark asks me.

I look at him doubtfully. How can I help him? I am much smaller than he is. But then I realize he is letting me know he wants me to stay there with him and not seek out help from anyone else. I know right away not getting help is a risk. And yet, apparently it is a risk that Mark is willing to take.

I go to Mark and place his arm around my shoulder. I attempt to try to help him to stand.

“How bad off are you?” I whisper to him.

He laughs in a halting and ironic way but says nothing. Chances are he doesn’t know. It could go either way at this point. We will have to wait and see.

“Is there some place I can take you?” I ask him.

He laughs again … probably because it is clear I won’t be able to take him anywhere solely by my own efforts. By now I am sick of his laughing at my questions. Still, just moments later, I feel guilty for feeling that way, for then I realize that it’s probably the only way he can communicate at this point.

“We have to go somewhere.” I point out. “We can’t stay here.”

I hear him swallow.

“Straight ahead.” he puts forth.

I somehow manage to muster strength I didn’t know I had. Though, in reality, I’m not sure how helpful I actually am. I am not only too short to be of much use to him, but my pulling at him might be doing him more harm than good. And yet, I can feel a surge of adrenaline within me — the need to get him up and out of there as quickly as possible. I haven’t been this decisive in a long time. It is nice not to be plagued by self-doubt for once. I had forgotten what it was like to be this sure of myself.

If my actions are annoying and awkward in Mark’s view, he doesn’t let on. Instead, he is patient with me. At times I can sense him studying me silently with his eyes. The only words he utters are to tell me which way we need to go.

Mark directs me toward the underground tunnel system. We get to the underground tunnels by way of some partially destroyed buildings above, which lead to stairs that go underground. The whole area is dimly lit with warm yellow lanterns.

We walk down many passages underground. They don’t appear to be very well made. They have either fallen apart or were never well-constructed to begin with. I can’t tell which it is. Apparently, these alleyways are places where people routinely congregate covertly.

I am wondering why anyone would choose to place a ghetto system on top of this maze of tunnels if they wanted to keep the population contained. Then again, maybe the tunnels don’t go underneath Mison.

I am glad to get out of the rain. And yet, it is the atmosphere surrounding those people I am most happy to escape from. I feel I can at last breathe with just Mark here. Usually, the stench of oppression is so bad these days that I can hardly catch my breath. What does Mark think? Does he feel the same? I am eager to ask him … and yet I don’t. I guess I’m afraid to. He doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to speak. I can hear him breathe out in a halting way. Is it from the pain or are his lungs damaged? Who can tell?

“Stop here.” Mark remarks in his usual definitive way.

I stand befuddled in front of what appears to be a solid brick wall. My eyes narrow; then I look toward Mark.

“There’s a latch hidden under one of the overhangs of the brick.” he explains. I nod. It reminds me of something the Instructor would do.

“I suggested it after what we went through that last day …” he trails off.

Something about the reference to that day strikes me. I reach mutely forward to grab at the latch he had suggested. It isn’t rocket science; and yet, I am amazed to see the wall seamlessly slide back all the same.

“This is familiar.” I voice as I stare into the dark space in front of me.

“There should be a light switch on the wall.” he directs me.

I find it eventually, but I have to let go of Mark in order to do so.

The light reveals a large storage space, which is filled to the brim with supplies of all kinds. It is so filled, in fact, it is practically suffocating.

“Am I supposed to help you on my own?” I ask him.

“I’ve had training.” he tells me.

I look at him blankly for a moment, but then I realize he expects to tell me what to do, and I’m supposed to do it. I am unsure if I am up for that, but what else is there to do? Going for help elsewhere will probably just land us back in the interrogation room again.

He gasps slightly, and I can tell he is in pain. I decide I will try to do this on my own. The first thing I do is find a spot for him on the ground, but there isn’t a lot of room.

“There aren’t a lot of medical supplies here yet.” Mark admits. “We haven’t gotten around to acquiring them.”

“We?” I wonder about the word, but I don’t ask him. This isn’t the time.

“This place isn’t going to work long term …” I point out. “It’s too small and damp.”

Mark doesn’t argue the point with me. Perhaps, he’s too tired to. I will have to think of somewhere else I can take him. I can only think of one place.

While I work on Mark’s wounds, I tell him about Mitchell and the decimation.

“Still, he’s the only family I have left …” I mention. “And I can’t help but feel I am a poor substitute for him.” I concede. “He has the potential to do something with his life; I’m trapped with the Instructor. Even so, Mitchell appears to be choosing to go along with Kurt’s schemes rather than do anything positive with himself.”

Mark scoffs.

“You obviously can’t see this issue clearly.” Mark concludes.

I am disturbed and consider what he said.

“Listen, I don’t think it’s your fault at all. Mitchell is not the only one who thinks making fast money is a priority. It seems like an epidemic around here.”

Once I am done tending to Mark’s wounds as best I can with what limited supplies I have on hand, I sit pensively on a mat I have laid out on the cold ground. I occasionally cast my eyes over at Mark just to be sure he’s still alive. He is. I brace myself for a long night.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 17 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — The Boarding School)

I decide to collect a few things from my dorm room to take back with me to the Instructor’s place. I decide to do this between classes one day. I am surprised when I see the residential hall matron standing in the hallway as I pass by. I figure she must be here to see someone. Unfortunately, I am right about that; it is I she is here to see.

“Liesel Frankfort?” she calls out to me. I look at her quizzically. I am still not comprehending she could have been waiting to speak to me.

“Yes?” I answer reluctantly.

“Where have you been?!” she persists.

“Here.” I return.

She isn’t amused.

“Are you ever coming back to your room?” she demands.

My face flushes. If I had known she was going to confront me about my room, I would have avoided her. Since during the breaks I had often stayed at the Instructor’s mansion, it hadn’t occurred to me that the people around here would care where I stayed. Does no one but me live off campus? Honestly, I don’t want to come back here. I need to be able to see Mark … particularly now. And yet, I wonder if I’ll be given that choice. Surely, when Nan hears I’m supposed to be at the dorm she will insist I come back. But right now, the problem isn’t Nan but this woman, whose name I can’t recall. I’ve always had a problem with human authority. It’s hard for me to just go along with someone I disagree with simply because they have power over me … particularly if I feel they are being unreasonable.

“I really …” I begin. “I’ll have to talk to you about this later.” I tell her. “I have a class.”

“Well, you’ll talk to someone …” she tells me. “… the headmaster for one.”

“What difference does it make …” I ask with growing frustration. “… if I stay at home for a short while longer?”

“Boy, you are impudent!” she blasts me. Suddenly, a crowd of gawkers begins to assemble in the hallway. This isn’t going well to say the least. And what’s worse, I can’t think of anything to say that will satisfy this woman and get her to back off. All of the excuses I can think of will probably only result in the school calling the Instructor or Nan. And I know I don’t want that. I can’t have them poking around in my private life, especially not with Mark in the picture.

So, there seems to be only one thing left to do.

“All right!” I say.

The woman stops ranting at me suddenly and stares back at me dumbfounded.

“All right, what?!” she crows.

“I’ll come back.”

“When?”

I consider. Then, realizing I have no leverage, I answer, “Tonight.”

She smirks, but then her malicious sneer fades from her face, and a look of dissatisfaction crosses it.

“I’ll still have to report this — this insolence!” she informs me.

“Okay.” I respond.

“And you’d better be here …” she continues, apparently not wanting to let the issue go. “I’ll be waiting for you tonight … at your room.”

“Okay.” I say again.

“If you don’t show up, things will be bad for you.”

“All right. I’ll be there … God willing.”

“See that you are!” she yells out before turning on her heels and finally leaving.

I allow myself to breathe as she departs. I am even more relieved when I see the crowd begin to disperse.

But then, of course, it strikes me once again how much I dread the thought of coming back here. What’s more, I will have to tell Mark he’ll need to find somewhere else to stay. He can’t possibly stay at the Instructor’s place without me to get him things. I only hope he can find someplace else to go on such short notice. He has gotten much better … but still …

I try to think of a way out of this situation — a way I can back out of returning to the school. But I don’t see a way — not unless the Instructor okays it. And he’s not even around. No, I will have to come back — at least for now. It is too much of a risk for me to make an issue of it. Plus, I don’t think I’ll be allowed to stay home even if I push the issue anyway. Why would the Instructor allow it when it would only bring about a lot of unwelcome questions? Still, I’m not looking forward to telling Mark …

I slip into the house later that day. I can hear voices coming from the kitchen, so I steer clear of there. I want to get to Mark’s hiding place before anyone realizes I’m here. It might prove hard to excuse myself from another person’s company if I do run into him/her. Still, I do wonder who is home … And yet, I don’t have much time before I’m expected back at the dorm, so I have to stay focused.

I reach the door to the room, look around me to make sure I am alone, then slip into the room. Mark pulls himself up as I enter.

“Hello.” he states.

I can tell he’s trying to read my mood. I make a face.

“Something wrong?”

I breathe. Then, I look down and off to the side.

“We have to find someplace else for you to stay.” I look over at him. “I have to go back to the boarding school.” I inform him.

He nods then starts to stand.

“No, it doesn’t have to be right now.” I let him know. “But I do have to leave and go back there tonight. I’ll get into trouble if I don’t.”

“Well, what’s the plan? When should I try to leave?”

“I don’t know.” I sit down in the available chair.

“I haven’t been able to come up with a sure way to get you out of here without someone possibly seeing you.” I wring my hands. “Well,” I try to think. “I guess I can keep the people in the kitchen in there while you sneak out.” I decide. “Give me ten minutes to get my things together.” I tell him.

He nods.

“I’ll come back and let you know when I’m ready.”

“Or, I could just count.” he offers.

I look at him questioningly; he is serious.

“All right.” I agree. “I guess that could work … just in case I can’t get back here at all. It’s not as though I have another plan or anything.”

I smile at him wanly; then, I turn and head to the door. I open it carefully and slip out. Then, I head right for my room.

I begin throwing as much as I can into a duffle bag. I don’t worry so much about wrinkles; I just cram everything I use on a daily basis into it. I look at the clock while I pack.

Finally, I am done. I have three minutes left before Mark is set to try to leave. Best to head down the stairs and start my diversion right away, I decide. My announcement that I am leaving to whomever’s down there should work as a nice diversion.

The nagging feeling that I have someplace to be compels me to move quickly. I have no doubt the residence hall matron will report me if I am late. I don’t like giving her that kind of power over me. I am hoping that after this incident she won’t have any cause to darken my doorway again. If she does … I’ll have to come up with some way to get her off my back. I may have to enlist the Instructor’s help. I figure he’ll be much more receptive to giving me assistance when he hears that I tried to reason with this woman. But still, I hope it won’t come to that …

I am so absorbed in my thoughts that at first I don’t notice Kurt standing straight ahead of me as I walk down the hall. I blink several times at him.

“And where are you going?” he demands to know.

I look around me, trying to gather exactly where I am in the house. How far away am I from Mark’s hiding place? I realize I haven’t yet reached it. Kurt is standing between me and the room Mark is in. I try to process the significance of this development. Should I try to keep Kurt where he is, so that Mark can sneak out behind him? Can Mark make it out of the house without whoever is downstairs seeing him without my help?

Of course, all of this reasoning is largely academic. I’m not sure I can get Kurt to move even if I decide I want to. I decide to play it out.

“I have to go back to the dorm.” I tell him.

I try to sound as dispassionate as possible. All I can think about is whether I should keep Kurt engaged in conversation, so that Mark can sneak out behind him or whether I should try to lure Kurt downstairs with me. My distracting the people downstairs had been my original plan, after all. The fact is that either option could backfire on me if I can’t get Kurt to cooperate. Certainly, if he becomes suspicious of my efforts he will linger. And since I wouldn’t choose to speak to him under normal circumstances, I decide it would probably seem odd if I start to now.

“Is Nan here?” I ask him.

“Why?”

“I’ll have to leave her a note if she isn’t.”

I sigh when he doesn’t respond.

“Never mind. I’ll go to whomever’s down there and get them to pass on the message.”

“Who?” Kurt speaks up.

“I heard voices when I came inside.” I tell him.

I try to walk past Kurt then. I am in shock when he steps in front of me and grabs my arm.

“Let go of me!” I snap at him.

Obviously, I have hit a nerve of some kind. Fortunately, from where I am now standing I can see Mark emerging from his hiding place. He hesitates when he sees me with Kurt, so I make the effort to wrench my arm free. I am hoping that will stop Mark from intervening. It seems to work, for, once I am free, Mark continues on his way toward the front of the house. I am relieved.

“What are you doing?!” I exclaim, trying to buy some time.

Kurt shrugs off my outrage.

“No big deal.” he snaps back.

The thought of my disease flashes into my mind. If only I knew whether Kurt is an elite or not, I think. Then, I would know if he was capable of doing me physical harm or not. He certainly wouldn’t draw blood if it meant he would get sick. The fact that he would touch me at all makes me wonder. Either he is at no risk from me at all, or something has made him think that it is worth the risk to physically confront me. And if that’s the case, I wonder what that something could be.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Kurt taunts me.

I glare at him then nod. I figure Mark has probably made it out of the house by now … or, is at least well on his way to doing so. I carefully sidestep Kurt, keeping my distrustful eyes upon him as I do so. It is hard for me to turn my back to him, but I can hardly walk backward down the staircase. Fortunately, as I make my way along, it doesn’t sound as though he’s following me.

I head downstairs and towards the kitchen. Once I’m there, I am surprised to find the room is empty. What’s more, it’s completely spotless. I had envisioned Nan had been making dinner here earlier and that Kurt had been talking to her, but there is absolutely no trace of Nan to be found. I reluctantly put my bag on the counter and begin rifling through it in search of a pen and paper, so that I can scribble out a note explaining to Nan where I’ve gone — just in case she cares. Surely, I don’t want to rely on Kurt to tell her for me. I just hope he won’t destroy the note after I am gone.

I don’t get far out of the gate when I sense a presence to my left. It doesn’t take me long to realize who it is. Standing in the section of the fence where he’s shielded from view of the house is Mark. He appears to be waiting for me. I’m actually not surprised to see him there. I walk over to him; I try to be as discreet as possible.

“I’m glad to see you before I leave.” I mention.

He nods.

“Are you all right?” he asks me.

His gaze is penetrating, and I can tell he is anxious for my response.

I nod.

“Yes.” I add the word.

Mark appears relieved.

“I would have gone back inside to get you if you had taken much longer.” he assures me.

I nod again. He looks off to the side. I suspect that the feeling of helplessness over worrying about me has upset him. I want to reassure him, but I really can’t. Kurt’s behavior did actually scare me. Once Mark had left, I wondered if anyone would help me if Kurt had become more violent. I try to shake off that thought.

“Well, I’m fine now.” I decide to say. “It doesn’t seem Kurt did any damage.”

“What’s that guy doing here?” Mark asks me.

“He lives here some of the time.” I respond. “It seems he’s another ward of the Instructor’s.”

Mark nods distractedly.

“Yeah, of course.” he mutters.

Then, Mark looks at me with that penetrating gaze he sometimes gets.

“I’m just glad you won’t be staying here any longer.” he tells me.

He pauses.

“I would like to walk you to the tram if you’ll permit me.” he adds.

“Okay.” I say.

I quiver inside. Something about his request shakes me to the core. And yet, I am glad to have his company … it isn’t that. I guess it’s because I feel something, and I’m not sure I want to — not after everything that’s happened. I’m used to feeling numb at this point. In some ways, I prefer it that way. My life is chaos, and I can feel that chaos which surrounds me growing stronger day by day. Perhaps if that weren’t so — perhaps if things were calmer — I would relish the thought of falling in love with Mark. But right now, it seems overwhelming, and I feel a tightening in my chest from fear.

“I think company would be good.” I manage to say, hoping he won’t sense that I’m troubled.

If he does notice, he doesn’t say anything. We walk together. It is a nice day weather-wise, even though there is a growing chill in the air as the night descends. I really should be in a hurry given I have someplace to be, but I’m really not. The fact is I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see Mark again now that I’ll be living back on campus. Will the floor matron be keeping a watchful eye on me for a while? To catch me breaking the rules? When will I be able to sneak out again? I think about my brother. I will probably have to face him again eventually … but I don’t want to think about that right now.

“It may be hard for me to sneak out for a while.” I admit to Mark.

He looks over at me questioningly but says nothing.

“I want to, but …”

“Yes.” he states.

I am unsure what that means.

“How can I get in touch with you after I am able?” I ask him.

Mark considers.

“There’s a park near there, right? Maybe I can come around every so often … say in the afternoons and see if I can run into you.”

I consider.

“I don’t want to make it easier for them to find you.” I bemoan.

“I can be careful.” he states.

“I would leave a note for you on a bench if I knew it wouldn’t be taken by someone else.” I tell him.

“Yeah.” he starts. “But I still think this is the best plan for now … trying to run into each other at the park. I won’t be there every day, and if anything seems suspect …”

“I understand.”

The tram station has come into view, and I stop walking. It is obviously time for us to part ways. I turn and look at Mark’s still bruised face.

“You be careful.” he tells me.

“I will. You, too.”

The moment becomes awkward. I watch with dread as a new tram begins to pull up. Maybe I’m worrying for nothing, but I don’t want to leave without giving Mark some sort of gesture of affection … just in case.

So, I wrap my arms around him and embrace him.

After I hear the tram pull up to the stop, I release him. I briefly look up at him one last time before heading on to the tram. Actually, I look back towards the spot where I left him after I enter the tram with the rest of the crowd, but he has already turned away and is moving into the distance. I feel a lot of things at this moment. I had expected to feel more sorrow at our parting than I actually do. Instead, I feel a twinge of exhilaration. I feel I will see him again, and I’m looking forward to it. Gone for the moment is the fear I have carried since his return — fear that he will leave again, so I’d better not get too attached.

But now, I feel he may actually stay a part of my life.

I manage to find an empty spot on one of the benches after one of the passengers gets up to leave. Since no one appears to be lying in wait for it, I take the spot. I am filled with a warm glow. This is the first time I remember feeling optimistic in a long time. Unfortunately, it is then that I think about the situation with my brother, and a dark cloud threatens to descend upon me. I bite my lip. I will deal with that later, I tell myself. I will pray about it and deal with it later.

Of course, it hits me that I should be nervous once I get off the tram. I have to walk the rest of the way back to the school during which time I will have plenty of opportunity to consider what will happen to me once I get there. I figure I must be running pretty late by now. I decide to quicken my pace. It won’t solve the problem, but I figure it will go better for me if I at least arrive out of breath.

I practically run up the stairs once I get inside the building’s foyer. I would have taken the elevator, but there was already a line forming around the little structure, and I don’t want to wait.

I find I am seized with adrenaline at this point. I feel that every second I lose will mean a longer length of time I will be kept inside these walls as punishment. And that would mean a delay in seeing Mark again.

I burst through the door at the top of the landing and startle those nearby. I am very fortunate I didn’t hit anyone with the swinging door, I conclude. I have succeeded in one thing, however; I am most assuredly out of breath. But I know I can’t afford to wait around to catch it. So, I head down the hall. Unfortunately, right next to my room door I see the floor matron talking to the headmaster. I freeze. My jaw tightens in anguish. Am I too late?

I brace myself and stride up to them. I don’t want to lose the harried look I had managed to obtain by running up the stairs; it still seems like my best chance to escape punishment.

As I approach, the two authority figures eventually look over at me. I wait to see their reaction to my appearance. The look of surprise that crosses their faces gives me a shred of hope.

“Liesel,” the headmaster begins. “Miss Frankfort, I see that you have come after all.”

“Yes.” I cough.

I try to appear as solemn as possible. I want to leave the impression I am taking this whole thing seriously. The headmaster looks over at the floor matron.

“Well, I guess everything’s settled here then.” the headmaster announces while looking between us.

The floor matron appears anxious to say something more, but the headmaster shoots her a cautionary look, and the woman stays silent. Finally, the headmaster walks away.

The floor matron’s face flushes with anger. She glares at me but seems unable to speak. Seconds later, she storms off. I wonder if this is the last I will have to deal with her, but I have the feeling it won’t be. She probably just hasn’t come up with another plan to harass me yet.

Still, she got her way; I’m stuck here now. But maybe Mark is right. Perhaps I’m better off here than at the Instructor’s place where I might end up alone again with Kurt. The thought of that makes me cringe. But it is hard to stay here all the same. It was a relief to be able to get away from the campus after classes were over for the day. Now I’m stuck here … with the same people … day in and day out. I’ll never be able to let my guard down. Only when I’m in my room will I be able to carry on unobserved. And even then, the run-in with the floor matron showed me that someone is always aware of what I do and where I am — or am not — around here. You’d think I’d be used to this feeling of being observed having lived with the Instructor. But still, somehow it seems more pervasive here.

It turns out I wasn’t wrong to have fear that the floor matron would be keeping a close eye on my movements. All of a sudden, I begin to see her lurking around the halls. It occurs to me that she’s probably making a point of being there at the times I’m going to and from class. It makes sense, I guess. She wants to make sure I’m still living here. Or, perhaps she wants to catch me trying to sneak off. Either way, I assume she will eventually lose interest and stop.

It is three weeks later and the floor matron is still stationed outside my dorm room door when I arrive back from class. Unfortunately, my assumption that she would lose interest has turned out to be wrong. She has finally succeeded in getting to me. I stop in my tracks when I see her, frozen in anger.

The floor matron catches sight of my expression and smirks.

“What is she doing here?” A classmate of mine named Isabelle Rentford is suddenly standing next to me. She rarely ever talks to me, so it surprises me when I hear her voice. Then again, rarely does anyone at this school go out of their way to talk to me.

Isabelle eyes me from the side; clearly she wants an answer.

“She’s making sure I go to my room.” I reluctantly inform her.

“Oh.” she utters. “That’s interesting … of course, people are wondering.”

I expect Isabelle is going to move on. She doesn’t.

“You know what would be fun?” she whispers. “If you sneaked out right under her nose!”

I look at Isabelle questioningly.

“I am just planning on waiting her out.” I tell her. “She’ll stop eventually.”

“Will she?” Isabelle counters. “Maybe if you shamed her she would.” Then, Isabelle shrugs. “Well, good luck with that.”

Isabelle then walks off.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 12 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — Return to Mison)

I rise early the next morning. I want to go see if Mark is back at the spot I last saw him before I proceed to school. I wait until I clear the main gate of the fence before I cast my eyes about me. I don’t see any sign of him; I am disappointed. I walk over to where he had stood, trying to get my thoughts and feelings together. I just need a moment, I tell myself. Too many things have been happening too fast lately. It would be easy for me to become overwhelmed by all the changes. I breathe.

Just as I begin to relax, I hear someone behind me. My eyes widen; it’s Nan.

“There you are. You skipped breakfast.”

I stand there mutely, looking at her as though she isn’t speaking my language. She only arrived here yesterday, and she acts as though I’ve disrupted some established routine she has.

“I had a breakfast bar.” I say softly but with a certain amount of hoarseness to my voice.

She just stares at me for a moment. I wonder what she’s waiting for — for me to leave; to return inside? We both just stand there staring at each other, for what must have been one of the longest minutes of my life.

“Here.” she addresses me.

She finally reaches into her apron pocket. I walk over to her, and she hands me a card — just like the one the Instructor had left for me about the tram.

“What’s this?” I find myself asking aloud.

I don’t know why I asked this. I know it’s another note from the Instructor. And yet, I’m confused — confused as to why he’s giving me these notes all of a sudden. But still, do I really think Nan would confide his reasoning to me … if she even knows?

Nan shifts uncomfortably. She seems as surprised by my question as I am. I wish I could take it back, but I do the next best thing instead.

“I should probably get going.” I excuse myself. “I have a tram to catch.”

I look at Nan just long enough to see her nod. Then, I walk briskly away from her and toward the street. It is when I make it to the center of the road that I realize how fortunate I am that Mark hadn’t been here this morning. If he had been, Nan would have most likely spotted him.

I still have the Instructor’s note in my hand, but I haven’t read it yet. I am a bit intimidated to do so. Nan probably knows what is on the card. I try to remember her demeanor when I last saw her, so I can make a guess as to how bad the news is. But I’m drawing a blank.

The Instructor had instructed me to go to Mison — only directly. Next came the note about the tram. What changes does he have in store for me now? Fun doesn’t seem to be part of the deal — why would I, therefore, want to read this card? And yet, what if it says not to take the tram today?

I freeze in place and sigh. I will have to read the card after all. I can’t afford to delay it any longer. I bring the note toward my face, so I can read it. Once again, I discern the note is in the Instructor’s peculiar handwriting. Now it’s time to discover its contents. It is short. It simply reads: Go to the Market Street grocery after school and register for rations. Register for rations? Why would I need to do that? Nan and Miss Blankenship are in charge of assembling the supplies. Does this have something to do with Nan? She has only been around a day, and she is already actively resenting me? It would be just like her to make me do this extra work for her, so she wouldn’t have to.

I drop my hands to my sides out of frustration as I remember my last journey on the tram. I had sensed a lot of hostility coming from the people in a certain part of town — the part that abutted Mison. I now have this nagging suspicion that when I ask the tram driver about this address it will be in this same section of the city. I groan. I don’t want to travel through that area let alone stop and do any business there. And what do I know about setting up a ration account? I always carry my fake identification with me — should I just present it to the shop owner?

What is the point to any of this? Would they really stop feeding me if I don’t go? I had heard rumors that the rationing is becoming more severe — but it is an unspoken truth that such things really don’t affect the elites at my school. And to be honest, up until now, they haven’t affected me. In any event, I have little information on the subject. But I do have to wonder why. What is the Instructor thinking? At first he wants me to blend in with the elites, but then he goes out of his way to make it stand out that I’m not one of them. It makes no sense to me.

But can I refuse? I have no idea if my refusal will be accepted or not. After all, maybe the Instructor wants to put me in an untenable situation where failure is inevitable. I often fear what will happen if they refuse to be reasonable. It feels like they have all the power — and perhaps they do. I could run away, but then what? Go to Mison? That is as much a trap as anywhere. You can just feel the oppression. And once again, I can sense myself waffling — wondering if the store is really so bad after all. But then that isn’t the point. The point is that it feels like I am approaching the limit to what I can safely be expected to do. And if the Instructor tries to push me beyond that limit, what will I do then?

I wring my hands. It there is a solution, I certainly don’t see it at the moment. I only know that long term this situation isn’t going to work. Somehow that thought makes me feel better. I guess it’s because it implies that there may be a different choice I can make in the future. I can only hope that’s the case.

The next morning, Nan is awaiting me with another card. This time, strangely, she appears to be nervous. I don’t delay reading the card this time. I even read it in Nan’s presence.

The note has the Instructor’s false name signed at the bottom. That is not unusual for him. What is odd is that the rest of the message contains only one word: Mison.

I shudder at the sight of it.

“Mison” I read off the city’s name.

I lift my eyes upward to meet Nan’s.

“Is this all there is?” I question her. “It doesn’t even say when I’m supposed to go.”

Nan shrugs then quickly walks away. She appears to be heading for the kitchen. I sigh. Maybe I will head to Mison after school. Then again, maybe I won’t bother going at all. I am far more interested in meeting up with Mark than jumping through the Instructor’s hoops. Now, Mark could be in Mison, or he might be traveling to where his parents are. But still, I figure I’ll have a better chance meeting up with him if I just stick around the Instructor’s mansion and wait for him to seek me out.

I am tempted to just leave the note in the nearest trash receptacle. After all, it only has one word printed on it. But then, I know I’d only be asking for trouble if I did that. It makes me wonder where the Instructor could be. I don’t want him to re-emerge in order to confront me. Maybe I should look at these notes as a blessing in disguise. Since he is giving me these instructions in an indirect way, it means I won’t have to see him in person. I could choose to see it as somewhat insulting that he appears to be avoiding me … but really, what is that to me?

No, I decide, getting rid of the note would be a mistake. In fact, I will probably follow through with the instruction and pay a visit to Mison at some point. I freeze. I realize I don’t want to go back there … not without Mark at least. But I would think about that later. For now, I have the day at school to get through.

After slipping the Instructor’s note in my bag, I head once again toward the front door. I only make it to the curb along the circular driveway before a car pulls up in front of me. A look of irritation crosses my face as I attempt to sidestep the vehicle. But as I am crossing behind the car, the driver side door opens.

“Fraulein Frankfort.” the caretaker states. “Fraulein Frankfort!”

I turn and look at him with confusion on my face.

“Yes?” I say.

He doesn’t respond but rather shifts uncomfortably.

“What is it?” I ask him.

The man pulls at his collar.

“I’m to take you to Mison.” he finally informs me.

“You are?” I utter in surprise. “But I have school today.”

The man shrugs. I look off into the distance, trying to wrap my mind around what he just said. But it doesn’t help.

“Fraulein?” my would-be driver utters. I look over at him.

“All right.” I say. “But can you drop me off at school afterward?”

“Sure.” he tells me.

Then, he heads over to the other side of the car near where I am standing. He awkwardly pulls the door open. It seems clear at this point that he doesn’t drive cars professionally. He certainly isn’t the man who has driven Kurt and me around in the past. It is odd, but then what isn’t?

I enter the car and sit on the seat. The caretaker turned driver appears to be relieved that I have agreed to go with him. I am just wondering how late I’m going to be for school. But then, I think that, given this is the Instructor’s idea, he must have arranged for me to have permission to be late.

I lean back in my seat. That thought comforts me. At least that’s one less thing to worry about.

We drive along in silence. I do see him looking back at me every once in awhile. I expect he’s going to say something to me, but he never does. I feel a little awkward about this whole situation and begin to nervously clutch at my bag.

Finally, we arrive at our destination. I look out the window at the familiar gate. There is a man — a guard standing at attention there. I wonder how I’m supposed to gain entrance to this place again. Has the instructor made arrangements for me to be escorted inside by this man? I look forward toward the rearview mirror and into the eyes of the driver. I am looking for confirmation, but I receive none. Instead, it appears that he’s waiting for me to exit the vehicle. I grab at the door handle, but then I stop. I turn back to him.

“Are you going to wait here?” I ask him, trying to confirm our arrangement.

He nods. I detect he is nervous. Then again, so am I.

Still, I can’t just wait around here forever. Since no one has told me I don’t have to go to school at some point today, I assume I will have to eventually show up there.

But I still have no idea how I am going to get past the guard. I’ll just have to hope that I am right, and that this is part of the Instructor’s plan. If not, I suppose I could just go back to the car and head to school. True, I’ll be late; and, if I fail the Instructor might not be inclined to cover for my tardiness. But it can’t be helped; it would be worse to not even try.

I head toward the guard, trying to appear confident as I approach him. I am convinced at one point — due to his lack of reaction — that he’s just going to let me pass through without incident. But then his voice rings out sharply.

“And where are you going?!” he snaps.

Shocking as it is to me, I can feel him grab and wrench my arm.

“Inside.” I protest.

He shakes me.

“No, you aren’t!” he declares, throwing me back toward the road.

“But I’m supposed to go in there!!” I insist.

He just stares at me with a smirk plastered on his smug face.

I really think I’m in shock at this point. I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. It takes me a few more moments to accept reality. This man is not on the Instructor’s payroll. But how can that be? I feel anger creeping up on me at the sight of the man and his smirk.

“Yeah, you are something!” I think. “You are breathing the same poisoned air the rest of them are. But you don’t seem to care that it will eventually take its toll on you, too.”

Eventually, I look back at the waiting car. The driver’s hands are grasping the wheel tightly, and I sense his nerves are fraying. It occurs to me that if I don’t return to the car now, the caretaker might bolt. I head there as swiftly as my feet can manage.

I fling open the car door and climb inside.

“What should I do now?” I ponder.

I could go to school as planned … or … I could use the exit Mark used to get me out in order to sneak back in. The thing that is nagging at me about that is why the Instructor would rely on my using that means to gain entry when it seems unlikely he could possibly know about it.

But I don’t have the time to think through all of this. I can tell the driver is near panic, and that I need to take the lead in order to reassure him. Even though I am not confident, I need to act as though I am. The truth is I need to believe this is business as usual. I’m afraid of what will happen if I have to admit that something is particularly wrong in this situation. It reminds me of the panic I had felt after my foot had almost been cut off. The truth is, I have very little power or resources in this world. I also have no clue what is going on, which puts me at a major disadvantage. I want to be able to regroup and form a cogent plan. Consequently, I need this situation to turn out the way things always have before. I need this to be just another scenario — one which I can easily complete and then be on my way.

“Start the car.” I tell the driver. “I’ll direct you where to go.”

I can see the man’s eyes looking back at me in the rearview mirror. He seems to be analyzing me. I can tell he is unsure. But I don’t give him any more reason to doubt me.

Still, he probably wonders why the guard attacked me if this is all part of a plan. And yet, I think at the end of the day, the man isn’t prepared to dismiss the Instructor’s orders any more than I am. So, with some visible signs of reluctance, the man starts up the car and heads towards the spot I instruct him to go. I make sure to tell the driver to stop before we reach the spot. I only let him drive long enough for me to be sure we are in the right place. I don’t want the man to see exactly where I’m going; I don’t trust him that much.

 “Am I supposed to stay around here?” he asks me as I start to climb out of the car.

“Yes.” I respond.

“But what if they do a street sweep?” he persists.

“A street sweep?” I repeat, befuddled.

“Yeah, they could wonder what I’m doing lurking around here. I can hardly say the guard threw you out, and then you sneaked in anyway.”

It bothers me that the driver has figured out what I’m up to. I suppose I’m not as subtle as I hoped to be.

“I can come back at a specific time.” he suggests.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take.” I inform him.

“What about calling me?” he suggests.

I cast my eyes downward and consider. The man’s anxiety is making me nervous. I don’t think he can be relied upon. I can see him abandoning me here should something, even something small, happen such as a guard looking at him funny. It seems like too much of a risk. If he were questioned by someone, he would probably give them my address as well.

“I’ll just take the tram.” I offer.

The man smiles. He is apparently eager to take me up on my offer.

“If you think that’s best.” he returns.

I find this statement rather disingenuous. I frown. Then, I nod and leave the vehicle. The car pulls away in record time. I only look at it briefly before turning away and heading toward my destination. It really isn’t worth my time to think about the driver’s desertion of me any longer.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 13 (Aronade: age 16/ Mark: age 18 — The New Normal)

It seems there is a definite agenda to establish a global tyranny and every chance that has been presented to derail the forward progression of that agenda has not been taken. I can’t believe that that isn’t by design. In reality, there is just one party — the globalist party. They just playact as though there is a second party. And they’ve been doing this playacting for quite some time now.

Slavery is the quintessential system of sadism. It appeals to people who want total control and power over another person’s existence — even over their life and death. Slavery must also be an extreme form of narcissism — the sense of entitlement it requires. You somehow own all resources and all people if you are more powerful in the world-system than others. You don’t feel any sense of moral obligation that other fellow human beings deserve to have at minimum the amount they need to survive. But then again, you don’t view them as truly human beings, after all, do you?

Most of the problems that the globalists point to in order to justify their takeover were either created by them and their greed or severely helped along by them. They had to destroy the old normal, so they could usher in the new normal. I’m certainly sick of hearing them talk … endlessly … the same drivel … the same irrational circular logic. Make it stop! The hatred oozes from their mouths as they emerge out of nowhere — seething with a rage, which grows from their narcissistic sense of entitlement. We, the rest of us, have to be punished for not acknowledging their greatness. And an individual existence has to viewed as part of a collective guilt — the crime of existing.

I think people initially thought that the government would work to return things to the way they had been before. They had allowed people to believe they were trying to re-establish that prior normal. I wonder if people now realize how that was never the intent. The people in charge of the government have instead been using circumstances to institute changes they fully intend to be permanent. People are, therefore, being pressured to adjust to this new reality, even though it’s not acceptable or even workable. Those in power aren’t going to lift a finger to adjust the system. The individual will have to compromise with the system at their own expense.

They have used this need people have for “normal” to lure them into taking actions that would lead to their own destruction. It was never intended to bring their life back to normal. The truth is the new system they are ushering in will never be “normal.” It is designed to destroy people en masse. And since there are so many people, it has the capacity to continue on … feeding off its victims and replenishing itself — though by lesser and lesser degrees — for quite a bit of time.

You can’t underestimate the significance of the government being overthrown by ideological radicals who wish to punish people through forced imprisonment and violence for not buying into their ideology. Such a system does not appear to be consistent with God’s purpose for government; the purpose of which seems to me to be to protect people living in those countries from that type of rabid persecution. Therefore, even if those who are yearning to inflict their will onto others outnumber those whom they wish to control or to even destroy, the system they have forcibly compelled into existence is immoral and therefore has no moral legitimacy or authority.

Temporarily the world-system conformists and the nonconformists appeared to be in the same boat — we had both lost the world. But the thing of it is, the conformists still want the world, even one that is far worse, far less tolerable for the nonconformists than the one they had known before. And the conformists will choose that new normal once it comes into being rather than give up the world. And hence the rift between the conformists and the nonconformists will become an insurmountable divide. At first, one wonders why anyone would want a bunch of hate-filled control freaks micromanaging their lives. But then I figure most people will do anything for worldly prosperity. They will back a regime of ill repute if it promises them advancement — gives them a vision of a world where they are exalted and on top. It doesn’t matter apparently to most of them what the cost of that will be to the vulnerable or even to themselves … for there is always a cost. As things had stood, they would never have been one of the elite. So, they had to break down the existing system, construct a different version of the same world-system, and then make themselves the new elite of that system.

And most people mistakenly believe they will be the exception to the prevalent mistreatment. Other people will be viewed by those in power as less than human and be treated as such … but not them. They have bought into the lies of the propaganda — it won’t happen to them. Their free will won’t be denied them … they won’t be made into slaves. I guess when you are growing up and attention is unnaturally heaped upon you by the world, you have this hope that things are going to end differently for you than they have for every other generation that preceded you. And the world wants you to think that for a time. But once you’re stuck in a low social position or are born into it, people are loath to let you leave it. After all, if you raise your social position, then their status will go down. Someone has to occupy the subhuman status in the system. And like I said, there are people invested in keeping the system and keeping it the way that it is. Better to pit groups against each other and rotate targets of persecution than allow the system itself to change. There’s only one way out of the trap of sin and death and that’s through Jesus Christ.

We’ve lost our power in the world; this is where their increasingly poor treatment of us is coming from. This is how they treat people who have no power in the world. And there is no point in waiting for circumstances to change — to assume that that will improve our position, for they are not going to allow circumstances to change.

It used to be that people who were successful in the world tried to get the approval of the masses. Store owners wanted the approval of their customers, doctors of their patients, politicians of the voters, the media and entertainment industry of their viewers. But somewhere along the way that changed. Someone began to incentivize people in power in those professions to instead mistreat and exploit the masses. Yet, the masses are still needed even if they cannot compensate the industry practitioners as well as the elite can. So, how do you go about mistreating someone and keep them coming back to you anyway? You remove their other options then you browbeat them into submission; you convince them that they deserve to be abused. Then, you can retain the masses; you can feed off of them while still being able to abuse them.

In the end, they don’t care about what happens to us. We are beneath consideration now. We don’t count. It is almost as though their reality is completely disassociated from ours now. It’s like they see us from a distance but don’t think we can see them.

It’s better to act based on what they are capable of doing. People don’t gain power and control over other people unless they intend to use it. It is a mind game when they try to get you to prove what their intent is before you can act. For oftentimes by the time you can figure out what they have arbitrarily decided to do at any given moment with the power they have, it is too late.

Is it odd of me that I almost want it to come to a head? This may be the last moments of pseudo-civility that I will ever know again. I certainly don’t want them in power. But it’s getting to be like someone pulling the trigger over and over again and … nothing happens. You really don’t want the gun to go off, but you can’t stand being toyed with any longer.

And maybe there would be a chance to do something if someone were to act before the takeover … perhaps not. It seems we’ll never know as it appears that no one has any intention of attempting to do anything to stop it anyway. I suppose the most demoralizing thing about the situation is that their insistent mind games, emotional abuse, and conditioning seems to have morally ground down the masses before a shot even needed to be fired.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

The Mind Master Chronicles: The Pawn Sacrifice