Vision in Silver Page 25

CHAPTER 9

Firesday, Maius 11

The girl dreamed of rain and woke to the sound of something dripping.

Where . . . ?

Not the compound where the white-coated keepers . . . That older girl, Jean, had called them Walking Names. And there was that other girl, the one who didn’t come to lessons anymore. Well, a lot of girls stopped coming to lessons. A lot of girls stopped being allowed to walk outside in the fenced yard. Then one day their places at the table were empty.

But that girl. Her disappearance had been different. And, somehow, she was connected with the fight that destroyed the compound and . . .

They had covered the girls’ heads. They had carried the younger girls, but girls her age were led through the corridors, stumbling over things that squished underfoot. And from the ceiling came the drip-plop of something falling. Something thick and wet.

Even with her head covered, she saw things. Or maybe she remembered some things she’d seen in visions. Bad things. Wet, red things that terrified her. And people who weren’t people, who had teeth and claws and red eyes.

Then she and the other girls were put into vans or cars and taken away from the compound.

This is a village in the Northwest. You’re going to stay here with us now, they had said. They were humans called Intuits.

What’s your name? they had asked her.

Cs821, she’d replied. Her answer made them sad. So sad.

Eight girls had come to this place from the compound. The four unscarred girls were taken to another part of the village. The four girls her age—the ones who had their first set of scars but not too many beyond that—were put together in this single room. A barracks. That was the word for the training image that matched the room.

She wondered who usually lived there and what had happened to them. There were clothes in the lockers and books on the shelves that made up the bottom of the bedside tables.

You’re free now, the new keepers had told her and the other girls. But the girls had no images of “free,” no reference, no understanding of what was required of them in this place made of wood and glass, this place filled with images and sounds that didn’t belong to the compound that, she’d been told her whole life, was the only safe place for girls like her.

She found the toilets out of desperation a few hours after they had arrived. She found that if she stood at the door of the room and asked loudly for food and water, someone would bring food for her and the other girls.

Would you like to eat in the dining room? Would you like to go outside? Would you like . . . ?

The food tasted different, even when it looked like something she remembered eating. The water tasted different. The air smelled different, a wild scent under the smell of unwashed girls.

Too much, too much. All too much. So much too much the other three girls spent most of their time curled up on their beds, and the more their new keepers tried to help, the more things overwhelmed them until they didn’t want to find anything in this terrifying place.

The new keepers had locked up the silver razors, but there were several objects in the barracks that were sharp enough to make a cut.

The Walking Names would not have been so careless.

A shiver of pain followed by relief. No one to listen, but they whispered in the dark, craving the euphoria that would get them through the next barrage of images.

Don’t you want a name? Don’t you want to live?

How was she supposed to know if she wanted those things?

Every night they cut themselves and whispered in the dark. Then, one night, before she began to whisper, the girl saw a glimpse of herself in a vision. So she gritted her teeth and endured the agony of an unspoken prophecy. The pain ate her up inside and she wanted to scream and scream and never stop screaming. But she said nothing—and saw herself with sheets of paper and many colored pencils.

When she was young and learning to make letters and write words, she would draw the images from the day’s lessons. So much joy from such a simple thing.

The Walking Names said she was diluting her ability to see prophecy, and she needed to be broken of this bad habit. They had special gloves made that kept her fingers laced together so she couldn’t hold the pencil. But drawing gave her a different kind of euphoria, and it was so hard to resist making a little sketch whenever she had a pencil.

So the Walking Names withheld the paper and the pencils. They fed her pap that had no flavor, depriving her of the variety of taste and texture in food. When they had stripped her life of every possible bit of pleasure that was available in the compound, they cut her for the first time to show her the only pleasure that girls like her were allowed to have.

They made her afraid to touch a pencil or paper. But that night when she swallowed the words of prophecy, she saw herself drawing. She saw the look on her own face: joy.

She’d almost worked up the courage to ask for a pencil and paper when the other girls arrived. The mommy girls who looked sick and wild, abandoned by their old keepers and found by creatures to be feared above all else.

You’re safe here, the new keepers, the Intuits, said as they settled the mommy girls in the other four beds.

They meant well, but they weren’t experienced keepers.

The girl sat up, shivering.

The sound of something dripping.

Maybe one of the sinks in the room with the toilets? If she turned the faucet, would the dripping stop?

She got out of bed. Her bed was closest to the door; the toilets were at the other end of the room, past the rest of the beds.

Drip, drip, drip.

All the whispering had stopped.

Drip, drip, drip.

As she passed the next bed, her foot slipped.

A smell in the air. She remembered it from the compound, when her head had been covered as they took her away from the bad thing that had happened there.

She turned and rushed toward the door, patting the wall to find the light switch. The other girls would be angry when she turned on the overhead lights, but she didn’t care. She needed to see.

She squinted as light filled the room. Then she looked at the floor. She looked at the girls in the beds who were past being overwhelmed by images and expectations.

They didn’t want to live, she thought as she stared. They chose this instead of trying to live.

Easier to choose this. How much longer could she keep struggling to understand this place, these people? How could she learn what they wanted her to learn? She knew where to find the sharp objects. She could do what the other girls had done and . . .

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