“We will get out of here- that much I promise you.”
Behind the Walls.
CHAPTER
1
Our Perfect Dystopia.
I watched as Josh scratched away at the metal, his knife replicating the sound of nails on a chalkboard. One more strike to the tally.
“547,” he muttered, shoving his knife into the pocket of his faded jeans, “That’s a year and a half, almost exactly.”
I nodded slowly, sighing and readjusting my position on the top bunk.
“We will get out of here- that much I promise you.” I said, staring outside. Rain poured down the grey concrete buildings, pooling on the floor and turning the dust to mud. Smog hung in the air above, thick and stuffy. Outside, groups of adolescences streamed two and fro from buildings, lingered in corners, or stared dejectedly at the sky.
Everyday was the same. We woke up, headed to our various jobs in the Sheds, had one meal midday, then where sent back at night to our own small living quarters. All the time being watched by the Enigma Council; the elite government hierarchy that controlled the place- keeping everyone and everything ‘in order’. This place, this hell we lived in, was all the Council’s doing. All teenagers, from 13 to 19, lived here, worked here, and as far as we knew, would die here. I wanted nothing more than to change that.
“Just accept it, Ace. We’re never getting out of here.” Josh sighed, climbing into the bunk below mine. I rolled over and hung my head down over the side, staring at him intently.
“Don’t look at me like that.” He said, averting his eyes.
“I’ve got a plan.” I smiled, ignoring what he’d said.
“Tell me about it in the morning.” He sighed, closing his eyes. I swung myself back onto my bed and frowned up at the dirty roof.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” I asked quietly.
“I believe you’ve got a plan, I just don’t believe it’ll work.” He said tiredly.
“It will work,” I whispered, “It has to.”
Again I turned and stared out the window, my heart aching.
We called this place Camp Three.
This was our concrete jungle.
This was our grey, cement, desert.
This was our living hell.
This was our perfect Dystopia.
‘Dong, dong, dong!’
My eyes snapped open as the bell sounded the next day. I leapt off the bunk and stretched my legs. Already the air was heavy with humidity. Cold nights, sweltering days; that was our regular climate.
“Wake up.” I hissed, dragging Josh out of his bed and onto the floor.
Josh rubbed his wrist where I’d grabbed him.
“You know, for a girl- you are way too tough.” He muttered, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. I crossed my arms and smirked.
“Get it right; I’m just way too tough for anyone.”
Josh jumped to his feet and led the way outside.
“True that.” He mused.
I pushed passed him and began leading the way to Shed 5, in the Southern District. The dust beneath our feet was worn and compacted from following the same path each and every day. I looked around me to see lines of other teenagers streaming out of their quarters and heading wearily off in different directions. All the time I had the same haunting feeling; the feeling of a twisted deja vu as we reenacted some kind of nazi concentration camp- the kind I’d learnt about so many years before, when the schools were still around.
“Slow down.” Josh whined as I marched onwards. I smiled at the power I had here. Whenever I walked past, the crowds were split like the red sea. Yeah, so I was that chic everyone knew to avoid. So what? I was tough. I could take on anyone, anywhere, any time. I’d never been beaten. And trust me, the opportunity to get in a fight wasn’t a rare one.
Let me explain.
The older kids- the eighteen and nineteen year olds; they make it their duty to be on top of things, to be sensible, and to get the job done. They make sure everything is going as well as it can, perhaps hoping that’ll make our time here less tortuous. The younger ones; the thirteen and even most of the fourteen year olds- they’ve gone back to childhood days. They’re all scared and whimpering, all huddled together in their little groups and crying about one thing or another. That left us fifteen to seventeen year olds with nothing to do but make trouble. And didn’t we do it well.
We started riots. We got into fights. We ignited fires and pulled down buildings.
We were tearing this place apart brick by stinking brick.
And oh, how I loved it.
I loved getting back at the Enigma Council. They’d made my life hell. They’d torn me from my family- sending my mother and older sister to Camp Two, and my younger brother to Camp Four. My dad, well... I wasn’t expecting to see him anytime soon. He’d always been the stubborn, defiant type. Mum said that’s where I got my attitude from. Well, that stubbornness didn’t serve him too well. You see, you don’t stand up to the Council guards. You just don’t. The penalty? Death.
Anyway, I had made it my mission to destroy this hole. Maybe I would never escape, but I’d pull it apart piece by piece, until it was destroyed from the inside out.
Many other people’s failed attempts to escape before had given me a reputation. And not a good one, either. Pretty much, if the guards find you trying to escape, or messing with the established order at all, they don’t just punish you. They double the workload of every single teenager in the camp- then throw you to the dogs. Namely, us. So yeah, I’ve thrown a few punches at those imbeciles who think themselves smart enough to escape.
I guess I get a thrill out of watching a bulky, teenage boy, crumple at the hand of a petite little girl like me. So maybe I’m twisted, but it’s not my fault. You either eat or be eaten, and I just happen to have made it to the top of the food chain.
“Ace, don’t even think about it.” Josh said quickly as we walked past the Wall. Yeah, wall with a capital ‘w’. It was a huge, solid, concrete wall, with barbed wire all along the top. It was about ten metres high- and the most ominous thing to be experienced. Surrounding the entire camp, the wall stopped anyone from getting in or out. The only way the Enigma Council troops came in was from a helicopter landing pad in the middle of the camp, seated atop ‘The Room’- a mysterious office-type place that only they were allowed in.
“I’m not going to do anything.” I said as we marched passed a gang of older boys. I recognised one by the bruising on his arm.
Let’s just say I’d won that arm-wrestling match.
Within a few minutes, we’d made it to Shed 5. I furrowed my eyebrows as I trudged through the huge doorways, and headed to the corner of the building.
All through the shed were lines and lines of conveyor belts, that doubled as work benches. Shed 5 machined ammunition for various weapons, the same process everyday. It was a sweatshop. All work, no pay.
‘CLANK!’
“Looks like a big load today.” Josh sighed as the conveyor belt chugged into action. We stood behind a bench in a corner, and waited for the pieces to come. Our job was simple; grab one part, screw it to the second one that comes rolling along, then send the two away, and repeat. I’d been moved to this shed about two months ago, when I’d made some trouble in Shed 2.
That was how I’d met Josh.
He’d been sent on an errand from Shed 5 to our Shed, number 2. Some guys there had gotten a little stirred up, and before he knew it, Josh was trapped in the middle of a fisticuff. So, seeing the rumble, I headed over to inspect. All I saw was an innocent boy being beaten to all get-up, so, I intervened.
Things get serious when I intervene.
Then the guards decided to show up. I was kicked out of Shed 2, and sent with Josh to Shed 5. It wasn’t so bad, I guess. I mean, now I had Josh- and I’ve gotten to know him a little better in the time we spent together. He was sensitive though. So gentle and innocent. I had the feeling that if I left him, he wouldn’t be able to stand alone.
“ONE... TWO... THREE!”
Some yelling behind me caught my attention. I turned to see a crowd of maybe twenty or more boys, all gathered around a bench.
I smirked. Arm wrestling.
“Don’t, Ace, just don’t.” Josh pleaded, noticing my gaze. I looked at him and crossed my arms.
“Don’t tell me how to live my life.”
Then I dropped the pieces I was working on and sauntered towards the bench. I recognised most of the boys there- Jeremy, Wayne, Tony, Jackson; the regular tough guys, all competing for the champion title. A few of them recognised me and stepped back, leaving space enough for me to walk up to the table, and examine the fighters. Two boys I didn’t recognise.
“I’ll take on the winner.” I said smoothly. An excited buzz came up from the crowd, but the two boys wrestling didn’t get it.
“Wh-What? But you’re just a g-girl!” One of them panted, glancing up at me. He struggled with the other for a moment longer, then beat him.
“YEAH!” Came a yell from the crowd. I pushed the loser off his chair and sat calmly down.
“If I’m just a girl, then you should have no trouble beating me, right?” I challenged. The boy shrugged.
“Just don’t cry if I hurt you arm.” He shrugged cockily, raising his hand. I smirked, grasping his waiting hand in mine.
“Trust me, I won’t.” I said coolly. I had this.
“Give us a count-in, boys!” I ordered the crowd, then I turned my eyes dead-set into his, and waited.
“THREE... TWO... ONE!”
He had a firm grip, but I was stronger. The boy started to shake, the crowd going crazy. I was playing him. He thought he was doing okay, but I’d crush him. I smiled, letting me arm tilt the slightest bit backwards. The crowd cheered yet again. They knew this move. The boy started to sweat, his eyebrows furrowed. Then the chanting began.
“ACE! ACE! ACE! ACE! ACE!”
My name being chanted always gave me a thrill.
“Had enough yet, sweetie?” I asked, completely calm and effortless. The boy grunted, but didn’t stop fighting. I yawned.
“Okay, I’m over this.” I said, then, in no more than two seconds, his arm was down.
“YES!” The crowd went insane- whooping and cheering. The boy ran off shamefacedly into the crowd.
“Who’s next?” I asked, feeling impressive.
I went through Jeremy, Wayne, Tony, Jackson and almost all the boys there- winning effortlessly.
I’d just slammed the last boy’s arm to the bench, when I noticed a strange quietness falling upon the usually rowdy group. Wiping the loser’s sweat off my palm and onto my shorts, I looked around.
“Anyone else?” I asked confidently. A boy I’d never seen before pushed to the front of the crowd.
“Yeah, I’ll verse you.” He said with a calm shrug. I looked at him with raised eyebrows. He didn’t look like the other boys here. His dark hair hung messily into his piercing brown eyes, his features set and strong. He was tall, and with a strong build. But it wasn’t his appearance that set him apart, it was something else. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“You’re not from around here.” I stated, looking up into his confident face.
He smirked, a gesture I’d personally trademarked.
“I was just kicked out of Shed 4, actually.” He said almost proudly, still standing over me.
An intrigued, “Oooh.” Came up from the crowd.
“What were you kicked out for?’ I asked.
“Causing trouble.” He stated with a shrug. I narrowed my eyes.
“What’s your name, trouble-maker?” I asked.
“Rowan.” He said, then he sat before me and grinned.
And just by the look in his eyes, I knew that I could possibly lose.
“Do you know what you’re getting yourself into, Rowan?” I asked, cracking my knuckles. The crowd gave an excited snicker.
“I’m guessing arm-wrestling?” He said wittily. I laughed.
“Do you know who I am?” I challenged.
“Should I?” He shot back. I smirked and raised my hand.
“Perhaps not. They say ignorance is bliss. Game on, Rowan.”
He took my hand in his and grinned again.
“Game on, Ace.” He said.
Then with a count down, the wrestling began.
Five minutes had passed, and there we were, still at a stalemate, our hands firmly planted int the centre of the bench. By now the crowds had completely lost it. Teenage boys gripped each other out of sheer suspense and excitement, making noises I thought were reserved for young girls.
Even Josh had abandoned his work to come and watch.
“Your persistence serves you well.” I said calmly, looking Rowan straight in the eye. Rowan’s response came back calm and steady.
“Your stubbornness isn’t doing too bad either.”
I low ‘Oooh’ came from the crowd. I smirked, my grip tightening.
“You’re too proud.” I stated.
“I’ve never been beaten.” Rowan shot back. I grinned.
“Sometimes change can be frightening.”
The crowd suddenly became a group of spectators at a rap-battle.
“Whoa! Oh, things just got real!” and other similar cries shot up from the group of excited boys.
“I won’t let you win.” Rowan shook his head. Suddenly I felt a burning sensation in the hand he held. I ignored it and fought on.
“You don’t need to. I’ll do it myself.” I counteracted. Suddenly the chatter died down.
“Ace- Guards!” Josh hissed.
I glanced at the doors of the huge shed, then back to Rowan. If I backed down, he’d win. If I didn’t, we’d be in heaps of trouble.
“Back down, or we’re dead.” I ordered him.
“And let you win? I don’t think so.” He decided.
The crowd quickly dispersed. Josh was getting frantic, then, like lightning, he ran up and tipped the entire bench over. I was sent sprawling to the floor, the bench hitting the ground with a loud ‘Thud.’
I jumped up and looked around.
Rowan was gone; seemingly vanished into thin air.
“Ace, hurry.” Josh hissed. I ran over and stood next to him at the conveyor belt as two guards marched down the aisle towards us. Acting natural, the entire Shed was standing behind their benches, doing work as if we had been all along.
The guards reached the end, looked at the tipped bench, said nothing, and marched out again. An audible sigh came up from everyone. I too, relaxed, but a pain in my hand caught my attention.
I looked down at my hand; the one I’d been using to arm wrestle.
I held out my hand for Josh to see, too.
There, seemingly burnt into my skin, was a small letter; an ‘H’, to be exact.
“Rowan did it.” I said. I had no doubt about that.
“What does it mean?” Josh asked.
I looked back at the tipped over bench where we’d been arm wrestling.
“I don’t know,” I said decidedly, “But I’m going to find out.”
And here, my troubles began.

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