Pink: Episode 1, Part 7


This is what happens when I decide to edit mid-draft…


The line wrapped all the way around the block at 50th and Madison. Viewscreens posted along the outside of the recruitment building flashed with advertisements. The images were of dreams, the things each one of us standing in that line would wish for. Money. Luxury. A free life. A blue sky.

ORANGE, my lens warned. At lease half the people standing in line were criminals. Only those who had been in jail were given the designation. I shrunk into myself, trying not to look conspicuous, pulling the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair to hide it, tucking each strand of pink beneath it. What an idiot I had been.

The oranges looked older than the other recruits, more weathered, even though I was certain some of them were close to my age. I wondered what each of them had done to land them the label, impossible to ever wash off no matter how many years of service they did. The government didn’t have many jails anymore, so these days convicts had a choice: the service, or the burning plants. Most people took their chances in the service, and almost all oranges made it in without even trying. Only those who were mentally impaired or had a visible disability were sent to the burning plants instead. I absently straightened my leg without looking down at it.

Several boys my age stood ahead of me. I looked backward at the others who were lining up behind us, looking for some sign that Alex had turned up. I hadn’t wanted to come together. I was too afraid he would talk me out of my plans to join. Still, now that I was waiting without him, my nerves buzzed.

As I searched the crowd for him, I was surprised by the variety of body types. They weren’t all huge, then, like the guys who came home to show off their success. Those must have been trained up, their bodies bulking and hardening as they made their way through boot camp and, later, service. And girls, too. They had come, just like me. And they weren’t big, either, even the ones who looked as though they’d been training for this their whole lives.

Maybe it really would be anybody’s game.

Or maybe we would just be the first ones to die.

I shoved the thought away as I turned forward again, crossing my arms over my chest.

The line crawled. As we made our way around the front of the building, the giant cathedral across the street from where we waited towered over us like an omen. Its great golden doors were closed, but despite the bright day, lights shone from within the building. I wondered how many people went to church anymore. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been remade into something different now, some other sort of building more necessary than a place to worship a god nobody seemed to believe in.

It was beautiful, though. There was no denying that. It stirred something in me to see it, stretching so high above my head that I could barely make out the top spires. I looked at the streets surrounding us, and was suddenly struck with a realization I hadn’t noticed before.

Everything was clean.

It was still a city, that much was true, but I hadn’t noticed the difference between this sliver of protected space and the place I had come from just a couple hours ago. No garbage lined the sidewalks. No broken storefronts spilled their glass. Above me on all sides stood magnificent buildings, places where the rich lived and played, forgetting those of us down below.

“I’ll be up there,” the boy in front of me said. “Soon enough.”

He had been watching me. He elbowed me conspiratorially.

“Maybe you, too, Pink,” he said. “Maybe we could save on some rent, you and me.”

I crossed my arms, trying in vain to make myself look as insignificant as possible.

I was relieved when he turned back to stare above again.

By ten we had come all the way around to the front of the recruitment center. In the empty area in front of the building there was a strange statue. It depicted a man holding several rings above his head. They interconnected, making a hollow sort of sphere. It made me think of a man shouldering the weight of a planet. Maybe its message was meant for us recruits. That if we made it out of this place with a stiff shirt and flag patch, it would then be our job to hold up the world.

I turned back to stare at the cathedral once more, suddenly hungry for its ornate carvings and promises of a god above.

Wouldn’t it have been easier if that were the life I had been brought into.

I turned my back to it one final time, choosing instead to carry the weight of my future all on my own.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 6


The line was short, only two boys my age stood ahead of me. A single attendant sat at one of the many windows, glass as thick as my arm shielding her from any harm us on the outside might try to bring. She wore a camouflage uniform, her dark hair slicked back into a tight bun at the back of her head.

“Next,” she droned to the room at large. The boy at the front of the line walked eagerly forward.

The room smelled stale, as if a window hadn’t been opened since the place had been built. Overhead, long banks of lights flickered green. I looked over at the security guard, standing at attention, two hands on his gun. I wondered what he was waiting for.

“What’s a pretty little thing like you doing here?”

It was the boy in front of me. I glared up at him, then looked away. He snorted.

“Aw, come on now, girly,” he said, taking a step towards me. “I’m just makin’ friends.”

I glanced over at the security guard, but I could see his eyes flitting back and forth as he scanned his lens. He would be no help.

I turned back. The boy’s white-blond hair had already been shaved short, and the stubs that remained glinted in the green light from overhead.

“I have all the friends I need, thanks,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

He stepped back, cupping both his hands over his heart.

“Oh, why you gotta go and hurt me like that?” he said, smirking. Then he turned back to face the counter again. “Have it your way, princess. But when you’re out there on the field and ain’t nobody comin’ to help you out, you’ll remember me then.”

Another boy had entered the room, and he walked up to stand in line behind me. The two young men towered over me, the one in front turning to appraise the other new recruit. The new boy danced in place like he was waiting in line for the bathroom. Blondie looked him up and down, then nodded to him as though he had known him for years.

“Next,” called the woman behind the counter.

Blondie turned and puckered his lips in my direction, then approached the window. I sighed with relief as he moved away.

The first boy, the one who had been at the counter, walked across the room and through two large metal doors. They opened automatically as he approached. I peered in his direction, trying to see through the opening, but the doors quickly closed behind him the moment he was through. Suddenly, I desperately wanted to know what was on the other side of those doors. My imagination flitted around, and I saw a series of archaic torture devices in my mind. My hands felt slick with sweat.

“Ugh, I’m nervous,” the boy behind me said.

I glanced back, but didn’t respond.

“What if they don’t take me?” he asked no one in particular. “Mind you, Ma wasn’t too happy when I told her. But she’s just sore. She ain’t thinkin’ right. If I die, she’ll get the death benefit. And if I don’t, then we’ll be rich. Seems like a win-win for her.”

I turned around.

“Death benefit?”

“Yeah,” the boy said. His eyes were kind. Blue. “A hundred grand. Not a fortune, but enough to get her by for a couple years.”

I imagined my mother a year from now out in the city, spending the money gained from my death in a matter of days.

“I don’t want the death benefit,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, still shifting his weight from side to side. “Of course you do! What about your family?”

I faced the counter again.

“Don’t have any,” I said.

“Aw, that’s too bad,” he said. “Are you an orphan? My pal, Jimmy, was an orphan. I can see what you mean. Those places they put you in, they’re no good. In school he never wanted to go at the end of the day. He’d always hang around till late, till he didn’t have no choice but to get out. Is that what it’s like for you?”

I sighed heavily, hoping he’d get the hint.

“Okay, okay,” he finally said. “I get it. You’re not a talker. My ma ain’t much of a talker. She’s always saying that I should learn how to shut up and listen—”

Blondie stepped back from the counter, something silvery sticking out of his fist. Then, he turned and sauntered by.

“See ya around, Pink,” he said, smirking, his chin up as he walked through the metal doors.


“Next,” called the woman behind the counter.

I stood staring after the boy, puzzling for a moment. And then I realized.

The hair.

“Next,” she called again, irritated.

The metal doors shut with a loud clang, and I turned and hurried to the window.

“Hi,” I said. She didn’t look up.

“Name.” Her hands hovered over a keyboard on the other side of the glass, her voice scratchy and magnified by a speaker somewhere I couldn’t see.

“Uh, Livia,” I said.

“Full name.”

“Oh, Livia Marie Taylor,” I sputtered. “Sorry.” Her hands quickly flew across the keys.

“Date of birth.”

“March twenty-fifth, two thousand eighty three.”

“Mmm-hmm,” she said, not noticing or caring that today was, in fact, my birthday. “Ever been arrested?”

“Uh, no.”

“Wanted for any crime?”

“No, I—”


I paused, unsure.

“Can’t I, can’t I just pick up the money here? When it’s over?” I asked.

“I need an address to notify your next of kin in the event of your death.” Her voice was flat as a board.

“I don’t want the death benefit,” I said.

“Address,” she repeated.

“Is there someone I can talk to—” I said, my stomach sinking.

She looked up, finally making eye contact.

“Look, I can’t put you in the system without an address,” she said. “If you don’t want the benefit, you can talk to them in there.” She tilted her head towards the doors.

I stared at her for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Then, unable to think of another, I gave her our apartment address in Brooklyn.

She pulled a thin, plastic card from a tray and slipped it into a slit beneath the keyboard. The clear tag glowed as my information was transferred to it. She handed it to me through an opening half an inch wide in the glass.

“Do you like being in the service?” I asked tentatively, taking the card. Looking around the room, I thought that if I were so lucky to have a job like this for the next two years, I would make it to the end for sure.

“I ain’t in no service,” she said, chuckling. “Hey Sam, this baby girl thinks I’m in the service!” The man with the gun grinned. The woman looked back down at the computer, shaking her head. “I may be poor, but I ain’t stupid.”

“So, you just work here?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, just kept shaking her head as she tapped against the screen. Finally, she pulled a thin, metal chain from her drawer and passed it to me.

“Good luck, baby girl,” she said, her eyes meeting mine for the first time. “You gonna need it. Next.”

I stepped away from the counter, and the kid who had come in after me bumped into me as he raced up for his turn.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. “Hey, nice talking to you.”

I stared, finally turning towards the doors. I wondered if, once I stepped through them, I would ever emerge again.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 5


I got lost in Grand Central Station.

I hadn’t meant to go. I had had my destination clearly in my head. The destination I had counted on to break me out of my reality for years.

But when I saw the enormous statues carved into the sides of the building, I stopped and stared, mouth open.

I had been sucked in with the rest of the crowd, and soon found myself surrounded by the opulence of centuries lost to history. Everyone hurried to make their trains as I stood there, dumbstruck within the enormous building. My will to join the other recruits seemed to evaporate as I watched the suited men, the women in their high, clicking heels. I wanted to go where these people were going. I didn’t want to join the service, not really. I didn’t want to be part of the city percent who’d be dead in a year. Who did?

I knew I should have waited for Alex before coming to the city; I’d been afraid that he would try to talk me out of joining. But I didn’t need him trying to convince me to keep out of the service, not in that moment. In that moment I just wanted to get out, to fly away as far as my money would take me.

I had been to the main computer already, a bank of touch screens raised on platforms where tickets could be purchased. None took cash, but that didn’t matter, because every single train ride out of Manhattan cost more than a thousand dollars to buy.

Suddenly, the plans I had been dreaming of for the past ten years seemed flat, never exceeding what my tear-streaked daydreams could produce. All I was was a girl standing alone, three hundred dollars short of a ride to anywhere.

I should have done more. I could have planned for more than just war. I could have found someone on the outside, anyone, to help me get out. I had been stupid.

I found myself sitting, right there on the polished floor, unable to move another step in any direction. This was the end of the line. I may as well lay down and die right here, because there was nothing for me, never would be, anywhere else.

Two men in black uniforms with huge guns slung over their shoulders approached me. I knew they wanted me to leave, but every ounce of steam I had had keeping me upright and moving seemed to have drained out of me. I sat, staring ahead, not even caring what might happen next.

They didn’t bother speaking at all. Instead, they each took one of my arms and hoisted me to my feet. They steered me towards the main exit, but my feet barely touched the ground as my body was propelled along by their thick, muscular hands. I was deposited just outside the doors on Lexington Avenue. When I didn’t move, they gave me a little push. I looked back at the man on my right, but his face was stone.

“Off you go,” he said.

I shuffled away. When the men went back inside, I slunk to the ground against the building.

I looked up hopefully at the people whizzing by.

I could beg. 

But I knew it wouldn’t get me far to do that. Sure, I might be able to afford a ticket after a day or two, but then what?

I stared blankly at the building across the street. The citizens raced up and down the sidewalk, blurring in front of my vision. In the upper right corner of my lens, an icon blinked. I gazed at it just long enough for the contents to open. It was a film I had seen before, many times. But I pulled it up anyways, adjusted my earpiece and muttered, “Play.”

White, fluffy clouds appeared before my eyes, blocking all but a small section of my vision. The clouds gradually parted to reveal a tall tower, shining in bright sunlight.

“The future you want is out there,” a voice whispered.

I sat up, suddenly interested, entranced by the images as if it were the first time I’d seen them. The world around me faded as I listened to the familiar notes and watched the woman on the screen strut down the clean, white street. She was the picture of fashion. Lime green shirt. Tight white pants. Hair the color of lemon meringue bounced about her slim shoulders as she casually handed a shopping bag to her attendant.

For a moment, I forgot the mess I was in. I wanted to be that girl. Clean. Powerful.

“The world awaits you,” said the voice.

A shiver of excitement rushed down my spine.

Numbers flashed on the screen, the current reward for two years of completed service. Twenty million dollars. Enough for a Manhattan apartment, a small one, at least. Enough to start a new life.

The image cut to the woman reclining in a deep, soft couch, a glass of wine held delicately in her manicured fingers. Nearby, a servant approached with a bottle, refreshing her glass. She closed her eyes, a gentle smile playing on her full, rose lips.

“Today at Central Service Building, join the brave young recruits to fight for your country. And your future.”

The video clip ended. The word future hovered over the center of the screen for several seconds before finally dissolving away, leaving only the sidewalk in front of me.

I looked down at my own hands. The nails were ratty, broken, nothing at all like the woman’s in the video.

Of course not. The polish and shine comes after you serve. Not before.

I could do it. I could be her. I imagined myself on that couch, high up in the ivory tower. So high I could see the tops of the clouds. I looked up at the shining buildings hovering over my head, the tops not even visible from down on the street where I sat.

The people on the island always talked about the dangers, about their lost children, killed for wars that never seemed to benefit anybody. I had known some of the boys who had disappeared over the years, though, and they had been idiots all. They had probably stormed right in, eager to show their prowess.

I’m smarter than that.

The voice was small, but certain. It was possible.

I stood up and started walking away from the station again, my destination once again resolved firmly in my mind. I would just go to the center. I would not get sidetracked again.

Five days. Just five days where the scrutiny would be intense. Once I was in, I was just another body.

Suddenly, I was walking with purpose. I stepped off the sidewalk and darted across the busy street.

All it would take was getting through the exam. I could do it. I had practiced for years, strengthening my muscles to the point where I could hide my limp almost entirely. Now, it only surfaced when it became too cold for me to mask it. Or if I lost concentration.

I paused, staring down at my feet. I silently willed them to obey. To not betray my secret.

I stepped up on the sidewalk, and my right leg gave a slight wobble.

I scowled and pushed on.

All I had to do was survive.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 4


The sun was just coming up over the horizon, but it was already sticky hot. I peeled off my thin jacket, stuffing it into my bag as I started the long walk up Broadway towards Grand Central. The walk would take me over an hour, but would save me forty dollars. As I exited the station, the elevated train whirred by overhead. It was nothing like the train I had come in on. Even from down here I could see the polished silver skin on the cars shining in the morning light. It was transportation for the elite, for those who couldn’t afford to lose an hour walking down on the street with the common people.

The city began to fill as I walked. By the time I crossed Canal Street, the sidewalk was full of people rushing in every direction. My lens constantly scanned, but only once did I see it flash orange. I whipped my head around in the direction the screen indicated, anger and fear flaring inside me, automatically expecting to see the woman from the train. But it was someone else, an older man in ragged clothes who stared absently into the crowd. I quickly turned away before he noticed I was looking at him, and hurried along.

My path through the city narrowed the farther I went, and the great protecting walls got closer and closer until I was walking through what felt like a tunnel. In this part of the city, they had only saved the buildings on Broadway, keeping the street that should have been underwater dry in order to connect north and south Manhattan. The towers just a block beyond had been torn down to make way for the wall, or in some cases filled with cement in order to save resources. There were places, I had heard, where you could walk up to the entrance of a building, open the door, and be greeted by nothing but a solid wall of concrete on the other side.

I paused, looking down a side street towards the wall beyond. I had never gotten very close. The inner edges were protected by police, constantly scanning the area. All it would take to bring the city to its knees was one big breach in that massive dam. And it had been attempted before. Whenever an attack was made, lens would flash red, enough to chill anyone paying attention to their core. Red was reserved for only one designation of person.


One officer patrolled along the street beyond, and I looked at him for a moment. I wondered if he was scared all the time. Like I was.

He noticed me, and I saw him lift a finger to his ear, saw his lips move.

I quickly moved on. Even showing too much interest in something so important could land me in a heap of trouble, and I wanted no part of it.

Several others, clearly on the same path as me, whizzed by me, their bodies accustomed to the long walk to and from north and south. When Mom had still worked, she made this walk every day to save cash. But it had been a long time since she had worked anywhere. Now, as I walked along her old commute route, I wondered what would happen to her after I was gone.

Nothing, probably. She would just sit there, slowly waste away, staring at the screens before her without even noticing anything had changed.

My stomach felt heavy with this thought, and my pace slowed as I imagined her dead, never having realized or cared that I was gone at all.

I looked up at the narrow passageway before me and suddenly felt I had to get to the other side. I couldn’t breathe here, with the buildings rising up around me and the wall threatening to cave in just beyond them. I broke into a run, desperate to make it to the station before my nerves could get the better of me.

I couldn’t stay. I had to get out. And once I did, I would never come back. Never.

I ran all the way up Broadway and didn’t stop until the wall receded further back into the city, and I was deposited onto Park Avenue. I stopped, heaving, and leaned against a tall, white building to catch my breath.

Here was a little better. When I looked up, it felt like I could see a little more sky. The buildings that shot up into the morning were like pieces of both ancient and modern art, weaving together as they reached out, a great exhibition of human innovation and passion. Together they combined to create a beacon calling people to what was left of this great city. The buildings here seemed untouched by the oppressive concrete structure that kept the encroaching world out just steps back down Broadway.

I rested my hands against the cool, white stone at my back and breathed deeply. I would have loved nothing more than to disappear into one of these great monoliths, to hide out and be forever impossible to discover. I could start over inside their vast interiors, be somebody else, somebody so different that no one would ever be the wiser that I was just a rat from the wasted streets of Brooklyn.

“Move along, miss.” The voice surprised me, and I jumped at suddenly being torn from my fantasy.

A man stood a few feet away, one hand on a long, black baton tied to his waist.

I pushed away from the building.

“But I’m just standing,” I argued, my breath still not completely caught.

“Can’t stay here,” he said.

I looked back the way I had come. The street was really very wide, but it was dark, like some nightmare or another waited at the end of it, where I had just emerged from.

“Okay,” I said absently. I turned away from the dark, creeping main artery of the city, and made my way up Park Avenue.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 3


The money lasted two months. After that, he was dead, and we went on the stipend like everyone else.

I shoved the memory away. The days of good times with my dad were over. And there weren’t many more good days to remember with my mom, either. Not after that.

I kicked a piece of rock fallen from a decaying building as I walked. I was anxious, not just for the testing, but for the trip to the city. Too many people around made me nervous, and even though I’d grown up on the streets, and mostly alone, I always felt out of place no matter who I was standing next to.

Slowly, people started to emerge from the shadows as night slipped away. My lens immediately started calculating, identifying each individual by name and status.

Michael Conrad.

Jackson Perez.

Akasha Inhari.

All greens. I was perfectly safe. No unknowns. No criminals. I took a deep breath and hurried towards the platform.

As I took the first step up the stairs, my stomach lifted and I gasped a little. Butterflies. It was an unfamiliar feeling, a sudden nervousness.

Excitement, I thought.

Something was about to change. Once I got into the city, I could go anywhere, even if I’d be broke by the time I reached the station on the other side.

It could be good. There was a chance, however slim, that I could pull this off.

I climbed the narrow staircase to the train platform and stood behind the others, waiting. The train arrived, on time to the second, the banged up doors opening with a loud squeak. I stepped onto the train quickly, knowing that when the doors closed, they wouldn’t be opening again for anything.

I scanned the people inside. Green. Green. Green.


My breath caught.

It was a woman. Dressed all in black, she sat at one end of the car, her feet propped up lazily on the empty seat opposite her. Her dark hair was cropped short, eyes covered in thick, black makeup.

I tried not to stare, but fear held me frozen. My lens was flashing, covering my vision with a blinking orange overlay, urging me to turn and move in the other direction.

The woman snapped her gum, looking around the train car at the greens who avoided her. Then her eyes caught mine. She smirked, and then winked.

I started, immediately dropping my gaze. My heart thudded as I moved to the other end of the car, hoping she would leave me alone. I shouldn’t have looked, shouldn’t have tempted her. My lens stopped flashing as I surrounded myself with the other greens. I found a seat easily, though this side of the train was much more crowded than where the woman was keeping court. But as I sat down, I saw that she was distracted by her lens, still sitting in the same spot as her eyes flitted back and forth, quickly sorting through whatever information interested an orange. I exhaled and sat back against the seat as the train began to move.

We climbed up, up, as the tracks soared above the water that covered much of the city. Not far from the tracks, the buildings gradually fell into disrepair in the places where the sea had reclaimed the land. They were long abandoned, their lower floors flooded. Soon enough, the rest of this place would be underwater, too, with no wall to protect us. I squirmed in my seat as I imagined what it would be to stay here, trapped in our dingy apartment as the waves slowly crawled closer and closer with each passing month.


The words blinked on the lens screen that covered my pupils, then faded out again. I looked through the window and saw the wall that encircled lower Manhattan. It was a hundred feet tall, recently increased from the fifty foot barrier that was slowly becoming obsolete. The white stones, new and yet untouched by the sea water, rested atop the older, charcoal ones that had guarded the city since long before I was born.

The train rushed forward, flying over the water of the river towards the open gates in the thick concrete. My heart jumped as we burst through the gateway into the great city beyond. This train only had one stop inside, and as it pulled up to the outdoor platform, we all stood up, ready to disembark.

I stood back, let the other people on tighter schedules jostle each other as they made their way towards the exit. As they filed out, the countdown clock above the door started ticking down.

10 … 9 …

I tried not to push the woman in front of me.

… 8 … 7 …

Finally, she had found her opening, trotting through it out into the morning beyond. I intended to follow her, but once her frame disappeared around the corner, I found a set of eyes looking at me I hadn’t expected. Standing directly across from me was the woman, the orange.

… 6 … 5 …

I froze, staring. She smiled wickedly and held out her hand, indicating I should exit ahead of her. I swallowed heavily. Most of the greens were already off the train now. I needed to get out of here or it would be just the two of us left inside, trapped together for the long ride back to Brooklyn, a dangerous situation for anybody to find themselves in.

… 4 … 3 …

I ducked my head and made for the door. My lens flashed orange, warning me to turn back. I just managed to hold back a yelp of fear as I passed by her and the dreaded jaws of the doors, not daring to look her in the eye.

I quickly moved away towards the vanishing group of greens, seeking to hide myself within their safe numbers. I didn’t even glance back as I held my breath, trying to push my way in.

I felt a strong shove between my shoulder blades and nearly fell face first onto the platform. I grabbed the jacket of the man in front of me, trying to right myself. He glared back at me.

“Sorry,” I said, looking around.

She had already turned away, was jogging across the open platform towards a different way down.

I panted, still clinging to the man.

“Excuse me, miss,” he snarled.

I looked up, dazed, and released him.

“Sorry,” I said again.

He headed down the narrow staircase, following the others. I stood still for a moment, staring at the spot where the woman had disappeared. Finally, when I realized I was the only one left on the platform, I turned and followed the others.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 2


I scrolled through the other dresses, pretending I was a wealthy woman, able to afford all of these and more if anything were to catch my fancy. The last in the list was bubblegum pink. My hair was colored just a shade darker than the dress, and as I spun in the early morning dawn, tiny crystals in the skirt caught what light there was along the dingy street.

Of course, I wouldn’t keep the hair. They would shave it when I made it into the service. I had just colored it for fun, anyways. Alex had mocked me for the change.

“You look like some sort of … I don’t know, a demented doll or something,” he said. “If I had a little sister she could braid your hair and stick bows on you.”

“Shut up,” I said, shoving him.

We were walking down Bridge on our way to school. The acidic stench of the burning plants hung low on the streets, making my eyes water. I rubbed them and my lens jogged inside my vision.

“So,” he said, “just four more weeks until recruiting day.”

I shrugged. Talking to Alex about recruitment was something that took a delicate hand. We both knew he was going. He wanted me to stay out of trouble, though, even trouble that could land me half a million dollars a year. Truth was that we’d both seen how many women made it out of the first year. Not many.

“They’ll haze you on the first day with that hair,” he said, appraising.

“Yeah, well, I won’t be keeping it for very long, will I?” I said.

The other kids at school hadn’t batted an eye when I’d shown up at school with it. With their eyebrow rings and branded skin, they were playing on a whole other level.

I knew why those kids hurt themselves. I felt the same way, too, only I was too squeamish to go under the iron. I wanted to scream, though. All the time.

“You could stay, too, you know,” I said quietly.

He didn’t answer. Instead we walked the remaining two blocks in near silence. I looked up at him a couple times as we trudged along. He had a new bruise swelling on his left cheek.

Alex had it worse than me.

For both of us, there was nowhere else to go. It was either the stilts or the military. Or, if you were willing to risk it, a job at the burning plants. But those jobs didn’t have a much better rating of survivability than the military, to be honest. Sure, you might last a couple years longer, but the chemicals would seep into your eyes in the end. I’d seen more people near blind than I could count. They could try to hang on with the government money, but it was nowhere near enough to survive on, nowhere near what Mom got for keeping me around.

There were other jobs to be had in the city, too. But lack of pedigree or college, which almost no one could afford, and there was no breaking into that crowd.

I swiped my hand left and watched as the dress faded away, leaving just me to look at. Worn out jeans. Imitation military boots. Ratty t-shirt. You’d never guess a dingy girl like me dreamed of riches and gowns. You’d never guess that of a lot of girls. But most girls liked glitter as much as the next, I figured, even if they hid it. Of course, who would wear something like that around here? I was surprised the store had hung on in this part of town at all.

I moved away from the shop and continued walking toward the station. It was one of the few that was still in working order, only because the track ran above ground all the way into the city. I shuffled the coins quietly in my right pocket. Pocket money was a joke in my world, and it had taken a few careful months of sneaking tiny bits of money from the grocery stipend to gather enough to go, missing a few meals in the meantime. Tickets to the city weren’t cheap. Not anymore. The city people, they were as closed off beyond that wall as it was possible to be. They may as well have been another country for all I knew.

I had only been into the city once, when my dad was still alive. I was little, maybe three or four, and he’d taken me in to the New York City headquarters for an afternoon. The headquarters was boring and smelled like dust and decaying carpet, but Dad had made up for it later in the day when he bought me my first, and only, ice cream. It was May, and the weather was just starting to get hot. A late rain had washed the chemicals down from the atmosphere and into the drains, so everyone could breathe the clean air. Dad had just finished his first year in the service, so we had some money for things.

“Soon, we’ll be moving out of our apartment,” he said, looking around. “Would you like to live here in the city?”

I would’ve agreed to anything through that mouthful of praline and cream. I had never experienced something so wonderful. I looked around as my tongue chased a melted drop on the cone and nodded.

“Me, too,” he said, sitting back against the bench. For some reason he looked worried. “Just two more years and that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

He left again the next day, and things were good around the house for a while. There was money now for things like bread and sometimes chocolate. Everyone ate the nutrition squares provided by the government, so we wouldn’t have gone hungry without the extra food. But the texture of the treats brought new sensations to my mouth and stomach, and instilled in me a desire to get more sugar, more milk, more bacon At any cost.

I couldn’t wait for Dad to get back so he could try these sorts of things. This time I would be introducing the delicious delicacies to him.


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Pink: Episode 1, Part 1



It was the best day to have a birthday, the earliest possible day. Day one of the recruitment. The day I became legally free. Seventeen.

I pulled on my boots and crept toward the front door. Early morning was the perfect time to break away. Mom was passed out on the couch, and the chances of waking her were slim. Still, I was careful. She wasn’t much with dates, and it was entirely possible that she hadn’t remembered my birthday at all. But today was the day that I became a commodity. To her. To the government. Today was the day she needed to convince me to stay for just one more year.

But I wasn’t staying.

I slipped down the staircase of our fourth floor walk-up. At five in the morning, none of the neighbors made a sound. The good folks, immigrants mostly, stayed quietly in their apartments, their doors and windows locked tight. The rest of them were quiet at this hour of the morning, too tired or too drunk to continue on.

The recruitment would last only five days. That meant I would have the entire five days to pass, and I knew I would need every one of them. No amount of training would have given me a leg up on these tests, though. Sure, I could run five miles without stopping. I could lift myself for fifty pull ups. The usual.

But I was little. I’d seen the soldiers walking through Brooklyn, the ones who made it past the first year, and they were huge. Mostly men, too, though I knew that more than half of the new squads were always women. Funny, I never saw the women parading themselves in the streets. I wondered if they were all on the front lines, expendable. The first to enlist, the first to die. It didn’t matter, though, what gender you were; not for recruitment. It wasn’t easy to get in no matter what or who you were. And it was harder still to survive.

Funny how the government wanted only the best recruits as their soldiers, when so many of them were going to die by the end of the first year anyways.

I walked past an advertisement for the enrollment. It was stuck to a brick wall, moss crawling through the mortar. Two men in battle uniform, rifles on their shoulders. They looked hard, dirtied, scraped up with their camera-ready scowls hinting at courage.

“Defend the Nation” read the sign.

From what? I wondered.

It didn’t matter.

The payoff … twice the average annual salary for five years, the unwavering respect of ordinary citizens, a chance to pull myself out of the gutter and make it somewhere above ground. They payoff was what mattered.

And a chance to get away from Mom. Because really, where else could I go? Alex’s wasn’t an option; he had his own problems. And anywhere seemed better than where I was coming from … almost anywhere.

I had seen the street people before. They lived behind the wall, squatting in the upper floors of the long-abandoned high rises that used to line downtown. With not enough room in the boroughs, and none of them willing to take on government jobs, there was no stipend for them. Mom only got her checks because my dad had died in the service, leaving a child behind. Me. Once I was gone, her money would go, too.

No matter where I ended up, there would be no more smelly apartment with her, wasted on the couch, barking out orders. No more standing over the half-broken stove, trying to pry burned noodles from the bottom of the pan, scavenging a dinner for myself. She might notice that I left, but it would take her all the way until stipend day before she cared. Then she would be frenzied in her search, and eventually she would realize I was gone for good. If I had stayed, it would have meant one more year of government money for her. But once I was gone, there would be no going back; after she missed the first month’s stipend without me there to prove eligibility, I knew she’d be just sober enough to beat me bloody the next time I saw her.

Fifty percent. Those were my chances of surviving year one. Thirty percent, year two. After that, it was officer jobs, or maybe something behind a desk, worst case scenario. Either way, there’d be the money.

She might treat me differently then.

The trains weren’t running at this hour, even though the curfew ended at four. I killed some time on my way down Livingston. We didn’t have a wall like they did in Manhattan, so it was just raw ocean in places along Atlantic. No more stores. Just people desperate enough to live right on the edge of the sea where rents were next to nothing. We all paid a price, though, even those who could afford to live higher up. During storms the only place to survive on the ground was Park Avenue. Most people just stayed on the higher floors of their apartment buildings and hoped for the best.

I stopped in front of a ratty looking store front, images of flowing gowns gliding across the viewscreens. I stood in front of the mirror, and the electronic voice read my lens and spoke.

“Welcome Livia Taylor,” the computer said in a floaty woman’s voice.

Immediately it offered ten choices for me, and I moved my hand up to the first box, flicking my finger slightly to make my selection. Instantly a black gown was fitted to my tiny frame, as realistic in the mirror as if I were wearing it now, in the street. I turned, checking out the gown from all sides, wondering what it was going to feel like to have the five thousand dollar asking price. Because I was going to have it. I was going to survive. To tell myself anything else would have been suicide.


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Flight: Part 9

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In the night the herd had moved away. His heart sank as he realized how far they had gone—almost to the edge of the last pillars. He packed his things and slowly moved in their direction.

With each pillar he passed he felt along the stone with one open hand. There had been no repetition in the pillars; each of them was completely different from the last. Where the builders had obtained their stone, he couldn’t imagine. Was it possible for one mountain range to carry so many different types? As he took in the great basin they stood beside, he wondered how long it had been since it was full of water. How long ago the people who had constructed the monuments had lived beside them. It must have been thousands of years, he thought. No trace of a village remained, all long since devoured by the earth’s elements.

As he walked, his tongue stuck like glue to the top of his mouth. He wished that the basin was full, or at least had a trickle of water running through it. But he knew that, though he would’ve stayed much longer, he would only have a day or two to remain here without more water. The weather had cooled compared to the dry heat of the desert, but the breeze only brought him a sliver of relief.

He tried to ignore the sensations in his mouth and throat as he neared the herd. When he was just close enough for them to hear him, the leader’s head jolted upright into the air, alert, but not yet alarmed. Kiron froze, staring. The herd was farther apart from each other now, feeling more comfortable to wander after a night without danger threatening. As the leader slowly lowered his head to graze, Kiron sank to the ground. He didn’t dare move any closer. They could move so much faster than he could, and for all he knew, any unexpected sound might send them flying away to the mountains beyond. And then where would he be?

He took out his notepad. He had intended to take notes and make drawings during his travels, but he had left it untouched before now. The adventure of seeing new things and walking through this new land had made the idea of stopping to record his thoughts ridiculous. He had felt content to simply remember these fantastical sights, to view them in his memory instead of on paper.

But now he had time. Much more time than he had expected at the outset. And, not being able to make it much closer to the herd without frightening them away, he took the opportunity to instead draw all he could see.

He had never been much of an artist, and he doubted that two days worth of time with a pencil would turn him into one. But he tried just the same. He drew the pillars, with the great basin beside, simply as a record of having been to this place. He drew a small figure sitting beside the enormous stones to show their scale.

When it came to drawing the pegasus, though, he was at a loss. He had spent time around horses before, of course. His family had two that they used to help around the farm with planting and harvesting. He had never taken a particular liking to them, at least not like Lissa had. She had a language all her own when it came to animals. Still, he had had a few quiet moments of wonder, staring up into their big, alert eyes, stroking their velvety soft noses.

The greatness he had seen yesterday, though, the old farm horses couldn’t touch. He tried, and failed, to draw the leader’s head, his eyes wide, nostrils flared. It was a crude drawing at best, so much so that when he moved on to attempt the body and the wings, it was practically laughable. It didn’t take him long to give up. He would much rather have the mental images in his mind than to waste his time among them trying to draw. Maybe when he got back home.

He packed up again and moved toward the herd. This time he pressed in, walking until he was twenty feet away before sinking down to the ground. He had all eyes on him then, but the leader, seemingly unconcerned about his renewed presence, merely crunched his grass and lowered his head for more. After several long, tense moments, the rest of the pegasus followed his lead, tucking their wings tightly to their bodies, raising their heads to look at him in between bites.

He lay back in the short grass, using his pack as a pillow. He would only rest for a time, he thought. With each ripping bite of the grass, with each grinding crunch of their teeth, with each low snort of their noses, he was lulled off to sleep.

It was his sweat that awakened him. The sun was baking him in his traveling clothes, and he was thirstier than ever when he sat up again. For a moment, he stared around him, terrified that he had missed the pegasus, that they had somehow fled while he had slept.

Then he heard the sound, a snort, coming from behind. He turned to find that the herd had come around, had passed him by and now grazed just feet from where he had been sleeping.

He watched as two thoughtful eyes regarded him, almost lazily, as the animal chewed. She was so close. He might be able to touch her if he just reached out his hand. He moved to his hands and knees and slowly approached, but he was too quick. The mare startled and backed up, unfolding her magnificent wings as she moved away. The others in the herd did not bolt, but stayed wary as Kiron slowly got to his feet.

He felt dizzy. The day was almost over. There was no chance of making it home without reprimand at this point. But he doubted how much longer he could go without water.

He took a few tiny, careful steps toward the herd. All heads came up. All chewing ceased. The mare he had startled moved farther away until she was at the far reaches of the herd.

He kept moving, suddenly unwilling to stop, the sweat still pouring down his neck as he moved, only slightly relieved from the breeze. He just wanted to touch one. To feel their glistening fur beneath his palm. Just so he could say that he had.

He moved among the animals, and though they stayed alert, none of them fled. The leader had been grazing in the center of the herd, and he approached Kiron now, seeming fearless. Whether it was true or just a show, Kiron couldn’t tell.

The leader pranced before him, just as he had the day before. He unfurled his wings, and seeing them so much closer than yesterday was breathtaking. It seemed that every tiny strand attached to every feather was made of diamond, and they shone in the light like sun shining off the sea.

He flapped the wings, and again the great whoosh of air blew Kiron’s hair out of his face.

Yet he still moved closer.

The pegasus snorted, then whinnied a loud, piercing cry. The others in the herd stretched their wings in unison, ready to take to the air at the first call from their leader.

But he didn’t fly.

Kiron took another step. Then another. He reached out one hand, careful to not make any sudden movements. So close now to the soft muzzle. Just another inch.

The animal reared, kept aloft by his enormous wings.

Kiron stepped backward, then fell, just catching himself with his arms. For the first time, fear flooded through him. He was vulnerable now. What had he been thinking? This was a beast; a beautiful one, yes, but a beast nonetheless.

The great stallion crashed his front hooves to the ground, inches from Kiron’s knees. He lay there, completely still but for the panicked heaving of his chest.

And then he reached out.

The leader again raised up onto his two hind legs, thrashing his wings in the late afternoon air. This time when he landed, it was by Kiron’s head.

His nostrils were tight, blowing great gusts of air into his face and hair. His whiskers touched Kiron’s cheek, and he laughed despite the danger he was in.

He reached out again.

But it was too late. This time when the stallion reared, the rest of his herd followed him. As he took to the air, Kiron sat up, then stood, then ran after the leader, still so desperate to have just one gentle touch.

The herd flew above him, swarming like a flock of birds. They played in the air now that they were free of the threat. The stallion circled around, and they all followed him. He turned and sped toward Kiron, lower and lower.

The leader would hit him. This would be Kiron’s price for getting too close. The animal would crash into him, he was sure. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to run away. All he could do was stare, open mouthed, as the end of his life came closer, closer. If there was another world beyond this one, he would remember it all, every move the animals made, every breath that moved in and out of him as he waited for the end. No picture created by his hand would ever suffice. Only his eyes, wide and clear, would tell the story.

He stood, and only when the pegasus was too close did he waver, falling backward to the ground in the instant before the great animal’s hooves would have thrust him there. Above him, enormous body after body swept past, giant wings beating down in the evening air.

He turned over as the last pegasus passed and watched the herd as it made its way past the last pillar and out of the valley.

He never did touch one, never did get that flesh memory to bring home with him. He didn’t know how their hot skin would feel beneath his palm. Didn’t know how large their deep eyes were up close. Would never remember the feeling of their wings. Were they soft and supple? Hard and absolute? He had known them in none of these ways. Only in one glorious moment did he ever get close, really close, to the majestic beasts of Gedalta.

He had known them in flight.



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Flight: Part 8

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His brain was buzzing as he watched the movements of the animals. They were so close. If he took ten paces toward them, he might even be able to touch one. One soft, velvety nose. He imagined what those wings must feel like. Were they like bird’s wings, with hard, thick stalks running through ever feather? Or were they maybe softer, as luscious as those white muzzles he so longed to touch.

He had heard of pegasus before, but he had always thought they were just players in fairy tales, told to children to help them drift off to sleep, majestic dreams filling their heads.

These were no fairy tales. He moved toward them once more, but as he did, they shied. The animals at the back of the group trotted away, not yet scared of him, just moving away from a potential threat. The leader stayed behind for a moment, his front hooves dancing, his nostrils flaring as he regarded Kiron. Then, he turned on the spot and went after his herd.

Kiron hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath, and he let it out now in a long, slow sigh. It was his last night in Gedalta. He knew this, and the urgency of his need to get closer to the herd began to overtake him. He wanted a tale all his own, a real tale that he could tell to anyone willing to listen. Maybe if he only ever saw the pegasus with his eyes, and didn’t feel them with his hands … would that make it harder to remember? Would his story eventually be punctured with holes as his memories became old and worn over the years?

He moved closer again, but this time the herd was watching him just as he was watching them. They turned and moved away before he had barely taken five steps in their direction.

But not the leader. He did as before, staying behind to evaluate the threat, himself. He was only thirty feet away, but when he opened his wings, Kiron gasped.

They were much larger than he had imagined them to be. Pure white, they spread out in the air beside the pegasus, at least ten feet long on either side and half as wide. The animal stood there, regarding him. Then he took a couple of purposeful steps in Kiron’s direction, and his wings moved as he did, blowing great gusts of air with power so forceful that it blew Kiron’s hair away from his face.

Was it a threat? Kiron couldn’t tell. Perhaps the animal was showing off his size, like a male turkey puffing up to scare off a potential enemy. He stood watching, awestruck, not caring in that moment whether the great beast intended to attack him or not. All he cared about was watching the animal, memorizing his every move, every dart from his eyes, every movement from his hooves.

Every gust from his wings.

Then, as before, the pegasus turned and followed his herd, this time at a gallop, as they had moved much farther away. He folded his wings in as he went, kicking up his back feet with his powerful hind end as one final warning to Kiron.

Kiron sat down right where he stood, barely able to breathe. His blood was pulsing through every part of his body, and yet he found he couldn’t get enough air to fill his lungs. It was with dizzied eyes that he watched the herd move away, and with a confused mind that he tried to begin the formation of a plan. Minutes passed. His breathing eased. In the distance, the leader of the herd turned to watch him, but he stayed still on the ground. Not a threat.

He would gather his things and try to bridge some of the distance between himself and the herd. Then he would wait. He would wait for days, for as long as he was physically able.

It no longer mattered to him to make it home in time before his parents’ arrival. This was an adventure he no longer wished to keep secret. He would want to tell the world about what he had seen, to share, with anyone willing to believe, the wonder that he now felt. No, following the commands of his family no longer mattered, no longer held importance compared to the heaving bodies of the pegasus. And the punishment he might receive seemed a paltry price to pay in exchange for staying right where he was.

The sun was setting, sending shafts of light to reflect off the enormous pillars, releasing from them a rainbow of beams to complement the colors in the sky.

He settled fifty feet away from the herd. They watched him, but did not seem to be so bothered by his presence. They had plenty of time to flee if he were to start another approach.

As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, he watched them, unwavering, planning, hoping.

He must get closer.


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Flight: Part 7

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Two more days passed, and while the mountains loomed larger on the horizon, he still felt as if he were a world away. This would be his last night in Gedalta, and what did he have to show for it? Tanned arms and worn out boots. He could think of nothing else.

But you did it, he thought.

Who cared if this long walk had been the entire adventure after all? For all he knew, this was what it was like for Lissa and Father each time they traveled.

Slowly over the course of the afternoon, the ground began to change beneath his feet. The hard-packed earth gave way at first to tiny patches of grass, dry and brittle, and then to small plants sticking up into the sun, clinging to their survival in this arid place. As the hours passed, he saw something more on the horizon, too. At first glance he thought maybe the foothills to the mountains were beginning at last, but the closer he got the more perplexed he became.

Instead of the land moving upward into hills, it curved down. He began to notice it only when he realized he was descending, and he corrected his course and went back up to the top. Then, with his eyes fully alert and trained on the landscape, he saw it.

A huge depression stretched out before him, like somebody had come along and scooped out a vast section of the ground. He puzzled over it as he skirted the edge. There was no river down below, no canyon carved from water’s chisel. What, then? How had this come to be? The word floated up from his memory: a crater. He had never seen one before, but had read about them in books, a large section of land pierced by a meteor from the stars.

He had been walking for many miles now, barely looking where he was going and only staring out across the strange part of the land. Well, he told himself, at least he’d seen something.

That’s when he noticed it. The foothills he thought he had seen up ahead were not foothills at all. Now that he had come closer, he saw that they were several smaller pieces that, when seen as a group, had resembled a hill. But now with his closeness, they had broken apart into several individual pieces thrusting up into the sky.

The monuments.

He ran toward them, but only for a few moments. The dryness of his tongue reminded him of his nearly depleted store of water, and he slowed back down to a walk.

They were huge. They must be, as he was impressed by their size from this distance already, and he had to be miles away. He paused, staring at the ground, and realized with a sudden flash of inspiration what the crater really was. Or had been.

A lake.

The grass had thickened as he walked along the cliffside, and the air had slowly grown moist, a change from the desert where he had landed. But no grass lay within the crater, and he thought he knew why. The rains didn’t touch the land he had walked across for days, but they must do so here. Or they did. How much drought had been enough to drain this entire hole in the ground until it was dry as bone? He stopped briefly, kneeling down and running his hand across the grass. It was mostly dry, but deep within some of the blades he saw hints of green. It wasn’t entirely dead. Maybe enough rain came to moisten the earth, but not enough to fill the basin once more.

The monuments were getting nearer now, and he could see that they were all built alongside the lip of the lake. Within minutes he would be beside the first of them. As he walked, his head craned up and up the closer he got, and when he finally stuck his hands out to touch the solid rock the pillars were hewn from, he could barely see the top at all.

They were not so high as a mountain, but bigger than any tree. Over what must have been centuries, the edges of the rock had become rough, and divots now bit into the surface. He itched to climb it, to get to the very top so that he could see everything in this strange place. Maybe there was a hint at the top, too, some sort of writing or symbol to describe why the great pillars had been built. But the truth was, even though he might be able to scale the wall, he would never be able to get back down it again. He had climbed plenty of trees in his childhood, but this was no tree. It was a sheer column of granite, and no matter how many divots carved out hand-holds, it was not enough to form a staircase of any manner. He suddenly wished for something he had never thought he would wish for in his entire life.


If Lissa were with him, she could simply fly to the top, maybe even take him along with her, and see whatever was written there. Or maybe instead they would have found nothing at all, and the mystery would remain for all of eternity.

He moved on to the next one. They stood half a mile apart, and when he reached it he realized that it was formed out of an entirely different kind of stone than the first. The first had been granite, and that made sense. Granite was common and easy to find if one knew where to look.

But the rock this one was made of was much whiter than the rough stone that had fashioned the other one. And smooth. He ran his hand up the side of the pillar; no divots here. This stone had remained just as it must have been on the day of the monument’s creation.

He hurried on to the next, and just as before, the stone of this one was nothing like the first two. It had rough, scarred edges and was tinged with green. This seemed to be some sort of precious rock. Why would they have used it to construct something like this? And where had they gotten so much of it?

He ran his hands across the side and turned to look out at the remains of the lake. Had these been built for worship? And of what? The water?

That seemed to make some sense, as this part of the land seemed like an oasis compared to where he had come from. He wondered what it had been like to stand here with water lapping at the edges of the lake. Comforting, maybe, to see before you enough water to last any man a lifetime.

For the rest of the afternoon he walked from pillar to pillar, reaching his hands out to touch the walls of each one, some smooth, some rough, all different from one another. The sun fell toward the horizon and he stopped to settle himself for the night. He took out the last of his water and drank, leaving only a few swallows for the morning. He wished he could stay longer, to see more of the monuments before he jumped back home.

This would have to be enough. He had not seen many sights, but the handful of them he had seen had made his experience in Gedalta. He felt sure that the wonder of this place that he had experienced completely on his own was enough to last him his whole life.

Twilight descended, and he was nearly ready to lie down for his last night under the stars when he saw it. A flash of white.

He bolted up to his feet, heart pounding. He felt a thrill run through him, both of elation and fear.

What was it?

He had set up his little camp at the base of a gray pillar covered with lines of pink, another stone he did not recognize. The flash had come from behind the next pillar in the line.

He looked up into the sky. Did he have time? He quickly gathered his things and walked as quickly and quietly as possible toward the next column. Another flash darted out from behind the stone ahead.

A wing.

He braced himself. He had never heard of dragons to be white. Was that possible? And if not, what then?

He stopped when he was thirty feet from the stone and crouched low. In the distance he heard the soft sound of crunching, and his heart plummeted into his chest. Whatever this beast was, he had interrupted it in the middle of a meal. Every instinct told him to turn back. Once he got out of earshot he could run. And would he find somewhere safe to sleep in the night? Maybe he should just jump home now while he was still intact.

A snorting sound came from the beast and his heart pounded anew. He knew that sound, but couldn’t place where from. The crunching continued. He sat still as one of the stone pillars, waiting, unable to will himself to leave now, to escape.

Everything happened fast, then. One of the beasts stepped out from behind a pillar and gave, unmistakably, a whinny. And when it did, ten or more others stepped out from where they had been hidden. The leader had a long strand of grass sticking out of the side of his mouth, and Kiron realized what the crunching sound had been. He stood up, relieved. These were just horses. But in the darkness he had missed something crucial.

The horses started at him as he began to walk toward them, his hand outstretched. As he neared, something stretched out from the back of the leader, something Kiron didn’t understand. There was one on either side of him, and they were white, impossibly bright. All of the light from the sun had disappeared, leaving a moonless sky, and yet these protrusions nearly glowed in the darkness. They moved up and down, making a great whooshing sound as the horse’s feet lifted from the ground. And then he realized.

They were wings.

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