The local sergeant didn’t follow the same ceremony as the mayor, but he did keep hard candies on his desk, creamy caramel ones, and Jace left with a handful in his pocket. This man’s purge didn’t veer from the norm in the way of sins, but he had visited the capitol.
What Jace took from the officer wasn’t showcased on flyers or posters or long-winded stories about the sparkling pearl of a city. The city of dreams.
Where the Guard does to their citizens what the ones here do.
Whatever they want.
Jace never went into an appointment with expectations. He’d seen too much of reality’s cruelty.
But when V’s face popped up in the man’s sin.
When he forced her to undress.
Jace no longer wondered why he didn’t often see female Eaters, although he’d seen similar done to many of the young males around him. He remembered more than his fair share of the abuse.
Fresh sin tainted his waking world, but this one carved so much deeper than the rest. So did the pride in helping V get away—a feeling untainted by second-hand experience.
Now, the mayor’s smile was strained and fake as she handed off the formal paperwork to an anonymous man in a suit, who ushered Jace inside a car and fed him a glass of orange juice from a built-in cooling unit.
Today was Jace’s birthday.
Officially a hex, they were moving him to that promised land.
The suit presented a tan envelope.
Jace’s hand shook when he wished it hadn’t. Inside was a thick piece of plastic with a metal square—a chip, the man called it, for food—a map of the capitol, and a schedule for appointments. If he did well, they’d put him up in a room with a bathroom.
The luxury of it squeezed against the tightness already in his chest.
Jovial enough, Jace trusted him enough to ask about V. “Are there female Eaters in the capitol?”
He almost said more, but the wetness of her tears and soft texture of her hair in his fist kept him from it.
The man’s gaze danced wildly, mouth turning down. “No.”
Cold prickled between his shoulders, so Jace sat back in the cushy seat and fumbled with his hands until he gathered the confidence to look out the window. The highway spread its charcoal through the trees in an ever-curving vanishing point.
Slowly, then all at once, buildings popped up, clumping together and pushing nature out of their way. The glittering bits strained higher and higher until the landscape spread in gloom and thrice-reflected light—dim and miserable.
They pulled up in the shadow of a tall building whose bottom was golden from good lighting, rich woods, and solid reds. Iron spread through the furnishings. The man pointed to the door, which opened to the sidewalk bathed in that first-class reflection.
“You have an extra day’s pay for your transition and your promotion. This place is used to first-timers.”
Jace nodded and slipped out of the car, too familiar with the dismissal. He didn’t take it personal, even though it was. Exhaust and sticky flowers perfumed the air. The eatery called to him in the best ways, but hunger died to a numbing pain.
The car disappeared back into traffic, and the new atmosphere towering over him. This place made him feel so small. Insignificant.
An iron bench sat around the corner, so he perched there, finding himself on the map. They’d dropped him smack in the center of the capitol. Most of the marks indicated stores and bakeries and depositories. The marks north of him signified the government buildings and political manors.
A lot more people swathed the streets, and wind tore at their clothes and neatly-kept hair. A burst turned and plowed him in the nose, stealing his breath.
Dark boots stomped under a long, beige coat. Danger scuttled over the squared cement and nipped at Jace’s feet. The man who’d been looking for V.
Jace followed him, even though he wasn’t entirely sure why.
Here, he didn’t have to hide his face yet. No one knew him. He hadn’t seen these people in others’ sins. A perfect opportunity.
She fled only two days ago. If he’d come back, did that mean he lost her trail or that he caught and returned her already. Or killed her.
Jace didn’t want to think that way.
He couldn’t help it.
Her cries resounded in his ears.
They wouldn’t want her dead, but she seemed so determined to die before she’d go back.
Tattering anxiety wormed its way in and out of Jace’s middle, churning his heartbeat in fits and lulls. City corners and intersections blurred together in one macabre stretch of gray and glass.
Once, he swore the man noticed him, but Jace simply nodded his way and kept walking when the man peered over his shoulder. Brazen. It stole him some warmth against the battering wind.
Jace finally passed when the man’s dark boots steered down an obvious dead end. He entered a side door to the building—it closing on his heels. A green front like a miniature cabin. Greasy bread, sauce, and cheese settled around the entrance. METEORITE glowed in yellow above with strands of fake fire tailing off the right.
At the next corner, Jace marked his map at the intersecting street names before he crossed the road and doubled back. The long walk sparked his hunger, so he trudged to the iron-laden eatery for a hamburger, fries, a soda, and a piece of cake—their birthday special.
The extravagance and size gave him a new kind of bellyache, and the sugar battled with the laden feeling of a full stomach. An employee pointed him towards the closest Depository, just a block and a half down, hidden at the edge of a park full of statues and monuments.
If he’d been taught about these people or what they’d done, he didn’t remember them. Just as well that they didn’t. Only his ability to read and write and some moniker of math remained. Enough to survive.
But the train of thought sped away when he climbed into an unoccupied mattress, suppler than any from home, and not even the appealing touch of the iron earrings in his pocket held him to consciousness.
Wife of a disabled veteran, Alisha Costanzo writes about PTSD, gender norms, environmentalism, violence, and conformity. With a mutually-fueled passion to change the world one person at a time, she often writes about her husband’s rants, conspiracy theories, and trains of logic that seem absurd until the connections line up, and mixes them into her obsession with cooking, coffee, and pop-culture monsters.
Most of all, Alisha is passionate about satire and how it can be used as a tool for learning and criticism. Her stories are aware of themselves and determined not to give readers what they think they want.
A New York transplant, she lives in Oklahoma, teaches English and rhetoric at a local university, runs and edits at Transmundane Press, LLC, and navigates the crazy that comes with her husband, fourteen-year-old step son, eight cats, six lizards, six mice, three toads, two snakes, and a water turtle in the master bath, all confined under one roof.