I wait in line, at Check-In. It’s a long line, and it’s a hot day. The first thing I’m going to do when I get in the city is buy lemonade. I can see tops of skyscrapers over the wall, which is basically a fence with a beige curtain hanging from it, complete with rows of barbed wire on top.
“Nice day.” I say to the woman behind me.
“Yeah,” She laughs. “It’ll be a miracle if we get in the city before the festival starts.”
“You’re here on vacation?” I ask.
She nods, “You?”
“Visiting family,” I lie.
She smiles, tells me to take care, and I step up in line.
Finally, at the front, I’m met by a man who sits behind a white fold-up table, sweat pouring down his egg-shaped head. Casually I glance at the other lines, to see if the other check-in people are as sweaty. They aren’t.
I notice all the check-in workers are Handicaps. A big capital H on the back of their hand and a barcode on the inside of their wrists. Part of me feels sad for them. I don’t know what the other part feels.
“Hand.” The man says formally, holding out his pudgy, dripping hand. I grimace, and he places my hand on his Screen.
“Bag,” he says, and I hand him my backpack.
“Can never be too careful,” He tells me, rifling through my things. “Not after the attack of ‘45.”
“Yep.” Is all I can think to say, finding myself wondering what’s wrong with him.
“All right,” he wipes his forehead with his sleeve. “You’re good to go.”
“Thank you,” I smile, slinging my backpack over my shoulder and walking through the gate to New York City.
The woman’s miracle didn’t work out, the festival has already started. People wear red, and dance with each other. It reminds me of fire. I stop and watch some kid playing the violin.
“Hello,” a blond boy says to me, also watching the kid on stage.
I look at him.
“Happy Super Moon,” he says cheerfully.
“Yeah,” I mumble and push my way past the crowd to a table set with food. People are already dancing and singing, despite the sun still being out. I just watch.
I see the blond boy from before take someone’s wallet. He looks at me, we make eye contact, and he waves.
I tilt my head and give a half-hearted wave back.
The sky turns orange and purple, streaks of dark blue and red; there are fairy lights strung around beams and lanterns hang on strings hung from post to post. Soon most of the town is dancing, a specific dance to a specific song, bodies casting long shadows. Torches that are lit with real fire light the streets. I watch the violin boy and find myself searching for the blond boy, who I can’t see.
“Beautiful sunset,” someone next to me says quietly. I swivel my head around to look at him and see his head dip low, refusing to look at me.
“What are you doing here?” I look away, keeping my voice even despite my anger. I watch the violin boy, just to keep my eyes off off of the man next to me.
“I’m coming with you,” he says simply, taking a little sugar flower and nibbling the end of a petal.
“Like hell you are, Kev,” I laugh, and glare at him. “I’m out. I’m not part of PERSIA anymore.”
“I’m coming,” he repeats. “I need to get out.”
I wave to the woman from the line and curve my lips into a happy smile, as if I’m enjoying the festival.
“Please,” he says quietly.
“You tried to kill me.” I hold my chin up, watching the violin boy again so he can’t see my face.
“What do you think I should have done?” He snaps back, and I look at him, surprised.
He has a point, though. There’s nothing else he could have done, unless he had a death wish.
“All right,” I grumble after a pause.
The sky is dark; there are no stars. The street is lit by lanterns, strung white lights, and the glow of the Solar Road.
“Did they follow you here?” I look at Kev, who shakes his head.
And then the sirens blare; I hear a few screams. A low wail building up to a screaming crescendo, the sirens have people panicking, pushing past each other and hysterically shouting for people they know.
I pull Kev to an opposite alley by the collar of his shirt.
“We need to go.”
He seems surprised that I don’t shout at him.
We run, feet echoing in the alley, the sound of the siren and the shouts fading. With nothing to go on but sight, I am blind. The lights don’t come this far, and all of PERSIA’s self-drivers are silent, including their tanks.
I don’t know where to go; I don’t know where to go where it’s safe. Kev seems to know, so I follow him.
We see flashlights, hear some yelled commands, duck behind buildings or into small shops.
“All right,” Kev whispers, scanning the street ahead. “Come on.”
We slowly leave a flower shop, crowded with fake plants and plastic.
My heart beats fast, and I can’t help but think how close I am. Every footstep, even our own convince me we’re being followed, and every flash of light is a PERSIA soldier near by.
Lost in my thoughts, I trip over a curb. Kev stops to see if I’m OK.
Kev stares at me, mouth hanging open and eyes wide. He falls on his back, breath coming out in gurgled chokes.
I pull myself against a building and pull my hood up. I grab handfuls of dirt and rubble and rub it on my face, into my blue-green hair. PERSIA soldiers run over to Kev’s body, flashlights and guns, bulletproof vests and black helmeted masks.
I sit quietly. Some of them glance at me then quickly look away; I’m invisible.
Ignoring me, they split up, back where they came and walking right past me.
From what I’ve learned, homeless people are always invisible. No matter what. Always.
I wait, my breath coming out in gasps, staring at Kev’s body. Then I get up, and I run.
My shadow stands in front of me, shimmering behind orange light.
I turn around and see the city burning.
Someone grabs my hand, I whip my head around and yank my arm away. The scrawny boy with the violin stands, capital H’s on the back of his hands. Messy brown hair, smudges of soot on his freckled face, and dark bags under gray eyes, looking kind of annoyed at me.
“You’re Handicapped,” I gawk, staring at his hands.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” he tells me.
“Who, Kev?” I step back. “I’m more shocked, than upset.”
“I wasn’t watching you or anything,” He says quickly. “May was, she was on the tops of the buildings.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“The city’s burning.” He glances at city, sighing impatiently.
“I hadn’t noticed.” I snap.
“PERSIA is coming, either go with them or come with us.”
“The city is burning; can we, I don’t know, ask questions later?” He tilts his head and motions for me to follow him.
“Yeah,” I follow him into a building. “So,what’s wrong with you?” I ask, careful not to disrupt the cozy little store.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.” He shoves his hands in his pockets defensively.
“Well clearly there is.”
“Upstairs, follow me.”
I follow him upstairs, where a small girl stands looking out the window. The first thing I notice about her is her sandy blonde hair, curly and knotted. She wears a mens’ muscle shirt under a plaid button up that's way too big for her. She has gray shorts and wears dirty rain boots that are also XL. I’d say she’s about ten.
“Hello,” She waves at me.
“Hi,” I say uncomfortably.
“That's May,” Violin boy tells me.
She peeks out the window again, then we climb out onto the roof and watch the city burn.
I think of the woman in line with me, the sweaty Handicapped man, the yellow-haired boy. And Kev.
At least he’s cremated, to a point.
The little girl starts walking the length of the roof, followed by the violin boy. I trail behind them, casting small glances back at the city that reminded me of fire that danced before the sun set.