Unwind, page 8part #1 of Unwind Dystology Series
Risa is bowled over. "You knew that?"
Connor looks at her, a bit amused. "Well . . . yeah. "
If Risa felt uncertain about him before, its even worse now. She has no idea what to think. "So . . . everything that happened back there was all a show?"
Now its Connors turn to be unsure. "I guess. Sort of. Wasnt it?"
Risa has to hold back a smile. Suddenly shes feeling strangely at ease with Connor. She marvels at how that could be. If their argument had been entirely real, shed be on her guard against him. If it had been entirely a show shed be on guard too, because if he could lie so convincingly, shed never be able to trust him. But this was a mixture of both. It was real, it was pretend, and that combination made it all right—it made it safe, like performing death-defying acrobatic tricks above a safety net.
She holds on to that unexpected feeling as the two of them catch up with Lev, and move toward the frightening prospect of civilization.
"You cant change laws without first changing human nature. "
— NURSE GRETA
"You cant change human nature without first changing the law. "
The mother is nineteen, but she doesnt feel that old. She feels no wiser, no more capable of dealing with this situation, than a little girl. When, she wonders, did she stop being a child? The law says it was when she turned eighteen, but the law doesnt know her.
Still aching from the trauma of delivery, she holds her newborn close. Its just after dawn on a chilly morning. She moves now through back alleys. Not a soul around. Dumpsters cast angular black shadows. Broken bottles everywhere. This she knows is the perfect time of day to do this. Theres less of a chance that coyotes and other scavengers would be out. She couldnt bear the thought of the baby suffering needlessly.
A large green Dumpster looms before her, listing crookedly on the uneven pavement of the alley. She holds the baby tight, as if the Dumpster might grow hands and pull the baby into its filthy depths. Maneuvering around it, she continues down the alley.
There was a time, shortly after the Bill of Life was passed, that Dumpsters such as that would be tempting to girls like her. Desperate girls who would leave unwanted newborns in the trash. It had become so common that it wasnt even deemed newsworthy anymore—it had become just a part of life.
Funny, but the Bill of Life was supposed to protect the sanctity of life. Instead it just made life cheap. Thank goodness for the Storking Initiative, that wonderful law that allows girls like her a far better alternative.
As dawn becomes early morning, she leaves the alleys and enters a neighborhood that gets better with each street she crosses. The homes are large and inviting. This is the right neighborhood for storking.
She chooses the home shrewdly. The house she decides on isnt the largest, but its not the smallest, either. It has a very short walkway to the street, so she can get away quickly, and its overgrown with trees, so no one either inside or out will be able to see her as she storks the newborn.
She carefully approaches the front door. No lights are on in the home yet, thats good. Theres a car in the driveway— hopefully that means theyre home. She gingerly climbs the porch steps, careful not to make a sound, then kneels down, placing the sleeping baby on the welcome mat. There are two blankets wrapped around the baby, and a wool cap covers its head. She makes the blankets nice and tight. Its the only thing shes learned to do as a mother.
She considers ringing the bell and running, but she realizes that would not be a good idea. If they catch her, shes obliged to keep the baby—thats part of the Storking Initiative too—but if they open the door and find nothing but the child, its "finders keepers" in the eyes of the law. Whether they want it or not, the baby is legally theirs.
From the time she learned she was pregnant she knew she would end up storking this baby. She had hoped that when she finally saw it, looking up at her so helplessly, she might change her mind—but who was she kidding? With neither the skill nor the desire to be a mother at this point in her life, storking had always been her best option.
She realizes shes lingered longer than is wise. Theres an upstairs light on now, so she forces herself to look away from the sleeping newborn, and leaves. With the burden now lifted from her, she has sudden strength. She now has a second chance in life, and this time shell be smarter—shes sure of it. As she hurries down the street, she thinks how wonderful it is that she can get a second chance. How wonderful it is that she can dismiss her responsibility so easily.
Several streets away from the storked newborn, at the edge of a dense wood, Risa stands at the door of a home. She rings the bell, and a woman answers in her bathrobe.
Risa offers the woman a big smile. "Hi, my name is Didi? And Im collecting clothes and food for our school? Were, like, giving them to the homeless? And its like this competition— whoever gets the most wins a trip to Florida or something? So it would be really, really great if you could help out?"
The sleepy woman tries to get her brain up to speed with "Didi," airhead for the homeless. The woman cant get a word in edgewise because Didi talks way too fast. If Risa had had a piece of chewing gum, she would have popped a bubble somewhere in there to add more authenticity.
"Please-please-pretty-please? Im, like, in second place right now?"
The woman at the door sighs, resigned to the fact that "Didi" isnt going away empty-handed, and sometimes the best way to get rid of girls like this is just to give them something. "Ill be right back," the woman says.
Three minutes later, Risa walks away from the house with a bag full of clothes and canned food.
"That was amazing," says Connor, who had been watching with Lev from the edge of the woods.
"What can 1 say? Im an artist," she says. "Its like playing the piano; you just have to know which keys to strike in people. "
Connor smiles. "Youre right, this is way better than stealing. "
"Actually," says Lev, "scamming IS stealing. "
Risa feels a bit prickly and uncomfortable at the thought, but tries not to show it.
"Maybe so," says Connor, "but its stealing with style. "
The woods have ended at a tract community. Manicured lawns have turned yellow along with the leaves. Autumn has truly taken hold. The homes here are almost identical, but not quite, full of people almost identical, but not quite. Its a world Risa knows about only through magazines and TV. To her, suburbia is a magical kingdom. Perhaps thats why Risa was the one who had the nerve to approach the house and pretend to be Didi. The neighborhood drew her like the smell of fresh bread baking in the industrial ovens of Ohio State Home 23.
Back in the woods where they cant be seen from anyones window, they check their goody bag, as if its full of Halloween candy.
Theres a pair of pants and a blue button-down shirt that fits Connor. Theres a jacket that fits Lev. There are no clothes for Risa, but thats okay. She can play Didi again at a different house.
"I still dont know how changing our clothes is going to make a difference. " Connor asks.
"Dont you ever watch TV?" says Risa. "On the cop shows they always describe what perps were last wearing when they put out an APB. "
"Were not perps," says Connor, "were AWOLs. "
"Were felons," says Lev. "Because what youre doing—I mean, what were doing—is a federal crime. "
"What, stealing clothes?" asks Connor.
"No, stealing ourselves. Once the unwind orders were signed, we all became government property. Kicking-AWOL makes us federal criminals. "
It doesnt sit well with Risa, or for that matter with Connor, but they both shake it off.
This excursion into a populated area is dangerous but necessary. Perhaps as the morning goes on they can find a library where they can download maps and find themselves a wilderness large enough to get lost in for good. Th
As they move cautiously through the neighborhood, a woman approaches them—just a girl, really, maybe nineteen or twenty. She walks fast, but shes walking funny, like shes got some injury or is recovering from one. Risas certain shes going to see them and recognize them, but the girl passes without even making eye contact and hurries around a corner.
Exposed. Vulnerable. Connor wishes they could have stayed in the woods, but there are only so many acorns and berries he can eat. Theyll find food in town. Food, and information.
"This is the best time not to be noticed," Connor tells the others. "Everyones in a hurry in the morning. Late to work, or whatever. "
Connor finds a newspaper in the bushes, misthrown by a delivery boy. "Look at this!" says Lev. "A newspaper. How retro is that?"
"Does it talk about us?" asks Lev. He says it like its a good thing. The three of them scan the front page. The war in Australia, King politicians—the same old stuff. Connor turns the page clumsily. Its pages are large and awkward. They tear easily and catch the breeze like a kite, making it hard to read.
No mention of them on page two, or page three.
"Maybe its an old newspaper," suggests Risa.
Connor checks the date on top. "No, its todays. " He fights against the breeze to turn the page. "Ah—there it is. "
The headline reads, PILEUP ON INTERSTATE. Its a very small article. A morning car accident, blah-blah-blah, traffic snarled for hours, blah-blah-blah. The article mentions the dead bus driver, the fact that the road was closed for three hours. But nothing about them. Connor reads the last line of the article aloud.
"It is believed that police activity in the area may have distracted drivers, leading to the accident. "
Theyre all dumbfounded. For Connor, theres a sense of relief—a sense of having gotten away with something huge.
"That cant be right," says Lev, "I was kidnapped, or . . . uh . . . at least they think I was. That should be in the news. "
"Levs right," says Risa. "They always have incidents with Unwinds in the news. If were not in there, theres a reason. "
Connor cant believe these two are looking this gift horse in the mouth! He speaks slowly as if to idiots. "No news report means no pictures—and that means people wont recognize us. I dont see why thats a problem. "
Risa folds her arms. "Why are there no pictures?"
"I dont know—maybe the police are keeping it quiet because they dont want people to know they screwed up. "
Risa shakes her head. "It doesnt feel right. . . . "
"Who cares how it feels!"
"Keep your voice down!" Risa says in an angry whisper. Connor fights to keep his temper under control. He doesnt say anything for fear hes going to start yelling again and draw attention to them. He can see Risa puzzling over the situation and Lev looking back and forth between the two of them. Risas not stupid, thinks Connor. Shes going to figure out that this is a good thing, and that shes worrying for nothing.
But instead, Risa says, "If were never in the news, then whos going to know if we live or die? See—if its all over the news that theyre tracking us, then when they find us, they have to take us down with tranquilizer bullets and take us to be harvested, right?"
NEAL SHUSTERMAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- UnwindScytheEverlostUnWhollyUnSouledThe Eyes of Kid MidasScorpion Shards
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