My Name is Scream
RULE ONE: Do Not Attempt Escape.
They cut the rope from my wrists. I don't move, appearing dead, wishing I was. I fought as best as I could, but three against one is never good odds. I wonder if I should give up and lay here until the buzzards peck at my skin and rip me apart one limb at a time.
Fingers grip my neck and force my gaze on his face. In the shadows, he has devil horns and sharp teeth, inhuman in every possible way. But he shifts, and a distant light illuminates his face exposing an ordinary teenage boy with dyed white hair and brown eyes.
"Tell Tobias we aren't gonna stop."
"Tell him yourself." With my last ounce of strength, I swing my hand up, digging my nails into his cheek.
He drops me, stumbling back, holding his bleeding face. Rage ignites in his eyes. He grabs the knife at his boot, and the metal flashes from the lamp.
His two buddies grip his arms, "Cloud, no." They remind him that he isn't allowed to kill me. I lay there watching a bull buck behind a cage. It's satisfying to know that even clan members are scared to break the rules.
"One day, Scream, the clans are gonna decide they don't want you here. And I hope I'm around to see it."
The three boys head down the alley, leaving me behind like garbage. Without them, it's quiet, lonely, and a little dangerous, but I'm too tired to move. The desert night is cold, and I shiver, curling tighter. I don't have a home to return to and searching for a place to sleep seems pointless. The morning will rise soon enough, and I'll have lived another day inside Myer's School for the Unwanted.
As the sky brightens, I watch the clouds roll by.
It's peaceful. It's deceiving.
For a few moments, I can imagine I'm somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere not here.
Does a place like that exist?
I could pretend that I know what family is. I think of what they'd call me. I probably have some girly name like Melissa or Ashley, or perhaps I picked a different name, one that stands out and is memorable, like Lasha or Ilde. Anything would have been better than the name I have.
Scream. Like a defenseless cry in the night that gets ignored.
What did I do to make those boys attack me?
I spend my nights on the bleachers of the football field. It's empty because the gates are locked, but after so many nights of searching, I found a small break in the fence. I have the whole stadium to myself, and it's the only time since I arrived here that I feel safe.
Now I have to find somewhere else to hide.
I sit up when morning arrives. Moans of pain breach my cracked lips, and tears drip down my dirty cheeks. I curl my legs into my chest, but a sharp spasm stops me. I hold my ribs, fearful something's broken. Like any animal in the wild, it's dangerous to have a weakness, and I can't be weak.
The black ribbon on my arm catches in the light. I pull it, throw it, cursing it. The ribbon was supposed to stop people from attacking me. But last night, it was a calling card. I stare at it on the sand, resenting the piece of fabric before I reach for it despite the pain it causes. I rewrap it around my arm.
My movements are sluggish. Every inch of my body hurts. I haven't taken a beating like that since I got here. I thought as long as I kept my head down, followed the rules, and stayed as quiet as I could, I'd be ignored. I'd become invisible. But maybe it was my fault. Maybe I talked back when I wasn't supposed to, or broke a rule I didn't know existed, or stepped in the path of some clan member.
I make my way to the bathroom, a separate square building next to the field. I keep my head down when I hear talking. I came out of the secret exit-
I guess it's not so secret anymore.
Members of Rain stand around, talking. Dressed in clean clothes, they wear the colors blue and white. They look pristine with their washed skin and brushed hair. They laugh and smile, playing with each other, appearing as if they could do no evil.
A white shirt, like the boy that attacked. I close my eyes and see it. There was a tattoo on his neck, Raindrops falling from a cloud. Cloud, they called him.
Rule 16: The clan Rain will provide Food and Water for the Populace.
I slow my approach as I near the bathroom. Mine members hang like monkeys on the playground, eyeing the Rain members that came before me. They aren't daring enough to attack a whole group, and with the black ribbon tied around my arm, I'm not someone they want to mess with, so they smoke their cigarettes and keep swinging on the bars.
I enter the girls' side just before another person. The Rain member looks back at me, shocked and somewhat concerned.
She must be new.
Her friend pulls her along, whispering, "That's a Rat. Don't look at it."
I lean against the wall. I'm a Rat, a kid that chooses not to join the clans.
But I didn't have a choice.
The bathroom has a locker room and showers. The girls chatter like birds at a pool of water. I lean against the wall and listen. They have a basketball game against Coal today. They talk about strategy and what they need to do to win.
I wish I had friends. Someone to talk too.
I strip and squeeze into a little, dirty cubicle. With a press of a button, a timer for three minutes begins. I rush while trying to be gentle. I scrub around the welts, hissing when I run over one. The water is freezing and slightly brown, but I've known nothing else. It turns black at my feet for the first minute, the blood swirling down the drain. Eventually, it clears. It always clears. I watch it to remind myself of that. No matter how bad it gets, it's not forever.
The water snaps off as I rub off the last of the soap. There are no towels, so I stand in the stall, drip drying. As I step out, I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror above the sink. I'm a stranger even to myself—injuries on my arms, stomach, and legs. My face was purposely untouched, but the rings around my eyes could easily pass for bruises.
Why did they attack me? What did I do?
I step closer to the mirror, hating myself more than I want to. I don't even know who I am. Where did my blue eyes come from? Or my brown hair? Was my mother pretty? Was my father strong? Did I have parents at all?
Is it better if I don't know?
I shove myself forward. It isn't the time, and I've got to hurry. Pain is making me slow enough without my thoughts drifting. I snatch my clothes from the floor, but they are ripped and dirty. I don't want to put them back on, but I might not have an option. There are bins that used to be full of clothes, flip-flops, and random items. The clans have taken all of it to sell back to the populace. The only thing that gets replenished and remains free is disposable items like toothbrushes, dime-size toothpaste, antibacterial hand soap, and deodorant sample packs. There were little plastic combs, but there wasn't any left. I don't much care about the state of my wet hair, knotted and unkempt as it is. I put minimal effort into my appearance simply because I don't care.
As I'm brushing my teeth, I hear the bell ring. School is starting.
The girls are clearing out, and I peek around the corner, watching. There is a slight chance they've left something behind. Anything is better than the clothes I have. Stealing from clan members means punishment, but I can't put on those wretched clothes without exploiting all options first.
I tiptoe around the bend, going to the front door and sticking my head out. They're heading to the field, far from me now. One person is left behind, lingering as they talk to the Mine members. Only a clan member would have the audacity to pay off those scrubby scavengers. I spin around and dart to the locker room.
They've left all of their stuff—bags full of clothes. I laugh but clamp a hand on my mouth.
What idiots! Are clan members that far removed from reality that they'd leave their stuff behind?
My heart thumps wildly in my chest, my eyes flipping madly about, wondering if it's a trap-if someone is in the corner somewhere waiting for me. I mosey around, peaking at every dark spot, but the room is empty.
My hand tentatively moves toward a bag. Inside are clothes, shoes, sports bras, deodorant, a makeup kit, and hair products.
I've hit the freaking jackpot.
My heart is racing. If I steal, I could be signing away my life. But what are a couple of items from hundreds? There's a chance they might not even notice. I should be okay if I take one piece of clothing from four bags. And how will they know it's me?
That girl at the entrance. She looked right at me.
But a shirt and a pair of pants shouldn't be missed. They'll never know.
Rule Twelve: Do Not Steal from Clans
I dig into a few bags, taking what I need, and slip them on quickly. A black shirt, gray slacks, and flip-flops are nothing to miss.
With the black ribbon tied back around my arm, I look in the mirror, feeling more like myself, the 'me' I've become in the last few months. I'm a typical girl in an ordinary world, ready to go to school.