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Hunted by Madeline Monzel

Foreword

I leap onto my bed and curl up under my warm and soft blanket— the only comforting item I have left of my home. I pull the blanket up over my nose and breathe in the smell of it.

I miss my home so much.

I lost a lot in the past year, but the thing that I will miss the most is coming home from school to a house filled with the happiest of memories.

I would get off of the bus and run up onto the porch, quickly entering my code into the lock on the front door. Look into the camera, smile, recognized. The door would unlock and I would burst through, lightly clicking it shut behind me. I would happily skip into the kitchen that smelled of freshly baked bread, a wide smile forming on my face. I would greet my mother who was sitting at the dinner table, patiently waiting for the bread to finish cooling. She’d look up from her work and smile her brightest smile at me.

That smile could light up any room.

Mom would bring me in for a hug and kiss the top of my head before I sat down at the table and began to tell her about my day. Allison, Henry, Claudia, Braden and our father would follow closely behind me, entering the kitchen at staggered times. When everyone arrived, we would have a big family discussion— something most households never did.

I’m really lucky to have been placed into such a loving household. Without them, or the lessons they have taught me, I don’t think I could have made it this far.

I sigh and look up at the ceiling, a tear trickling down my cheek. I miss the days when everything was structured— when everything was scheduled out for me and no one ever had to worry about getting lost or hurt. Everything is so different now.

I wince as the pain in my forehead comes back, knowing it’s time to start icing it again. I get up reluctantly and pick up the ice pack that was left on the cement floor beside my bed. I hold the pack gently against my forehead and some of the pain goes away, but not all of it. An ice pack can’t help with the pain of losing someone you love.

I hear a quiet creaking sound and I set the ice pack down, quickly straightening up. I wipe the tears from both of my cheeks and make my face look as unbothered as I possibly can. But even after all of that, I can still feel my hands shaking at my sides as my palms begin to sweat.

It’s time;I have to stick to the plan.

The metal door to my room opens up and Will walks inside. I let out a sigh of relief. “You scared the crap out of me. I thought-”

“I know.” Is all that he says.

I put my hands on my hips casually and slide them down my sides to wipe off the small amount of sweat forming on my hands. “So… what’s up?”

“Scar, um.” Will clears his throat. “There’s someone here who you need to see.”

Despite the tone of his voice signaling to me that I’m supposed to remain calm, a small shiver makes its way down my spine.

“Will- are they- did they- is-” I scramble to put together a sentence as he backs out of the doorway.

I stare at him, pleading, hoping he could read my mind the way he always does and tell me what’s going on. All I see is a peculiar look on his face that leaves me wondering who the person could possibly be.

I tilt my head, thinking this over. There is no one left on this Earth who would have any interest in seeing me.

Well, maybe one person. Except for the fact that it makes zero sense for it to be him. Has he seriously decided in my favor after all that I’ve done to him?

I drop my head. No, there’s no way. They’re probably trying to trick me— make me think I’m safe before they pull the rug right out from under me and-

“Scarlett,” a female voice squeaks. I see her heading in my direction and I look up quickly. She wears a beige trench coat and tall black boots. Her light hair is ruffled and pulled up into a messy knot at the back of her head. I feel like I know the girl, but I can’t quite put my finger on who she is.

“Scar, it’s me,” she says, louder now.

There’s only one person, other than Will, who calls me Scar, but it can’t be her. That’s impossible. “Please remember me,” she continues.

The girl’s voice sounds exactly like hers does; every word she says sounds like a song. Her voice is delicate, but strong.

She shifts uncomfortably. Even the smallest of movements look graceful when she’s the one doing them, she’s like the human form of a ballad. Of course I remember her, how could I possibly forget?

The only thing I’m really unsure of is how it’s possible that she’s here right now. I’ve held onto hope for so long, but everyone around me saying she’s dead has made it impossible for me to believe. The idea has become completely foolish, especially after the huge incident.

“You’re alive.” Is all I can choke out. She giggles, delighted by the fact that I remember who she is.

“Well, aren’t you going to give me a hug?”

The life comes back to my limbs and I run up to her, wrapping my arms tightly around her. She raises herself slightly— I must have grown in the time I’ve been here— and wraps one arm around my head and another around my torso, holding me the way she used to when I was little; the way she would hug me when I fell and didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

I pull back and look into her glistening eyes while she studies my face thoughtfully. I still can’t believe that she’s here, alive, and with me right now. I smile a little.

“What happened that night- how did you get here?” she asks softly.

My face falls. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“Don’t be like that, we have time, don’t we?” She pulls at my cheeks, making me smile again, but I do it with less enthusiasm than before.

“All the time in the world.” I nod, looking down at my feet. That is the farthest thing from the truth, but I’m not ready to face the truth— to face the fact that today could be my last day alive.

I didn’t want to think about how I would soon have to separate from her again because this is way too dangerous and it’s not worth her risking her life. If she was somehow able to get in here without anyone realizing who she is, then she'll be able to get out that way.

She has to. There’s no way I’m letting her get sucked into this mess with me any more than she already is.

She notices my silence and tilts her head to the side. “Well, Scar? Would you like to share your story? Afterwards I can tell you everything you need to know.”

I shake my head and look back up at her. “Yeah, okay.”

She smirks. “Start from the very beginning.”

“Even the stuff you already know, you want me to say that too?”

“I could use a refresher.” She shrugs and slides onto the bed, I sit down beside her and cross my legs.

Will peeks his head into the room.

“What?”

“Can I join?” he asks with mock excitement.

I roll my eyes at him and he laughs quietly. “Fine. Come, sit down. Just close the door behind you, alright?”

Will nods and slides into the room, shutting the door like I asked. Then he starts hurtling towards the bed.

“Will,” I say sternly.

He plops himself down beside me, pushing me closer to my surprise guest.

“Something wrong, Scar?” He grins and I shake my head at him.

Even now I have to admire how optimistic he is— he must really think we’ll make it out alive. Or he’s just doing it for me, trying to make sure I appreciate right now instead of worrying about what comes next. That sounds like Will too.

“Nothing,” I reply, deciding not to share my complaint.

The blonde beside me claps once. “Alright, then. Start talking, Scar.” She nudges me and I inhale deeply.

I don’t want to revisit the past year, it’s just too much— too much pain, too much worry, too much bad. I really don’t want to ever have to feel the overwhelming emotions I associate with the last year again, either.

But I do it anyway, and I do it with a smile. I’m not alone; I have Will and now I have her too. And to me, at least, that is enough.










Calm Before the Storm

Chapter 1


The bus, crowded with people of all ages, slowly came to a halt outside of the gate to my neighborhood. Though we had been sitting here for almost an hour, no one showed any signs of frustration— that was common courtesy.

To someone from the original America, or any other country really, my neighborhood would look like an alien habitat. But to us, these cement housing units— all modeled in the same exact format, and all flying the same exact red flag— were home.

I couldn’t imagine it any other way back then.

Housing isn’t the only thing that has changed since America became Captionem. Now, there is peace— something Americans didn’t experience very often in the past. That’s why our leaders decided to make the change. That change was truly for the better.

In Captionem the rules are regulated more carefully. Follow your schedule, complete daily tasks, be kind and courteous towards others and everything will be fine. But if you break a rule—any rule—you will face consequences.

Personally, I have never been reprimanded by an authority figure, like the village guards who wait outside of each neighborhood. So I wouldn’t know what would happen to someone if they did break the rules. I just assume the worst.

While staring out the window, looking at my house, I heard the bus driver calling the names of the people who were permitted to exit the vehicle.

“Braden Cople, Claudia Hending, Henry Johnson, Scarlett Latson, and Allison Peters, you may now exit the vehicle. Have a wonderful day, I will see you five tomorrow.”

The five of us stood up and walked to the front of the bus— each stopping to say goodbye to the driver before typing in our individual ID codes so that the village guards would know that we had arrived home for the day.

My oldest sister, Allison, grabbed my hand and pulled me off the bus alongside her. Technically we aren’t sisters, we’re cousins. And technically, she’s the only person in my household that I’m related to, but we all consider each other family, anyway. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Most households aren’t like that at all, and for the most part no one is related to their household members. They all just live together because they work well together.

At birth, the government places you into a household with members that they believe you are most compatible with. I wish I knew how they figured that out, but it’s one of many secrets that only those who work for the government themselves get to know. Everyone else stays in the dark.

In the future, I will be paired with a spouse that the government believes is my perfect match and together we will raise a household full of children that aren’t our own. It sounds kind of bad, I know. But you have to believe me when I say that it is so much better this way.

Anyway, the only reason I get to stick with Allison is because her birth mother died right after she was born and Captionem has a law for this kind of special situation: If a relative such as a biological father or mother passes around the time of their child’s birth, the child must be placed in a household with a blood relative of theirs.

This law is called the Law of the Lucids.

Allison’s birth mother and mine were blood sisters who met through work, so mine already knew what had happened and what to expect since at the time, I was not yet alive.

Allison was placed into my biological mother’s household, and that should have been the end of the story.

Except, a month or two after my birth, my biological mother mysteriously went missing, leaving Allison without a relative, and me to be another special situation- a Lucid, if you will.

Finally, after a year or so of searching and coming up with no sign of her, we were transferred into our permanent household. They didn’t have much time to look over our other future household members before placement, but they thought it was a good enough fit.

I disagree. I think this household was the perfect fit. After getting off of the bus, we walked in a single file line up to the metal front door. Claudia entered her ID first, then Henry, Braden, Allison and finally, me.

That day was a good day. We had all gotten to go home at the same time and that didn’t happen very often. Usually, one of us, or most of us, were caught up completing tasks— a mixture of school work, studying, and actual work. But the actual working part didn’t come in until we were at least thirteen or fourteen, depending on our individual capabilities.

Regardless, we were all assigned different tasks based off of skill level, so we all finished at very different times. It sucked when no one was home for dinner, or when everyone was except you, but no one cares how late you come home. As long as you’re doing your work at a decent pace, everyone’s happy.

The metal door swung open after I entered my last digit and we all walked into the house. I sniffed the air for any sign of fresh food, but there was nothing. I was a bit disappointed, but I would get over it. At least we were all together.

I skipped straight into the kitchen, flying ahead of my siblings. I ran up to Mom and she gave me a big hug and a kiss on the top of my head. I had missed her at school all day.

“Hello, my darlings,” she said robotically. “How was your day?”

That was strange. We always used our manners and formal greetings— that’s what we were supposed to do. But no one ever took it that seriously, it was honestly more of a running joke in our household.

We all exchanged worried glances, but no one said anything. Well, no one except Henry. Who could have guessed?

“I’m doing wonderful, Mother. And you, Allison?” He answered just as robotically as mother had initially spoken, which I guess was a smart move. I was just wondering what had caused him to make it. Allison must have felt the same way, based off of the look she gave him. It seemed like they were having an intense conversation just by staring at each other.

I gently tapped on Allison’s shoulder. She turned her head, eyeing me carefully. This had been her way of telling me not to ask any questions.

Typical. I was always the least informed.

“I had a wonderful day as well, I believe we all did. How was your day, Mother?” Allison spoke fluidly in her sing-songy voice.

“My day was lovely, thank you for asking. We will eat dinner in about an hour,” Mom answered in her strange robot voice.

Allison nodded and dragged me up the short flight of cement stairs. The others followed as if she had given them an order, though I knew she hadn’t said a word.

That’s just how our household operated; Allison and Henry always knew what to do, so the rest of us followed them. They were the oldest, both eighteen, meaning this was their last year living with us. Claudia was seventeen, I was fourteen, and Braden was twelve.

I wouldn’t be the last one left, but with Allison leaving next year, I would feel completely alone regardless of who was or wasn’t with me.

Claudia was always at Henry’s side, the same way I was with Allison, so I knew she would be looking for someone to stick with when Henry left. But It just wouldn’t be the same. I was connected with my sister in a way that no one could replicate.

As much as I do love her, and always will, I hated the fact that she was always in charge. She decided where we went, what we did, and what I could and couldn’t know. And there is absolutely nothing that I could do about it; because when it came down to it, Allison and Henry knew best. We would follow them anywhere, even if we didn’t agree with them. Between their purposeful movements and silent communication tactics, it was hard not to trust them, no matter how much they annoyed you.

Allison seemed as though she was constantly making plans inside of her head and adjusting them as needed. She was prepared for everything, so she always moved gracefully and with confidence. Her speaking voice was like a song, but not so much that she wouldn’t be taken seriously. Anyone with half a brain would respect her. She knew how to control her audience, and how to grab everyone’s attention.

As for Henry, he was practically the male version of Allison. He didn’t move with the same grace and purpose because he was always a little unsure of himself. He needed Allison to reassure him and she needed him to help keep her plans practical.

They were the perfect duo.

To add to their superhero and sidekick dynamic, they looked incredibly similar. Both had beautiful golden hair, the color of the sun’s rays. Allison’s touched down to the middle of her back and Henry’s was short— barely noticeable. Their sparkling honey eyes were brighter than stars and almost twinkled when they were excited.

The only real difference between the two was that Allison’s skin was covered in freckles, while Henry’s skin was a perfect tan color, no markings at all.

I envied them in every way possible.

As soon as we all reached the top of the stairs, I tapped on Allison’s shoulder again. “Alice, what’s-” I started to form a question but she shook her head and pulled me to the metal door that opened into our shared bedroom.

“Don’t ask anything yet,” she warned. “Henry and I don’t know what’s going on, but I have a hunch.” Of course she did, she always does.

I sighed. “Why can’t you just tell me now? I can handle this information, I’m not little anymore.”

Allison stared into my eyes, brushing a lock of my dark brown hair behind my ear. “Scar, I’m not worried about what you can handle. You’re strong, and I know that, but Henry doesn’t even fully understand yet. I have to tell him and Claudia, just in case, because they’re the only ones who can help me.”

I frowned. “Can’t I help?”

Allison pursed her lips. “No,” she said decidedly, looking down. “You just can’t, okay? Everything will be alright, just let us handle it. The less you know the better.”

“Alice, you can tell me anything,” I pleaded with her.

She looked into my eyes again, hers filled with worry. She inhaled deeply before saying, “I don’t want to get you upset about something that isn’t going to happen. Please, just act normal. Finish your at home tasks and take a bath. I really need to talk to Henry and Claudia.”

“I just don’t understand why Claudia gets to know and I don’t.”

“It’s nothing against you and you know it. Claudia knows something that could be useful to us, so I’m going to ask her about it. I promise I will explain everything eventually.” Allison leaned over and kissed the top of my head before sliding out of the room, closing the door gently behind her.

I laid down on my bed, exhausted, and kicked off my shoes. I curled up under my blanket, pulling it up over my nose. While looking at the ceiling, I thought about everything that had just happened. Going from my emotions of pure excitement, to slight disappointment, and finally, anger targeted at Allison.

I tried to come up with scenarios in my head where Mom was hiding some amazing news and she didn’t want to spoil it before Dad came home, but I knew that was unrealistic. Alice wouldn’t be so worried if that were true.

I sighed and rolled over.

I wish she told me things. It wasn’t fair that Claudia got to know and I didn’t. What kind of special information could she possibly have?

I shook my head— it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be allowed to express any further opinions on that, or I would only find myself in trouble. My household may be laidback when it comes to rules but if this was as important as they made it seem, I might be dealing with actual punishment from guards if I crossed the line.

I wanted to know and I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do. Instead, I would sit patiently like a dog, waiting for my owner to tell me what to do next. At least, that’s what I thought dogs did. I wouldn’t really know to be honest. I had only read about them in books before, so that didn’t really make me an expert or anything. From my limited knowledge of them, it seemed like something they would do. I don’t know.

Maybe I should’ve just been a cat and went to sleep. That sounded a lot nicer.


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