“It’s too early, I’m not ready for this!”
Tasha looked at me with wet eyes. She was afraid, not angry like me. That’s what happens when you have something worth losing. But if you have nothing, and no one, you get angry.
“Becks, what are we going to do? I’ve seen a few buses drive by with girls inside. They had police escorts. How is this legal?”
“It wouldn’t have been legal a year ago, but since the president declared a state of emergency all bets are off. It looks like the government is using the Gender Flu as an excuse to cancel our civil liberties.”
“But who cares about that, women are dying!”
I was naturally distrustful, it’s a side product of being orphaned at an early age. “You’ve heard what they’re saying on tv, right? The S.A.F.E program is our best chance for survival and the continuation of the entire female population. But they can’t force us into their stupid slavery program if they can’t catch us. We’re just going to have to be clever and strong. Can you do that Tasha?”
“We aren’t going home?”
“If you go home there will be a bus parked in front of your driveway waiting. Before you even get to say goodbye to your parents those bastards will grab you!”
Tasha sniffed and blinked her eyes. “Right. Do you know anywhere we can hide?”
“There’s a place I know of where a lot of homeless people used to hang out. It’s an entrance to the underground tunnels that run underneath the city. Maybe we can hide there until all this dies down.”
“How are we going to get there without being seen?”
“The best thing we can do is to act casual and try to blend in. If we panic and run we’ll draw attention to ourselves. Here, pull your hoodie up over your head and tuck your hair in, that way it’s harder to tell you’re a girl.”
A police car rolled by us as we walked down the sidewalk with our hands in our pockets. For the first time in my life I felt grateful for my flat chest and lack of curves. Tasha was a little more developed so I had her walk on the other side of me farthest from the street. I resisted the urge to dive down an alleyway every time we saw one of the red buses drive past. The city hurricane warning siren wailed in the distance, a constant reminder that we were being hunted. The sound reverberated inside my skull and added to my natural instinct to flee. I felt Tasha’s hand slip into my own.
When we were finally in sight of Forsyth Park our pace quickened. I felt a small amount of relief until I saw the police blockade on Henry Street. We both stopped, hearts and minds racing in tandem. Tasha looked at me, her pupils had grown so large the normal hazel color of her eyes had vanished. “They’ve already seen us. If we turn around they’ll know we’re trying to avoid them. Keep your head down and stay to the right of me.”
Time moved with agonizing slowness as we walked those few blocks to where the blockade was set. There were two police cars with one officer each, but thankfully, no red bus. We were nearly within earshot of the officers I warned Tasha to keep looking forward and continue walking at a regular speed.
“Hey, you two boys!”
I turned slowly to look at the man who’d spoken to us.
“There’s a rumor about a secret hideout somewhere in this area, possibly underground. We think there might be some females trying to avoid the S.A.F.E protocol by hiding out. Do you know of a place around here like that?”
There was no avoiding it now. As soon as one of us answered him the illusion would be broken. “Get ready to run.”
“Hey, I asked you a question. You deaf or something?” He started walking toward us.
“Tasha do you remember where we used to hang out after school in 8th grade?”
“You mean that closed down café on Wright Square?”
“Yeah. Meet me there and we’ll try to come up with a plan. One, two, three, go!”
I took off running as fast as my thin legs could manage. I suddenly regretted turning down my high school track coaches suggestion to join the school team. I was huffing and and puffing within seconds but sheer terror kept me moving forward.
I took a left and ran down Bull Street as Tasha turned right onto Gaston. She was taking the long way around and I silently hoped she would be able to make it to the café.
“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
The cops shouted threats behind me as they tried to give chase. I knew they weren’t going to shoot me. Despite the terrible things the government was now allowed to do, females were growing more valuable every day as more of us died. They fired into the air and I stumbled to the ground as if I’d been hit. I took a moment to look behind me and saw that the officer was at least fifty feet back holding his knees and gasping.
I turned down an alley and surprised the old man that ran Angels BBQ. He shouted and jumped out of my way. As I rounded the corner a red bus was winding around the square. I climbed in through a broken window in what used to be The Wright Square Café.
I heard the bus engine in the distance as it traveled down Bull Street, police sirens joined the sound. An ear piercing scream made the small hairs on my arms stand on end. It was Tasha, they must have her. I got to my feet and started for the window when a hand gripped my shoulder and held me firmly in place.
I turned around to face a middle aged woman with dirty blonde hair and mud on her face. “You can’t help her now. Going out there is suicide.”
My lower lip trembled as the sounds of Tasha’s protests grew fainter. Hot tears stung my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. The fact that I was crying only made me angrier.
“I know,” the woman said and pulled me into a hug.
I had never felt so useless.