- Unravel Me
I drop him and grab the gun at the same time.
Anderson is wheezing, coughing on the floor, trying to breathe, trying to speak, trying to reach for something to defend himself with and I’m amused by his pain. I’m floating in a cloud of absolute, undiluted hatred for this man and all that he’s done and I want to sit and laugh until the tears choke me into a contented sort of silence. I understand so much now. So much.
“Warner,” I say, so softly, still staring at Anderson’s body slumped on the floor in front of me, “I’m going to need you to leave me alone right now.”
I weigh the gun in my hands. Test my finger on the trigger. Try to remember what Kenji taught me about taking aim. About keeping my hands and arms steady. Preparing for the kickback—the recoil—of the shot.
I tilt my head. Take inventory of his body parts.
“You,” Anderson finally manages to gasp, “you—”
I shoot him in the leg.
He’s screaming. I think he’s screaming. I can’t really hear anything anymore. My ears feel stuffed full of cotton, like someone might be trying to speak to me or maybe someone is shouting at me but everything is muffled and I have too much to focus on right now to pay attention to whatever annoying things are happening in the background. All I know is the reverberation of this weapon in my hand. All I hear is the gunshot echoing through my head. And I decide I’d like to do it again.
I shoot him in the other leg.
There’s so much screaming.
I’m entertained by the horror in his eyes. The blood ruining the expensive fabric of his clothes. I want to tell him he doesn’t look very attractive with his mouth open like that but then I think he probably wouldn’t care about my opinion anyway. I’m just a silly girl to him. Just a silly little girl, a stupid child with a pretty face who’s too much of a coward, he said, too much of a coward to defend herself. And oh, wouldn’t he like to keep me. Wouldn’t he like to keep me as his little pet. And I realize no. I shouldn’t bother sharing my thoughts with him. There’s no point wasting words on someone who’s about to die.
I take aim at his chest. Try to remember where the heart is.
Not quite to the left. Not quite in the center.
I am a thief.
I stole this notebook and this pen from one of the doctors, from one of his lab coats when he wasn’t looking, and I shoved them both down my pants. This was just before he ordered those men to come and get me. The ones in the strange suits with the thick gloves and the gas masks with the foggy plastic windows hiding their eyes. They were aliens, I remember thinking. I remember thinking they must’ve been aliens because they couldn’t have been human, the ones who handcuffed my hands behind my back, the ones who strapped me to my seat. They stuck Tasers to my skin over and over for no reason other than to hear me scream but I wouldn’t. I whimpered but I never said a word. I felt the tears streak down my cheeks but I wasn’t crying.
I think it made them angry.
They slapped me awake even though my eyes were open when we arrived. Someone unstrapped me without removing my handcuffs and kicked me in both kneecaps before ordering me to rise. And I tried. I tried but I couldn’t and finally 6 hands shoved me out the door and my face was bleeding on the concrete for a while. I can’t really remember the part where they dragged me inside.
I feel cold all the time.
I feel empty, like there is nothing inside of me but this broken heart, the only organ left in this shell. I feel the bleats echo within me, I feel the thumping reverberate around my skeleton. I have a heart, says science, but I am a monster, says society. And I know it, of course I know it. I know what I’ve done. I’m not asking for sympathy.
But sometimes I think—sometimes I wonder—if I were a monster, surely, I would feel it by now?
I would feel angry and vicious and vengeful. I’d know blind rage and bloodlust and a need for vindication.
Instead I feel an abyss within me that’s so deep, so dark I can’t see within it; I can’t see what it holds. I do not know what I am or what might happen to me.
I do not know what I might do again.
The sound of glass shattering.
Someone yanks me back just as I pull the trigger and the bullet hits the window behind Anderson’s head.
I’m spun around.
Kenji is shaking me, shaking me so hard I feel my head jerk back and forth and he’s screaming at me, telling me we have to go, that I need to drop the gun, he’s breathing hard and he’s saying, “I’m going to need you to walk away, okay? Juliette? Can you understand me? I need you to back off right now. You’re going to be okay—you’re going to be all right—you’re going to be fine, you just have to—”
“No, Kenji—” I’m trying to stop him from pulling me away, trying to keep my feet planted where they are because he doesn’t understand. He needs to understand. “I have to kill him. I have to make sure he dies,” I’m telling him. “I just need you to give me another second—”
“No,” he says, “not yet, not right now,” and he’s looking at me like he’s about to break, like he’s seen something in my face that he wishes he’d never seen, and he says, “We can’t. We can’t kill him yet. It’s too soon, okay?”
But it’s not okay and I don’t understand what’s happening but Kenji is reaching for my hand, he’s prying the gun out of the fingers I didn’t realize were wrapped so tightly around the handle. And I’m blinking. I feel confused and disappointed. I look down at my hands. At my suit. And I can’t understand for a moment where all the blood came from.
I glance at Anderson.
His eyes are rolled back in his head. Kenji is checking his pulse. Looks at me, says, “I think he fainted.” And my body has begun to shake so violently I can hardly stand.
What have I done.
I back away, needing to find a wall to cling to, something solid to hold on to and Kenji catches me, he’s holding me so tightly with one arm and cradling my head with his other hand and I feel like I might want to cry but for some reason I can’t. I can’t do anything but endure these tremors rocking the length of my entire frame.
“We have to go,” Kenji says to me, stroking my hair in a show of tenderness I know is rare for him. I close my eyes against his shoulder, wanting to draw strength from his warmth. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks me. “I need you to walk with me, all right? We’ll have to run, too.”
“Warner,” I gasp, ripping out of Kenji’s embrace, eyes wild. “Where’s—”
A heap on the floor. Arms bound behind his back, an empty syringe tossed on the carpet beside him.
“I took care of Warner,” Kenji says.
Suddenly everything is slamming into me all at the same time. All the reasons why we were supposed to be here, what we were trying to accomplish in the first place, the reality of what I’ve done and what I was about to do. “Kenji,” I’m gasping, “Kenji, where’s Adam? What happened? Where are the hostages? Is everyone okay?”
“Adam is fine,” he reassures me. “We slipped in the back door and found Ian and Emory.” He looks toward the kitchen area. “They’re in pretty bad shape, but Adam’s hauling them out, trying to get them to wake up.”
“What about the others? Brendan? A-and Winston?”
Kenji shakes his head. “I have no idea. But I have a feeling we’ll be able to get them back.”
Kenji nods at Warner. “We’re going to take this kid hostage.”
“It’s our best bet,” he says to me. “Another trade. A real one, this time. Besides, it’ll be fine. You take away his guns, and this golden boy is harmless.” He walks toward Warner’s unmoving figure. Nudges him with the toe of his boot before hauling him up, flipping Warner’s body over his shoulder. I can’t help but notice that Warner’s injured arm is now completely soaked through with blood.
“Come on,” Kenji says to me, not unkindly, eyes assessing my frame like he’s not sure if I’m stable yet. “Let’s get out of here—it’s insanity out there and we don’t have much time before they move into this street—”
“What?” I’m blinking too fast. “What do you mean—”
Kenji looks at me, disbelief written across his features. “The war, princess. They’re all fighting to the death out there—”
“But Anderson never made the call—he said they were waiting for a word from him—”
“No,” Kenji says. “Anderson didn’t make the call. Castle did.”
Adam is rushing into the house, whipping around to find my face until I run forward and he catches me in his arms without thinking, without remembering that we don’t do this anymore, that we’re not together anymore, that he shouldn’t be touching me at all. “You’re okay—you’re okay—”
“LET’S GO,” Kenji barks for the final time. “I know this is an emotional moment or whatever, but we have to get our asses the hell out of here. I swear, Kent—”
But Kenji stops.
His eyes drop.
Adam is on his knees, a look of fear and pain and horror and anger and terror etched into every line on his face and I’m trying to shake him, I’m trying to get him to tell me what’s wrong and he can’t move, he’s frozen on the ground, his eyes glued to Anderson’s body, his hands reaching out to touch the hair that was so perfectly set almost a moment ago and I’m begging him to speak to me, begging him to tell me what happened and it’s like the world shifts in his eyes, like nothing will ever be right in this world and nothing can ever be good again and he parts his lips.
He tries to speak.
“My father,” he says. “This man is my father.”
Kenji presses his eyes shut like he can’t believe this is happening. “Shit shit shit.” He shifts Warner against his shoulders, wavers between being sensitive and being a soldier and says, “Adam, man, I’m sorry, but we really have to get out of here—”
Adam gets up, blinking back what I can only imagine are a thousand thoughts, memories, worries, hypotheses, and I call his name but it’s like he can’t even hear it. He’s confused, disoriented, and I’m wondering how this man could possibly be his father when Adam told me his dad was dead.
Now is not the time for these conversations.
Something explodes in the distance and the impact rattles the ground, the windows, the doors of this house, and Adam seems to snap back to reality. He jumps forward, grabs my arm, and we’re bolting out the door.
Kenji is in the lead, somehow managing to run despite the weight of Warner’s body, limp, hanging over his shoulder, and he’s shouting at us to stay close behind. I’m spinning, analyzing the chaos around us. The sounds of gunshots are too close too close too close.