Alarms. Lots of ’em. Not exactly an uncommon sound, but it disturbs my slumber nonetheless. Opening the window invites them in and increases their power, but it also beckons the night wind, who is refreshing even with the pollution of the city he carries with him. I breathe in the somewhat less stifling air. My Gran used to tell of true fresh air. Churned out in the long gone forests of the unpaved past. Canʼt say my lungs would know what to do with such air.
I sit there for awhile. Breathing in and out, hoping the night wind will drown out the alarms if I focus hard enough. Granʼs voice rings through my mind as I try and clear it. This happens a lot since she died. Stubborn old broad never did shut up. Why would death stop her? “You gotta smudge the place little girl. Creatorʼs mighty pissed off already I imagine. Wanna make ’em more mad?”
When I was young Iʼd always argue with Granʼs seemingly obscure rules and requests. Hers was a voice of the past and I fancied myself a girl of the present and future at the time. It wasnʼt until I grew almost twice the height of a shrinking Gran that I started to see the issues with the present and the future. It wasnʼt until Gran walked hunched over with a cane that I found myself longing for a past I had not lived.
I walk over to the lone desk in the living room of my small apartment. I reach underneath and turn a knob on the underbelly of the table. A compartment designed specifically for hiding things. As always, I reminisce about what previous owners may have hidden there. The smell of the sage immediately hits me: despite being dead and dried out it smells of life. Three bundles of it left. Enough for many years at the rate I use it. A high-pitched beeping rings through my ears and a shock runs up to the side of my head, originating from my forearm. No matter how many times this happens, canʼt say Iʼll ever truly get used to it.
My fingers glide across the touchscreen embedded in my forearm. The government had advertised the bodily attached networking devices as a great advancement in technology, leaps and bounds ahead of the flimsy cell phones our parents used. The company that I kept saw them as something else: a huge step up from bugging cell phones and computers. But the devices had become mandatory long ago, so we did what we could. The more technologically gifted of our group figured out a way to hack the stupid machines. Messages were sent among our group without a trace that anybody monitoring could pick up. The shock that accompanied them was a glitch the little geeks were still working on.
“Look out your window in 5, 4, 3, 2–” the message reads, the words and numbers jumping out of the screen holographically. As my mind fills in the number one that should be on the end of the message I turn to look out my window. A shadowy figure stumbles in ungracefully through the opening from what I only hope was the fire escape. “Hello Sky” I mutter dryly, hastily shoving the sage back in the hidden drawer. Smudging would have to wait. The figure stands up from his heap on the ground. A mess of long beige limbs and shaggy light brown hair. He flashes a smile.
“How’s the night treating ya Messiah?” he says with an over-exaggerated salute. “Do not call me that,” I growl out and move to close the window behind him, shoving my shoulder into his as I pass him. “Caleb started it, donʼt get all touchy with me,” he mumbles, rubbing his shoulder.
“Speaking of the devil, thatʼs why Iʼm here. Pavers announced a new project over the com about an hour ago,” Sky continues, plopping himself onto one of my old musty couches.
“Oh yeah?” I answer, my interest peaked. As annoying at Sky and Caleb could be, our shared hatred of the Pavers made them the closest thing Iʼve ever had to brothers. The Pavers were what we called a section of the government whose official title was “The Technological Advancement Sector.” Weʼd never used that name, we knew what they really were. They liked to advertise themselves as the trailblazers of tomorrow, like they had humanity’s best interest in mind. We knew the truth though: the only thing Pavers had on their mind was money.
Sky smiles that same sly grin he gets anytime he sees one of us get riled up about the Pavers. “Yeah man, theyʼre taking down the oxygen park over on West View.” Sky continues with a disgusted shake of his head.
“Ainʼt that the last one in that end of town? Fucking Pavers want more kids dropping from pollution than there already is?” I snap back. Hands forming into fists. Gran always did say that I had my dadʼs temper.
“West View is in a poor sector, you know that. Pavers donʼt give a shit about kids whose parents they think donʼt pay enough taxes.” Sky shoots back. Iʼm already grabbing my coat by this point. “Why you sitting still there boy?” I say. “Caleb mention anything specific? Or we freestyling this?”
Sky jumps up from his spot on the couch, excitement coursing through his skinny extremities. Half his body moves towards the window while the other half realizes that Iʼm not done dressing yet. Silly kid, always moving one hundred miles an hour. “He said just something small, said heʼll organize a real attack tomorrow with everyone. Said to just give ’em a lil’ scare. You know…”
“A little reminder that the Children of the Forest are still kicking eh?” I finish with a smirk as I move to the corner of my apartment. I open a small end table and start pulling out the various cans of spray paint that are stashed in it.
“Hell yeah girl! Thatʼs why Caleb calls ya Messiah ya know?” Sky answers. I roll my eyes. “Yeah well remind me to slug Caleb over that will ya?” I mutter as I move to the window and sling myself onto the fire escape. Sky is hot on my tail and I hear his barking laughter. “You got it,” he chuckles.
We climb down the fire escape like we have a million times before. Out of the corner of my eye I see Sky pause to tap away a message on his forearm above me. He supports his weight on the fire escape with only his legs, fucking monkey boy.
The alarms have quieted down now. A low hum under the traffic noise. As we near the ground I let go and let myself fall the last fifteen feet to the ground. Sky does the same but from an extra five feet up.
“Youʼre gonna break a leg one day there kid,” I chastise him. Ever the older sister to him and the younger half of our group.
“Never,” Sky laughs brushing himself off. He opens his mouth to defend his jumping abilities more but I silence him with a shushing motion of my hand. Around the corner of the alley I hear footsteps. We wait in silence for a few moments until two familiar figures emerge from behind the corner. Ferron, a small blonde thing that only comes to my shoulders and is so skinny the night wind could easily carry her away. Behind her, Sampson, a taller boy and among the bulkiest of our men.
“Aineen!” Ferron whispers, her high voice cutting through the night. “Aineen,” repeats Sampson, keeping his normally booming voice low. That voice had gotten us in trouble before and the boy had learnt fast to almost always keep his voice just above a whisper. Sky and I chime back the old greeting, a word meaning hello in our ancestors’ dead language. Gran had spoken it on and off. I wish I had made more of an effort to learn it. Our group consisted of the descendants of an age-old Aboriginal environmentalist group that had formed when the world’s governments had started trading away their land and water rights. Rights that had been promised to them centuries ago. Part of me hopes they cannot see how far things have fallen, how far weʼd let it fall, how far Iʼd let it fall. The four of us start to make our way to West View. Rough-looking teenagers in the eyes of any stranger walking the street in the middle of the night; foot soldiers of the Children of the Forest in our own minds.
“Caleb must be starting to trust us now Sampson,” I hear Ferron whisper under her breath to her partner. “Heʼs sending us out with the Messiah!” Sky swallows a bark of laughter, also overhearing this. I roll my eyes but say nothing. Ferron doesnʼt know how much this nickname bothers me so I let it slide. Iʼll take her aside at the next meeting and let her know.
Iʼve tried to tell Caleb to quit it with the Messiah business. That it wasnʼt a well-deserved name. I fought hard for the Children but my fame among the ranks came from my looks, not my reputation. I look back at Ferron with her blonde hair and Sampson and Sky with their shaggy manes of light brown and red. That was just how genetics worked. It was just by chance that I inherited the same black hair and dark skin that defined our grandparents. My blood was just as deluded as pale, blonde Ferronʼs. I tried explaining this to Caleb but the man argued that it didnʼt matter. A symbol was a symbol. I scowled under the harsh light of a hovering street light at the mere thought of it. If I was going to be a symbol for the Children I wanted that symbol to have some substance behind it. Some glory, some meaning.
As we make our way through the richer areas that are at the core of the city our energy levels go up and down like a roller coaster. The shopping sectors are crawling with cops even though the stores are long closed down. In these areas we pair up. Myself and Sky, Ferron and Sampson. Sky drapes his arm over my shoulder and Sampson takes Ferronʼs hand. We play the parts of couples heading home from the club sector. The illusion of a romantic double date seems to make the cops look past our dirty leather jackets and torn jeans. Once weʼre out of the shopping sector I shove Sky off of me. In the residential area we goof off like the children we never quite got to be. Shoving each other around, knocking over whatever moveable pieces of property we can get our dirty shoes and hands on. We do so without worry. Either a homeowner will be too scared of our presence to do anything, or by the time someone does build up the nerve to call the authorities, weʼll be long gone.
Itʼs only once we near West View do we start to calm down. From children to soldiers once again. Ferron and Sampson have hard looks painted on their faces, nerves on edge. I look over at Sky. Thereʼs fire in his eyes. He glances over at me and I know from his smile that my earth-coloured eyes shine with the same flame.I start distributing the spray paint as we near the Oxygen Garden. A small strip of green with a few plants. Amazing that the Pavers ever thought that this was even enough to provide the area with the clean oxygen it needed. And now they wanted to take it away? Pitiful thinkers.
I begin it, jumping on the edge of one of the planters. I shake my can and tiptoe around the plants until I’m face to face with the concrete wall of the building behind it. I start the first line of our symbol: a tree surrounded by a circle of brilliant green and gold vines. One by one the others join me. The sound of shaking spray paint cans the only noise on the peaceful street of West View.
As we finish the symbol I can feel everyone’s excitement rise around me. Ferron and Sampsonʼs from their first real mission, Skyʼs and mine from the anticipation of what tomorrow’s attack will be. This is only the start, the first jab at the Pavers. Sirens cut through our excitement like a sharpened blade. Certain kinds of sirens are nothing to even turn a head at, low pitched things that signal some kind of meaningless government thing or another. This siren though. This one means cops, authorities, and that they are close.
My three fellow soldiers look to me for an answer. Scared eyes of green and hazel. To them, I am the Messiah. I take a deep breath, scared as the rest of them. Another breath. “Time to earn your name little girl,” Granʼs voice says in the back of my head. I think fast, no time for us all to run. Even splitting up theyʼd gain on us, corner us. A distraction is what will save us. Something to let our skinny limbs have the time to put enough distance between us and the cops.
Pounding boots against concrete crescendo under the high pitched alarm. “Run!” I scream, startling my shaken soldiers. Another breath. “Your family was once known as Bear Clan, Mukwa Dodem, use that strength in your blood little girl,” Granʼs voice screams.
“Run!” I scream again, louder this time, harsher. The boots’ pounding getting closer. I shove Sky off the planter as a physical reinforcement of urgency. This gets them going. They run without looking back. Good, I think, if they donʼt look back Sky wonʼt try and be a stupid hero when he figures out what Iʼm about to do.
I move closer to the pavement but still in the midst of the plants, let the Pavers catch me, but let it be on the last shred of earth in this city. I let my mind wander to the hidden sage in my apartment, I wish I had it with me. I allow myself one last look at the disappearing figures of my soldiers. Part of me is still surprised they listened. Granʼs voice rings out one last time “Youʼre a Bear little girl,” she says with an almost proud voice. “You growl loud enough, you bet your ass the rats and sparrows are gonna follow.”
The boots are close now, accompanied by a rising harmony of screams, clanking guns and the ever-constant siren. I look up at our symbol one last time. Let the brown, gold and green be sprayed with the crimson red of my blood tonight. Iʼve done my name proud.
Gun shots. A breath in. No breath out.