The Circle: Taken
by Sage Sask
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: February 2019
Abandoned at eleven with no memory of her family, Alexia yearns to learn her true identity. She embarks on a dangerous quest for the truth of her past. In the resulting battle between life and death, Alexia learns that sacrifice and revealing the gift she fought to keep hidden may be her only chance for survival.
A secret unearthed, a shocking betrayal, and a moment when lives hang in the balance leaves Alexia with only one choice. Will the decision determine her destiny or end her life?
I pound the pavement, feet in perfect rhythm. With every step, I yearn to outrun the hazy memories, but they hug my heels. Sweat glues my half-ripped shirt to my body. After searching for a belt, I have settled for a string to wrap around my waist in the hope of keeping the oversized shorts from falling. I remember one of the boys wearing the shorts years ago. He must have left them behind when he departed the orphanage at eighteen. With a quick flick of my fingers, I push chocolate-brown wisps of hair off my face and back over my ponytail.
As I run, my eyes automatically examine the face of every woman I pass. Searching and hoping are my ritual. At night, after everyone in the orphanage is asleep, I lie atop the mattress on the floor and daydream of finding my mother. Discovering her will mean that I will finally learn who I am.
A woman catches my stare. Her hair is the same color as mine, and her height matches mine. Excitement starts in my belly as my eyes widen and my pace automatically slows. The silver ring on my second toe suddenly feels heavier. I moved it there years ago after my fingers outgrew its size.
“Do you know me?” I whisper, glancing cautiously at the safety patrol officer nearby.
She continues to stare at me, her face shifting into awareness. I reach out to touch her bare hand with mine. With one touch, I am sure I will have my answer. She glances at my approaching hand then steps back.
“You need to leave this area,” she murmurs. “Now.”
“What?” I stop moving toward her, sure I have misheard.
“Get out of here,” she orders me quietly. “It’s not safe for you.” She glances furtively at an approaching safety patrol officer. “Excuse me.” She hurries away before I can make contact. I stare after her, anxious and wondering.
“What happened?” The safety patrol officer silently slides his hand over his gun as he watches the woman scurry away.
“Nothing,” I murmur quickly, trying and failing to make sense of our interaction. My mother would know me, not run away. “I thought I recognized her.”
His gaze searches mine. I stand completely still, ordering myself to breathe. Seeming to come to a conclusion, he jerks his head. “Keep moving. Curfew in an hour.”
I run past him. Unsure of the woman’s order, I nonetheless turn into the old downtown of the city. I quicken my pace past an abandoned building. Deserted, it stands next to a heap of burnt rubble. Where a rooftop once was is now a gaping hole. The door, hanging off its hinges, creaks with the gust of wind. A half-starved rat scurries across the empty shelves.
Pushing my legs to move faster, I take the first turn and enter what looks like a completely different city. The buildings, built after the war, glisten with bombproof material. I maneuver through small parked cars laden with dust. With limited fuel available, it is rare to see cars on the road.
I pass a balding man walking his dog. Like everyone else’s, his glance strays to my green patch. His expression hardens but I refuse to react.
My green patch arrived the day after my sixteenth birthday. It was hand delivered by a messenger who waited for me to open the package and then finger swipe a tablet that assured the powers that be that I had received mine. Along with the patch was the date of my test.
Four times a year, the government sets up centers in each town to test newly minted sixteen year olds for their disposition to harm others. With the results, the government decides whether you live or die. Tomorrow I learn my fate. Until then, I am guilty until proven innocent.
I pass a bakery where the smell of fresh bread wafts through the door. On cue, my mouth waters and my stomach growls from incessant hunger. I slow down, unable to stop staring at the baskets of fresh bread on the white linen tablecloths.
Only when I spot another safety patrol officer do I move faster. They patrol twenty-four hours a day. I have seen even small infractions lead to an arrest or public berating. I drop my head as I move past him. I take the first turn into an alley. Only when I am sure he is no longer in my vicinity do I release my held breath.
Bright lights greet me. Sitting atop the metal posts, they glare at me in the darkened alley. Nestled inside the bulbs are hidden cameras that watch my movements like a wandering eye.
I flinch against the glare as I maneuver between stacks of water-stained crates littering the narrow passage. A stray Siamese cat halts its search of torn garbage bags to eye me warily. Barely sparing the animal a glance, I head toward the broken chain-link fence swaying in the wind.
“You want some?”
Surprised, I nearly trip over myself. Halting, I stare at a young man crouched beneath the awning. His dirty-blond hair spills over his chiseled face. His shoes are more expensive than any pair I have ever seen. A green patch flutters against his expensive clothes.
“What?” I ask.
He lifts a rolled leaf to his pressed lips and inhales. “Help ease the pain of tomorrow.”
“No, thanks.” Afraid of being caught, I take two steps back. I steal a quick glance around to make sure there are no witnesses.
He inhales again before running his eyes over me. His gaze lingers over the tear in my clothes, but he barely blinks at the green patch.
“You live in the orphanage?” he asks.
Unsure who he is, I stay quiet.
He shrugs, seemingly unbothered by my silence. He drops the leaf and stomps it out. From his backpack he pulls out a bag of dark chocolates and tears it open to pop one in his mouth. “You ready for tomorrow?”
Famished, I stare at the bag. Though it has been years since I have had a piece, I can still taste the chocolate as it melted on my tongue. With barely enough money to afford food, luxuries like chocolate are unheard of in the orphanage.
“Here.” Noticing my stare, he pulls out another full bag and tosses it to me. I catch it with one hand.
“Why?” I grip the bag, fighting the urge to rip into it. Wary of the unexpected gift, I stare at him.
He smiles as if I have told the best joke. “Have a drawer full at home.” He glances at the smashed leaf. “Chances are I may not be around anyway.”
“You sure you’re going to fail?” I ask, wondering how he knows.
“Are you sure you’re not?”
The question settles over me like a blanket of death. Tomorrow the government may learn my secret. If they do, they will kill me. My chest suddenly heavy, I fight for the breath I was holding only moments before. If I die, it will be without ever having found my mother. I will never have learned her true identity, or mine. From the day they found me on the beach years ago, I have been searching. But with no memory of who I am or where I came from, I have remained lost.
“Right.” My mouth dry, I hold up the chocolate bag. “Thank you for this.”
I slip the bag into my pocket for safekeeping. Without a goodbye I resume my run. Curious, I glance back once. He’s staring at me. Unsure what to say, I turn away and start to disappear into the night when a loud blast shakes the ground.
The boy jumps up and we both run to the edge of the alley. The bakery I just ran by is on fire, obliterated by an explosion. Everyone runs screaming from the blast. I scan the area, searching, but the woman who warned me to leave is nowhere in sight.
“The Resistance,” the boy says, disgusted. “It has to be them.”
“How do you know?” They are the government’s worst enemy – a large network of people who evade capture at every turn.
He shakes his head in disgust. “Because they want to kill everyone.”
Then why did a woman I have never met before just save my life?
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