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Pen Your Pride

Ring of Fire - 2

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If she listens really, really closely, she can hear shouting.

If she stands still, she can hear the words, just about.

"Come on! Where the fuck are you? We may as well get this over and done with now!"

Ever shakes her head frantically. Whatever the angry voice is shouting about, it doesn't sound good and she doesn't want to get it 'over and done with'. She knows that phrase and it only means bad things...

She's checking the trees for Capitas. So far she hasn't found any, but they must be there. Somebody shouts at her - "Ever Greenmore, you get yourself to work!" - but she shouts back "I am working!" and they don't shout again. Everybody here seems so sad, and they are always looking, always checking, at the dull grey tower things. Angry white shapes patrol around the top. People are scared of them.

The sun is hot and she has been out here since the dark. There are no clouds so she has to look at other things instead. She misses the moon. The moon is nice, silver and there's a face in it that she can talk to. Looking at the sun only makes her eyes hurt, and it makes your skin red and achy. But with the sun, there is no shadows. So that's good too.

The only thing on these branches are apples, and she's not allowed to eat them even though her tummy says she should. The fruit is not for you, Ever, the fruit is not for you.

"I know," she says, though surely the people on the towers wouldn't notice if she only took one apple. They're too far away to see everything.

Mockingjays chirp happily, singing songs from far away. Somebody said the songs mean something but to Ever they just sound pretty; at least somebody here is happy. There aren't many mockingjays now. An old woman told her that a lot of years ago, something had happened and the men in white were ordered to shoot the mockingjays whenever they saw them. Old women say things like that a lot. Ever can't see why anybody would want to hurt a mockingjay. They're happy and they make music. Everybody smiles a little when they see a mockingjay.

The only other noises are people grunting and shouting to each other. Shouting should be angry, Ever thinks, but instead it's tired. Watch your basket, lass! Nothing on this tree now! Is the flag up yet?

When the flag goes yellow, Ever can go home.

She watches a girl hop from one tree to the next, not even pausing before she's plucking apples with nimble fingers. Ever wishes that she could do that but every time she's tried, it has hurt. One of the bruises looked like a banana. Nobody else seemed to find this interesting.

So she climbs down this tree and shimmies up the next one. The lines of stick trees goes on forever, stretching way into the distance, where it shimmers into nothingness.

"Why does the distance wobble?" she asks a girl who is a lot younger than her, but who still has wrinkles around her eyes. The girl is sitting on a branch and clutching her side, some drops of water on her cheeks. Water. Ever hasn't had a drink in a long time.

The girl blinks at her with big, startled eyes and shakes her head, looking to the big grey tower again. She won't talk. A lot of people do this but Ever doesn't like it. If people talked, they'd be happy. And she wants to know why the distance wobbles.

Ever climbs up, keeping a close eye out for any of the shiny silver nests that mean Capitas. There doesn't seem to be any. So far she's never seen one, but they must be there!

"Ever Greenmore, your basket is empty!" shouts a bossy voice. Ever pulls a face at the girl who is shouting it - standing below her tree; she must be about twenty, with her hair scraped back painfully off her face and her elbows sticking out of her arms - and scampers further up the tree so the girl can't see her basket.

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