Before I start this chapter, I would like to mention that I am looking to rename this story. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment them. I am also considering using Cutter Story as a temporary title. If you think this would be a bad idea, please comment. Thanks!
The first thing I did when I was released was run back home, clutching my entire package in my hands. As I’d expected, Mother and Darren were ecstatic.
“We must go to the museum to celebrate!” Mother exclaimed, caught up in the excitement. “You haven’t been yet, have you?”
I shook my head eagerly. “Let me know if you ever want to go, preferably sometime next week, when I’m already adjusted to Cutting.”
Mother smiled. “Of course, dear.”
“Can I show her yet?” Darren whispered to Mother nearly jumping up and down in excitement.
“Show me what?” I asked.
“An early birthday present!” Darren told me.
My birthday was in a couple days, but we never really had the money to buy each other presents before.
They must have seen the excitement in my eyes, because Darren ran from the room and returned later with something big-ish and a bit bulky.
“Close your eyes!” He instructed.
I did as he requested and felt him place the present in my open hands. “Okay, you can open your eyes now!”
In my hands was a large purse, made of soft cloth with a long strap and buckles to hold it shut. “It’s beautiful!” I breathed. Gently setting it aside I jumped up and embraced them, Darren first, then my Mother. “Thank you both so, so, much!”
“Darren picked it out.” Mother told me as he beamed with pride. I hugged him again.
“It’s perfect!” I tucked my new knife and keys in my purse and hung it on the side of the bunk bed, the first part of my new routine.
I was in my small office in the cutting center, having a rare break from my appointment when a message boy brought me my eighth notice that morning. I closed my eyes as I opened the parchment and unfolded the page. Even though I knew that he had a stack of notices that he evenly distributed to all the Cutters, the amount that I received made it seem like I was the only one reading who had died and being forced to cut them. I took a deep breath and looked at the name, then nearly fainted when I saw who it was.
Alander, Darren. To be cut by the receiver of this notice in the next available time slot. The location of this individual's dwelling is enclosed below. 6014 Rowan Lane.
No, no, no, no, no. This wasn't possible. Out of all the Cutters who worked here I was randomly given this one. My brother's name stood out like black blood on the piece of paper. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes, silently sobbing. After five minutes of sitting there, the paper held limply in my hand, I picked up a pen in my shaking hand and stared down at my appointment sheet. The instructions had specifically said to put him down in the soonest available slot. Trembling, I wrote his name down in the third blank spot.
I had only been working a week when the plague struck. At first, I only noticed it because of the torrents of people that needed to be cut. A week later it was officially announced in the newspapers. Mother insisted on us only going outside the house for work, school, and to go to market. The cutting center became increasingly busy, and I began to fear for my family. As it turned out, I was right to be worried. Darren began to show the obvious paling and sickening that were symptoms of the plague a month after it had arrived. Mother and I had suspected from the beginning, but with the stubborn hope of family members, we refused to believe it. It was only when he was too sick to get out of bed that we called the doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor had tried to treat Darren many times while he was sick, and though he didn't tell us outright, his expressions confirmed our fears. Despite my protests, Mother had insisted that I go to work as usual. She said that there was no point in us starving to death because we didn't have enough money. So I had come, day after day. And every notice I got seemed to be a warning. On every notice I had seen his name. But as the minutes, the hours, the days passed, and he was still alive every evening after work, my fears began to fade. Until now.
Mother! I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t continue working. Jumping up, I wrenched open the door and raced down the hall, nearly tripping on the stairs on my way down. I passed the bewildered faces of the clients in the waiting room as I raced out the front door of the Cutting Center into the smoky city air that I had gotten to know so well.
Although it was chilly, and I had forgotten my coat in my office, I barely noticed the cold as I sprinted down the cobbled streets, slipping on patches of wetness on the way. It only took a few minutes to reach my house, and as soon as I opened the door I kept running, heading straight for my room.
As I’d expected, Mother was leaning over Darren’s body, sobbing quietly. I sank to my knees next to her and threw my arms around her, weeping on her shoulder. We stayed that way for a while, just holding each other and letting the shock of Darren’s death consume us. But it was a luxury we could hardly afford. Marca was still at school, and would have no idea what had happened. She was just barely old enough to understand the plague, and what the sickness in her older brother was.
I forced my self to pull away from Mother, and look at his body, still lying on the bed. I slowly turned my head and started.
His face was ghostly pale and cold, his eyes dull and lifeless, staring at the top bunk.
Mother followed my gaze and stopped crying for a moment. “He can’t be cut!”
“Mother? What do you mean?” I froze for a moment, scared that she had already started to feel the effects of a soul not being cut.
“His last words were ‘don’t forget me’!” Her breath hitched. “We can’t forget him!”
I met her gaze. “Then we won’t. I’m in charge of Cutting him. I’ll find some other way.”
She didn’t respond.
I looked back at his body. No, his corpse. “Mother?”
“You have to close his eyes.” I murmured softly. “Once you close his eyes he can begin travelling to the otherworld.”
She nodded numbly. “Of course. Of course I do.” Leaning over gently, she slid his eyelids shut.
Squeezing her own eyes shut, she stood on shaky legs and wiped her tears away with her sleeve. “I’ll go pick up Marca from school.” She said in a clear voice. “She deserves to know what happened.”
I shook my head and did the same. “No, you stay here with Darren. I’ll go get her.”
Mother smiled at me gratefully. “Thank you! You don’t know how much it means to me to sit vigil for him.”
I did have an idea, but I wasn’t about to argue the point with her. I barely remembered picking up Marca. When I got to the school I asked to speak to her teacher, telling her only that something bad happened at home. Her teacher then called Marca out of her class, and I gripped her tightly by the hand as we walked away from the whispering students.
“What’s happened?” Marca asked, the fear audible in her voice.
I pulled her through the streets of the Merchant District, passing the market without so much as a glance and continuing on to Rowan Lane.
I took a deep breath and withheld tears. “You know how Darren was really sick?” My voice sounded to sweet even to my own ears.
“Uh huh. I remember the doctor always was at our house!”
“The doctor won’t be coming any more.”
Her eyes widened. “He got better?”
I bit my lip to stop it from trembling. “Not quite, Marca. He won’t be around any longer.”
I blinked hard. “You should see for yourself.” We opened the door into the house and I led her down the halls. “He’s in here.”
She took a step forward. “No!”
I didn’t say anything, just stood in the doorway.
“Darry!” She ran to his side and embraced him tightly. “Darry, no! No, you can’t be gone!” She drew heaving, gasping breaths between sobs. “You can’t!”
I moved to her side and hugged her against myself, both of us crying and whispering his name.
“Oh Darry, I won’t ever forget you. I’ll find a way!” I opened my eyes and gazed into his lifeless, closed, eyes. “I promise.”