Written by Audrey Francis-Plante
Photo Art by Plaidbowties
DEAN & LILY
“Welcome to your first Stage,” a tall woman with long, purple hair tells Sierra and me as we climb over the fence. “I’m Malone.”
I look behind her, at the people circling the lake, making wild music with trash cans and cooking ware. I spot Dean in a second—all in black except for his blue hair. He’s drumming a beat on a tire rim. He looks up as if sensing my gaze. I look away.
“Is this everyone?” I ask. “The whole Troupe?”
I make a quick count: ten people, including Malone. “No,” she says. “Only last year’s initiates.”
Two boys climb over the fence and join us, panting. “Hey, guys,” one says. His gaze falls on me. “Lily Punch.”
I sigh, and Sierra laughs.
“And you are?” I ask the boys as they join us.
“Admirers,” he says, shaking my hand. “Arlo. And this is Mika.”
Arlo is about my height, five feet seven, with blond hair. And Mika is almost six feet tall, with a shaved head and a skin darker than Sierra’s.
“What are we going to do?” Mika asks Malone.
“I’ll tell you when everyone is here.”
Arlo, Mika, and Sierra mingle with the others by the chemically-colorful lake, but I stay with Malone.
“So you’re the one Dean won’t stop talking about,” she tells me, crossing her arms over her rain-soaked shirt.
My heart jolts. “What do you mean?”
She chuckles, shaking her head. Then the rest of the initiates arrive, and everyone gathers around her. Dean stands across from me, his grey eyes—one bruised—intent on me. One corner of his mouth turns up, and for some reason I’m even madder at him.
“For those who don’t know, I’m Malone.” Malone paces the space inside the circle of people. “I’m in charge of Training. Each week, for the rest of the year, you’ll be expected to follow an intense training to insure your ability to fight or at least run for your life in the eventuality that a Troupe Mission goes wrong and the authorities find you. Or worse, Rats.”
“Rats?” Sierra aks.
“It’s a group that recently formed. Science-oriented, cause-obsessed people who are ready to do anything to stop us from doing what we do. Trust me when I say anything.”
“Did they ever catch one of you?” Arlo asks.
The media never mentions Troupe-related stories.
Malone’s gaze shadows. “One. Please, take this seriously. We’re playing an illegal, dangerous game. Crucial, yes, but dangerous.”
“Don’t scare the kids, Malone,” one of last year’s initiates says and a nervous laugh runs through the group.
“All right. We’ll talk about it later. For now …” She smiles, tying her purple hair into a long ponytail. “Colors.”
To be continued