TITLE: Girl at the Wall
GENRE: YA fantasy
It’d been three days since she ran away, and the only street kids she’d seen were mutilation boys who cut their flesh to beg for alms. Even upper-zone girls like her had heard about Wall boys. They were supposed to be skillful pickpockets, so stealthy they moved like shadows, impossible to spot, and no one knew how they survived. Oh well. It didn’t matter. Street kids were probably all the same anyway, living on the tips of their toes, doing what they could to stay alive. Ayla was one herself now, and even dressed as a boy, she’d be in trouble soon enough. It helped that she was reedy and could hide in baggy clothes, but her luck couldn’t last forever. There were soldiers on every street, craven and hungry things that lurking in each dark corner.
Sweat dripped down her back. It was already noon and the air was so hot it coated her teeth. She’d been out here for hours now, on the lookout for a man in a beige suit. Her orders were to steal a black box from his pocket, but she didn’t know the first thing about picking pockets. Was she supposed to sidle up to her target, or distract him while she stole the box? She wiped a drop of sweat out of her eyes. There was a boy standing at the edges of the crowd. A Wall boy? No. He was too easy to spot, shifting from foot to foot with a goofy grin on his face. Maybe fifteen like her, he had curly black hair and a stocky build. He was so pigeon toed that if he tried to pick a pocket he’d be caught for sure. But no, wait a second. Now he was slipping a hand into the pocket of a man in a purple robe. The boy might be shambling and tentative, but he hadn’t gotten caught. So how hard could it be?
That’s what she told herself anyhow, as she dug into the bag of nuts she bought for a leeri from a vendor. There was only one left. When had she eaten them all? Suddenly, she was hit by a wave of sadness so big she couldn’t see to its outer edges. Her adopted father never let her buy food from the vendors. He had so many rules, so much fear in his voice. Vendors’ nuts were picked from the pollution swamps, he’d boom, and she’d die a slow and painful death if she ate one. Pthh. She popped the last one into her mouth and savored it. The nut was salty and good enough to hint of paradise the cults chanted about. She ran a finger along the bottom of the bag and licked it, wishing she had more.
No, more than anything, Ayla wished she could have her old life back.