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the winds portend a dying winter

12*13*2236


This is our last night together. Emmy is dozing next to me. I can’t sleep. She can, because she knows she’ll need it. She has an incredible amount of self control. She is everything that I admire, everything I can’t (and don’t have to) be. She balances me out in that way. I love her. My love. My life. I wish I could keep more photos of her. I wish it wouldn’t endanger the both of us.


I’m thinking of our wedding now. We have never been a legal couple. I am not a man in the eyes of the law, and even if I were a woman, she is one too. But I am her husband, and she is my wife. Our friends, the ones not yet arrested, attended the wedding. It was in our two bedroom, company-issued apartment where we still pretend to be roommates. We called it a potluck. Everyone brought a dish made with ingredients that represented love. We held hands in front of an altar of plastic flowers and electric candles, while our friend officiated. We exchanged rings, we kissed, we danced and only had the neighbors yell at us once. No pictures were taken.


The only reminder of my marriage is a secret. The wedding band stays hidden in Emmy’s jewelry box, disguised as an unsentimental ring. I would wear the ring Emmy gave me if it didn’t raise questions. I don’t have a beard, real or figurative, to hide behind. Any men in my life who would’ve volunteered to pretend to be my husband are in prison now, and the men I’ve met at my job would turn me in to the police if they knew about my Emmy.


I should be asleep. I just want to write. I remember when Emmy and I first met. We’d started out as friends, then roommates when I’d landed my job at the PowerFields. I saw power and strength in her. I wondered what she saw in me. But we’d talked and talked and fell for each other. She had an energy that meshed perfectly with my own. I remember when Emmy and I first kissed. It was like nothing else. She’d held my face, looked at me, at me, and said she saw who I was.


Tomorrow will be difficult.


12*14*2236


I said goodbye to my wife today.


She will be with Hasty until the trains, then it will be up to her to reach the border and cross it safely. I can’t think of what might go wrong or I may throw up.


I haven’t allowed myself to watch the news. If I see any segments on the nuclear danger zones I will definitely throw up.


Hasty knows what he’s doing. No one learns about pre-nuclear history anymore, but I still remember, before the end of the war, when I’d read about wading through rivers and sleeping in secret attics. He is our underground railroad.


I’m doing my best not to overthink.


12*15*2236


Sundays usually pass by quickly. It’s not even noon yet. The apartment is too big for once. Too silent. Emmy’s belongings are still here, in case a missing report is filed and I’m questioned. I can just say that she was out somewhere and had assumed she’d be coming home eventually. Clueless. Just a roommate.


But more likely than not, no one will take notice. She worked as a librarian, in the only Municipal library left standing. The building is ramshackle and moldy. They try their best to update the books, but they barely get enough funding to make sure everyone is paid. One less person won’t mean anything to the Municipality. People go missing. People die. As long as they aren’t powering the city or increasing a company’s profits, it doesn’t matter. This works to her advantage as well as mine. It still upsets me.


12*16*2236


I can’t believe I still have to work after this. The days already weigh on me. The Circuitbreaker's tubes get inserted into my arms, and seven hours later I wake up completely drained. Even with the injections they provide to recharge ourselves, I’m always so tired. They never stop wanting more. As soon as I have my strength back, it’s time for another extraction. It’s dystopic. I knew it before, but it felt like something I could cope with up until now.


We power the city. Anyone who works at the PowerFields says this, as if there is something to take pride in. The machines are extracting our energy and converting it to keep the trains and buildings functioning. It’s the cleanest energy there is, according to the Municipality.


I don’t care. I really don’t. I can’t believe I still have to work! I don’t know how the Circuitbreakers find enough energy left in me to extract day after day.


But without this job I would lose my apartment, my food, and my two days off. I’ve tried looking at other jobs, but they don’t pay nearly as well as the PowerFields. I should be grateful, considering how quickly new openings get filled. This won’t last for much longer. As soon as Hasty gets his next shipment, I’m out of here.


12*20*2236


Ariana called me into her office for an unscheduled meeting today. I have been so paranoid. I thought my supervisor had found something out and I was about to be arrested. Thankfully, promotions generally aren’t a bad thing. It’s not official and won’t be for another two or three months, she says. She doesn’t know that I won’t be here to celebrate.


I also spoke with Hasty today. I went to his shop to get my phone looked at. He mentioned that there have been some supply chain delays due to the Municipality cracking down on border crossings, even commercially, so he didn’t have the exact parts needed for my phone. Hearing that made my stomach drop. I thought of a lot of things, all including Emmy.


Then, he brought me into the back under the guise of presenting alternative parts. He showed me a message on one of his encrypted tablets, sent from the internet - NOT the Municipality extranet! Emmy’s out there, and she’s able to communicate! I can’t stop smiling.


Some of us have found ways around the extranet, but it’s easy to mess up and receive a penalty. It's technically illegal to go outside of the extranet's approved websites and forums, but it isn't enforced unless someone has multiple flags. I have already received two. I wish it wasn’t so risky. I might try, though, if it means getting into contact with Emmy. I will see what Hasty thinks next time I stop by. He’ll be calling me any day now about the parts I need.


12*23*2236


I have received more news of the promotion, and it is disturbing. The PowerFields are working in tandem with three of the five Municipal corrections facilities. It’s a new "partnership" as Ariana called it. A new business venture that I’m sure will bring in loads of money. My own energy will be diverted to this new cause, along with fifty others who have received the same promotion. If I opt out, I risk bringing attention to myself. But my god, I don’t want my body to be powering a prison.


I remember when we’d thought things were starting to improve. It was a cruel glimmer of hope. Two people running for elected Municipality seats had promised to decriminalize homosexuality. Their platforms included lessening border restrictions. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start, a possibility. A surprising amount of people showed up for their rallies. They were definitely going to win the vote.


One was assassinated a week before the election, the other framed for the murder. I’m sure it was the perfect scandal. The people who took those open seats were the ones who then enacted a set of ultra-strict cross-dressing legislation. A librarian like my Emmy would say they’re reminiscent of “ugly laws” from the pre-nuclear days. Wearing the wrong clothes used to get me stares and threats. Now they can call the police on me. It's up to the prosecutors to decide what counts as wearing the wrong clothes, but the people with money and connections will get off with a fine and a slap on the wrist, if that. The rest of us, ugly or not, are sent to jail to work.


I can’t power a prison. I just can’t.


I won’t be there for it, is what I keep telling myself. Why doesn’t this make me feel better?


12*27*2236


So much bad news today.


Hasty says it was dangerous enough that Emmy had sent him anything at all. We have to lay low, especially with my escape date just around the corner. Rationally, I understand. I even agree. But I feel like he’s keeping her from me. He won’t even tell me how to access the internet to try looking for her myself. I'm sure he knows ways of doing it that won't get me flagged.


I’m angry, too. He hasn’t been able to get me more of my hormones. Raids on black market suppliers are to blame, not him. But it’s been almost a month since my last restock. I’ve stretched injections out but it isn’t enough.


12*31*2236


There was a news segment about someone’s work-sponsored apartment being raided. This never happens. The Municipality doesn’t touch corporate real estate, especially not that of their biggest collaborator, the PowerFields. Apparently the person had been trying to hack into Municipality records, which raised enough alarms to get police knocking down their door. Paper journals were found, and of course they were devastatingly incriminating. I am crying as I write this. Even my own personal thoughts aren’t safe. I will have to destroy everything I’ve written on paper, or it could be used against me some day. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen tonight.


I can’t take any unnecessary risks.


---


[TIMED ENTRY - Deletes in 12 Hours] 01*25*2237


The PowerFields will have us. They will have all of us. I give my energy and my soul to the Circuitbreakers, and in turn I am given a life to live. I have a roof over my head, I have two days off, and they keep their medical centers on the corporate campus. There should be no reason to unionize, no reason to revolt, no reason to think that life could be better than what it is right now.


I’m sure that Ariana believes that. She’s deep enough in middle management to think that asking for more would be insane. Why would she? She has her fancy office with dustless computer screens and a room calibrated to her biometrics. She doesn’t need to get extracted anymore when her monthly pay is what someone like me earns in a year. That’s how they keep us in check, you know. Managers like Ariana believe they’re getting a huge cut from the bigwigs, when in reality all they’re getting is a slice so thin it would put a piece of paper to shame. And if they’re hardly getting anything at all, what does that mean for me? I get my energy extracted daily by the Circuitbreaker. Nothing could compensate me enough for that.


There aren’t enough words to describe how much I miss Emmy. She’s out there waiting for me while I sit on my ass. There’s a good reason for it, but still. I’m not a patient person. I could have left first, she’d have let me, but I care too much about her to leave her in this city alone.


[TIMED ENTRY - Deletes in 12 Hours] 02*12*2237


The news cycle has been pretty stagnant lately. They try to spruce it up with fluff pieces about PowerField breakthroughs, but I know it’s just a distraction. I saw a prison bus while I was heading home with my groceries. It could be me in there if I’m not careful. Out of the ten people crammed in the bus, at least six had odd haircuts and mismatched clothes. Prisoners like them get their heads shaved and their clothes burned. I wonder how they keep finding them. I wonder if the police wonder too. If they find it odd that they’re always arresting new people who won’t, can’t fit into what the law defines.


I finally got more hormones from Hasty. It’s been almost two months since my last full dose. This batch isn’t enough to last very long, but it’s something.


For the first time since starting testosterone five months ago, I was scared to do my injection. I’m not sure what it is this time. The needles are easy, considering I’m injected daily to recharge. I’ve been able to hide the changes well. And there haven’t been many changes to begin with, considering how hard it is to consistently get a full dose. Maybe it’s because each shot feels like it could be my last. I don’t want fear. There is too much of it in my life, at work, in my apartment. This should be the one thing left to comfort me.


[TIMED ENTRY - Deletes in 12 Hours] 02*27*2237


Sometimes I feel like I’m on the edge of losing it. With Emmy gone, I can’t talk about it at all. I feel like I’m dying. When I walk into work it’s like everyone’s eyes are on me, searing my skin and ripping me apart. I don’t know how to blend in. I’m told I walk like a man. I don’t look right, even with the company uniform that everyone has to wear. Because it’s unisex, my legal sex has to be embroidered over the breast pocket. People still give me looks. With my voice changing, I’m more aware of the stares.


I like that people think I walk like a man. I wish they’d mistake me for a man. It wouldn’t be a mistake. No one knows aside from my Emmy, and it’s killing me. And it would kill me if they did know.


What do I want? I want to wake up and put on a shirt - and only a shirt. No need to wear an undergarment that carries the extra weight, no need to worry about wearing all white. I want to look at my face in the bathroom mirror and remark that I need to shave. I want to hear my name. I wish people knew my name. I want and I want and I can't have any of it. And what I do have must stay a secret. It’s hard not to think that I shouldn’t exist when I already don't. I’m a blind spot in everyone’s peripheral. I’m both an ‘other’ and nothing at all.


[TIMED ENTRY - Deletes in 12 Hours] 03*02*2237


I am in danger. They suspect me, and a few others. The escape is compromised and I have more eyes on me than ever. Hasty isn’t ready yet - he wouldn’t have been for another twelve days. I have no way of talking to Emmy except in my dreams. This is where things begin to fall apart, isn’t it? Nothing good ever comes of this city. And the good that does, never lasts. My light at the end of the tunnel is fading.


They believe we may finally see an end to the winter. We won't be able to observe it yet, but according to the telescopes and sensors and expert interpreters, the skies are brightening. I wonder if we will notice. Or if it will be too gradual for us to appreciate it. One day the sun will be shining again, but the windows in prison won’t be wide enough for it.


---


If I close my eyes, I can see a heart carved into a tree, with “Sam&Em” set inside the shape. It’s the only thing I have left. It’s the only thing they will not force me to relinquish.


I’m given clothes that are tight around the bust, and I’m certain they’re providing me with a size too small on purpose. They don’t need to shave my head - I’ve already done that job for them. When I knew I'd been compromised, I gave myself the haircut I've always wanted. I stop trying to hide my voice, too. Let them hear the hint of bass, let them know I’ve changed in irreversible ways.


Hephaestus Shango is gone, and he’s taken his alias “Hasty” with him. Best of Hephaestus was boarded up before I arrived. I’d gone to his shop to see if he could get me out sooner. Of course, that’s where the police found me. I was sure that he laid a trap for me. Now I’m not so sure he intended for me to be arrested. He’s just a coward, leaving before things heat up. Realistically, it’s business. But he’s full of shit. Hasty, the man who brags about never breaking a promise. He’s a businessman. I knew that. I’d ignored it.


I create a catalog of all things gone wrong in my mind: Hasty has left me to fend for myself; I’m trapped in a prison bus; I am being processed for my indefinite incarceration; I don’t have my wife with me. The last one isn’t so bad. I hope she’s safe. I hope she doesn’t try to come back to find me in ten days, after I don’t show up within the estimated time frame Hasty gave us. We should never have done this. We should’ve left together and, had it come to it, died together at the border.


“All aboard!” The officer sneers at us as we are corralled into another, bigger prison bus. It’s packed. The chains around my wrists and ankles never stop rattling. Even when I am still, they don’t let me forget where I am. The bus hits every pothole at top speed and runs over a curb as it turns right.


The driver is separated from us with a plastic partition, and we cannot see them. I wonder if they hire a civilian, or if they use one of their own corrections officers for the driving. It feels like they’re trying to take their anger out on us in every way possible.


I am uncomfortably close to my fellow prisoner, someone who is small and thin and makes me feel enormous. They cry and are only partially successful with wiping their tears. Their chains rattle as they strain against them. I wonder if we’ve ever seen each other around the city before, or if we’ve frequented similar virtual spaces in the secret pockets of the extranet.


The bus engine roars as it hits another series of potholes. It’s going slower than it had been before. The roaring fills my ears and threatens to split my head wide open. I can’t reach up to cover my ears as the noise grows louder. More piercing. Consuming. There is too much noise.


It’s a scream, not a roar. The engine is crying out.


---


03*06*2237


It feels so good to hold a pen and paper again. I could just write the alphabet and I’d be happy. I had switched to typing out my thoughts in encrypted journals in case my apartment was searched. Now it doesn’t even matter. All of these pages will burn in my cooking fire. I am free, even while I am hiding.


I might be imagining things, but the sky seemed less gray today. There was a brightness that it hinted at. Not that the sun poked through in any way, but I swear I could see its outline behind the curtain of clouds. It’s still there, at least. It hasn’t abandoned us.


Where do I start? My head hurts. I need Emmy. I think I will be able to see her again. Hasty isn’t as much of a coward as I thought. He’s decent with explosives, too. My arm is bruised from falling. My wrists are scabbed from Hasty cutting through the shackles too fast. He’s probably alive. I’m sure he crossed the border somewhere, but I don’t know that we’ll ever see each other again.


I’m getting close to the Falcon Mountains. I’ve never actually been this far from the Municipality. I wish I could appreciate the beauty.


I’m scared. I thought I could fight my way through the fear, but my hands are trembling so much that I wouldn’t be able to reread this page if I were keeping it. The danger zones are everywhere, and they can kill me if I’m out here too long. Hasty had given Emmy a list of symptoms to look out for. Radiation poisoning takes days to be realized, but it depends on the level of exposure. He’d said headaches and nausea were the more common ones.


My head hurts so bad. And I’m barely able to eat. I have enough rations in the go-bag, but something about being in an explosion can ruin your appetite. I’m worried the radiation poisoning is making this worse. I need to eat or I will die before my cells are destroyed.


My hand aches after not using it to write for so long. I need to sleep before it gets light enough for the helicopters to continue their search. I need to live.


03*07*2237


The nuclear winter darkness persists. I need it to, even if the world needs sunlight more. Let it return once I’ve made it. If I make it.


The nausea is worse the higher I go. I’ve passed the final train station in the mountains. I found the abandoned snack kiosk located beneath the elevated station’s tracks. It had medical supplies, as Hasty promised, as well as some old non-perishables. They didn’t look or smell moldy. And knowing the preservatives pumped into them, they’d have outlasted the nuclear war. I left with the supplies and the snacks and didn’t stop until I reached the tree cover.


It was hard to eat at first. I was already starting to feel nauseated at that point, though it wasn’t as bad as it is right now. I’ve taken one of the anti-radiation pills stashed in the bag. I know I’m moving in and out of danger zones, but I have to do everything I can to prevent myself from getting poisoned. I can’t die before I see Emmy.


03*08*2237


I’m grateful for these pages. My words quite literally keep me warm. That has to be a kind of poetry.


I don’t think it’s radiation poisoning anymore. Once I crossed the border, I could eat again. Everything I’d been feeling before - the headache, pain, nausea - just…went away. I haven’t experienced any more symptoms. I’m not sure what to think about this. Even Hasty was certain about the danger zones, but there is wildlife out here. There are plenty of bugs, otherwise I wouldn’t be so itchy. I’ve seen birds and toads and squirrels. But I suppose I can’t be sure that I’m safe for at least another few days. I’m taking the pills daily just in case.


I’m still surprised at how instinctively my body eased up. I’m not exactly safe, even with the searchlights and helicopters behind me. But I got out. I’m alive. Thinking you’re going to die at any moment will drive anyone to the brink. Emmy was probably much more calm. Knowing her, she would’ve kept it together far better than I did. She’s always been the more level-headed one.


I am imagining carving a heart into a tree again. It makes me feel like a silly teenager, but I'm going to do it anyway.


03*08*2237


I burned the other page for today, but I’ve already made it several miles past the border. I won’t need to ration for much longer.


I carved us into a tree. I wish she were here. I know we’d be giggling the whole time. God, I miss her. The closer I get to my Emmy, the slower time moves.


Sam&Em, immortalized in the bark of a pine.


If I ever come back here, and that’s a very big “if”, I will show her.


03*09*2237


This is my final piece of paper. I am getting close. I can finally see hints of the city that lies in the piedmont. There are old roads and the occasional burned out shell of a barn. I keep daydreaming about finding Emmy camped out in one of the houses, waiting for me. It’s unrealistic, but the image of her in my mind keeps me company.


My whole body aches from the nonstop hiking. I’m rationing my rations. I will need more food, but I have no idea how to hunt and I definitely don’t want to risk foraging. I don’t have the time to, either. After I finish this page, I will sleep. And tomorrow will be another full day of journeying. I should feel ready to give up. I have several more miles to clear before I reach the city at the foot of the Falcon Mountains. I will need to push myself to get to the city limits within the next two days. But I am full of energy. I actually have hope for a future. I am completely unfamiliar with this city outside of the most basic facts Hasty supplied us with three months ago. He wasn’t even certain of its name. But this city is my lifeline.


The sky is definitely brighter. Sleeping outside every day is showing me this. Someday soon I will be able to feel the sun on my skin again. It’s there, ready to be seen.

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