February has been a crazy weather month, which is normal for Texas. However, I’m really not a fan of having seventy-degree short weather and nasty ice all in a single weekend. Either way, I’m tucked away inside with nothing to do as I hide from the demonic polar vortex outside. Apparently boredom makes me brave, because I’m going to share a young adult short story I wrote over Christmas break *dies a million times because I dislike my short stories*. This particular short story placed 3rd in a writing contest, which was a pleasant surprise. I might expand it into a series of short stories. It’d be a fun project. Anyhow, I’m sharing it here and I hope you enjoy!
READY OR NOT
October 10th 2:00 AM, Boston Rooftop
The helicopter drops Cassidy and me on a lighted rooftop. I take a moment to balance myself, bending my knees to absorb the shock. Above us the helicopter disappears, but its deafening roar is replaced by the endless cries of the city. I glance around our drop point and see a second team positioned to our left. It’s probably Marissa and Kate from the slender shadows they cast. Our other teams must be stationed on another rooftop. I guess it makes the game more interesting.
“You ready, Tamara?” Cassidy looks ghostlike in the hazy glow of city lights.
Cass will need a lot of luck to make it out of this alive. Actually if we’re honest, we both need more than luck, especially if we want to keep our ranking. An AK-47 and bulletproof vests would be preferable. Instead, all we have is the Beretta and our adrenaline addled brains. Now don’t get me wrong, Berettas are nice guns. I just prefer a longer range. Still, things could be worse—we could be eliminating the target with our bare hands.
A chilling wind rips at my clothes as I peer over the edge of our rooftop perch. Eight stories of nothingness. It’s a drop of death. An entrance to hell. Our final exam.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Together we jump.
October 8th 8:30 AM, Hawthorn Manor
Mr. Jo Kelly leans against his desk in an attempt to project the typical “teacher image”. Thankfully it has never worked. Instead, he crosses muscular, tattooed arms across his chest and surveys us with a look that could kill. Most of us find that look attractive.
“This class has top rankings.” We try not to smirk, but I can feel the heat of our pride radiating throughout the classroom. Perhaps we’re a bit smug, but the sisterhood has trained relentlessly. We earned high marks through blood and sweat. I have scars to prove it. Mr. Kelly continues, “However, your current rankings mean nothing after this mission. You were taught our creed and trained in combat, but unless you can succeed in the field, your education was meaningless.”
Tension replaces the previous pride, and the hairs along my arms tingle at the mention of our assignment. It will be our final test—the factor that decides which unit we’re placed in, if we’re even placed in one at all. My stomach coils into a nervous knot, and I’m glad I skipped breakfast.
Cassidy raises her hand from her seat beside mine. “Mr. Kelly, can you give us any extra advice on how to prepare for the assignment.”
Her thick rimmed glasses slip down her nose, and she pushes them back into place before gripping her pen as if it’s a lifeline. Sometimes I feel bad, but I hope Cass doesn’t make it onto a field unit. She’s safer indoors with her research and hacking.
“Ah, Miss Bradshaw,” Mr. Kelly’s voice scarcely masks his obvious amusement. “This cannot be solved with flashcards and study sessions. You must prepare your mind. Instinct is key in our line of work. Trust it and you’ll retain your ranking.”
Cassidy’s cheeks flush with embarrassment, but she scribbles his words across her notepad anyways. I chew on my thumbnail. Instinct has never been my ally. It’s usually my downfall. Maybe it’s damaged like my family or my ability to trust. The rest of me is broken, so why should my instincts be any different?
Mr. Kelly’s voice interrupts my wandering thoughts. “Girls, I realize your sisterhood is strong, but this mission will turn you against each other. Show mercy and you will fail. Your orders are to secure and subdue the target. Don’t let loyalty to hold you back.”
I swallow the lump in my throat as Cass sends me a faltering smile. Neither one of us would be able to fight each other. Hopefully we’ll be on the same team. That way I can ensure she stays safe and doesn’t get hurt.
Funny isn’t it? I attend an assassin’s school where we are programed to kill. Yet, the one thing I desire is to keep people alive. Instinct might be dying, but irony is alive and well.
October 10th 2:05 AM, Boston Alleyway
Cassidy runs beside me and barely masks a limp. I broke my fall, but Cass landed wrong. I bite my lip and try to slow my pace, try to take care of her.
“The target is under level six security.” The automated voice buzzes through my earpiece. Maybe it’s Mr. Kelly or one of the other teachers. The thought makes me feel more confident. They’ve taught us well, and we won’t fail them. “We’re sending coordinates to your GPS.”
My reflection—murky green eyes, brown hair cropped close, freckles sprinkling my nose, and the faint shadow of the scar that flaws my left cheek—is unforgettable. The numbers that illuminate the dark screen and replace my reflection are not.
“You ready, Tamara?”
It’s funny that Cass is always asking me this. She’s the timid one, the one who only fights back to protect someone else. I guess that’s why I’m protecting her.
“I’m ready if you are.” My stomach clinches at the lie. Neither of us are ready, but neither of us can fail. To fail is to die, and Cassidy must live.
October 10th 2:58 AM, Boston Penthouse
The city sounds fade as we slip through the front door like shadows. The lobby is deserted, except for a middle-aged man too involved with his newspaper to notice two insignificant teens. A list of ways to kill him rolls through my head, but I brush aside the distraction with a flick of my wrist and tap the elevator button instead. Besides, he’d be a boring target.
“Tenth floor,” Cassidy leans close and mutters. The sisterhood is never sure where she gets her calculations, but she’s rarely wrong about these things. Tenth floor it is.
We’re quiet as the elevator climbs. Assassins don’t need to speak. We are silent, silent as death. This is our mission, but more importantly this is our life.
My chest tightens as sweat beads along my hairline. This might be our life, but something isn’t right. Mr. Kelly’s reminder to follow our instincts hits me in the gut.
“Cass, are you ready?”
The door open with a ding, answering for her.
October 10th 3:00 AM the Tenth Floor
Empty. The spacious room is spotlessly clean, as if someone has gone to great care to erase a crime already committed.
Cassidy steps past me towards the center of the room, not even bothering to hide her limp, and turns a wide circle. She might not be the most fearsome killer, but Cass misses nothing. If something is amiss, she’ll tell me.
Boston’s lights shine through a wall of glass. Hesitantly I press my fingertips against the cool surface. Evidence, I know, but there’s nothing here, not even another team from our sisterhood. In fact, there’s been no sign of them at all– no fleeting shadows or muffled footsteps.
No one except me and Cass.
“Cassidy?” Silence–deadly silence. “I think we’re–”
“Tamara, it’s not both of us. It’s one. Only one of us is the target and—“
I close my eyes against the truth, “And the other is the assassin.” Mr. Kelly hadn’t been preparing us. He had given us a warning. “How long have you known, Cass?”
“Since we were given the location. A target with level six security– we’re semester six students. It was obvious.”
Unlike me, her instinct and intuition is intact. Perhaps she’s always been more ready than me. She’s always been smarter, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. Besides, I attend a school for assassins, yet my goal is to save lives. I was never meant to succeed. Even an AK-47 couldn’t save us. Only that’s the point: one of us can’t survive.
I open my eyes and swallow the suffocating lump in the throat. “So each team was given a different location? A standoff to see who dies.”
“No, Tamara, it’s a test to see who can break the sisterhood.” Even without turning I can tell Cass is crying. The tremble in her voice gives it away. “We were never meant to be loyal. Not to the school or the teachers, not to the sisterhood, and certainly not to each other.”
The click of her handgun is almost imperceptible, but my senses were trained too well. Turns out my instincts aren’t broken. Things are very wrong. However, my heart is shattered, and it will never have time to mend.
“Are you ready, Tamara?”
“Yeah, I’m ready, Cass.” I don’t turn around, but our eyes catch each other in the reflection. My fingers flit towards the gun, as if reaching for safety. I’m only reaching for death, because I have failed. My smile falters, and my laugh is held back by burning tears. Who wants to be an assassin anyways?