The officer emerged from nowhere, and seeing her made me want to crush the steering wheel into putty. They’d told me this path was clear. Told me no one bothered to guard some backwards road that just led to forests and dirt. Now my mind raced as I watched the uniformed woman approach, all muscular arms and confident steps. Maybe I could speed past her? Yeah, right. The old car barely crawled on these rocks. What were the odds she had the equipment to activate my tag? If she did activate it, my corpse wouldn’t drive well.
So I pulled to a stop. In those precious seconds before the officer reached my window, I checked the back seat and found Aria still sleeping. Even better, the blanket covered everything except her hair. I stared forward.
“Ellice Johnson,” the officer read off her scanner. “Step out of the car.”
My voice squeaked when I answered. “Why?”
Instead of snapping back, the woman looked like she’d swallowed something bitter. “Oh, please tell me…” she brushed a curl of hair aside. “Tell me you know that you’re a half-breed.”
My plan was to answer as little as possible, but her words threw me. “How does someone not know that?”
The officer shrugged. “You’d be surprised what the hum– what the mind can deny when it needs to.”
I nodded, rethinking my initial plan. Better to stall. Better to keep her talking while I decided what to do.
“So,” the officer said, “Who’s the alien? Your mom or dad?”
“Dad,” I said after a moment.
She tilted her head like this was an oddity. “How long were they together? ‘Cause this one half-breed told me her mom posed as human for five years before they had–”
“One-night stand,” I said.
We waited in silence a while, the officer’s eyes never leaving my arm. My sleeves had slid back now, revealing indigo scales underneath.
“Look, can you just let me pass?” I said, attempting a sigh. Judging from this woman’s stare and tone, she had a genuine fascination with half-breeds. Maybe I could use that to my advantage. “There’s nothing out there, and I really just… I want to get away from everything for a bit.”
“Why? You think you’re gonna change before your tag goes off?”
“No,” I snapped. Not that I knew what changing felt like, but everyone who saw my arm thought it would happen any second. Wasn’t that the whole point of the tagging system? Give me a few months to settle my affairs, but kill me before I changed and went on a murdering rampage?
“If you’re not gonna change, you might as well stay,” the woman said. “I mean, if there’s nothing out there.”
My throat constricted. A dozen excuses launched in my mind, but they fizzled into nonsense before they formed words. And while I sat immobile, the officer’s gaze wandered along the car’s side. I had to say something, anything to get her attention back on me, but the panic poisoned my mind. Helplessly, I watched her peek in the back window. Her body tensed.
“Someone’s there,” she said.
My voice returned way too late. “She’s sleeping.”
“I can see that. Pull the blanket back.”
I reached behind the seat. What would I do when she saw? Beg her? Kill her? We were just supposed to slip through unnoticed, no confrontations. I wasn’t the type of person to handle this choice. Slowly, I tugged at the blanket’s side, and it fell to the floor.
Aria stirred and pulled her indigo arms closer together, but remained asleep. Her scales went up to her neck, revealing just how much closer she was to changing than I was. The officer gasped and stumbled back.
“My scanner only showed one,” she breathed, “you’ve got… she’s untagged.”
“She’s also nine years old,” I said, picking the youngest age I might get away with. I glanced back at Aria’s teenage figure and wished I’d gone higher. “They say… I mean, someone told me that the violent urges… that it’s just a stage, you know? If it runs its course away from people, where we can just survive on animals for a few weeks… we’ll get our minds back. You don’t…” I leaned forward, trying to hide my quivering hands. “…you don’t have to kill us.”
“People say lots of things when someone’s about to die. Doesn’t make it all true.”
I growled under my breath. This wasn’t working. I couldn’t reason with this woman. I had to move past her. She’d yet to pull a tag activation device on me. Probably didn’t have one. The gas just needed one good push, and yet…
“Will you kill me if I don’t let you pass?”
That did it. My grip on the wheel loosened, hot tears streamed down my face, and heavy breaths muddled my words. “I’m scared… I’ve never killed anyone. If I don’t, you’ll report her, I know, but…” I shut my eyes, willing my voice to stay low. “I’m scared.”
I didn’t see quite what happened next, but I heard the woman open the back door. For once, I reacted on time. My door flew open, but before I could step out, the woman said,
“Wake her. Tell her to go.”
I froze, thinking I must’ve heard wrong. Or that she was baiting me to attack. But, no, she pointed down the road ahead of us, almost looking depressed. “I don’t kill kids,” she said. “Or peop– or those who won’t hurt me even when they should.” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small, familiar-looking remote. “I can’t remove your tag,” she said. “But I can set it off when she’s gone. I mean… if that’s something you want.”
I shook my head. Driving out here might’ve been the first worthwhile thing I’d done with my life. And I had eight months left. Time to see what I could make of them.
Katrina S. Forest is a Clarion West alumna who has sold work to a variety of magazines, ranging from True Confessions to Highlights for Children. Her kids think she’s strange, but don’t say so because that word is not yet in either of their vocabularies.