Not everything I write makes it into the final book. Here’s a scene from the first draft of Expendables which was partly replaced in the final version by the section in Chapter 3 when Aleesha tries to steal some bread.
In the original version, Aleesha was exploring a market Inside the Wall when she came across a stall selling oranges…
Last night I lay awake, twisting the amulet on the cord around my wrist and going over and over the conversation with Lamar in my head. Jay slept like a baby beside me. He doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Whereas I worry about everything.
Today I’m wearing a short skirt in some lurid shade of pink over my black trousers. A deep blue scarf is draped round my upper body and a smaller yellow one around my hair and neck. I feel a bit ridiculous and I can’t get the fabric to fall in neat waves like most of the Insider women, but it’s enough to make me look like I belong here.
I slip through the Wall further north, just near the boundary with Area Five. I stick to the main roads where the crowds are, memorizing the street names and squares to add to the mental map in my mind. After about twenty minutes of walking, the street opens up into a large square, packed with red and white roofed market stalls. Sizzling pans release a fragrant aroma into the air which makes my mouth water.
I let myself be carried along by the crowd of people. Crowds are good – they make it easier to filch things without being seen.
I wander past stalls selling all sorts of vegetables, not just potatoes, carrots and cabbages, but weird, strange looking things. Teardrop-shaped vegetables coloured a deep purple spill from a crate. They have a thick waxy skin, and I wonder if you’re supposed to eat it whole, or peel it first.
Up ahead people are crowded round a stall, jostling for position. “Oranges, first oranges of the season!” I wander over, curious about what he’s selling and why they’re so popular.
A large woman in a bright, patterned dress pushes her way out of the crowd in front of me. She’s carrying a bag of perfectly round balls the colour of the sun setting on a hazy day.
“Fresh, juicy oranges!”
I push through the crowd, squeezing past people until I’m at the front of the queue. Hundreds of the bright round things are piled up in front of me, filling the air around with a sweet scent. I wait until the stall owner’s serving another customer and slide one from the pile, tucking it away in the hidden pocket under my scarf. I filch a second, but as I pull it out, it disrupts the pile, sending oranges cascading down towards me. The people around me surge forward, reaching their hands out to grab the precious fruit as I melt back into the crowd.
I glance up to find the stall holder looking directly at me, his brows furrowed.
Turning, I push through the crowd, ignoring the shout of anger behind me. There are people everywhere. The air feels thick, suffocating. Have to get away. I try and move faster, shoving people aside in my haste, but that only draws more attention to myself. Something catches on my skirt and, with a sound of fabric tearing, it’s ripped from me.
My heart thumps in my chest as the press of people around me eases. I pull my scarf back up over my head and keep my eyes down, aiming for a wide street that leads away from the square. I don’t see the Metz officers standing guard until a hand reaches out to grab my shoulder in an iron grip.
It yanks me around, and I stare up into its black, featureless mask. My limbs feel suddenly weak and lifeless, weighed down by fear.
The hand suddenly releases its grip and I collapse to the ground, the scarf falling from my head. My hand curls protectively around the precious orange. Did they see me take it? Even if they didn’t, suspicion alone is often enough to have you hauled off, never to be seen again.
“Put out your hands.”
The voice is gravelly and toneless, giving no clue as to whether it’s male or female, or even if it is human at all. There have always been rumours about the Metz but I’d scoffed and dismissed them as fairy tales. Now, staring up into its impassive mask, I’m not so sure.
Slowly I draw my hands out from beneath the folds of the blue scarf and hold them out in the open, palm up. Empty.
I stare at my fingers, willing them not to tremble, but it is as if my muscles have a mind of their own. Stop shaking dammit!
A low murmuring filters into my consciousness. A crowd has gathered, forming a circle around me and my captors.
I take my time getting my feet, buying myself a few seconds to calm my mind and think. There are three officers. Three against one. Not to mention the hoard of people who form an impenetrable barrier around us
“Look Mummy, it’s the black spider.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the boy I bumped into a few days ago at the front of the crowd, pointing at me. How did he recognise me? A woman pushes him back, shushing him.
The woman freezes, fear etched on her features. The colours drain from her face as the blank mask above me turns toward her.
“You know this girl?”
“N-n-no.” She can barely get the word out. Her hand strokes the hair of the child frantically as if he is a comfort blanket. “My son has just been reading too many fantasy books. You know how children can be. He thinks she looks like the black spider in Simeon’s Web.”
A scatter of laughter ripples through the crowd. The woman glances around, smiling weakly. Behind me, another woman murmurs to her companion. “Honestly, this is the problem with books nowadays, they’re just so graphic. My Rose is convinced there’s a monster hiding under her bed – it’s a nightmare to get her to go to bed at night.”
I take half a step to the side, wondering if I can somehow barge my way through the crowd and get enough people between me and the Metz officers to give me a chance to escape.
I freeze, my feet rooted to the ground. The officer pulls a black collar from its belt. It’s about eight inches across and totally smooth. There’s a line somewhere on it, too fine for me to see, but which I know is there. A break which allows the collar to be tightened to the diameter of its wearer’s neck.
My mouth goes dry and my hands begin to tremble uncontrollably as a tiny voice in my head starts up.
No, no, no, no, no, no.
It drowns out my thoughts, my ability to reason. I watch as the officer holds the collar up in front of it and opens it wide enough to fit over my head. The crowd falls silent.
The black figure takes a step towards me, then a second.
I wonder where I’ll be taken. The Farms perhaps? Or that other place, the place that is even worse, that no one speaks about. I close my eyes and wait for the end of life as I know it.
A scream rips through the silence. It’s followed by a second, then a third. Voices rise in anger, confusion and fear.
I open my eyes. A cloud of smoke billows from the crowd to my right, perhaps twenty feet back. People emerge from it coughing and choking, fighting to get away from the smoke and chaos. A woman falls, screaming, those behind her unable to stop their own movement as they too are pushed from behind. The circle surrounding me disintegrates as people spill into the open space, trying to protect themselves and their children from the stampede behind.
“Stop!” The roar of the Metz officer’s voice cuts through the chaos.
The crowd falls silent, more afraid of the the officer’s wrath than the smoke around them.
“The smoke is not dangerous. Stay calm and where you are.”
As if responding to his voice, the smoke begins to clear. I curse myself for missing the opportunity to escape and take a step back, but the attention of the officer has switched back from the crowd to me. It towers over me, sucking the light from around us as it lifts the black collar above my head.
There’s a bang, followed by more screams and shouts. I whirl round to see a second cloud of smoke engulf the people on the edge of the circle. The crowd surges towards us like a wave.
This time I don’t wait. My legs are moving before my brain is able to process what this new distraction is. The pincer tips of the Metz officer’s gloved hand grab at my arm, but I slide through its grasp and plunge into the crowd of people surging away from the square.
I fight my way through the chaos, getting knocked from side to side and pushed from behind. Once I nearly lose my footing and slip, but I manage to brace myself, gritting my teeth at the jarring in my knee. A child goes down beside me, but before I can make a grab for her, I’m pushed forward and her shill scream is soon lost in the din around me. The bellowing voices of the Metz officers call for calm and order. But this time, they have lost control.
Eventually, I reach the edge of the crowd and the crush from behind eases. People stand around dazed and confused, looking back at the chaos they’ve emerged from. A woman tries to run back into the crowd, screaming a girl’s name, tears running down her cheeks, but she’s held back by two other women, both sobbing. Others just walk away, their faces blank with shock.
A dull thumping beats a regular rhythm in my ears. I turn to look down the street. A familiar set of black figures round the corner, marching as one toward us, weapons drawn and ready. Reinforcements.
A new panic grips the people around me. I run for a narrow side street but haven’t gone more than ten paces before more Metz appear ahead. An even narrower back alley leads off to the right. A bin alley by the look of it. I duck into it and hide behind a large trash can.
The Metz march straight past, obviously more focused on controlling and dispersing the crowd than rounding every single person up. Once they’ve passed, I creep out from my hiding place and weave through the maze of streets, trying to put as much distance between myself and the square as possible.
I need to get back to the Wall. My nerves feel frayed and the image of the black collar is burned into my mind. I replay the scenes in my head, trying to work out what had happened.
Where did the smoke come from?
Surely, it’s too much of a coincidence that someone happened to set it off just when I needed help. But who would want me to escape? And, more importantly, what will they want in return?