From The Vines in the Wall

by Laura Yero

Chapter 1

My specs twitched and a message dropped down to let me know the car had arrived. From my room at the end of the hall I walked downstairs, gave a nod to the woman at the reception desk, and keyed out through the glass front doors of the clinic. An unmanned car waited for me at the curb.

“Are you feeling all right, Mr. Sabzwari?” said a voice through my specs. It was the male night nurse, the one who always sounded a bit too concerned in any given situation.

I glanced back toward the clinic and gave a thumbs-up. I didn’t know where the cameras were exactly, but I knew the nurse could see me. “Fine. I’m doing fine,” I said. “Just going home for dinner. Dr. Peterson gave me travel privileges to stay the night with my family.”

“I know, Mr. Sabzwari,” the night nurse said. “Happy birthday.”

I walked down the steps to the curb and climbed into the car: a single-seater, tinted windows, leather seats warm against the chill of the evening. The car scanned my specs for permission to leave the clinic then glided into motion through the automatic wrought iron gates.

I hadn’t left those gates in three months.

You’ll be fine, I thought as the car pulled away from the clinic and toward my house, where Father and Baba, my grandfather, waited for me.

Still, my heart raced. The last time I saw Father was during my intake at the clinic, when I’d sat silently by his side and listened to him tell Dr. Peterson the story: how he came home late from work that night, saw the light on in my room, knocked with no answer.

“I lost his mother ten years ago,” Father had said. “I can’t lose my son, too.” Someone weaker might have cried as they said this. But not my father.

I tapped through my specs as the car drove through the city. News of what I’d done was everywhere. The shamefulness of it. The great weight it had put on Father—a decorated Upper City Governance official and world-famous political dignitary. Every few minutes a new headline popped into my specs to remind me of the enormity of my moral failings.

Commander Sabzwari’s Son Goes Home. But Is He Ready?
Rumi Sabzwari—All Your Questions Answered.
Seven Signs Your Teen Will Attempt the Unthinkable.

How could I have done such a thing? they all wondered. Hadn’t the founders of Upper City risked everything to ensure future generations would live in comfort, free from the horrors beyond our walls? How could I have been so selfish?

My hand slid into my jacket pocket and brushed against the pill bottle that lived there. I could hear Dr. Peterson’s words from our appointment earlier that day: “Start with one at first, followed by your breathing exercises. If you feel yourself starting to slip, go ahead and take two.” Her words were flimsy, I knew, but they were all I had to hold on to—my life raft against the darkness lurking in the corners of my mind, threatening to pull me under. I tapped one blue pill into my palm, then another, and tossed them both to the back of my throat.

“Now, tonight when you see your family,” Dr. Peterson had said, her voice soothingly clinical, “you’ll have the chance to show that you’re ready for more freedom. So, what will you say? You’ll explain your feelings without getting defensive, yes? You’ll answer their questions calmly and truthfully—remember, they’ll have many. And most important, you’ll apologize. Not for the act itself, but for the pain it has caused your family.”

I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the scene, sitting with Father and Baba at the kitchen table: Father asking how I’d spent my days during my three months at the clinic; Baba asking if they’d fed me well. I imagined myself answering their questions (calmly, truthfully). The clinic was a difficult place to be, I’d say, but it had helped me get better. And we’d sit there, the silence between us swelling, until Father broke it with a moment of raw honesty. With I’ve missed you. With I’ve worried about you. With Can’t we just start over again?

Yeah right, I thought. Even in my imagination, I couldn’t get Father to say such things.

The car rounded its final turn into my neighborhood. Outside the window, familiar trees and townhouses slid past. The glow from their windows softened the evening chill.

The car slowed to a stop in front of a pale green house with a white front door and a wooden fence. My house. Yellow flowers bloomed along the walkway. How much of this was real, I couldn’t say—the last time I’d seen the world without the filter of my specs, I was a child. Were the houses real, I wondered, but the colors fake? Was the grass real but not the trees? Were the people moving through their nightly routines in the lighted windows of the neighbors’ houses really there, or was it all part of some algorithm intended to make me feel as safe as possible? The whole scene reeked of nostalgia for life before the Breach. But still, it was home.

I stepped onto the sidewalk and the car slid quietly away.

The night air had that familiar smell to it, of dust and metal, and it formed a pit in my stomach as I climbed the front steps to my house. I felt like a new kid arriving friendless to a party—or like a dog in search of a home. What could I do or say to prove I was ready to come back home when I couldn’t even convince myself?

Just then, my specs twitched with a new message.

Maybe it’s from Wen, I thought. Some manic little note urging me to turn off the never-ending coverage of my shitty decisions and just live my life goddammit. But no. It was from some guy at Lyceum who’d barely said ten words to me in all my life.

Happy birthday, mate! it said. Make this the best one yet!

The pit in my stomach deepened. Messages like this had been coming in all day. I considered replying with something dumb about feeling old, about the mundane tragedy of living to see another year. But I was sure this guy wouldn’t get the joke. My message might even be flagged by the clinic. I couldn’t say stuff like that. Not anymore. I flicked away the message and knocked on the front door.

Here goes nothing, I thought.

But there was no answer.

I knocked again. Again, no answer. My chest fluttered. Had Father forgotten? Had he decided I wasn’t worth his time, even for one night? With a deep breath, I wrapped my hand around the doorknob, pricked with the sudden, irrational fear that Father had changed the locks. But the door unbolted at the touch of my fingerprints and I pushed it open. In the privacy antechamber just inside the front door, a spec scanner confirmed my residence at this address and the security latch on my specs unlocked. I took off my specs and hung the dark green frames on one of the three wall hooks—right next to Baba’s, which were thin and metal-framed.

“Father?” I called as I stepped from the antechamber into the house. “Baba?” The warm smells of Baba’s cooking filled the air—ginger, garlic, saffron, mint.

The living room was dark, but light spilled out from the kitchen, casting a long beam across the living room’s wide Persian rug and tall windows. Everything had that warm feeling to it, the comfort that came from resting your eyes on things you knew were going to be there. On the mantel, light from the kitchen illuminated Father’s display of artifacts from before the Breach: the wooden chess piece inlaid with ivory, the hand-painted vase, the iron rod twisted from the blaze of a bomb. Beside this collection stood the photograph of my mother, aged twenty-two, with golden eyes and long black hair.

“Father?” I called again. My voice curled up at the end. “It’s me, Rumi.”

A shadow interrupted the beam of light, and I turned to see Baba standing in the kitchen doorway, smiling brightly. “Rumi, child,” he said. “At last, you are home!”

His pressed linen shirt hugged the slight fullness of his belly, and his beard was neatly combed. The shock of hair on top of his head seemed whiter than I remembered, and his shoulders seemed more fragile, more sloped. But the deep brown of his eyes still glittered with the light of his smile. With a familiar hitch in his steps, he walked toward me and pulled me into a hug, filling me with the smells of spiced tea and camphor. And for the first time in months, I felt myself start to relax. If I could just come back home, back here, I thought, maybe I could get better. For Father and Baba, for myself.

Baba’s hug tightened before he pulled back and held me at arm’s length. He touched my cheek with the back of his hand. “You are looking well,” he said. “Skinny, but well! Come, sit. I’m preparing your favorite.”

Baba returned to the vegetables frying on the stove and I followed him into the kitchen and took a seat at the table. From where I sat, I could hear Father’s footsteps moving around upstairs. I glanced toward the stairway that led to the second floor and suddenly felt like I might pass out. Those stairs led to my room—to my bed—where I’d sat, opened the pill bottles, lined up the pills in tidy rows…

“Have they been feeding you well at the clinic?” Baba asked.

I gave my best smile. “Not as well as you. Will Father be joining us for dinner?”

“Of course, child!” Baba said. “He has been readying himself for this moment for some time.” He turned to face me then, looking into my eyes for a long moment before saying more. “But we must remember to be patient. As the good poet says, our grief is still glistening.”

I nodded solemnly. Glistening, I thought. Like an open wound.

Just then, I heard Father’s footsteps begin to descend the stairs. Oh God, I thought. Not yet. I fidgeted with the collar of my shirt, conscious suddenly of my appearance, of all the ways it was inadequate. No matter what I said, I was sure to make a mess of things. It’s what I always did.

The footsteps grew louder until at last he appeared in the kitchen doorway.

I stood from my chair. Did my best not to fidget.

“Rumi,” he said.

“Father,” I said. “I’m home.”

Father wore his official blue Governance uniform, the one decorated with many honors and reserved for official appearances. The press conference I’d watched in my specs a few hours earlier—at which Father had been asked an indecent number of questions about my “incident”—made it easy to guess why he dressed so formally tonight. Father hadn’t removed his specs at the front door, and behind their lenses his eyes looked tired. I wondered whether his vision was flooding even now with news headlines, as mine had been all day long.

Sabzwari Press Conference Provides Answers, but Questions Remain.
Disgraced Son of Dignitary Returns Home in Shame.
Suicide Kid Wonders: Will His Father Ever Forgive Him?

Father took off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair. If things had been different between us, he might have given me a hug just then. He might have let himself cry in front of me, and I might’ve done the same. But it had been years since Father had shown that kind of affection. I wouldn’t have known what to do if he had.

“Your shoes,” he said, his tone formal. I looked down at my feet. Of course. I’d forgotten to take my shoes off at the front door—a house rule.

Is that really the first thing you’re going say to me? I thought. But as I moved to take off my shoes, Father placed a hand on my arm. He looked almost embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have. Come, sit down.”

From across the kitchen, Baba cut in. “The doctors tell us you received permission to start school again tomorrow, yes?” Baba knew how to uncoil the tension that always built between Father and me. He had years of practice at it.

“That’s right,” I said. “Dr. Peterson says a bit of normal life could do me good at this point.” This was only partly true. Yes, I’d be going back to school, but I’d still have to check in every hour with the clinic doctors, who’d be looking for signs I might go off the deep end again. “Dr. Peterson wants me to keep my residency at the clinic, but she says I don’t need to be on twenty-four-hour watch anymore. She doesn’t think…I’m a danger. Here, let me help with that…”

Baba had come to the table carrying a steaming bowl of biryani and I took it from him and set it down. From a tea kettle, Baba poured warm milky tea into three mugs and set them in front of each of our plates. Then he took his seat.

“And your medications?” Baba asked. “How are you feeling?”

“They reduced my meds just this week. I’m almost down to a standard citizen’s dosage. You can ask Dr. Peterson.” I glanced at Father, who stood from the table to check a message in his specs. “She says I’m really starting to get better.”

“That is good, child. So good to hear,” Baba said.

Father returned to the table, unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and cleared his throat. “Well, eat up. Your grandfather worked all day preparing this special meal.”

“Your favorite,” Baba said with a twinkle in his eye. “Let me serve you some.”

Baba heaped the fluffy golden rice onto my plate and Father’s. The clink of dishes was the only sound in the room. Father and Baba started to eat, but I held my glass of water in both hands like some kind of offering, too nervous to touch my food. I’d been waiting for this moment for months, imagining it, reshaping and rehearsing it. But now that it was here, I couldn’t remember what to say.

Answer their questions, Dr. Peterson had said. But where were the questions?

When Father noticed I wasn’t eating, he set down his fork and wiped his hands with his napkin. From inside his jacket pocket, he took a small box and set it on the table in front of me. A birthday present.

“Open it,” he said, more a command than a request.

The little box felt light in my hands. Written on top in Father’s bold handwriting was my name. My chest ached to see this. The strong, careful lettering. I unclasped the box and hinged the lid open. Inside were tiny yellow beads—eight, to be exact—forming a single molecule.

“Do you remember when we used to build these together?” Father asked.

I nodded.

For my tenth birthday, Father had given me a model chemistry set. I’d pretended to love the gift because Father had been so sad at the time, even though my mother had been gone for years. He and I had spent god knows how many evenings at this very table connecting ceramic beads. I’d shape black beads of carbon into dinosaurs, make long mazes of oxygen chains. And Father would never correct me or tell me what to do. He’d just sit across the table from me building his own molecules. Hydrochloric acid. Penthrite. Propane.

“Your mother was always much better at this,” he’d say.

Now Father took the delicate yellow structure out of the box and turned it over in his fingers. “Do you remember what this molecule is?”

I held out my hand and Father passed the ring of beads to me. “It’s sulfur,” I said.

His face creased into a tired smile. “That’s right. The first molecule we ever built together. I found your old chemistry set in the attic the other day, but the connectors had cracked—and it was an elementary set anyhow. So I got you a new one, for organic chemistry. It’s in your room waiting for you. I think you could be quite good if you set your mind to the work.”

I set the sulfur molecule back in the box and traced the edge of the box with my fingers. The yellow beads felt like an indictment. Look at the child you once were, they seemed to say. What happened to that child? What happened to my son?

“Thank you, Father,” I said.

The light overhead glinted against the lenses of Father’s specs as he leaned back in his chair. He took a deep breath, like he was gearing up for a long speech he didn’t want to give, and pressed his fingertips together, staring into the space between them. “When the doctors told me you would recover,” he said, “you cannot imagine my relief. To have my only son taken from me in such a manner, with no opportunity to ask him questions, to know why, it would have been torture.”

I looked back at him, unblinking.

“I thought that tonight I’d want to ask you questions,” he continued. “Why had you not come to me first? Why had you found your life to be so unbearable, when I’ve worked hard to provide you with everything you could ever ask for?” He glanced up then, and his gaze met mine. But just as quickly, he looked away. “But now that you’re here, I find that I don’t know what to say. The questions I have can’t be asked. And they can’t be answered.”

An ache swelled in my throat. “I’m sorry, Father,” I said. My voice broke on the last word. Father.

In the distance, through the filtered view out the kitchen window, a signal tower blinked yellow, informing us that the borders of our city, St. Iago, were secure. Not secure enough to switch to green, though. I’d never seen the light turn green. Only yellow, orange, red, and ultraviolet. The varied colors of alarm.

Father wiped his mouth with his napkin and pushed aside his plate. “I imagine this must feel overwhelming for you,” he said, his tone lighter. “I understand if you don’t want to sleep in your room tonight. You can sleep on the couch, if you’d like. Or you can take my bed.”

I knew to be suspicious of such shifts in tone. They meant the rug was about to be pulled from under me. “But where would you sleep?” I asked. Not my room, I thought. Not where I did that.

“I know the timing is unfortunate,” he said, “but I have some inter-city Governance business to attend to. I’m scheduled to leave later tonight.”

My skin tingled. But tomorrow, I thought.

Even though we never spoke of it, we always made a point of being together on the anniversary of the train crash that had killed my mother. The date had haunted me for ten years. Could he seriously have forgotten?

“Now, I know what you’re thinking,” Father said. “But it’s a routine diplomatic visit. Nothing to worry about.”

You don’t know what I’m thinking, I thought. You never know what I’m thinking.

“I’ll only be gone for a few days—to Upper City Salto, actually. You remember Salto? All the Old World cathedrals…”

He was trying to corral me back to a neutral place. But a switch had flipped in my brain. The darkness was seeping in. My lungs were a clogged drain, filling with cold murky water.

“Don’t you even care that I’m here?” I said. My heart pounded. My tongue felt thick. “Don’t you care about tomorrow?”

Father stared at me in disbelief. It was a stupid thing to say, but I didn’t take it back.

Baba placed his hand on mine. I could see the hurt in his eyes. “Rumi, child,” he said. “Do not say such things. You’ve seen nothing of your Father’s grief in your absence. You cannot imagine the depths of his love for you, or for your mother.”

I glared down at the table. “Funny way of showing it,” I said. “If he doesn’t care enough to stay, maybe I should leave, too.”

Father laughed at this with what felt more like pity than cruelty.

“Don’t be silly, child,” Baba said, hoping I’d laugh it off, too. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen one another. Look—you have barely touched your food! Share this meal with your father and me. I bought pistachio ice cream just for you…”

“He’ll stay,” Father said, his smile gone. “He has nowhere else to go.”

I stared at the gift box still open on the table in front of me. Father was right. My travel privileges extended only to this house. If I didn’t stay here, I’d have to return to the clinic. To the blank white walls, the mundane tragedy. But I knew I couldn’t stay in that house—not for the night, not for another moment. I didn’t want to think of what might happen if I did.

I stood from my chair. “I guess I’ll have to figure something out, then,” I said.

Father pounded his fist on the table. “Damn it, Rumi!” he yelled. “This is precisely the kind of reckless behavior that had you committed to the clinic in the first place. Sit down this instant. I didn’t raise my son to be a fool.”

My cheeks and hands were hot with blood. I wanted to scream in his face. I wanted to tear a hole in the world and crawl through it and never come back again. “When you get back from wherever the hell it is you’re going, you know where to find me,” I said. Then I added, “That is, if you get back.”

Father shoved back his chair and stood. He was taller than me, but not by much. He lunged toward me, and for a split second I thought he might hit me. But he didn’t. Instead he looked me squarely in the face and spat on the floor at my feet. His lip curled in disgust.

I’d never seen him do anything like this in my entire life.

My hands shook as Father grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and stormed out of the kitchen. His heavy footsteps pounded up the stairs. I threw on my own jacket, my face still burning, and headed for the door. But just as I reached the antechamber to reattach my specs, I felt Baba’s hand on my shoulder.

I stopped, but I could hardly stand to look at him. I was a child lost in a crowd, frozen in the depths of my aloneness. I was too far gone to meet Baba’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I ruined dinner. I ruin everything. I—”

But Baba shook his head. He knew me better, perhaps, than anyone else in the world. “You have nothing to be ashamed of, child,” he said. Then he squeezed my shoulder and smiled. “Your life is your own. As the good poet says—go, if you must. Move across the night sky with those nameless lights…”

Chapter 2

Outside on the front steps, I fumbled open my pill bottle and tossed two tiny blue tablets into my mouth. A chill was in the air that night, and as I glanced back over my shoulder, the sight of my house made me feel even colder. I imagined the headlines.

Commander Sabzwari’s Son Spotted Wandering the Streets
Disastrous First Day of Freedom for Sabzwari Boy
Nowhere to Turn: Was the Suicide Kid Released Too Soon?

I shoved through the front gate and sat on the curb with my head in my hands, tugging my hair until it hurt. My hand dipped absently into my jacket pocket for more pills but I caught myself and pinched my lip. I could feel myself starting to lose my footing—the way I had that night when nothing mattered, when all the world seemed locked in boxes and I thought I’d found the key.

Ground yourself in the details, Dr. Peterson would say. The neutral things: the frayed hangnails on either side of my thumbs; the rustle of the trees; the weariness in Father’s eyes, even after a good night’s sleep; the way he’d slapped me across the face the time he smelled cigarette smoke on my breath; the dusty smell of the wind…

Just then, a voice came through my specs. It was the night nurse again. “Time for check-ins,” he said. “Your specs are registering some pretty high cortisol readings, Mr. Sabzwari. Is everything okay?”

I stood. Smoothed down my hair. “Yeah, it’s fine.” I tried to sound normal. “Just thought I’d take a walk back to the clinic.”

“So you won’t be staying with your father tonight?” I could hear the growing concern in his voice. “Why don’t you wait there? I’ll send a car.”

“I’d really rather walk,” I said. “It’s not far. It’ll help me clear my head.”

There was a moment of silence. I wondered if he was running this by Dr. Peterson.

“All right, Mr. Sabzwari,” he said at last. “We’ll see you when you get here.”

With the tap of my finger, I ended the call and switched my specs to MoodSense mode. Dark clouds rolled in to blanket the sky. An unearthly mist seeped from between the townhouses and the slow, pounding rhythm of a doomsday glorycore track swelled in my ears.

Yes, I thought. Yes, more. Obliterate the world.

Dr. Peterson warned me against this. She said it was unhealthy in my mental state to turn my gaze so deeply inward. But I was starting to feel empty and reckless again, like I could do anything. Who would care, anyway, if I did?

Grayed-out neighborhoods slid past me as my feet pounded the concrete. My fists clenched, block after block, as Father’s words played on repeat in my head. I didn’t raise my son to be a fool. Hadn’t he, though? Hadn’t I been a fool to go on living like the world was still whole, like there was anything truly to believe in? I imagined saying these things to Dr. Peterson. “Think of the neutral things,” she’d say. What neutral things? Fuck the hangnails and the leaves and the wind. I wanted to think of nothing, to feel nothing, to be nothing.

The neighborhoods turned to shops as I walked. The shops turned to office buildings. And then there it was. The clinic. A cold, deadening smear of light shone through the gates and onto the sidewalk. I switched my specs out of MoodSense mode and the swell of the music subsided. A great emptiness echoed all around me. The gates opened for me automatically in an I-told-you-so sort of welcome and I passed through them, my steps slow and even, trailing my hand up the cold metal railing that led to the front entrance.

That’s when I heard a voice behind me.

“Rumi, baby!” the voice shouted.

I turned to see Wen standing just outside the open gates, arms outstretched, smiling wildly.

“Wen?” I said under my breath. “What the hell?”

I glanced back toward the clinic. Even though he and I had been friends forever, Wen—with his stubborn pill habit and fuck-the-world attitude—was explicitly not part of my recovery plan. Through the clinic’s glass entry doors, I could see the receptionist fiddling around in her specs, lost in whatever world washed over her eyes. She paid no attention to me or to Wen. I hurried down the stairs and back through the clinic gates just as they closed behind me.

“What, are you stalking me now?” I said in a half-whisper, walking us both out of the receptionist’s line of sight. “You’ve got to be crazy, coming here.”

Wen laughed and flicked a strand of hair from his eyes. “You bet your ass I’m crazy! I just knew I’d find you here, today of all days.”

My birthday. I’d almost forgotten.

“Today you become a man—a man, you wank!—and you choose to spend this momentous occasion lolling about in this godforsaken slagheap? On your sweet sixteenth? This will not do!” He spoke—shouted, really—in a steady stream, one word tumbling into the next. Manic, twitchy, barely pausing to breathe. He was clearly blazed out of his mind.

“So, listen—no, no, just listen. I’ve got a surprise—a birthday surprise for you. Let’s go.”

I blinked. “Go? I don’t have permission. My travel privileges let me go home, but—”

Wen flicked the same strand of hair from his eyes—his signature gesture. “That’s your boring problem, Rumi. Not mine. Figure it out.”

My specs twitched and another message dropped into view.

Happy best day of your life, Rumi! It’s all downhill from here!

With a sinking feeling, I remembered the mundane tragedy waiting for me inside those clinic doors. I thought of Father buying me a chemistry set, believing this school year would be a new beginning, when I knew deep down that nothing had changed. I knew I was slipping. I knew I shouldn’t go with Wen. But in that moment what I “should” do didn’t seem to matter.

I gave a half-hearted smile. “My mom always told me you were a bad influence…”

“Ha! Good thing she’s not around to see just how bad—am I right!”

I shook my head. “C’mon, man. You know mom jokes are off limits. What’s this big surprise anyway?”

Wen fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette and lit it. “In all your years of knowing me, what makes you think I’d answer that question?” He pinched the delicate roll of dried leaves between his fingers and inhaled with a look he couldn’t seem to shake: the look of a boy who’s practiced long and hard to seem like a man.

“How’d you celebrate the big day anyway? Did Daddy bring anything fun from the outside world?”

Wen had been watching my ups and downs with Father play out over the last few years, but he didn’t pry. If there was one thing Wen knew how to do, it was mind his own business.

“Not quite,” I said. “I had to duck out early. You know how it is…”

I tried my best not to seem weird as I said it, as though it were totally normal to bail on your one night of freedom because you felt like your mind was swallowing itself whole.

“Guess it’s lucky that you’ve got a friend in me,” Wen said. “You’re not gonna forget this birthday anytime soon.”

He dropped his cigarette, half-smoked, to the ground and stamped it out with his shoe. I followed his gaze to the Benson heliocycle parked curbside across from the clinic. A luxury model, midnight blue. My specs scrolled with prices and stats, maps to the nearest Benson dealership, but I blinked them away and followed Wen across the street.

“Dad says he’s thinking of getting me a third-issue MonacoSol for my sixteenth,” he said, gazing at the deep-blue machine. His eyes turned glassy as he ran his hand over the cycle’s silky front fairing. “He doesn’t trust me with a new pup like this. Even though I know he can afford it.”

“That’s probably wise,” I said. “Your record isn’t exactly spotless.”

Wen hopped on the Benson and tapped his specs to accept the rental charge. “Rumi, I swear. Sometimes I think you’re an old-ass dude trapped inside a young guy’s body.”

My cheeks flushed.

“Kidding!” he said. “Only kidding. Man, you gotta learn to take a joke. Hurry up and nab that one, okay?” He pointed to a red Galyx cycle parked farther up the curb. “I already took care of the charge—figured the Loony Bin probably restricted your account or something.”

“How thoughtful,” I said as I mounted the cycle. The engine shuddered to life beneath me. “Where are we going?”

“What?” Wen mouthed over the sound of the idling machines. “I can’t hear you, man. Wait, hang on…just a second…” With the swipe of his thumb he synced his music feed to mine, and the sound of a glittering dreampunk soundscape swelled in my ears. “Now that’s more like it!” he shouted. “All right, mon ami. Let’s ride!”

I cinched the collar of my jacket tightly around my neck. In the rear mirror, I could see the clinic spill its deadening light onto the street. There’d be consequences when I came back, I knew. But up ahead, Wen raised one hand over his head and pumped his fist into the air with the music. It was enough to make me smile—an honest, real smile. I pressed my foot to the accelerator and followed him into the night. What did I have to lose?

Lauren Yero received her master’s degree in Literature and Environment from the University of Nevada Reno. Her writing and translations have appeared in Revelader, The Biosphere and the Bioregion, and Viva Travel Guides: Chile. She lives in Madison County, North Carolina, with her husband and daughter.

About Vines in the Wall—This is an excerpt from my novel, which is a work of speculative YA fiction.