It wasn’t always like this. We used to live together as one.
Shaking the history teacher’s words from her head, Blythe pushed through to the outside world, the bitterness of the notion seeping into her mind like the fetid worms oozing lifelessly on the pavement. Better to let a notion like that die. Drown. Decompose. Rot.
Anything was better than to think that her people had once been friends, family, peers, with them. Blythe couldn’t even imagine a past like that, nor could anyone for generations back until time had been disposed of and the world was born anew.
She didn’t know much of what the world was like before the Rebirth – only that it was better now, and that she, much to her delight, had never spoken a word to anyone with a different color eye.
It was comfort from conformity…why question the wisdom of The Supreme? He, the ruler of all, had seen the Before World. He knew the agony of her ancestors, had felt the disgust and degradation of interaction with them.
Pausing at the intersection and double-checking she had all her things, Blythe gathered herself and drew up the skirt where it sagged around her waist. Breakfast had been skipped this morning, as was quickly becoming custom in her household.
Food was a scarcity; her mother didn’t want to go to the market anymore. Such was the tension, such was the hate: just the sight of the hazel-eyed worker was indecent exposure.
Appalling – how the colors entangled like rabid dogs in an alley fight. Blythe wasn’t sure she could spend more than a fleeting instant locking eyes with any one of them.
Brown was comfort. Fur blankets. Leather-bound novels. Brown was her people: a soft, caressing hue which exuded warmth and earthy sensations. The exact opposite of them.
The Blues made her stomach knot: the watery clearness, thin and clouded with puffs of too-light pigment. Saliva spread over a crisp white sheet, doused by rotted fruit, dashed with flecks of phlegmy white and gray.
The Greens set her on edge. Arrogant in their elite few, yet the very sight of them was equally sickening as the so-called “ocean blues.” Chewed cud and pungent vomit, a one-dimensional shine that some would call “iridescence” in the green eye was the film of slime on the surface of a bacteria-riddled pool – one which had a stench of molded fish permeating the air and snarls of loose hair entangling your fingers with every stroke.
A Gray was decent, she supposed, but shifty: the cold, calculating assassin surveying every passerby as a target. Let the Grays be tucked away in their coding alcoves to rot. Better that their danger be contained by monotony. Positions reserved for them were the dreariest of all – dismal work, sorting through paperwork or punching away numbers into a computer for hours on end.
The Mixes, like Hazels, were the worst of all. A Mutt. Best that Blythe not think of them. After all, she had a pure color, smooth chocolate ganache spread richly across a muffin; no imperfect specklings, spots, or streaks. Someone like her shouldn’t have to bear the vision of any shade but her own. They could all rot. They would not be missed.
Deciding she had forgotten nothing – she never did, of course, but the checking was habit – Blythe bobbed across the street, striding quickly down the foggy sidewalk. A weak sun pressed against the haze in a futile effort to break through, just barely illuminating the world as she surged forth into the empty city.
Today was quieter than the day before, and the day before that, and the weeks and weeks back in the past. Storefronts, so precisely hewn from the cold alabaster stone, didn’t bother to light their signs any longer.
Advertising was an effort that proved just as futile as the sun fighting the fog – the Browns knew which businesses were theirs, as did all the rest. The scent of bread wafted tantalizingly from an unlit bakery, and Blythe had to crinkle her nose to resist the sugary smell. The baker was a Blue – scum – she felt ashamed to pause even a moment at the aroma.
Though there was no law prohibiting interaction between her kind and them, it was extreme taboo. The Supreme knew best; society was in order…the Browns had their roles, the Greens theirs, and so on through the shades until you got to the Mutts. They got whatever was left – Blythe couldn’t comprehend a life of such disgrace.
Another crosswalk signaled her turn to go and she strode confidently into the street. This was the shortest light in town, she knew: the flashing orange would implore her to stop, the automated alarm would signal the cars to go, and she would not be safely to the other side for fifteen seconds more.
No one would come. No one ever came around this time. Blythe sauntered calmly into the intersection, rifling with the zipper of her bag. Shrugging up the strap that was sliding down her shoulder, and before she could watch the flashing orange turn solid, her world exploded.
Light flooded her vision, harsh as fire, golden smoke swirling through the fog. She was flung back into the mist. A screech like a dying bird pierced the silence, tires skidding on stone.
Wet and porous, oozing like the worms of the words in class. She choked for air, gasping jagged breaths.
Voice from above, distraught, begging her over and over,
“Please don’t be dead.”
“Please don’t be dead.”
And like a protest, Blythe grasped her ribcage, bones like shards of glass shredding her from the inside out.
“Please don’t be dead.” Sizzling trails of agony burrowed down her arms, each petite limb throbbing as the shock faded to fire.
“Please don’t be dead.” Driven by the intensity of the voice, she fought to keep her eyes open, but the lids sagged lower, and lower still, like the waning moon losing grip on the sky. Blythe heaved another breath – they were coming slower now…why couldn’t she breathe? Why was her heartbeat in her ears, a marching band storming the field?
Warm arms bundled her up, a boy’s face barely discernible through the dim, repeating the plea like a prayer. The dark curtain of her hair fanned across his arms like the sleeping maiden in a storybook, blouse crimson with blood and scuffed from the impact.
Her vision slid away, but not before she glimpsed his fearful eyes, shining with panic in the headlights. Her limbs went slack.
This boy was one of them.
Leather against her back – the seat of a car; she strained in futility against his grip. He wasn’t just a Blue. Or a Green, Gray, or even Hazel. Through the fog Blythe had glimpsed one eye of a soft, pine green. And the other of a bright ocean blue.
He was a monster in her world. The most revolting sight to grace her gaze in the seventeen years Blythe had lived. But not just that.
This boy, by law, should be dead.
When Blythe came to, her mind was dripping in molasses. A haze fogged her thoughts, slowly noting unfamiliar surroundings: a plush armchair, a couch swallowing her petite figure with cushions, an aroma of rising pastries that aroused a memory of the bakery. The bakery she had never entered…because it belonged to one of them.
Bolting upright, Blythe sprang from the warm pocket of tranquility into an alien world, a house – not the hospital draped in white or the school etched in alabaster. The home of a stranger.
At that moment the boy walked in and she gasped, stumbling back against the couch. Panic splashed her eyes and he held up his hands like a zoologist approaching a feral cougar. She scanned for exits and found only two – the entry he blocked or the window to his right.
“Wait! I don’t want to hurt you!” the boy took a step closer. Blythe grated her teeth and edged around the couch, hands twitching defensively into fists; it was all she could do to hold his gaze, her perfectly matched chocolate eyes begging to flit away from his unlawful mix.
Two different colors. The thought was unimaginable to her: the worst taboo in her world of prowess through purity, a world where she could hardly stand to share an apartment building with them.
“I know you must be scared. I swear I didn’t mean to hit you,” he stepped closer and she retreated back, “My name is Henry.” He was about her age – tall, thin, and just as pale as her and most of her peers; the sun was a friendly sight in the city and one not seen often. Henry – what a lovely name to assign to such a strange boy.
His revolting ocean-pine eyes searched hers, running over her taut muscles and mussed hair to land directly on her frantic gaze again. Blythe knew he expected a response; every cell of her body protested as she lifted her tongue to speak. He doesn’t deserve your words. He isn’t even a Mutt. Her thoughts insisted.
This was taboo.
This was wrong.
He was wrong.
“Blythe,” she gasped. An amiable smile lit his face. Ragged breaths slowed slightly into cautious ones: that was all she had to say. Her name.
When she got home – not if, Blythe wouldn’t deal in ifs – this wouldn’t be such a grave infraction. She took the opportunity to inch around further, eyes flitting to the window, unsure of the strength needed to break it.
“I know you’re uncomfortable around me – it’s not your fault. Your city is so segregated, every aspect split by eye color, even the jobs…” Henry fumed, words echoing with intensity and genuine anger. Color rose on his cheeks, a twitch flexing his palm like someone straining to seem indifferent to little avail. Blythe averted her gaze, nodding in a way she hoped would look impassive.
“And then your leadership!” he scoffed, gesturing vaguely towards the window. Her eyes locked on the region his hand indicated, desperate to glimpse the towering city walls with no success. An idle gesture. Just my luck. “That monstrous dictator–”
Blythe’s eyes snapped to him, hand flying to cover her gaping jaw. Words leapt from her lips before she could gather the thought to stop them.
“The Supreme?!” her eyes bugged, free hand knotting in her dark tangles of hair. The words ricocheted in her ears. Monstrous dictator. Segregated city. And the obvious fact, the one she couldn’t bear to think about: two different colored eyes. A trait punishable by death.
Scattered pieces of the puzzle zipped into place, interlocking in a conclusion so frightening Blythe’s throat spit bile onto her palate. Henry looked up at her suddenly, startled by her reaction.
“The Supreme?” he repeated, puzzled. “Your leader. That’s what you call him, right? That sociopathic, manipulative, lying son-of-a…” Henry cleared his throat. Blythe stared back at him, fists uncurling in shock, too stunned to answer the question.
“Blythe, are you–”
“What do you mean, my leader?” Silence fell over the sunlit room, thick as the velvet drapes framing the window and crimson with tension. Blythe watched fearfully as realization dawned across his sculpted face.
“You don’t know, do you?” he ventured, eyes wide and disbelieving. She was frozen to the spot in anticipation. Tongue dry. Lips parted. Breath hissing. “I came to your city for an intelligence operation. I couldn’t just leave you in the middle of the road and trust that system to fix you–”
“Tell me,” she insisted. Segregated city. Monstrous dictator. Horrible laws… She couldn’t gather the thoughts fast enough as they whizzed through her mind. Henry drew in a deep breath, realization melting into solemnity in those strange mismatched eyes.
“Blythe, you live in a dictatorship. They tell you The Supreme rules all land.” She nodded – this was a fact drilled into her countless times in school.
“He doesn’t. The only place in the world ruled by him, the only place in the world like yours is the city you live in. Blythe…” His face turned down, feet shuffling. He had stepped closer while he spoke but she couldn’t conjure the coherence to back away.
“The world isn’t separated by eye color. The rest of the planet has been trying to liberate your people for generations. Here we are free to work with the other eye colors. To live with them. To go to school with them. To love them.
“Outside your concrete walls is a whole new reality of acceptance. Welcome to the real world, Blythe. All the eye colors…together.” Henry stepped forward and caught her hand; skin on skin contact with a Blue-Green hybrid. Her eyes rocketed to his, growing so wide her eyebrows were in her hairline. Short-circuited.
In one fluid motion Blythe snapped her hand from his and launched herself through the window. Glass exploded all around, a thousand shards catching the sun in a shower of razor-sharp, iridescent rain. Henry gaped after her, staggering towards the remnants of the smashed window.
Blythe’s retreating form bolted away until she shrunk into a singularity on the horizon, a spot of dark hair whipping into an endless city maze. Only one thought lingered on her mind, one set of words crashing through the chaos: To love them. I could be free to love them.
Heartbeats. What a strange thing: in books they stall or flutter, in movies they are soundtracks to the most horrific suspense, but after minutes of sprinting, when Blythe rounded a corner to the most appalling sight she’d ever seen – it wasn’t her heartbeat that failed. It was her legs.
She dropped to the sidewalk.
They were everywhere. Hundreds of people meandering down the streets, strolling in and out of shops, her own kind intermingled with them. Chatting. Holding hands. Sharing earbuds. Locking eyes with no judgement, no revulsion, no animosity.
Blythe’s ribs throbbed, fingers tingling where Henry’s hand had gripped hers. She kneeled there for a few moments, chest heaving with sobs, and hoped with all hope that no one would question her. Some passerbys shot her strange looks and she scooted against the bricks to let them pass – a young girl with uniform hanging loosely on her frame, disheveled hair, tears welling in panicked eyes.
Minutes flowed into an hour, an hour into two; Blythe drew her knees up to her chest and suppressed her sniffles, watching the ebb and flow of humanity around her. Face phased into a mask of faux disinterest, none seemed to question the teen huddled on the sidewalk – a sight considered bizarre in her home city was just an everyday occurrence in this one.
An elderly couple hobbled by, chatting idly about the merit of chrysanthemums versus posies for their garden. Blythe raised her gaze to watch them pass, flashing an uneasy smile in response to the woman’s genuine one. They resumed their conversation, one pair of eyes a soft cocoa and the other a steel blue. Both lit with affection. Ease. Love.
Her world was shattered into a thousand pieces. Basic facts of life, the ones she accepted without a second thought, were flipped inside out: The Supreme was the ruler of all. They should not be associated with. Each faction is separated for the good of the world, preordained by the ancestors as the way to salvage a cruel, inefficient Earth.
Watching the loving couples and blathering friends intermingling in an illicit swirl of action was like watching her life unravel itself. Scents of fresh baked bread and blooming flowers wafted on a light breeze and suddenly she thought of the bakery.
How many times had she walked past that damned store, slumping her shoulders as the enticing aroma beckoned her inside? How many times had she lectured herself that she could never enter, lest she speak to the owner? A Blue – a woman with a kind face and smile lines, one she had thought disgusting for such a simple thing as pigment, something you couldn’t control. Coded by genes. DNA. Interacting chemicals and molecules…was that truly all her life had been based around?
Perhaps this scramble of colors wasn’t so awful after all.
Suddenly a hand grazed her shoulder and she whipped around to see a boy grinning at her with eyes she scolded herself for finding pleasant.
“Henry!” Blythe leapt up, not backing away.
“I searched for hours – I’m so sorry, Blythe. I know I need to take you back–”
“No,” she stated. He cocked his head, confusion slacking his face.
“No. The people I see here…the baker on the route home from school…the girls I see in my apartment building…these are all people I’ve never spoken to. Every day I pass them, every day I recoil and rush past.” Blythe gestured widely to the road, the town, the world. Henry’s eyes glowed.
“You said you work in intelligence. That your people have been trying to liberate my city, infiltrate it?” she demanded. In the heat of the moment, his eyes didn’t seem quite so grotesque when she locked her gaze with his. The watery saliva blue was a tropical breeze, the vomit-cud green was a summer fern speckled with dew.
He nodded, shell-shocked to hear so many words spoken to him from a girl predisposed to hate him. Animosity drilled into her. Culturally. Economically. Socially.
And yet, Blythe found herself relishing in the spark that lit his eyes, studying the turquoise-surf blue and fir-forest green with curiosity rather than loathing.
“I think I can infiltrate the city. I think…” she inhaled sharply, melting in the sweet scent of fresh-baked bread and cultural dystopia.
“Henry, I think we can start a revolution.”