I sit on the carousel, leaning against a plastic horse foot. The initiates bicker over who should make the decision for the capture-the-flag game. Their arguing doesn’t concern me, and I Iet my eyes lift to the sky. This night is starless, only the moon shines bright through a thin layer of clouds. I get lost in the dark blue sky, and I feel free the first time in months. I feel at peace.
I see a movement in the corner of my eye and look around to see a blonde head disappear into the darkness.
She probably knows that the arguing is completely useless. I get up and follow her, knowing that the rest of the initiates are too ignorant to notice I am gone.
She stands in front of the Ferris wheel, and I stand a few paces behind. I look up at the Ferris wheel and my stomach flops. It’s so tall I can barely see the cars swinging at the top.
She grabs one of the rusted supports that hold the wheel in place, almost as though it’s a ladder rung. She jumps, testing to see if it can hold her weight.
I’m afraid I’m about to throw up.
Oh God, please don’t try climbing the Ferris wheel, please don’t.
“Tris,” I say her name in the silence of the night, and it sounds perfect, amidst the darkness of the midnight sky and the few crickets that chirp. She looks over her shoulder at me, and I’m surprised she doesn’t look startled. I stand there, stupefied and staring. Was she expecting me to follow her?
“Yes?” she asks.
I swallow. “I came to find out what you think you’re doing.”
“I’m seeking higher ground,” she says, matter-of-factly, “I don’t think I’m doing anything.”
She’s as smart as an Erudite. And she’s braver than I am.
I smile weakly. “All right. I’m coming.”
“I’ll be fine.” She frowns.
Oh, you don’t know. You don’t know that I’m the one who won’t be fine.
“Undoubtedly,” I tell her.
She starts to climb, and I follow her, refusing to let myself look down. My heart is pounding and I am breathless. I make a desperate attempt to distract my brain.
“So tell me…” I ask, “What do you think the purpose of this exercise is? The game, I mean, not the climbing.”
Stupid, a voice hisses in my mind.
“Learning about strategy,” she says. “Teamwork, maybe.”
“Teamwork,” I repeat. Today, the Dauntless are more likely to kill each other than form a friendship. The night breeze presses against my side. We are high up, too high for my taste, and a panicked breath escapes from my throat.
“Maybe not,” she says. “Teamwork doesn’t seem to be a Dauntless priority.”
The wind is stronger now, my hands ache from holding the rungs, and the height is dizzying. I just keep talking. “It’s supposed to be a priority. It used to be.”
I speak in my plain tone, my initiate instructor tone. It makes me feel less like I’m about to fall seventy-five feet. “Now tell me, what do you think learning strategy has to do with…bravery?”
“It…it prepares you to act,” she says, after a moment. “You learn strategy so you can use it.” She pauses for a moment. “Are you all right, Four?”
It doesn’t take me long to respond. I feel like I’m on the verge of death. “Are you human, Tris? Being up this high…” I gulp for air, like a fish. “It doesn’t scare you at all?”
She looks over her shoulder at the ground, and I half expect a shadow of fear or panic to pass over her face. That doesn’t happen. In fact, she looks more determined than ever.
A gust of air throws her to the right, and I suddenly realize how frail she really is. She looks like she’s going to fall. I grab her hip and squeeze, steadying her and pushing her to the left, restoring her balance.
We are silent for a moment.
“You okay?” I ask quietly.
“Yes.” Her voice is strained.
We climb until we reach the platform. She sits down and scoots to the end of it, putting her legs over the side. I, on the other hand, crouch and press my back to the metal support. I want to pretend like I’m calm, like climbing one hundred feet in the air is something I do everyday, but I know it’s useless. I let myself breath heavily.
“You’re afraid of heights,” she says. “How do you survive in the Dauntless compound?”
It’s like I’ve been waiting for someone to ask that question. “I ignore my fear. When I make decisions, I pretend it doesn’t exist.”
She stares at me, whether in awe, realization, or fear, I don’t know. But she doesn’t break away her gaze. “What?” I ask quietly.
She looks away from me and towards the city. “We’re not high enough,” she says, “I’m going to climb.” She grabs one of the bars above her head that is part of the wheel’s scaffolding.
Oh, please. “For God’s sake, Stiff.”
“You don’t have to follow me.” She sways for a second, a second of near death, and I say my response before I even think it.
“Yes, I do.”
It’s easy for me, physically, to climb the scaffolding. But mentally, that’s another story.
“See that?” Tris points down at something on the ground, and I stop climbing when I’m right behind her. I look over her shoulder, and see a tiny pulsing light on the ground.
I want to say, ‘You’re brilliant, Tris’, but instead I say “Yeah.” And I smile. “It’s coming from the park at the end of the pier,” I tell her. “Figures. It’s surrounded by open space, but the trees provide some camouflage. Obviously not enough.”
“Okay.” We look at each other for a moment, but then she looks away.
“Um.” She clears her throat. “Start climbing down. I’ll follow you.”
I nod, thanking God that the torture is now over, and step down, guiding my body between the bars.
I hear a creak, then a clattering sound, as a bar comes loose and falls, bouncing on the pavement. I look up to see Tris dangling from the scaffolding, her feet swinging in midair. “Four!” She gasps.
I see her fingers, white at the knuckles, and slipping.
“Hold on!” I shout at her. “Just hold on, I have an idea.” I climb down, pull open the door to the Ferris wheel control box, and fiddle with some of the knobs, but nothing works.
Come on, come on.
“Four!” I hear her yell, desperately.
Please don’t die, Tris. Not now, not yet.
I hear a wheeze and a creak, and sigh travels throughout my body. The wheel moves, bringing her downwards towards the ground. I slam the control box door shut just as she hits the ground, rolling to the side.
She covers her face with her hands and doesn’t move.
I walk towards her and sit on the ground, wrenching her hands from her eyes. I enclose one of her hands between my palms and chant silently in my mind.
It’s okay. It’s okay.
That chant will travel from my mind to my heart to palms to her hand.
“You all right?” I ask.
“Yeah.” The tension is gone, and I start to laugh.
After a second, she laughs too.