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7- The Story

My brother had decided that an office with two chairs wasn’t the best place for the four of us to discuss my escape, so we headed to his apartment. I thought we would be leaving the building again, and I was nervous about having to walk far. I guess it must’ve been showing, because Ella fell in beside Zeke and I, while Jack walked ahead. “Don’t worry about tiring yourself out,” she said. “The Commander’s residence is on the next floor.” I sighed in relief.

Zeke looked down at me. While I had definitely grown since I was 14, so had he. I barely reached his shoulder. “Your injuries keep you from walking far, huh?” he asked. I nodded. “I walked a long way. I’m not used to that kind of thing, so I’m tired out. Not to mention the blisters,” I explained. He looked away, his face turning serious. My brother never liked to see me hurt, and that hadn’t changed.

When we walked back through the work area, every one stood up, and went silent. They stood like soldiers at attention. I thought that made sense, considering my brother seemed to be in charge here. We walked to the door furthest from the stairs, and Zeke and Jack both reached towards their necks. I was confused, but Ella wasn’t. The men stared at each other, and then they both began to speak at the same time.

“I’ve got-“ they said.

They tried again. “You can-“’

And again. “I’ll just-“

Meanwhile, Ella had already pulled out a chain from under the neck of her skirt- it was a set of dog tags, though they looked worn. Clipped on were a small set of keys, which she quickly removed. She stuck one in the door and opened it. “You guys done yet?” she asked, trying to hold in a laugh. Neither said a thing, they just looked at each other sheepishly. “Hey, Commander. Lee’s gonna need someone to carry her up those stairs.” He looked at her, then like Aaron had done, he picked me up in his arms. Ella smiled brightly. “Let’s get going then.”

Zeke walked through first, and headed up the stair case behind the door. I noticed Ellen locking the door behind us after Jack went through. Nobody talked as we went up, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. There wasn’t anything to be said, so we didn’t bother making small talk. Since I was about to have to talk a lot, I appreciated that.

At the top there was a hallway with two doors towards the back; there was a black one on the left, and a grey one on the right. Zeke set me down and moved towards he door on the left, pulling out his keys from a chain on his neck. I noticed that his wasn’t a set of dog tags. It was a simple, sturdy chain with two rings on. My heart broke when I realized what it meant. They were my parent’s wedding bands. I refused to acknowledge what that could mean.

Once he had the door open, Zeke led us inside. Inside it was surprisingly clean. My older brother wasn’t necessarily a messy person, but he wasn’t the neatest either. There was a wall with two doors on the left. Those were the bedrooms. At the back wall there were a couple windows. I noticed my brother hadn’t put curtains on. Before she passed our abuela used to sew a lot. She’d made all the curtains in our house, on top of the quilts that went on everyone’s beds, and all the blankets. Essentially, if it was a fabric item that wasn’t clothing, she’d made it. Even all of the towels. She’d embroidered designs and our names on them. In front of the windows there was a dusty couch and its oddly matched counterpart, a clean recliner. Our dad had loved those.

Towards the right-hand wall there was a dining table with four chairs. Only one part of it looked used. I realized that my brother was alone here. The couch was dusty because he didn’t need it; he had the recliner. He probably ate dinner alone, sitting in the same spot every night. There weren’t any pictures. I unconsciously looked down at the photo album I had forgotten I was even carrying.

There was also an opening on the front wall that looked like it went to a kitchen. I figured that it was probably shared with whoever lived in the other apartment. Ella had mentioned earlier that they conserved power by sharing kitchens and bathrooms. Another door was on the right-hand wall close to the kitchen. That was the bathroom. On the same wall there was a large book case, and what looked like a dresser. The book case had a few shelves of books a few stacks of paper and a couple boxes. I had no idea what could be in the dresser.

We all went to sit at the kitchen table. Ella and I were across from each other, and Jack and Zeke sat at the other two sides of the table.

“Why don’t you tell us about how you got out. Of the Colony, I mean. Nobody’s ever come back that was taken. How did you do it?” Zeke asked.

I took a deep breath and began. “Two days ago, I was in the Colony. My day had been pretty normal. I had breakfast, spent the day dancing with a quick lunch mixed in. Every one there saw the doctor once a week, and I went on Fridays. Every week the doctor would give us a shot, they called it an immune booster.” I paused. I knew what I was about to say would be extremely important. “That was how they controlled us. The so-called immune booster erased our memories of the past.” They all gasped. I held up my hand when they all opened their mouths, likely to ask questions. “Please, just wait. I know you want more information and I’ll do my best to give it later. I don’t know that much, though. Anyway, the shot didn’t just suppress our memories. It also must’ve allowed the Colony leaders and doctors to replace them. Not only that, it made us compliant. No one ever questioned authority figures. We obeyed because we thought that they were doing things in everyone’s best interest. At least that’s what we were told.” Zeke, Ella, and Jack all had serious, and thoughtful expressions on their faces. It was unlikely that they had any knowledge about the injection, or even of the characteristics or daily life of those in the Colony.

“As I said, Friday I was in Dr. Lucy’s office. She was my area’s doctor. She was asking the usual questions, making sure there wasn’t any illness, pain, or distress. We trusted all doctors completely. Every question was answered truthfully. I was about to get my weekly shot when there was a loud crash. The morning announcements had mentioned there was construction, and so I brushed it off. There were more of those crashes, and then Dr. Lucy got a phone call. Jack and Ella mentioned that someone was attacking the Colony. Was that really you?”

Zeke nodded. “The next settlement over joined with us to make a powerful weapon, kind of like a tank without the motorization. It had to transported in pieces and assembled onsite. They must’ve seen us, but didn’t think we could do any serious damage,” he confirmed.

“I see. Well, the doctor had to leave in a hurry, so she told me to go back to my room. Neither of us noticed that I had been injected with whatever serum they gave us. I don’t know what happened to it, but no one noticed the syringe was still full, I guess. That shot must have a sharp time limit though, because the fog in my brain began to clear quickly. By the next morning, I was remembering things, thinking normally. The intercom told us that there’d been a construction issue, but since I could reason and question, I was certain that was a lie. I knew it was risky, but I came up with a plan of sorts. They’d given me plenty of time. As you said, Zeke, they probably thought no one outside could do any damage, so they had no idea how to fix it. To avoid issues, they kept us mostly in our rooms for the rest of the day. Meals were delivered, and all work was cancelled. We were only allowed to go to the garden and the library.” I laughed then and got some strange looks in return .

“I’m lost, why is that funny?” Ella asked, looking me as if I were crazy. I guess that made sense. It was an odd moment to laugh, but something had occurred to me.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “But looking back it seems so dumb. The damage was in the hallway leading to the garden, so the fact that we were allowed to go there is a little insane. Maybe they assumed no one would be curious enough to investigate the area around the break that was blocked off. They were probably right, but still. It worked out for me. My plan was to see if I could get out through the damaged area of the outer wall. It was a bad plan, especially because I had no idea if there was even a hole at all. There was though. It was a giant crack in the wall, a little taller than I am. It was tight though, and the glass was jagged. I didn’t have time to find a way to protect myself from the sharp parts, so I had to force myself through. That’s how I got all cut up.”

“Wait, you knew you would get those wounds, and you still did it? What if the glass cut your throat? Why would you do something so dangerous?” Jack demanded. I shrugged. “The guards were going to be back any minute. I could bear to think I’d spend the rest of my life brainwashed, with no memory of the people I loved.” It was a blunt answer. Ella whistled, and I noticed Zeke looking away, fist tight on the arm rests of the chair. Jack shook his head in amazement. “You got some real guts kid,” he told me. I smiled.

“I already knew that there was water outside the barrier, since I could smell it inside the barricaded area I had slipped into. When I got out, I took a quick moment to brace myself, and then jumped in. It was tiring and the cuts were burning from the salt water, but I made it to shore. There was an old beach house there, and I managed to find a few useful things. I left quickly and started walking. I didn’t know if I’d be followed. The road I followed led,” I stopped. This was the hard part. “It led to our old neighborhood. It was so empty. I- I found the house. The door was still broken down. I went around the house, as everything came back to me. I went to your room, and since there were still some odds and ends around, I decided to look in your desk drawer. Where you kept this,” I whispered, lifting the photo album out of my lap and onto the table.

Zeke stared. “I was crying, looking at it, when Jack and Ella found me. I thought that, that you were…” I drifted off. My voice was thick, and the tears were falling. I looked Zeke and saw the tears on his own face.

Ella turned to Jack. “Let’s go home,” she said firmly. “We’ll come back when you’re ready Lee. Our questions can wait,” she told me. I only looked down at my lap. They rose, and I thought they’d go to the front door. But they didn’t. Instead, Jack took Ella’s hand, and they walked towards the kitchen. Jack was second in command, so it made sense that the other apartment was his, but I hadn’t realized that those two were together.

I looked up to watch them leave. I noticed that unlike Zeke’s, their apartment had a door to the kitchen.

I heard a sob from my side. Still crying, I went to my brother and hugged him from the side. He turned slight and put one hand on my arm, which was wrapped around his shoulder. And finally together, we grieved for all the things we’d lost.

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