Isolation

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Chapter 11: Astrid

I roll over in my sleep, after dreaming about Chris and my parents. I haven’t had a real dream since the day I stepped into the school. I’ve always had nightmares. Nightmares of the events that haunt me through the day. The smell of boy wafts through my nose. I pull the sheets up closer to my nose and sigh. Just as my dream vanishes, yesterday’s events come back to me. I sit up and see two bodies in the dim room. Zach watches me closely, laying on his own cot. Chris lays down on the floor looking peaceful with his lips slightly parted and his breath coming out in soft sighs. His hair is ruffled on one side of his head and his muscled chest rises and falls with each breath he takes.

A sound echoes throughout the room. “General Bardot needs to report to the gym ASAP.” a voice says over the intercom. Chris shoots up from his position on the ground and looks at me with a worried glance. I get off the bed and walk over to the door as I run my fingers through my hair. I can only imagine what I look like and I don’t feel like being the laughing stock of the gym.

“You look perfect.” Chris says, quietly. I look at him and see him give me a reassuring smile. I smile back and open the door. We walk through the hallway until we get to the stairs. I notice that most everyone is out and watching us. I try to ignore them, but I can’t help glancing at some guys who snarl at me. Chris and I walk up the stairs. He pulls on my wrist to stop me and says, “If you need anything, anything at all, come to me. I don’t care what The Nobody’s want. Okay?”

“Okay.” I say softly. He gives me a small smile and lets my wrist go. I step away and gather as much confidence and strength as I can. Chris gives me a thumbs up and turns to head back down the steps. I nod my head and head up the stairs to the gym. When I step into the room, most of The Varsity and The Darlings stand in little groups talking excitedly.

“Here she is, folks.” Peter says, loudly. I flinch at the sound of his voice. “Well, General Bardot, nice of you to join us. I’ve come up with a great idea. Since you are General and all, I’ve appointed you to a new job. You are going to write down everyone’s number beside their name.”

“I...What? Why me?”

“Because you are General and I couldn’t think of a better person for the job. Now, I’ve got a few requests. Split up the kids who have less than 5 days to live and put them into a room. I’ll have a couple of The Guard to help you out. You’ll write down everyone’s number and then bring me the list. Sound good?” I nod. I’m speechless. I should have known that he was going to give me this job. “Good. Here’s some paper and a pen. Go. There’s already a line formed.”

I walk out of the gym door with a frown on my face. I don’t want to see how long people have left. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it. I walk towards the hallway with the box and see a line curling around the library. I walk alongside the line and take a deep breath with each step. My hands shake as I step up to the box. The first boy in line steps up to the box and takes a deep breath.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Jeremy.” he says.

“Group?”

“The Dorks.”

“Put your finger on the button and press down.” I say in a robotic voice.

He places his finger on the button and presses. The screen lights up and shows a number. 19. I write the number down and watch him walk away with his head down. The next girl comes up and tells me her name and group. I record everything as person after person arrives. My upper arm itches and when I look down at a break, I see a dark number appear on my skin. At first it turns pink, but as I watch, the number turns darker and darker until my shoulder has a black 20 on it. I glance up and see the same boy that I calculated earlier walking towards me.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” I say.

“Has anyone come to you about something appearing on their skin after they saw their number?”

“No.” I say quietly. Jeremy looks disappointed and begins to turn around. “WAIT!” He turns and looks at me. “I’ve seen it though. Show me yours.” He lifts up his sleeve and shows me the number on his shoulder. I show him my shoulder and he stares at it. “Can you do something for me?” He nods and I tell him to bring Peter to me. He hurries away with a shocked expression on his face. I turn back to the line and begin with the rest of the kids lined up. The next girl, Miranda, turns out to have a day left. She begins sobbing and I turn to her and console her. When she’s got her tears to stop flowing, I ask her to go to the classroom beside me. I tell her that I’m going to check up on her later and she nods. On and on I write down name after name and number after number. Peter walks up to me and asks me what I need.

“There’s been a...addition to the situation.” I say.

“What?”

“Check your shoulder.” I say. He lifts up his shirt sleeve and stares at the black mark on his skin with a shocked expression. The number 46 pops out in the dark hallway. He looks back at me and lets his sleeve drop.

“Has this happened to everyone?”

“Everyone that has gotten poked by that needle. It appears a couple hours later.” I tell him.

“Continue writing people down. I want everyone done by tomorrow. If you have to work through the night, work through the night.” he says.

“You mean all night?”

“Yes.” he says and walks away as he rubs his shoulder. I glance over at the next girl and continue the long process. When I can see the end of the line, Chris walks up with a packet of food in his hand.

“Thought you could use some nutrients. I know you lost everything to Peter.”

“Oh my gosh, thank you.” I tell him. I gobble the small portion of powdered mash potatoes and processed meat. When I’ve finished, I get back to writing down numbers.

“So, how long are you doing this?”

“Peter asked me to go through the night, if I had to.” I tell him as I lead a boy to the room beside me. He had 2 days left. I could tell he was scared, but kept up a façade.

“I’m going to bring The Nobody’s up here tonight. That’s when there will be less resistance with the rest of the groups. We prefer to stay out of the spotlight. It’s better if we stay in our basement. Less trouble that way.”

“I get it. I wish I could hide, but then there wouldn’t be someone standing here taking care of these kids.” I tell him.

“That’s true. You do a lot of things you shouldn’t have to do.” he says.

“Come in here, please.” I tell the next kid in line who just received a 9. He steps into the room and collapses on the floor. Two of the guards hoist him up in between them and lead him deeper in the room. I shake my head and face Chris with a raised eyebrow. He gives me a look and walks through the room to where they escorted the boy to. I turn back to the next person in line and notice that the line has doubled. I groan in frustration and begin writing numbers and

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