Chapter 3: Cato
It’s dark down here. It always is. It’s also very dirty. I’m covered in grime. I can’t remember the last time I took a shower. My hair sticks to my forehead as I move bags of trash off the stairs and farther into our hiding spot. There’s about fifty of us down here. We’ve spread out across the many rooms and don’t mind being squished together. There’s one room down here that we keep stuffed with trash. That room almost stinks as bad as the one filled with bodies does. My job is to take all the trash bags and put them in the room. I guess it’s not just my job, but I’m the only one who really works down here. I guess it would help that I’m the leader of these people. The kids upstairs call us the Nobody’s. It’s kinda got a ring to it, but it’s an insult. We don’t really talk to anybody upstairs unless we have to. We do most of the going upstairs at night. When it’s safest. Everyone is asleep except for the guards, of course. They do their rounds every night. You get used to their shoes clapping on the tile.
A couple days ago, Zach, my second who acts as the leader above the basement, came down with a gash in his leg. He told me that some girl killed Cole and Brett and left him to come back and tell me. He said that they asked for food and she went crazy. I cleaned up his wound and now he’s resting. I keep my kids safe and they look up to me. It makes me wonder who this girl is that could kill two of my biggest kids and wound the other. When the stairs are clean, I take a flashlight and swiftly walk through the halls. I’ve mastered my quiet footfalls. I walk to the other side of the school. I look in lockers and in unlocked classrooms for any food or anything that will help my group. By the end of my trek, I’ve got my hands full of food and some bandages. I make my way back to the basement and take my finds to those who are in need of food and medical attention. I sit down and begin wrapping one of the girl’s arm wounds that she received during the shipment. An image flashes through my head as I remember the last thing I had to wrap.
My room is a prison. I live in this room all day long unless they need me. The doctors come in and draw blood or feel me with some liquid that makes my veins feel like they are on fire or filled with ice water. Every needle they inject me with is different. I lay on a full bed with pillows around my head and black sheets covering my body. I stare at the ceiling as I recover from the last antiserum they injected me with. A door to my right opens, but I continue staring at the ceiling. If only I could look over and see who came in. To prepare myself. But that’s what the last serum did. It paralyzed me. The doctors say it should wear off. Should. It’s been two days since then and I still can’t feel my toes. A white lab coat comes into view.
“Can you feel anything today?” I recognize the voice. It’s Dr. Van.
“No.” I say in a gruff voice. I can’t remember the last time I had a meal or a sip of water. My stomach growls at the reminder.
“Can you feel this?” Her hands move down my body, but I can’t feel anything.
“What about this?”
“No.” Her arm moves around my body, poking and prodding.
“Hmm. That’s strange. It should be out of your system by now.” she says and looks at her clipboard. “Maybe we need to get you up and moving.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I say.
“Hmm.” She turns on her heel and walks out of my line of sight. I strain my hearing to the farthest corners of my room, trying to hear if the doctor is still in the room. When she steps back into view, she is accompanied with two men dressed in navy blue with a white badge above their breast pocket. I’ve seen these guys before when they cart me off to the testing room. They take me by both of my arms and pull me out of the bed. My head lolls back. I hang in place as the doctor lifts my head up. I try and strain my neck so that it sits on my shoulders like regular, but it lands against my chest.
“Interesting.” she says. “Take him to the lab.”
When we reach the lab, they hoist me up on the table and walk out of the room. Before I know what is happening, I see a glint of silver and then feel something wet come out of my arm.
“Very interesting.” the doctor says as she takes notes. I watch her place the tool on the table next to my bed. She motions someone closer. They step into view. I’ve never seen this person before. She has long black hair and startling blue eyes. She leans over me and pulls a syringe forward. I want to cringe away from it, but know I can’t. I watch her with my eyes as she brings the needle closer to the unhurt arm. She slides it in and releases the blue liquid into my bloodstream. Suddenly my body starts shaking. The doctor has the two men hold me down. I try to get out a couple words, but I bite my tongue. Blood fills my mouth. When I finally stop shaking uncontrollably, I feel a sharp sting from my right wrist. I pull my hand up and notice that I can feel my body.
“We aren’t sure why that serum took away your feeling. It was very strange. We’re researching why that happened.” the woman says. “My name is Dr. Swan. I’m the new doctor assigned to you. I’m afraid we’ll be getting to know one another.” she turns to the two men still holding me down. “Take him back to his room. I’m done with him for now.”
When I’m back in my room. I take out the top drawer in my dresser and find the small piece of metal I keep in there. I pull it out and etch into the wall how many steps it took to get from the lab back to my room. I have different numbers for different paths they take me on, but I’m starting to see a pattern. I hide the piece of metal back in the dresser and head to the small bathroom. I see a roll of gauze sitting on the sink. I glance up at the one camera and then back down at the gauze. I wash the cut out and see that thankfully the cut isn’t as deep as it feels. I grab the gauze and begin wrapping my wrist with shaking fingers.
The girl whimpers and brings me back to the present. I look down at her and say, “Don’t worry. It gets better from here. Not as much pain.” I say. Trust me. I would know. I finish taping her and move on to the next kid. Every time I see a kid’s face filled with pain and anger, a wave of guilt washes over me. I was the one who put them in here in the first place. It’s all my fault. I keep that secret to myself. If anyone found out I would probably be dead. And it probably wouldn’t be a slow death.
A kid taps me on the back. I turn and come face to face with a scrawny kid wearing glasses. His name is Jeff. He’s a nerd. Or was. The Dorks and Know-it-alls threw him out when they found him stealing some equipment for me. He was with me from the beginning but loved being part of a group that was wanted.
“What’s up, bud?” I ask
“I heard something while I was out. Today they did the testing again for the guards, tomorrow they’re testing the top guards. I was keeping an eye on them today. Trying to find that girl who kicked Zach’s butt. I’m mean with skills like that, she’s gotta be with the Guard Squad. I didn’t see her in the mix with the others. I’m betting she’s one of the top.” he says.
“I’ll check it out. Thanks for doing that.”
“Anytime. It was kinda fun watching all those kids workout.”
“If you mean kids, then girls with sweaty bodies, then yeah.” I say with a smile when he starts blushing.
“Yeah. That’s what I meant. Anyway, if you need me, call me.” He says. We both know that the phones don’t work, but I know where to find him if I need him. I finish wrapping the kids leg and take the extra supplies to the room I share with Zach. I walk over to Zach and ask him how he feels. He shakes his head. I notice him shaking and know what might be happening. I move the sheet and stare down at his thigh. I unwrap the gauze that the blood has soaked through and stare at the wound. It’s red and swollen. I grab a t-shirt from inside Zach’s bag and throw it to him. He stuffs it in his mouth and waits while I pour a bit of alcohol onto the wound. When it’s as cleaned out as possible, I pull out some string and a needle and begin sewing before, I wrap it in the new gauze. He spits the t-shirt out and starts cussing like a sailor. I listen to it as I gather all the supplies and put it on the shelf on the far side of the room. I sit on my bed and watch him curl up on his side to watch me.
“Have you found her yet?” he asks.
“No. Jeff thinks she is part of the Guard Squad.” I tell him.
“Why’d you have to wash it out with alcohol again?”
“Because you’ve got an infection. Whatever she cut you with was dirty.”
“Dang, her.” he says, weakly. He cusses a few more times, talking about how bad a person she is. “All we wanted was some food, by golly. That selfish witch with a capital B.”
“Cool it, man. We’ll find her. You said she had a sister. That her hair was blonde. We have to sort through half the girls here.” I say.
“Yeah. Okay.” he says and slips into sleep. I lay down on my own mat and decide I might as well sleep now. I close my eyes and drift. Someone is shaking my shoulders. I slowly open my lids and stare at Jeff standing over me.
“Sorry for waking you, man, but the test is about to begin. Thought you might want to see it.” I shoot off my mat and run my hands through my hair.
“It’s in the gym, right?”
“Yeah. Now hurry up.” he says. I run up the stairs until I get to the third floor. I walk through the back of the gymnasium and find the ladder that leads to the top balcony above the stage. I make sure no one is looking and climb up it. I’ve familiarized myself with the school. I know every hiding spot and hallway. I even know that underneath the gym is a pool. I bet the Darlings don’t know that’s there. It almost makes me laugh that I know more about this place than the kids who’ve come to school here for years have. When I’ve reached the middle of the landing, I look down.