Day 1. Discovery
You slide down your chair with a sigh, pulling your hood down past your eyes. A groan and you pull your legs up, placing them on the upholstery of the ancient theater chair. A girl beside you pops an eyebrow and pretends not to be watching you. The world seems to spin as your vision blurs. You know what’s coming. You press your hands against your face and hold them there. Nothing moves and some of the tension in your shoulders is released. You watch the row of seats in front of you through the hazy purple cloud your eyes have provided. A familiar knowingness about the decision you’ll be making within the next few moments hangs over you but you lack the energy to care. You pause for a moment. Something about that wasn’t right. You’d already decided. What had you decided on? Another groan and you inhale deeply with the vague notion that someone is approaching from the right. This sits silently at the back of your thoughts. Too late now. A sort of push and pull washes over you, an ever-present disagreement between the waking and the dreaming realms.
You watch for a moment, barely even noticing where you have been transported as you have done so time and time again. Only this time, you do not try to interfere, you’re merely observing, you learned a while ago it was better that way. Two large clouds, one dark and the other light seem to be fighting. Or they would be, you recall, had they been something to attach human emotions to. An odd thing to think. Or is it? You thought it either way. Waves from either side slowly begin to lift far out of their bounds and touch deep into the territory of the other. You remark to yourself about how long this part tends to take. Yet you feel no sort of annoyance to it. Another moment of this goes by and you realize you feel nothing toward anything. This almost surprises you. But wait. You already knew that. So why are you surprised? You decide it probably doesn’t matter. A slight grin appears across your face, the reason for its presence unbenounced to you. Yet it sends feelings of warmth down your spine, so you decide it can stay.
You turn back and see the two distinct clouds of black and white had almost entirely blended together, forming one floating cloud of liquid grey. The only distinction that it had once been separate coming in the form of white and black speckles drifting about the mass. You walk toward it and realize it appears to be churning about in itself, as though somehow still unhappy with the outcome. It’s a clever metaphor from your subconscious, you’re sure. But there’s no time for that here. You take a few steps forward and dip the tip of your finger into the deep grey cloud. Immediately, the bustling, angry cloud calms and wraps itself around you. It’s surprisingly warm still, despite how many times you’ve done this before. You laugh as the words “dip the tip” float about in your mind. You find it funny.
The liquid cloud dissipates and leaves you in a dark cave of some sort with an uncomfortably white faculty door in front of you. It was the sort of door one would be just as likely to find at a mental hospital as they would be to find it at a pretentious school for the gifted and clueless. A slight ping of anxiety over making a decision sits atop your head. You feel yourself being pulled toward the door. Something about it feels so familiar. It compels you. To allow yourself to be drawn in or to fight to stay where you are. That’s the decision. You pause for a moment as your feet continue to take you closer, one step at a time. It’s all so familiar. So terribly familiar. Why? Had you been here before? You smile. Of course you’ve been here before. You come here a lot. But wait. It’s more than that. What is it? This feeling. What was it? You know this feeling. Something about it pokes at the back of your mind. It had something to do with your decision. It was an important decision. What was it? Your eyes widen and your body freezes as your hand touches the cold steel handle. It sends chills down your spine. You take a few steps back, realizing just how foggy your mind had been. You clutch your forehead in an attempt to clear your thoughts. Everything was coming back now. The decision had already been made. You were going through that door. You knew this. You’d done it before. You know this. And there’s something more. Something important. You realize it couldn’t have been a choice then either. The decision had always been made. By who? You pause for a moment and wait for an answer to come. Nothing follows. A groan and you turn back to the door, almost wincing at the sight of it. It scares you. But why? You’ve never been here before. You raise an eyebrow at the absurdity of that statement. Of course you’ve been here before. They make you come here all the time. So then why come back?
To this, you know there is no answer. Something just pulls you back here. You can’t remember when it started, but ever since then it’s been all you can think about. Now all you can do is follow. Why? You don’t know. A sudden sense of urgency rushes over you and you realize you’re late. But why? You’re never late. Pain beyond reason follows if ever you’re late. No wait. You’re always late. They can’t do anything you haven’t already seen before. Well which is it? No time. You have to go. A swift turn after you’d been unknowingly walking away from the door and you dash through it.
Arms folded stiffly behind you and your back so straight it hurts, you stand at the front of the room, head up high. A strange sort of knowing there are three other people in the room hangs about somewhere in your head. You stare straight ahead at the grey brick wall and wonder why your skin is wet. The word “sweat” floats through your mind and you decide it must be correct.
A gust of frozen air moves through the room as a door opens. You want to see who it is, but you can’t. You know you can’t. Your eyes remain glued to the wall in front of you. Liquid drips down your heavily uniformed arm and nestles itself into an area that stings and burns upon contact. The salt must have found its way into a wound. Your muscles tighten as if to wince at the sudden increase in pain, but you don’t move. You watch someone move past you and immediately feel a stab of fear in the pit of your stomach.
It only just occurs to you that you’re not entirely sure why you’re sweating and bleeding in the first place. This realization alarms you. But you do not move. You do not dare move. Another realization, this one that your eyes are beginning to sting appears to you. You do your best to hold it, but the natural demand to blink sets in upon you. You can feel the command to shut setting into your eyelids. Another stab of fear in the pit of your stomach as you await the repercussions. But wait. Nothing’s happened. Another signal goes through and nothing happens. Both terror and relief flood your brain. A desire to laugh sets in, but of course, nothing happens.
A sleek woman dressed all in a sharp black suit with straight black hair and icy blue eyes appears noiselessly at the front of the room, just in front of you. Your eyes remain glued to the wall in front of you. She glides across your field of view and seems to waltz back across the front of the room, pausing briefly to stare deeply into your tearing eyes. You watch her lips curl into a slight smirk as she begins to speak in a language you cannot remember how you know.
“You are a shapeshifter,” she says.
Unknowingly and automatically, you shout in a language which feels somewhat familiar, “change, fight, disappear.”
The three other children in the room do the same, their voices overlapping yours, each time in a language you understand but can’t decide why.
The word “home” dances about in your mind, but inevitably fades away with nothing to remember it.
“Vy preobrazovatel’ formy.”
“Izmenyat, bor’ba propadat,” you and the other three children mutter, knowing exactly what you’re saying as if you’d spoken it all your life. But you couldn’t have known it all your life, could you? You must have been somewhere else before this. So where were you?
The process repeats again and again, each time in different languages. None of which you recognize enough to give it a name.
The question returns. Where had you been all your life? That same word comes into your mind again. You watch the letters of it form against the blankness of your thoughts and try to read it. The language is one you barely recognize. After a few tries, you decide it’s not important and shift your thoughts back to something arbitrary, like your positioning in the room and why it had always been that way. “home.” You’d always been placed in the top left position. Perhaps that’s the lead position. “Home.” Does that make you the leader? “HOME.” Of course you’re the leader. “HOME.”
Your eyes widen. Your muscles give out from under you and you fall to the ground, your head landing at the foot of a girl you’ve decided you trust. Her usual kind demeanor is masked by a wall of tense stoicism. Images begin trickling into your mind. Faces of people you know you love but have never seen before. The sound of their laughter and the knowing of their favorite foods. A feeling of warmth and the image of a blue house with a little red door. These come about faster and faster until it’s too much. It hurts. You gasp and pull yourself close. The sudden realization that the woman is upon you now puts a sting of fear in your upper thigh like a cattle prod. No wait. That’s what it was. A cattle prod.
Your brain pulls the image of a magnificent mammal, white with black splotches and a bored expression on her face. “Lana.” Gently, you allow your hand to be guided to her cheek. Her coat is coarse, yet smooth. You giggle and pet her more quickly. A man with very tan skin and large, rough hands “Daddy.” picks you up and places you on his shoulder beside the cow. Excited now, you give her a hug. The feeling of joy spreads all throughout your body. “Margaret’s Farm.”
Another jolt of pain rushes through your body and you remember where you are. “Wait. Please. I have to go back.”
“You are the property of this program. Please report to inspection for reprogramming,” she says, taking hold of your ankle and dragging you across the cold concrete floor toward the door. She drags you out into the hallway and releases your foot.
It hits the ground and you’re immediately transported back into the theater. A short young woman stood in front of you.
“Please put your feet down.”
“Your feet are on the chair. Please keep them down.”
“Oh.” You pull your hood off and warily watch the ground below, dropping one hesitant foot after the other.
The echo of the word “reprogramming” floats about in your mind as the woman walks away.
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