I like to believe I am a good person. I like to believe that I have gotten lost somehow and someone out there is looking for me, wondering where I have run off to. In my dreams, they are crying for me, begging people to help find me and no one listens. That is the reason it is taking so long.
I know I wasn’t born here. All the girls are injected on the first day with a chip. Most are too young anyway. The older ones are usually gone by now.
I lie on my side, the only position that doesn’t bring tears to my eyes. I’m used to the ground, cold and coarse against my sun burnt skin. Though it may be harsh and at times uncomfortable, it is never once hard to find. I don’t have a bed to crawl into or a room to be alone in. Every corner is watched and every inch is taken by someone stronger or faster than you.
I’m outside. I prefer it outside where the sky is open to possibilities and my bright blue eyes can watch the clouds roll by. It’s peaceful. It’s deceiving. But for a few moments I am able to forget the atrocities that surround me and I can imagine loving parents that I can’t remember. I try to think of what they’d call me. I probably have some girly name like Melissa, or Ashley, or perhaps they wanted something different so they went with Lasha, or Ilde. I have no preference. Anything would have been better than the name I have. I have been given the name with Scream.
I don’t care. Names are stupid anyway. I don’t care what anyone here calls me because I’m getting out and I don’t want to be remembered.
When the sky lightens, I try to sit up. I groan and tears produce in my eyes. I’m really amazed how much a person can cry. There’s no bottom to the amount of tears, the well can’t dry up. I would prefer it if it did. They only laugh when you cry.
My long brown hair is in terrible knots as I run my quivering dirty fingers through it. I yank my fingertips from its tangles and focus on gathering together my ropes of cloth that constitute as clothing. Every month a new shipment of Rats come with fresh clothes and supplies. It causes death and chaos but it leaves more clothes for the ones still alive. I had taken these clothes off an unconscious ten-year-old so they were a little tight. Now they fall right off.
I struggle to my feet; my thoughts go blank as I use every ounce of control not to voice my pain. I don‘t want anyone to look at me. I want to be invisible and in this world, it’s an easy thing to accomplish.
Kids pass by. Clan members walk by. I can hear them but they can’t hear me. I’m lower than insignificant. I’m a Rat: a clan-less, irrelevant corpse who is simply waiting to die. There is no pity for someone like me. I chose to be alone and even beaten and torn, I don’t regret it.
I use the wall as a helping hand. My own feet trip me. Feeling has yet returned to my legs and they tingle in their rest. I glance down, watching trails of blood roll, taking the dirt, leaving a clean yet dark tint in its wake. I have lost enough blood to make my head swim with dizziness. But I must keep moving. I have to get ready for school.
I allow myself a moment’s rest when I emerge from the last remaining building and the barren desert is before me. I need to cross in front of the school to get to the showers. During the night, it’s the most dangerous terrain but now, with the sun-shining and with my last remaining strand of strength to hold, I am safe from further harm.
I look up to see how late the morning is, but the sun is obstructed by the monstrous and indestructible walls. Reaching up to one hundred feet, they allow no escape and no visible view of the outside world. When the sun reaches the very edge of the wall, school is in session and only when the sun touches down upon the tip on the opposite side, does school end.
The sun, the moon, the stars, the vast and empty sky is all I know to the outside world. I have no memories of life before this place. I have nothing to compare it too except what I’ve seen in books. Possibly there is no outside. This just might be what’s left of the entire world.
They want us to believe that, our Parents. They want all hope to drain and destroy any remaining thought that led to the outside. But I won’t let go. I am going to get out. One day, I will leave this place.
I say this and even while the thought trickles in my mind, the land around mocks me.
In this world, violence and death is seeking its next victim. Safe is a word I hold sacred and one I rarely use. Protection doesn’t exist. There is no one to save you.
Unless you choose to be in a clan.
The clans are in charge, beneath the Parents of course, but the Parents don’t involve themselves very often.
Boundary is the most populated. It has over two-hundred-plus members. They watch everything, from the campus walls to the halls in the school. With such high numbers, it should be an easy gang to get into. The only flaw is the ability to kill. And I haven’t gotten to that point yet. It seems like such a simple thing.
Kill. Take a life. A meaningless life. It would give me protection. I would have security. I would have a bed to sleep in, people that care for me, and a never-ending supply of food. All of this, just to pull a freaking trigger and I can’t do it.
Hot blood drips down on my leg and mingles with the dirt baked into my foot. I wince but I continue forward. I hold the remaining clothe taut and am thankful there is still enough to cover. I move slowly toward a bathroom across the length of the school. It is behind the Harvest Field and near a playground. It is a dangerous, prime location for evil and normally, it is a last resort. But for now, I am safe. No one will touch me or hurt me. Murder isn’t permitted without viable cause. And since I am so close to collapse, they won’t take a chance in harming me further.
I lower my head as members of Rain pass by me. Dressed in clean clothes, it is easy to tell apart clan members from Rats like me. Rain particularly wear blue or white clothing to signify their position. They are the second largest clan with nearly two hundred members. Their compound is near the back of this town and I’ve heard rumors it’s level after level of luxurious pools.
They snicker and point, whispering to each other.
Rain is the clan that attacked me last night. I can’t recall doing anything to upset them but that’s typical of me. I don’t know the rules, the boundaries, and I have a habit of pissing someone off without realizing it. Perhaps I should learn the rules but I’m not here to play their games. I’m getting out. Knowing their rules is surrendering to the idea that they really are in control and I refuse to believe that. I follow my own rules. It is the only reason I’m not dead yet.
I enter the girls’ side just before another girl. I feel her disgusted glare and her whispered, ‘filthy Rat’ underneath her breath. I keep moving, heading to the shower. She takes a left and ends up in the locker room. I stand in the empty stall, glaring at the wall, hating her and everyone else like her.
Despite me being a Rat, at least I’m not a Clan member, a kid that surrendered to a life here, that’s given up on fighting, that no longer has hope at freedom. I’m better than her, better than all of them.
I strip and squeeze into a little cubicle. The showers are small and they work on a timer. With a press of a button a timer for three minutes begins and I rush rubbing all the vileness from my skin. The water is freezing, slightly brown but I’ve known nothing else. It turns black at my feet for the first minute, the blood swirling down the drain but then it clears. It always clears and I watch it to remind myself of that. No matter how bad it gets, it’s not forever.
The water snaps off as I’m rubbing off the last of the soap. I lost the game this time around. I snatch a towel from the bin and wrap it around. Within that short time frame, more girls have gathered and their voices echo through the building, gabbing on and on. There seems to be a basketball game this morning between the clans. Games are bloody and brutal to watch and so I don’t involve myself. I don’t know why they insist on competitive games. They already fight each other on superiority as it is. It’s just another distraction, another game of pretend so they don’t have to admit that we’re all trapped here.
I stare at my bleak pile of clothes. They are covered in slime, blood, semen, and tears. I don’t want to put them back on but I might not have an option. There are bins that at one time had been full of clothes, flipflops, and random items but the clans have taken all of it to sell off. The only thing that gets replenished and are free are disposable trinkets like toothbrushes, dime size toothpaste, condoms, antibacterial hand soap, and sample packs of deodorant. There were little plastic combs but unfortunately for me there aren’t any left. I don’t much care about the state of my wet hair, knotted and unkempt as it is. I put very little effort into my appearance for safety reasons.
As I’m brushing my teeth, I hear the bell ring and I physically depress. School is starting and I’m still wearing a towel.
The girls clear out and I listen from the sink as their last footsteps dissipate. I don’t move as I wonder if by chance, someone forgot a piece of clothing or it fell out of their bag. Stealing from clan members is a death warrant but I can’t put on those wretched clothes without exploiting all options first.
I tiptoe around the bend, going to the front door and sticking my head out. They are heading to the Harvest Field, far from me now. I spin around and dart to the locker room.
They’ve left all of their stuff. Bags and bags worth of items. I laugh but clamp a hand on my mouth. What idiots! Are clan members that far removed from our reality they’d leave their stuff behind without a care? My heart thumbs wildly in my chest, my eyes flipping madly about wondering if it’s a trap, if someone is in the corner somewhere waiting for me. I mosey about, peeking behind every corner, but the room is empty.
My hand tentatively moves toward a bag. Inside are clothes, a pair of shoes, sports bras, deodorant, a makeup kit, hair products. A smile spreads on my lips. I’ve hit the fucking jackpot.
My heart is racing. If I steal from them, I could be signing away my life. But what’s a couple of items from hundreds? There’s a chance they might not even notice. If I take one piece of clothing from four different bags, I should be fine right? And how will they know it’s me?
The one Rain Member saw me. She’d tell. Everyone around here seems to know who I am despite how hard I keep to myself.
Fear is escalating. It’s not worth it.
But a shirt and a pair of pants shouldn’t be missed. They’ll never know.
I dig into a few bags and take my items, slipping them on quickly. A black shirt and gray slacks is nothing to be envious of. No one would question. My ‘master’ sometimes gives me clothes when I’m too dirty for him to touch.
I stand in the mirror, grinning like I just won my freedom. No undergarments, no shoes, but I’m happy. I peek out the door again and with an empty field in front of me, I take off for the school.
I don’t know if they have schools out there, beyond the walls. But I doubt it’s like this. The teachers, who call themselves our Parents, remind us constantly in each class that they care for us, that they are here for us, and that no one outside these walls want us. We are damaged goods, which is why we are here at Myers School for the Unwanted. They want us to be happy and safe here in this world they created so that we can be the best at who we are. It’s said they watch from cameras but they’ve never offered help to anyone, no matter how badly they’ve cried for it.
I would normally head to my class now but instead I go to the Nurse’s Office. There is a line with one other girl who is in as bad as shape as I am and three boys leaving a trail of blood on the floor. One is missing fingers, another the entire left side of his face is smashed in, and yet another can’t put his foot on the floor without crying out. They take the boys into the back where they proceed with emergency surgery. A Parent conducts whatever needs to be done with students listening to their guiding words. I was in the back a couple weeks ago with a torn ear. They stopped the bleeding with fire and cut part of it off. I have no feeling in that ear so I guess they did a good job.
For us two girls, they douse us with two shots. One for infection and one for pain. Then they shoo us away as if we are contagious. They are evil women for nurses. They have cold glares, callous fingers, and harsh grips. They couldn’t possibly be mothers.
Being my third month in this place, I’m on the third level so I jog up the steps holding tight to my pass for being late. Without the pass, I would be subjected to questioning, beating, or torture, depending on who it is that stops me. Death is not allowed during school hours.
My class is the first door on the left. It is the first week of new classes and I’m taking History 2. I had Momma Nancy my first month in History 1 and to have her again makes me wonder about my luck. She’s ugly, old, fat, and never smiles. Her eyebrows are drawn in permanent discontent. On a side note, she does dress well.
Until I sit down, I hadn’t realized how much pain I was in and it hits me brutally. I close my eyes, swallowing a groan. I try to maneuver in my chair some way to sit without it being so terrible. The pain medication barely takes the edge off.
Momma Nancy catches my eyes harshly over her book to keep me from fidgeting. She turns off the projection unit and puts her attention on the class. “Hitler was a man of talented articulation. He could coerce millions of people to believe in his own philosophies. Believe so much in him to propel him toward total supremacy. What gives a single person so much power?” She waits for a response. “Fear.” She smiles as she says this. “A flip of a coin,” She points to the crowd, “You would be dead. A wrong look” She points to another, “You would be dead.” The woman leans against her desk. “You all have made three months here, some of you even longer. You must think highly of yourself. It’s true your luck has been well received. But you still know nothing of fear. There are levels that haven’t been passed yet. We take excellent care of you here despite what you want to believe. You think you suffer.” She turns on the projection again. A woman so deprived of food every bone in her body shows through her stretched skin. Most of her hair is gone, pieces struggle to stay attached. She reaches out to the camera, her fingertips bitten off in moments of desperation. Her lips gone as well as her tongue. “You know nothing.”
Momma Nancy stands putting on her glasses flipping the book up in front of her, “Go to page 67.” There is a book already on my desk and I flip it as she says. A man stares back with thin hair, a black mustache and deep eyes smug and accomplished. “You are just like him. You have, what out there would call ‘an evil’ inside of you. A hatred so deep you can’t be around normal people. Because you’ll kill anyone that loves you.” She pauses, leaning against her desk. “By now, you are aware that you were taken from your homes.”
I sit up, alert.
“We took you because you are sick. We are not the bad people. You are. You are here because your parents asked us to take you.”
I shake my head, holding my hands to my ears. It’s the same mantra over and over again. It’s lies.
“We want you to be who you are without being judged and hated. Out there, beyond those walls, no one wants you. No one loves you. They can’t. You are too demented to be loved. But here, you are accepted. Your desires are welcome. Be who you are.”
Her attention fastens on a student and my eyes follow. A boy stands. He’s young. Around nine or ten. He’s in the Mine Faction, I can tell by his shaved head and the bruises. I’ve never seen him before but that isn’t saying much. I don’t pay attention to faces.
“Memory says you’re wrong.”
A few children gasp, shift, whisper, stiffen. I close my eyes, dropping my face on my arms. Memory’s name is taboo to the Parents.
Months before I came here, Memory led a revolt. A battle that has been given the name, The Grounding. I don’t care really. I don’t care to learn more. Some say she was killed during and her body was taken by the Snatchers. Others believe she escaped. Many wait for her to free them. I just know whatever she tried to do, she failed.
Momma Nancy chews the inside of her lip, a glare frozen with animosity aiming only for the boy. I catch his face again. “You stole us. You took us from our moms and dads that love us and they are out there waiting for us to return. Memory is going to kill you.” He bites. “She’s going to save us.”
“Save you?” The woman spits out. “She’s dead. I wish it had been me to put the bullet through her head.” She spins to the button on the wall. “Ira.” The teacher speaks through the intercom.
“Yes, Momma Nancy.”
“Send someone down please.” She catches the boy as she says, “We have someone claiming Memory will save him.”
The boy runs, hopping over chairs, desks, and children, grabbing on the doorknob. The lock jerks and he yanks and shoves, slamming his fist down on the knob. He should know by now they use deadbolts, I criticize. He shouldn’t have spoken to begin with, what is he trying to prove?
He hurries to the windows, bars of steel wrap them tight. He couldn’t squeeze through despite being so small. He should have thought of that! Does he want to die?
The door unlocks. The room is silent and still. There is no being brave here.
When the door opens, some kids laugh or holler in greeting. Luck had not been on this boy’s side.
Tobias is the leader of the gang Respect. Respect is really a weak and worthless gang. They have ten people, nine men and one woman. They are the shadows of the school. Their word is law. How could such a small powerless gang be so renowned? It is a secret I want to figure out. I couldn’t get near the answer though, not without going through Tobias.
Tobias is an older teen, with one long scar running up his chin, through the tip of his mouth and up through his cheek, ending at the edge of his eye. He loves to show it off so he unconsciously leans to the right, giving everyone a better look. The girls swoon for him. He has three women that he’s laid claim to. They wear his brand on their backs. I guess I should say, ‘we’ wear the brand.
Since I first came here, Tobias took it upon himself to rule my world. And I have done all I can to expel him from it.
He struts in with a leather whip dragging behind him like Satan’s tail. He notices me sitting up front and catches my eye but I drop it instantly. Tobias will never own me, no matter what he does to ensure my loyalty.
“Tobias.” The boy pleads. “Memory is alive. You believe that, don’t you?”
Without giving a response, his whip slaps down. Blood splatters the walls and the smell of bowels fills the room. It takes little time to destroy that boy that stood before Momma Nancy so brave and strong. It’s a fleeting memory. A shooting star. Tobias drags the unconscious boy out by the foot and locks the door behind him.
“Guess Memory couldn’t make it today.” She opens the windows to fan out of the air. Her step is a little livelier it seems. I wonder if she got off.