My eyes had been accustomed to the darkness for what felt like weeks, when the first sight of sun burned my lids, I thought I had finally reached heaven.
I swallowed and felt my tongue scrape against the roof of my mouth like sandpaper. The first thought that occurred to me was that I needed to find a source of water. I tried narrowing my eyes at the taming sun that opened out in front of me. The second thought that travelled through me flamed like arsenic poisoning through my flesh... I need to run.
The light shined through a large metal encasing that lifted upwards. Two men shuffled into the room and took the only table that had seemed to be in front of me. A table meant people were here, and people meant someone had been watching.
I tried to see if I could make any of my limbs move but as I gained nerves on my fingers, I felt myself touching something soft and sponge.
My eyes shot open and fear grasped my throat like a vice. Sponge. I was in the pantry getting ingredients for the bakerys daily sponge cake special when I heard the noise. It felt like a crack of a horsewhip against pure wood. I was alone as Locky and Mother had gone to the farmers market.
I look around and a scream crawled like a spider out of my mouth. Except, no sound came out. I collared my hand around my neck and I could feel my breathing come out in harsh bursts.
There were naked bodies everywhere. The iron in blood stenched the air and I looked up to find myself in a glass encasing. A glass box full of bodies. I looked down to see I was lying naked and dirty on a brunettes torso. I shuddered and inched out of her way, only to bump into another body behind me. Under me, around me, on top of me. Flesh surrounded me and bile filled my mouth. I looked around and saw how some girls were waking like me, but some stayed asleep.
Not asleep... dead. My mind rung like an explosion.
As more girls woke from slumber, I saw how no sound came from anyone. Tears stained everyones cheeks yet no sobs broke the silence. They’ve made us swallow something, I thought. Something to take our voices away.
Like a baby bird seeking her mother, I opened my mouth and tried my hardest to find my voice. I started shaking and rocking yet nothing came. Women of all shapes and sizes got up and started trashing against the glass. Leaving bloody hand stains against the clear case that held us captive. I looked down at my breasts and saw drying blood; yet nowhere was I cut. My silver hair covered the tops of my nipples and I saw that dirt and muck layered it to make it somewhat black.
I moved a dead girl and leant my head and back against the cool glass. Holding my knees to my chest, I waited in silence. A constant stream of tears burned through my face, washing away any surface level soot.
I raised my hand to my collarbone and felt the small healing puncture wound. I went to the main room and saw a singular man in the shadows. I dropped the flour and went to help him, thinking he needed water and food. He made the sound; nothing dangerous. I asked him if he needed help before touching his shoulder to stir him back to the present. Except I was flung back as cotton was pulled against my mouth and my back pressed against a man that had been behind me. I screamed and bit into the cotton, kicking and screaming for my life. I reached my leg and aimed for whatever I could hit. The shadow man walked leisurely towards me, like a hunter observing his prey before mealtime. He tilted his head to the side and said, “Shhh little mouse”. I trashed against the other man and shook my head hoping he could see the plead for mercy in my eyes. The shadow man reached behind him and procured a needle filled with blue liquid. I felt my body retaliate harder, not wanting whatever the blue offered. Then two more men walked from the shadows and held my arms against them. Making me open for any destruction. The shadow man took the last step in front of me and injected me on my collar letting the needle empty its contents into my bloodstream. “Sleep now, little mouse”
A touch sent me hurtling back to reality and I looked beside me, my whole body wracking and shaking with sobs. A sand-haired boy around my age, maybe younger sat beside me. Eyes as kind as a panther, I pushed back. The boy shook his head and sat down beside me, his eyes a white flag of surrender. He only sought an empty space to sit. I looked down at his body and then saw the same puncture wound on his neck. That’s when I saw that he was naked like me, but maybe my eyes deceived me because the boy had small breasts and further down; an organ just like mine.
He was a girl? My thoughts questioned.
I looked away and focused on a splatter of blood on the floor. A cold shudder licked up my spine like a demon seducing Eve in the garden of Eden. I shuddered and pushed off the glass, folding into my body like a ball. The smell was chemical, I wanted to go home and sink into a bath. I wanted to hold Locky and tell her that I loved her once more. Just once more.
I could still hear some of the women throwing themselves against the glass, trying to crack the cage we lay in. Everyone that was supposed to wake had woken by now. I could have been one of the dead, I thought. The liquid they injected me with could have killed me if I had not been healthy.
I found myself wanting to be dead. It would still be better than whatever fresh hell this cage was an entrance to. I uncurl myself and look around me to see if I notice anyone familiar. Except all girls looked to be from many districts surrounding the capital cities walls. All paupers and beggars, no high ladies and courtesans of any kind.
Whoever is behind this, knows what they’re doing.
I remember Ma telling me about the monthly cases of missing boys and girls. All around the ripe age of 16 years old. Once I passed my eighteenth name day, I thought I was sake and the stories was just an old maidens tale. A choking sound came from next to me, and that was the first noise to break through the hitting of glass.
I looked to see the she-boy had both hands around his neck, choking himself blue. I rushed beside him and took his hands in mine. I saw the desperation in his attempt to take his life and cupped his cheek shaking my head to hold on to hope.
“We will get out”, I mouthed to him. Hoping he would understand what I meant. He shook his head profusely almost as if he knew what path lay ahead for all of us. I put his hands in mine and without looking down, I could feel the grime and dirt mix with the warmth of our skin. I didn’t care that the only dream I clung to was the mutual desire of freedom with this she-boy that sat in front me. I didn’t care that the only method was taking my life, I would find another.
Silence passed and not once did the she-boy let go of my hands. As the time swept the glass cage that held us, the realization that the glass could not shatter by human hands placed. The alive sat amongst the heap of bodies. I know what I had to do, I couldn’t stomach it. But I knew it had to me done.
I lifted from my feet and stretched my body to stand. The she-boy looked up at me with tear stained eyes. I nudged my head towards the center of the cage. He looked behind me confused. I dropped my shoulders and walked towards the nearest body. She was a ginger with locket around her neck that had a carved F letter on it. I learnt how to read from a town square chef in exchange for fresh bread every second day. I taught Hemlock the basic alphabet but she never wanted to learn how to read stories like I did. She wanted to learn about the plants and flowers that surrounded our quaint district.
“Isn’t it beautiful that god made it so that the earth can give us everything?” she once asked me while we were kneading the sour-dough for the batch of miners that were expected to arrive at noon.
“There is no god, Locky” I whispered, “If there was - the rich wouldn’t be getting richer and the poor, poorer.”
The miners never came and the sour-dough went stale sitting on the counter-top. I gave it to the chef instead to feed his pet dog.
I reached two fingers to the middle of the girls neck and felt for a pulse, when I couldn’t find one - I reached under her bare arms and dragged her to the middle of the cage. I walked back and did the same to the next body I came across.
Slowly, I saw that the heap of bodies in the middle of the cage was increasing as more women helped me. The she-boy never got up from his position where we sat, the tears that stained his face only flooded faster.
When there was around a dozen dead girls that lay in the middle and we kept hope for the three or four that still lay on the ground with soft pulses, I went back to sit with the she-boy. I saw that he stopped crying, and instead stared blankly at the pile of bodies that sat in front of us. He looked like he wasn’t even here. I was jealous that he could disassociate so easily, because I couldn’t. I frowned and reached for his hands again, pulled them to my lap and held them. I needed the comfort.
It felt like hours passed before anything happened. Everyone stared at the bodies. Some even went back to check on the other girls that lay on the ground.
We seemed to be in a storehouse of some kind. I made that conclusion when the metal encasing lifted upwards once more, except no light came out hinting day’s break had come and gone. Some of the girls shuffled back and sobs racked through their chest once more. I looked straight at the masked men that entered the storage. I felt the she-boys hand squeeze mine in distress. Unfazed, I saw as dozens of men filtered through the metal door. My mind had come to a standstill because everything was screaming that as long as I was in my own cage; I was safe.
There were no entrances or exits to the glass cage they held us in. I already surveyed each and every glass wall and there was no hidden ledge or lock. That raised concerns on the amount of air that was given to us and how long we would last. But I knew that they didn’t put us in here to asphyxiate.
I see as one man raised his mask and stared at us harder. He frowned in confusion when he saw the bodies that lay in the middle. He was shoved by another man and the mask went back on his face. I heard harsh whispers and figured that their previous captors had never done this before.
I wanted to scream at them to take a hard look. This was there doing, or whoever puppeteered them. I felt my stomach retch but haven eaten nothing, nothing came to my mouth except acid. Our voices hadn’t come back to us but we shielded our bodies and stared at them as if they held the judgement of our life and death. They probably did.
Men trickled down to the side of the room and opened a door that was on the ground. The world stood still and my blood turned to ice inside me. I felt the she-boy still next to me, and I knew that he realized the same thing I did.
I immediately searched the floor and my body spasmed when a finally saw it. In the corner of the room, where no one had thought to look because we were made to apprehend that doors were supposed to be vertical - lay a small hinge with no handle.
They came from under the ground and as the covert door opened, the masked men filled the space, our cage, our sanctuary for the little time we spent in it. They came forward to us with all sorts of sharp objects in their belts and arm bands. With a vicious look in their eyes that reminded me of stark hunger.
It seemed our voices finally came to us, because the only thing that ricocheted off the glass were the blood curdling cries and screams of women who were being sent to their death.