Serial Novella Part 3
by KATHLEEN WOLAK
CHAPTER 5 - LIVING IS TORTURE
he alarm rang for afternoon consumption, and #33349 steeled herself for what she was about to do.
The girl took careful measures to arrive at the table slowly and unsteadily. She noticed her father eyeing her with not concern, but disgust. The girl watched her mother unlock the drawer the knife was kept in, and as her mother put the blade to the food packet and cut, the girl fell to the floor.
Her mother turned around at the loud noise, and put the knife down.
“Call the Regulator,” her father said, not bothering to get up from his chair. “If she is ill, she shouldn’t be around us until she gets Pill 12.”
His wife did as she was told by pressing a large button on the wall, and, as #33349 hoped, she forgot to put the knife back in its place.
The girl’s mother stayed near the door, a good distance away from her child, lest she had something contagious. Within moments, a Regulator was at the threshold, and the girl’s father was telling him to give her Pill 12.
“She just fell right there. I think she needs the pill, or just take her away from here.”
The Regulator bent down next to the girl, who didn’t move. He took a tiny nutrition tester from his belt and pressed it against her chest. He read what it said, and looked at the girl. Her eyes were shut, but she could feel his hard gaze on her. It was almost burning. He then took another device and held it to her forehead. Whatever this device was felt cold against her skin.
“She’s got a fever.”
The Regulator withdrew his device. “Get her up, give her Pill 12, and return her to her chambers for the night.” The Regulator handed the pill to her father and left.
“Get up,” her father barked.
The girl’s plan was working thus far. She didn’t even know she’d had a fever.
The girl lifted herself from the floor and, pretending she needed the counter to stabilize herself, put her hand down on top of the tiny knife. Mustering all the courage she could, she slipped the knife up her robe’s sleeve, and put her sleeve in her pocket, dropping the knife in.
“Take this.” Her father handed her the pill, which she held for a moment before putting it in her mouth.
“Go to your chambers.”
The girl went to great lengths to pretend to be unsteady as she made her way to her chambers. As soon as she got there, she spit the pill into her hand. She had what she needed. She had the tiny blade and nobody saw her take it. She suddenly became very aware that she was in violation of Law 2490 - B. She had a weapon. Her blood started to boil, and she was feeling very hot and nervous. Something though, was giving her strength.
She lay down in her bed. If nobody noticed the missing knife within the next twenty minutes, she was safe.
She could attempt the next phase of her plan.
The girl listened at her door with bated breath for any sign of unrest. She exhaled a sigh of relief when the alarm sounded for the end of consumption. She listened to her parents as they exited the eating quarters. She only had a few hours until evening, when her mother would definitely notice the missing knife.
Her whole body felt hot, but she wasn’t sick. She was hot from the nerves she had never felt before. Her parents were in their chambers, and she knew that she could get from her quarters to the front door without incident. It was the opening of the door, and exiting that would pose the greatest risk, besides, of course, the running.
#33349 stood up tall and resolute, as she remembered her grandmother doing. She fingered the knife in her pocket before striding over to her bed, and plucking up the quarter from beneath her pillow. She pocketed it next to the knife, squeezing it before letting it fall. She took a sharp, deep breath, and slowly opened her door. Pulling it back slowly, she peaked her head out. It was completely clear. Her parent’s chambers were on the other side of the eating quarters, but she would still have to creep down the hallway silently. Before exiting, she bent down and slowly started to unlace her thin brown shoes. These were not shoes made for an escape. They were regulation Field G shoes, and were made to be uncomfortable, and to make the wearer slow moving. Her long robe would pose a problem too, but she would have to deal with that later.
#33349 opened her door wide and proceeded to exit her chambers. As she crept down the hallway toward the door, she could hear muffled talking in her parent’s chambers. She stopped in her tracks, wondering what she would do if one of them were to catch her right at this moment. Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure it was loud enough to be heard. She didn’t hear a door open, so she continued, silently.
When she reached the eating quarters, she could see through the small window in the door that the late afternoon sun was starting to set, casting shadows on the ground from all the dying trees. This will have been the first time she had been outside in ages, and anticipation was starting to drown out her fear. A few steps more brought her to the door. She knew her next step was going to be the riskiest thus far, and would probably get her killed. The thought of her murdered grandmother, her head being blown apart by Regulators, taking away the only love left in the world - this is what gave her the determination she needed.
The girl took the knife out of her pocket and positioned the blade right below her censor chip at the nape of her neck. With her other hand, she flung open the door. The alarm for her indiscretion wouldn’t sound until she started to actually cut the chip out, but she didn’t have a moment to lose. She sucked in her breath and bit hard on her lip as she started to dig the blade into her skin. The searing pain made her deaf to any alarm that may have started to go off, and hot tears were falling down her face and mixing with the blood produced from biting her lip too hard. She could feel the lump of skin with the chip in it lifting up. She put her other hand behind her head to feel her progress. She just needed to saw for a few more seconds.
Just as the girl felt like she was going to faint from the pain, she quickly brought the blade up and felt the chunk of skin disconnect from the rest of her body. She held the warm, wet flesh in her hand, and inspected it to make sure it had the chip in it. She saw with satisfaction that it did. As soon as she realized this, however, she also realized the alarm was going off - the alarm that would mean her death. Without thinking, she dropped the chunk of skin and started running. The once faint sound of the alarm was getting stronger as her hearing completely returned. Her tears were blurring her vision, and the blood from her neck was starting to pour down her back. Her robe was starting to get weighed down with her sweat and blood as she ran towards the path her grandmother told her to use.
As she ran, she became very aware of the flashing lights all around her. She could hear the running footsteps of the boots a few yards away. It was dark outside, but the lights were making her fear that she would not be able to escape. She managed to dodge the lights for a few minutes, throwing off the Regulators, but she could hear them gaining on her.
Suddenly, a light flashed at the exact spot she was.
“Over there! Shoot!”
The bullet grazed the girl’s robe, but miraculously missed her.
BANG BANG BANG
More shots were fired, but the girl kept running. Even if she had been hit, her adrenaline had taken over, and she wouldn’t have felt it.
She knew where she had to go - her only hope of being safe.
She ran across the path and took a quick turn into the shadowy pile of bodies at the other side. The pile was massive, and through her hood, the girl could still smell the putrid decay of flesh. The girl climbed on top of the pile, and, trying not to look, used the corpse’s hands and feet for leverage. She flattened herself on her back, trying to look as still as possible. Her heart felt like it was about to burst. She could hear the Regulators running towards the pile of the dead.
“Where did she go?”
“I don’t know. I don’t see any activity anywhere.”
“She couldn’t have gotten far. Her parents found her shoes and censor chip in their home. We can use her blood to track her down. If you see her, shoot on sight.”
The girl silently willed her heartbeat to be quieter until the Regulators left.
“What if she goes beyond our quadrant?”
“That’s never happened before. If it does, we will have to inform DD - 126, and have all quadrants be on the lookout.”
The Regulators turned at the sound of the wind going through a tree and, probably thinking it was the escaped girl, ran towards the noise.
The girl breathed a sigh of relief and quickly choked on the smell surrounding her. The harder she tried to not look around at the dead bodies, the harder they were to avoid. She took off her hood and held it over her mouth and nose, but it provided little escape from the pungent smell. She noticed next to her, on her left, a man with a bullet wound in his chest, and a look of shock on his gray face. When she turned to her right, there was a woman, half her head gone from a gunshot wound, looking defiant, even in death. It was her grandmother, Abbey.
CHAPTER 6 - AFTER THE PATH
#33349 didn’t dare scream. Instead, she closed her eyes tight, and tried to think of the day, ten years ago, when she and her grandmother were walking on the path. She slowly moved her hand to her pocket and held the quarter tightly. Here, a decade later, she and her grandmother were here again, under much different circumstances. She let go of the quarter and slid her hand out of her pocket. Never opening her eyes, she felt around to her right until she found her grandmother’s cold, dead hand. She slipped her own into it and fell asleep.
The sharp, blaring alarm for evening consumption awakened the girl a few hours later. It was the alarm that reminded the girl that she still had the knife meant for cutting open food packets. She sat up slightly and looked around. Over the pile of dead bodies, she noticed that there were no Regulators in sight, and no lights flashing.
Figuring the search was probably off until the morning, the girl decided to try her best to tend to her wounds. The blood that had been pouring from her hours earlier had dried, and was now sticking her robe to her back. Looking Heavenward to avoid seeing the faces in the pile, she took the knife from her pocket and started ripping her hood into shreds. She took the longest shred and tied it around her neck. She then set to work on cutting up the bottom of her robe. She drove her knife into the thick red fabric right at her calf and tore upwards. She then worked on tearing the whole bottom of her robe off. Using the excess fabric she had removed, she fashioned a long rectangle by ripping the seams. Kneeling next to her grandmother, she lay the fabric on top of her body.
“Goodbye now, Abbey.”
The girl then got on all fours and started to make her way down to the bottom of the pile. Before she left, she turned around.
“I love you.”
#33349 reached the bottom quietly, and only when her feet hit the ground did she really appreciate the coolness of the grass surrounding the pile of the dead. Without her hood on, she was finally feeling the wind in her face. There was also the new feeling of the cold wind on her legs. She instantly started to shiver, but knew that she had to run - keep running until she was out of her quadrant.
There was complete darkness and silence where she was now, a large, untouched field. She had left the path behind miles ago, and was looking for any sign of an exit. It suddenly occurred to her that she had no idea where she was going. She had never in her life been this far out of her specified area. She looked frantically around in the darkness for a sign - anything to show her that she was close to leaving.
She slowed down her running, and was now standing in the large field. The wind was whipping her hair around her face, and making her eyes water.
“Where do I go?” She asked no one.
Looking up at the sky, #33349 remembered her grandmother telling her about stars.
“They’re these things that light up the night sky like angels darlin’. My mama used to tell me - if you is ever lost - just follow the brightest one - it’ll take you where you need to go.”
#33349 assumed the lights in the sky she was seeing were these stars, and frantically looked for the biggest one. She started walking again, and when searching the sky, tripped over something hard and round. She stumbled a bit, and then looked down to find a white cylinder with black lettering.
A few feet away, there was another white cylinder embedded in the ground:
She had escaped her quadrant. No one had ever done this before and lived.
The girl looked around. There were no houses here like there were in her quadrant. She walked tentatively onward, her robe whipping around her legs. She turned her head and felt the wound on the back of her neck reopen. She let out a small squeal of pain, and then immediately put her hands over her mouth. Nothing happened.
“Nobody.” She whispered to herself, undoing the strip of cloth around her neck and dabbing at her wound.
Walking onward, she came upon a small hill. She looked on curiously - there was no reason there should all of a sudden be a hill in an otherwise flat field. As she was at the apex, she heard voices. Voices that were coming from under her feet.
“Oy! Who’s there?”
The girl froze. This was it - all that work and she was going to be shot anyway.
“One of them bloody Regulators is it? Well, come on then - put me outta my bleedin’ misery already. Put us ALL outta it.”
“You tellin’ me ta shut up - well you can just go - ”
The voices were unlike any the girl had ever heard before. She decided to climb down the hill and see their sources. She skidded slightly and managed a small leap to safety on the other side.
“Who is it then?!”
The girl was in awe at what she saw - a large grey structure built into the body of the hill. There was a small window, where the voices were coming from, though she couldn’t see in.
“I bloody said WHO IS IT THEN??!!”
“It’s me - uhm - I’m - I’m - ” the girl stuttered.
“Well I’ll be - it’s a wee girl that is.”
“What? What are you all talkin’ about?” a third voice sounded. This one sounded very similar to Abbey’s, only it belonged to a man. This gave the girl the strength to move forward towards the window.
“I’m who is here,” the girl said, nervously. She had never spoken to anyone outside of her family and the Educators.
“Well allo there - an’ here we thought you was a balless killing machine - wait - ye ain’t is ye? I know none of them Regulators is girls - but - ”
“I’m not a Regulator,” the girl said through the window. “I’m from Quadrant 7. I - uhm - I escaped.”
“What did she just say? Did she say she escaped? That’s impossible,” the second voice said in a matter of fact tone.
“Well, if it’s impossible, then I’m starin’ at the impossible under the moonlight right here - cuz here she is in the flesh an’ blood - looks like a lot of blood - you okay darlin’?” asked the third voice.
“I cut out my chip,” said the girl, meekly. She liked the third voice.
“You cut it right out did ya?” The first voice was speaking again. “How did ya manage it? A little lass like yourself?”
The girl dug into her pocket and produced the knife.
“Oy! Boys - she got a knife!”
“Oh darlin’!” the third voice spoke again. “My prayers have been answered!”
Suddenly, two hands tethered together with rope were produced from the window.
“Do ya think you can do us all a favor little lady?”
Before he asked, the girl already knew what he wanted done. She put the blade in between the man’s hands and sliced the rope.
She heard a moan of relief, and then the other men clamoring to put their hands out of the window too.
“Get off me - you’ll get yer turn.”
After freeing the men’s hands, the girl peered back in the small rectangular window.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Well darlin’, that’s a long story. Basically, we’re all rebels, if you can believe it, from a few quadrants over. Round about a week ago, they threw us in here to starve us to death, or eat each other - whichever came first. They threw in a few of these damn food packets, and a bucket of some foul water, and here we are. Ain’t nobody supposed to be livin’ in Quadrant 8 no more - but them Regulators didn’t count on a real life angel comin’ to our rescue.”
“That’s right - put all ye pressure on the poor lass - she’s jist as tired and hungry as we are - doubt she feels like savin’ us right now.”
“I can help.” The girl tried her best to see the men she was talking to, but the light from the sky was not streaming through the window enough.
“Uhm - little girl? I have an idea,” the second voice piped up. “Are there any - uhm, rocks or anything out there?”
#33349 looked around her. To her left, there were a few rocks. They weren’t very big, but she nodded in the direction of the window.
“Ok good - can you lift them and try to hand them to us through the window?”
“The poor thing is bleedin’ and you're askin’ her to lift heavy rocks?”
“Well, if we get out of here, we can help her.”
“How the hell are a bunch of damned rocks gonna help?”
“You’ll see.” The second voice sounded annoyed at the questions of his cell mates.
“I can do it.” The girl walked over to the rocks and strained to lift them, she picked two up and gave them to the hand stretching out from the window.
“Thank you,” the voice said gruffly.
The girl stood outside, not knowing what to do next.
“Now what is your plan with these here rocks? You expectin’ us to beat our way outta here?”
“There’s a crack in the wall - I noticed it this morning. If two of us crack at it enough, I bet this thing will turn to rubble.”
“Aw that’s brilliant, mate - instead of us starvin’ to death - we be getting’ crushed. Much better that way, you ask me.”
“We’ll get out before it falls. Look - I noticed that it’s right below the window, we can get just make a bigger opening.”
“Worth a try I guess. I’ll help you. Hey darlin’?” the third voice called out to the girl.
“Now, I know you’re injured, and believe me I wouldn’t be askin’ this of a little girl as yourself, jus’ that I know we could help you if we get out - is there another rock out there?”
#33349 looked around. “Yes.”
“Now, if you have the strength, you think maybe you could just do us all one more little favor and maybe pick it up and go to hell on your side of the wall, below the window here?”
“You want me to hit it with the rock?”
“Oh darling’, that would be Heaven if you could.”
“I can do it.” She strode over and picked up a smaller, third rock.
“All right,” said the second voice. “On the count of three, one…two…three!”
A great knocking came from the inside of the prison, and the girl mustered up her remaining strength for her part. She took the rock in both hands and beat the wall as hard as she could.
CRACK, CRACK, CRACK
“This is a right thick wall. Dammit!”
CRACK CRACK CRACK
“How you doin’ on your side, darlin’?
The girl had her eyes closed the whole time, and opened them at the man’s voice to check on her progress.
“Uhm, there’s no difference.”
“Keep going - come on. I know this’ll work.”
The girl kept on hammering away.
“Wait!” she cried. “Something’s happening!”
The knocking from inside stopped. The girl looked at the spot where she was banging her rock. White powder was beginning to fall from the wall.
“It’s working!” she whispered.
With the beautiful white powder indicating her progress, the girl got a powerful burst of energy. She connected the rock with the wall three more times. Her last strike produced a great crack on her side of the wall.
“Blimey! I see light comin’ in! Push below the window, mate.”
Inside, the girl heard a great groan. She looked up and saw pieces of the building following the powder downward towards the ground.
“I can’t believe that worked!” said one of the voices from inside.
“What you bloody mean? It was your idea!”
Another groan, followed by bigger pieces of the building coming down, and the girl realized that this structure was soon to be no more.
Suddenly, a man’s arm stuck out of the side of the building, two massive white blocks preceding it.
“Whew! We better hightail it out now boys!”
“Right - there you go mate!”
#33349 jumped in shock when a full grown man came tumbling out of the hole in the wall. She couldn’t clearly see his face, but she noticed that it wasn’t obstructed by a hood, and he wasn’t wearing a red robe. It looked like he was wearing the same type of black robe and boots favored by the Regulators. His robe, however, was ripped, and an entire sleeve was missing. When he stood up, she noticed his intimidating frame.
“Now lift me out mate!”
The man bent into the newly formed hole and strained to lift up one of his partners. He produced a man who, while shorter than he was, was no less powerful looking. #33349 noticed that he had a great gash on his forearm.
The third man was scrambling to lift himself up and was given an extra lift by the first man out. As soon as the third man’s foot left the window, the whole structure, rocks falling all around it, collapsed.
The men all set their attention on the young girl who had come out of nowhere to save them. The first man out of the prison strode over and threw his strong arms around her.
“Thank you darlin’.’” He held her tight, and the girl cried out in pain.
“Oh! Oh no! I’m so sorry!”
The girl, finally feeling her exhaustion, pain, and hunger collapsed like the small structure moments before. She crumpled to the ground the instant the man let her out of his embrace.
CHAPTER 7 - SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD
“Lass! Oy! Wake up!”
The girl felt her face being slapped lightly. When she opened her eyes, they burned from the sun’s rays. She quickly sat up.
“Shh, now lass - ye’ve had a hard night. I jist wanted to make sure ye were still with us. Sorry I must’ve given ye a bit of a fright.”
#33349 searched her brain for an explanation as to why she was outside in a wide field, without her hood. She looked at the man who was talking to her, who was holding her hand, and staring at her intently. He had sparkling blue eyes, a long blond beard and a mass of unkempt blond hair that was tied behind his neck.
Suddenly, everything came back to her - the escape, the running, the pile of the dead, and her intense pain. Her eyes began to water with the realization that she still had a wound on the back of her neck.
“Aw ye poor thing. Oy! We’re gonna need some food or summat over here!”
“Is she awake?” another voice called over.
“Barely, mate…she looks a little out of it.”
“She’s okay though?”
“Aye, she’s with us - a real soldier, this one.”
The girl closed her eyes tightly. This was a lot for her to take in - the running, these men - and the strange way they were speaking. She needed to find out more information. She cleared her throat, which she had just at that moment realized was very dry.
“Where are we?”
The man holding her hand fixed his eyes on her face.
“Well, lass, that’s a question isn’t it? Rightly, I don’t know where we are. We’re miles from where that bloody prison stood, even farther from where you come from. Presently, though, I’d say we’re in Hell.”
The girl giggled.
“Ah, you like that then. Good, couldn’t rightly carry on with you if you’ve got no sense of humor.”
The man continued to talk while one of the other men, the one tall with brooding dark eyes, walked over to the two of them.
“Right, so you just fell to the ground last night like a sack of bricks, so we carried ya with us, assumingly, out of harm’s way. You never quite know anymore.”
The tall, brooding man kneeled beside the girl. He had a piece of cloth ripped from his own tattered shirt in his hands.
“I sterilized it over the fire, so it’s okay. Lean your head forward please.”
The man dabbed at the girl’s wound on her neck.
“Did you rip out your censor?”
“Good. I assume however, that you didn’t clean the knife you did it with?”
“I don’t think the girl had time for that now would she? ‘Oh, here I am, planning me escape from hell, let me just make sure me knife is nice and tidy ‘fore I slice into me own skin.’”
“Doesn’t hurt to ask, now.”
“Ye can’t mind Frederick, lass. He was a trained doctor ‘fore the Regulators got to ‘im. That’s why they wanted you ain’t it Freddy? You was the best there was.”
“Uh - huh.” Frederick replied absentmindedly as he dabbed at the girl’s neck.
The girl couldn’t believe it - these men had names, like her grandmother.
She attempted to sit up, but only got herself propped a little before feeling a bit dizzy, Frederick noticed and held her shoulder to keep her still. He finished cleaning her wound as best he could and tied the makeshift tourniquet loosely around her neck.
“If we by some chance find something to sew this up with, that would be ideal, but this is the best we can do to try to prevent infection. Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m feeling better, thank you.”
Frederick patted her knee and went back to the fire. “I’m going to prepare a few more sheets of fabric here for you in case we need to change it. I think you’ll be fine though.”
“I told you this one was a soldier didn’t I Freddy? Ack - where are me manners? What’s yer name lass? Oh - no, wait, ye be a number is that right?”
“Uhm, well, I was - but…call me Abbey.”
“Lovely name lass, ye choose it?”
“Uh, no. It was my grandmother’s.”
“Well, it’s better than some number ain’t it? All right Abbey, well, this uptight one here is Freddy, as ye know, I’m Zeke, and well - the other one who talks like a bloody dunce, he’s Heston. He went off tryin’ to find food or summat.”
Suddenly, there was a rustling behind Abbey’s back, her stomach dropped and she attempted to turn around, which just aggravated her wound.
“Y’all just say I talk stupid?”
A wave of relief came over her. This was the voice of the man she liked - the one that talked like her grandmother. The man looked down at Abbey. He had bright blue eyes and long, curly brown hair. His beard was gnarled and unkempt, but a bright, white smile showed through it.
“How’re ya feelin’ darlin?”
“I’m fine now. Thank you.” Abbey straightened her tourniquet back to its right position.
“I’m sorry for scarin’ you like that, ‘specially since I ain’t got much to show for it. I found some berries - they may or may not be poisonous, but there’s only one was find out.”
“Bring ‘em over here.” Freddy called out from the fire.
“How did y’all get a fire goin’?” Heston asked, admiring the height of the flames.
“How do ya think lad? We rubbed two bloody twigs together.”
“I don’t think I remember the last time I had a campfire in broad daylight.” Heston said, sauntering over to Freddy.
“It’s better this way,” Freddy said, taking the berries and inspecting them. “It’s harder to see the flames if it’s daylight out, so we have less chance of getting caught. These are okay to eat.” He handed the berries back to Heston.
“Alright y’all, we gotta ration these out. Three for you, Zeke, Three for Freddy, I’ll take two. Here darlin’, you get four. You must be starvin’.”
“Thank you.” Abbey accepted the berries and bit into one. The juices flowed into her mouth, electrifying her taste buds. This was something completely different from Field G nourishment. Her stunned expression must have been obvious.
“I’m guessin’ y’all never had any food - food before huh?”
Abbey swallowed. “We had nourishment. I hated that.”
Zeke looked up from his berries. “Aye, the bleedin’ ‘nourishment’. Ye lucky ye got out when ye did lass. Ye’ve got no idea what that stuff does to yer brain.”
“What do you mean?”
“They told us all about it when we were in trainin’ to be Regulators. That stuff in the packets, it messes with yer mind, rots it, more like, lettin’ ya be controlled nice and easy.”
“You were Regulators?” Abbey’s fears were creeping back to her.
“Oh for God’s sake Zeke, you’re scaring her.” Freddy came over and sat down next to Abbey.
“Zeke, Heston and I were in training. We were hand - picked because in our sector, we all had special skills. I was a doctor - um, one of the developers of Pill 12, actually, which effectively put me out of business. Zeke here was in special operations in Scotland, before he got married and moved here. Heston was a tracking expert for the U.S. army. Is any of this making sense to you? Do you know what the U.S. is?”
Abbey nodded. “My grandmother told me about everything she remembered from before it all went to hell. The United States, everything.”
Zeke laughed, and Freddy nodded.
“Good. Well, when sectors replaced states, they called us up to be Regulators. They conveniently left out a lot of information about what the job entailed. We thought it was a new, branch of the FBI. To be honest, it all sounded really good - you would be able to protect people, protect the laws, and only the very elite in their field were chosen. We were sitting on top of the world, never thinking these people were inhuman psychopaths and mostly prisoners that were going to destroy the world. As soon as training started, we found out. We found out everything that was being planned - but I think the thing that really sealed the deal on not wanting to do it was - ”
“They bloody castrate you mate! They pump ye full of testosterone and bloody castrate you!” Zeke cried out.
“Uhm, yes,” Freddy continued. “But it was more than just that. This is when things started getting really bad. When murders were being ordered, masked as executions. Basically, everything was starting to really spiral out of control. The three of us knew we couldn’t go through with this, and we had other men in the training unit agreeing with us, but mysteriously, one by one, they all changed.”
“How?” Abbey was sitting up now, her attention rapt, as it was when her grandmother would tell her of the past.
“They were being slowly brainwashed - well, it was more than that - you see, that ‘nourishment’ the Regulators provide for everybody? It gives the eater a sort of chemical lobotomy. It slowly deteriorates part of the eater’s brain. The stuff that they give to the Regulators in training works much faster. It makes the person susceptible, and when you mix it with high testosterone levels - well, you’ve got one hell of a strong, stupid, violent army.”
Abbey’s mouth fell open. She had never thought of the Regulators as human beings before.
“The three of us figured this out, and we started to not eat the stuff. They hadn’t - ehm - performed any removal surgeries on us yet either, so that was a plus.”
“Damn bloody straight, mate,” Zeke called out.
“Right. Anyway, months went on, and the three of us tried to figure out a way to both escape from being in this twisted army, while simultaneously trying to trick the heads of the Regulator Training Unit that we were being trained and brainwashed like everyone else.”
“That couldn’t have been easy,” Abbey said, remembering how hard her grandmother had tried to outsmart the system while teaching her.
“It definitely wasn’t. Fortunately for me, they still needed me to be somewhat competent. I was the only medical expert in our sector, and Pill 12 still had some kinks to be worked out. Once it was perfected though, we were all up shit’s creek.”
“Aw sorry, I meant, we were all totally screwed. They started to test people’s nutrition levels, using a machine to make sure everyone was eating. That’s when we were found out.”
“Worst day of all our lives,” Zeke said.
“Agreed,” Heston echoed, poking at the fire with a stick.
“What did you do?” Abbey asked anxiously.
“Well, they put the three of us in a room together and asked us why we weren’t eating. Let me tell you, they did not take ‘we weren’t hungry’ as an answer. They shocked us, stabbed us, and damn near killed us. The only reason we were kept alive at all was because we had information about our specialties that they desperately needed. I knew how to deal with any side effects of Pill 12, Zeke had very elite military information, and Heston was pretty much invaluable to them because of his tracking expertise. So we were kept in this room for a few hours, thinking we were definitely going to be killed, or maybe worse, when one of the head Regulators walks in. He looks at the three of us, and asked if we planned on being insolent for the rest of our training. He asked if we would start to cooperate. Zeke looked up at him and said as long as they were going to be cutting off balls and rotting people’s brains, no.”
“An’ that’s when he did it, lass.” Zeke left his post beside the fire and collapsed on the ground next to Abbey.
“He says ‘oh really then?’ And them bastards drag me wife into the room, they had ‘er tied up, I couldn’t believe it. They put ‘er in front of me, me beautiful Annabelle, and they shot ‘er - in the back of the head. Well lass, I’ll never feel more pain than that, I got up and killed each one of ‘em that was in the room with me bare hands. There was three I think. We escaped outta that little prison, havin’ to bring a lot of that brainwash food with us, and we avoided capture for somethin’ like three years. We were caught up with, and thrown in that little prison ye rescued us from, lass.”
Zeke stretched out, exhausted from the story. Abbey could see that there were tears in his eyes. Freddy patted his knee in a brotherly way before continuing.
“After they murdered Zeke’s wife, we knew that these were monsters we were dealing with, being controlled by a machine. We had no idea how bad it had gotten when we were on the run, but as soon as we were captured again…”
“Wait - why did they let you live?” Abbey asked. “A man who tried to escape from Field G the other day was shot and killed on sight.”
Freddy smiled. “We made it under the wire for that law. When we were captured, they threw us into the nearest structure with a lock they could find. These fields are full of underground prisons - that’s what they used to do before overpopulation got so bad, basically, they jist bury you underground, hoping you would just starve to death.”
“How long were you under there?” Abbey asked.
“Oh, I have no idea. Months, years maybe? Heston started to keep track on the wall with a rock, but gave up after ninety-three days, so at least that many. We took enough of those packets with us from the training to last thirty years, and we only ate a little each day, to preserve it, and to avoid brain-rotting.”
Heston came over from the fire and sat down with the group. The four of them sat in silence for a long time before he spoke up.
“So what’s your story darlin’? It took three of us to escape the first time, how on earth did a little thing like yourself manage it?”
Abbey put her arms around her legs and looked up to the sky before answering.
“Well, I had a grandmother who used to tell me all about everything from before. She was killed a few weeks ago, but she made me promise to run away. She told me where to go to be out of my quadrant, so I wouldn’t be found easily. So last night, I cut out my chip and ran like hell.” The girl smiled.
“Honey, you are my kinda girl.” Heston put his arm around Abbey’s shoulders. “I’m sorry they got your grandma. You and Zeke have really felt your fair share from these monsters. Me and Freddy here, we ain’t never been married, and our families is long gone, but you two - well I can’t imagine.”
“Is the whole world like this?” Abbey asked.
“No way of rightly knowin’ - contact with other countries was disabled a few years ago,” Heston said.
Freddy looked up from the fire.
“That’s why we have to really plan it right this time.”
“Plan what?” Abbey asked
Freddy stood up and removed a piece of paper from his robe. He handed it to Abbey. The sun was starting to set, and her eyes were very tired. All she could make out was a crudely drawn map.
“What is that?” she asked, handing the map back to Freddy.
“It’s the place we’ve been looking for since we broke out - it’s our last chance.”
Abbey was confused. She squinted to try to make out the writing on the map, but it was so smudged and aged.
Freddy folded the map back up and slipped it into his robe. “We better all get prepared; because we are setting out for Area 1.”
AREA 1 continues in the Fall issue of HelloHorror.
Kathleen Wolak is a writer living in Hamden, CT. She is the author of The Tasteless, a young adult novel, and co-founder of the entertainment blog Tasteless Entertainment. When she isn't writing or blogging, she is hosting her weekly advice show on HerTube.TV, or marathoning The Simpsons on DVD. Part 1 of Kathleen's serialized novella Area 1 appears in the Winter 2015 issue of HelloHorror. Part 2 appears in the Spring 2015 issue.
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