They snatched me off the street. Us. They chained us up together, twenty or thirty unwilling ducklings in a row. We had heard of this happening, pretty girls in groups getting taken away but it seemed at an arms length. a distance away from our safe and sheltered world. This used to be a safe neighborhood. Used to be, my mind whispered. Shut up, I told it. I am going to be fine, but the gigantic rampaging elephants in my stomach said otherwise.They held up guns to Bernie’s head, the most fragile of the group. We had our screams choked with fear, one emotion replacing the other, like a babushka doll, each growing larger to swallow the other up. I could see her trembling and looked in their eyes. I saw the truth and didn’t want her limp birdlike carcass on my conscience. We allowed the cold shackles on our wrists, on our ankles. None of us fought.
They brought us to a huge house, with a hilly driveway. They locked us in a room in the back of the area, giving us the key to unlock ourselves. I took it, unlocking everyone before myself. Everyone was chilled, from sitting in the metal van and scared of the consequences. There were cots lining the walls, small and lumpy but I knew we needed comfort tonight. I slowly pushed the cots to the back of the room, making sure there were no spaces for us to fall through and that they didn’t hear this little act of defiance. Soon, half of the room resembled a giant floating mattress. One by one we slept next to each other, hungry for warmth
We woke up to a thump. It was a huge packet of clothes with a typed note to be ready in twenty minutes. I traced the letters, the sharp black angles capturing my interest for a moment before tearing the pack apart and handing it to the other. I smelled the clothes and they smelled like pears and cinnamon. My wondering ceased when he opened the door.“All right chickies, time to go!” he said cheerfully with a hint of menace in his voice. He lead us down through a chromatic hallway, his shoes clicking the ground, our bare feet relatively shy. He opened the door, gesturing for us to go in and shot me a grin, because once again I was leading them. A row of chairs and a pair of blue eyes awaited us and we sat, reluctant and suspicious.
He turned, his sharp movements like the letters, but his voice was gentler.
“This is simply a personality test. It’s just a little shot and the smell will last forever, but you will all smell amazing. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt that much,” he reassured. But I was curious. A smell to tell your personality? I gasped in surprise and he looked at me and winked. But the clothes.....
Bernie was shot first, being at the end of the row, too shy to be in the middle. She was last and I was first so in the end I was shot last. He carried a tray of green filled needles and simply did his job, like a robot. The room started to smell incredible like roses and amber, vanilla and oranges, jasmine and plum blossoms, impossible combinations of wonderful strength and uniqueness. Bernie smelled like faint roses.
Then me. I stiffened at his touch, unused to this even in my former life. I felt so different from back then and I knew I could never go back, only forward. My former life it was. He massaged my right arm a bit before shooting the stuff inside. I felt it flow through my blood stream and I saw his eyes widen in surprise as all of the girls turned to me.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, then murmured something to himself as he wrote down my “smell” on the notepad.
“Okay, it’s time for your breakfast,” he said, ushering us out of the room.
We sat “outside” heavily guarded with a breakfast buffet set in both our sights. We were famished, but we nibbled at our food before we decided it was safe. I bit into a biscuit, tearing off a piece and dipping into gravy. Some diced potatoes, sausage and a glass of orange juice made up the rest of my breakfast. Others ate croissants or muffins and there were others that didn’t eat anything at all, their fears shrinking their stomach.
I had my suspicions but I stayed quiet knowing they couldn’t handle it. I locked it inside my heart and hoped it wouldn’t hurt us.
The tests came one after another from emotionless doctors, all of us lined up like toys on a factory line, as if shots could make us perfect. The “medicine” was excruciating. Some stung like fire and then disappeared, others were a low sizzle, easily ignored but always there.
Every night they asked us to join them in their quest for a better world, as if they could seduce us into coming with their painful shots and propaganda. Even so, little by little we submitted. I wasn’t the leader but everyone turned to me. I couldn’t give in.
Holly went first, her black hair a contrast to the white trench coat they offered her. She asked if she could give it to me and I realized she had not completely given in. They frowned but threw it at my feet anyways. I accepted it gratefully, pulling it on carefully like it had a secret weapon to make me give in, to make me lose. Nothing.
It made the other stronger, not ready to lose as Megan and Dani slipped away. Not me. the only thing that kept me going was him. Him with the blue iceberg eyes freezing me every time he caught me as he disappeared around the corner.
Our scents sill stayed, but no one could smell their own. It made everyone feel better, sleeping next to a bed of roses and cherries but I never asked for my own. It was just something to distract me from our escape.
every night we slept in pain, wondering whether our parents knew or even cared, wondering what kind of shot they would inject next, wondering how long it would take to forget this, wondering when the hard shackles would chain us apart.
We didn’t have to wait long.
It was about two weeks after our capture and today they simply measured us and checked us out, like at the doctor’s. We all had to undress, one of the doctor’s looks making us feel like specimens, prized and dirty. I would have sworn his eyes were black when Bernie flushed under his gaze as he said, “Get used to it sweetheart,” winking. Suddenly the whole room was infused with everyone’s scents but everyone stared at me as the doctor hurriedly grabbed a needle, threatening us. It disappeared.
Lunch time came and half of the girls were gone, off doing something special. I wondered what separated them from us then looked around. The girls here were all the prettiest, even under the bedraggled look of torture they had endured. I almost screamed when I saw and smelled a faint acid smoke coming up from way behind the building. I looked around. the guards were gone, everyone was gone and I knew. I gathered the girls, one whisper and we ran.
We ran down the driveway, the straw sticking in our feet but we didn’t care. We ran past the gravel driveway, onto the asphalt street, onto the sidewalk, running running running.
A black guy came in sight and we screamed yelling at him to help us. It was like we were invisible, simply ghosts. We kept running but increased as we heard motorcycles and cars.
It was them.
“No!” I screamed. “We can do this!” I said fiercely, determined to just keep going. But they caught us all, dragging us roughly, chaining us once again.
We rode in the van for about another ten minutes before we saw light again. We were in a building, gray smooth slate. All around us girls were being dragged into vans, each unlocked then thrown into a new one. A flash of black.
“Holly! Holly! Help us!” I yelled, desperate for any kind of escape. She turned, but the light was gone from her eyes and she simply turned away and I knew she didn’t recognize me anymore. I sobbed in defeat but kept thinking.
Him. I was at the beginning once again and the doctors yelled at him to take my jacket off and give it back to them. He unbuttoned them slowly, pretending to fumble with the giant white buttons.
“The neck, it’s too tight isn’t it? Like a collar,” he whispered so only I could hear. It slipped off and I saw. Through all the chains and the girls and the guards and the pain I could run. I could run through those glass doors crashing through them and keep running again. I know I could.
So I did. He let me escape and I just jumped, crashing through the first barrier, then the second, each one shattering around me in a halo of pain but I was ready. I escaped, not paying attention to the shards or the blood or the yelling just running.
My head flew to the side as I caught sight of a unlocked truck. I hopped beneath the back seat, praying I would be found by someone nice or not found at all. I breathed, careful to not bring attention to myself.
“How could you let her get away you imbecile?!” one of the doctors screamed. “Now they’re all in an uproar! We should have just killed her with the rest, I don’t even know why we bothered with her. Most of her personality get killed because of this defiance.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have given her that jacket or said that to her friends,” another voice said cooly, holding his ground.
“Argh...” the doctor said. “This is a huge headache. You know what? You can just leave and never come back. Take the truck, I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“Gladly,” he answered and I could feel the smile behind the word, even though I knew it wasn’t showing on his face or in his voice.
He climbed into the truck, revving it up and drove away, far away from the grounds of the awful place.
After about ten minutes he said, “You can come out now.”
I winced, scared of getting caught but remembered he couldn’t do anything. “You knew I was here?” I asked as I got frozen by those eyes again.
“Yeah, I saw the glass and blood but don’t worry, they didn’t.”
“You should be more careful next time, but for your sake I hope there isn’t a next time. Come sit in the front, there’s a first aid kit up here.”
“How did you know you might need first aid?”
“You smell like the ocean breeze and the forest.”
“Your scent. It smells of adventure and bravery. I knew you would escape eventually, so I got ready for it.”
“So you unlocked the car too?”
“Yeah,” he said running his fingers through his brown hair. “I hated this job anyways. It was awful knowing that....” he trailed off, not wanting to say it.
“It’s okay, I know.”
“I figured, you looked like a smart girl. So then you knew about the...” he said, referring to today’s earlier acid smoke.
“Yeah,” I replied curtly, not wanting to bring up the idea in my mind. I rode in silence, picking the shards with tweezers from the first aid kit, wincing every time. I had many but they were mostly in my hands and feet. Each one clinked against its sister, bloodied.
“So where are we going now?” I asked.
“Away. Away from here,” he replied staring off into the distance. And I agreed silently, falling asleep for the first time, freed.