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Experiments- Chapter One
Snap. I jumped up from the forest floor, automatically taking a defensive stature. I surveyed my surroundings carefully, taking in every detail before I remembered that my back was unprotected. I silently backed into a tree, but then, thinking better of myself, took a few steps forward. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do if I saw one of them, but I tried to prepare myself as best I could. A gust of wind brought the strong scent of scat, and by the strength of the scent I’d say it was large, close, and fresh. The twig snapping I heard was most likely a bear. I still stood silently, listening to the crickets and owls, watching the small cove by only the pale light of the stars, the moon was nowhere in sight. After ten minutes, all of which I counted slowly and painfully, I decided that I could relax and I sat down cautiously. Leaning against the tree, I sighed with exhaustion and relief, and looked down at myself. The blue jeans I wore were torn, the simple black camisole, dirty and fraying. The soles of my converse were almost completely worn and my hair, if I could have seen a mirror, had to be taking on a life of its own. I closed my eyes, trying to fight off the memories, but failing miserably. Pictures flooded my mind. Blood, numbers, white rooms, fire, anger, all this and more started to push their way back into my head. I was taken back to those dreaded memories, reliving them as if they were happening again. My “talents” had come at their costs, sometimes my mind did things that I couldn’t control, and being taken into my memories was one of the worst. I braced myself and clenched my eyes as I was sucked back into those horrible days.
It was a few weeks after my parents had received their special mission; they were government workers so I liked to pretend they were secret agents and were sent on journeys across the world, sneaking around like James Bond. My parents hadn’t always been the best parents, their jobs had always come first, but they were still my parents. Our relationship was not complex and it was barely even existent, but I still respected them because they gave me life. From the time I was young, we had an understanding. As long as I never complained about my parents to anyone, they would feed me, clothe me, give me a home, and pay for anything I needed. But they always stressed that I couldn’t tell anyone they weren’t always home. I was home alone for about two hours a day as soon as I was old enough to go to kindergarten. I was always a very independent child. I had no other family, and my parents were so different from me that sometimes I wondered if they were even my real parents. Most people document the birth and childhood of their one and only child, but not my parents. They were barely around as I raised myself, let alone around to take videos and pictures. I was lucky if I got a smile or stiff hug from my parents. And yet I never questioned their love for me, because I had whatever I needed and whatever I wanted. They attended every school concert and open house, and at those events, they were parents. But when they were at home, they were just people I lived with. Our relationship was odd, but I was always happy and never had any problem with the way our relationship worked. As I got older, they started coming home less and less, but I didn’t mind too much because I felt fortunate that while my friends’ parents began to put strict rules on them, and fight with them, I had a comfortable and scarce relationship with mine. It wasn’t until I was sixteen did I realize that the money and the food had been a way to keep my quiet about being on my own. I wasn’t raised to think that being alone was a bad thing. Our house had top security so I never felt endangered. Even when the realization came to me that my parents weren’t really all that caring, I didn’t seem to care. I was happy being independent and as long as I was healthy, I couldn’t see the harm in living on my own. My parents never harmed me and never allowed me to be unhappy or unhealthy, so I just couldn’t see what was so bad at the way they parented. Their job was important to them, and it was supposed to be important to the world. So why then would I question their actions? I didn’t. I never did. I hadn’t planned on ever doubting them. And despite their mysterious, uncaring nature, I still loved my parents. They had never hurt me, it was almost like they’d been on an extended business trip my whole life, and I was the three year old anxiously waiting their return.
So, just weeks after they were reassigned to another new mission, I was at home doing chores and homework. They were coming home and I was as pleased as I could be; the only way to show it was by doing extra work around the house to make sure they were proud of my work. As I pressed the button on the washing machine, it was sent humming into life. The quiet buzz was soon the only sound in the room, other than the sound of clothes brushing against each other as I took each item out of the basket, inspecting each one for money, notes, or broken buttons. I got the end of the basket without incident until I reached my mother’s work pants, well at least one pair of them. Checking the pockets, I found her work I.D. That was odd, my mother wasn’t usually forgetful. I turned it over, and at first glance saw her photo and some codes. I should have set it on the table and left to do homework, but I was insanely curious about my parents’ work and why they couldn’t possibly afford more time with me. I wiped my fingerprints off the card slowly and stared at it for a few minutes before setting it down and walking into the kitchen to wash the dishes. The water smoothly trickled onto my hands, and then I slid on some gloves and got to the dirty work. There weren’t many things to do because I kept up with things daily. I glanced at the clock and began to prepare a pot for pasta. The boiling water brought the smell of olive oil and butter, and the memory of angel hair pasta with butter brought drool to my mouth. While the pasta boiled, I sat down at the table with a cookie, warm moist and chocolate chip. Warm because they were freshly microwaved, moist because I dipped them in milk and chocolate chip because I was addicted to chocolate. I stared at my mother’s card, curiosity burning through me like a raging forest fire. I reached for it, but jerked my hand back suddenly. I couldn’t spy on my parents. This was their job and if it was secret, I had to trust them. But then, on a sudden rebellious impulse, I grabbed the card and ran for the computer. Using the username on the card and the password that was written on a post it taped to the computer, I hacked into my parents’ account.
“Nice one mi padres,” I muttered beneath my breath. Why leave a password right out in the open? Aren’t they supposed to be secret? Their background was still on default settings and most of the programs and folders had names that meant nothing to me. Lots of numbers and letters in jumbled patterns, maybe this was why the password didn’t matter, because no one could decode the writing. I browsed the documents, finding one folder that I actually understood. The folder was labeled, ‘Subjects’ and as I went to click it, guilt launched my stomach into an unnatural set of cartwheels. But the fire tearing through my veins overpowered my guilty conscience, and so I double clicked hesitantly. The sight before my eyes was NOT what I had expected; I was bombarded with pictures, pictures of dead bodies; no, not dead bodies, dead people, dead teenagers. Each was labeled a number, none had names. This was not possible. I could not allow myself to believe that my parents were murdering teenagers. The sickening feeling of dread and disgust was overwhelming, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to close the folder or even remove my eyes from the screen. Each picture was labeled: number/word/word. The very first picture on the list was a blonde girl; she was about my age, but something about her stuck out to me. I read her label:
“01/Radiation/Dead”. Different combinations ran through my head, as I took the time to carefully process each one. I clamped my eyes shut, willing away the only possibly combination. This girl had been giving radiation, poison of some sort, because she was dead. She had been the first experiment, which was all she was to my parents. I studied her picture closely and her identity hit me like 100 mile per hour winds. Her name had been Jane. I’d seen her on the news a couple of months ago; she’d runaway from her city and never came back. I remembered feeling sympathetic toward her family, but nothing more. Now my sympathy was directed at Jane. Maybe she had run away, and been caught by my parents. And as this thought occurred to me, I saw each picture, each subject, as a teenager from the news. All had run away or been kidnapped, and each one had never been found. This was why. I looked at each picture, there were six dead teenagers. Radiation, injection, and inhalation were the three causes of death. Obviously they had not gotten to the result they wanted. There were three living teenagers, if you could even call them that. They were pale, almost dead from blood loss, bruised, and exhausted looking. These pictures had other notes, such as their conditions and how long it had been since they were given the chemical. As I scrolled to the last picture, fear and dread froze my body. The rusty, stale smell of blood hit my nose, although there was none anywhere around me. I turned and ran for the bathroom, being calmed by the ice cold tiles and splash of water on my face. Slowly, I returned to the computer, shutting it down before I had the chance to look at the screen. This was not happening. The last picture had been me. My most recent school picture had been listed as subject number ten. It had been labeled:
“10/Injection/To be tested”. My parents were planning on experimenting on me. There were a million and one thoughts running through my head. What were they trying to achieve? What were they using to achieve it? Why didn’t they stop when the first person died? Why was this secret? Where they expecting me to die or live? Did they even care? The realization came with sickening dread. They didn’t stop their experiment because they knew these teenagers would die. It was secret because if the rest of the world knew about it, it wouldn’t be happening. My parents couldn’t care about me, because they were planning on injecting me with a potentially lethal chemical, and all for what? That was what I didn’t know. What was so important that the lives of innocent teenagers, including their own daughter were invaluable? I got up and began to pace, just as the scent of smoke and fire filled the room. I ran into the kitchen, I’d forgotten about the pasta I had boiling on the stove. It was almost dinner time, and food no longer mattered. What mattered now was that my parents would be home any minute. I didn’t know what to do. My plan was to confront them, but then I realized that if I confronted them, they would probably just kill me. I was living in a house with murderers, murderers who killed painfully. My parents had always been awkward, science geeks, since their first days of school. It was because of this that I knew they wouldn’t be carrying any weapons other than that lethal chemical ready to be injected into my system. I could just pretend not to know, and then die. But that wasn’t an option. I was reminded of the three teenagers, barely living somewhere in my parents’ lab. I wouldn’t die, because they hadn’t died yet, meaning that whatever chemical or mixture they were using was making progress. So if I died, I would die slowly and excruciatingly. But I didn’t plan on dying. I would feel eternally guilty if I was able to go off into peace somewhere where the rest of the subjects of my parents' experiments had to suffer in a lab. I had to stop this, but before I could plan out the best way, the sound of a key turning in the lock announced the arrival of evil at my door.
I was sucked out of my memory to the sound of rustling leaves. I relaxed when I discovered it was just Chris. I smiled at him and gently nodded.
“Hey, is everything okay?” he asked, concerned.
“Of course, I was just being overcautious,” I said, scooting over to him and interlacing his hand in mine.
“Are you sure?” his eyes scrutinized mine and I realized he was asking why I was spacing out, and not why I was awake in the middle of the night.
“Of course babe, I was just thinking. Our plan is almost ready. We just need our chance to come, and I know that it will be soon, I just need to see it when it comes,” I said. He sighed and shrugged, brushing it off with the calm personality I saw so rarely in him. We sat in comfortable silence, saying nothing and everything at the same time. My eyes wandered toward the sky, beginning to count the stars, and search for the moon. The light of the stars tonight was bright and the cove we were in was safe for now. I took a labored, slow breath, breathing in his scent. And as I smelled the unique mixture of musky sweat and fresh pine, I allowed my gaze to rest on him. I visually traced his position, every curve, and every detail was drawn meticulously into my memory. If I ever needed to picture him, I would use that memory. His eyes, so openly blue, were peaceful and full of contentment. His soft brown hair was in the short, messy style that I loved it in; though, I was not the reason his hair was short and manageable. His hand interlaced with mine, was right where it should be. His other hand slowly reached up to caress my cheek. I leaned my head into his hand and felt his warm skin on mine.
“Christopher,” I breathed his name slowly, unhappy about what I had to tell him next. His hand stopped and immediately dropped down; his body went cold and rigid.
“What?” he asked through clenched teeth. He was slipping into the stressed out Chris that I hated, but had to be with often. I grabbed his hand and rubbed it soothingly.
“Nothing, can’t a girl just say her boyfriend’s name?” I asked innocently, not wanting him to slip into that persona.
“It’s not innocent. You always use my full name when you’re about to drop a bomb on me Aimee,” he said, standing up and rubbing his face free of sleep. I sighed and stood up with him.
“Wake up Nate. I’ll get Gwen,” I said, turning around and walking toward Gwen’s sleeping form.
“Aims wait,” I felt his sturdy hand placed gently on my shoulder. I turned around willingly, but nervously at the same time. We needed to get moving, but I didn’t want to waste these precious moments with him.
“I love you,” he said to me. And while he said it, he looked firmly and directly into my eyes. His words said love, but his eyes said so much more. One glance into his eyes told me that everything would be alright, told me that he was sorry he couldn’t be his gentle self all the time, but most of all they told me that the word love was everything. He loved me, protected me, cared about me, kept me in check, dedicated himself to me, made me smile, made me cry, made me laugh; he was my everything. He was my love.
I took a step closer to him, not wanting the moment to end. He planted a soft kiss on my forehead and wrapped his arms around me. The seconds began to turn into minutes of our embrace, and finally I had to break it off. I sighed, turned around and headed over to Gwen. I glanced at her sleeping. Gwendolyn Margaret was her full name, but she refused to tell us her last name. She was the youngest of the four us, only fourteen. Her breathing was paced, in, out, in, out. Her lips showed the ghost of might have been a smile. I hated to wake her up, but it wasn’t safe to stay any longer than we already had. I leaned down and shook her slightly.
“Gwen! Gwenny!” I said in a forced whisper. Her waking movements disturbed the brush underneath her, producing a crackling sound. “Quietly!” I shushed her and waited for the noise to stop. She mumbled something that sounded unhappy, but still quieted her movements. A minute later she was up and trying to smooth out her short pin curls. She had golden, Shirley Temple locks. Like a real life Goldie Locks. Sometimes, to tease her, Chris would call her Golden Gwen. And then she would look at him and roll her eyes, as if he weren’t even worth her time. I wasn’t sure how much those two had experienced together while in my parents’ lab, but it was enough to put them into a solid, “brother-sister” relationship. Nathan, who was getting up on the other side of the cove, was not so fortunate. Nathaniel E. Samuels was his name. He’d told Gwen and Chris he’d run away, not ever planning on going back. Nate was my age, sixteen. But Nate couldn’t tell me anything. He’d lost the ability to use his vocal chords when they’d given him the chemical. Anything we wanted to know about him, we had to have him write down or mouth. We weren’t good at reading his lips and none of us knew sign language, so Nate was usually silent and alone. I couldn’t help but pity him, and I wasn’t sure how he felt about that. If I tried to console him, or approach him when he was upset, he’d just get up and walk away. I had the feeling he was independent and wanted to keep it that way. I motioned to Nate and Chris to join us.
“We’ll travel north for the day, stopping at eleven a.m. and eleven p.m. At two a.m. we’ll find a good place to stop for the night. Got it?” I said quickly and in a business matter.
“What time is it?” Gwen asked with a subtly grumpy tone.
“Five,” I answered in a tone that said I wouldn’t put up with any complaints. Chris nodded and Nathan didn’t appear in opposition.
“Okay, let’s go,” said Chris, heading out North and as he turned his back, the sun began to appear slowly on the horizon. The thin edge of bright yellow and orange was only a telltale sign of sunrise, but it was enough to get me moving faster. I caught up with Chris and walked beside him, holding back my hand which was itching to reach for his. I knew he was in business mode and wouldn’t appreciate the distraction, but walking in his company would content me for now. I watched his long eyelashes squint to see through the night and fell into step with him, walking towards what I hoped would be the end of our ongoing march.