The Epidemic: Chapter 1

November 20, 2016
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Jade Andreas awoke at approximately 8:32 a.m.; 12 hours after her abduction, six days after the disappearance of her younger brother, and 3 months after the outbreak of a national child abduction epidemic.
Groggily, she sat up in an unfamiliar bed, shielding her tired eyes from the hazy sunlight pouring through a nearby window shade in a striped pattern.  She had no recollection of her arrival, and she strained to recall her last memory as numbers, dates, and faces swirled into unrecognizable spirals in her mind.
Setting her bare feet on the cold oak floor, she observed her nearby surroundings: four rows of wire framed beds with white linens, and one large wooden door.
“Hello?” she beckoned to the silence. There was no reply. Rising slowly, she walked in the direction of the door, discovering a pair of sandals placed conveniently by the entrance. She slipped them on. Jade, with abrupt confusion, glanced downwards at her toes to find that the shoes fit comfortably.
When she was a small child, Jade embraced the outdoors. She often found herself gliding along dirt paths on her bicycle, racing the wind and challenging nature to match her jubilation. It was a tree root, however, that ultimately betrayed her endearment. After a horrific accident, she was left with a mangled foot, and although it would eventually heal, it ceased to match the size of the other as the years passed.
She reached for the door knob, pushed out of the empty room and into a state of awe.
All around her, children of all ages were gathered. To her right, a group of young boys played a relaxed game of flag football in front of a building similar to the one she emerged from, appearing to be a cabin like structure. Beyond that, an outdoor auditorium, complete with a stage and rows of metal bleachers. A few more similar buildings were scattered throughout what appeared to be a mile’s radius. Most confounding of all, however, was what stood beyond.
A vast nothingness, or so it appeared, stood between Jade and society. Bleak desert sands stretched for miles like an indelible sea of detachment.
A woman emerged from the building to the right. In one hand, she clutched a clipboard, and in the other, a bullhorn. The boys paused their game upon seeing this, and ran into the building behind the woman, seemingly anticipating her message. The woman raised the bullhorn to her lips.
“Attention everyone,” her nasally voice declared. “The time is now 8:35, report to the dining hall immediately.”
A wave of chattering kids rushed to the door, pouring in one after another. In great confusion, Jade stumbled after them. Upon arriving to the building, she frantically approached the woman.
“Excuse me,” she demanded. “I think there’s been a mistake, I don’t know where I am.”
The woman smiled smugly and tapped the clipboard.
“And what’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Jade Andreas.”
She glanced down at the object in her hands.
“Looks like you’re in the right place,” she grinned. “Go have a seat and everything will be explained to you.”
Feeling defeated and lost, Jade wandered into the building and into the nearest chair. Numerous tables covered the surface of the linoleum floor, and a large kitchen and buffet line was stationed in the back of the building. As the last of the children filed in, a man with a microphone standing in front of the kitchen began to speak.
“Hello and welcome,” the man grinned. He was dressed in a sophisticated manner, adorned in a black suit complimented with a mustard yellow tie. His blonde hair was slicked back into a greasy mass.
“For those of you who are new to our establishment, I welcome you. You have been selected as part of a special group of kids, a group who has brought to our attention its many unique features, and as so, we have chosen you as part of our project.”
“What kind of project?” shouted an angry voice from behind.
The man contorted his face into what appeared to be a poor attempt at smiling condolence.
“You all have been selected to take part in our festivities, a program we have designed to satisfy the children we deemed most worthy.” He twirled the microphone cord between his fingers.
“You’ll find that we have provided you with all the accommodations you may desire. Recreational activities, an endless food supply, and we even took the liberty of packing some of your personal items of which you may retrieve after breakfast.”
“And what if we don’t want to be here?” the voice shouted, angrier this time.
The man in the mustard tie smiled one last time. “The buffet lines are now open,” he said, setting the microphone back into the stand.
The massive wave rose once again, this time flocking to the back of the room to retrieve all breakfast items on the spectrum. After a few minutes went by, an older boy took a seat next to Jade.
“Not hungry?” he inquired.
Jade gave him an estranged look.
“It’s your first day isn’t it?” he stated, more verifying than questioning. When Jade didn’t reply, he took the liberty of continuing the conversation himself.
“It’s not so bad here. Although I’m not entirely sure where here is.”
Jade glanced up at the boy, his piercing blue eyes glistened a start contrast against his thick, black hair. It was a face she had seen before.
“Griffin Lockwood,” Jade finished. “You’re one of the first who went missing.”
Griffin nodded, taking a bite out of a blueberry bagel.
“Three months later, and I’ve still got no idea what’s going on.”
Jade opened her mouth to question him, to ask why he hadn’t done something, why he wasn’t disheveled, why he wasn’t in protest, but quickly closed it. The answer was very simple. Griffin knew something about this place. He knew that there was nothing he could do.
Jade remembered sitting on the leather couch in her living room at home, holding a bowl of chocolate ice cream in one hand and a T.V. remote in the other. Her mother advised her as to which shows were worthy of her time as she flipped from channel to channel. She paused briefly after coming across the national news. A picture of a teenage boy, not much older than she, sat in a boat on a murky river with a large trout in hand. A gaping smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“So sad about all of those kids,” her mother sighed. “I hope that they catch whoever is doing this.”
Jade had nodded, then changed the channel.
The boy on the news was vastly different than the one that sat in front of her now. He was the same person, surely, but something had changed. Almost as if a gear had shifted out of place, leaving Griffin slightly out of tune with reality. It was as if a sort of sadness had been leaked into his eyes, forming rivers of apathy that slowly carried away pieces of his spirit.
Yes, she thought to herself, something drastic has happened here.
“Do you mind if my friends join us?” he asked, pulling Jade back to reality. “It might make you feel better if you at least make some friends around here.”
“That’s fine,” Jade nodded. Her stomach growled with discontent. “Do you think maybe I could have the other half of that bagel?”
Griffin smiled, and promptly complied.
“I don’t think I got your name,” he pondered.
“Jade,” she replied.
“Jade, like the color,” he teased.
“I like to think of it as Jade like the stone,” she responded.
“Well of course,” Griffin joked, “I’ll be right back.”
Jade nodded as Griffin wandered back into the masses. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a boy, the one she had heard shouting earlier. This time, however, he was not angered. His eyes drooped and his body swayed back and forth as the woman with the clipboard guided him out of the building. The other children, undoubtedly bearing witness, turned a blind eye. There was something very sinister at the root of this surreal establishment, and despite potential consequences, Jade was determined to find out what it was.

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