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A Monster in My Eyes
My eyes flutter open to the silence of the Poor District. It’s so different from the constant tinkering of the city, consisting of networks of alleys and roads.
Coarse dirt from the hard packed ground stings my mouth and the scratches and bruises upon my limbs scream with pain. I groan, cradling my head with my arms as if I were protecting an eggshell. The back of my skull still throbs with the lingering remains of a nightmare.
We have been on the run for months now. We are still hiding, smuggling, sneaking. Trix and I haven’t had a break in weeks. We have to constantly move from place to place; we had to settle for the Poor District of Tork last night. We travel in the direction of the Peak Division, Tork’s enemy in the war. It has been going on for ten years now, and it’s said that the Peakians offer free citizenship to anyone and everyone. It’s a flimsy idea to rely on, but I’m hoping that that means they accept Mutants as well.
I am the first one awake. The sky is still dark and clouds litter the sky with a hazy, milky film. Makeshift tents surround me, all savaged from the dump and city. To be honest, this alley looks like a tornado spit its junk all over in organized (more or less) piles.
A wave of irritation hits me when I realize we have to leave for the city soon. Trix and I have to leave our trusted friends for the lying capital of the Tork Division. But I know we have to leave for a good cause: insider scoop on the government and our status. We have to know if the Force Squad is advancing or falling back in confusion. No one gets any word on what really goes on unless you do it underground, so what’s better than accumulating information directly from the source?
I wonder if Trix is also awake, fishing and catching his restless thoughts. He sleeps in a blue tent a few yards away from me. However, I chose not to sleep in one because of the scarcity shelter. We were only here for one night, anyway. I want Trix to have a restful sleep for once; not a fitful one covered in thick, dark memories. He must be thinking about his parents. Or the attack.
Slowly rising with a whimper, I limp to a pond less than an alley away. How am I going to make it today with a broken ankle? It happened last night, after we had to jump off a moving train to get here. I never told Trix about it; I know he would try to give up as much comfort as he had for me. I’m not going to let that happen.
I scoop water into the palms of my hands and splash it across my face. I shiver with relief and scrub the grime off my skin. Much better.
As the ripples settle in the pond, I stare at my reflection with disgust; a girl with long brown hair and bags beneath her eyes glares back at me. Her eyes are tinted a slight ginger and her cheeks are sunken in with a lack of sleep. But what really disgust me are her ears; they’re not regular human ears like the city citizens’. They’re dark and auburn, streaked with black stripes, sitting high up on her head. Her tail flicks behind her and strands of whiskers sprout near her mouth.
I clench my fists. I didn’t choose to be like this. Neither did the other Mutants. It was all because mindless scientists, like my uncle, had to mess with genetics and DNA. Now wild, barbarous creatures swarm the Forest, my one and true home, and human Mutants have to hide in in the shadows.
I am a BEMO. A biologically engineered mutated organism who is a cross between a human and tiger. I always appear to be half human, half cat: a monster in my eyes. Some Mutants mutate to their true forms at different times, like me. Whenever a full moon appears, I am fully formed, losing control and causing chaos. I can still feel the tiger lingering inside me, like a coiled spring ready to pounce.
With a sneer, I swipe my hand across the pond, distorting my reflection, and walk gloomily back to our camp.
As soon as I get there, Trix waits for me with a backpack full of our supplies slung over his shoulder. His slender, buff metal arms glint with the sunrise. Guilt crawls up my throat every time I see them. I did that to him when we first met. At the time, I was uncontrollable, untamed. It was a full yellow moon and I didn’t care who I hurt. My stomach tightened.
“So, you’re ready?” He calls in his signature light-hearted voice. His black curls bounce as he walks toward me.
“I guess so,” I mutter. “How long have you been awake?”
“As long as you have.” He smirks and presses a cold, heavy metal hand on my shoulder. I shrink away and shake him off.
“Nothing.” I strap my gun across my belt, roll up my blanket, and stuff it in my bag along with our emergency money. I begin to trudge along, trying my best to hide my tight expression and my bad ankle. I grimace after every step.
“Everyone else in this alley is still asleep, so we might as well be on our way,” I whisper. “The more noise we make and the longer we stay, the more time the Force Squad has to find us.” I pull up the hood of my wrinkled yellow jacket, covering my pointed ears and emerging whiskers.
Trix grunts in response and pulls a sweat shirt over his metallic limbs. “They’re probably in the Poor District right now, combing every street for us.” I shiver at the thought. All we have to do is travel on the outskirts of the District and we’ll be safe. We just have to get there before our foes do.
We pass various tents, tiptoeing across different belongings. Bowls, spoons, and plates scatter the floor. Snores echo throughout the alley, almost to the Forest. Straight ahead-
Then, Trix stumbles over a stray container. As he lands on his back, he knocks over a stack of glass jars next to me. They tumble and shatter all around us like rain; shards of glass rip through my flesh as they tumble to the floor. I gasp in pain. All of the jars together create a deafening sound. I cringe and stare at my bloody arms. I glance over and see Trix without a scratch; his metal arms and fingers have saved him. He’s talking but I can’t understand a word he says. Poor District citizens clamor out of their tents and surround me, screaming when they see my body. My head feels like my heart is inside of it; pound after pound echoes throughout my body. I feel like I’m about to faint- my vision blends with black.
I slowly open my eyes. Time is flashing before me; whips of the forest flash in front of my eyes. This was where I grew up. This is where real trees thrived; not the fake, alien plants that scatter the city. I smile. But it was also where I almost killed Trix. My happiness fades.
I come to my senses. I am being carried in the woods. My arms hang off strong steady ones; they hold me tight as I am whisked away. All I remember is blacking out in the middle of the alley. My vision is blurred, but I look up. Trix is running full speed through the woods and glances behind him, as if to check if anyone is near. He looks unsatisfied. I glimpse in the direction he regarded.
The Force Squad. There are fifty of them, all dressed in black uniforms. They must’ve been appointed by the military to capture us. They crash through the trees with tremendous speed and all carry guns. My breath catches in my throat. How did they find us? I can feel Trix slowing down; his breath is heavy. We’ll be caught if he has to carry me all of this way. He looks down at me as his legs thrust against dirt.
“Let me down,” I croak. I need to help him.
All he replies is, “I’m so sorry.” I struggle in his grasp but he only grips me tighter. If he lets me go, he can get away. He can save himself. He’s not even a Mutant. Why does he help me? He can be useful by saving other Mutants from being tortured and captured. He can find safety in the mountains of the Peak Division. Why does he protect me? I don’t deserve it. I’m just a misplaced, regular Mutant.
“Why?” Is all I manage to rasp.
“Because, Tigris.” I recognize the nickname he created for me. My full name is Panthera Tigris Jacksoni, which is the full, scientific name for tiger. He brushes away the hair from my eyes, and somehow gains twice the speed he had before. I stare in awe. Is this his benefit from having artificial arms?
The Force Squad still charges toward us, without a hint of fatigue in their movements. Their pupils are dark red and unblinking, and they’re irises are pure white. I shudder. Then the thought hit me like a crashing wave. Maybe they were Mutants, but not just any Mutants.
Humanicans. I gasp. So they’ve finally created a Mutant human and machine. I should’ve known. I only heard of them in my uncle’s journals. Trix has metal arms. Why can’t other humans be full machine? I tremble in Trix’s arms. What will they do to us if we’re arrested?
“Shhh,” he coaxes. “I know a place where we can hide.” Suddenly he takes a giant leap from our current course and leaves the Squad behind in confusion. He bounds again over rocks and debris, and then suddenly descends. My heart leaps from my chest and my breath catapults out of my lungs.
Trix drops in a dark, damp concealed cave. It’s halfway closed on top and camouflaged, so even if someone looks closely, they would never know that this is a hideout.
Suddenly, a pang of realization overcomes me. I remember. The first day Trix and I met, a few months ago. I attacked him when I was a full blown tiger. I was restless, angry, and frustrated, leaving him close to death. When I transformed back into a semi-human, I found him lying almost dead under an oak tree. I cried and cried, never forgiving myself. Yet I still carried him into this cave and mended his wounds; my uncle, Rantik, was a scientist for the government and he showed me everything about biology. After he died, I still had a few tools of his left and carefully experimented on Trix. Rantik’s tables had still shined and the lights still worked. Turned out, aluminum thread came pretty handy. At least it kept him alive. Afterward, I took him to the hospital and they replaced his ripped limbs to titanium.
But that was before we were criminals.
Trix sets me down on a dusty iron bench. I grin with relief, and he leans against a cool rock and coughs fitfully across from me.
“I’m so sorry,” he says between breaths.
“For being such a klutz. For leading the Force right unto our tracks. For never taking care of myself or you. For never being there for you when you need me. For keeping so many secrets.” He looks up at me with large hazel eyes- wait. What happened to his bright blue ones?
“I-“ I start, but my words drown with my thoughts. The memory of me ruining Trix’s life hit me again. Why would he feel sorry?
Suddenly, my legs shoot with pain. I grimace and grip my knee. Trix advances quickly and grabs my blanket from my bag. He begins to wrap it around my leg as a crude bandage.
“Tigris, I have to tell you something.”
“Yeah?” I focus on my uncle’s bench I sit on. This was where he had worked and experimented. He contributed to the Mutant experimentation. I was there when he made the first flower Mutant…
“I’ve been trying to hide it,” he begins, but I wasn’t paying full attention, “but I just can’t anymore. I can’t stand the look on your face when you see my arms, or when you hold back a part of yourself from me. It’s been a year since we met, and I think the… attack has changed something.” I look at him incredulously. Now he has my attention. We never spoke about the attack out loud before, other than a few words. He still carefully ties around the makeshift brace as he speaks, “I-I think your scratches have… affected me. I think Mutation is contagious.”
I gape in shock. Contagious? What is he trying to say?
“I think I’m becoming a Mutant, Tigris. I can feel it brewing inside of me and mixing with my humanity. I think- I’m shifting into a wolf.” I stare with eyes wide. This boy who I know, with black curly hair and bright blue eyes, thinks he’s becoming a Mutant? I almost laugh at the thought. But then again, it would explain how he’s become so strong and powerful lately. In fact, are his eyes suggesting a dash of… yellow?
I wave the idea away. “It’s nothing. You probably have a virus.” I stand up with a grunt and limp farther into the cave. I don’t want to think about Trix, or the Force Squad, or the city, or the war. I just want to dissolve into black and allow the cave to swallow me whole.