“The stars are dead,” my caretaker told me once, her face now a shapeless blur in my memory though her words stayed as clear as the hue of the candlelight by which she had whispered them.
“Everything you see in the sky is dead. It’s the past reaching out to us. So, no matter what, stay alive even if all it gets you are some nights out of this hellhole where you can look up. It is better to look up at the past than to search for a future that doesn’t exist.”
They were ironic words, considering that Exist was the terrorist organization that had hijacked the North American governments following the Emergence. But people no longer called you terrorists when you were the ones in power and the people who had called you terrorists before had to become the terrorists in order to stop you. Not that they ever got far.
Whatever legends and myths become when they become even less of themselves but before quite disappearing, that’s what the resistance was now.
It was not long after my caretaker told me this that the men in dark uniforms came for her, dragging her across the floor by her hair past metal beds, their flashlights arching shadow demons on the walls until they were all swallowed by the night. She had gone searching for the future she had warned me of and paid for it with her life. But it also taught me the most important rule of surviving:
The only future was Exist.
Prejudice and fear of the Emerged fueled support for the new government. People were horrified to wake up one day and find their child levitating. It wasn’t long before the Emerged were classified as subhuman Aberrations and were traded as easily as cattle. As a teenager who was suddenly able to delve into people’s minds it wasn’t long before the slave traders came for me.
I still had dreams occasionally of the time before, fleeting words of Anishinaabemowin and the sound of my grandfather’s laughter and the taste of his too dry pancakes still lingered in my mind but fading away with each day of this hell.
After years at the reeducation center where I met my caretaker, I was purchased by Amnesty Grace Hospital to assist with coma patients--a task that I had been fulfilling for the past five years.
But never in my five years as a medical slave had my night shift handler, Nurse Patil, come in quietly.
“You have a patient you need to wake up,” was all she said. Absent was the typical rundown of the patient’s condition and absent was the mundane chatter she usually filled the air with. She would talk about anything and everything--from her kids, to her wife, to what color she wanted to paint her nails. Sometimes I think she talked so much so that I could feel like I was living too even if it was through her life.
But this time silence had made its home in the room.
Nurse Patil quietly used her card to secure my collar’s chain to her arm band and lead me into the hallway.
Despite having been here so long, the hospital staff still tended to give me a wide berth, and I could see this in the scurrying of feet away from us as Nurse Patil led me through the hallways.
As we approached the room, things were oddly tense, more so than normal. There were two uniformed men from the Admirium capital here watching us enter with dark, hawkish eyes.
The woman on the bed was hooked up to more machines than I could count. Her face and neck was mottled with bruises. It was clear that her breath was only due to the machine which forced air into her lungs. Restraints were around her frail looking arms and legs, strapped down so tightly to her that they were biting into her flesh. The sight of the unnecessary brutality of the restraints made my stomach roll and anger rise in me but I quickly quelled it for my sake.
Restraints were only used in cases of psychiatric emergencies. Perhaps, she had harmed someone when she had gotten here. Perhaps she hadn’t and had just made someone angry. Whether or not she had, one thing was very clear.
“She won’t make it,” I dared to say. Nurse Patil was the kindest of all my handlers, and I knew she wouldn't pull out her Sound for such a comment.
To my surprise though, her fingers fisted into my flesh suddenly, neat, red nails pricking through the paper gown I wore.
When I looked up at the hand tightened on my shoulder, I suddenly realized how unlike herself she looked. She was normally poised at all times, pristine no matter the situation. Her blonde hair, typically in a tight bun, was now falling out of formation, her hair tie not having quite given up but clearly on its way there. Her pallor was white as a sheet which sent my pulse racing.
“Do whatever you must do--she must wake up long enough to speak to Them. She must wake up.”
My paper gown crunched unhappily beneath me as I took a seat next to the bed, my eyes watching the struggling rise and fall of the woman’s chest.
She had a grandmother’s face, a kind face with caverns carved into it by worry and the erosion of time but there was a distinct lack of laugh lines.
Was she the mother of someone on the Council of Edict?
“Aberration.” I startled as a Sentry walked in and closed the door behind him. “Begin. Now.”
Taking a deep breath to cleanse my body of all worries and to find a focus, I asked, “What is her name?”
Little did I know that question would have the Sentry blowing the whistle that vibrated through my collar and sent an earthquake shattering through my head. I fell to my knees, biting my tongue on the way down as I clenched my teeth so hard I thought they would break. The Sounding was a common punishment for disobedient Aberrations.
Nurse Patil insisted, her arm raised like she wanted to stop him but her fear rooted her in her place, “Please! Knowing their names raises her success rate.” The whistle faded but still no name was forthcoming.
“Eradine, just wake her up,” Nurse Patil pleaded, and this time I understood what she had been trying to communicate to me this whole time.
Wake this woman up or we would all die.
I pressed my hands to the woman’s worn face and let my eyes slip closed as I tuned into her.
The first thing that I remembered seeing as my sight started clearing from the blurry haze, was orange slices. They were empty and drying, their peels curled upwards with hours or days spent exposed. A glass sat next to them, liquid drained, dust settled around the still moist rim.
My mind was just as empty, save for the thick haze of confusion that made it difficult for thoughts to cut through and swim to the surface.
It was like walking through a snowstorm of memories all at once, mine and hers.
Life changes in a blink of an eye--
Ashes from a house fire were trembling in my arms as I held onto the bundle despite it scorching my flesh--
Feathered wings soared far above me and sounds tore from my mouth as I whimpered like a wounded puppy--
I had been forgotten on a cold sidewalk and choked by cigarette air as dirty hands reached for me. Then light and reverence as blood dripped from my hands. And at the eye of it all was--
“Miss,” I said gently, approaching the elderly woman who was kneeling in a garden of daffodils that perked up to greet her. “Are you alright?” I asked, not quite sure how else to approach this serene woman.
“You don’t look so good to me,”
The woman started, most likely just as surprised that I had understood her as I was to finally hear Anishinaabemowin again.
Her presence was a warmth that filled me from head to toe with a feeling of belonging, of familiarity.
We stared at each other, my eyes searching hers before I finally ventured, “Do I know you?”
“No,” she immediately responded, her brown eyes kind. “My name is Maggie. But I know all my kin when I see them. Recognition of each other is something they will never be able to take from us no matter how hard they try to stamp out our identities.”
“I did this to myself, dear,” she revealed. “You cannot wake me up unless I will it. I have had far more practice than you were ever allowed to.”
“You’re Feral,” I realized, now understanding the Sentries and the fear that Nurse Patil had.
“I’m Free,” she corrected. “There is nothing wrong with not being a slave. Our powers are our own and we should use them as we wish. The true feral ones are those who have di”
“Eradine, I will be honest with you as I doubt they have been with you. They want you to bring me out so they can torture all I know from me before they kill me themselves.”
“Eradine,” Maggie said, her eyes boring into mine, “how would you like to be free? Truly free?”
The danger that lurked beneath that question...
She took the heart shaped lock from around her neck and placed it in my hand, her presence emanating from the small, scuffed thing.
“Take this, dear. It will all come in time. I would rather entrust it with one of my kin of the mind than to let one of Exist’s so called Council of Edict force it from me.
“I-I can’t,” I stumbled, confused. Nothing physical I collected from mindscapes ever manifested in the real world. Her gift was not something I could keep with me or keep safe nor was I even sure it was something that I would want to. To be Feral was to be marked for death.
“You can. You just don’t want to. But we all do what we must,” was all she said before she placed the dingy heart shaped locket in my hand and clasped hers over it as the scenery around us began to melt down, colors and coherence now a trapped deluge of watercolors swirling down a drain as she dragged everything down.
“She’s awake,” I heard Nurse Patil say, relieved, as I regained consciousness of my current surroundings. The beeps, the sterile smell that burned my nostrils, and the monitor that echoed in time with my own racing heartbeat all felt like too much too soon.
Maggie’s eyes popped open, and I felt something between our clasped hands, pulsating with heat, before the Sentry violently pushed me out of my way to get to her.
My head hit the corner of the air conditioning unit, causing my ears to ring, the voice of the Sentry fading in and out.
“Magdalene Amolsa, by the order of the Council of Edict you are hereby required to submit to us all illegal knowledge you hold and the whereabouts of your co-conspirators.”
As he continued repeating over and over his line as he raised his hand to slap her hard across the face, I took the opportunity to shove the somehow real locket into my bra.
It was then that I noticed, simultaneous horror and the deepest respect that I had ever felt in my life, that Magdalene did not react to his abuse. In fact, she wasn’t reacting to anything. Her eyes were vacant and unseeing. And as more Sentries began to enter the room and the men rounded on Nurse Patila and me, the locket continued to pulse next to my heart before it sunk beneath my flesh, carrying what remained of Magdalene with it.
About the Creator
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters