| Cargo |
Repulsion poured over my reality in thick, fluid layers of purple. Hazed in red hues, my eyelids fluttered to see a steel-framed window arching above me holding smudged frames of dancing bluebird skies. Limp feminine fingertips rested against the bare skin that covered my ankles. A dark curl that didn't belong to me lay serendipitously under my left elbow. With strain, I lifted my neck out of dense drowsiness to see legs stretched over a hardwood floor. There were fifties of women next to me, in identical positions, comatose on the base of an old-style moving freight train. And there I was, among them. In a few clarifying moments, the walls of my throat came together until oxygen was army-crawling in and out of my lungs.
"Holy shit." Gasping, I pulled my legs to sit up, catching another sleeping woman's hair with my movement. I turned to the girl next to me, no older than twenty-five, and tapped the apple of her cheek with urgency around the edges of my breath. "Wake up, wake up."
Her eyes squished together before ever peeling open. The features on her rose-colored face transitioned into harder lines of a dead-tired annoyance.
"Hey." I tapped the sleeping stranger harder.
Her eyes were black before they were green, the dilation in them quickly retreating to a pinpointed look of focus. In a moment of seeing me, her body moved like a cat's - jolting up and inward.
"What the..." A look of shock passed over her as she lifted her head to the scene around her. I did not let her process for a single moment.
"I think we've been kidnapped." I heard myself murmur over the audible sounds of my own heartbeat. Saying the words pushed the blood through my body at velocity. For I was no longer made up of organs and cells. There was only the lightweight paralyzation of my own fears. As a politician's daughter, I'd never actually experienced danger at any scale. Traumas of the world came to me through a screen. And while sometimes I felt a ping of guilt looking through the glass at my father's actions boiled down to politicized bullet points in tiny boxes online - my resting heart rate never actually exceeded 70bpm. And if it ever got close, I'd just close the box. Mom says high blood pressure is bad for your skin.
The girl next to me was ducked low, craning her red head to swivel at the scene around us. Momentarily, she seemed somewhat accepting of the view. "We're actually so fucked." A quiet gasp came out of her mouth before she buried her face in her hands. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"What? I can barely hear you." I leaned in closer.
"Would you lay down for Christ's sake? We're probably being watched. I said what is the last thing you remember doing before we got here?" Her tone seethed hot under the chilly coat of a whisper. I didn't realize I was the only one sitting upright in the car until that second and quickly put my elbows and stomach against the wooden floor.
"Uhm...' I whispered trying hard to see through the fog of lethargy between us. 'I was actually at my dad's speech...Yeah. I think I was? Then I went behind the capitol building to meet uhm...this one guy I'm not supposed to be seeing. But, I can't even remember if I saw him..."
The girl was flat on her back locking eyes with the steel-plated window still dancing mockingly above us. "You're like thirty. What do you mean you're not supposed to be seeing someone? And what speech?"
Instantly, I felt this mystery girl connected to me through the bridges of traumatic experience was an unsafe person to confide in. But, what other choice did I have? It's not as if I'm a girl scout with a manicure. I couldn't be delusional enough to think I have any of my own survival skills.
"I'm twenty-seven, actually." A look of shallow-rooted accusation shot toward her. "And my name is Mila...Gregory."
She rolled her ribs over on their side to meet my stare with interest. "Gregory? Like your dad is my shitty-ass governor?"
With acceptance, I nodded. I knew better than to argue with someone who probably knew politics much better than I did, regardless of my neverending family tree.
"Well, the SWAT will surely be here to save us once they realize you're gone." The girl said sarcastically before rotating to her back once more.
"My father would stop at nothing to locate a group of missing women. I can assure you of that."
"Are you seriously going to say that after female-owned bank accounts were banned yesterday?" I watched her spit into the air in fiery volcanic undertones. "Your father hates women."
"There's actually good reason for-"
"Oh, shut up." She seethed under her breath. "Your family is a goddamn misogyny factory. It always has been. If it weren't for your grandfather, my mother probably could've gotten the abortion she needed and spared me from talking to you." She rolled her eyes in her head, seemingly transferring whatever alarm she felt into a state of deep annoyance. "The only reason any of us are going to have a shot at getting help from whatever's happening here, as women, is because you're on board Barbie. And even that's a maybe."
I quietly turned my head to face the other direction, resting my face against the floorboard of the moving train. It wasn't often I faced this speech in person. In fact, the only time I actually did, the words came from behind the safety of red tape and pressed suits on my way to the state car. I tried to avoid the type of girl laying next to me. Usually, all I had to do was close the browser. But today, there was no 'x' in the top right corner of my world. If I wanted to survive, I knew I had to play the game.
A few quiet moments filled only with sounds of the train passed before I turned back to face her. "I hate him too, okay? I was in the process of starting my own company. And now I can't."
She stared back at me blankly, seemingly without an ounce of sympathy.
"What were you doing, anyway?" I prodded further.
"What?" She whispered.
"The last thing you remembered. Before you were here."
It wasn't until this moment I realized we were in matching hospital gowns. Seashell green, barely covering our bodies with a foamy-based sheet. Someone had undressed and redressed us in our induced sleep, which gave me a trace of anger. Collectively, we resembled nothing more than cargo.
"I...I think was at the Capitol protests. Trying to save my fucking bank account. The apartment my girlfriend and I live in is probably being evicted as we speak. Your dad's an even bigger dick for pulling that announcement on the thirty-first. My complex wouldn't even take cash this morning."
I swallowed hard before trying again. "Okay...Do you think your girlfriend is on the train?"
"She's smarter than me and fled to her parents after the news. I was shortsighted and went downtown to scream at the dictatorship." The girl sighed and rubbed her hands against her face again.
"What's your name?"
"Delaney. Not that I should tell you." She didn't turn to look at me when she said it.
I nodded because a 'nice to meet you' didn't feel right. I turned over to my back and stared out the window, hoping for any form of distraction now that silence hung a curtain from the prior conversation. I caressed my hand over my paper gown to gain a false comfort through feeling the familiarity of my own body. Fear crawled over the quiet like a blanket until the train hit a bump without losing speed. The wheels had carelessly plowed through something and the sound of several women's skulls hitting the car's hard floor followed shortly after. Despite the impact, none of the others seemed to even wake up.
Moments later, both doors on either side of the train car opened. Indistinguishable male bodies, hairline to toe in Nomex, entered the room, stepping between limbs of scrambled dormant women. I stole a glance at Delaney, desperate for an example of what to do at this moment. Her eyes were now shut, mouth gaping open, just like the other girls. She was pretending to be out cold. Quickly, I mirrored.
Through squinted eyes, I stole glances of my own fate. The men picked up women in pairs, one at the ankles and another at the wrists, slowly moving them in and out of the moving train cars. The only sounds made were those of heavy feet shuffling across the train car and rusty hinges on the old doors swinging open and closed with an oxidized reluctance. Small stretches of time passed when there were no men in the room as they were transporting each woman to their new location - whether that be a different room or the side of the railroad tracks. During one of these moments, I let myself seek comfort in Delaney once again.
"Delaney..." I gasped under shaking air. "I'm so scared."
She tossed her neck to look at me once more. "Welcome to the club, Gregory. Most women have been scared for years."
At the sound of the rusted door cackling on its hinges, we both turned back into staged sleep. But, this time the sounds of heavy boots on the floor were coming toward us. I fell helpless to a grip around my ankles and wrists. Next to me, I felt the presence of a similar outcome around Delaney. I held all the air in my body in anticipation, as if I could preserve it for a later moment. In a matter of seconds, Delaney and I were carried to different sides of the train car, out the doors, and into a state of unknown.
| Wineglass |
Piercing air cut through the new rooms I heard myself entering. Goosebumps decorated my skin as I remained in a limp hang between two men. If sound was an indicator, I traveled through many cars until I reached my final destination - which did finally come after several worrisome minutes. As the grip around my limbs released, I was laid on top of what felt to be a stretcher on wheels. Eerie classical music flooded the room in beautiful gothic tones. When I heard the doors open and close again, I fluttered my eyelids to steal an underhanded glance at the scene around me. Sleeping girls surrounded the large train car, each on a rolling cot. There was a large screen at the head of the room that showed a rotating digital double helix and an EKG underneath. There were also several conscious women at the front of the room, standing with hair slicked back in sophistication: a look that complemented their matching white lab coats. They stood in an assembling line, rolling bodies like mine on stretchers toward a focal point in the frontmost area of the car where the only female dressed in a black lab coat stood. In one hand she held a large syringe and in the other - a wineglass. The lab technicians surrounding her were rolling new women toward the ground she stood, each with cords and wires placed around the green hospital gowns. The centerstage woman in black would steal a hasty glance at the screen, inject the syringe, and take an effortless sip from her tumbler. She repeated the process over and over as new unconscious persons were presented. The whole scene looked like a bad science-fiction spinoff. I closed my eyes back into myself and swallowed hard. This was going to be much worse than I thought.
"Governor Gregory called again." The female voice was barely decipherable underneath the sounds of wheels and closing doors. "He's worried his daughter is caught up in the operations." My heartbeat quickened with relief and fear. How was my dad tied to all of this? I let my eyelids flicker to catch glimpses of the conversation with my vision.
"And so what if she is?" The lady in black called out after sticking another woman with her syringe. I could see her dark hair and red lipstick more clearly now after being wheeled in factory lines, closer to the front. She took another sip from the glass. "He's the one who says this technology works. Shouldn't he trust its reliability enough to be used on his own daughter?" She swayed as she spoke with the movement of the train. I went numb to my body watching. "We all had the syringe. Didn't we?" She said pausing to look around at the other women. "It didn't kill any of us. Did it? We're under strict time pressure with the doses these women are under. We cannot safely administer more. We need to get this done. On-time. There is no room in the schedule to search for the Gregory girl when she will live as intended either way." A white lab coat snuck up behind the woman to refill red wine into her glass. The woman in black went back to poking syringes into the bodies that rolled in front of the ground she stood.
A weak voice came from a white lab coat in the corner. "We are under government orders not to medicate the Gregory girl if we find her."
Complicated alleviation came over me. While there were larger questions about the operation going on here, I would be spared from the obscurity of the woman in black and her needle. Deep oxygen pushed out of me and I kept my eyes closed as I was wheeled closer to the front. I was going to be okay. Yet, the piano music blasting on speakers around the car carried an intense and ominous beat that seemed to challenge the thought.
Adrenaline mixed in my bloodstream as I felt warm breathing over my head. I was at the front of the room now, being prepared for the woman in black. I fought my instincts to maintain the imitation of sleeping.
As a technician lifted the sleeve of my gown to attach a cord underneath, there was a gasp. "I think I found her. She's got the cursive 'g' tattoo Governor said to look out for."
My body continued to roll on wheels down the line. "Should we call?" Another voice came from the other side of the room.
I traveled further to an eventual hard stop. I didn't have to see her. I could feel her hovering above me perfumed in scents of wine. A year passed in those few seconds. No horoscope or Wheel of Fortune could get me out of this. There was only the lady in black.
It happened fast and I heard it before I felt it. "Pish posh." was spoken over me in dancing fumes of booze. And then a needle broke through my skin. Within split seconds, an electrical current invaded my body. And despite my breathing lungs - something inside of me, deeper than my own heartbeat, withered away.
| Girlfriends |
My cell phone was dropped hastily back in my hands as if to distract me, while I sat upright in a folding chair in the corner of the scene. My father was on the train now and I sat watching him, pointing fingers at various Nomex-covered men, with veins protruding from his neck.
"We woke her up as soon as we realized. She has no idea." A male voice escaped in muffled murmurs.
"Get me Doctor Vivaldi. Now."
Thick boots shuffled out of the train car, leaving me alone with my father. Mixed feeling were trapped inside the pocket-sized space. The room was no larger than a bedroom closet, with various pipes and switches decorated on every wooden wall. I watched him gather himself in a swift moment before turning on his heels to face me.
"Sweetie...I'm so sorry you're here." My father crouched next to me with a tired gray look on his face. His hand was resting on the round of my knee in a counterfeit transaction of empathy. "This was a grand mix-up."
"Dad. What the hell is going on here? There are so many women just like...completely knocked out. What are you doing to them?"
My dad scoffed, pulling his arm back and shaking his head. "I wouldn't expect you to understand. It's very high politics Mila. And very confidential."
"It's...an initiative. One that we've had for a very long time. For women who can't afford healthcare. Or...healthcare puts them in danger. With their abusive households. There's a secret waitlist and I'm getting them the care that they need. This is a good thing. The waitlist is years long. We're saving lives on this train."
My memory backtracked to Delaney. The fear scripted all over her face when she woke up. And the disgust in her gaze when I told her my last name. Now, looking into my father's eyes, I understood.
"Then how did I get mixed in? I have no historical medical issues."
My father chuckled in obvious frustration and put his hands up. "That's what I'm aboard to find out." He turned his back to me and began pacing. "You must've looked just like one of the candidates."
"But why not go to a hospital? Why are we on a fucking train? How did I even get on?"
"Mila! It's high politics." Something inside my father snapped. "You'd never understand if you tried. We're protecting women here. I'm protecting women here."
At that moment, there was a hard knock on the door. It opened automatically with the woman in black's hand on the knob.
"You wanted to see me?" A matter-of-fact tone escaped her.
"Mila. Excuse us, please. Just wait outside."
I stood up from my corner chair and dusted off the gown I was still in, grabbing my cellphone off the base of the chair.
"Nope. I'll take that." My father's hand plucked the device right from my hands and pushed the door open with his foot, signaling me out of the car. The woman in black traded places with me, the smell of wine still single-file behind her.
"You give me one good reason not to kill you right now." I heard my father say under the rusty hinge of the door. A shiver went down my spine as I felt the pain lingering from the shot in my arm. What was I injected with?
I crossed over toward the next train car, which through the window, appeared exactly like the one I'd woken up inside of today. I placed my hands around my eyes to diminish the sun's glare from my view and gazed inside. Women, dressed just as I am, were being lifted off stretchers and back onto the floor. The men in Nomex placed a metal ring around their heads before injecting them once more, this time on their feet. A wet tear fell down my face, for reasons I didn't know, but could feel deep in my stomach - trying to speak to me in a lost language.
And that's when I felt the train begin to brake. I shifted on my heels to turn back toward my father, but instead, a steel-plate blow to my head knocked me out cold.
The comfort of my own linens greeted me when I woke. My mother was in the corner of my room in a pink Victorian chair that we'd had within the family for ages.
"My poor baby. You got attacked at your father's speech." My mother rushed to my side, grabbing my hand. "Are you okay?"
"That's not what happened. There was a train-"
"Oh...you sweet thing. The doctor said you might hallucinate a bit. You're on medicine now."
"No. That's not-"
My mother squeezed my hand with something darker than sympathy. "Yes. It is." She shook her head. "Unbelievable that someone would attack you...Just makes me sick. You need some rest. For your head. I hate to see you so confused baby. Text me if you need."
I stared at her in disbelief while she left the room. My phone was charging on the bedside table, next to the remote and I promptly grabbed it. There were six missed calls and several messages from Cody, the boy I wasn't 'supposed to be seeing.' Cody was outward with his feminist political beliefs on his verified Twitter, which given the nature of his convictions, my father saw as a threat to our family's image. I found it an empty reason to stop dating him, as he left the government out of our romantic relationship. We'd been sneaking around for almost two years in a deep trance of passion. We wanted it all together. And were close to having it. We'd discussed an engagement this winter that would break me free to a new last name to make my own decisions under. He was going to help me start my business under his bank. But, now that I'm staring at his name at the top of my screen, I couldn't remember why I ever wanted any of that with him. My fingers slid to open Cody's messages:
C: 'Meet me behind the capitol building after the speech. I've got some news I need to share with you...We will get through it together. I love you'
C: 'It's twenty after. Are you alright?'
C: '@GWatch289555 on Twitter just shared that he saw women being snatched up inside of protest crowds behind the Capitol? Please tell me you weren't walking through them to find me?'
C: 'Mila...I am so worried. Can you answer?'
C: 'There's a Twitter thread of over a hundred girls that are missing after your father's speech. What's going on? Is someone holding you hostage?'
C: 'My dad and I will be driving around the city until you're safe. Text me if you ever see this. Hold tight. We're going to find you.'
The messages should've made me sick. They should've made me angry. They should've made me scared to ever leave Cody's arms or be inside of my father's. But instead, I felt nothing. Cody suddenly felt make-believe in a faraway land that had come and gone. As if something converted deep inside of me and I woke up from one nap with no trace of feelings that I'd ever loved him. Or that he'd ever been in my life at all. And while I knew that he had, I couldn't quite remember why.
Instead of replying to his concern, I numbly turned on the television across from my bed. My arm stung as I reached for the remote, stiff from the shot I'd been administered just hours before.
A news anchor in a purple suit appeared on the screen with a double-wide smile stretched across the canvas of her oily face.
"We found them! The girls missing from this afternoon's protest have all turned up in the hydration tent next to the train station just north of the Capitol. Family members have been searching for hours and are more than relieved to see the familiar faces were just overheated in that hot sun. Most of the girls have been recovering and are ready to go home. All of this really makes you wonder about feminine biology...and our ability to withstand the heat? I'll tell you, I'm just left with one question: Why did no men overheat?"
With little interest, I watched seashell green hospital gowns move across the screen like they'd been bitten by zombies. Hazy, confused, and calloused. My own mirror image. The smiling reporter pushed her way into the monotone crowd, grabbing a red-headed sound bite by the shoulder.
"Sweetheart, what's your name?" The reporter asked. I shot upright at the sight of her...the same way she had, just a few hours earlier.
"Delaney, may I ask what happened to you out there today at the Capitol?"
"I....actually don't remember."
"What brought you out on this hot day to protest, anyway? Was it Governor Gregory's new policies about bank accounts?"
The camera revealed a pride tattoo on the wing of Delaney's elbow, with the female symbol replacing the 'i'. I squinted harder at the sight of her. She looked different than she did on the train. Like she was already dead.
"No. I don't see anything wrong with the policies?" She said with a deep sigh and a bored look out into the distance.
"You don't?" The reporter challenged while obviously inspecting her tattoo with condescending eyes. "Really?"
"Nope." Delaney popped an O-shape with her mouth.
"Do you have any friends or family here to pick you up? A girlfriend maybe?" The reporter tried a new angle.
"Girlfriend? Ew. Not me." Delaney chuckled in a state of convicted disbelief, shuffling awkwardly between her heels. "Gross."
My mouth fell from underneath my jaw. With shaking hands, I quickly pressed the remote's power button not needing to see anymore. Not wanting to. Something was off. The edges of my mind were fading into a state of confusion. Which parts of it were still mine?
My strategy with my family had always been to stay in the dark. To nod my head. To stay out of politics. There were a thousand other matters to fill my life with. But I knew now that my blind eyes had been uprooted from their very sockets. I'd already been contaminated to unfeel. And yet, there was no way to unsee.
The only choice left was to move closer to the magnifying glass. Because I might be the only one who can. Because maybe it's never too late to wake up. At least for now, I had to believe that. For the other girls, for Delaney...for myself.
I had to do something. Even if it went against my father. Even if I lost everything I'd ever known. Even if it meant getting back on that train.
I swallowed hard before I sent the text to Cody.
M: 'Do you know where I can get a lab coat?'
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