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Mortal - Chapter 36

by Liv 5 months ago in Series
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What is life without death?

Mortal - Chapter 36
Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Premise: In this young-adult dystopian novel, people can no longer die. But they still feel pain, and suffer--and it's maddening. Because of the chaos that ensued, the US Government created a program to figure out how to kill people. When Garrett, a teenager, falls into a coma for weeks as a result of an experiment, the Program sets its malicious sights on him.

This is the thirty-sixth chapter of the novel, Mortal. Click here for the beginning of the story. Or, click here to view all chapters.

The paint on one of the walls in the recreation room seems to be fading. The color is definitely less bright than the others. I’m not sure why there is a difference. Did the painters run out of a certain color, and accidentally got a shade too light? Or maybe the painters forgot to put another coat of paint down. It could be because— A plated turkey sandwich slides towards me, the grinding sound of metal against hard plastic attracting my gaze.

“Garrett,” Therese states my name firmly. She’s sitting across from me, her jaw clenched and eyes moist with worry. “You need to eat.” She pushes the tray farther, so that the metal tray prods my chest.

“I’m not hungry,” I say quietly. My eyes drift towards the door after I hear it slam shut. I can’t hide the shiver of dread rolling through me, tightening my limbs for an evaporating moment. A straggler late for lunch saunters in, damp hair pushed back over his forehead. My eyes shift back towards Therese, shame warming my cheeks.

The daily tests have taken its toll. Each day bleeds into the next. Sleep is just a mere stitch that shows the change in days. Everything hurts, a dull aching pain, to the point that nothing hurts. There’s nothing left, nothing left in me to fight. I remember that fateful day when Edward came to interview a patient. I remember the Secretary chose me because I looked the most youthful and unharmed, the most alive. I know when I see myself in the reflection of a glass cup or plate, that it’s no longer the case.

I have to feed myself the strength to fight. Everyday, I have to force myself to consume it—the only nutrition that truly matters anymore.

“Starvation can’t kill me,” I point out gently.

“I know,” Therese gives me a pitiful look, “Which is why I’m telling you there’s no reason to continue to do so.”

Her accusation sits heavily on my shoulders. I swallow thickly. I can’t deny it. I can’t deny that I wish I was dead. I’ve tasted what it’s like to live. Even if I was always on the run, I was still accompanied with the feelings of what it was like to have a choice, to mean something…to love. And since I’ve felt it, I know what I will never have again, and I know that what this is now, this is no way to live, no such thing to call a life.

I shrug helplessly against the weight.

“Dammit, Garrett,” Therese growls, slamming her scarred fist against the table. “If you won’t do it for yourself, if you won’t do it for me,” she chokes on her words, tears welling up in her eyes again, “then do it for Lucy.”

My heart clenches up at the sound of her name. What does she even think I’ve been doing? Lucy is the reason I am still moving forward in this so-called life, even if it is with trudging feet. One shriveled, cowering part of my mind desperately continues to hold on to the hope that Lucy might still be hanging in there, fighting just as hard as she always has, to surface herself, and there is nothing more I want than to be there when she beats out the debilitating fog.

“Lucy fought this until the very end,” Therese states, her voice hard. I wince against the unsaid pronouncement of her death. “You owe it to her, to at least do the same.”

“If I die,” I begin, struggling to contain the stirring anger in my gut, “Then everyone here…they’ll be free. Project Eden would cease to exist.”

Therese chuckles darkly, “I never asked you to be a martyr, Garrett. I sure as hell never asked you to be mine.”

Therese gives the tray another shove into my chest. I suck in a shallow breath, feeling its impact against one of my bruised ribs. Why did she care so much? Why did she care so much if I lived or died? What did she expect from me? That I would somehow remain whole after all that’s happened? Did she really think that I was strong enough not to break?

Therese rises to her feet. She holds me with a disapproving stare one final time before clearing her throat briskly, “I’m gonna go see Lucy. I’ll see you at dinner.”

She leaves me to face the unbearable dread alone. I struggle to swallow against the dryness in my mouth, and soon later taste the sour of hot bile, feeling my stomach gently heave up anything it has left to offer. I watch the sandwich, picking at the flesh around my fingers underneath the table. I exhale a heavy breath, closing my eyes against the fear, twisting its hot fingers through my gut.

I barely hear the door open, followed by the hitching of fearful breath, spilling out in echoes across the room. The hairs on my neck stand up on end, and my fists clench, blanching the skin. I wonder if fear can kill me. It has certainly made me wish it could. Tears prickle at the sides of my eyelids, but I hold them in with a steady intake of air.

I flinch against the gentle hand on my shoulder, and jerk away from its pitying touch. Addison has been my assistant ever since I’ve returned, her sweet perfume stifling. I hate her the most, so it only makes sense that she’s mine.

“Garrett,” her soft voice punctures through the roaring in my ears. She no longer calls me by my number anymore. She’s seen too much of me to go back to that. She’s seen me bleed, she’s heard my screams, whimpers and cries. She’s seen what should have been me die and die again, only for me to return with just one less piece of me. She calls me by name because she feels like she knows me. She calls me by my name, and it enrages me—she only know what pain defines me.

“I’m coming,” I snarl out, finally forcing myself to face her over my shoulder. Her bright green eyes are lined with red, like they usually are when she comes to get me. She swallows hard, taking a hesitant step backwards as I slide off the bench to stand beside her.

Her lip trembles as she nods slightly, before leading me out of the recreation room and down the hall, other pairings of assistants and patients dispersing into the doors that line the concrete enforced corridor.

Addison stops in front of the door about a few hundred feet from the nearest elevator. She knocks on the door once, before pushing open the door with a slight nudge with her shoulder.

She holds the door open as I walk into the test room. A dry cough escapes me at the pungent smell of cleaning chemicals. The lounge chair, similar to the one that I sat in as my blood was drained, is pushed into the corner. The floors are covered in a pale linoleum. Stainless steel cabinets and a countertop frame the grey walls. A doctor with steely eyes and greased dark hair stands behind the counter. He’s glancing down at an opened file that I can only assume is my own.

When his eyes shift up at me, he smiles thinly, blue eyes glimmering.

Addison clears her throat, “Doctor Barnabas, this is Garrett.”

The doctor’s smile widens, and he steps around the counter, “Please, that’s not necessary, call me Henry.” He holds out an outstretched hand, and I’m too stunned by the gesture, that I let him clasp my hand in a genial gesture, his firm fingers gently squeezing mine.

“Right,” he says, quickly releasing my hand, whirling back behind the counter, “Let’s get this over with, shall we?” I can only see his back and the top of his head as he crouches behind the counter, opening and reaching into a drawer.

I bite the side of my blistered lip, not knowing what to expect from the man. I have never seen him at Project Eden, much less heard his name murmured in the halls by frightened patients.

Barnabas straightens his back, placing a bottle of laundry detergent on the metal counter. I cast my eyes down quickly, my stomach knotting at the sight of it.

“Poisoning by consumption today, I’m afraid,” he says, and my eyes dart back to his face at the genuine sadness in his voice. My heart leaps at the find that he is also watching me with careful eyes. He finally blinks, jerking his attention towards Addison.

“Addison, do you mind?” he asks, shuffling towards the sink. Addison brushes past me, moving to the back of the counter. “One whole cup should do the trick,” he states quietly, handing her a stout glass. Addison looks at it critically, her brow furrowing as she turns it in her hand before setting it down on the counter. She turns the detergent bottle over, allowing thick, opaque liquid to drool down into the glass.

I stare through the transparent glass, my throat constricting at the thought of the sludge slipping down my throat. Poison was never fun. It is one of the few tests that involve your body being attacked on the inside rather than at the surface. The damage could be irreparable, not to mention the process of detox was less than desirable.

Addison returns to her post by the door after twisting the cap back onto the bottle. Dr. Barnabas returns to the counter holding another glass, this one filled with an amber-tinted liquid.

“Bottoms up,” he looks at me with a mischievous glint in his eye, lifting his glass up to his face.

I blink back my incredulity, glancing back at Addison who looks just as uncomfortable.

“What?” the doctor questions with a quirk of his eyebrow, “Poison is poison.” He gestures to me with his glass, and obediently, I grab my own cup, my head whirring from surprise.

Addison steps forward then, “Sir, I’m not quite sure this is entirely appropriate…”

Dr. Barnabas’ hard gaze looks at her over the rim of his glass. He licks his lips, “And I’m not sure torturing fellow sentients is entirely appropriate either, but that certainly hasn’t stopped us, has it, Addison?”

Addison flinches against the heavy-handed allegation, ducking her head in submission.

His gaze turns to me, warming slightly, “You ready, Garrett?”

I nod jerkily, clutching the glass to my chest, my hand trembling. The stench of the acrid soap burns the hair of my nose. I swallow hard, bracing myself for this bout of pain.

Barnabas lifts his glass to me, “Cheers,” he drains the liquid in one gulp, wincing away with enjoyed pain.

I get a handle on my nerves and follow suit, swallowing the entire contents of the glass. My eyes scrunch shut against the burn in my throat, the bitter taste on my tongue. I set the glass back down on the counter shakily, my eyes peeling open.

Dr. Barnabas looks at me with a slight curve of his lips, helping himself to a refill of scotch, “And now we wait,” he says, quietly, taking a sip of his drink. My vision swims, my sight shifting so that Dr. Barnabas looks as if a length of glass displaced half his body from the other.

“Garrett, maybe you should sit down,” Addison hesitates, stepping forward, her eyes wide with fear.

Hot tears leak from the side of my eyes as I try to gulp in a breath, the muscles in my throat constricting from the scalding pain. My stomach whines in protest, and I clutch a hand over it, feeling it jolt and squirm in alarm.

“Garrett,” Addison approaches me, grabbing my upper arm.

Anger and confusion pulses through my head, and I push her away, the force sending myself to the floor in a sprawl of tangled limbs. I heave in a breath, the side of my face pressed against the soothingly cold tile.

“This is disgusting,” I hear Addison murmur, her words slow and murky in my head.

“And yet you more than volunteered for it,” the doctor responds, nonchalantly.

“I signed on as a psychiatric assistant, someone to help the patients recover from the pain, not cause it!” Addison bites back, “What’s your excuse?”

“I don’t have one,” he replies calmly, “And I know that with what we’re doing, I don’t deserve one either.”

I can tell by the sharp intake of breath that Addison wants to speak, but the knock on the door cuts her short.

My eye wanders up to the door to see Addison pull it open and greet the guest.

“Mr. Secretary,” she breathes as the very man moves briskly past her. I close my eyes briefly against the pain and dread of his arrival.

His feet stop a few steps in front of my face. “This is a sore sight,” he comments coolly, before moving away, and towards the other man in the room.

“Haven’t spectated many tests, I take,” Barnabas guesses. My arms shake beneath me, but I force myself into a kneeling position, my head reeling and back drooping forward.

The Secretary faces the doctor, his eyes narrowing slightly, “No, I’m afraid there are more important things that hold my attention.”

Henry Barnabas’ eyes drift toward the magazine in Paracot’s hands, before darting back up to meet the man’s gaze, “Right, the formalities.” I barely notice the ebbing mockery in his voice.

The Secretary notices too, “On the contrary, Doctor, in this line of work formalities are everything.”

The two men exchange introductions and a handshake.

Dr. Barnabas smiles tightly, his eyes flashing to me before returning to the man of his primary focus. “What gives us the priority today, Mr. Secretary?”

“As it happens,” Paracot turns his attention to me, “Edward Gild has sent me a preview copy of the latest issue, and you’re on the cover.” He flips the magazine over to face me. The picture Edward took of me from our first interview with gaunt cheeks and sunken eyes staring into their reflection is plastered over the front cover, the title reading, The Lies They Preach. At that moment, I turn away, leaning forward, and retch up bloody vomit, my palms slapping into the smooth floor.

I wrap my arms around my middle, rocking forward, while groaning through the renewed burn in my throat and mouth. A cold sweat trickles down my temple, and I glance up, slowly, seeing the starting twist of a grimace on Addison’s lips. She reaches over the counter, pulling open a cabinet. She retrieves a couple of sterile rags from the top shelf and begins to clean up the mess. My face burns with embarrassment, shielding my gaze with damp locks of hair.

“It’s okay, Garrett,” she says softly as she covers the red and mucus-y yellow bile with one of the towels, waiting for it to soak through before replacing it with the other.

“Are you happy, Garrett?” The Secretary asks, my eyes sluggishly returning his gaze. “This is what you’ve always wanted, Eden exposed for what it is. Are you pleased, Garrett?” He crouches in front of me, so that we’re level with each other. He’s smiling, his dark eyes glinting.

I manage to narrow my eyes, swallowing against the tickling blood that coats the skin of my throat.

“I am,” Paracot responds, his expression softening, “I told you once before that it wouldn’t matter. That no one would care about what we’ve done, not when we have you.” He tilts his head slightly, watching me with cold, curious eyes. “Do you really think I care what happens to Project Eden? I am more than happy to fan the fire of its approaching destruction. What I care about are its results.”

I cough against the strain in my throat, blood splattering down my chin. I grimace, wiping the speckles of blood away with the side of my wrist. When he first said those words to me, I didn’t believe him, but I know better now. But society’s indifference is a double-edged blade. Just as it won’t care about the suffering Project Eden caused, will it care about the man’s generous success. “And what happens to you?” I croak out, swallowing quickly as another gush of blood fills my mouth.

He smiles mirthlessly, a resigned calm deep in his eyes. “Don’t worry about me.”

And that’s when the power goes out, the bright fluorescents fading into a chilling darkness.

Addison gasps, the sharpness of rushing air making my neck prickle. The Secretary slowly rises to his feet, cautiously looking over his shoulder as the blueish glow of the emergency lights swells beneath the walled cabinets, sentencing the room to long fractured shadows amongst the pitch black. I blink blearily, my eyes adjusting to the sudden change of light.

“What’s happening?” Addison rasps out, her voice shaky and raw. The whites of her eyes glisten in the icy chill of the room.

I shift uncomfortably against the shared tension, my head still pounding. Dr. Barnabas leans against the back wall, his gaze lowered and stormy. The Secretary stands in the center, right in front of me and beside the counter. He gradually turns his head, scanning the perimeter of the room. Addison is tucked in the corner, closest to the door.

“It appears there’s been a power outage,” The Secretary explains carefully.

What?” she sputters out, blinking hard, “How?”

There’s a groan of metal somewhere out in the hallway, followed by heavy footsteps, a shriek, then a gunshot.

“Addison, lock the door!” Paracot commands, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

The echo of the gunshot ripples through me, stealing my balance, knocking me to my side. Addison obeys with a quiet yelp, her arm shaking as she fastens the lock before pressing her back against the door.

I suck in a breath, fists clenching as I push myself back up, my teeth gritting from the weakness in my limbs.

“What do we do?” Addison murmurs, silent tears shining on her face.

The Secretary ignores her, glancing down at me warily. He moves behind the counter, bends down as he opens drawers, absently searching their contents for something of use.

“Why are we being attacked!” she shrieks. I recoil, a shiver running down my spine. Her fear is palpable, coaxing out my own anxieties that I’m trying to stomach. Project Eden is under attack.

“Someone answer me!” Addison cries again, her back still pinned to the door. I scoot away from her, the emotions she projects catalyzing racing thoughts, scratching against the confines of my mind.

Paracot rises from his crouched position, staring Addison down with blazing, dark eyes. “Oh, someone will answer. But it will be someone from outside that door with a gun pointed at your head if you don’t shut your mouth,” he threatens. My heart skips a beat, as I watch him. From the man who keeps his true emotions in a steel hold, there has never been so much expressed anger seeping through the cracks of that fortress.

There’s a soft chuckle from the back of the room, and all our heads whip towards it. Dr. Barnabas continues to lean against the wall, a wide smile on his face, his blue eyes glinting with unshared knowledge.

“You’re in a panic, aren’t you, Arthur? It’s…refreshing,” the doctor says, finally looking up to meet the Secretary’s analyzing stare.

“Who are you?” Paracot asks steadily, turning the whole of his body to face the man. Addison and I exchange troubled looks before redirecting our attention to the two men.

“One of many who’ve been waiting a long time to see you fall,” Dr. Barnabas replies darkly. And now I’m not sure that he’s even a doctor at all, instead that he’s one of the many roaming the halls with heavy footsteps, eliciting surprised shrieks and gunshots.

“And how do you suppose to do that?” The Secretary asks with a soft snap.

Cold, prolonged chills fall along my spine like heavy sludge when Barnabas’ gaze shifts to me. His eyes are void of any emotion except a fervent hunger, a predatory stare that only longs for one thing.

“I’m sorry, Garrett,” he says quietly, the cold glow in his eyes remaining.

I part my lips to speak, only to find that I’m at a loss of words. What does he want? Why is he— One of his hands slinks behind his back and under his jacket; I gasp in a breath, my heart seizing.

A bullet finds its way into Dr. Barnabas’ chest. I jolt back, yelping in shock. Somewhere behind me, Addison stifles a scream. Blood swells from the wound slightly below his heart, a globular path of red soaking its way through the white fabric of his shirt. He slides to the ground, groaning, the spasming of his fingers releasing the gun he held in his grasp. I spin my head around, my whole body shaking, to see Arthur Paracot standing squarely, a gun raised in his left hand with grim shadows contouring his face.

I swallow back the realization—this man just saved me, and I look back to the man breathing heavily. The only reason he is upright is the wall supporting him from behind. The hand once holding the gun, covers his wound, liquid crimson steadily trickling between the crevices of each clenched and blanched finger. He coughs, blood spilling over his chin. He manages to tilt his head up, so that his dimming yet still severe gaze meets the Secretary’s own.

“One of many,” he burbles out, emphasizing each word. Blood sticks to his teeth. Out of the corner of his eye, his penetrating look finds me before his muscles slack and he loses consciousness.

Nobody moves in the darkness of the room. We listen to each other’s breaths, they slow, they calm. Only when I’m satisfied with the placidity of the people around me do I slide forward, crawling towards the bleeding out man.

“Garrett, get away from him,” Addison croaks out in protest. Of course, I ignore her.

I don’t know why I check, because I’m not surprised when I see it. On Barnabas’ wrist, there’s a four-digit tattoo. He’s a Corpse. I close my eyes against the revelation, the wave of uncertainty. This isn’t the first time that a Corpse has tried to kill me. This isn’t the first that they’ve showed up in the most unexpected places. But they’re leading the attack on Project Eden which means…

I push myself to my feet, staggering, wincing as my throbbing head protests against the sudden and overwhelming use of energy. “You’re not working with them,” I grunt out, incredulity sharp against my lips.

The Secretary continues to stand, unmoving. The gun hangs limply at his side. His head jerks in my direction, but his eyes still cast a dark, wary look at the collapsed man before him. He doesn’t answer, as if it’s not as obvious as it is to me. Maybe it isn’t.

“The Corpses,” I clarify. Without looking, I point to the unconscious man behind me.

A spark of recognition hits Paracot’s eyes, and finally looks up to face me, “No.”

His confirmation hits me hard— that means there’s two groups trying to kill me. A pained, brief thought makes me wonder what Lucy would think of this.

“Garrett, are you saying that VitCorp ordered this attack?” Addison asks, hesitant to believe.

“That, or it was unofficially lead by the Corpses,” I shrug. Technicalities aside, Corpses are attacking Project Eden. And they want me dead.

“We need to move,” the Secretary states with a cold urgency, sliding his gun back into the waistband of his pants.

“How?” Addison questions quietly, “We’re trapped.”

“And we’re going to remain trapped unless we free ourselves,” he retorts with a sly smile. He crosses the room towards the Corpse and grabs the gun from the floor.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave the room,” Addison persists, warily glancing back at the door as if it would burst open at any moment.

“You’re right,” The Secretary concedes, eventually focusing on her, “Which is why you’re staying here.”

“What?” Addison startles, breath sputtering from her mouth, “Why?” Her eyes lock onto Barnabas.

“Someone has to make sure he doesn’t alert his friends,” He explains, nonchalant. “I left my communicator in my office. I need to confirm Benjamin and his team are aware of the situation.”

My fingers come up to my face to touch a phantom ache of an old wound; Benjamin’s hard punch to my jaw once I found out what he and his team had planned for Lucy. I push those thoughts away, wincing.

Arthur Paracot stares at me with mild curiosity. I blink away the haze of weakness and tortured memories. I stare back, bracing myself for a choice I know I’m going to have to make.

“I’ll need you to come with me,” he says, eyes glinting with the knowledge of my conflict. “They’re after you, and you aren’t safe here.” He holds out the Corpse’s gun, offering me the weapon.

I stare down at it, swallowing the taste of blood. I know what he’s asking, what words are left unsaid but are all that I hear. The idea of siding with this man, urges acidic bile into my throat, sentencing me to a bout of vertigo. Arthur Paracot has tortured hundreds of people, mocked their pain and helplessness. He deceived me in the worst possible way. He killed Lucy right before my eyes. This man is evil, and there is nothing more I want than to see him fall.

Arthur Paracot wants me dead, a complete contradiction to the most primal instinct to survive.

But VitCorp also wants me dead. They’ve shot me, they tried to take me away from my freedom, as illegitimate as it was. And now, they’re inside Project Eden, with guns, hurting the people I care about. I wonder why they’re doing this, why they’re shooting random people if just to get to me. It makes me sick.

I realize I have no choice at all.

I grab the gun from his open hand, a handshake of our temporary truce. I dare to meet his gaze, pulling away from the gravitational lure of the weapon.

He gives me a knowing smile, “I trust you’re not going to shoot me, right, Garrett?”

“Don’t tempt me,” I growl out, pulling the gun closer to my chest, gripping it tight.

Paracot gives me a faint nod, the smile never leaving his eyes. He leads the way, to the door, unfastening the lock with a firm flick of his finger.

Addison lingers by the door, “I still don’t think it’s—“

“Addison,” The Secretary addresses calmly, looking her in the eye, “Don’t let him take advantage of you.”

I see her nod once, shakily, masking her fear with subtle resignation before Paracot silently pulls open the door, and the two of us step into the depths of night.


About the author


Massive Nerd. Pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting!

IG and Twitter: livjoanarc

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