ASHLYN JOHNSON– GRZEXP`
I sat in the cell, scraping away the wall with the stone. ” Another mark for another day” I thought as I stared at the tally, which seemed so small hidden among all the others. All 381 of them. Slumped against the wall, I held up my hands in front of my face. Pale from the dust and streaked with grime, the fingernails rotting away from time. Nothing like the glossy red nails that used to take their place. Maybe faint remnants of the scarlet paint still lingered, but nothing more.
I brushed a dry strand of my long black hair behind my ear, glancing up toward what used to be the window. Still closed off with a metal screen. Just like every other window in the prison. Maybe it’s for the best. People like me shouldn’t come in contact with the outside world. It wouldn’t be safe, for me… or for them. I was startled back into reality when my cell door clanked open. The two guards stood there solemnly.
“It’s time.” The one on the left said. His pale blue eyes were startling, sending a chill down my spine. I could feel them almost penetrating my soul…not that my soul had much time left anyways, not in this body at least. I nodded my head, my heart pounding out of my chest. I always knew that this day would come, I just hadn’t imagined it would be this soon. I was still only twenty-three. And my child was out there somewhere, thinking his mother was gone. Thinking she’d left him, when she’d really had no choice. I wish there was some way that I could tell him. That I could explain.
I got to my feet, the guards locking their arms through mine. Just like they had the day I arrived at the government protection facility. 381 days ago, along with thirty-one other defects, as we’re called. The problem began the day the experiment went wrong. The day the radioactive substance spread through North America, toxifying the air and wiping out the millions who came in contact with it.
It had been about a year and three months ago. I’d been married to Mark for seven months. I’d found out I was pregnant late in our engagement, and given birth to Declan not long after the wedding. I’d only gotten to be part of a happy family for seven months before the outbreak.
Mark had been on a work trip that weekend. I’d been outside, pushing Declan in his stroller through the concrete streets of Chicago. The buildings were tall and grey, which fit in perfectly against the cloudy backdrop. I had thought that the sky had looked slightly violet that day. I only wished I’d paid more attention. I don’t remember exactly…but I remember well enough.
A wind had come through. The streets were vacant of any sign of movement despite the occasional plastic Starbucks cup that the wind carried by. People had supposed it would storm. But what was about to sweep through here was much more than a mere storm.
It started to sprinkle, so I decided that it would be best for us to start heading home. A heavy wind slipped through, combing through my hair and stripping it of its hair band. I pulled my yellow raincoat tighter around myself as it started to pour, though the wind was so strong it nearly swept me off my feet. I knew something wasn’t right, so I ran, pushing Declan desperately in front of me. I had to get him home. That’s when the gas came.
It started as a thin haze, blowing in the direction of the breeze. The scent was strong and acidic. I gagged on the sour smoke, covering my mouth and nose. As it surrounded us, it stung my skin slightly. I tried to wave it away from my face but it just kept coming. It began to envelop everything, my skin, my lungs, my throat, burning it and cutting it off from air. I coughed, trying to clear it out but failing miserably, the toxic air stinging my eyes. The gas was cold and chilled my fingers so much it hurt to grip onto the stroller. What I could see through my blurry vision was engulfed in purple. A thick, purple haze that was impenetrable to my vision. I tried to scream for help but I couldn’t speak without gasping. Any sound I did force out was drowned out by my child’s cries and the harsh wind. Tears escaped my eyes, but they were freezing acid, and left sores streaking down my cheeks where the tears had fallen. I gasped for clean air but instead took in a breath of the stuff. With my free hand I grasped my throat, throttling myself to force it out but making no progress. The air was inside of me.
I felt it sink down, searing the sides of my throat. Then it reached my chest, sending pain through my veins from my heart. I screamed and fell to my knees, my child’s cries echoing in my ears. I remember one thing before everything went black. As I reached for my child, I saw my hands. Paler than ever with the veins bulging purple under the skin. With shaky hands I lifted Declan from the stroller, only to see that his small body glowed purple too.
I gasped as I was brought back to reality. That day was a nightmare that I never want to remember, let alone relive. When I brought myself to open my eyes, I felt tears spill out and down my cheeks. Stinging my skin slightly. I winced, using my fingers to wipe the radioactive tears away. Crying is not an option.
That was the day everything changed. I wasn’t the only one who was introduced to the substance that windy night. Most wound up dead within minutes. The survivors…well, they were placed under custody of the government. They tried their best to come up with a cure…but every day the illnesses got worse, and with it…our abilities. The agreement was, at the end of the year, if a cure hadn’t been found…the sick would be…well, how should I say this…exterminated. For the safety of our citizens. Not that they were doing too well in the first place.
The air was now toxic. Inhospitable. To simply go outside, you needed special hazmat suits, as well as a breathing mask and oxygen supply. In other words, people rarely go outside. This was not the world I wanted my son to be born into, but I couldn’t control that.
“La’velle!” I heard the voice of Rory, my closest friend, as I was led down the hallway. “What’s happening!?!” He clawed desperately at the bars of his cell as I passed him. I tried to ignore him but I couldn’t take it. I thrust my shoulders away from the guards and threw myself at the bars, breathing rapidly.
“Make sure my baby’s okay!” I gasped as the guards tried to pry me away from him. “Make sure he knows everything!” I tried to grasp his fingers but the guards tore me back.
“We have no problem doing this here.” The guard on the right warned me. I raised my chin. If I was going to go out, I wanted to go out strong.
“La’velle! She didn’t do anything!” Rory protested. The rest of the prisoners chimed in with similar remarks.
“So I’m supposing you want to be next then?” The guard threatened. Silence. “No funny business, alright? We’re doing this to protect people.” I kept my eyes locked ahead as they walked me towards the room at the end. “It’s nothing personal…” he said, a warning look in his eyes. That I understood, but it didn’t make me feel much better. Somewhere out there was my son’s father. If he found our child, then he would turn him in, just like he had me when I’d confessed the secret of my abilities. It won’t be long before he finds out about my son’s too. I can’t hide him forever, not from here. Suddenly I wanted out more than anything. If I could break out of here, I could make it. When the radioactive material penetrated my DNA, it had become a part of me. Using my body as a host, and as long as it stayed there, the air wouldn’t hurt me like it normally would. It wouldn’t hurt my son either. If I escaped, the guards wouldn’t have an easy time catching me. I’d have the head start. Getting out of here was the hard part…but staying was not an option. I could not let my husband find his son. My son.
At the last second I turned and shot out my foot, sending both guards sprawling on the floor. I bolted down the hallway, hearing the guard’s furious shouts behind me. I could feel the radioactive DNA acting up in my veins. The cell I’d been trapped in had suppressed my powers, but now I was free. Now I was dangerous, my veins visibly purple under my skin. My ears were ringing, but I could hear muffled echoes of footsteps behind me. They wouldn’t catch me. I heard blasts from their rifles explode into the walls behind me, crumbling and creating a blockade. After I’d gained enough momentum, I laid my eyes on the metal doors ahead. Three meters thick. Solid Iron. Made to prevent any attempt of escape. Ten feet away, five feet away. One foot away.
At the last second, I slammed into the doors. The impact caused an explosion that sent small metal shards in all directions. The pain that shot through me was almost unbearable. I felt blood run down my arms, down my forehead. Suddenly, I felt warmth on my eyelids, and the pain started to fade away.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself outside. The sun was setting, casting an angelic glow on my face. I hadn’t felt sunlight since I could remember. I examined myself. I was raw and bruised and bleeding all over…but I was alive. I tried not to think about Rory or any of the other prisoners still trapped in the Compound. I thought about my son. I would find him, I would hide him…and we would travel somewhere far away. Somewhere where the air was clean and it wouldn’t matter if our veins glowed purple.
I looked to the sky. I would find my son, and nobody would stop me, so I set off into the world in front of me, not looking back.