by Cam, 8th
I feel my eyes blink once, twice, as they adjust to the harsh lights, and I take a look around. Where am I? This room is made of solid concrete with an iron door. There is a window with bars over it, not providing any light or any way to look out. As if its taunting you. Saying “Try to escape!” The room is 1, 2, 3… 50 steps wide, and 1,2… 30 steps long. There is nothing in it. Just concrete, a light, the window, and me. Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing here? A million thoughts ran through my mind. What is this place? Then, the word pops into my head. Cell. That’s what this room is. But, don’t cells hold bad people? Am I a bad person? I look at my hands. They look like they haven’t seen the sun for a long time. How long have I been here? I wave my arms around. Something catches my eye. On the door in the very corner is an insect. A butterfly. I wonder what that means.
Buzzzz… my door slowly opens. A man in a white coat steps into the cell.
“How are you feeling?” the man asks.
I don’t answer. I’m not sure I can even talk.
The man continues like I gave an answer. “I’m Dr. Brown. Come, we have a lot to do!”
I follow Dr Brown down a hallway. There are a lot of kids there. They are all in identical cells. They are all wearing black uniforms like mine. The girls have hair unevenly chopped at their shoulders. The boys have hair buzzed almost to the scalp. All of them look at me in fear.
As we walk into a room, Dr. Brown says, “Now, we’re just going to run a few tests ok?”
Then, he proceeds to shuffle with some paper. Suddenly, he throws a book at me. I shield my face with my hands, bracing for impact, but it doesn’t come. Slowly, I drop my hands. The book soars down with them. I look at Dr. Brown, and he nods in approval. Testing myself, I flick one of my hands downward, and the book clatters to the floor. Maybe I should be proud, or happy, but instead I feel pure terror. Where I come from, people can’t do this. But, where do I come from?
Dr. Brown looks up from the notes he is writing. “You did a good job today. Most of the other kids are too terrified to do anything!”
As I walk back to my cell, I take a careful look around. There are guards at every door. They look attentive, but not scared. Not prepared. Because, what’s the worst that could happen? A rat runs down the hall? All of these kids are too scared to do anything. The guards have nothing to be afraid of. I might have to change that.
“Lia! Wake up! You’re gonna be late for school!” a voice wakes me up. I know that voice. I turn on the hard floor to a more comfortable position. That voice is so familiar. But I just can’t place it. Everybody around here has a soft southern lilt. This voice is sharp. No soft edges. Yet, I know it so well. Most importantly, Who is Lia? I turn to my side and fall asleep again.
“Nice goal T! Go get em!”
I sit up gasping for air. This voice has the same sharp edge as the last one, only, this one is coming from a man. I decide not to sleep anymore.
My door buzzes, and food is dropped in. Sitting on the ground, I try to levitate the tray to me. One arm out, I concentrate on moving the tray, and it moves. Slowly, slowly, I ease it through the air until it comes close enough that I can grab it. That’s when I get an idea. If I get strong enough, my powers can help my escape.
Dr. Brown comes in after breakfast. “I want to try bigger. Metal bending should prove if you actually have abilities.” Dr. Brown puts a few metal rods in front of me. “Now, this is aluminum, copper and iron. Bend all of them into a knot ok?”
I nod. Focusing on the aluminum, I bend and twist it into a knot. I do that to the copper and iron, too. Now I know I can do it, but on a bigger scale… I'm not so sure. I also have to take the guards into account. Each guard is armed with a gun, so I have to escape when the guards switch positions.
Back in my cell, I strain my ears trying to hear the shuffle of guards. 15 minutes after the sun sets, there is only silence. I count the seconds on my fingers until I hear shuffling again. 30. Thats how many seconds I have until the night guards come. I’m going to do it tonight. Then, I’ll find the voices. My voices.
“Lia, really? You ate all of the candy? That was for both of us, ya know. Dad! Lia ate all the candy!”
I sit up in bed. There is talking outside of my door.
“Yeah, we switch in 15. Hey! Y’all better shut up!” a rough voice calls.
For 15 minutes I strain my ears. I can hear the sighs and yawns of the guards. Some last shuffling, then silence. 30 seconds. I keep an internal timer ticking. I bend the door a quiet as I can and bolt. I just run, and follow the signs on the stairwell until I reach the door. I look behind me. I hoped for an uneventful escape, but when I turn around and look at the building, it is on fire with lights and alarms. Knowing I only have a few seconds until people go out to look for me, so I turn and run towards the lights I see in the distance.
I run through a park, and come to a crosswalk. I cross along with a few other people, and they are all staring at me. I look down. The uniform I’m wearing doesn’t quite blend in with other people’s clothes. I’ll need to swap. I walk down another sidewalk, and hear a man in front of me say, “Texas is so cool!” I see a store in the distance. So, Texas is where I am.
The store is bright and buzzing with color. I look around for something I like. I see a gray sweatshirt that I like, so I take one off the rack. I also take some jeans off another rack, and a purple t-shirt. An employee comes up behind me and says, “Do you like those? You can try them on in there.” He points to a dressing room. I walk into the dressing room, and look in the mirror. Brown hair, and dark blue eyes. A light sprinkling of freckles cover my nose. That’s what I look like. I never imagined myself. I don’t know if I’m pleased or not. I try on the clothes, and put my uniform over them after I pull off all the tags and sensors. I walk out of the store. In the corner of my eye, I see a black backpack hanging on the shelf, and use my powers to rip off the tag and drag it out of the door. I go into an alley and ditch my jumpsuit in a dumpster, then take off.
I pass a place with a lot of books and computers. I backtrack and look inside. There are a few couches, too. I look up at the sign, and it says library. I walk into the library and curl up on the couch, and before I know it, I’m asleep.
“Mrs. Anderson! Would you like to answer the question?”
I sit up, and look around. There is nobody in the library now. There is just the librarian unlocking the door to the library and turning on the lights. She goes to check all of the shelves, and checks the couch area. Somebody pulls me behind the couch.
“If you want to sleep here again, you should hide. We aren’t supposed to sleep in the library. We’re supposed to leave when the announcement comes on.”
It’s dark, and I can’t see the person, but I can tell they are a girl, and is about my age. We sit there in silence until the first person comes in.
The girl pulls me out, and I walk to the computers. I’m going to try to look for my voices. I power one up, and the screen tells me to sign in, so I type in a bunch of random letter combinations. None of them work. “You have to have an account. You can use mine, cause you look totally clueless. I’m Amber by the way.” then, I really see the girl. Blond hair, as uneven and as short as mine, brown eyes, and a black uniform. I point to her uniform, and point to my clothes. Amber’s eyes widen. “Oh! You can help me get those? Do you have money?” I shake my head. Amber nods in approval. “Ok, here’s the deal. You steal some clothes for me, and I sign into my account for you ok?” I nod, and we shake on it.
We decided to go to the store first, because that will be faster. We go to a store closer to the library, and I point to the racks of clothes, then a dressing room. I look around as Amber picks out her clothes. Afterwards, I take Amber to the ally to ditch her uniform, and we go back into the library. Amber signs into her account, and I don’t know where to start.
“You’re looking for your family right?” I nod, and she tells me to look up children who went missing 5 years ago. “I’ve been doing some research, and it seems like the organization only took kids born in 2004. I guess there is a certain year that the children have supernatural abilities or something. They want to turn us into war weapons.” Amber says. I scroll down the list of kids, and some of them look familiar. Wow. Amber was right. All of the kids were born in 2004. “I was one of the original kids. They took in about 50 in the first batch, just to test, while the other kids were sedated until they were needed. They must be pretty great scientists, because based on the fact that you can’t really talk, and are really pale and skinny, they kept you under the Xanax for 5 years. Must’ve enhanced it somehow,” I kept on scrolling.
It was quite overwhelming, hearing all of the news, but it was nice to know what happened to me. “So, what can you do? They organize you into groups based on your ability. What was on your door?” I try to remember. “Butterfly.” I say. “Ohhh, so you can talk! Cool, so you can move things with your mind. Butterflies are supposed to be the leaders of the army. I don’t know why they’re called butterflies. Can you fly?” I nod, then shake my head. “So you can levitate things but not yourself? I’m a ghost. I can become invisible.” She looks around, and disappears. “Woah. I wish I could do that.” if I could become invisible, I would be invisible all the time. It would be way easier to do everything.
As I scroll, Amber stops me. “That’s you! Click on your picture.” I click, and I can feel the nerves building up. What if my family doesn’t want me? The site says: Thalia Willow Anderson, age 10 went missing Thursday 4th of July at 7:30pm. She was last seen by her sister Hailey Alice Anderson age 13. If you have any information, call this number: (xxx)-983-6367. I have a sister. She must be the one yelling at me in my dreams all the time.
I smile, but Amber quickly shuts down the computer and drags me behind the couch again. “Check behind the couches!” a guy in a suit shouts. Amber grabs my hand, and whispers, “We’re invisible. Lets go.” We sneak around the men, wait until somebody opens the door of the library, and we run out. Amber and I head into an ally, and we breathe a sigh of relief. “That was close!” Amber says. I never want to go through that again. My heart was racing so fast, I thought the men could hear it. “We’ll obviously have to go somewhere else now. Another library.” Amber says.
We wander through the streets, until we see another library. We walk in, and Amber stops me. “We should call the number on the website. Maybe they can give you your parent’s address.” I cringe. The thought of calling as their daughter is really weird. “Can you do it? It would be so weird if I did.” Amber sighs, but agrees. She goes to they payphone, and picks up a quarter from the ground. She calls the number, and 5 minutes later, she has an address. 13 Eden Park, Long Beach California. “I can get us on an airplane, we just need to get to the airport.” Amber and I work out a plan, and I curl up on the couch hoping for the first time. I roll over and fall asleep.
“Hailey! Where are you? Help! Help!” my voice rings out from the darkness. “Shut up, will you?” a man turns around in the front. He looks like Dr. Brown. “Help!” I bang on the door Bang! Bang! Amber shakes me awake. “They know we’re here! Gotta run! C’mon butterfly!” We turn invisible and bolt out of the library. We run to a bus station, and Amber makes us visible. “That was close! You were tossing and turning, and the librarian called the police!” I shudder. I can still feel the fear I felt at that moment. “Bad dream.” Amber nods, and we go into a taxi. “To the George Bush Intercontinental Airport please.” the taxi driver takes us there, and when we open the door, Amber makes us disappear before he can turn around. Amber uses her ability to get us past security, and onto an airplane, where we proceed to camp out in the luggage compartment for 4 hours.
When we get to Long Beach, we steal some clothes, and go play at the beach. The water is warm, and the sun is bright. I’ve never felt so content. As we watch the sunset from beach chairs, the last rays of sun beating down on me, and the soft crash of the waves lull me to sleep.
“Thalia? Where are you? Come out! I have somewhere to go!” a girl with brown hair and blue eyes steps out. I giggle. “Gotta find me first Hailey!” I sneak out of my hiding spot, and tiptoe to another. Hailey creeps up from behind and grabs my waist. “Gotcha!” I sit up. The sun set, but the air is still warm. I look over at Amber, and she is asleep. I shake her awake. “C’mon. We gotta find a library.” Amber turns around. “Mmm. I was sleeping.” I laugh. “Lets go.”
We find a library, and right as we walk in, I see them. The men always seem to find us. We run around them, but even with Amber’s invisibility, on of the men sticks out his arm, and we both get knocked to the ground. I try to push him away with my powers, but the force field is only strong enough to block the man from me. He grabs Amber, and she shouts, “Run!” So I do. I sprint faster than I ever knew I could I run and run. Faster, faster… I take a sharp turn into a crevasse, and the men run past it. I turn into a library, collapse on the couch and fall asleep.
“Thalia, you need to stop misbehaving. You’re giving Hailey a really hard time.!” I turn, and see her. My mom. “Mom?” I reach out to touch her, but she turns and walks away. I sit up, and walk out of the library. I get a taxi, and the driver drives me to the house. My house. I walk up the driveway, and walk up to the porch. The house is two stories. All of it is white except for the window sills and the roof. I take a deep breath, and knock.
I’ve been imagining this moment for a long time. I want my mom to open the door, and call dad and Hailey. What I didn't expect was a boy opening the door. “Um. Hey. Sup?” I smile. This boy has blond hair and brown eyes. Not us. “Hi, um I’m Thalia Anderson. Do you know my family?” The boy’s eyes widen. “Holy shii- sorry. Holy crap! You’re the chick who went missing 5 years ago!” I roll my eyes. I definitely didn’t imagine this. Anything but this, 15 year old boy commenting like this was no big deal. “Yeah. I’m Thalia Anderson. Do you know them or not?” The boy looks around.
“My parents aren’t home. They can help you. The Andersons moved out about a year after you went missing. By the way, I’m Max. You should come in.” I step into the house, and Max closes the door. I drop my stuff on the floor and walk to the living room. I look at the fireplace. Memory floods me. There were pictures on the mantelpiece. Pictures of my family. And… a loose brick. A brick that came out of the wall. Hailey and I used to leave secret messages there. I run my finger against the bricks until I find it. I take it out, and behind me, Max says “Woah. I didn’t know that was there.”
There is a slip of paper there. I take it out, and it has my name on the front. I unfold the paper, and it says:
My dear, dear Lia. I’m so sorry I couldn’t catch you fast enough. By the time I got there, the car was speeding away. I hope you remember the loose brick, because when you come back, you can read this. When. Not if. There’s no way you won’t come back. No matter how long, I know you will come back. Mom and Dad have given up. They say there is no way you’re coming back. But, you are. If you are reading this, you came back. You came back, and we aren’t there. We moved because Mom and Dad can’t bear the memories. 21 Burke Street Salem, Oregon. That’s where we are. Where I am, thinking, or dreaming about you. Missing you. Come home Lia. You have one. We miss you so much. See you soon.
Then the tears come. All the tears I’ve been holding back these past 6 days probably the past 5 years, they come out. They just keep coming. “Do you need a bathroom or something?” I nod, and walk into the bathroom that I know is down the hall.
After a while, I find some scissors, and use them to cut my hair evenly. I open the bathroom door, and Max’s mom walks into the hall. “Oh! I was just about to knock! You can call me Mrs. Miller. Do you need anything? Why don’t you stay for dinner? Then I can drive you to the airport.” at dinner, Mrs. Miller tells me all the stuff I need to know about getting through security, and getting on a plane. None of this will work of course. I don’t have a passport. She doesn’t need to know that. Then, there is a knock on the door. I jump up, and run into a room. Max follows me. “What are you doing?” I open the window, and say, “Tell me if there are men. They’re looking for me.” I dangle my feet over the edge of the window. The jump isn’t far, I just need to hop down and run. “Yeah. There are like 5 of them coming into the house. Go!”
I hop down and run. It seems like I run away a lot. I run, get a taxi, and tell him to go to the airport. I sneak around everything. The security, boarding, and I get on the plane. I sit in the cargo area of the plane, and wait. Two hours later, we arrive. I run out of the airplane, and look around. Baggage claim, departures, arrivals.. There’s the exit. I walk there, and take a bus to town. From there, I walk to 21 Burke street. Its late, and I can hear crickets chirping, but I don’t care. I run up to the house, and ring the doorbell. Nobody answers at first, and I’m confused. I can see the lights on in the living room, but nobody is answering the door. I ring again. I hear somebody groan and get up.
A girl with brown hair and blue eyes answers the door. “Thalia?” Hailey says it like she can’t believe it. Like she is in a dream. “Thalia?” I nod I can feel the tears again “It's me, Hailey. It’s really me.” she gasps. She leaps into the air, and tackles me into a bear hug. Like shes been waiting to do this for 5 years. I have too. “Come on! We gotta see mom and dad.” just as she says that, mom comes into the room. She stops, puts her hand over her heart and just stares. Not believing it. “It’s me, Mom. I’m back.” Mom takes a step forward, and then another. “Thalia?” I nod. I take a step forward, and then crash into her arms. There, I melt. I should’ve experienced this for all of my childhood. Those men, they took that from me. I can’t wait to get it back. Mom calls dad down and he nearly falls over. My family is reunited again. It feels so good to be safe.
Hailey takes me to my room. “I clean it every week. I put in new stuff every year that I think you’ll like. I didn’t want you to come home to unicorns and rainbows.” I hug Hailey tightly. “Good night. I love you.” I say.
I step into my room and look at the room. It’s all relaxing. The walls are mint green, and there is a beautiful plant in the corner. My bed is black, and there is a white canopy. I have a white desk and a wardrobe. There is even a white hanging chair in the corner. “Mom gave me that for my birthday. I thought you would like it so I put it in your room.” Hailey is leaning in the doorway. “I really like it, Hailey.” as I get in bed, she comes over. She just stands there and smiles. “I missed you. Good night.” Hailey walks out of the room, and I turn off the lights. I look out the window at the stars. They are so beautiful.I can’t help thinking about Amber. Maybe she is looking at the same stars. With nothing to worry about, I fall asleep.
I wake up to the smell of waffles and coffee. As I sit up and stretch, I feel content for the first time in days. I walk downstairs, and Mom is sitting at the table. “Good morning! Did you sleep well?” I nod. I did sleep well. Better than I ever have. No dreams or anything. I sit down and eat breakfast. The waffles are warm, and for the first time, I realize how hungry I am. Dad walks down the stairs, and sees me. He smiles. “You know, I think the sun shines a little brighter now that you’re back.” I laugh. It's been a long night. “Or, maybe you slept in, Dad.” Dad looks at the clock in surprise. Then, he looks down at his plate. “I’ll just take these to go. See you tonight.” Dad rushes to work, and Hailey comes down. “Good morning! Waffles! I’m starved.” after breakfast, I’m watching television, when there’s a knock on the door. I turn off the tv, and listen to the conversation.
“M’am, we need to come in. This girl, she’s very dangerous. Why do you think we took her in the first place? Because we wanted to kill her? She was in a place where she could be monitored, but now she can hurt people!” Mom stands in the doorway, her hand on her hip. “She’s my daughter! You have no right to take her away from me.”
The man sighs like Mom doesn’t understand. But I do. Unless I want to go back to that tiny cell, I need to leave. Confinement without a family, or freedom without a family. I’d choose freedom any day. I run to my room and write a quick letter to my family. The family I knew for a day.
Dear Mom, Dad, and Hailey,
I guess this is goodbye. Those men will always find me. The only way I won’t get caught, is if I run. I can only be free if I run. There is no choice. I know you would choose the same. Freedom, or confinement. I’ll try to visit. Maybe I’ll be able to come back. I love you.
I put that on my desk, take my stuff, and jump. I jump down and run. I’ll always be running.
Oakland | East Bay, CA