Tom’s hand hovered over the doorknob. Could he do it? Should he do it? He had never attempted to leave home in his life before now. Why would he? He could hear his mother’s whispering words. Words that told him of a dangerous, disease ridden world outside the safe confines of their home. His father had already died from the Virus, and everyday his mother would tell him that unless he stayed with her, he would die too. His mother was the only person he ever knew. Well, in the flesh anyway. He had lots of online friends, and one of them convinced him to meet up in real life. Tom’s heart raced at the thought of meeting her. They had spent hours messaging back and forth, telling each other about their day, their boring lives, their hopes and their dreams. Tom closed his eyes and pictured her profile photo. He pictured her red hair, her green eyes and freckled skin. He pictured her slender body and small breasts. And he pictured himself being with her, far away from their prison houses. Almost without him even realizing it, he called out her name: Cindy. He repeated it again and again like it was a charm.
He glanced at the clock. It was midnight, the time they had agreed to meet. Cindy told him that if looked, he would see a flair in the night sky, visible from the front porch of his home. It would be easy enough to see, since Tom’s house was the only one for a half kilometre in open country. With a renewed sense of urgency, he opened the door and quietly let himself out. The air was still and cool, and the stars bright. As he shut the door behind him, he half-wondered if he would come back. He loved his mother, but there was more to the world than her, and dangerous or not, he wanted to see it. He had not planned to run away, but the temptation tugged quietly at him.
Then he saw it. A bright green flair soaring across the darkness. Tom tried to see where it was coming from, but it was pitch black save the moonlight. He saw the flair a second time, then a flash. The flash repeated itself. And Tom began walking in it’s direction. As he walked, part of him began to wonder what he was doing. Why was he leaving his home to meet some girl in the middle of the night in no man’s land? What would his mother think? Again, he pushed the thought aside. It was only going to be one night. He would be back. And his mother wouldn’t even know he was gone.
The flashing continued, and Tom quickened his pace. Then he began to see the silhouette of a vehicle. He had never seen one in real life before now, but he saw them enough times in pictures and movies to know one when he saw it. It was a black van, and Tom began to wonder what Cindy was planning. As he approached the van he saw to figures in the front seats, but neither of them looked like Cindy. They were two men. “Where is Cindy?” Tom asked.
“Cindy couldn’t be here tonight,” one of the men replied in a flat tone.
“But she said to meet her here,” Tom said, suddenly not sure of himself. “Where is she?”
But the only reply he got was a sharp sting in his neck, followed by a sudden fatigue sweeping through his body. Tom’s vision suddenly went blurry and he felt his feet give way.
“Put him in the van, quick!” he heard someone say. But that was all he heard before everything went dark and silent.
Tom woke up to find himself in a square room with three other boys, each one seated in a corner. Without speaking, Tom dragged himself to the remaining vacant corner, and surveyed his cell mates. They were all adolescents, like him. For a long time, nobody spoke, and the boys’ faces were marked with such fear that Tom dared not ask anything. Did he really want to know what was going on? Then Tom thought of Cindy. Where was she? Was she ok? It slowly dawned on him that for the first time, he was away from home, in a strange place with other boys he had never met.
Suddenly the room’s only door opened, and through it came three men with white coats. One of them, a small man, was holding a clipboard. He scanned the room, and the boys cowered beneath his gaze. The other two, who were standing directly behind him, were much larger. The man with the clipboard pointed to the boy who was sitting in the corner nearest to Tom. “Let’s start with that one,” he said.
Then two of the men grabbed the boy and dragged him out of the room as he kicked and screamed. The others looked on, paralyzed with fear. Then the man’s eyes fell on Tom. “That one, too.”
Tom did not resist. He felt as if he was in some sort of dream, and for some reason, he felt no motivation to resist anyway. Between large arms he was taken through a long corridor and into another room where he was strapped to a bed. He was alone with the men and did not see the other boy. The man with the clip board came in and studies him. “Where is Cindy?” Tom asked. “What did you do with her?”
“I’m Cindy,” the man said.
“I was the one whom you were chatting with all this time. The picture you saw was of a girl who is dead.”
“She died in an unsuccessful clinical trial, but she still managed to yield useful results. Hopefully you will succeed.”
“Let me go!” Tom said. He felt a sudden surge of rebellion, as if waking up to reality.
The man peered at him. “I guess the drug is wearing off. It’s designed to induce compliance, but it only lasts a short time.”
“What are you going to do with me?”
The doctor replied casually, “Hopefully make history, and put an end to the plague.”
Then a sudden memory came to him. He had read stories online of scientists trying to find a cure for the Virus. He had even read about people dying in failed attempts. “But I don’t have the Virus,” Tom protested. “How can you cure me when I don’t have it?”
“But you do,” the man said. “Why do you think your mother never allowed you to leave? Because she knew you were infected.”
“But I’m not sick,” Tom insisted. Indeed, Tom was rarely ever sick with anything beyond the occasional tummy ache. “How do you know about my mother.”
“That makes you a carrier, and you’re the most dangerous sort,” the man said. “It also makes you the most valuable for research.” He continued. “We’ve been studying you for years, Tom. We tried to get your mother to place you in our care, but she refused. And granted that we still have laws, we could not force her.”
“What is this place?”
The man did not answer. Instead he took out a large syringe and injected it into Tom’s arm. There was little Tom could do under the restraints. A quantity of blood flowed into the syringe, and again Tom was getting the feeling that it was all unreal. Was Cindy really a fake? The man withdrew the syringe and placed it in a box. Then he took another syringe. It contained a blue substance, and in almost the same spot, he inserted the needle. Tom watched as the liquid disappeared inside his vein. Again, Tom felt anger surging inside him. He didn’t know exactly why he was angry, but it made him less afraid. He refused to believe the man. Cindy must be somewhere in the building.
“Where is Cindy?” Tom repeated more forcefully.
But the man continued to ignore him. Instead his eyes were fixed on the monitor as beams danced across the screen. Tom then did something he had never expected to do. He pulled against his restraints. He pulled and pulled and pulled until they snapped. He did the same with the ones on his legs. By the time the man saw what was happening, Tom had already grabbed the man by the collar of his white coat and flung him against the wall. He heard a dull cracking sound as the man slumped to the floor, motionless, his eyes opened wide in shock.
Tom hardly had time to process what was happening. All he knew was that he had to get out of there before the others found him. He exited the door through which he was dragged, and as he stepped out, he saw the bodies of the other men lying in the hallway. Standing over them were the other boys. One looked terrified, looking at his hands, feeling his body. Another looked on in glee as he flexed his muscles, while the third locked eyes with Tom. In that moment, he and Tom shared an understanding that whatever was going on, their priority was to get out of wherever they were being held. Then the sound of heavy footsteps filled the hallway, and soon more men like the ones the boys had just killed came rushing in. Tom’s first instinct was to run, but he felt a sudden strength and courage that he could not deny. The other boys must have felt it too, because even the one who was at first frightened rushed at the men. Tom and the others joined him, and together they punched their way through a mass of flesh, muscle and bone. By the time they reached the nearest exit, there were a dozen bodies littering the floor.
Tom’s heart was racing, and every part of his body pulsated with an energy that he could not explain. The blearing sound of an alarm ripped through the air. Tom stood nearest to the exit; the other boys stood behind him with expectancy. When Tom pushed the door, it didn’t budge. The boy who had flexed his muscles suddenly ran up to he door and rammed it with his body, ripping the door from his hinges. The door fell flat on the ground, and Tom and the others stepped out into the open. They all looked at each other, frightened and confused.
“What do we do now?” One of the boys asked.
“We go where we like,” Tom replied. “I want to go home.” But as Tom looked around, all he saw were buildings surrounded by a large fence. Sirens wailed in the distance, and Tom knew he was not going home anytime soon. He looked again at his body. He looked at the blood on his clothes. As if of one mind, the other three nodded in agreement, and together they broke through the fence and ran into the night. They would find answers later, but until then they were fugitives.