“Zero-Zero-Three-Two, report,” A voice shouted from in front of the crowd. I pushed my way past other kids, and stood in front of him.
“Zero-Zero-Three-Two, reporting,” I said to him. He looked down to me.
“Three-Two, you have once again been caught attempting to fight the doctors. You will return to your room, and a harsher punishment will be decided later,” The man replied. I didn’t know his name.
“Fine,” I replied. I turned back to the crowd, and pushed through them again. All of the confused children with buzzed heads looked at me as I passed. There were whispers as I walked away.
“He’ll be first.”
“They hate him.”
“Do you think so?”
“No. No one ever has.”
Their gray clothing merged into one color as I left. Once I had gotten past them all, I didn’t bother to look back.
I walked down the hallway, until I found my room. 0032, the sign next to it listed. I opened the door, stepped in, and sat on the empty ground. The door locks on the outside, so that once I entered the room I couldn’t leave.
I looked to my own grey sleeves. They were torn up to my elbows. I tore off another piece of the fabric from both arms, and tied them together on one side. Then, I threw the cloth over my neck. I tied the cloth closed from under my chin. It was very tight, but it stayed in place.
I smiled to myself. This would piss them off even further. What else could I do? I wondered to myself.
I stood up from the ground. The only light I received was from a dim light bulb that was too far out of my reach for me to do anything with.
Remembering something great, I took off my sock on my left foot. I shook it out to no avail. So I reached in with my other hand and pulled out a small rock. I had stuffed it down with my toes, so that I could do more to anger the people here.
I put my sock back on. I reared the rock back and threw it at the light above. The small rock missed its mark, and returned to the ground. I picked it back up and tried again. After a few more times of this, I eventually did hit the pole-shaped light. It cracked. It took me another few throws to get the rock to hit the bulb again.
Yet, with determination, it struck the bulb one more time, and the bulb shattered all over the ground. The room was suddenly pitch black.
Carefully, I lowered myself to the ground. I gently slid my hand along to find the shards of glass. Once I did, I swept as many as possible into a small pile, then swept them in front of the door. The door opened outward, so whoever stepped in would be in for a rude awakening. I sat next to the door, but just far enough away that the light that came in would make me invisible.
All that was left for this ten-year-old to do was wait.
Sometime after I committed to waiting in place, the door did indeed open. “Zero-Zero-Three-Two. Report.”
I stayed still. I stayed silent.
I held my breath steady.
“You broke the light. You little bastard.” The voice stepped into the room, and I heard crunching.
“Oh, and you thought you would set some sort of trap for me? Fuck, you aren’t the brightest.”
Shit! He was right. I forgot that it’s only us who don’t get shoes. They still do.
“Come on you little shit. Let’s go,” The voice commanded once more.
The light from the door lit most of the room. All he would have to do to find me was look over. I needed him to step in more.
“Zero-Zero-Three-Two. You have one more chance to get over here before I make your life a living hell.”
I let go of my breath, and dove at the man’s feet. “Shit!” He shouted as he fell. I got off of him quickly, and shut the door, keeping us both inside. Both of us were stuck inside a pitch black room, with no way to tell where the other was except for sound.
And I was wearing socks.
“Damn it, you fuck!” The man shouted. I skittered to the opposite side of the room. He grunted as he stood. “I’m going to find you, shitstain. Let’s make this easy.”
I heard the man take another step. There was a very loud crunch underneath as he did so. The glass shards had stuck to the bottom of his shoes. Every step he took made crunching sounds, but each crunch got quieter. However, they never really went away. Neither did the heavy breathing of the man.
“Three-Two, this is the ballsy-est you’ve ever gotten. Too bad you’re wasting it on getting a fucking beating.”
I kept the layout of the room in mind as I snuck around the walls. I would get to the door at one point, and I would see if any of the shards were left, or if any were large enough to do anything.
We both took tentative steps. The difference were that the man’s were audible. This unnamed man.
Eventually, I found the door. The man’s footsteps weren’t near me, so I got down and brushed my arms across the floor to feel for a glass shard. There was a large one, one that would do exactly what I needed it to do.
I stood up from my place. “Okay fuckface, I’m by the door.”
Pounding. Footsteps pounded toward me. I dashed aside, and ran behind where I thought the man was. I heard him hit the wall and swear. I danced to where the sound came from, and jumped onto his back. He reached at me, but it was too late. I knew exactly where everything on him was. I found his throat quicker then he found the arm that I was using to hold myself onto him. The glass shard found his common carotid artery quicker than his other arm could lift itself to try and stop me.
I heard the man gurgle as he fell. I breathed heavily. He might be fine. He might not die. I should be worried now, right? That is what happens when you do something terrible, right? You go crazy and feel bad? You care about what’s happening?
I crouched down and felt the warm body beneath my fingers. I didn’t care about him. I wanted him dead. I was furious with whomever he was.
I pulled my hand away from the body. It felt moist. I wiped it away on my pants. However, it just got moist again. I was bleeding.
Only a couple more minutes passed before someone else showed up. They opened the door, saying the familiar phrase “Zero-Zero-Three-” before cutting it off to shout “Jesus Christ!”
The new man bent down and put his fingers on the body’s neck, the opposite side from where I stabbed.
“You killed him,” he said as he lifted his fingers away.
“Good,” I responded. “Good!”
My back was killing me. It was also poorly bandaged, and I could feel the soaked rags covering my back. I was in the mess hall again, with all of the other kids. Specifically, I was with my friends Zero-Zero-Four-Two and Zero-Zero-One-Eight. One-Eight was a bit older than I was, but Four-Two was a bit younger. I called Four-Two “Fort” and One-Eight “Nate.” They called me “Ruth.” Nate told me it was short for the word “Ruthless,” and he thought it sounded better than what I used to be called. I used to be called “Threet.”
“Ruth, you know that they’re going to just get rid of you, right?” Fort asked.
“I know. They are going to kill me anyway. They are going to kill all of us at one point. Nate is the closest one to his own death. He only has a few years left.”
“Jesus, Ruth,” Nate replied, “That’s pretty intense. I mean, I know you just killed a man, but christ.”
Fort and Nate had plates of food ready, and were eating. I had no plate. Fort and Nate were watching for chances to slip me a couple bites of food.
“If they wanted me gone that badly,” I said, “They would have killed me already. Clearly, I’m valuable to them. I have something special that they want.”
Nate shook his head. “Yeah, your organs. You haven’t slept on a bed in weeks, and you just killed a person. Like, you’re fucking intense. I think that makes your heart tougher or something. Like, there’s no way they’d want to pass that up.”
I shrugged. Fort slid a piece of slodge my way. I scooped it up and packed it into my cheeks. Fort spoke up, “I don’t really think that any adults could use a ten-year-old heart, anyway. I think that they need, like, bigger hearts.”
I shrugged again.
“Ruth, you know you’ve got some huge bags under your eyes, right? Did you even sleep last night?” Fort asked.
I smiled at him. “Not really. Ten lashes can do that.”
Fort and Nate exchanged a glance. “This is the third time this month, Ruth. There’s no way you’re doing alright while you bleed from your back consistently.”
My smile widened at Nate. “The doctors can’t properly check my health or take any blood from me while I’m at risk like this.”
Nate frowned in response. “Yeah, sure, but it also means that you can’t do anything to protect yourself if you’re feeling so weak,” Nate stood up, “Let me see your back.”
I shrugged. “Go ahead. But if you take off the bandages, be ready to put on new ones.”
Nate tugged at my shirt, lifting it up from the bandages. He gently placed his fingers upon my back. I winced at the contact.
“Ruth, look at my fingers.” I did so. His index and middle finger were both red. “You’re still bleeding right now. You’re bandages haven’t done anything.”
Again, I shrugged. “That just means the doctors can’t take any blood while I’m at risk.” Nate shook his head.
“Damn it, Ruth,” Fort said. “If you die, then who’ll keep the other kids from picking on Nate and I? You’re lucky you’re alive right now.”
Nate piped in, “If that whip had hit your spine just right, it could have paralysed you.”
I guess he had reason to be worried. They were kind of nerds. However, Nate was the one who told me about our scars and our common carotid arteries. That’s also how I knew where to stab the man last night.
“Even if I do die, Fort, anyone who has the balls to pick on you will regret it,” I wasn’t sure if I was right, but I certainly hoped I was.
“You think your legacy is that strong, Ruth?” Fort asked.
I thought about what he had asked for a moment. “Honestly, not really. But now that you’ve brought it up, I’ll make real fucking sure that it does.”
Fort looked away from me. Nate didn’t. “Ruth, you aren’t going to die.”
I turned to Nate. “We all are. Some sooner than later.”
Nate closed his eyes, and hit his fist on the table. “Fucking damn it, Ruth. Fucking fuck, fuck,” he murmured. “You aren’t going to die.”
I sighed. He was trying to make himself feel better. I was going to die, and he knew it.
“Wait. You’re right, Nate.”
Nate looked back at me. “What.”
“Yeah, I’m not going to die. I’m going to get the fuck out of here. I’m running away from this place. Tonight.”
Fort suddenly shot up. Nate put his head in his hands, but not enough to keep him from looking at me.
“You’re crazy,” Nate said.
“So?” I responded.
“You’re not going to get out of here. Nobody does.”
“I’ll be the first.”
“If anyone can do it, it’ll be Ruth,” Fort cut in.
“Fort believes in me, Nate. Come on, I’ll do it and you know it.”
Nate laid his head down on the table. “Not with your back the way it is, Ruthless. You’ll collapse who-knows-where, and you’ll be taken in and harvested before you can fully die.”
Fort shook his head. “Dude, Ruthless killed a dude with a fucking light bulb. A. God. Damned. Light bulb.”
Nate shook his head. “He got lucky. He’s not going to be able to get out of this fucking place. Ruth, you can’t seriously be considering this, right?”
I smiled at Nate. “I know where the windows are. I know how to get to one. I’m going to get out of here.”
Nate covered his face in his hands. “Oh god.”
Fort beamed. “Ruth is going to get out of here, no matter what.”
I patted Fort’s hand. “And once I do,” I said, “You two are going to have to tell everyone about my legacy.”
“So you’ve finally decided to submit to a check-up, Zero-Zero-Three-Two? Good. I was worried that your lashes might disable you,” A doctor said to me. He pulled my bandages off of me, and threw them away. “Christ, you’re still bleeding some amount. How did you even sleep last night?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“This will take about a week of healing before I’ll be able to check on you properly, but it will shorten the time it takes to get you set up for a check-up.” The doctor began to wrap some clean and new bandages around me. “You’d best not perform any rebellious acts while your back is healing. I’ll try to talk them into getting you at least a mat to lay on, and feeding you properly during this process. That doesn’t mean I’m making any promises.”
“I didn’t expect any,” I replied.
“Good,” he said, “Then I believe you should be ready to leave. Remember, rest and don’t perform any strenuous activities.”
“Sure, doctor,” I replied.
“Goodbye, Zero-Zero-Three-Two.” As the doctor bid me farewell, I walked out of his office, down the hallway, and into a closet. It was a janitorial closet that I knew remained unused most of the time. The odds of someone getting to me in there were not very high. I just needed to wait for night time to come, then I would get into the doctor’s office and break out through the window in his office.
I entered the closet, and climbed into a small cabinet on the ground. It was mostly empty, save for some packets of something. I assumed they were some kind of cleaner. I took them out and put them on top of the cabinet.
I sat inside of the cabinet, and that was it. No one knew of my plan, and no one knew I was going to escape this way. I just needed to stay awake, and get out when I could.
Seconds turned into minutes, then into hours. I didn’t know how much time was actually passing inside of that cabinet, but it was surprisingly comfortable.
At least, it was comfortable enough to fall asleep inside. I woke up and panicked, hitting my head on the top of the cabinet. I then shoved a door open and ungracefully slid out. I looked around the dark closet. I could only see a dim light coming from under the door. So, I crawled over to it to have a peak.
Underneath, I could see that most of the lights in the hallway were off. The only one that was on was the one inside the doctor’s office. The light creeped out of the open doorway.
I groaned and let go of my head. It was already on the ground, so it just turned inward. Now I had to wait for the doctor to leave his office. His window was the safest to leave from, because he had a bush outside to keep me hidden, and then another one was a few yards away. I could run from one bush to the other, then sneak away from there.
But of course, the doctor had decided to not leave yet. I watched underneath the door for a few minutes, waiting. Nothing changed. Instead, I decided to sneak out for just a short while to see what was going on in the office.
I stood up, and carefully opened the door. It slid open rather quietly, and closed just as quietly. I carefully snuck to the office. I took a peek inside, and only saw one person. It wasn’t the doctor. It was a different man. He sat there, as if waiting for someone. I assumed it was the doctor.
“Zero-Zero-Three-Two. Come in. I’m glad to see you. You’ve kept me waiting for quite a while,” The man spoke, without ever looking up at me. I stepped into the office.
“I knew you weren’t actually submitting to a doctor’s appraisal. You’re way too stubborn for that kind of living, aren’t you? No, you were plotting something. A janitor found you asleep in that closet a few hours ago. He wouldn’t have even checked if you hadn’t put the mop cleaner on top of the cupboard. Rookie mistake,” he said. He was examining a knife.
“Hmm,” I replied.
“So, what was your plan, really? I’m dying to hear it,” he said. I stared at him, silent.
“Don’t feel like talking, huh? That’s alright. I was going to give you ten more lashes either way. Fuck the doctor’s orders.”
I closed the door behind me, and sighed.
“Ballsy, kid. I don’t know what you think you’re going to be doing, but I can tell you you’re wrong.” The man stopped leaning against the counter he was on, and stood up straight.
“If you are going to kill me, do it,” I demanded. The man looked surprised. “Kid, you are worth over one-hundred thousand dollars. Do you think I’m going to throw that kind of cash aside? Not today, bucko.” He took his knife and put it into his other hand.
“Then why did you bring a knife?” I asked. He had to have a reason for having it here, even if it wasn’t to kill me.
“I like knives. Now, let’s get the fuck out of here.” The man put his knife into a sheath at his side. He walked over to the door and opened it. He stepped out and waited for me to follow him.
I followed him very closely, near the knife that he had. I had part of a plan: I was going to take his knife, and cut him somewhere. I just needed to think of where.
Then, something that Nate had told me a long while ago echoed in my mind. You know that little string at the back of your foot? It’s called the achilles tendon. I saw a dude cut his own one time. The fucking thing curled up into his leg so fast, he couldn’t do anything about it. The doctor told me he had to open the back of his entire leg to pull it back down and reattach it. At the time, I told him he was being gross and to talk about something else. Now I’m glad he hadn’t.
In a swift motion, I grabbed the knife from its sheath. “What the-” the man exclaimed as I grabbed his ankle and cut at the back of his foot. Nate was right. The string just flew up into his leg, and the man fell down.
“FUCK!” He shouted. I dashed away from him, back to the doctor’s office. The man kept swearing and shouting as I ran.
Once inside the office, I climbed onto the counter and pushed the window up. I slid out of it, and landed inside the bush. It gave me small cuts and scrapes as I went down. Once on the ground, though, I looked for anything that might see me. There was nothing outside. So, I crawled underneath the bush, and then ran to the other one. I dived below that one too. Once I passed under the bush again, I got up and ran away.
I ran long and hard into the night. I had to stop sometimes, though, because I would get tired. The night was dark, and I couldn’t tell what was around me most of the time. Rocks could easily be someone curled up and hiding. A rustle in the grass could be some dangerous animal. And the other noises, I didn’t even know what to make of them. I had never been out during the night for long enough to familiarise myself with everyone.
After some amount of time was wasted by resting, I saw someone. I looked around for somewhere to hide, but I didn’t see one. There were no bushes, rocks, or even trees around. Just the knee-high grass.
“Hey you!” The figure yelled at me. I froze in place. “What are you doing out so late?”
I said nothing. I just turned to the figure and stared.
“Are you okay?” it asked.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to the figure’s question. I hadn’t heard anyone but Nate and Fort ask that before.
The figure approached me, walking at a brisk pace. “Can you talk? What’s your name?” It asked. Now that the person was closer, I could tell it was a girl. I hadn’t seen one in a long time.
I nodded at the girl. “Jesus, you like you got into a fight with a badger. Let’s get you out of here.” I nodded at her again.
“What’s your name, kid?” she asked me once more.
“You first,” I replied. The girl grunted. “Alright. My name is Ruth.”
I blinked a few times. “So is mine.”
She gave me a weird look. “What kind of boy is named ‘Ruth?’”