Chapter 29 (Aronade: age 17/ Mark: age 19 — The Escape)

It is city on many hills — stacked high above. The houses surrounding the city have an off-white or tan façade. Their roofs are a solid brown. The shutters are also brown, and there is a gingerbread façade. There are many narrow cobblestones paths winding between the buildings … so many dark spaces that it detracts from the warmth of the buildings’ façades. It had once been a city of much suffering and torment, but now all those people were gone. The city had been cleared out and was now ready for a new group with new horrors to experience.

I wake up on my first night to the sound of someone banging on one of the doors. Apparently, it had been locked, and this person, whoever it is, doesn’t like that. Can anything good come from opening the door when someone bangs on it and demands entry? They can always break it in — they probably will regardless. But to get you to comply — to buy into the idea that they have the right, the moral authority to demand you open the door to them — it gives them too much power over you. Hmm … it’s amazing the games people play to gain dominance over others.

I conclude there’s no way to survive long term in the system. You can’t work within it and hope to survive. For one thing, they have a quota — a certain number of people who are slated to die every day. Death is the goal — the purpose. Therefore, there are only two ways to survive: either the system ends or you escape from it.

I have been grieved as the expectations on me kept increasing. I feared not being able to meet them. I knew the consequence would be being expelled from the world-system, and it had been hammered into my head that that meant death. Only I now realize what their standard has become. I can never minimize myself enough for them — never reduce my consumption and my impact enough. For what they are trying to coerce me into accepting is a level of use beneath that of a living person. They are comparing my use to that of a dead body and are finding my living self wanting.

Not long after I arrive here, I have what I can only describe as a waking nightmare. At first, I feel as though the entire room is violently shaking. Then, I hear a shrill noise overhead as though some plane is flying too low and is about to crash into the building.

I feel frozen, and my heart pounds within me. I look around the room — at the other people lying in the rows of beds. None of them is moving. Are they dead? I jolt up to get a better look around me. How can they be dead when we haven’t been hit yet? And yet, it is clear they aren’t stirring. Then suddenly, the flashes of light begin. It is strange. It almost appears to be a visual projection overlaying what I see in front of me. But it still feels so real. I can see the plaster from the walls and the beams from the windows begin to crumble down. The windows burst forth from the wooden planks that had been used to secure them. I can see the glass coming toward me, and I shriek. I start to pull at my blanket in order to protect myself from the flying shards. But it is then that I notice that some of the people around me are beginning to move. Only they aren’t reacting to what I’m seeing and hearing. Instead, they are reacting to me and my screaming aloud!

They begin to grumble aloud and to moan. One calls for a nurse. I am shivering by the time the nurse arrives, and I don’t know what to say when she asks what’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with me? I am trapped in a hospital that was purposefully designed to look exactly like its predecessor — that had occupied the same spot of ground. And now I am having flashbacks to the trauma I had experienced that day.

But I can’t admit to that — to any of that, for then they will know who I am. And then, they will kill me.

“I had a nightmare.” I tell her.

And I had. Only it is a nightmare I am living, and it just won’t end.

They sedate me, and I fall back to sleep …

“Aronade! Aronade! Wake up!”

I open my eyes and see a woman standing beside my bed. She brushes the dust away from my forehead.

“You got quite the knot on your head.” she informs me, smiling with relief.

“Wait a minute.” I think. “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be.”

And yet it feels as though it is really happening now. I turn and look at the woman again.

“Aronade, sweetheart.” she tells me. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

She reaches forward and takes up my hand. I stare down at her hand clasping my own. I feel moved … but I’m unsure as to why. I want to ask her if she knows me … but I don’t ask, for I already know the answer is yes.

I feel anxiety all of a sudden. I feel like something bad is about to happen.

“We should get out of here.” I manage … at least I think I said that out loud. But then again, maybe I hadn’t, for the words don’t seem to register on the woman’s face.

“Mom.” I say this out loud, and the woman smiles even brighter.

“I’ll go get the doctor for you … to check you out.”

I catch her by the hand and look at her solemnly.

“Is it safe here?” I ask her. My voice sounds rather high-pitched to me.

She brushes the hair from my face.

“That was just an accident.” she assures me. “A pilot got confused as to where he was. It won’t happen again.”

“No.” I think. “No!!”

I want to stop her from leaving, but I find I cannot move. I am just a watcher. I wait for her to return. All the while, I listen for the sound I know is coming. I look about the large room filled with mostly empty beds. Other people had been here recently, but they are gone now. Where had they gone? And how do I know that they had been here? I can’t remember. Nor can I figure out how I know that something bad is about to happen.

I feel at the bandage on my head. I look over at one of the windows that had been boarded up nearby. There is no glass underneath it; it had apparently been cleaned up. I now think that maybe I had been injured at the same time that the window had been blown in. Maybe I had even seen the people leaving here. If so, why hadn’t I gone with them? Again, I can’t remember.

Where is my mother, and why hasn’t she returned? I have the feeling I’m running out of time. Soon it will be too late to spend any more time with her. Again I wonder why I feel this way. And then I hear it: a high-pitched buzzing noise fills the air. I wring my hands. It is too late. There is a moment right before disaster strikes when I realize there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am trapped; I can’t get out. I want to desperately, but I’m stuck here. I have to watch as the scene implodes around me. A loud explosion resounds. Placing my hands upon my ears does little to lessen the impact. Then, there’s a great persistent ringing in my ears. I look around me in a daze. A white chalky powder covers me. I begin to cough, though I can’t hear myself cough.

“Mom!” I call out, but I can’t hear my voice either.

I feel compelled to move — to get out of bed. So I do. Only it feels as though I’m watching myself doing it.

I wander as though in a daze out the front door of the building. It’s strange to see the scene that is unfolding in front of me. I stand in the midst of a wasteland of crumbling buildings and mounds and mounds of the dust I am covered in. It is then that I realize there are people on the streets who have been buried under the rubble. They had been treating people outside of the hospital until it had been cleared. Now they are worse off than I am. They call out. But what can I do? I will run. I will get help …

I am picked up in the next town over. It had rained on the way there, so most of the dust that had been on me is gone. They question me. I give them my name. I tell them about the rubble. They give each other looks. They say they will do something.

I am left alone in the darkness. At some point, I hear voices. They are discussing me. I can’t see the men’s faces. One offers to take me in; the other is grateful.

“We’ll keep the first name. If they can figure that out, it’s all over anyway.”

“I’m surprised the hospital wasn’t hit.”

“They probably saw the patients in the yard and aimed at them instead. Doubtless they’ll do a full search for survivors. We’re fortunate we found this one.”

“One?” I repeat inside my head.

I begin to cry.

“Get her cleaned up, will you? The man I work for won’t tolerate her presence if she looks like this when she’s presented to him.”

“Oh … all right.” the man hesitates. “But he knows … I mean, he’s agreed to hide her …”

“Yes. He’s not like us, but apparently he has his reasons.”

I am in tears when I wake up.

Then, one day I am brought into a room used for isolation purposes. Apparently, there are many such rooms utilized for this purpose at this place. I get the impression that experiments are run on the sick people here quite often. Of course, I am an unusual case and am of particular importance to these people. I can be turned from a threat into a solution. After all, they can neutralize the threat of the disease I am carrying if they are able to produce a vaccine from my blood.

I figure it will only be a matter of time before they succeed. The time is running out for the weapon I have become to be of any use. Still, I wonder what their main concern is in regards to my disease. Is it fear of death? Or, are they just eager to be able to unleash their sadistic urges onto the common masses without retaliation?

Somehow I get another visitor … an unexpected visitor. I don’t know how he got in here. It is my brother again. He somehow tracked me down to this new hospital. He is highly agitated. He is dressed as an orderly. Why is he here?

He warbles on and on about the importance of his mission.

“Are we going to leave here soon?” I ask him in my delirium.

“Oh, we’re not going anywhere … at least you’re not.”

I shudder.

“It’s getting to the point that if we wait any longer then it won’t be worth anything. They’ll have a cure, and they’ll come right for us. At least if we act now, we can take out some of them plus there will be enough of a distraction in the chaos for us to escape into friendly territories.”

“Us? Who is ‘us.’ ”

Mitchell looks at me with anger. We both know … or at least should have known … what he meant. His plans for the future do not include me. I will have no future in this world.

“Believe it or not, in a lot of ways I’m on your side.”

“Please …” I retort. “You’ve turned away from God, so you are no friend to me. I’m just a pawn to you.”

“Now you’re just taking it personally. You’re much more important than a pawn; you could take them all out.”

I am unnerved when my brother throws something towards me, which lands at the foot of my bed. I know instantly what it is, and yet I pick it up in disbelief anyway.

“A dagger?” I utter.

“It’s better if you do it to yourself. Consider it a sacrifice.”

I throw to the floor just to get it away from me. My tears are of bitterness. Still, despite my emotion, it doesn’t take me long to realize my mistake — I had tossed away my weapon.

“Go ahead and cry if you need to. Then, when you’re done, we’ll move on.”

I was stunned and insulted by his tone.

Mitchell then reclaims the knife. My eyes stare without really seeing at the blade he is holding confidently in his hand. My first thought is that if I can just keep him talking … Then, I wonder how it came to this.

“It’s too much temptation … the world. They need things now … the things they are used to having. The elite used that to gain power over them. Some are even willing to risk death … to die. I saw that first hand. But then, the elite have an easier way … killing other people, so they will have enough.”

“It’s never enough.” I mutter.

Mitchell shrugs.

“It will be for a while until we come up with something else to make the prosperity last. Don’t you see society’s been pushed to kill to keep what they have — what they’re used to? The elite have done that to us. It makes perfect sense that the elite should die in the place of their victims … And you — you’re in the unique position to kill them all off.”

“And you think it will stop there? You think people won’t go back to killing off the weak when they run out of things again?”

Mitchell shrugs another time.

“I don’t know, but it’s a place to start. If we do nothing, the elite will win.”

I swallow as he comes toward me. I feel pain in my arm.

Suddenly, the door to my room opens behind Mitchell. He flinches then turns around. I must be hallucinating! It looks like Mark is standing there!

“So what are you planning on doing?” I hear Mark ask.

“I think you know.” my brother responds. “I’ve already explained it to her.” Mitchell adds without conviction. “If anyone should understand, it should be you.”

Mark breathes.

“She dies and nothing changes really … just who the evil is.” Mark returns.

“People won’t have to do evil then.”

“And yet they always do.”

I stare at Mark. I realize I am in shock. Mark seems stunned as well. I don’t want to take my eyes off of him; I don’t want to look down at my arm. I can’t believe it — I can’t believe my brother just stabbed me! And yet, the ashen look on Mark’s face suggests that it is true.

“Let her die!” Mitchell announces. He is standing between Mark and me.

“Are you insane?!” Mark shoots back.

“I know you hate them as much as I do!”

“Since when?”

Mitchell is evasive.

“It took me a while to realize it … but I do now.” Mitchell speaks.

“What does this have to do with her?”

“Don’t you see? They’re trying to make a vaccine from her. She could be used to ruin the whole thing by neutralizing the virus. Then, they’ll retaliate with their own virus. Her death is the only way for the virus to spread before there is a treatment. Maybe she’ll even infect those who try to move her body.”

His words are gruesome. I shift under the pain — both physical and emotional.

“Stand aside.” Mark commands.

“I can’t let you stop it!” Mitchell warns, raising his knife.

Mark lets his eyes shift briefly to the side. Then, out of nowhere, Mark springs forward and rushes Mitchell. I scream. A struggle for the knife ensues. Somehow, Mark gains the upper hand. “Think about what you’re going to do now, Mitchell. Look at me!” Mark, who now has possession of the knife, shouts out. “I have the knife, and I’m standing between you and her. You can keep trying to get past me, but you’ll fail and you’ll waste a lot of time. Plus, you won’t be in very good shape by the time I’m done with you.”

“What do you propose?” Mitchell surprisingly asks, as though Mark had been suggesting that some kind of bargain be struck.

“I’m suggesting you leave — now!” Mark growls. “Unless you are wanting to fall into their hands … and then you can die the way you wanted her to.”

Mitchell swallows. He seems loath to leave. I am in shock about his persistence — by how much he truly wants me dead.

“I guess I’ve done enough …” Mitchell concludes.

Finally, Mitchell nods at Mark — as though they’ve reached some sort of understanding. It is unreal to me. He casts a cold look in my direction then leaves.

“Don’t think about him.” Mark directs me over his shoulder. “Save your energy.”

“For what?” I mumble.

Mark half-turns toward me, keeping his shoulder square with the door that Mitchell just escaped from.

“Don’t go giving up on me.” he tells me. “We have a lot we need to do.”

At that moment, it all seems hopeless to me. I’ve about given up on ever making it out of here alive. Mostly, I’m just worn out … incredibly worn out.

“Is there a way out of here?” I ask Mark. “What’s to stop Mitchell from sending someone here just out of spite?”

“His own sorry skin.” Mark responds without hesitation. “But you’re right…we need to leave as soon as you are able.”

I am feeling weak at this point from loss of blood.

“But can we? Mitchell said there’s no way out for me. And the vaccine … once they have it, what’s to stop them …?”

“And what’s to stop them if you’re dead? As long as they think you could be alive the virus remains a threat. If they conclude you’re the only carrier and you die, they might use their virus then. If we can escape, they won’t use it more than likely.”

I try to think. What he has been saying sounds logical, but is it true? Or is Mark just trying to convince me?

“All right, I’ll go … if for no other reason than I don’t want them to know I am dead if I do die. At least that will delay their unleashing their virus.”

He begins to try to lift me up.

“I’m not sure that I can … stand.” I cry out. “Please get me out of here, Mark!”

He nods. His eyes glisten with compassion for me. At the moment, I’ll take his pity if it means getting out of here.

It’s painful to be lifted. Everything hurts. I’m unsteady on my feet, so he doesn’t allow me to linger without much support for long. Instead, he directs me to wrap my arms around his neck, and he picks me up. I guess there is one positive thing to be said about all the weight I must have lost; I am much easier to carry now.

I close my eyes. I don’t want to see him attempt to get me out of this prison. I particularly don’t want to watch him if he fails.

Mark eventually enters a room, and I can’t help but open my eyes at this point. It is a particularly cold room. I shudder in the darkness. Then, the smell strikes me; it is the morgue.

“This is going to be unpleasant.” Mark warns me.

This is the same strategy that the Instructor had used to get me out of that last facility, but then the Instructor had probably paid someone off to help him then. Now Mark is on his own, so he has to take more drastic measures. I realize, much to my dismay, that he intends to wheel me out of this place on a gurney — and with a dead body.

I try to keep myself from sobbing as Mark covers us both with a sheet.

Then, Mark opens up some sort of cabinet and is doing something I can’t see. I try to keep myself from breathing in the putrid air, but eventually I have to. I stifle a gag.

“Don’t worry.” Mark consoles me. He has returned to my side at the gurney. “The person isn’t contagious.”

That is a relief, I guess. And it is also ironic under the circumstances. Speaking of relief, I am relieved when Mark starts to push the gurney forward on many different levels. One is I have this nagging feeling that the longer this escape takes, the slimmer the chance Mark and I have of making it out of here. I get to thinking that Mitchell may not have much cause to turn me in, but if he tells Kurt … I don’t know if Kurt is truly an elite or not, but he is convinced that he is and, therefore, believes my blood could kill him. Kurt would want me seized and quarantined. Yes, it would be stupid of Mitchell to go to Kurt now, but then he wouldn’t have to admit what he tried to do to me just now … and consequently to Kurt as well should the virus be unleashed. Yes, if Mitchell wants my death badly enough, going to Kurt might accomplish that. Who better to inform on me than Kurt?

It is a very trying ordeal. It takes all of what little emotional reserve I still have left to repress the repulsion I feel over what I am lying against. I just keep postponing giving in to a reaction. Then, as my mind begins to snap, Mark finally lifts the sheet from my head.

I break down into sobs. I tremble in his arms. He doesn’t waste any time picking me up and carrying me away. I am relieved — both to get away from the body and to be, miraculously, outside of the confines of the hospital.

“I don’t want to go back. Please let me not have to go back.” I utter.

I know it must be a strain for Mark to carry me, but it can’t be helped. I do try as hard as I can to hold on to his neck to relieve some of the burden I am creating.

I know I should walk. If we’re caught, it will probably be because I can’t force myself to walk. But I can’t … I just can’t. I tell myself it would be worse if I pass out. Then, I won’t be able to help at all. So, instead of beating myself up any further, I pray for Mark to have the strength to keep going and for us not to be caught.

Mark trudges on — and I admire him for it. But how long will it be before they notice I’m gone? How long will it be before there’s a possibility they will catch up to us?

Then, Mark stops. My first thought is that he is exhausted. But that turns out not to be the reason he stopped. I open my eyes … and there it is … the complex.

“There are plenty of places to hide in there.” Mark informs me.

He shifts my weight to get a better grip on me.

“And fortunately, we both know a way in.” he tells me.

I wonder if the way we left that day so long ago is able to be breached from the outside. I close my eyes … I am feeling weaker by the minute. I tell myself I just have to hold on a little longer … just a little longer. Then, I can rest.

I wake up in my old room and in my old bed. I must have passed out after all.

The room is cold. I pull my blanket tighter around me. Mark is in the room. I can see his silhouette standing in front of the window we had looked out so long ago. I wonder if he remembers. It is strange now to think about that time. There were so many things I wasn’t aware of then. I can’t help but be nostalgic about that time. I suppose it’s wrong of me, but I almost wish I could go back to when I wasn’t aware of it all. I want to have this burden of awareness lifted off my shoulders. But then, I know it would be wrong to live in ignorant bliss forever. Too much is going on; too much has happened for that.

I’m making note of the fact that the room is dark, and once again I’m mentally transported to the past. Had my power been cut from the room, or had it indeed been a light bulb that blew out? And why is it so dark in here now? Is Mark leaving the lights out so as not to draw attention to us? But then, the whole complex seems dark. There is no light to be seen … not even under the crack of the door. And it’s so cold in here …

“Mark.” I utter his name.

He turns swiftly towards me. The moonlight is illuminating him somewhat, but his face is still cast in shadow.

“It’s good to see you up.” he tells me.

I nod.

“It’s actually nice to see this room again.” I conclude. “Strangely, I feel I can relax in it. I’ve been tired for such a very long time …” I pause. “By the way,” I add. “Why is it so dark in here? Is there no electricity?”

“No, not right now. It appears this place has been abandoned, which suits me just fine. I’m going to go search for a generator to see if we can get something started up … but I didn’t want to leave you alone in the dark.”

“Yes.” I respond. “There are some fireplaces … one is in the Instructor’s study.” I advise him.

“I’m not sure the smoke will be such a good idea.” he answers. “I’m even concerned about turning the power back on lest there be lights shining around the place without our knowledge that the rest of the world can see.”

“Yes, of course. Maybe we can just stay like this. It’s not that cold …”

I hear Mark exhale. There are a lot of things he probably hasn’t had the time to work through yet. I can relate to that. Food is another thing we’re going to need. Did Nan leave any behind when she left this place?

But then, I can deal with those types of things later, I decide. Instead, I choose to tell Mark about my experiences at the hospitals. I want him to understand that he can’t take me back there no matter what. When I finish relaying my information, I am relieved when he agrees I can’t go back there. It is nearly certain death.

“So, how long are we going to be here?” I then ask Mark.

I expect him to say a week or so … maybe even a day or two. Instead, he responds, “Indefinitely.”

“What? Really?”

“Hear me out …” he says. You’re too weak to travel around. Plus, they’ll be looking for you out there. It would be better to lie low until they stop looking. Hopefully, they’ll think the Instructor took you away again, and that you’re far away from here.”

“And will they … stop looking?”

“Once they get the vaccine … they won’t need to find you.”

I look down.

“Then, they can unleash the other virus on the rest of us.”

“You don’t think the elite would unleash their viral arsenal if they started dropping dead? You don’t think they’d take out as many people with them as they could? No, the only thing that prevented mass casualties before was that they and the Instructor were at a stalemate. If either side moved, everyone would die. But now that they know who you are — now that they’ve gotten a sample of your blood — the only thing that can be gained at this point by your death is killing the elite along with everyone else. But then there’s always a chance they won’t be able to make a vaccine from what they have …”

I look at him skeptically.

“And maybe someone’s been working on neutralizing the viruses intended for us.” he adds.

“There are probably a lot of those viruses.” I whisper.

“The fact is, this whole thing now is the Instructor’s doing. It was a done deal the day he turned you over to them at that hospital. He had to have known they would figure out who you were eventually. He capitulated for some reason.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

The Mind Master Chronicles: The Pawn Sacrifice

Chapter 27 (Aronade: age 17 — Eugenics)

We came to a new low when the obsession with slavery and with eugenics merged. With it came the idea of using people up for profit then disposing of them when they are no longer able to be used. Both are highly sadistic concepts.

Without God, human life doesn’t appear to have any intrinsic value. People have to produce in order to be counted worthy to live. Part of the propaganda is that you don’t own yourself anymore. You have to justify your existence. It strikes me that they really view us as less than human. I saw my life as my own, and that I had as much right to it as anyone. I didn’t want what they had — I was focused on my own life. Apparently, they don’t see things that way. In their minds, everything is rightfully theirs. And if we aren’t useful to them, then they feel completely justified in shortening our lives.

I am for having people live as long as they can. I don’t see how any individual can bring down an entire society by just existing. Nor am I impressed by the so-called accomplishments of any of the so-called supermen. The accomplishments of humans pale drastically in comparison to anything God can do. No, it’s only human hubris that people think themselves to be anything extraordinary.

And yet, people who are into eugenics are obsessed with destroying anyone they view as inferior. It’s like a religion to them. The crux of it all is this belief that doctors are being irresponsible enabling people, who can no longer reach or were never able to reach the standard of normal set by the eugenicists, to live. If you can’t be restored to “normal” you deserve to die. That is why they won’t allow accommodations or exceptions to be made to save your life. They want people who are ill to be culled off on a regular basis. They are offended at the suggestion that you should be allowed to live. Perhaps, illness and disability reminds them of their own innate fallibility. Perhaps, it is just sadism. Perhaps, it’s a hatred of God. The genesis of true hatred is the hatred towards God. It is clear that God doesn’t equate a person’s worth or value with how well that person is able to perform within the world-system. Regardless of the reason, this obsession with eugenics is apparently more important than your life.

And it isn’t simply that they are denying you treatment, though they make it clear you aren’t worthy of any. They are playing mind games. They want you to continue to consume, so that they can make money off of you. But even then, they feel the need to make it clear you’re not worth what you are consuming.

But it’s more than that; they add another dimension to it. They want you to kill yourself — or better yet, submit to their killing you. And they need to have access to you in order to experiment on, to harvest, and to kill. If you are allowed to leave and exist in your own part of world, then they will no longer have this access to you. You are not permitted to exist elsewhere.

And yet, I think it’s gotten to the point again where being productive just isn’t enough anymore either. Some people are just considered worthwhile by the world-system no matter what they do or contribute and others just aren’t.

Some people become so crushed by being rejected by the world that they resign themselves and come to believe they deserve to die. You can’t buy into the idea that they’re reacting to you. Otherwise, it’s like saying you deserve to be punished when you step out of line from what they want you to do. And they do act as though if you go along — do as they tell you — you can save yourself, but in reality they have already condemned you to death.

I was sad when I realized the expectations on the sick have not decreased even with the crisis. They won’t let us off the hook. They are still insistent on bleeding us out of everything we still have left. Then again, things aren’t going to be much better for the healthy common man, who is going to be expected to conform to whatever unreasonable conditions the elite of the world-system present.

Though I’m not happy with it, I’m used to people raising their expectations to an unreasonable level and being indifferent to whether an individual can overcome the hurdle. What I’m not used to — what I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around — is people in power sabotaging others, so that they will die.

The people who still have their health are already being lulled back into complacency. The world is an expert at that. And I can see why they’d be tempted to go there, for I am also tempted. This reality is a lot to live with. And it’s not surprising that the world would move on without us. It was unrealistic to expect it to change. They have to move forward with it; it’s their way. And people like me are left behind. And yet, one of the troubling things is that they won’t admit we are being abandoned. They still act as though we have a choice in the matter. The reality is the only thing they are offering us is death. I don’t even think living in the world is an option anymore for those of us who are physically weak. So, why do they pretend that there is still a choice? Is it just because they want us to die?

It grieves me to think that people are willing to sacrifice the vulnerable just for the chance of success in the world-system. But it’s disingenuous for them to claim they don’t know. They know. Events and even the words of those running the show have made that clear. But they pretend they don’t know. They won’t admit that following the world is following Satan. And then there’s the scapegoating. When they aren’t pretending the world-system isn’t evil, they turn to blaming those who reap the consequences of the world-system claiming they deserve the abuse. I’ve seen firsthand people’s defensiveness and rage when they buy into the world-system for their own gratification, and you dare to criticize any part of it. But really what they’re doing is justifying themselves for choosing evil over God. Eugenics is murder, even if they are able to convince most of the general population that the human life in question isn’t worthy of life.

The way I see it, I have two choices. My first is that I can accept my new lower status as a sick person. Other people have the right to demand I do what they say. I have no right to refuse — no right to let them down. For if I do, they will withhold my medication. They matter; I don’t. My body no longer belongs to me — in their minds at least. They determine the treatment — what gives them lots of money — and I have to take whatever they dish out. I will have to accept I have no worth as a person anymore. Disappointing them is not an option. I will have to fulfill their expectations. They have the power, the status — I don’t. They can browbeat me into submission. It’s not a given that their expectations won’t become more unreasonable — more than I can fulfill. And they won’t let me go; whether that’s due to greed, sadism — power and control — or their desire to remain part of the world-system …the system they have bought into, by the way … they will refuse to accommodate me or give me any consideration. My second option is that I can accept the truth — a truth that few will admit to: the world is evil, and it has become a trap.

I have been moved to a new floor of the facility. I don’t really want to go there, but I am too sick to object. There comes a point where your body is simply too worn-down to be able to think straight. You really just want to rest, but you can’t — they won’t let you. You quickly come to the realization that at best hospitals are only good for acute crises — something that is quick and easy to fix. The longer you have to stay at one, the more likely you are to have complications. Though sometimes you can get good treatment and actually be given the opportunity to heal. I had that happen before. I can vaguely remember it now … it’s almost like a dream. Anyway, that was a long time ago and doesn’t describe my current situation. Now I am trapped in a facility where care involves the staff having control over me. And I suspect they feel I am a burden and not worth the efforts they are compelled to undertake on my behalf. Needless to say, I want out. It doesn’t help they are restricting my food and water — not to mention they are not providing me any treatment such as antibiotics. I don’t even ask for any strong pain medication. Medicines I could normally get at a pharmacy over the counter are being rationed here.

I feel helpless. Would they stop me if I tried to leave again? Would they say I’m not in my right mind? What’s the point of my staying here if they are no longer bothering to treat me? I am getting worn-down; I can feel it. I’m not getting any real sleep. I can feel myself growing weaker, and I can sense panic begin to set in. What am I going to do now? I start praying. It eases my growing sense of dread.

There are lots of people around. The hallways are packed with patients. People are moaning and making all kinds of noise. My blanket is clean, but not much else in this place appears to be clean. I shudder.

My nurse appears to be repulsed in having to help me. Perhaps they did too good of a job with the propaganda — making us commoners look bad in the eyes of the public. Now they can’t make people who aspire to be elite want to be in the same space as us.

“I’ll tell the doctor you’re awake, and he’ll come see you when he can. Stay there!”

If I could stand without my head spinning, I would have defied her. Instead, I feel too unsteady to do anything but lie there.

My doctor’s logic and justifications are built on a shaky foundation. Because the sick have already been written off as being as good as dead, he feels no compunction about their deaths or his part in them. Somewhere along the way he lost his ability to feel outrage over the fact they had been selected to be murdered to begin with. There is an awkwardness to it. There is an unspoken reality. I am part of a group of people whom the sadists have targeted. And yet, I’m not supposed to bring that up to those who are seemingly non-sadistic, who have nevertheless bought into the sadistic world-system, lest I make them uncomfortable, and they turn on me. It’s easy for some people apparently to think that certain other people can be sacrificed, so that the world can go back to the way it had been before — as corrupt and depraved as even that was. So, basically I’ve been sold out to the world-system, so that those who want to continue with it can do so. And I am supposed to pretend it’s not happening until it destroys me. But I wonder how this man would feel if his own life were on the line? Would he take his own death with such nonchalance as the death of others? I suspect not. I suspect that he is, in fact, a hypocrite.

Don’t fall for the trap of, “if I don’t do it, someone else will.” Some people create the sadistic circumstances then act as though a deadly conclusion is inevitable. They want to induce you to participate. They want to take everything from you to force you to do the wrong thing and to reinforce their own values, which are in opposition to God’s. Yet, if everyone refused, it wouldn’t get done.

I have a new nurse today. She appears to be nicer. And yet, she’s really not opposed to the system — that it scapegoats, devalues, and persecutes people — that much is clear. She only appears ready to make an exception for me because she finds me likeable. But what if she didn’t? Isn’t there an implied threat in there somewhere that if I don’t succeed in ingratiating myself with her that I will be just as the rest who are deemed unworthy of life? Why should I have to prove to her or to anyone else the worthiness of my existence? What gives her or anyone else the right to have that kind of power over me — the power to make my life miserable or even to destroy it. And yet, I sense she enjoys the power. She looks good compared to the sadists. She can grant me a reprieve — how kind she is! But I have to grovel to get this reprieve. I have to walk on eggshells with her — be careful what I say, how I look at her, what my tone is. If I lose her favor, she’ll turn on me. I know this because she is in favor of the corrupt system that has put me in this inferior position. She is defensive of any criticism of it. I am to submit to my lowly position in it. I am to continue to try to ingratiate myself with her. I am to continue to praise her for being so kind as to not treat me as badly as the others do. Her treating me badly is, of course, her right if I cease to play the game. Really how is this any better than the mentality of the overt sadists? After all, she supports their power over me and uses the threat of their abuse of me to keep me in line in order to exercise power over me herself. She does all of this while trying to appear righteous. Really, I just want to be free of it all.

It would be different for me if she rejected the world-system — then the kindness really would be kindness. I’d have the right to self-determination, the right to have a bad day, the right to refuse. I wouldn’t need to have her good favor anymore. But then, she would lose her power over me, and we can’t have that!

I lean back. I don’t really want to be here, I remind myself, but I don’t appear to have any other options at this point. Must I submit to the authority of the world-system even this one time? There doesn’t appear to be a way to circumvent it, or even to escape from it. I’ve tried. It’s frustrating to me that some people blindly support this system despite the amount of damage it causes.

Everything I do is questioned. I have to constantly justify myself and my actions. I am routinely being interrogated and forced to give an accounting of myself. I am treated as a person convicted of a crime who is trying to get paroled. Only I am unsure of any crime I have committed aside from existing.

It’s hard for me not to be resentful on some level. But I have to accept the reality of the situation I find myself in … to some extent. What I won’t do is affirm that this whole thing is okay — it’s not. I will no longer accept the blame or pretend it isn’t as bad as it is anymore. It isn’t right, and they are doing the wrong thing by supporting it. If the only thing I’m able to do is to make them feel a little uncomfortable for participating in this evil thing … well, at least that’s something.

They are having trouble drawing blood. After all that my veins have been put through, they aren’t cooperating anymore. But no one around here seems willing to accept that. But I figure no one is entitled access to another person’s body. I also figure you’re fortunate if the world doesn’t require your blood.

I flip through the television channels. Are the newscasters even professionals anymore? Their scripts seem like what you find in children’s programming — mere instructionals on what reality is and how people should think and feel about everything. It hadn’t occurred to me how much propaganda even the most benign-seeming program contains. How it all seems designed to undermine any worldview that isn’t the current world-system worldview — not only overtly but subtly as well. And some of it cheerleads for the current perspective, but a lot of it seems designed to paint the world-system’s critics in the worst possible light. They are crazy, irrational, dangerous, stupid, and evil. They are destined to lose in this game of life. They deserve to be punished — to be destroyed. They will amount to nothing as there is only one right way — one successful way to live, and that’s the world’s way. No matter how unethical it in reality is … no matter how atrocious it becomes … it is always deemed by those who follow it as the right and correct way. Sometimes the only thing you get out of what people say isn’t what they believe but rather an indication of what they want you to believe. It’s really not about whether they honestly believe what they’re saying; it’s all about the outcome — what their words will get you to do.

And their scientists are strange, too. They don’t reach a conclusion by following the facts; they reinterpret the facts in order to force those facts to fit in with their conclusions. And their pet theories are treated as irrefutable facts — even though in science the standard is supposed to be that no theory can be proven only disproven. How many times have they acted superior, more intelligent? They were the rational ones — the scientists. But science couldn’t make them immortal, so they turned to the occult and pseudosciences like eugenics to save them. And they support their new dubious convictions with the same self-righteous arrogance that they had displayed before. How can they claim to be more advanced when they’ve regressed back to Babylonian behaviors? I guess consistency is too much to ask for.

Still, the repeated messages work to undermine your confidence that there can be any other way that will work other than the world’s way. And yet, I am thinking of another possibility — a way to circumvent the world-system and its inevitable destructiveness — to win in a completely different way — God’s way. And the key to that is Jesus.

Of course, I can hear in my mind what the world would say about that last statement. So, I have more work to do, I suppose, in ridding myself of, as much as I am able, its indoctrination.

I turn off the television. I’ve decided not to watch it any longer. I, for one, am sick of being told what to think. Not to mention, these days while you’re watching the television, the television is watching you.

I’m in no mood for small talk. In fact, I’m in a foul mood. I am tempted to refuse to discuss anything trivial anymore. If someone doesn’t want to deal with any real issues — to try to actually solve problems — then what’s the point? Maybe if I refuse to be distracted by the trivia, people will refocus on something important.

It is true that being around here is wearing me down. It isn’t just the fatigue, the lack of sleep, the mistreatment — but people are dying around me … succumbing. Every night someone comes into the large room and talks to the particularly worn-down patients. I overhear some of the conversations. At first, the patients are convinced by the staff that their death is inevitable, and they should just forego treatment — which includes food, water, and antibiotics. Now, though, the staff is bypassing this formality altogether. After all, as it turns out, not everyone is an easy sell. So, today a patient is being informed that her signature is no longer required. The doctor has determined that her case is hopeless, so that the patient will be made comfortable … and that is all. The patient then becomes hysterical. She pleads but to no avail. Eventually, she’s taken from the room … to somewhere.

I know now that my days are numbered.

These conditions are wearing me down. They won’t let me leave. How long will it be until they decide I’m too weak to live? What criteria will they use? Will my youth save me? The woman from before had pneumonia. That is probably my greatest risk now, I think. If I get an opportunistic infection, I’m in serious trouble.

I seriously begin contemplating trying to sneak out again. I would rather take my chances on the outside. And then, they do it. They send me an intern, who supposedly looked over my file and has taken an interest in it. Needless to say, I’m a little wary and more than a bit unnerved when he approaches me.

“Hello there.”

He offers me his hand. I wonder where his hand has been, but I take it all the same. I figure I can’t afford to offend him. I’ll just have to be careful not to touch my face with my hand until I have the opportunity to disinfect it.

He pulls a chair up next to me and begins to inform me of what the Instructor has already told me. Now I know the official story as to why he is here.

“It seems to me that your immune system is reacting to something.” he informs me. “I’ve seen similar things happen when some people contract a virus. In some people, their immune systems attack their own tissues. That’s what I’m seeing in your case. The only confusing part is, you don’t appear to be sick with a virus.”

I just stare at him. Is this a trick? Does he know or at least suspect that I am a carrier of a disease? Or, has this man just accidently stumbled dangerously close to my secret?

“That’s interesting.” I tell him. “Tell me more …”

He seems taken aback by my response. He grows a bit uncomfortable under my gaze. Apparently, there’s nothing more to his theory than what he just said. I’m grateful for that. I need to find a way to dissuade him from taking an interest in my case. I conclude that he doesn’t seem all that sure of himself. Perhaps, he is just trying to curry favor with the doctors around here. I decide to try reverse psychology.

“You know, you should tell the doctors around here what you told me.” I begin.

“Oh?” he utters.

“Yes, they seem to think there’s nothing seriously wrong with me. I’m sure they’d be interested to know you think they are wrong.”

That gets him; the color seems to drain from his face.

Moments later, when a nurse happens to walk by, he takes the opportunity to excuse himself. He talks to the nurse for a short time. Then, he’s gone without another word to me. I breathe out. It’s a small victory, but it is a victory.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a time in my youth — before I met the Instructor — before I entered the world-system. If I could place myself anywhere in a time of my life, it would be there. Of course, it wouldn’t be as great as I remember. But it’s that feeling I want back. There is this dark ugliness that surrounds me now, and I can’t shake it. This feeling of dread is a permanent part of the current world, and it reeks of impending doom. Oh, how I wish I could have postponed it indefinitely! How I wish I could shake it now! But one day long ago it had shattered my fragile psyche and tore it in two.

And now I’ve come to realize that I haven’t really been living my own life since then. I’ve been subjected to other people’s wills and dictates. I’ve tried to make the best of it, tried to sort through the damage done by the repeated traumas. I’ve tried to start over and rebuild. But nothing can fix it. All of my efforts to fix it were just shallow attempts to right things in order to have a better future in the world-system. But what I became from those efforts isn’t really who I am — what I wanted my life to be. I don’t want this world. Who I was — who I am was never this. Who I am is not of the world. And there’s no way the life I ended up leading is ever going to be more than a sham. So, I’ve decided that those years of my youth, before the world began to influence me, will be my foundation. There is that time and the present. The rest of what happened in-between was never really mine. It was created by the world, and the world can have it. Let it take ownership of all the mess left behind that I’ve been forced to process and incorporate into my being … the role I’ve been forced to assume. I hereby expel it; I am done.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Chapter 30 (Aronade: age 17/ Mark: age 19 — Closure)

“I actually didn’t hear you were here right away.” Mark explains. “I came here trying to find answers for you about your past. I knew how much it meant to you. Going back home helped me to have some closure about things, so I wanted the same for you. I wanted to give that to you when I saw you again.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here.” I speak softly.

I reach forward and touch his hand.

“When I saw the hospital had reopened, I came to look in the records for information about you. I used the last name Frankfort just in case the Instructor had kept your last name the same as he had your first name — Aronade. But then when I saw a current file on Liesel Frankfort … well, I knew I had to come see for myself if it was you.”

“What about Katie? I wonder where she is.”

“In the world somewhere.” Mark says. “She’ll probably land on her feet. She’s wily that way. She’s skilled in dealing with people, and she has talent in adapting to her surroundings. She has as much of a chance to be successful in this world as any non-elite can.”

I nod, but I find it sad … sad that it turned out this way.

”It’s still hard for me to process that she really did run off with Kurt.” I mention.

“Yes.”

“And your parents? Do they know?”

“They do now.” Mark tells me. “I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Part of me didn’t want to make her look bad, but I was sick of being blamed for everything.”

“How did that go?”

“Not well.” Mark shrugs. “But I feel better. Let them deal with reality. Over time maybe it will help them to know. Maybe they can all deal with it together someday. Maybe Kurt will marry her …” Mark scoffs before he can get the words out. “No need to feel sorry for her, Aronade. She’ll be fine.”

“Yes, she probably will be … in some ways.”

“She has never been sensitive, and she wants the world. I don’t know if she could stand being without it.”

I nod.

“Either way, whether she stays in it or not, I have to accept her choice. Trying to get her to make a different one didn’t work.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

Mark breathes. I can feel the tension escape from him just a little.

“I’m looking forward …” he says. “… to thinking about something else.”

A few moments pass.

“What are you thinking about?” I ask him. Then I smile. “Or is that an annoying question?”

“Don’t worry on that. You’re welcome to ask it as far as I’m concerned.” Mark jokes. “I was thinking about how we first met.” he confesses.

“Oh, now I am intrigued.”

Mark looks over at me with fondness in his eyes.

“I thought you were a kid — too young for me.”

I frown.

“Yeah, I know.” I grouse. “And now?”

“Now? Now you’ve definitely matured.” he teases me.

“Well, that makes one of us!” I return.

Mark laughs.

Then, one day Mark presents me with a newspaper he had retrieved from somewhere.

“He’s dead.” I utter, staring blankly at the news article.

“Is this even real?”

I look up at Mark in search of answers.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” he tells me while taking the article from my hands.

The death of the Instructor? I wring my hands. What could this mean? What is the significance of such a thing? It is an ending I never expected. Was that naïve of me? After all, the Instructor was toying with fire with these people.

But there is no sense of closure with the past. Do they think I’m dead? Is that why they killed him? And I have little doubt that they killed him. The timing would seem far too coincidental for it not to be true.

Mark exhales.

“I’m thinking about going all the way into town.” he tells me. “We have a few things we need. I’m running out of the supplies that I had.”

“You’re getting supplies for me?”

“Yes.”

“Is it safe?”

“Safe enough.” he returns.

I know by the tone of his voice there’s no point in telling him to hold off, so I don’t even bother trying.

I watch Mark leaving from the window. I am now staying in a different room from the one I had been in before. The main reason I chose this room was the view. And now the view has become particularly handy as it allows me to watch as Mark heads across the front lawn and towards the main gate.

I’m about to turn away from the window when I see a movement out of the corner of my eye. My eyes focus in on a figure as it darts behind Mark’s retreating form. I gasp. Someone is following Mark! I turn swiftly and head for the door. My only thought is that I have to warn Mark!

When I get out onto the grounds, I can see no sign of anyone. Both the figure and Mark must have headed off the property, I decide. Still, they can’t be that far ahead of me, I conclude. They weren’t moving that fast. Of course, I’m not going that fast either. Try as I might, I just don’t have the strength to cover much ground. In fact, I have to stop for a moment to catch my breath.

It doesn’t take long while heading up the trail back to the once decimated city to see how much things have changed. I can still remember the worn-down path covered in snow and dust that Mark and I had walked on all those years ago. I feel a certain amount of nostalgia reflecting back on that day. Maybe it was because I had had hope of being released from the Instructor’s trap back then. I had had no idea the trap of the world at large would be a far more difficult trap to escape from.

One of the newer additions to the reconstructed city is a railway station. It is meant to shuttle people from place to place but just within the city limits. Apparently, this isn’t a busy time of day for the train, for there are few people here.

And then, an eerie silence envelops all. It is as though time is holding still. Nothing but the wind moves. And it feels as though if no one were to breathe at this moment then nothing more that was bad would happen. But I have to breathe anyway …

I head on to the platform. There is always a chance that Mark came here to facilitate his movement through the city. I just wish I had asked him more questions about where he had intended to go when I had had the chance. But then, how could I have known I would end up needing to follow Mark?

“Aronade!” a voice calls out to me.

It takes a moment for me to register that the voice doesn’t belong to Mark.

“There you are!” he goads me.

I turn around and face Kurt. He is standing on the platform opposite me. The train tracks separate us.

“I thought if I followed Mark it would lead me to you, but I had no idea I’d get you alone.”

I clear my throat.

“What do you want, Kurt?” I ask him.

He tenses.

“You heard about the Instructor?” he asks me with a sort of awe in his voice.

I look at him quizzically. Is he implying he sought me out to tell me that?

“Yes.” I return.

“Not a big loss to you, am I right?”

My eyebrows furrow.

“I didn’t kill him.” I retort.

Kurt laughs.

“Well, playing around with the elites on your behalf certainly did.”

“That isn’t my fault.”

“Nothing ever is.”

I grow frustrated with the tediousness of this conversation. And yet, I realize what’s at stake here. He’s seen me alive. Of course, I would prefer it if he kept the information to himself, but I can’t force him to do so … or even influence him for that matter. I really just want to walk away at this point. Yes, I will have to leave the complex and go into hiding someplace else, but nothing can be gained by talking with Kurt further. And quite frankly, I’m sick of him. He keeps inserting himself into my life as though I don’t have better things to do with my time than go around in circles with him.

“So, what is it you want from me?” I demand of him. “With the Instructor gone, we really have no commonality anymore …”

“You’d like it to be that simple …”

“It is for me.” I say. “You really are starting to remind me of the elite.” I add. “What is with this obsession you have with what I think or do? Just go live your own life and leave me to mine.”

Kurt begins laughing violently. I look at him skeptically.

“You don’t know how ironic what you just said is!” he informs me.

He grows serious again.

“He found out you know.” Kurt states in a daze. “He found out what I did …”

“To Mark?”

“No, to him. I copied him. I took Katie and staged it the way he would have done it. Only he wasn’t impressed or flattered by my efforts. He was enraged.”

“You had to have expected that he would be, or you wouldn’t have hidden it from him.” I point out.

Kurt doesn’t answer me. Instead, he continues on in his deadened tone.

“I listened to him rant on and on. That was nothing new for me … that didn’t surprise me. But then he said something that did surprise me.”

Kurt looks at me directly then. Even from this distance, I can see the distinct look of self-pity on his face.

“Do you know what he said to me? Aronade?”

I don’t bother answering him this time. What would be the point? He is talking to himself; I just happen to be here.

“He said I wasn’t one of them.” Kurt’s lip quivers as he relays this information. “Don’t pretend you didn’t know or at least suspect …”

My eyes shift in consternation.

“An elite, game player! An elite!”

“You’re not an elite?”

“No, he let me think that I was, for your sake, but I’m not.”

“And what sense would it make for him to do that for my sake?” I challenge him. “So, you could turn me in to them?”

Kurt considers that. His posture slackens momentarily.

“Maybe so I wouldn’t kill you outright. Or, maybe he just likes games.” He laughs ironically. “Still, I can’t help but think he didn’t mean to say what he said when he said it … it just sort of slipped out. I think he was agitated about what happened with you. I’d never seen him so despondent.”

My face crinkles in disbelief.

“He didn’t care about you …” he corrects my train of thought. “But he lost … that’s what it was. He lost the game — the best game of his life. You lost it for him by getting caught. And after all those years I covered for you!”

Kurt shrugs.

“But he wasn’t the man I knew. I couldn’t respect that, and I told him so. Maybe I thought it would make him angry, and he’d snap out of it. Maybe I just didn’t care anymore. I don’t know.”

He shrugs again.

“But he didn’t take it well. He actually lost control over himself. He spit … and shook. It was embarrassing. I wanted it to stop. I was considering leaving …”

Kurt looks evasively off to the side. I swallow. Where is this going? It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere good. Part of me wants to tell him to stop talking. I can feel myself flush with heat. This isn’t good, I keep repeating to myself.

“I shook him … and his head wobbled back and forth on his neck like a chicken’s. I yelled at him to stop blabbering like an old fool. I told him that you weren’t worth it. I considered slapping his face. Then, he laughed at me. I considered this at first to be a good thing. I had succeeded in getting him to stop whimpering, but instead he just kept laughing. And I asked him why he was laughing. I shouldn’t have asked him that.”

Kurt shifts uncomfortably.

“That’s when he told me … that he had lied to me. No wait, that’s not what he said. I should be accurate. He said, ‘You’re the fool. You’re no elite. I let you think you were…you were so sure you were. It amused me. I laughed at you.’ I was stunned. Surely he hadn’t been lying before but was lying now.

‘My father …’ I began.

‘My brother never made you one. He died before becoming one himself.’

‘And you … you …’

‘Why would I bother? Do you think I liked having you around? Nan insisted on that for our brother’s sake. And she was the only one I could trust to take care of Aronade. All my other employees, the actors, had to be blindfolded before they came to the complex, so that no one would know where Aronade was. You see, I was stuck. I had to do what Nan wanted. Thankfully, she agreed to send you to a boarding school. I was about to lose my mind having you trail after me like some sort of lost puppy!’

‘You’re lying!’ I accused. ‘You just …’ I stumbled over my words. ‘You just want me to kill Aronade.’

‘Ha! Think about that one for a minute, idiot. Why would I do that? You could end it all now — end them all — end me … if you end her. If I wanted to die that badly there are better ways to go. And avenging myself against the elite was never the point. I could have done that years ago. It was about winning the game — about having the power and control. I lost, but I’m willing to accept that … for now … until I can think up another game. So, you see, there’s really no reason for me to lie to you.’

Then, the Instructor did his signature gesture, pressing his fingertips together, and I knew then that he was telling me the truth … finally.

And I was filled with rage …”

Kurt stops talking then. He looks down and stares into space. A demented grimace crosses his face. Is he planning to finish his story? Do I even want him to? It seems pretty clear what the ending is. The Instructor is dead and more than likely I am facing his murderer.

Then, I notice for the first time that Kurt is holding something behind his back. Of course, now it is too late. Perhaps, it always was.

“You know, that really pisses me off.” Kurt speaks bitterly “But it’s always the same. Does it make me want to kill you less or more?”

I stare at him unflinchingly.

“And there you go again, trying to psyche me out!” he accuses. “I guess I should kill you now before they have a chance to make a vaccine made with your blood … After all, Mitchell’s attempt to spread the disease didn’t take.”

Then, without a moment more of hesitation, Kurt cocks the gun and shoots me. The bullet hits me in the side, and I instantly have trouble breathing. I cannot speak and mutely collapse. Kurt runs away as a crowd begins to gather around me. I am unable to warn them off from coming into contact with me …

I try to move, but it is in vain. I can feel myself weaken by the minute. Will these people take me back to the hospital? If they do, I’m as good as dead. Maybe that is what Kurt is hoping for. Perhaps he intended to shoot me in the shoulder rather than to kill me outright. I will probably infect a lot more people if they bring me to the hospital. And then, they will do away with me anyway.

If only I could move … I don’t want to go back there. Then, someone comes near me. I open my eyes when he touches me. It’s Mark! I had feared that he wouldn’t find me in time!

“What are you doing?” someone asks him.

“I’m picking her up.” he states coolly.

“Where are you taking her?” a woman asks him.

“Where she can get care.” he responds.

I close my eyes.

“Yes, Mark will help me.” I think as I drift off.

The first thing I notice is that Mark must have put a field suture on my shoulder, for it has been wrapped up. The bullet must have passed through, I conclude.

Who knows if Kurt has looked for me in the hospitals. He probably has, knowing him. I, and the Instructor, have been an obsession for him for years. I doubt he will have been able to let that go so quickly. When he finds no trace of me, what will he make of it? But then I console myself. If I had been taken in to the elites, there probably wouldn’t have been a trace of me left behind for him to find. And what could Kurt do to find out what had happened to me? He isn’t even one of the elite, after all.

And what about the disease? Has it spread this time? Mark won’t tell me if he knows anything about that.

“They probably think you’re dead.” he breaches the subject one morning.

“I hope so.” I conclude.

“Kurt may come back here looking for you.” he suggests.

“I thought of that.” I admit. “He may, though I’m not sure how invested he is in having me dead at this point.”

Mark considers a moment.

“He’d probably come alone if he does come — it would be hard to convince anyone else to bother now.”

“Now that I’ve already contaminated everyone?”

He looks at me for a moment without speaking.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I persist.

Mark shrugs.

“I don’t know. I’ve purposefully avoided finding out, so I wouldn’t have to tell you.”

I am amazed by this; and yet, I feel he is telling me the truth.

“So, we stay here for now.” he states, though I sense he is waiting to see if I’m going to offer up an objection.

I have mixed feelings to be honest. Part of me wants to run away, but to where? There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go. And this place — as kooky as it is — has been the most like home of any place I can remember. It is, after all, the place where I met Mark.

There are also a lot of places to hide here. And, in theory, we could grow some food in that enclosed garden. One of the places I really want to see again is that outdoor garden. Even though there is still a chill in the air, I want to go inside of it. I hadn’t been back there since I was there with Mark. I had left almost immediately for the city after I returned to the complex the day I parted from Mark. Somehow the idea of it has become a morale booster for me. And let’s face it, I had given up hope of being in there again with Mark. Now I hope that dream will come true!

Yes, for now, this appears to be the best place to be — certainly until I am able to recover from my injuries at least.

“I think that will be fine.” I tell him.

He nods. He seems relieved.

It grieves me when people blame God for bad things happening — for allowing bad things to happen. They’ve rejected God in their lives, but He is still the first One they blame when things go wrong — when they aren’t denying He exists, of course. I don’t know why particular people are saved from earthly destruction and other people aren’t. But I do know the ones who are saved didn’t save themselves. God does intervene on the behalf of those who love Him. He does offset the machinations of the world-system in favor of those who are trying to do His will and when requests are made of Him to intervene through His intermediary, His Messiah, Jesus Christ. If this were not so, the world would have trodden down all those people, people like me, long ago.

Just because God has power and the control over the outcome in a given situation doesn’t mean that He wanted the situation to exist to begin with. Human will and our capacity for sin is to blame for creating the situation. There is a sickness in humanity, and you can’t stop that. People turned away from God, and when God withdraws this is what happens. It is a lie that our human society naturally stabilizes itself. If that were the case, then why hasn’t it ever happened? People keep trying the same things … over and over again, and we always end up in the same place. The truth is that the world is always descending into the abyss of sadism. That’s where that path always leads: sadistic torture and murder. After awhile, it’s the only thing that turns most people on. And nothing is more important to them than that. That’s the reality. The rest is just lip service and propaganda. I keep waiting for them to come to the realization — that they’ve made this mess, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

It is God who has kept it from going as far as it can go all this time. What’s more, He could have abandoned us to the sin we had chosen … to death … to Satan … but He didn’t. Because He is the righteous Being He is, He had mercy on us. And He provided us His Son, Jesus Christ, as an atonement for our sins — to free us from those sins and to salvage us from death.

God’s forgiveness is a gift, not an entitlement. God doesn’t owe you anything. Anything He gives you is due to His mercy and not because you deserve it. God is a God of justice and mercy and not of compromise. He is accountable to no one.

You discharge the debts owed to you from other people; God through Jesus discharges the debts you owe Him due to your sinful human nature. We are subject to God’s authority. All people are subject to God and His rules. The things of this world can be taken away, but the things that are of God cannot be taken away from you.

I know we are disposable to you. But you can’t just erase us as though we never existed. For God loves us, and He knows each one of us. He hears our crying out to Him, and He remembers. We are not disposable to Him.

We are God’s creation. Our nature is influenced by Him. Our perspective is either in compliance or in opposition to God. We’ve inherited certain traits, an imprint from Him. Ingrained in us is the knowledge or awareness of where we come from. That doesn’t go away — even with indoctrination.

Nothing has meaning without God. Positive meaning is found in the things God finds meaningful. Negative meaning is found when you purposefully pursue things that are the opposite of what God desires. But it is all a reaction to God. For our existence is fundamentally connected to God.

Without God, life circles back to destruction. You sprint off toward an envisioned glorious future only to be rerouted to the finish line where death awaits.

But what really is gained by pursuing the world? Survival of the flesh is only a delusion — at best it is a reprieve from the inevitable. The irony being the world and your life in it isn’t going to last forever. For the flesh, despite what all of the propaganda and manipulation of the world says, is temporal. It is the soul that is eternal. It is the soul that matters. It is the soul that is life.

Laws and rules aren’t a replacement for God. It’s essential to have a personal relationship with God. And part of that relationship is that God provided us with Jesus, the Messiah, as an atonement sacrifice, so that we could be reconciled back to Him after our fall into sin.

Who am I? Without God, I am as nothing. God is what matters. God is love.

Everything important to me stems from Him. I am God’s child. You tried to lay cla

im to me — to claim you had the right to decide if I live or die, but you don’t. The ultimate victory belongs to God.

Withdrawing from the world is like detoxifying from a drug; it takes awhile to appreciate everyday things again. I was so burned out by all the stimulation. What a relief it is not to be held to account for everything I think and feel all the time! I had forgotten what it is like not to live with this burden.

END

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

Jennifer Alice Chandler

Chapter 28 (Aronade: age 17 — The Past)

It is a week after I am moved to the room crowded with hospital beds and curtains that I sense that someone is standing over me. I am unnerved by the sight of the regime’s party uniform. I quickly pull myself up.

The light is dim in the room, and it takes me a moment, but eventually I recognize the man. It is my brother.

“You …” I begin with a cough.

I am not pleased to see him. I haven’t seen him since he wore a mask. And it wasn’t his face that I recognized then but only his voice.

“Aronade.” he states coolly. “Nice place you’re staying in here.” he speaks bitterly.

I look on him with a mixture of skepticism and contempt. His compassionless tone leads me to ask, “What are you doing here? Obviously you aren’t here out of concern for me!”

He shifts uncomfortably and looks off to the side.

“And what are you doing in that ridiculous outfit again?” I persist.

Though, I quickly realize what a mistake it could be to call the party uniform that in public — let alone as loudly as I did.

“You shouldn’t say that.” Mitchell is quick to protest.

I am tempted to look around me to see if anyone is listening in, but I decide against it. It’s too late for that. Plus, I’m sick of living in this world of fear and intimidation that they’ve created. I remind myself that it’s a lie that they’ll keep me alive so long as I live my life as dictated by their will.

I sigh and lean back into my pillow.

“You haven’t answered my question.” I charge him. “What is with that outfit? How can you be one of them?”

“What? Because I’m not as good as they are?” he questions.

I remind myself that just because he isn’t an elite doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be.

“You’re the one who hangs out with them … by choice.” he adds.

“Yeah, right … by choice.” I respond sarcastically. “Have you actually joined, or is that just a costume?”

“I didn’t come to discuss that.” he informs me.

“Then, why did you come? I don’t see any balloons.”

“I don’t have the money for balloons.”

I am dumbfounded. I hesitate … but then I decide to go ahead and ask.

“You don’t have any money?” I ask incredulously. “After all that, you don’t have any money?”

He makes a face then turns back toward the window. “It comes in installments.” Mitchell states. “And life has its expenses.”

I roll my eyes.

“They said I’d be set for life.” he manages.

“And you believed them?”

“I risked my life …”

“Did you?” I counter.

He turns on me then.

“There’s no point in discussing this with you when you’re against me!”

“I’m just trying to figure out who you are now.” I tell him.

“I don’t need your approval, Aronade.” he tells me.

“And what do you need from me now?” I ask him. “What could I possibly do for you?”

He hesitates. When I am about to speak again, he interrupts me.

“All right!” he exclaims with exasperation.

“I want you …” he lowers his voice. “… to talk to the Instructor for me.”

The Instructor … not Herr Frankfort? Suddenly, I realize that this request has Kurt written all over it.

“Did Kurt put you up to this?” I demand.

A look of scorn crosses Mitchell’s face.

“I bet he put you up to joining the regime’s personal guard as well. What? Is he trying to get you killed?”

“Listen, you’re wrong. Remember, he’s joined, too.” Mitchell counters.

“Has he? Really?”

“Yeah, so you’re wrong about him. And I don’t have time for your paranoia about Kurt anyway. I just need you to get me a short-term loan from the Instructor. I need a bigger place to live. You see, I’m married now …”

“You are? To whom?”

“You’ve never met her. Anyway, she’s pregnant, and we need a better place …”

“Then, why don’t you go to your good buddy Kurt?” I realize after I said it how catty that sounded, but I can’t take it back now.

“Kurt, unlike you, has already done enough for me …”

“And what do I owe you?” I return. “Besides, what has Kurt done to help you? Unless you’re referring to the rigging of the decimation, of course …”

With those words, Mitchell’s face contorts in rage.

“So, you aren’t going to help me, are you?” he spits.

“I’m not sure I could even if I tried. And quite frankly, I’m not sure your being involved with the Instructor would be best for you anyway.”

“Best for me?” he scoffs. “Here you are in the lap of luxury, and you think to lecture me?”

“This is the lap of luxury?” I think.

I know he means the Instructor’s mansion, not the facility … but still … it just shows how out of touch he can be.

“How did you get such a cozy position?” he charges. “We’re siblings. Did you even think of mentioning bringing me to live with the Instructor back then?”

I stare back at him blankly. I don’t trust him enough to tell him about my living situation with the Instructor. And it doesn’t appear as though Kurt has told him about my disease … yet. That’s one good thing at least.

“Is that all you think about — the wealth? There’s more to life than just money.” I tell him.

He rolls his eyes. I notice he doesn’t scrutinize the appropriateness of his actions but rather the appropriateness of my reaction toward them.

“Once again, who are you to lecture me? You try living without it — without his help. See if you don’t end up in the same position that I’m in — begging for crumbs from a worthless, self-righteous sister!”

“I’m imperfect; nobody said that I wasn’t. And I know I’m not worthy of God; you don’t have to convince me of that.” I sigh. “You make me wish I were a stranger to you. You seem to treat strangers better. Don’t you see you’re expecting too much from me?”

“You have so much. It wouldn’t be hard for you to help me out … to get me out of this situation.”

Finally, he flails his arms around, grunts in anger, then storms out of the room.

My heart pounds in my chest, and it takes me quite awhile to rebalance myself. One thing he said did strike me hard. Perhaps I am wrong not to try to survive without the Instructor’s help …

I am still shaken by Mitchell’s visit. I am literally shaking, actually. I am afraid he’ll come back again — afraid of what he might do to me if he does. What was he planning to do to me when he was wearing that mask? I shudder. Now he wants money. Sadly, if I had any money, I’d be tempted to give it to him — just to stop this tension that I feel. The only way to have peace with some people is to give them what they want. But then they end up wanting more …

I seriously doubt that will be the last confrontation I have with Mitchell if for no other reason than Kurt won’t allow it to be the last.

I often think about Mark these days. Sometimes I try not to think about our parting, but it always creeps into my mind. I wish I could tell him about my current circumstances. How will he even know where I am? I’m sure he would do everything he could to come back to me if he knew. I figure that Katie and Mark’s parents will reach out to Katie soon if they haven’t already. Would she let them know about me when they do? Unfortunately, even if she does know where I am I’m not convinced she would tell anyone.

Mark assured me he wouldn’t be gone for good. So, the question is, when will he resurface? Will it be weeks … or the years that I fear it could take? And will it be too late for me by the time that he does come back?

I do miss him. I miss having someone like him to talk with. Most people don’t understand me; I may as well be talking a foreign language when I speak. And yet, he’s not here. I knew logically that the distance would be hard … and it is. But I think it’s the not knowing if or when he’ll come back that’s the hardest thing of all. Then, I feel guilty for even thinking that way … for even doubting he’s coming back for a minute.

I am surprised when Mitchell comes back … apparently for another run at me for the Instructor’s money. Perhaps he and Kurt have come up with a different tact to try.

“Winter’s setting in again.” he observes. “It will be a lot more difficult to survive then.”

“It always is.” I return.

“Where do you suppose I can go?” he asks me pointedly. “This isn’t much of a life. And with a baby on the way …”

“Don’t blame the baby.” I tell him.

“But still, it’s another mouth to feed.”

“But the baby didn’t create the problem … and neither did I.” I remind him. “We just exist in a set of circumstances created by other people’s choices. Then, we get blamed for existing.”

Suddenly, Mitchell whirls around on me. In fact, it is so sudden that it startles me.

 “All right … I’ll come clean! I’m going to fight them! The elite … but I need money. Yeah, fight fire with fire. They think they can say anything they want — broadcast their worldview with impunity. So, I’m going to use the money to stop them from spreading their venom.”

“How? Don’t they have money of their own?”

“There are those on my side. Don’t you see, Aronade, these people have to be stopped! They’re emboldened when people do nothing. They have to be completely suppressed … and possibly eliminated. Otherwise, they’ll just continue to gain momentum until they take over completely. If we allow that, then they’ll come after us. We have to fight them their way — only better.”

I am skeptical about the sincerity of his new position, but just in case I am wrong …

“Their way?” I begin. “Isn’t that rather shortsighted of you?”

“How so?!” he demands.

“Isn’t their way Satan’s way? It certainly isn’t God’s way. He doesn’t take away people’s free will. And the system you create will be just as corrupt as the one you’re trying to replace. The targets — at least some of them — will be different, but it will prove to be the same. It’s happened before. Only if you contribute to it, you will be partially responsible for the damage it does. You’ll be jeopardizing your soul being complicit in it. Following Satan instead of God — nothing good can come of that.”

I know he isn’t taking what I am saying well, but I really don’t care at this point.

“So you just do nothing?”

“I pray.”

“You really believe God helps you?” he scoffs.

“Well, let’s put it this way. I would have been destroyed long ago if He weren’t. It isn’t from lack of trying by those who hate me that I’m still around. He intervenes of my behalf.”

He looks on me with anger, which conveys his certainty that he thinks he is completely right in his way of thinking — much like the other side does. He seems to believe that whatever means is necessary to win — to vanquish the enemy is justified. Even if both sides are inevitably and ironically playing for the same team. And there is a sense I get of “you put me in this position” and “you made me do this” I get from him. If only I’d go along with him, I wouldn’t now be his enemy. But the real issue remains that people have turned away from God. That is what has destabilized the world — why we’re on the verge of disaster again. But people are only interested in mitigating the consequences for themselves … they only care that someone else gets it instead of them. They don’t mind being in a corrupt system as long as they don’t pay the price for it. They want their sin, and they will have it. No, there’s no way to fix it; they don’t want to fix it.

“Does Kurt know what you’re planning on doing … going after the elite?” I then ask Mitchell.

Mitchell smirks. His look suggests he thinks I’m trying to manipulate the situation — to cause distrust between him and Kurt. Sadly for him, there is more than enough reason for him to be mistrustful of Kurt without my needing to say anything — only he’s too foolish to see it.

But in all seriousness, the reason I asked him that is that it is hard for me to believe that Kurt has turned against the elites. Even the Instructor isn’t out to get them per se. So, what could be motivating Kurt to help Mitchell undermine them? If that is indeed what is happening.

Though, it soon becomes clear Mitchell has no intention of answering my question … regrettably.

“You just want to win. It’s as simple as that.” I then tell Mitchell. “Justice and fairness have nothing to do with it. And it is a mistake to believe you can use things like money to fight evil. Money is Satan’s domain, and what is he going to do with paper or credit cards anyway? He and the people who follow him want the murder more. You’re just trying to get your own will met — to try to bypass God’s will. You want to rely on money instead of God. Yet, money can’t be relied upon. Your own experience has shown that money can be taken away from you at any time.”

“Ugh! I don’t know why I bother confiding in you! You’re too weak to do anything!”

Mitchell abruptly turns from me and walks away again. I sigh.

That night, I have a dream, which has the Instructor in it.

I sat there in my big chair — a puzzled expression creasing my face.

“So, you didn’t like today’s scenario?” he had asked me.

“I didn’t understand it.” I admitted.

He sat back and pondered me for a moment.

“How could I have known which option to choose?” I ask him.

He laughed.

“See, that’s the point. Sometimes you can’t tell. Sometimes people won’t give you a hint as to which way will save you and which way will doom you. It’s the ultimate mind game!” He paused. “Ah, yes, the gold room. The elites designed that scenario. Give the people what they want — a room filled with gold! Only they will be trapped inside … with nothing else. And the dust that rains down from above will soon mummify their corpses just like all the others.”

Then, I have another dream. I was surprised when we came out from underneath the ruins. At first, I had only seen the expanse of grasses from the courtyard spread out before me. But I could feel myself being overshadowed by something. So, I looked up and behind me. And there reaching up like spires into the sky were the monstrous pillars of ravaged buildings: skeletons reaching up for the clouds.

I was a young child, and I was with a boy a little older than me.

“Aronade!” he called out to me. “You know this isn’t going to end well, don’t you? You may as well accept it. This isn’t going to end well for you.”

I wake up in a cold sweat.

The next thing that happens is I get another visitor. It is the Instructor again.

“What is the point of going to a hospital if they don’t intend to treat me?” I ask him after a long silence where we just stare at each other.

“Well, they can’t exactly admit their drive toward eugenics until their plans are in place.” he whispers in a gleeful yet confidential tone. “Then, people won’t have a real choice what is done to them.”

I glare at him.

“I’m surprised you’re here.” I then jab at him in anger. “I suppose you wanted to see if they’ve killed me off yet.”

The Instructor gets an odd look on his face as though he can’t believe what I’m saying.

“Come now …” he begins.

“What do you mean ‘come now’? Really, I don’t think it will be long now before they get to me. I don’t know if they’re going in order of arrival or not. Who knows? But if you’re patient … I’m sure you’ll see me go.”

I see the Instructor’s face grow ashen.

“Don’t look at me like that!” I blast him. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about! Like you said, eugenics … apparently they really hate sick people — that or they just enjoy torturing us and killing us off. Either way, they’re picking us off one by one. Sometimes it’s more than one at around the same time. And as though that isn’t bad enough there are the mind games as well. They say people are getting some disease that’s going around — yeah, they make sure you get it. And yet, even if you don’t, you still die. And I thought you said they wouldn’t try to kill us off unless … that they were too afraid to try. But then, maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe only the ones with “pre-existing conditions” get the “special treatment.” I scoff. Then, I grin. “I wonder if I should tell them what will happen to them if I do die!”

The Instructor suddenly stands and begins to pace.

“There you go again! Pretending you didn’t know! Like you didn’t actually believe it could really be happening!” I accuse.

“Shut up, Puppet!” he screams at me. “Let me think!!”

I am stunned silent. I watch the Instructor pace to and fro. I am in disbelief. I don’t know whether to be relieved that he may actually do something or to be disturbed that for once he doesn’t seem to have any idea what to do. And here I thought he was such an expert on the world-system! It’s hard for me to fathom how he could possibly not know that they are actually killing people in the hospitals.

Suddenly, he turns an intense look on to me.

“I’ll be back here later.” he tells me with a quaking in his voice.

Then, he turns on his heel, leaving a stunned me behind.

The next thing I know, I am awakened by voices.

“Oh, my! She looks bad. I didn’t think it was possible she could look this bad. She won’t last much longer this way.”

“It’s a good thing you’re getting her out of here.” a woman agrees. “According to her chart, they’ve stopped feeding her.”

Silence.

They roll me out on a stretcher. I’m covered up as though I am dead. I don’t think I’m actually dead, though. It is strange — a strange scenario, I think. I had recognized the Instructor’s voice — the other voice had spoken too lowly for me to be able to recognize it. Apparently, the Instructor has come for me after all. But then, his help is very rarely helpful — not completely.

I am loaded into an ambulance … no sirens and not much speed. But I am glad for every second, for we are moving farther away from that dreadful place — I never want to go back there. So we drive … and drive …

Day breaks. Someone must have removed the sheet that was on my head, for I can see what’s around me now. I am stiff and tired. I no longer have an IV, so I am feeling particularly dehydrated. And when am I going to be fed?

I can only see out the back window, so I have to watch the world in reverse.

We are driving through the countryside. I find it strange that we have left the city. I had thought I was being taken back to the mansion. I also must have dozed off, I conclude, for I have clearly lost time. I stare out the back window and watch the landscape slowly changing.

I feel numb. Then, about an hour later — I imagine it to be about an hour, though I can’t really know for sure — the landscape begins to look familiar to me again. Could it be? Could we be heading back toward the complex? I am actually pretty relieved at the thought of that possibility. To lie in my old bed again! To shut out the world and its gruesomeness once more! My heart begins to pound in my chest. That’s right, I’m still sick. But surely I’ll be able to recover once I get some rest. I have been granted a reprieve. The noose is still there, but at least it’s not around my neck at the moment.

Speaking of rest, I am exhausted. And the relief I feel relaxes me to the point where I am able to fall asleep again …

Something’s not right — we’ve stopped. But clearly we are not at the complex. What’s going on here?

Then suddenly, the back doors of the ambulance are swiftly opened, and I come face to face with the Instructor. I blink a few times when I see his visage.

“Good, Puppet, you’re awake!” he announces.

He pulls the door shut behind him. He appears to be moving so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of him with my eyes.

“We don’t have a lot of time. They’ll be coming for you soon.”

“They?” I repeat. My voice sounds so scratchy and hoarse.

“Yes. You’re being admitted.”

“Admitted? To where?”

“Another hospital.”

“Why?” I choke.

I had wanted to hold it together, but I just can’t. I am far too exhausted, and I figure that my blood sugar must have dropped due to my lack of food.

“Why can’t I just go home?” I ask him pleadingly.

“Home?” he asks me skeptically.

I can tell his meaning by the tone in his voice. He is telling me I have no “home.” What I had left behind was a warehouse I had been stored in when it had been convenient. Now I am adrift — shuttled around with no permanent place in which to land.

I have to find the strength to hold it together somehow. But I am too weak to do that at this point. If only he had gotten me out of that facility sooner, I might have stood more of a chance. But now, how can I hope to cope with another hospital stay now? And would it be any better than the last place — really?

My whole body stiffens. I can’t take this anymore, I think. Another prison …

“Why move me? What was the point?”

“This is a better hospital.” the Instructor replies with a smile.

Why should I be surprised that he finds the situation to be amusing? The things that he’s done …

“Don’t you recognize this place?” he asks me. I strain my eyes beyond him, but I can’t see anything of note.

“They managed to rebuild much of it …” he enthuses. “With some financial support, of course. It was a shame to just let it all decay like that … and being so close to the complex …”

“You don’t mean?!”

“Of course, I mean … The city they destroyed has sprung to life again. Isn’t that delicious? And, of course, you have to be here.”

I feel sick — sicker than I was before. I frown. Then, I cast my eyes on the scene. Gone is any freshness in the air; it is now dry and stings the throat. Then, I notice for the first time there seems to be some sort of toxin permeating the atmosphere. The sky is dark and overcast and seems to be like a lid bearing down. It’s like the world has been stripped of life here.

“You brought me back to where I almost died … to where I …”

He places his finger against his lips.

“Who would look for you here?” he points out.

“I don’t know how you did it.” I tell the Instructor. “To make the environment reflect the moral decay of the society within it.”

“Who’s to say I’ve done anything?” he taunts me. “Just remember, I didn’t make you sick. This mess of yours isn’t of my making, Puppet.”

I swallow.

“I’m done.” I say.

“What?”

“I’m done playing the game. This isn’t real. None of this is real. And I won’t pretend it is anymore. You’re never going to be able to convince me. I won’t participate. It’s a waste of your time.”

“Finally.” he laughs unabashedly. “Congratulations. You’re finally ready for what the world has become.”

I look on him with annoyance. I’m done with his lessons, too.

Then suddenly, another figure appears on the scene. It is Nan. She pulls the Instructor off to the side. I am surprised to see Nan here. She apparently helped the Instructor transfer me to the hospital. And yet, before I even have the chance to consider if her presence means she cares about me, she speaks to him,

“How do we know the virus won’t mutate inside of her?” Nan asks. “I read about those things.” Nan confesses. I can see she is wringing her hands. “It could mutate and become airborne.”

“Maybe.” the Instructor scoffs. “And maybe you could be hit by lightening …”

“That’s not funny … it could happen.”

The Instructor suddenly springs forward and grabs her by the arm.

“Don’t even think about it!” he snaps.

“About what?” Nan echoes.

“About Aronade. If you’re so afraid, stay away. But don’t you dare consider exposing her identity or whereabouts … right now … or you’ll pay for it. And you know me, you know you will.”

“Well, you won’t live forever.”

“So?”

“So, someone will eventually turn her in … there are lives at stake.”

“There are always lives at stake.” the Instructor returns. “But what does it matter once I’m dead? Obviously she’ll be on her own then. But until then, you betray her, you betray me. And if you betray me, you’ll be left with nothing. They aren’t going to take care of you …”

“All right.” Nan finally relents.

“I’d better be able to believe you.” the Instructor warns. “Don’t make me doubt it again.”

Nan leaves, and the Instructor pops back into the ambulance again.

“In any event, they should take good care of you here.” the Instructor begins dismissively.

“And if they don’t …?”

A chill goes through me when I see the look on his face. If they kill me, they’ll be unwittingly killing themselves. And what a “delicious” game that would be!

I want to remind him that he would die, too, but what would be the point? He doesn’t seem to care. The strange demented look on his face suggests that he is beyond caring. This is what he lives for — possibly the only thing he lives for.

Really, the only positive thing I can say about the Instructor’s reappearance at this point is that it makes me almost want to go inside the hospital just to get away from him. I grow sullen.

“Well, I think it’s time to have you moved.” he announces.

Apparently, the fun is over for him. I watch him leave, unsure of how I will muster the strength to keep going. This is probably another eugenics factory. What are the odds they will let me live? And if they find out who I am, they’ll probably quarantine me then kill me off. My viral status is actually probably more likely to be discovered here, I conclude warily. I laugh to myself. Maybe the Instructor really doesn’t want to die after all. I would have been more likely to die, decompose, and spread the disease on where I was before than here. He must know that. Maybe it’s gotten so bad with him that he’s starting to play mind games with himself.

The door to the ambulance reopens abruptly and a woman with a smile but with cold eyes peers in at me. It is time … or, really, I am out of time. At that moment, things are set to turn out badly for me. I didn’t fully grasp how many sadists there truly are now in the world. It is time to pray again, I think.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020