Fleeing Home

Fleeing Home
by Trusty Hawk

President Wilson looked grave as he stood before the crowd of press and citizens, all of whom were terrified at the events that had transpired a week earlier on December 21st, 2012. They had all heard the Mayan doomsday theory, and they had either disregarded it, or thought that they’d all be liberated from the planet and then be passed to Judgement. What the press brought home from the incident in D.C., however, was something that no person, no race, no ancient civilization could have imagined in their worst nightmares. Terror had taken living, breathing forms, and to make it all worse, humanity had to be its witness and its victim. Wilson hoped to give the people a way out, some comfort of mind if they followed.
“My fellow citizens” he said into the microphone, “we have reached a dangerous, unpredictable time in our history. Thousands of years ago, the Mayan people foresaw a great shift in events that would alter the course of the world that would begin seven days ago. Some of us feared our deaths, some of us took it as a fairy tale. But what we, nor anyone else on this Earth could imagine, was that it would be the day that a new, illegal, unnatural science would do this!!”
Here, he pointed at a large screen behind him, showing first a picture of a young woman in a large crowd bent over in pain. The slide shifted to a picture of her growing taller, her teeth becoming fangs, her skin becoming covered in scales, and a tail with a scorpion-like stinger on its end tearing out of her rear. Finally, a picture showed of Republican Speaker of the House Jennifer Adams lying dead, her right arm in the mouth of a horrific, dragon-like creature that could no longer be identified as the human she once was. The audience was shocked: the had heard of the Draconic Terror, the death of the only high-position Republican as she reluctantly reported the Democrat-approved economic plans. But the press members that had been able to escape merely showed the monstrous thing as it flew on bat-like wings towards a new home in the Appalachain Mountains; no one had the gall to show the Congresswoman’s demise.
Wilson gazed over the sea of stunned faces, analyzing the effect of the images on them, and continued.
“In the past, America has had brilliant scientists to help to benefit this land. Most were beneficial. We have a better standard of living than almost any other country in the world. Some were drastic, but necessary, such as the atomic bomb, which ended World War II. But this,” he said, pointing at the last picture,”this is unholy. This was not created to benefit anyone. If we allow this to go unchecked, it could lead to the death of the entire human race!” At this, several members of the crowd began to sob for the fear of their lives. “But we shall not let this transpire! The Democratic party and I have worked endlessly for a week, and we have created a brilliant solution to safeguard this country and its people.
“As of tomorrow morning, every scientist in the nation will have every aspect of their work examined, investigated, and searched for any signs of malice. For those who fail this test of responsibility to our nation, they shall be imprisoned for 50 years, and upon release, will be reassigned to new, more altruistic causes. For those who pass, they shall finish their current projects, but upon completion of their work, will be assigned to creating ways to destroy the menaces created by their evil colleagues!” The audience cheered. “But, to completely destroy this menace, we need your help. We are counting on you to donate your arms to our militia to destroy the horrific creations of science. We are counting on you to report to the authorities any and all suspicious activity you see. And we are counting on YOU to undertake ‘clean’ science to assist us in finding ways to rid the world of dark science and its monsters ONCE AND FOR ALL!!”
As the last syllables of his speech rang out over the audience, they broke out in a cheer. Wilson beamed. He had their trust, their support, and their obedience. He took one last reflective look over the picture of the creature who was once an ecologist who studied the progress of the environmental clean-ups. With her vocal cords completely altered, she could not speak, only roar and growl. Even if she had any remaining piece of her human mind, she couldn’t express its thoughts, ideas, and worries.
Everything was going according to plan.
Ch. 1-Gadget
“On this, March 1st, 2035, I hereby find the defendant, Kathryn Eldridge, guilty of the practice of capitalism, consorting with monsters, refusing to give the location of said monsters to the authorities, refusal to surrender documents of rebellious intent to authorities, and speaking against the practice of government of the United States of America. You will be executed by the guillotine on March 5th, 2035. Next case.” the judge said without a hint of emotion.
Executed. I probably should’ve guessed it from the moment I began selling amethyst crystals to those friendly goat monsters who lived on the other side of the hill. Capitalism was banned in the country since 2015; the Government said it was much more efficient if people worked for it, made goods for it to sell to them, and have their expenses and taxes deducted from an account in which their wages were placed. No free circulating money meant that there’d be less crime, in theory. To be honest, it only created anarchy within communism: it wasn’t that uncommon for people to steal from and attack each other for whatever meager goods the government provided for us.
As if selling the crystals to anyone, let alone monsters, was bad enough, we were all expected to tattle on each other if another person so much as saw a monster in the flesh. The Government didn’t tell us what kinds of monsters there were, what they looked like, or what any of their habits were. They just told us in School that if we saw something that wasn’t a human or normal animal, it would most likely kill us if we turned our backs on it for a second, and we had to tell the Police about the encounter, or we’d get thrown in jail for 5 years for every monster we saw. The goat monsters, to my surprise when I met them, were actually very friendly and they loved the pretty, shiny rocks that I collected from the pond beneath the old mine. I took to stringing them together and making jewelry for them, and they were absolutely enthralled. They gave me some old pieces of gold and the location of a black market, and they said that they’d supply me with gold to pick up hemp string and beading wire as long as I gave them jewelry.
And so began my thrilling experiences in free market. Sometimes, I’d have some money left over after I bought and gathered materials, so I began to save up and then spend on stuff for myself at the black market. Two weeks after I started my illegal adventure, I was able to buy a large sewing kit and some cloth. I took to helping to sew patches in my family’s clothes, and after a while, some of our neighbors asked me to mend theirs too. At first I was able to do it free of charge, but before too long my supply of cloth dried up. It then became necessary to ask my clients for leftover cloth and thread. They didn’t mind, though. In fact, they usually said that my work was always so machine-like exact and prompt that they took to calling me Gadget. My second count of capitalism was in progress.
Eventually, I had to dig deeper to get the gems the goat monsters wanted. One fateful morning, I found something other than quartz in that dirt: a large, old box sealed with a thin layer of cement. The goat monsters cracked it open, and we found several ancient documents of America, such as one called “The Declaration of Independence” and “The Constitution of the United States of America”. I found the content to be beautiful: a country that doesn’t live for its government, but for its people. Where people could take risks, not the Government. Where Liberty held up her torch to enlighten all those under her eagle’s wings. I couldn’t just keep it to myself, I had to spread the word of this wonderful idea, but I wanted to keep the documents safe. The goat monsters agreed to guard them, though it took 30 bracelets of wire, amethyst, rose quartz, and clear quartz to convince them.
I told my family about the wonders I read of, but, although I saw the glint of admiration in their eyes, they told me not to tell anyone what I’d found, and to burn the documents. Such activity could get me in trouble, and they had already set their hopes on me to become a Pure Scientist, one of the very few jobs that offered a higher pay than all other careers. I didn’t listen, and I told a few people around the market about democracy. Unfortunately, that was one of the days that undercover officers were showing themselves for what they were and arresting all perpetrators. After I sprinted away and hid my possessions with the goat monsters, the Police came to my family’s shack and arrested me. People who I’d helped tattled on me for my crimes in exchange for false “plea bargains”.
As the courthouse guards lead me to Death Row Holding, the weirdest thing about it was that I didn’t regret anything that I’d done. It all felt good, like I was doing a service to my fellow citizens. I didn’t do anything wrong, just lived life the way I thought was most moral and best for everyone.
Still, the idea of the guillotine slamming down on my throat wasn’t exactly something that made me thrilled.
I was taken to a small, gloomy room where three concrete cells where lined up to face a wall. They took me into the farthest down of them, and slid the steel door behind me. I looked out of a barred window the size of a shoebox to the night sky. The full moon was in the center, as if to keep watch over our humble valley and intervene if we erred. I leaned against the back wall and listened to some of the night’s sounds: crickets, owls, and here and there a wolf howling. That was one of the very few good things the Government has done. Over 33 years, it was able to restore hundreds of thousands acres by tearing down many buildings of businesses and keeping the few that it alone supplied. The animals would be able to live on like we’d never been here if all humans were wiped out. At the time, both parts of these idea delighted me; apart from my family, no humans had shown much care for each other.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of a guard yelling at another prisoner. Must’ve brought him in overnight, I thought, since all the cells had previously been empty.
“You either take all of what we give you, or you starve for your final hours!” the guard barked.
“But I can’t-” a young male voice protested. This startled me. He couldn’t be older than 11. What could he have done to end up here?
“THAT’S FINAL!!” the guard roared, turning out of the corridor and slamming the door behind him.
I heard him sigh, and noticed a plate in front of my cell with an old biscuit, a few pieces of jerky, and cold coffee. I slid the plate closer to the bars to get my food, but the plate made a small sound against the floor.
“Is someone there?” the prisoner asked.
“Just me”, I replied. I paused for a minute and said, “You know, that guard is a real jerk. He’s probably just mad that he doesn’t make as much as the judge.”
“Yeah”, he said with a small laugh.
“What did you need, by the way?” I inquired.
“I was going to ask them if I could have another biscuit instead of the meat. I’m a vegetarian.”
“Oh. I’ll trade if you want.”
“Yeah”, I said, pushing my plate closer to the cell next to me. He pulled it towards him, and after a few seconds, nudged it back with two helpings of meat on it.
“Thank you so much.”
“No problem”, I said as I picked up a piece of jerky. It looked better than it actually was; it took forever to chew two rubbery pieces, so I saved them for later and drank the coffee. After a while, I asked,”Came in last night, huh?”
“This morning. I was caught last night.”
“What for? Someone like yourself couldn’t have done something that bad.”
He hesitated for a minute, and then replied,”Trying to get a ticket to England on the black market. My family was able to be smuggled there a few months ago, and I’m trying to get there too.” He sighed. “The merchant turned out to be a Secret Policeman.”
“They exist?” I asked. I’d heard of them a few times in the market, but I thought they were just a creation of paranoid salespeople.
“Yeah. How old are you by the way, and why are you here? You sound too nice to do anything bad.”
I blushed at the comment. “Sixteen. I spoke against the Government, I was in free market, I met with a few goat monsters, I found documents, and I wouldn’t turn them over.”
“Wow. Death’s pretty harsh for just doing that.”
“Yeah. Someone who’s about 11 shouldn’t be here for black market either.”
“Ten, actually, but I’ll be 11 in-.” He stopped suddenly, and said sadly, “I’m ten and ten months.”
“You poor thing! Well, if there’s any way out of here, I’m making sure that you’re the first one free!”
“Thanks, but I’m not sure if that’s possible.”
“Well, what do we have left to lose?”
He was silent for a while, and then asked, “Do you have any ideas?”
“One. One of the guards keeps his keys on his Rotweiller’s collar. We could try to get them.”
“Cool!” It gave me a spark of happiness to hear his spirits up.
“I’m Kathy, by the way. Everyone calls me Gadget though.”
“Ok Gadget. I’m Stephen.”
And within those fifteen minutes, I completely changed the course of my life.
Chapter 2-Stephen

From her idea of escaping, Gadget was either fearless, knew a lot about the security of this place of terror, or was absolutely insane. Still, she was right on one thing–anyone on Death Row had nothing left to lose. I just hoped that it wouldn’t have to come down to dying in four days.
The guard with the dog Gadget spoke of had a night shift, which was beneficial, because most Government workers usually were drained by 11 pm, it’d be easier to escape, and I’d become more active during night. The plan was to wait until 1 am, tempt the dog to us with the meat from breakfast, grab the key, and then run for our lives. How the last part would have been accomplished, we couldn’t determine exactly, but we came to an agreement that the best choice at the time would have been to hide in the sub-ceiling near the offices until we could get a way out.
“I’m not even sure where we could go”, Gadget confessed. “I can’t go back home, because the Police would just come running after me again.”
“Well, to be honest”, I said, “if you were a Death Row escapee in this country, I don’t think that you’d be able to hide anywhere for a long time. Maybe we should go to a different country.”
“You’re probably right”, she said. “You’re already trying to get to England, but, where can I go?”
“Maybe you can come with me.”
“Maybe”, she said, in a lighter tone. “Do you think that they would accept someone like me?”
“Are you able to use a computer?”
“Do you have a certain skill?”
“I can play a trombone, sew, and I know a lot about science.”
“Except for what you’re already here for, do you get into trouble a lot?”
“Nope. This is the first.”
“Ok then. You’ll be fine. What kinds of science do you know about?”
“Biology, anatomy, chemistry, and some physics. I need to brush up on the last two though.”
“Uh, ok”, I said, trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about. “So, you know a lot about the goat monsters, right?”
“Yeah. They’re pretty neat. They’re herbivorous, and interestingly enough, they have a really interesting culture.”
“Yeah. They play simple musical instruments, like reed flutes and stuff, and they have a few individuals who are designated for memorizing their history. They’re a lot like the Aborigines or the tribes of Africa.”
She and I talked until the sun went down. After that we both got really quiet. I was pretty nervous about what we were about to pull off, because I’d never heard of escapees that survived more than a day. From what the Government told us in the news, they were either found immediately and captured, or they ran into a monster’s territory and were eaten. I had a feeling that Gadget was pretty nervous too, because she was really quiet.
About an hour before the shifts changed, she asked me, “Stephen? Can you do me a favor?”
“What is it?”
“If, for some reason, I don’t make it out, could you tell the goat monsters in the village to keep the documents safe? They may help someone later on.”
“And, can you tell them to deliver a note to my family, saying that I love them?”
“Of course.”
“We’re not dead yet”, I said, trying to comfort her. “We have a plan, and we’re going to try.”
We both sat in the darkness, waiting. The noise of guards moving about told us that the shifts had changed. I laid against the cell wall closest to the door, trying to listen for any sound to tell us when to act. Finally, I heard the light snoring of one of the guards.
“Gadget, it’s time.”
She moved about her cell, and then stuck her hand out with several pieces of jerky. She quietly whistled and called for the dog. The Rotweiller moved over to the Holding door, and Gadget beckoned further.
“Here, boy!” she said quietly between whistles. “Come and get it!”
The dog started towards her, but stopped when it got to my cell door. It stared at me for about thirty seconds, and then ran over to Gadget.
“Good boy! Good boy!” she praised, giving it the meat and gently petting it. She lifting two keys from around its neck, and tried them in the lock of her door. After five minutes, she stopped and said “Neither one of them fit my door. You try,” she said, sliding them over to me. I jiggled the key in the lock, and after I heard a faint click, slowly pulled open my door.
“Gadget, I’m free!” I said with a hushed excitement.
“Good”, she replied. “No one else is in the last cell, right?” I checked, and found it empty.
“The guard’s still asleep. I’ll look for your key.” I turned to leave the corridor, and found an old, pale guard with piercing eyes staring down at me.
“Up a little late, aren’t you?” he snarled.
Chapter 3-Gadget

I was so scared that I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, could barely take a breath. We had been caught in committing one of the worst looked-upon crimes in the nation. I was an idiot to think that this could’ve worked. Of course we couldn’t have escaped. And now, we’d be tortured.
The guard walked over to my cell, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You were the one who found those documents, huh?”
“I-I, um, well, yeah,” I stuttered, trying to see what he’d do.
“Let me guess the first line to the newer of the two,” he said, clearing his throat. Then he began in a stoic tone,”We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
My eyes opened wide in surprise: he didn’t miss a single word to a document that had been buried for years! I never told anyone what the documents were about except for a government system where the people had power, not a President and his military. Finally, I asked “How did you know that?”
“That was the Preamble to what was our foundation for government and lawmaking. The Constitution told us how to act, the Declaration of Independence told us why. We broke away from England for a reason: they treated us like simple-minded morons when we knew that we could fend for ourselves and didn’t need a guy in a jewel-encrusted hat to boss us around.”
“Are you sure that you’re talking about the right country, because that doesn’t sound like America today”, Stephen noted.
“You’d be surprised of what can look like something else, I-13.” Stephen then became quiet. I took it that he, like I, didn’t like having to answer to a letter-number prisoner title.
“Well, why are you telling us this?” I inquired. “You’re a guard for the Government. You’re able to live above the rest of us who live in makeshift huts.”
“And the reason why is because the Government you know is a conspiracy!” the guard hissed. He looked over our faces, and continued. “That’s right. The Government was taken by a group of politicians, businessmen, and army and naval experts who wanted to control this country.”
“How?” Stephen asked in a quivering voice.
“It was easy. They advocated for the things that everyone wanted, but didn’t explain the means that they’d accomplish those goals. To be honest, I imagined our future of ecosystem restoration, free national health care, physical fitness, and civil order to be different from living in houses from recycled junk, low-quality hospitals, near-starvation, and Secret Police.
“Once they had their trust, they needed one more thing to bring the people under one source of control. That dragon-woman who ate that Speaker of the House was the controlling party’s blessing. All they had to do was convince the people that they’d die unless they followed their orders, everyone fell into line.”
“So, basically, we live in dictatorship communism that was started by greed and fueled by mass paranoia?” I asked.
“That pretty much hits the nail on the head.”
A slow grin came over Stephen’s face. “You’re sick of the way things are, huh?” he asked the guard.
“Well, I wouldn’t say I love it here, but-”
“You want things back the way they were?”
“Yeah, but-”
“You’d overthrow the Government and put it back the way it’s supposed to be if you could?”
After a pause, the guard whispered, “Heck yes.”
“We’re going somewhere. I don’t care where it is as long as it’s not this country. If we show them what’s going on over here, they can help us.”
“Stephen, we’re going to need more than just saying please to convince another country to go in, overthrow the current system, and allow us to rebuild it as we please”, I noted.
“T-98’s got a good point” the guard said, “which is why we need to get to the best-equipped country that hates America’s guts.”
“No, it’s been invaded and it’s become a territory.”
“Maybe Canada?”
“Canada wouldn’t last ten seconds, and they don’t hate America enough.”
Stephen said, “England’s not as power-hungry. Maybe we can let them have some say in power if they help.”
The guard thought. “You may be onto something. But we can’t just offer power, we need to give them a place in economy.”
“Won’t that just put us where we already are?” I asked.
“Well, as long as we give them some and not all, it shouldn’t,” the guard replied.
“So, off to England, then?” Stephen said with anticipation.
“Not yet. We can’t just run off. We need to make it look like you two are on the run, and that I’m after you. That way, we could all run for our lives, and the Government will never be the wiser. And to do that,” he said with a smirk,”I-13 must vanish, and T-98 must make the escape of her life in front of hundreds of people.”
“How’ll that work?” I asked.
“Easy,” he said. “You’ll fly away from Death.”

Chapter 4- Stephen

I had no idea if we’d be able to pull this off.  Escaping from the prison itself in any way, shape or form would be nearly impossible.  All the guards were trained to a “T” and armored to the teeth.  There were at least 3 active watchtowers over the area at all times.  The prison was completely surrounded by a twenty-foot high, electric, razor wire-topped fence.  And, to make sure that no one could catapult themselves out, the Government had the prison built on the top of a mountain, leaving a 200-foot drop-off that could somebody could only survive if they were in the heavily-monitored, guards-only incline rail leading from the prison’s front door to the courthouse.

If we’d be able, by some miracle, to get past all of this, there was still the matter of being able to avert the Government until we could find a way to England.  The Government trained the fastest horses, built the largest satellites, and bred the toughest, most vicious search dogs in this half of the globe.  To add salt to the wound, they offered huge rewards of money, higher job positions, and prison pardons for all citizens who turned in escaped criminals.  Not surprisingly, all the escapees I’d heard of were publicly executed no less than twenty four hours after they got loose, or they had been captured by (or maybe fed to) nearby monsters.

I told all of this to Gadget, and she agreed.  “The Government has had a perfect record of always getting their guy.  If I’m right, they’re not going to let us be the first stains on that record.  But, what other choice do we have?  We can either die here or die trying to do something good for the country.  Besides, that guard seems like he doesn’t like how the cards are dealt right now.  Maybe he’s really going to help us.”

“Maybe.  But he’s got a good job for the Government, the security of not having to get caught up in even the black market, and from what I guess a stable life.  Why would he want to throw it all away to break two kids on Death Row out?”

“Stephen, I read in some of the documents I found that this really smart guy named Benjamin Franklin said that those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve and end up with neither.  I agree with him.  It’d be better to determine the course of your own life than to be someone’s puppet forever.  Maybe it’s to help him sleep better at night and stuff.”

I thought about it for a while.  She did have a point; I’d rather be free to follow my own beliefs than to have someone tell me what they can and can’t be.  And I guess it really takes a toll on a guy if they have to have their personal code assigned to them by a system instead of him.

“You’re probably right”, I said.  “So, do you have any ideas on where we’ll go to get our tickets to a better life?”

“Well, I’m not sure.  I was thinking about going to the goat monsters after we broke out to get my stuff, then we’d go through the woods until we found a place where they haven’t heard of us.”

“Maybe we could find a group to travel with instead.  I’m not sure how long we’ll last in the woods alone with the Government after us.”

“Other than the goat monsters, I don’t know who, though.”

“I can help find a group.  I know some people, and I’m great at persuading them.”

“Really? That’d be awesome!  And I guess it would be safer in a group.  Who knows?  Maybe they’re looking for the same kind of place we are.”

“I can imagine that they would”, I affirmed.  We were quiet for a while, and then I asked, “The guard said that you’d fly away from death, right?”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Do you have any idea how?”

“No clue.  I’m guessing it’s a need-to-know basis for when he’ll tell me.”

“I hope we know soon.  We’ve only got four days until the execution.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly.

We spent the rest of that day and the next two talking about stuff we liked, particularly Edgar Allen Poe, the Beatles’ music, and Tim Burton movies.  To my surprise, we actually had a lot in common.  Viewpoints on life, preferences of food, level of coffee addiction; you name it, we had the same.

On the morning of the day before the execution, the guard finally came into the Holding again.  Before we could ask him anything, he said that a guard witnessing an execution the day before shot the executioner.  As a result, guards were not allowed to be armed in the Death Room until further notice.

“What happened to the guard?” I asked.

“He killed an employee of the law in a room full of armed men.  What do you think happened?” the guard replied grimly.  I then became silent.  “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway because we start acting today.  Mr. Stephen here will go missing tonight, before I go out and find his bloody prison shirt at the bottom of the mountain.  Tomorrow, you’ll meet me at the top of the first tower from the Death House when you escape,” he said to Gadget.

“You still haven’t told me how I’m getting out of a guarded room from being strapped down in a guillotine.”

“Well,” he said, holding up a small dart and a hollowed out piece of bamboo, “let’s say that you won’t exactly be yourself just before you’re supposed to die.

“I-13, hide in the sub-ceiling above the offices until I come get you.  No one ever thinks to search the guard towers.  Have a nice evening, T-98.”  He then left both of us confused and anxious in our cells.

Chapter 5-Gadget

That night, the guard unlocked Stephen’s cell and let him into the sub-ceilings.  He’d be transported to the watchtower in a recycling bin later on.  Before he left, Stephen went over to my cell to wish me good luck, and I was able to get my first look of him.  He was fairly tall for his age, getting close to five feet, kinda scrawny, with a complexion that wasn’t pale, but wasn’t tan either.  His light brown hair was kinda shaggy, which was understandable considering that he’d been living off of whatever he could find for the past few months.  I liked his eyes, they were large, liquid, and with a lovely shade of brown.  There was something off about him though, something that set him apart from every other boy I’d seen.  In general, he was pretty adorable for a kid who had been on his own for a long time.

After he’d gone, I felt like a source of relief had been taken away from me.  The Holding became uncomfortably quiet, and I had the sensation of being in a soundproof box.  Without Stephen to talk to, the minutes passed agonizingly slowly.  I tried to sleep but couldn’t, despite how drained I felt.

After about two hours, an owl flew to my cell window.  I tried to offer it meat, but it just stayed motionless.  I tried scaring it off, but it wouldn’t even flinch.  All it did was stare me directly in the face.  It freaked me out, so I turned away from it, suddenly overtaken by exhaustion, flopped on the ground, and slept.

My dream was a lot weirder than the ones that I usually have, not only in content, but that in I can still remember them to this day whereas other dreams are forgotten completely by breakfast.  I was still in the cell, but much of the wall had been blown off by…something, and the daylight was tainted by an eerie green gas that stained the entire sky.  There was a light pressure on my chest, and I was surprised that 9, from the Tim Burton movie, was standing on my chest and desperately shaking me by the collar of my prison dress.

“You have to hurry!  We’re losing them quickly, and we’re running out of time to bring them back!” he pleaded, pulling my hand in a direction where a series of loud blasts resonated through the valley.

“What?  Are a lot of people hurt?” I asked, getting up and following him where he ran.  “Is it serious?”

“Can’t talk! We have to get there before it’s too late!” We sprinted to a crumbling building that, in a strange way, looked like the Capitol Building of Washington, D. C.  He led me through a fairly large hole in one of the walls to the base of what looked like a large arena-style room where a portrait of a worn, older, white-haired man was hung upon the wall.  On the ground lay five small shapes covered with a bath towel.  9 pulled it back to show the lifeless dolls marked 1, 2, 5, 6, and 8, the very characters who died in the movie.

“We were able to recover them with the device a few hours ago, and I pushed the buttons in the sequence, but nothing’s happening!  You’re the only other human who’s not succumbing to the gas. We need your help to wake them up.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t make any guarantees,” I said as I picked up the body of 2.  I turned him over, looking for anything that could help me help the poor thing.  After finding nothing, I absent-mindedly gave him a light kiss on the top of his head.  The doll suddenly opened his eyes and stirred.  Excited, I set him down and kissed the heads of the others, and much to my delight, they awoke.  With my task completed, I got up to look at the painting of the gentleman, who, strangely, looked more calm and peaceful.  On the bottom panel of the frame was inscribed his name:  Washington.

Soon, 3, 4, and 7 entered carrying what looked like a large dog.  “We found one more.  He was awake until they threw a stone at him and hit his head,” 7 explained.  9 looked pleadingly at me, and I bent over to help the poor canine.  But, instead of kissing his forehead, I, for no reason I knew, put my lips on his and kissed passionately.  He stirred, and licked my face.

“There’s only one more thing you need to do, and you’ll be able to revive all of humanity,” 9 said, going to a trunk.  He opened it, and pulled out a red, white, and blue flag of fifty stars and thirteen stripes.  “Hang this from the pole outside, and they’ll all wake up.”

I took the flag from him gently and carried it to a large pole outside, with the dolls and the dog following me.  3 and 4 picked up a small recording device, and played a lovely song called “The Star-Spangled Banner” as I hoisted the flag up the pole.  As the last notes died out, I couldn’t help but shed a tear at the great beauty of the flag.  In the distance, I saw some figures start to get up.

But, out of nowhere, a screech split through the air.  The dolls cried out in horror and fled for their lives, and the dog barked furiously at my side.  I turned and saw the dragon that had come into being so long ago.  It flew at the pole, tore the flag from it, and set fire to it.  As soon as it started to burn, the figures in the distance collapsed again.  I was horror-stricken:  paradise lost in a matter of seconds.  The dragon then fixed her fiery eyes and lunged at me.  A second before she ate me alive, I jolted awake.  It was morning, the end of the world was not upon us, but the owl was still perched at my window, staring at me.  It looked towards the Holding door, took once last glance at me, and flapped off before the guard came in to lead me out.

I stood up shakily, and when he led me out of the corridor, he whispered to me,” The execution room was flooded, so they brought the guillotine into a courtyard.  Wriggle backwards when you feel it start, and keep your dress with you.”  Before I could ask him what he meant, he passed me to two other guards clad in black uniforms.  To be honest, I can’t retrace how we got to the execution area, but I remember being led onto a metal catwalk to an outside courtyard, where a small drum line furiously beat out a death rhythm and where scores of bloodthirsty guards waited on the ground below.  I was taken to a platform at the end of the walk where the guillotine stood tall and judgmental over what I had done.

They strapped me down on my back to a wooden board, which they slid into the death machine until my throat faced to a sharp, metal blade.  I clenched my eyes shut and waited for it all to be over.  Suddenly, I felt a sharp sting in my right shoulder.  I started to feel light-headed, and, though I was bound tightly, started to wriggle back.  Then, I felt a sudden, sharp pain all over my body and my bonds became looser as the rope for the guillotine was released.  I kept moving back, and was surprised to hear the blade fall without hurting me.  Of course, that didn’t shock me nearly as much as what I saw next.

I had shrunk until I was about two feet tall.  My arms now spread into relatively large wings, and I was covered in feathers.  Talons that dug into the burlap fabric of my dress capped my now-scaly feet.  I opened my mouth to scream, but all that came out was the cry of a hawk.

Chapter 6-Stephen

From my past experiences, I knew what the dart and blowgun was used for in the Government, and I had a general idea of what it did and how. I just didn’t know exactly what she’d become when the guard hit her with it and how long she’d be in that form. At the first sound of a hawk’s screech, my first impulse was to jump up and see if she was ok. The guard, though, made me sit out of sight, and gave me a makeshift periscope to see the action.
Gadget stood where she was for a moment, completely bewildered. I could understand; it took me a few days to come to terms with what I became. After a split second though, she dug her talons into her prison dress, furiously beat her wings, and frantically took off towards the tower. The guards watching roared and all ran after her in a futile attempt to catch her. She sped towards us, gaining height and speed as she wove through obstacles, came closer, circled the tower, and flew into the monitoring area.
As I predicted that she’d probably do, the first thing she did was screech at the guard. Strangely, I could almost pick out what she was trying to say. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?! she seemed to cry.
“Calm yourself! Do you want the entire prison staff to hear you?” the guard hissed. “The effect of this chemical is only temporary. You’ll transform back into your regular self in about two hours. As for now, we have to get you two out of here. She gets to travel in economy, while you‘ll be walking out.” At this, he handed me a weather cloak that the guards typically wear, as well as a helmet that covered my face, and nodded towards an opaque plastic cage. I put them on, and he motioned for us to go into an elevator. Gadget looked at the guard with somewhat of a glare, and reluctantly walked into the cage. The guard picked it up and led me in.
After we went down to the ground floor, we walked down a hallway to the incline rail cars. We climbed in, the guard pushed a few buttons inside, and we went down the mountain slope. When we reached the bottom, the guard led us through what looked like a parking garage to a large, black van. He didn’t have to tell us what it was used for; we were both unwilling passengers in the same model. He had us sit in the sectioned-off back while he drove us out. I rested my head against the wall, thinking about where we were going, and how and if we got there. Gadget chirped softly from inside her cage, not in a harsh tone like she had used with the guard, but a lot gentler.
“I don’t like it any more than you, but it’s a way out,” I offered. She gave a light chirp, and was general quiet for the rest of the trip. Eventually, we felt the van come to a stop, and the guard opened the back door.
“I-13, come out and give her some privacy. Her two hours are almost up.” I let her out of the cage and hopped out of the back. After about five minutes, she knocked from the inside, and the guard let her out. Being transformed had no permanent effect on her appearance; she had the same blue-green eyes, pale skin, dark brown hair, and relatively short, thin figure upon which her burlap prison dress hung.
“We’re fifteen minutes away from your village. You have exactly one hour to go in there, get changed into different clothes, get the documents and anything of absolute value you need, and say your goodbyes. And don’t think about running off, or I’ll personally see to it that your execution is fulfilled,” he instructed.
“Well, mister, uh…,” she started to reply.
“Just call me Grim.”
“I feel that the stuff I found will be too much to carry if I’m getting my items of absolute value as well. If Stephen came with me, I’m sure I’d be able to come back more quickly.”
He glared at her, studying her face and trying to look into her mind, and finally said, “You two better be back on time. One hour starts now. Bring only the essentials.”
She beckoned for me to follow, and we fast-walked along a dirt road leading into a modest collection of makeshift huts. Surprising, it was quite vacant. I looked between the homes and didn’t see so much as an alley cat.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I think they may have finally been able to hop a bus to the spring festival.” Seasonal festivals were common, Government-sponsored events in most areas that gave away luxuries such as used clothes and furniture, snacks, and even sponsored some dumb Government-approved movie about how the current form of government was the best. “Anyways, it’ll probably be better since we won’t be seen.”
“Well, don’t you want to say goodbye?”
She was silent, and then she said vacantly, “I’m not sure I can do that. It’d be too sad.” I kept a respectful silence afterwards.
We came to a small shack made of plastic melted into now-warped sheets and held together by duct tape. If it ever had a solid door, it was gone now, and replaced with a shockingly lovely cloth embroidered with flowers. Gadget pulled it back and gave an inviting gesture to me. I looked at the shack, thought about my old home and my older home, and went in.
The inside wasn’t much more attractive than the outside, though a worn tree branch broom suggested that they were making an attempt to retain dignity in their home. The first room looked like the combination of a living room, dining room, and kitchen all into one homey area. The only furniture was a gnarled-looking chair, a ramshackle cabinet for dishes and other necessities, and a set of locked drawers. Gadget reached into the cabinet, pulled a key out from under a coffee cup, and undid the lock of the drawers. From the bottom drawer, she pulled out a duffel bag covered in patches and a long, black, quilted trench coat. From the top, she pulled out a folder with a few papers in it, and from the second, a small bottle of aspirin. She then went into another room, a puny bedroom with a palate of blankets on the floor, and picked up a bed sheet. Finally, she went back into the first room, pulled out a blank sheet of paper from the first drawer, and wrote a note. When she was finished, she set it in the drawer, locked the set up, and laid the key on top. She took a plastic coffee tumbler from the cabinet, put it with the other, few items in her bag, and left the shack without so much as a backwards glance.
On our way to a hill, I asked Gadget, “You know, we only spent about fifteen minutes getting to your home and five minutes getting your stuff. I know Grim said to pack only the essentials, but are you sure you don’t need anything else?”
“Oh, we definitely need more than my legal documents, a bed sheet, ibuprofen, a coat and a coffee mug to survive. That’s why I stored the more important things with some friends.” She led me to an old, rusty, overturned electrocar, and from beneath it pulled out a large leather bag. I offered my hand to carry it, but she politely said no and we headed off to a wire fence. After crawling under a small trench, she led me uphill through thick woods for five minutes. We came to a large clearing where there were about two dozen tall, human-like creatures, most of them around a cooking fire, with the lower quarters of a goat, fangs that came up slightly over the upper lip, goat horns, and skin covered in patches of various shades of green. Several of them looked up towards Gadget and smiled. One of the taller ones came over and heartily shook her hand.
“Haven’t seen you for a while, Gadget! Have you returned to continue business?” he asked.
“No,” she said, dumping hundreds of gems of all sorts of colors onto the ground. “I need my final transaction. I’m going on the run.”

Chapter 7-Gadget

“Final transaction?” Grock repeated. “Look, if you feel that we haven’t treated you respectably, I’m sure we can talk it over. There’s no need to run to another herd.”
“Grock, this isn’t about you guys. You have been the best, most loyal customers I’ve had. But, I can’t stay here much longer because the Government is on my tail, his tail,” I said, nodded towards Stephen, “and they won’t stop at anything until they get what I’m hiding from them.”
“But you two don’t have tails,” a younger goat monster, Siryx, indicated. “Wait!” He moved towards Stephen, sniffed him, and walked around him. “Nevermind. I was right the first time.”
“It’s an expression. The point is that I have to get my stuff and leave. We’ve only got so much time, and I’m going to need my clothes, tools, the stuff I dug up a few months ago, and as much gold as is fair to trade this for you,” I explained, waving a hand towards the pile of gems.
Grock sighed. “Very well. If staying here will hurt you, then I guess we can’t keep you. But when all of this craziness ends, will you at least come back to trade?”
“When and if it does, I will. I promise.”
“Thank you. Now, your possessions are over in that tent over there. You go ahead and get dressed into something else.”
“Can I get something for my friend to wear too?” I asked.
Grock thought for a while, and replied, “We keep some human clothes for disguises when we go out to the black market. He can pick out a few items he may need.”
I thanked him, and Stephen and I went off to two separate small, tents made of sticks planted in the ground and covered with a tarp. Everything I brought before I was arrested was still there, my multitool, favorite clothes, sewing kit, books, trombone, electronics and other luxuries, and most importantly, the chest. I changed out of the dress into a plain, navy-blue ¾ sleeve shirt, a pair of jeans, and some black tennis shoes. The next few minutes were spent going through my possessions, considering which was necessary, and packing stuff into my bag.
I left the tent with the bag over my shoulder and my prison dress balled up in my right hand, making a beeline for the fireplace. One of the females looked up and inquired what I was going to do.
“Burn this accursed thing. It’s going to bring me nothing but pain.”
“Can I make a suggestion?” she asked.
“What is it?”
“A few months ago, I was with our elders looking for evidence of the Great Wizard who created our kind from the deceased humans and goats. We searched under trees, since the elders remember nothing before waking up under a grove, and after a while, an old branch fell and hit me on the head. I thought about burning it, but then I realized that I could use it for something. So, I carved it when I got home, and made it into a hoe so that I can tend the gardens more easily, and I’ve saved more pain than I felt when it hit me. What I’m trying to say is, that when you’re trying to let go of a bad memory, you can create something good out of something bad.”
I thought about what she said, and looked at the dress. It could probably be cleaned in a river, and it held about a yard and a half of burlap fabric. The dream I had last night flitted through my mind, and I stuffed the dress into a side pocket of my bag. Stephen came back from another tent, dressed in a plain black t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sneakers. I waved and told him that I was about ready to go. Stephen picked up the trunk with almost no effort at all, while I carried my bag over my shoulder. As I bade the goat monsters good-bye, they gave me thirty gold pieces for the gems, and offered to hold onto my trombone and other items I was going without until I got back.
“No. I want you guys to sell them in the black market and give my family the money,” I requested.
“Are you sure?” Siryx asked. “The trombone’s a great instrument, and I’ve always loved its sound.”
“I’m sure. My family needs the money.”
“As you wish, then.”
Stephen and I walked back to the van where Grim was waiting. We hadn’t been back for ten seconds before Grim demanded that he go through my duffel bag to make sure I’d only brought essentials. I scowled and told him that I wasn’t going to stand for this humiliation, but he took my bag from me and rooted through it anyway.
“Let’s see, clothes, sewing kit-jeez, is it really necessary to have all this stuff?-soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, multitool, uh…what’s this?” he asked, holding up a sleek, dark grey electronic with two USB ports, an earphone jack, and a light on it.
“It’s a Gizmo. One of the scientists for the big electronic companies invented them a few years back, and they’ve been updated by the Government over the past few years. It records and holds audio, visual, and video media, and has a holographic screen.”
“Great. And I guess you’re going to plug the charger into a tree?”
“I’ve got a solar-powered charger for it. I’m not stupid,” I scowled.
He continued rooting through my bag, pulled out a stuffed rabbit, and looked at me incredulously. “WHAT is this?!” he exclaimed.
“Esther Bunny,” I replied. “I’ve had her since I was a little girl, and she gives me security.”
“Not anymore. We’re pitching it.”
“Wait!” Stephen protested. “She got rid of a lot of stuff to be able to keep that. I don’t think it’s going to weigh us down that much.”
Grim glared at him, then at me, and said, “Fine. Your funerals if we get caught.”
I smiled at Stephen, and hopped into the back of the van. We had a long way to go to freedom, and I was thankful to have someone who stood up for me.

Chapter 8-Stephen
We drove for a few hours, Grim in the front of the van and Gadget and me sitting in the back. She showed me the documents in the trunk that she had risked everything to keep safe. There were two old documents, the Declaration and the Constitution; a history textbook from the year 2009, a flyer advertising some fireworks show on July 4, 2010; and two small books, The Deluxe Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide and Sneaky Uses for Everyday Items. I was fascinated by the tales spun in the history book: battles, presidents, elections, riots, and demonstrations. None of this had ever been taught to a modern person. We were just told that our Government was established in 1650 had was perfect ever since.
I flipped through some of the pictures of old monuments, and asked Gadget, “Do you think these are still around?”
She looked at them and said, “I doubt it. I don’t think that the Government would want to keep anything that contradicts its word.” She poked around the chest to see if there was anything that she had missed, and pulled out a piece of paper wrapped around a flash drive. It read, in a hastily written, scratchy handwriting “Should worst come to worst, tell everyone the truth, and protect freedom. Signed, the Gadstons, 2012”. Gadget examined the drive, and then handed it to me to look at. It was a small black one, about the same size as a terabyte drive of today, but from the fine print written on its back, it only held about 80 gigabytes.
“What do you think is on it?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. It must have been pretty important, though.”
She was about to plug it into her Gizmo when the van screeched to a halt, sending us slamming into the barrier between its front and back. Gadget put the documents back, except for the drive, which she put into her pocket. Grim opened the back doors and told us, “Ok, there’s a black market five minutes away from here. It’s far enough from here that you guys probably won’t be recognized.” I frowned. Knowing the merchants usually means that you can get a better deal out of them; not knowing them means you’re twice as likely to get ripped off. Grim continued, “They’ve had some tough times lately, so they’re going to be more willing to trade. Take everything that you think you can get a good deal for. I’ll be here looking after the truck. You have one hour.”
Gadget collected a few embroidered shirts from her bag, twenty of her coins, and two novels she had brought along. She emptied out her duffel bag, put her trading stuff in it, and motioned for me to follow her. We walked along a dirt path to a large clearing. The site of the village was horrifying: many of the buildings were either ripped apart by something terrible, or burned down to the ground. Several of the surrounding trees still had some burning limbs, and there were about fifty ash-covered men, women and children wandering aimlessly to each other to try to trade whatever they had left.
I looked at Gadget. She looked like she had just been stabbed: her face was shocked, horrified, and sad all at the same time. All traces of the soft, sweet smile she gave me when I vouched for her keeping Esther Bunny were gone. She took a deep breath and walked over to a middle-aged woman selling some camping gear.
“Hello, we’re looking for some gear for a long journey we’re going on. Could you recommend something to us?” Gadget asked.
“Well, if you’re looking for quality, look no further. But I have to warn you: this stuff’s hot. A few of the teenage boys around here keep us supplied with stuff from the Government.”
“We’ve got bigger problems than being found with stolen property. I’m willing to take the risk of being caught.”
The woman smiled. “Wonderful! Now, here’s something you don’t see every day,” she said, holding up a large bag which looked like it was made from polyester and was still in its shrink wrap “a waterproof backpack, not even opened yet! Good for camping trips, canoeing, spelunking, and all your other outdoor activities! Get it for a limited time only at 25 gold pieces!”
Gadget gave a low whistle. “That might be a little high for just one backpack. Instead, how about I give you my duffel bag and a copy of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, an epic satire of a crazy old man who is set on proving himself to be a worthy knight?”
“I said 25 gold pieces!”
“Fine. Suit yourself,” Gadget said, turning and walking a few paces away. She didn’t reach 10 feet away when the woman called out after her.
“The bag, the book, and 5 gold pieces!”
Gadget return to her, gave her the things, took the bag, and gave a casual “Nice doing business with you” and a smirk. We went to a few other areas, trading our things, until we had acquired the bag, a box of matches in a plastic container, a canteen, a simple first aid kit, and a solar powered battery charger and 3 AA batteries. We were heading back to the van when Gadget noticed a small girl with a skinned knee. She went over to her and started tending to the wound.
“Are you ok?” Gadget asked.
“I don’t know anymore. It hurts, but I got away from them, but we also lost everything.”
“Got away from whom?”
“Some dragons and some other monsters. My family didn’t get hurt, but we don’t have anything anymore.”
Gadget looked at the girl sympathetically, then after a few moments, she hesitantly reached into her bag and pulled out Esther Bunny. She looked over it one last time, running her thumb along the stitches that held its head together, and then handed it to the little girl, whose face brightened at the sight of the doll.
“Her name is Esther. Hug her a lot, keep her safe, and always say good morning to her on the holidays, ok?”
The girl nodded and ran off to show a woman, her mom, what she had gotten from a nice lady. The woman ran over and asked Gadget, “What would you like from us?”
“What would you like in exchange for the rabbit? I insist.”
“No. You don’t have to give me anything. The world has not yet become so bad that someone always must receive something in return for compassion. All I ask is that she gives Esther all the love that I gave her.”
The woman thanked her greatly, and returned to her daughter. Gadget walked over to me and said, “Please don’t be mad.”
“Why would I be?” I asked.
“You vouched for me, and I gave her away without a second thought.”
“No, you gave her to someone who needed her more,” I corrected. “Don’t worry about it. You did the right thing.”
“Thanks, Stephen,” she said with a small smile. We went back to the van to have Grim root through what we got again and then have us sit in the back and drive off. As we left, I noticed that Gadget looked different, like something was lost from her. It took me a few hours to realize that it was the last of her naivety, innocence, and childhood happiness.


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