Friday, September 30, 2011

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The room I was hustled into was pure chaos. The noise almost had me turning tail and running. But then I was pushed into a quieter area. A woman took the paper that had been taped to my backpack but when she tried to take the pack I jerked it away from her. She finally gave up and started reading the form.

“Honestly, can’t the field people do anything right?” she complained in a huff. “There’s no name on here. Hey kid, what’s your name?” When I just looked at her and refused to answer she mumbled, “Great, another uncommunicative to deal with.” She taped the screen of her computer terminal a couple of times and then told me, “Let’s see that makes you … Jane Doe 1062.”

She gave me a very cursory examination and noted my basic vital statics before handing me over to a big woman in nursing scrubs that she called Nurse Mannecheck. The woman read over the paperwork and shook her head. She looked down at me and said, “Girl, if you ever want to get called anything other than Jane just come up to the desk and well fix your name badge.”

I was taken to a large community room and the noise was once again overwhelming. When I seemed to be glued to one spot the large woman dragged me over to an older girl and said, “I hate to ask but here’s another one. Just make sure she gets in line and gets some food until she figures out how to survive in here with the rest of you savages.”

The girl looked at me like I was a cockroach and then glanced at my name tag. “Girl, I done got too many Janes to look after. Either you keep up or I don’t care what that fat !@#$% says, you can starve for all I care.”

The older girl “watched me” for two meals and then there were other new kids that she needed to initiate into life at Central. It only took once for me to learn that the cafeteria people tried to give all the kids equal amounts but that it would be up to me to keep someone from stealing it right off my tray.

As soon as something was handed to me I was eating it. By the time I got to the end of the line all that was left was to pick up the bottle of water or juice, or carton of milk they handed out there and drink it as fast as I could. Then I walked right over to the window where we were supposed to stack our trays and dropped it off tray and utensils off. There wasn’t much on the tray but sometimes I would squirrel away a bottle of water or a granola bar for later … or for a bribe so that a bigger kid would leave me alone..

I didn’t speak to anyone. Period. I didn’t answer questions. Period. I didn’t ask questions. Period. I didn’t make all the noise the other kids made. I didn’t cry, not even when I would get hit or pushed to the floor. Period, period, period. After a while everyone thought I was mute. But I could fight … and people learned to leave me alone. The biggest problem that people made for me was that I wouldn’t put my backpack down, not ever. It went everywhere I went, even the bathroom and shower. I took the zipper tabs off to keep kids from pulling them and ripped the plastic off a mattress to wrap everything in to keep it dry.

All of us kids had some type of issue and it was no wonder. Most of us slept fully clothed, including our shoes; if you didn’t you never knew if you’d have anything left come morning. Hygiene items were handed out sparingly by the staff but they needn’t have bothered because hardly anyone seemed to use them on a regular basis. But the one thing the staff did make sure of was that at least once a week you took a shower. Without exception. Even if they had to hose you off and scrub you down with a broom.

Food was the one thing that everyone seemed to fight over. That and shoes. After a couple of months everyone’s shoes were so raggedy that no one cared so it was down to food. One time an older boy tried to take something off my dinner tray while we were in line. That was definitely against the rules but what happened when an adult wasn’t looking was ignored by the staff for the most part; the staff only noticed when they were forced to. And if they were forced to notice, they made it unpleasant for everyone because it meant they had to take action. We’d been on lock down that morning because of a bunch of fighting in the boys’ wing and we’d missed both breakfast and lunch. We were all hungry and more than a little angry. So this guy tries to take my sandwich and I stabbed him in the hand with my fork.

I could see in his eyes that I was going to get beat on but then a couple of the older girls stepped up and shouted him down, “It’s you and your crew that got us all missing meals. You don’t wanna find a shiv stuck some place it’s gonna hurt so you just better back off. We don’t need no more trouble. If you’re hungry go look in the mirror and blame your own self.”

I didn’t get hit that time, but there were other times that I did … but I learned to take it and I learned to dish it out. But everyone grew to learn that so long as you left me alone I’d leave you alone. Fine by me. They also learned that if you didn’t leave me alone I’d make you sorry … I fought dirty; for that matter I still do. There’s not much difference between this place and the streets except the beds are softer and the clothes are cleaner, beyond that, it’s still a zoo just a different type.

Then there was the time that some older boys got into a fight out on the basketball court. I had only been pushing the guy away so he wouldn’t step on my feet but apparently he’d had a shiv and had been about to cut the other guy he was fighting with. Somehow or other I went from being alone to being part of a group. “Com’ on Girl. You can sit with my little sister. Maybe if I let you hang around she won’t always be cryin’ and makin’ noise.”

The kids gave up calling me Jane before the adults did but eventually everyone called me Girl. It was the only thing I responded to so if they wanted my attention they had to do it my way. That was my general attitude about everything. I looked after JD’s little sister so long as no one asked me to. If she didn’t ask me I would comb her hair and braid it. I kept the other kids from bothering her because if they caused her problems and made her cry then it caused me problems from JD. And I didn’t push her out when she started crawling into my bed after lights out in the girls’ dorm when things really did turn into a jungle.

Things pretty much went on this way for about six months and then some invisible point was reached and my world blew up … again. There were too many kids for too few adults to manage. We pretty much ran things ourselves and the adults were only there for appearances sake. The only authority lay not in the hands of the security guards who stayed outside the fences but in the hands of the gangs. The rules were unwritten but easy to follow. You stayed in your group unless you wanted to be beat on. You didn’t mess with anyone higher up the food chain than you unless you wanted to be beat on. If you were a little kid you stayed out of the business of the big kids unless you wanted to be beat on. You owed loyalty to whatever big kid brought you into the group and if you didn’t show up when there was a throw down you were going to get beat on anyway.

But things were ok so long as there was food and water and electricity to keep the TVs and video games and stereos running. We’d all noticed that the pickings at meals had gotten slim but it was always there … then one day it wasn’t. And then the water went. And then the electricity. And then there were no adults. And then there was anarchy and chaos.

The infrastructure of the country had fallen apart; it was everyone for themselves and the orphans in the processing centers were forgotten about in the melee. Not just here but everywhere. Too many sick and dying people around the world. Not enough built in cushion to get everyone over the hump.

The war, once thought to be in the midst of peace talks, escalated again and I don’t know what happened to the world for a while. No one really does, or if they do they don’t talk about it. No one knows who won yet so they haven’t written the history books. I can tell you what happened where I was.

Our gang ran. There was no food, no water, no nothing to keep us locked up. It was a dumb time of year to do it though. It was turning November and getting cold. Some of the older kids knew we needed to get set up and took us to their old neighborhoods. No one wanted us there and they tried to run us off. There wasn’t enough of anything for the people already living there and the adults wanted what remained all for themselves. So the street rats were born.

We hunted through garbage just like all the other homeless people. We wore whatever rags we could find to stay warm. We dismantled buildings for wood to burn. We scavenged and ate stuff even vultures would have puked up. Most of us lost our humanity and dignity, what little had been left to us. We were violent and determined. One day was just like the next and the only thing that mattered was seeing the sun come up.

The inner cities emptied out that winter. A lot of people died of starvation or exposure. The same thing was true of the thousands of street rats that populated the hells of the inner cities all over the country. Only rarely did we venture out to the suburbs and never to the country side. We had to be absolutely desperate to risk it. The adults there were not as weak as the ones in the cities. They treated us like vermin. And in the countryside there were guns that could be used against us as easily as they were used against wild animals.

Sometimes we’d find guns of our own, but guns are just fancy clubs when you run out of bullets for them. The adult gangs had guns but they learned not to hunt street rats unless they wanted a vermin problem of mammoth proportions. Most of us were loners or living in small pseudo-family groups but if you gave us reasons we would mob you like a flock of vicious blackbirds. Hunting us with guns wasn’t the only reason we would band together but it was one of the times we were at our most vicious.

With the cities emptied or emptying, we street rats took over. Each person or group had a home base and that’s where we would bring things back to for squirreling away. If you were part of a group anything brought back was communally owned. If any member was caught holding something back they could be shunned or kicked out and with the way winter was going that was as good as a death sentence for a street rat that wasn’t self-sufficient.

Good things did happen sometimes, that was what happened to my little charge and her big brother JD, the one who had brought me into the gang. The boy had gone to see if his aunt and uncle still lived in their old place and he caught them right before they left to go to another family member’s home far away from the city. They were so happy to see their nephew and niece and find out that they were still alive that the came and fetched the little girl from me and took them with them that very day. My parents would have called that a blessing, but I was alone again and decided from there on out to stay that way.

Before that winter was over a lot of the street rats had died of cold. They died of starvation. They died of bad food as well. Some of the adult gangs that wanted the territory for themselves had found a way to rid themselves of their competition. They would put poisoned garbage out as bait. We learned to be very careful of anything that looked too good. Because if it looked too good to be true, it most likely was.

Four years went by like this. The fighting. The scurrying. The sneaking. The hiding. Day in and day out, it was always the same. I wasn’t the only one to lose their speech. If a street rat lived long enough to be older they generally made their way into the membership of the adult gangs. The girls especially enjoyed this privilege though I didn’t see how what they had to do to stay in the gang was much of a privilege.

Staying alive was the big if. Death was always waiting around the corner, shadowing us. It came in all shapes and sizes and even the best among us sometimes fell to its teeth and claws.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

When did it start, that’s a hard question to answer. I’m not even sure there is any particular order to it. Some people say it started with the war. Some people say it was the currency collapse or the worldwide economic collapse. Some people say it was the religious war that consumed half the world at one point. All I know for sure is that it started before I was born.

My parents were married old-style and there was a brother and a sister before I came on the scene. The sister I barely knew as she died for some reason I can’t remember. I think it was something to do with her heart, but I can’t be sure. I remember it was expected. I remember she couldn’t play outside or do chores because she was weak. I remember we didn’t spend a lot of time with other kids because we might bring a sickness home. I remember at the end all she could do was lie in bed and then she just went to sleep and never woke up.

I remember hearing my parents say it was a blessing that she had “passed,” that she wasn’t sick or in pain anymore. I didn’t understand that for a long time. If it was such a blessing why were they always crying?

Eventually life settled back into a pattern and I grew to be old enough to take stock of it. My family wasn’t rich so life was a lot of work. I didn’t remember life being any other way but I heard the stories other people told and saw the shows on TV that mimicked the way things used to be. We may not have been rich like some people but we did have a house in the suburbs to live in and a garden so we ate most of the time. Some people couldn’t say that, especially those in the heart of the cities.

Dad was considered a “necessary worker” so he never got drafted or sent to a work camp. Mom used to be a teacher but she lost her job when she was pregnant with me. After that she decided to save the cost of day care and after school care and stayed home. Plus someone needed to keep an eye on the garden to keep the raiders out of it. Back then there was also something called public assistance and my parents didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It seems if you belonged to a union you were put at the top of something called a role to get money that other people worked for or you received food from the government if there was any in the warehouses.

My parents didn’t want the unions or the government to tell them what to do, when to do it, and who to do it with. If you were on the public assistance then they could come in and out of your house whenever they wanted and they could tell you how many kids you could have and where your kids had to go to school and lots of other things like that. You had to report everything to the government so that they could tell you how much public assistance you got.

My father said it was no one’s business what we had and what we didn’t; that it was hard enough keeping the government out of your business without inviting them in by taking money from them. So, no unions. My mother didn’t renew her teacher’s union membership even when they offered to keep her on for free. My father refused to join the union where he worked and since he was the kind of man you didn’t bother, they finally left him alone about it.

I suppose it was a hard life full of harsh rules but I never knew any different so to me it was normal. The people here tell me that I was deprived, that if my parents hadn’t been so selfish and would have let social services help we would have been much better off. They never go so far as to say my family would still be alive if only … but they leave that idea hanging in the air like I’m supposed to buy it and come up with it on my own. But no matter how they spin it I don’t believe it. Nothing could have saved my family and if I had been one of those spoiled kids I would have died like so many others did.

When I was eight something nasty got released in the world. I didn’t know exactly what until I got here and started taking history classes. It seems that a baggage handler had bobbled when he should have weaved and dropped a suitcase belonging to a terrorist who was transporting samples of a weaponized virus. By the time the airplane landed everyone on the plane was infected including the pilots and airline stewards. When everyone caught their connecting flights they took a little extra something with their carry ons to share. Within the month the virus had spread around the globe.

At first it was like the doomsday clock had been started and only minutes were left. People were rioting in the streets and scared of their own shadows. Experts claimed the virus was ninety percent fatal. Well the problem with so-called experts is that they’re more often wrong than right no matter what their own ego tells them. The really lethal version of the virus, the stuff that came out of the original sample containers, was just too lethal and burnt out too quickly to spread effectively. What did spread was a less lethal mutation that had a longer incubation period. This created a “wave” effect which meant that while a lot of people got sick, not as many got sick at the same time. And of those that got sick, fewer of them died. Most of those that lived didn’t get off scott free however and I’ll get to that eventually.

My big brother died at the beginning of the second wave. Again I heard my parents say what a blessing it had been. He’d been dying a very painful death as his lungs filled with fluid and his internal organs shut down. Then my father got sick at the end of the second wave and it took him a really long time to die. Technically it happened at the beginning of the third wave but I’ll always know the truth.

Mom didn’t say it was a blessing that time. In fact she didn’t say anything at all because she’d caught the sickness too while taking care of him. I don’t remember much about how things went, if I was alone and if so for how long, how I ate, or anything except for the day they drew their last breaths. I’d come to know and understand what death was by then. I’d seen too much of it. I also knew from the TV if death was in your house you were supposed to call a series of numbers on your phone and then hang up; you didn’t have to say anything, just hang up. If they called back and you didn’t answer they would send someone out to help. This was supposed to be so that people too sick or who were alone and knew they were dying could call and help the authorities do what was necessary. It was billed as responsible citizenship.

The next thing I clearly remember is some guys dressed in space suits busting in the door with a small battering ram. There were people with guns too and they ran from room to room while I simply stared at them. After they saw there was no one left but me the guys with guns went outside to guard things. The spacesuits didn’t even bother looking at me after that. They just started writing on a clipboard and then took my parents to a big refrigerated truck that was outside. When they finally got around to noticing me I did get scared.

I knew I wasn’t dead and part of me knew my parents weren’t in the bodies that had been carried away. They were gone to Heaven to be with my sister and brother and that was supposed to be a blessing. What I didn’t understand was why I hadn’t been allowed to go. Part of me wanted to ask the people in the space suits but part of me had gone away although I didn’t realize it. I wanted to just go with my parents’ bodies but at the same time some spark in me fought it tooth and nail.

Then some people showed up outside and they seemed angry and tired and were yelling at everyone for making things more complicated by not taking me out and having me ready and all the paperwork filled out. Right then something let go of the last bit of my old self and when this half-crazy woman stomped into the house trying to jerk my arm to make me go with her I turned into a feral kid whose mind was mostly a confused mess of nothing but anger and instinct. I fought tooth and nail and when I bit the hand that was trying to drag me out the woman drew back like she was going to belt me one.

Before she could a guy in a funny uniform with a mask and respirator on his face pushed her away. I remember he was really angry but I can’t remember about what exactly, all I knew was that it wasn’t at me. I can still hear that guy shouting at the social working to shut up and if she raised a hand to me again she’d be off to a work camp as fast as he could arrange it. The woman was outraged but I could see fear on her face as well. The lesson I learned from that was power and control didn’t always mean the one that could hit the hardest.

I can’t remember what the guy’s face looked like through the mask but I remember his hands. His voice sounded funny coming out of the intercom on the respirator. “It’s all right kid. I have to go to Central anyway so you’ll come in the truck. Now let’s get you some stuff packed up.”

He took my school backpack and dumped everything out. Then he went around the house putting things in it. He pulled the album that had the DVDs with our family pictures on them and put it in there. He stuck in the family Bible that had all of the different papers stuck between the pages. He took a bag from the kitchen and put the few pieces of jewelry my mother had in it; that was stuck deep in the inside zipper of the pack. A lady that was with him put a couple of changes of clothes and some personal hygiene items in there like my toothbrush and hairbrush. I took my wind up music box and my Barbie doll and also shoved in all of the clothes my mother had sewed for her. When they weren’t looking I went into my brother’s room and took his slingshot that he used to keep the birds out of the garden and then into my parents’ room. I didn’t know what I was doing but someone … or Some One … must have been guiding me. I took the tin that my mother kept her hair clips in, a couple of her hair scarfs that she always wore, and then my father’s utility belt that he always wore to work. I barely had time to hide that stuff in the back pack before the man found me.

“There you are.” He bent down beside me and said, “Better put this sweater on, it’s cool out there today.” I don’t know why I trusted him but I did. I think sometimes you just know.

I don’t remember leaving the house. I don’t remember getting in the truck that followed the one that held the bodies. I do remember getting out of the truck because the guy stopped me and got down on my level. “Now, the place you’re going to is rowdy and some of those kids play rough, most of them are from the inner city. I wouldn’t leave you here but all of the other holding stations are full.” He put my back pack into my hands. “This is yours, just like your jacket and your shoes. They don’t belong to anyone else, just you. Don’t let those kids take it from you and don’t give it to any of the adults to hold either because they won’t even if they say they will. What’s yours is yours to be responsible for. And when it is dinner time, fight for your share; you’ll have to or you’ll go hungry. And … and don’t get backed into a corner, especially not by any of the boys. Just don’t.” I listened to his voice and it was like words were being written into a secret place inside of me.

The woman that had packed my clothes said, “She’s out of it. I doubt she even understands half of what you are saying.”

I remember he took my arm and said, “Oh she understands. And she’ll remember. Won’t you kid?” For the first and last time I looked into that masked face, tried so hard to see what was behind it, but not seeing his eyes all I did was nod.

As the uniforms walked away a couple of new people in medical scrubs walked forward and I was shepherded into the next phase of my life.

Prologue

Prologue

I used to know my real birthday but somewhere along the way I've forgotten it. I could have put in a request for a public records search but I would have to kiss too many feet and if i have to do that i would rather it be for something more important than a day no one will ever celebrate, least of all me. They asked me to pick a date for myself because they needed it for my certificate of verification so I picked April 1st. They think it is because that is the day they brought me in for tagging; they think it is a sign that I have finally accepted my fate. Maybe it is true that I have accepted my fate since there doesn't seem any way out of it, but that isn't the reason I picked the date.

There are bits and pieces of the memories of my early years that are missing but the one thing I remember with perfect clarity is the day my family died. It was April 1st. That was the day I was born into my new reality and it is as good as any to pick for a birthdate, and true in a way only another street rat could understand.

I also used to remember and use my old name but that old identity was burned away just as surely as the bodies of my family that had been carted away to be incinerated along the thousands upon thousands who were dying every day around the world. I think something must have broken in me that day, turned cold and hard. I refused to cooperate with the ones that came to take me away, refused to answer any of their questions, certainly refused to answer them when they started calling me Jane Doe 1062. In the end they simply started calling me Girl. Eventually that is all anyone called me as it was the only thing I would half way respond to.

If you look at my ID badge today this is my designation:
Name: Gurl Noname
DOB: April 1st
Age: approx 17
Status: verified female, matched, transport imminent