“Helena, please, just get your coat like the man told you to.” My mother whispered to me.
I nodded slowly and went to the closet, my hands shaking as I reached forward and took the coat off of the peg. I turned and looked over at the soldiers, holding my father up and securing his hands behind his back. The barrel of an assault rifle was pressed up against his neck and his eyes were glazed over. They’d put enough tranquilizers into him to down an elephant—but he stood—although groggily at best.
“Hurry it up girl,” one of the soldiers snapped at me. I quickly put on the coat, watching as they let my mother move slowly over to button the snaps. She refused to meet my eyes, the tears down her face evidence enough as to the fear that we all felt. She smoothed over the coat as they yanked her back to her feet, another soldier grabbing me by the arm and pulling me along painfully. I cried, uncertain of why they were there.
I had been sleeping upstairs when I heard the smash of windows below and my mother had started to scream. My father had rushed out, thinking only to protect us, but it was like they had been waiting for him. Two men with tranquilizer guns had fired on him as he let out a throaty war-cry. He had still managed to kill at least one of them before the drugs had kicked in. In fear, I had wanted to stay in my room, but when I heard my father’s shout, instinct to protect my family had taken over. I had run out, trying to see what happened but there had been a guard waiting to intercept me. He had hit me over the head with the butt of his rifle and I screamed when he dragged me up by my hair and nearly threw me down the stairs where I had fallen to the feet of another soldier. This man appeared to be in charge, quickly issuing orders with the bearing of a man who expects to be heeded. He angrily told the soldier who had hit me to be more careful, but it was no use. We were all treated roughly while they told us to be still and to listen very closely to what they said. We had been instructed that if we tried to run away, they would tranquilize us, and if we tried to fight, or turn, they would kill us. I didn’t understand what they were saying. Turn? Turn where?
My mother and I were shoved outside while the soldiers struggled to move forward with my father’s nearly 300lb weight strapped between them. He was 6’5”, 280lbs, and was what my aunt Naira described as ‘built like a tank’. To see him powerless while we were in danger was the most frightening thing that I had ever witnessed. All I had wanted was for him to suddenly shrug off the effect of the drugs and save my mother and I but instead, he was shoved to his knees onto the pavement and we turned as a helicopter began to alight in the center of our impromptu crowd.
All around us, houses were being raided in the same manner as ours, our neighbors pushed out in the streets by men dressed in black. It seemed random, since only a few of the neighbors on each side of the road had been taken outside. The rest of the houses were untouched, though curious onlookers were peering through blinds or opening doors and being instructed to return inside.
“Oh god, they’ve found us,” my mother whispered behind me. I turned and stared at her, wishing that she could tell me what was happening. The helicopter finished its descent and landed, while a man dressed in a dark blue suit dropped out of the chopper and began to walk towards a group of the soldiers who were waiting to receive him. After they were certain the area was clear, the helicopter lifted and sailed away, and the soldiers gathered us together, shoving us around the man in the suit. He held up his hands for silence, though no one was speaking.
Around me, I could hear the sad whimpers of confused children as the man held our attention. He looked down at us reassuringly, with a warm smile on his contrastingly cool features. I looked around, seeing several neighbors that I recognized, and after a minute, I realized that it wasn’t just random neighbors like I had thought—these were all of the members of my family.
We had all moved to the same town, same block, really. Family was one of the most important things to us, and we all grew up knowing each other, spending every birthday over at each relative’s house. Even after some of my older cousins had gone to college, they had returned to the area after graduation. I had always thought it was normal, until this moment. In this moment, it disturbed me that we were so close. I felt my blood going cold. Something was far more wrong than I had thought. The suited man cleared his throat.
“You are all aware, I’m certain, of why you’ve been brought here.” He said. I noticed that many of the people around me shifted uneasily. We were surrounded on all sides by soldiers, all of which had switched from assault rifles to tranquilizer guns.
“As of this moment, the governor has decided that any unregistered Lycanthropes are hereby considered threats to humanity and any and all citizenship statuses or privileges are revoked. Any family members or relative associates are considered to be Lycanthropes as well until verified by a state selected physician that your blood is wholly human. You are all wards of the state now, and you are under arrest.”
With that, I felt the sting of a needle going deep into my neck. My mother called out for me and I fell to the ground, sleep consuming me.
When I woke up, we were in the back of a truck. Around me, people slept, heavily sedated. Across from me, a girl, younger than me, had the dart still sticking out of her neck. I began to cry, and reached a hand up, only to find that my wrists were encircled in metal cuffs. My face, too, was caught behind a cruel leather mask. I touched the muzzle fearfully, my mind unbelieving as I scraped over the metal buckles on the back.
My head felt like it was swimming but I forced myself to sit up, nearly vomiting in the process. My mother was beside me, still asleep. I pressed against her cautiously, but she did not wake up. To her right were three people, and one to my left, still asleep.. There were six people sitting on the opposite bench across from me. The truck’s interior was dark except for a dim overhead light. There were people here that I didn’t recognize, and I didn’t know where my father was. I started to whine softly, and a woman reached across with her cuffed hands and pulled me over to her.
“Don’t let them know you’re awake.” She hissed, her voice buffering the muzzle, which looked odd on her beautiful features. I quickly quieted, feeling my eyes widen in disbelief. She sighed, letting me go. “They put us back asleep if they know we’re awake. I think the ride is going to be for a while, because you’ve been out for two days.” She said a bit more gently. I started at this. I’d been asleep for two days? Where were they taking us?
“What are they going to do? Why are we here?!” I demanded in a whisper. She slumped back against her seat, anger and hatred filling her dark eyes.
“Because they want to find all of our secrets and turn us into goddamned experiments,” she said, her voice catching. I shook my head, confused. Why would anyone want to make me into an experiment? She looked at me in surprise. “They never told you, did they? Jesus Christ, you’re gonna be in for a surprise little girl. I can’t believe your parents wouldn’t say something. How old are you anyway?” she asked, shock evident in her voice. I mumbled that I was thirteen, and she laughed with a harsh snort. “Guess you’ll find out what soon enough,” she said, a bit too loudly.
The truck slowed and stopped abruptly, and she shoved me back to the bench. “Pretend to be asleep!” she hissed, and I slammed against the bench, forcing my face into my mother’s shoulder, hoping that my breathing would slow. My pulse was hammering in my throat, and I knew that they would open the doors soon. I could make a dash for it, and—no. I couldn’t leave my mother to these people.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was more scared of what would happen if I was out there on my own, rather than locked in here, at least safe for the moment. I heard the lock sliding back on the door and tried to calm down. I didn’t want to be knocked out again. The drugs made me feel woozy and sick to my stomach. The rocking motion of the van sent waves over me as the two drivers stepped into the back, their boots clanging heavily against the metal floor.
“I know one of you is awake, so you may as well just tell us now, or else we’ll just spike every damn one of ya.” The first guard spoke. I slid open one eye just enough to see the man speaking. He was a soldier—that much was apparent. In his hand was a tranquilizer gun, but the man behind him, also a soldier, was holding a very different sort of gun, his finger easing along the trigger. I gulped, fear filling my chest and squeezing like a vice.
I saw the woman across from me look over at me, and she shook her head, signaling for me not to move. I saw her close her eyes in pain, and I recognized the decision in her face. She was either going to escape now or die trying. I wasn’t sure how I recognized that feeling, but some internal part of me, something far away and yet painfully accessible had made me aware of it. I felt my hands beginning to shake. The first guard turned on a flashlight, and I snapped my eyes shut as the beam scanned over me. I silently prayed that he would not see my shaking.
After a cursory scan around the interior, he turned around and shrugged to the other guard.
“C’mon, I don’t have time for this. We’ve still got almost 5 hours until we reach the drop point.” He said with disdain. The second soldier lowered his weapon and turned to leave the truck. He jumped down and moved out of the way for the first soldier, and I saw a blur to my left as the woman lunged forward, knocking him out of the truck and hissing with pain as they rolled onto the ground. The first guard cried out as he went spiraling through the dirt and she gained her legs, kicking them into the ground and sprinting away.
The guard with the gun was fumbling to remove the safety on the clip as the second guard pulled up the tranquilizer. She was almost a hundred yards away by now, heading straight for the line of the forest, her dress whipping around her.
“Shoot her! Shoot the bitch!” the guard on the ground screamed. His gun had jammed and he was smacking the butt into the ground to loosen the dart inside. The second soldier took aim, leveling the weapon on her heart. I felt tears welling up as my brain screamed for me to knock the guard down, hit him, do anything, to keep her from being killed. He took the shot while I sat, frozenly trying to convince myself to move. It seemed like an eternity as I watched her back press forward, her chest leaping with the impact. She crumpled to the ground, still weakly trying to pull herself forward, just trying to make it to the woods. The guard with the tranquilizer ran over and grabbed the gun from his compatriot.
“Dammit you idiot! I meant somewhere non-fatal! What the fuck, man?! They’ll kill us for this! You know they said to bring everyone alive!” he screamed. The second guard pointed out with a whimper that she was still alive, and the angry guard backhanded him. They glared each other down for a moment, until they realized that she was still trying to crawl away from them. He threw the weapon back at the guard and pointed to the woman, trying to force herself back to her feet.
“Go and take care of her. We can’t tell them you shot her, so just go and finish her off and re-do the manifest showing that we were only carrying eleven passengers, not twelve. If they find out, it’s on your head, man.” With that he closed the door with a solid thud.
I felt my whole body quivering not just in fear, but also in guilt. I felt like her death was my responsibility. I could have stopped them, and instead I just sat there, watching her die. I covered my ears with my hands, but it didn’t block out the sound of the gunshot that came shortly after. I cried piteously, fearful to make any noise and tears blurring my vision. My brain felt numb, like what I was seeing wasn’t actually happening in front of me.
After a moment I tried to compose myself and undo the muzzle, but there were tiny locks on the two straps behind my head, and so I just tried to pull it off instead. I was more scared than I had ever been in my life. Who muzzled people?! Why was I locked in the back of a truck? I had just seen someone get shot to death and her memory erased. The more resistance the muzzle offered, the more my panic grew until I was nearly clawing my face to get it off. I hadn’t even realized that they had stopped driving again until I saw the first guard in front of me, and he knelt down so that his eyes were level with my own.
Just like the barrel was level with her heart
I felt my breath catching as he leaned forward, his hand wiping away an errant tear.
He smiled at me and I squeezed my eyes closed, unable to help the hot, shameful burst of urine as it flooded my lap. I shook in fear and embarrassment and the guard laughed, pointing out my shame to the other soldier who shook his head, irritation in his eyes. The guard stopped laughing and told the other to bring him a vial of the tranquilizer. He took a needle out of his pocket, and the other guard handed him the vial, which he then expertly filled with the liquid. I forced my quaking to slow, and tried to sound brave.
“Where are we going? Where’s my daddy?” I asked, my voice a whimper. The guard shook his head, pulling my arm forward.