Read Here Online

Authors: Denise Grover Swank

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, #Love & Romance, #On the Otherside Book One

Here (14 page)

BOOK: Here
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They ignore me, intent on their task. Hands reach for the bottom of my long-sleeved t-shirt, lifting it up my chest, exposing my bra.

No!” I scream in outrage and panic. Bile rises in my throat.

The arms holding me tighten as the shirt is lifted over my head, their hold moving up my arm to pull the shirt off. My jeans are next and one of the black suits escapes my pummeling kicks. They push me up against the wall to hold me immobile.

I flail like a rabid animal as they strip me of my underwear and bra, leaving me naked and cold before these suited monsters. I scream until the edges of my vision turn black.

The steel panel opens and they toss me inside a small steel cylindrical room. Holes dimple the wall and ceiling.

The door closes before I have a chance to react to my freedom. I whip around to access my surroundings when a mist sprays from the holes.

My screams reverberate off the metal walls, slamming my eardrums.

Goosebumps erupt as the mist turns to a spray, the liquid pelting my skin. I cover my face with my arms, and spit out the bitter fluid that shoots into my mouth.

This is it
. I’ve read about this in my history book. This is like the gas chambers in concentration camps in World War II.

This is a death chamber.

Only I’m still standing and I can still breathe, although the smell of the chemicals coating my body makes me gasp for air.

The spray stops, followed by another spray that lasts for several minutes, only to be repeated several more times. Finally, a liquid that feels and smells like stale water pours out. The trauma of the evening is too much and my rubbery legs give out. I fall to my knees, in the pooling water at the bottom of the tube. When it stops, a door on the opposite side slides open. I jerk my head up, my wet stringy hair hanging in my face. A man and a woman in white uniforms, wearing facemasks, reach for my arms and lift me up and into another room. This one is just as white and sterile as the last, only slightly larger.

They wrap a sheet tightly around my body and sit me in a silver metal chair next to a table in the center of the room.

The woman bends down, her gray eyes peering over the mask that covers the bottom of her face. Her short silver hair is cut in an extreme style, asymmetrical angles, but her face seems remarkably wrinkle-free given the color of her hair. “We’re going to do a medical assessment,” she says, her words muffled.

I cry in relief. It’s the first time someone has spoken since this ordeal began. “Where’s Evan?” But she ignores my question and shines a light into my eyes. The beam is blinding and I turn my head, but the man holds me still.

This will be much easier if you cooperate,” the woman says, her eyes as cold as her voice.

The man turns my head from side to side so she can examine my ears then nose. As the man tilts my head back, she pushes my mouth open with a flat metal stick. It occurs to me that the sheet has a dual purpose. It dries me off but keeps my arms and legs bound so I can’t fight.

She types into an electronic tablet then brings a black square box toward me. I squirm in the seat, fighting against the sheet.

Relax.” The word is razor sharp, far from reassuring. “I’m only going to analyze your heart.” She holds it to my chest and watches the box for several seconds.

She moves back to the tablet but glances at the man. “We’ll need to repeat it later after she calms down. “She turns to the tray. “I need her arm exposed.”

He unwraps my arm and straps it to a board as the woman moves toward me with a needle attached to a clear plastic tube.

Please,” I wail. “I didn’t do anything. I swear.

The man holds my arm still as she inserts the needle into my arm. Dark red blood flows through the tube into a silver cylinder she attaches to the end. She attaches several tubes then pulls the needle from my arm and tosses it onto the tray. She unbinds my arm and bends it up.

The woman leaves the room with her tray as two women wearing masks enter. No one says a word, the silence plucking my jagged nerves. Both women carry bundles. One unwraps a hairbrush and runs it through my damp and tangled hair, looking through the strands and over my scalp.

What are you doing? Don’t touch me!” I twist my head around but the woman working on my hair gently grips my cheeks in her hands. When I stop, she resumes her job.

She finishes brushing my hair and braids it down my back. The other woman unfolds a set of clothing. The man unwraps the sheet and helps me stand as the two women slip on a loose-fitting shirt and pants. His fingers press deep into my arm as he holds me in place.

The door opens and a man wearing a mask enters as the women leave. He takes my other arm and the two men lead me into another white corridor. We turn multiple corners until they stop in front of a metal panel.

A guard places his hand in front of a glass plate to the side and the door opens, revealing a small room with a bed and a chair. He shoves my back and I stumble, crashing into the opposite wall as the door closes behind me. I consider beating on the door and screaming, but it seems pointless. Instead, I climb onto the bed and look for an escape. The room is barely large enough for the cot that’s pushed against the wall and the chair in the back corner. The white walls are windowless and have only one door. The ceiling is solid, with two can lights. No escaping through panels.

Overcome with exhaustion, I curl into a ball and close my eyes, hoping when I wake up this will all be an ugly nightmare.

Chapter Sixteen

When I wake, I’m still in the tiny room. I close my eyes with a grunt of dismay and fear. Why have they locked us up and treated us like we have the Black Plague? What did Evan do?

The thought of Evan pools tears in my eyes. Where is he? What are they doing to him? I wonder if he had any idea any of this would happen.

The door slides open and a man wearing blue scrubs and a surgical mask enters, carrying a tray. The door closes behind him. His presence makes the room feel even smaller.

I jerk upright and scramble to the back corner of the bed, pulling the blanket up to my chest. “Please. Don’t hurt me. I didn’t do anything.”

He’s frozen, his eyes wide, as though my appearance frightens him. “Julia?”

He knows my name.

My chest tightens. I had hoped that this was a mistake, that they took the wrong person.

With his eyes on me, he absently places the tray on the floor. He leans forward, his eyes widening even more. “Is it really you?”

Who are you? Why am I here? What are you doing to me?”

He sits in the chair stunned, as though my rapid-fire questions assault him. “What has he done?” His voice breaks.

Who?” I ask. Then it hits me. “
Where is he? What are you doing to him?”

He clears his throat. “Evan is fine.”

I’m pissed that he thinks I’ll just accept his answer. “You have no right to do this! No one even read me my Miranda rights.”

His blue eyes narrow in confusion. “Miranda rights?”

I may only be sixteen, but I’m not stupid. We learned about Miranda rights in American Government. You have to tell me my rights, like my right to an attorney. And I want an attorney!”

He leans back in his chair, his eyes shiny and bloodshot.

I bend forward. My palms press into the mattress and it sinks with the shift of weight. “Are you listening to me?” A warning sounds in my head that I’m in no position to be hostile, but my anger pushes me farther. “I demand that you let me call my mom!”

I’m afraid that’s not possible.” He stands and walks to the door, his shoulders sagging. “There’s food on the tray. Eat and I’ll be in later to speak to you.”

The door slides open and he exits between two men flanking the opening. The door shuts, sending me back into isolation.

I bury my head into my pillow and cry until I’m exhausted. I’m scared and want to see my mom or at least Evan. The thought of Evan brings anger on the heels of my self-pity. Crying won’t get me out of this situation. I need a plan.

My stomach grumbles. Food might help the dull ache in my head, as well as give me strength to escape. I lift the tray onto the cot and remove the lid. The plate contains three dry beige wafers, a circular piece of what looks like pressed meat, and some green beans. An odd-shaped clear bottle of water lies next to it as well as a metal spoon. I guess they don’t trust me with a fork.

I take a bite, surprised the wafers taste like mash potatoes, but the meat is unrecognizable.

When I finish, I’m exhausted again. The pain in my head has gotten worse. I’ll lie down and close my eyes, but only for a moment.

The door slides open again and my eyes open, unsure how long I slept. The man from earlier sits in the chair next to the bed. Groggy, I feel heavy and dull-witted, like I did from the pain pills after the accident. I push myself up, sitting cross-legged with my back to the wall. I will my racing heart to slow down.

Can you tell me your name?” he asks. His question is direct but holds a hint of compassion.

I glare. “You already know my name.”

Could you state it anyway?”

The fogginess in my head is lifting. “Fine, Julia Marie Phillips.” I hope I look defiant despite my rising terror.

What is your birth date?”

November second.”

And how old are you?”

If I answer your questions can I go home?” To my dismay, my voice cracks.

His eyes soften. “We’re working on it.”

I sniff as a tear rolls down my cheek. I brush it away. “Sixteen.”

And where do you live, Julia?”

Springfield and I go to James Monroe High School.” A sob breaks loose. “Can I go home now? Please? I just want to go home.”

His gaze shifts to the wall before glancing at me again, but he doesn’t look me in the eye.

“Where’s Evan? Is he okay?”

He sighs. “Evan is fine. He’s down the hall. After you both have answered our questions, you can see him.”

Relief sweeps through me. “Thank you.”

He nods.

Why are you all wearing those masks? Am I sick?”

“No, are you feeling ill?” He sounds genuinely concerned.

No, but I can’t figure you why you’re wearing masks.”

“It’s for our protection as well as yours. You might have a virus or microbe we’re not used to. If you feel unwell, you need to let us know. There could also be effects from travel… so much is unknown. But we need to take all the precautions we can.”

Travel? Does he mean traveling in the back of the truck? “Where are we?”


I shake my head. “No, there’s no place like this in Springfield.”

He laughs, but it’s brittle. “You’d be surprised what might be under your nose. I’ll let you get some rest.”

I’d rather answer all your questions so I can see Evan and go home.”

All in due time.”

The door slides open.


He turns around to face me. The two men flank the door.

Who are you and why are you holding me here? I at least deserve to know that!”

He’s silent so long, I’m sure he’s not going to answer. “I’m Dr. Russell Whittaker. I’m in charge of this facility.”

. Recognition widens my eyes in surprise.

His eyes crinkle with a sad smile, even though his mask covers his mouth. “Yes, I’m Evan’s father.” He walks out, the door closing behind him.

I lie back down and pull the blanket over my head. I’m scared. I miss my mom. My body aches. I want to see Evan.

Why would Evan’s father hold us prisoner? I remember Mom saying Evan’s dad worked for Simmons Industries as a scientist, but that doesn’t explain why he’s locked us up. Maybe Evan stole some classified research secret. Even if he did, it seems pretty harsh for his dad to send the police after him and it still doesn’t explain why there were two Evans. Or why I’m here.

I want to try to figure it out, but my head hurts too badly. I decide to close my eyes for few minutes. The next thing I know, the door opens again. A woman stands in the door with a tray.

Good morning, Julia.”

She’s not wearing a mask. “So you’ve decided I’m germ free?”

She lifts her mouth into a half-smile. “As best as we can determine.” She sets the tray down on the cot as well as a cloth bundle. “I brought you breakfast and a change of clothes. Dr. Whittaker would like for you to meet the Committee in thirty minutes.”

A committee? What kind of committee?”

Her smile wavers. “Dr. Whittaker will explain it all.” She leaves, even though I have a million questions.

I lift the lid to reveal a granola bar and a bottle of water. I take a bite, surprised to discover it tastes better than any granola bar I’ve ever had. After another nibble, I investigate the clothes the woman brought. White scrubs and slippers and that’s it. I find the lack of underwear and bra disconcerting.

After changing, I sit cross-legged on the bed and wait.

Why am I meeting a committee? I wonder if Evan is really okay and if I’ll see him there. My stomach flitters with nerves. Did he know this would happen?

The door opens again and the two men stationed outside my door peer inside.

One of the men tilts his head. “If you could come with us, please.”

I rise and walk into the hall, and freedom from the tiny space lifts a weight from my shoulders. Of course, the feeling is deceptive. I’m walking between two men wearing guns who look like they’ll chase me down the moment I try to bolt.

The hair on my arms stands on end as we walk. I can’t ignore the feeling that I’m being marched to something unpleasant.

We stop in front of stainless steel elevator doors, impeccably shiny and smudge-free. The doors slide open and we enter the circular room. It reminds me of the pneumatic tubes at the bank. Mom used to tell me they were magical. The thought of my mom brings a lump to my throat and my eyes burn. Maybe she’ll be here. I’m a juvenile. They have to let me see her soon.

The doors close and I realize I’m not far off from the pneumatic tube theory; the elevator is moving sideways. The sensation catches me off guard and I stumble and grab one of the guard’s arms. He stiffens and I quickly drop my hand.

The elevator comes to a stop and I expect the door to open but the tube rises, ascending like a traditional elevator. What is this thing?

We stop and the doors open to a hallway painted a pale gray. I’m glad to see something other than white. Not that the gray is much of an improvement. The guards move forward with me between them. A small group of people gathers at the end of the hall.

My breath sticks in my chest. “Uh, I have to go to the bathroom.” I force out.

The guards slow down. “We have permission to let you use the facilities before you meet the Committee,” one grunts.

We move closer to the group at the end of the hall and stop outside a door. The guard hesitates, glancing at the group. “Be sure to hurry. They’re waiting for you.”

The door has a panel like my cell. “I don’t know how to open it.”

His eyebrows furrow in confusion. “How can you not know how to open the door?”

The other guard growls. “She’s shittin’ you, idiot. We don’t have time for this.” He places his hand in front of the glass panel and the door opens.

Thanks,” I mumble as I go in. The door slides closed behind me.

The bathroom is streamlined with sleek stainless steel and high-gloss gray walls. The sinks are oval holes in the wall and the stalls are curved, tall cylindrical tubes. Evan’s dad is a research scientist. They probably test all their new ideas here.

When I finish in the stall, I stand in front of the mirror and put my hands in the basin in the wall, but no water comes out. Instead, a purple light glows on my skin. I jerk them back in fright and the light turns off. I tentatively put one hand back in. The light glimmers again. When I decide it’s safe, I stick my other hand in. The light floods my skin in a purple glow that has no heat.

I move to the center of the room and slowly spin around, looking for a way to escape. There’s no window. The ceiling is solid like my cell, with no ceiling panels to lift up and crawl through, though I wonder if something like that is really possible. I’ve only seen it in the movies. With my luck, I’d get stuck.

As I swing my head, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair has worked loose of my braid, strands sticking out on the sides. I try to tuck them in. I don’t want to meet anyone looking like this. The more hair I stuff back in, the more that comes out. I give up and tug off the band holding the braid, unwinding the thick strands. After a quick finger comb, my reflection reveals a wavy mess, but it’s better than what was there before.

The guards bang on the door. My stomach rolls and I wipe my sweaty palms on my pant legs. I walk to the white glass square on the wall. To my amazement, the door opens when I lift my hand in front of it.

The two guards looked surprised, their eyebrows raising at my change in appearance. I walk into the hall and they flank me as we make our way to the end of the hall, toward the congregated group. They stare as we approach, their voices turning to whispers. As we near, they split apart and we walk up to a double set of doors. I can only presume the Committee is on the other side.

The guard places his hand in front of the panel next to the door and I take a deep breath to calm my jittery nerves as the door slides open.

My heart sputters.

Three tables are lined up in a large room. Men and women sit behind them. They all look important in their uniforms and business suits. Their grave expressions allude to the seriousness of the situation. In the center of the room is empty table and chair. Armed guards flank the doorways and stand behind the group.

The guards next to me move forward, but my feet are firmly anchored to the floor.

This isn’t real.

One of the guards nudges me with his elbow and I stumble, almost falling forward. I catch myself and take tiny steps, my breath coming in shallow pants. My fingers begin to tingle.

The guards move toward the table, bringing me along with them. My eyes grow wide with fright. Surely, they don’t want me to sit in front of this entire room full of people? The tingling in my hands has crept up my arm and my face feels numb.

All eyes in the room follow my every step and I pray I don’t trip. I turn to the man on my right. “There’s some mistake,” I whisper. “I don’t think I’m supposed to be here.”

His eyes narrow in irritation and he ignores my statement.

I sit down in the single chair at the small table and try to hide my shaking hands from the room full of people, at least half of which appear to be in military uniforms with lots of medals and stripes.

I’m in serious trouble.

Julia, we’d like to ask you some questions.” Dr. Whittaker sits at a table to my right and looks directly at me with a soft smile. Even though I’ve never seen his entire face, I know it’s him. He’s an older version of Evan.

To my irritation, my eyes tear up. “I don’t understand why I’m here.”

I know. We’ll explain it all to you. First, I want you to know that you’re not in any trouble. We just want to ask you questions.”

I nod even though the armed guards at all the exits seem to give a different message.

I glance around the room and my heart drops to my toes. I hated giving speeches in oral communications and now I’m expected to speak to some intimidating figures.

BOOK: Here
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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