On my thirteenth birthday, I woke to the buzz of the morning alarm.
“Eight, nine, and ten,” the bell fell silent, and the overhead light flickered on. I rubbed the yuck out of my eyes. “Come on Jess,” I said, and bracing myself against the cold, I threw back my blanket, and rolled out of bed.
I stripped out of my nightshirt and pulled on my day uniform in record time. I put my thumb through the familiar hole in the left sleeve of my sweatshirt. The whole ensemble was various shades of grey and at least one size too big. I felt like an extra in a cheap zombie movie, but at least I was warm now. The engineers had turned the heating off for maintenance last month, it still hadn’t come back on. Pulling my hair into some semblance of order and ignoring the fact that I couldn’t do anything else to make myself look less thin, pale and tired, I pulled on my shoes and hit the release button by the door. I slipped out into the hallway before the door had finished opening.
The hallway was a jumble of movement and sound. Researchers swarmed back and forth between the Labs and the Mess. Armed guards stood at intervals. They watched me as I squeezed through the crowd, their fingers moving to their triggers as I passed by. I ignored them and focused instead on the smell of baking that floated up from the Mess. My stomach tightened as the smell got stronger and the resultant growl could be heard over the chatter of the researchers. Despite the crowd, I took the stairs two at a time and landed with a thump at the bottom. The guard stationed at the mess entrance jumped and turned his gun to me. I flinched and thanked my luck that he had not been quite so trigger happy as the one last month. The perfectly round scar on my left shoulder throbbed at the memory. Shaking it off I squeezed into the Mess.
The Mess was one of the biggest rooms in Shelter. A long counter ran along one of the walls. A pile of trays sat at one end and a large black sphere at the other. I lifted a tray and joined the que of researchers. I kept my head down as I helped myself to a water bottle and signed my name on the register next to the bottle number. The que shuffled forwards closer to the Sphere, and the smell of baking got stronger. The Sphere clanked and rumbled as each person slid an empty plate into it, typed in their ID number and removed a plate filled with butter soaked crumpets. I reached the Sphere, slid my plate inside, and typed in my number. The sphere jolted, and I crossed my fingers. My plate was full when I pulled it out, but not with crumpets. Instead, my plate was covered with dry cereal. I stared at it, the researcher behind me shoved me in the back. I moved away, tipped my cereal into a bowl and signed for a small allotment of milk substitute.
I turned, dragging my feet, and spotted Hope. She waved me over.
“Happy birthday, Jessica,” she said as I walked over. I smiled back. I had almost forgotten that it was my birthday, something I would never have done before the attack. Every birthday my mum had made a big breakfast, then there would be presents and usually a new outfit to wear to school. At school, all my friends would give me cards, and they’d sing at the lunch table. I missed those birthdays. “What’s it like to be a teenager?” Hope said, snapping me from my nostalgia.
“The same as yesterday, Hope,” I said.
“I can’t wait to be a teenager,” Hope said. “It’s not fair, you and David and Gloria are all teenagers, just me that’s not.”
“Five years is not long to wait,” I said. Hope pulled a face, and I laughed.
“There’s David,” Hope stood up a waved. David stood at the Sphere, with his back to us. He turned around with his own cereal and spotted us, I glanced away feeling my face heat.
“Hi Hope, Jessica,” David sat opposite me. “Um…happy birthday.” He reached into his pocket and pulled a small trinket out. He dropped it on the table in front of me, not meeting my eyes. I lifted it, and it was warm in my palm. A small metal pendant carved to look like a rabbit caught in a moment of movement. Forever running.
“It’s beautiful,” I turned it over in my fingers. It was perfectly smooth like it had been rubbed for hours.
“It’s nothing really,” David mumbled. The little rabbit sat heavy and solid in my hand.
“Did you make this?” I asked. David blushed.
“I remembered you said you used to keep rabbits,” David said. “It’s for your chain.”
I reached under my t-shirt and pulled out the only thing they had let me keep. A silver chain that had belonged to my mother. I slid the little rabbit onto the chain and dropped it beneath my t-shirt where they couldn’t see it. It sat comfortably against my collarbone. I looked back at David and tried to think of something to say.
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