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Pagan Bradley 2016

The Virus

I have a name. A very typical, girlie, boring name. But I was conditioned to forget that a long time ago. Now, in replacement of a name, I have a number: seventy-eight. The seventy-eighth juvie hauled off to some detention centre nestled miles deep in the middle of nowhere.

I was transported here via a rundown, orange bus. It had black shades blocking the windows so that none of us could see where we were headed. At the time it had been crowded with dozens of other juvies, and smelt of piss and cigarette smoke, and there was the occasional waft of poorly-showered girls. They (I presume the governing officials who run the dump-of-a-juvenile-jail I currently occupy) supplied everyone with a pair of orange scrubs, a matching orange track-jacket and a white singlet that were either two sizes too big or two sizes too small. I was fourteen at the time. My arrival was many years ago.

Now this place no longer receives new malefactors - the familiar orange bus hasn’t come for three years. There are ninety-eight juvies in total. I am the seventy-eighth. 

Where I am doesn’t really have a name. Everyone just refers to it as the “Facility”. With a capital “F”. So, the Facility has twenty-five dorms each with four roomies, with the exception of dorm number twenty-five which only has two beds. Both these beds are empty – similarly to dorms five and eleven. The kids who occupied these dorms were moved to the Segregation Complex. We have nicknamed it the Seg Area. Kids who end up in the Seg Area have to be very unstable (both physically and/or mentally), and the majority of them are beyond psycho. It is reported to be “haunted” down there. The Seg Area is located to the right down a very narrow, dilapidated hallway, directly outside dorm number nine-teen – my dorm. Everyone who is kept there, is kept in their own personal laminated glass jail cell. Lovely.

I share my dormitory with three other girls who arrived here when I did. No-one is really close to anyone but I guess you could say that I’m very much acquainted with them, that is if by acquainted you mean having the capability to be offensive towards them or use your own personal arsenal of exceptionally creative insults without having to worry about being beat up in the hall afterwards.  See, that’s the thing here – despite the fact that there are plenty of turnkeys (screws as we call them) ready to use their authority to their advantage against us left, right and centre, fights breakout all the time. That’s why you need to be on your roommates’ good side.

I have kitchen duty with one of my roommates: number seventy-seven. I would tell you her name, but I don’t know what it is. Not a lot of girls in the Facility like to share their names, even with their closest of friends. I know I haven’t. Seventy-seven is at least two heads taller than me and has a very brutish appearance. She’s more muscled than any guy I’ve ever come across and her extremely tanned arms (and probably everywhere else) are covered in brooding, and very much illegal, tattoos – most of them she did herself. Her hair adds to her appearance, with its fine-cut fluoro-pink Mohawk and bleached blonde, shaved sides. Kind of funnily, she has a red love-heart tattooed on her right cheek. It’s sort of a weirdly shaped heart, though, because recently she was punched in the face by some other girl, and it is still slightly swollen and the skin is still bruised. Don’t ask me how I, too, got involved in the fight. But I did. I’m like that.

We drag our feet on the way to the kitchen, toward the left side of our dorm. Kitchen duty involves heating up frozen and tasteless MREs for your division. There are four divisions: two people (and this rotates between the people who you share a dorm with) from each division head to the kitchen and cook up enough MREs to feed their assigned section. This is about twenty-two meals needed to be heated up all before eight in the morning. It’s not a very good way of organising things, and most people end up with a cold breakfast, which is why lunch and dinner are prepared by cooks. This also comes down to the fact that the screws don’t trust even the most innocuous of us with any kitchen appliances. Even though the meals that are prepared for us at lunch and dinner time are almost as disgusting as the MREs, (it is rumoured that the cooks spit in them. Gross) they are a lot better than the plastic and rubbery meals-ready-to-eat.

I glance in seventy-seven’s direction, and realise that she totally needs a shower. We shower twice a week, for three minutes each time (it’s timed so that the hot water cuts out after that), however shower privileges can be taken away from you if you get into too much trouble. Due to her recent brawl, seventy-seven lost her shower privileges. For a week. And, due to my interventions, I have to deliver breakfast to the Seg Area. Not a very satisfying punishment. Guess I shouldn’t have called the screw who broke up the fight that word. Oh well.

Her two-sizes-too-small singlet clings to her torso, outlining her rock-hard muscles and exposing her huge biceps. I definitely look like a runt standing next to her, but I’m not. Looks can be deceiving, I suppose. My own clothing is too big for me, and I’m constantly pulling up my scrubs because belts and string are prohibited in the Facility, so the drawstrings were removed.

We tie a smelly and stained apron around our waists while an austere screw watches us. Everyone’s opted to secretly call her Ms. Screwge because she’s a real dolt, and reminds the people who’ve seen the movie “Christmas Carol” of the protagonist, Scrooge.

Screwge then exits the room, but keeps her eyes on us through the open doorway as we take a look at what poor excuse of a meal we have for breakfast. Today’s delicacy: scrambled eggs and bacon. Seventy-seven makes a derisive noise meant to imitate a pig. I stifle a laugh and the Misses gives the both of us a disgruntled turn of her nose. I give her the finger behind my back when she’s not looking.

When the irritating ring of the “it’s meal-time” siren belts through the halls, all the girls exit their dorms in irksomely straight lines and gather in the dining area, situated to the right of the kitchen. Seventy-seven and I are finishing placing the plastic tubs of eggs and bacon on the ruinous tables when we see – when we hear – the bickering mass of girls pushing and shoving as they take their allocated seats. We head over to ours. Seventy-seven sits across from me and our other two roomies sit beside us. We disagreeably dig-in to our cold portions of crappy bacon and eggs, and when I’m finished I head over to the bin, prepared to grab the remaining portions of food to take to the Seg Area, when a screw barks at me from across the room. “Seveny’-eight! Ain’t you meant to be givin’ the Segs their breakfast?” I nod and choke down an insult, muttering beneath my breath that I was on my way. I see out of the corner of my eye seventy-seven wiggling her hands near her face and making a ghost noise. She laughs, along with a few other girls who overheard her. “Oh, shut it!” I call back, shaking my head with a crude smile. I hurriedly glance over my shoulder to check if the screw had heard me. He had. His eyes bore into me and I drop mine to the floor, and quickly head to the kitchen.

I scoop the remaining MREs into my singlet and I head in relation to the Seg Area. With each step I take, the knot in my stomach tightens. Juvies don’t get scared, and juvies don’t cry: you can’t afford to show any signs of weakness at the Facility, or any facility for that matter. But the Seg Area is just so disturbing that everyone is at least a little apprehensive if one of their chores or punishments is in the Seg Area, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. And, quite frankly, I’ll readily admit that it’s freaky down here anytime.

Odours of faeces and urine and something else make me screw up my face, and I know that I’ve reached my destination. “My penultimate doom”, I say quietly to no-one in particular. A snort erupts from around the corner. “I still have to go in there, so it ain’t over yet!” I yell back recalcitrantly as I turn the corner and see Ms. Screwge. Taken aback, I almost spill the contents of my shirt on the greasy, black cobblestone. “Talk like that to me again and I’ll make yous deliver their food for a month”, she says tauntingly, gesturing toward the rows of clouded glass stalls. Shrugging off the threat, I watch her chew the gum, around and around, in her mouth. I clear my throat and ask her why the normal turnkey isn’t here, and I almost mess up big time and call her Screwge. “He’s on sick leave”, she says, spitting her gum out at my feet with a sneer. I glare at her as I walk past and she buzzes the door. It swings open.

 The Seg Area is rarely cleaned, and when it is, it’s not done very well, so the stench is repugnant. I cover my face with my bare wrist and feel bile rising in my throat. I swallow it down, and begin pushing the tubs of cold bacon and eggs through the metal slots in the cells. It’s awfully quiet, and that feeds the angry knot in my stomach. I reach the last cell and the girl inside looks at me with an intensity I can’t begin to explain. I look away as I push the tub through the slot, but just as I’m about to get the hell out of there, she yanks my wrist further into the slot and slams me into the glass barrier. Her sharp fingernails dig into my skin. I want to scream but no sound escapes my mouth. It doesn’t appear that Screwge has seen. My chest tightens. My heart hammers and... “You’re all going to die”, a wispy and dry voice whispers to me behind the glass, and begins to laugh: a hysterical, hideous sound that makes me want to curl into a tight ball. Instead, I sprint out the door and get as far away from there as quickly as I can. Screwge’s commands and hollering are at the back of my mind as I make my way to rec.

I had rushed to rec so quickly I had forgotten my tracksuit. Damn. It’s cold outside. It’s always cold. The Facility is surrounded by a thick forest and a blanket of snow, all except for a winding and skinny bitumen road leading out to who knows where. The perimeter is a twelve-feet-high sand brick wall with a further four feet of electrified concertina wire. They electrified the wire only eighteen months ago, when a foolhardy juvie somehow managed to get past plain barbed-wire alone and escape.

Eventually lunch time swings by and another irritating siren sounds in the halls, and all the girls congregate in the dining area, and take to their seats. Bowls of hot and chunky chicken soup rest in front of us. It doesn’t smell too bad, and I actually reckon it tastes pretty good, but I feel nauseated anyway. My mind is racing, with all the events of the day popping up all at once. I’m able to grasp a few thoughts more clearly and it just makes me feel even sicklier. I recall the event in the Seg Area while I absentmindedly massage the place where the girl grabbed me. It has that sting you feel when you’ve been slapped, possibly from where she forced my arm through the slot, and the places where her unruly nails dug into my flesh is tender. But at the front of my mind is the possible flu going around. I had made some observations and decided that most of the guards are expressing signs of the flu or some other sickness. I spin the spoon around in my bowl, the palm of my hand squishing my cheek as I prop myself up on the table with my elbow. Seventy-seven had ignored my pale complexion on my return from the Seg Area. She probably thought that I was overreacting because the Seg Area isn’t that bad, right? But now she looks at me with what I believe could be concern. ‘Seven’-eight, you a’ight?” she says, leaning her big, bony elbow on my shoulder. I crack my shoulders uncomfortably, attempting to shrug her off. “Yeah, all’s good”, I reply, spinning my spoon around again. She looks at me, unimpressed, and I shove her elbow off so hard and fast she almost smacks her chin on the table. I smile. “That’s the girl I know!” She yells, with a fatuous snort, pounding me on the back. I get out of my chair. “Imma’ go fetch my jacket, if you don’t mind”, I say and I descend from the kitchen. 

I head towards my dorm, noticing how eerily quiet it is. There are no screws around, which is also strange. I glance behind me before entering my dorm and reach for my orange track-jacket on my bunk. I hear a frantic rustle of chairs. And screams. Instinctually I reach for the pocket knife I stashed inside my mattress. I use my fingers to manipulate the position of the blade and cut through the seam in my mattress. As I turn around and take a squiz at my doorway, there’s someone there. I tuck the pocket knife quickly behind my back and up my singlet, before noticing a stampede of terrified girls racing down the hall. I rise so quickly that my head nicks the top bunk, but I recover quickly. Then, I look on in horror as I take in the impossible sight of the screw at my doorway. Her eyes are wild, like an animal who’s had his first kill. Her stance looks like she’s ready to pounce, and her veins run thick and dark up her arms. The veins pulse unnaturally fast and occasionally writhe like the pressure will make them burst. ‘I was just leaving”, I say, quieter than a whisper. My voice is hoarse and dry. I take one step forwards and she lunges herself at me with an animal shriek. I yank myself up using the tops of the bunk and use both my legs to shove her into the wall. Her head hits the wall with a sickening crack but I know that she – it – whatever it is – is still breathing. “Concussed”, I say to no-one.  I hesitate at my doorway, taking in the epidemic unfolding before my eyes. The only people who seem to be affected are the screws. These new “whatevers” seem to be extremely strong, with the capability to rip into human flesh with their fingernails. I curse loudly, and slowly creep out of my dormitory.

My mind is constantly analysing things. It has been doing so since forever. So as I begin to trot down the hall amongst the chaos, possibilities and postulations embed themselves at the forefront of my mind. I’ve noticed that these mutated screws attack the juvies who are running the fastest or screaming the loudest. I try to ignore the fact that my heart has risen to my throat and that I really have to puke, and that there are dead and dying juvies left, right and centre. Think, think, think! Have to think. Feelings of angst and dejection hit me like a tidal wave all at once and I stumble over a body. I feel the sting of fresh tears forming at my eyes and I wipe them away. No time for tears: crying won’t fix anything. I think of what to do. If I could… no. It couldn’t work, could it? Guess I’ll have to see for myself. I have to act fast, which means drawing attention to myself. I gulp and my throat feels thick. And then I run. I cut across the hall to the left and head in relation to the infirmary. I side-step bodies both dead and very much alive, until I feel a cold yet somehow searing and aching pain in my right bicep. God it hurts. I smack defensively against the wall, grimacing, and take a look at my arm. Two long and deep scratches already angrily inflamed streak up my bicep. My chest is heaving and my heart is hammering so hard that it’s all I hear. I see the thing that hurt me edging its way closer and I make a dash for the infirmary. There is a screw attempting to use his card to open the infirmary doors, but panic has left his hands shaking. A pang of sympathy for him makes me take a step back. But I already have predicted what will happen to him, and I don’t want to find out. I walk up next to him. “Sorry”, I say, and I rip the card from his fingers and shove him aside.

The glass doors slide open and I quickly force them shut, breathing heavily. I back into the medicine desk, feeling shaky with panic. I cannot let the panic get to me, so I attempt to slow my heartrate. My arm throbs painfully, and I feel lightheaded, but there is no blood. I pray that the disease or whatever the hell this thing is, doesn’t spread through injuries. Or death, you know, like… zombies. I shudder. Collecting my thoughts, I rip open a packet of antiseptic wipes and they spill over the floor. I grab one, tear the packaging open and wipe it over my injury. The pain is awful, and makes me screw up my face in agony, but I’m persistent, and I’d rather this opposed to, well, death. I then snag a bandage from a drawer and wrap it tightly around my arm. Disregarding the nagging throb in my arm and the tenacious headache I seem to have developed, I look around for a tub of gasoline.

I can’t find the gasoline. All I’ve found is a lighter, which I suppose is a good start, however I don’t have a lot of time. Some of the affected people have seen me and are pointlessly banging against the clear tempered glass. I look around and find a lacker band and slip it over my wrist, thinking it will come in handy, and I see it. The gasoline! It’s inside the operating room, where the emergency button that will open the gates of the Facility is. Perfect! But to my dismay, there’s a screw in there, and he’s definitely no longer human. I consider my options before grabbing the useless pocketknife I had been carrying around from the desk. Now I think it will serve a purpose. I jab it into the door knob and jiggle it around until I hear a click. I take a deep breath and peep through the door. The screw has walked into the Meetings Room. Now or never.

Practically jumping into the room, I slam the door to the Meetings Room, and lock that thing in. I slam my elbow into the glass box containing the emergency exit button, and use my pocketknife to activate it by shoving the knife – hard – into the middle of the red, protruding button. I grab the tub of gasoline and right before I leave I spy a packet of cigarettes.

I take the cap off the gasoline tub and manage to make my way out of the infirmary, and time seems to slow. I sprint behind about twenty or so girls who haven’t become casualties of whatever this thing is, letting the gasoline make a wet, greasy mess on the floor, and I’m almost certain that I don’t have to order the girls to keep running: they can hear the alarm ringing loudly in the hall, so they know that the gate is opening. Besides, some of the girls have seen that I’m carrying a lighter. And gasoline. When everyone I can see has escaped through the rec door and are running on their ways to the exit, I see seventy-seven. “Sup”, I say, smiling at the impracticality of it. “What ya’ doin’?” she questions. “Imma’ blow this joint!” I say, with a little more determination and certainty than I feel. “Scored some smokes”, I say as I aim to lighten the mood. She grins. “But, you better run”, I add. And she does.

I light a cigarette before I fasten the lacker band that was around my wrist around the lighter, making it act as a finger. I gaze into the oncoming pack of mutated turnkeys, and take a long drag on my cigarette. Then, I throw the lighter into the building. I have a good throw. It goes far, but I’m already running towards the exit before I can see what happens.

I feel the heat from the explosion warming my legs in the cold, all the while thinking about what had happened. How? Why? And many questions alike flick through my mind. “I’m not dead”, I finally say in response to that insane Seg girl. “Yet.”

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