‘This is What I Look Like Now’, Sara Hosey

Illustrations © 2010 G. Edwin Taylor

[R: Here’s the transcript. “I” is interviewer (me) and “K” is subject. Let me know what you want to do next.]


21 November 2097

I:  [ 507668, © 2010 G. Edwin Taylor ] Please state your full name and I.D. number.

K: Kimba M. 507668.

I: Are you giving this confession of your own free will, Kimba?

K: Yes. I am. I guess I’m in a lot of trouble now, huh? Is Lisal okay?

I: Why don’t you go ahead and tell me what happened. Start at the beginning. How did you get the pass?

K: The real one? I got it this morning. From her. From Lisal. She came down the hall, like she does, checking on us after breakfast. She came into our room and asked us how we were. I joked; I said something like, “Still incarcerated.” She gave a little smile.

So she gave us clean socks which is kind of like a treat and we put them on and she asked about our breakfast.

I complained to her about the food. I told her it was gross and that there was never enough of it.

Lisal said she knew. She said they were “working on it.” She said there wasn’t enough food anywhere and that they don’t like to send it here. She said there was even a lawsuit going on about it back home.

What does that even mean? In my head it seems to me like maybe it’s a special kind of outfit, like with armor. Like people at home are wearing special protective suits made of law so that we can have more food. No, that’s “mail,” I think. I think we learned about that in history. Suits of mail. You know, we learn about all sorts of things. The Ancient Greeks and Bloody Mary and the Great Departure, I don’t know, it’s all pretty vague to me. I’m sure I have it all wrong about most of those things. They’re stories about things that really happened, but it just doesn’t seem very useful. What do we need to know about all that for anyway? Although I did like learning the one about the man in the iron mask, his name was Mandela, and when he escaped and they realized they’d made a mistake, they made him the king of his country. Do you know that story?

I: I don’t think so. Not one that happened like that, I mean.

K: Really? But you know, that’s the best one. That was one everyone liked. Of course we would like that story. Because it was all a horrible, regrettable mistake! Don’t you get it?

I: Let’s get back to what happened this morning.

K: Yeah. Sorry. Well, like I said, Lisal was checking on us and talking to us and we were complaining. The other girls wanted to talk to her too, but she was really there to see me, I knew. So she said she’d walk us to class, and, I know it’s stupid, but I tried to hold her hand and she let me and I asked her dumb questions about things I already knew the answers to, questions like what’s the beach and whether or not she likes tomatoes and why not. Stupid questions to keep her talking, to keep her near us.

So she walked us down the hall, me and R.J., holding our hands. I was on one side and R.J. was on the other. When we got to the classrooms, we saw Horatio and he saw us with Lisal and he smirked at me. I knew he’d give me a hard time about holding hands with her. [Unintelligible], you know, because it’s babyish. You don’t have to tell me. I know. And it’s kissing up, he thinks. But so he just nodded at Lisal and smirked at me. He generally ignores R.J.

Lisal kind of frowned and nodded back at him. He just stood there waiting for me, nobody saying anything until Lisal said, “Horatio, you go into class. I want to talk to Kimba for a minute” and Horatio was all smiles and “sure, fine, Lisal” and he said he’d save me a seat. I told him to save one for R.J. too. Lisal knew not to send R.J. in; she knows he doesn’t like to be apart from me. And I don’t care what that ridiculous file says and I don’t know why Lisal wrote what she did about him. That’s so obnoxious. And I’m so worried about him. He can get very upset and I’m the only one who can calm him down. You should really just let him be with me. I know you won’t though.

But so Horatio laughed but went in, kind of sliding in the doorway behind another kid and Lisal pulled our hands off of hers and opened the door again and told Teacher G. that she’d send us in when she was done with us. Then she walked down the hall a little way and we followed her. Most kids were in their classrooms by then, and the hallway sort of echoed with the scraping noises of chairs and desks moving around, like it sounds when we first arrive in music class and we can’t help but fool around with the instruments even though it drives Teacher T. crazy. It’s like, the more you’re not supposed to blow on something or strum something the more you want to do it, you know? He’ll be shouting not to touch anything as soon as we walk in the room and we just head right for them, the instruments. It’s pretty hysterical. Hysterically funny, but he also gets hysterical, you know? It’s just so hard to keep our hands off things like that.

It makes you wonder why he wanted to be a music teacher in the first place. I mean, what was he thinking? From what Lisal tells me, it’s not even like the pay here is very good. He must be a saint, right? Aren’t you all? All you people who work here. Maybe not the Monitors and Guards so much. They’re just too stupid or criminal to do anything else. Isn’t that right? But the rest of you. You know, Lisal said that if she worked here long enough, they’d pay back her higher ed loans. But she told me that she did higher ed just so that she could come here and help us. Do you believe that?

I: Let’s get back on track, Kimba. What did Lisal say to you in the hallway?

K: Fine, I know, I know. What did Lisal say. Well, what happened was, I was kind of leaning against the wall, looking at the ground and she crouched down a little to look in my face. She’s a lot taller than me, you know. I mean, I’m just undersized is all. People always think I’m a kid, but I’m not. But so she sort of bent her knees and put her hands on her hips and looked up into my face. It couldn’t have been very comfortable. She was like, “I don’t know if you understand how important it is for you to stay out of trouble” and all that stuff.

I just kind of smiled at her, sheepish, I guess. She told me that Lucas had already started working on an appeal for me and that she wanted me to come to her office to see her later. And then she stopped crouching and she stood up and took out her official pad and leaned it against the wall and wrote out a pass on it. She told me to come after morning classes. And then she told me I was very lucky and how not everyone gets this chance. And then she said, “So you have to be very careful with yourself, okay?”

I remember that’s exactly what she said, “you have to be very careful with yourself,” because I liked it so much. I imagined myself like a glass of cold milk that was very full. I had to be very careful in order not to spill myself.

So I took the piece of paper and I took R.J.’s hand and we started to head toward the classroom and Lisal was like, “Stay away from Horatio, Kimba.” She kind of growled it in like a jokey way. I said okay. She looked at me very serious-like before she pushed the door open for us and we went in.

So that’s what I talked about with Lisal this morning.

I: Didn’t you have to turn in the pass when you went to see her?

K: Yeah, but I’d given it to Horatio in art class. You know, before I went.

I: Tell me what happened in art class. That was next, right?

K: Yeah. Well, Horatio had saved seats for us at one of the round tables. When I came in, there were those disposable low res cams on the table and some crayons for coloring in. We were supposed to do these self-portraits. We do this quite a bit, actually. Like, you capture the image and then you fill it in yourself, kind of artistically. We all know it’s diagnostic, you know?

Horatio’s was funny. He had already taken the picture and he was drawing on the image, giving himself huge, dark eyes and a crazy mouth full of jagged teeth. He was like, “They’ll knock themselves out with this one. They’ll call me in for a ‘conversation.’” I thought that was funny, but I wasn’t going to do anything like that with my picture. I was going to be careful with myself. Because, you see, I was thinking that maybe what I could do was to take a picture of myself that showed what I looked like so that if the appeal did go through, they could send the picture to my mother. I know it’s dumb, but I was thinking that they could send the picture of me so that she would be prepared, she would know that this is what I look like now, that I’m not a baby anymore. I’m sixteen years old. Did you think I was younger than that? You probably did. But really, it’s just cause I’m undersized. I mean, most of us are. Not Horatio, though. But so I suppose I’m just about average, really. If I got out, though, if I went home, I realize, I wouldn’t be average, I really would be undersized. I bet I’d get picked on a lot back home, since I’d be so much smaller than everyone else. Do you think that’s true? Do you think they would’ve picked on me?

Anyway, I thought of that when I was making my picture and it made me really kind of sad. You know? But then, I was just thinking that if I could do a picture that did approximate me in some way, that then she wouldn’t be shocked when she saw me again.

You know, Teacher G. probably still has the picture. You could see it if you like. I mean, I just took a basic image of my head and stuff—I wanted to make sure you could see my earring holes. See, no earrings, but we all pierce our ears with whatever we can get our hands on. But we don’t have anything, really, to put in the holes. Obviously. But I think they look kinda good anyway, though.

When the picture was dry, I colored in my hair a little darker and made my lips a little redder. My nose looked big, you know, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I drew some hearts and stars and moons and other stupid stuff like that around my head. I guess it doesn’t really matter. But I do think the picture turned out all right. I wonder if you could still send it on to my mother? That would be good if you could do that.

But anyway. So, we were just drawing on the pictures. One of the table’s legs was shorter than the others so it rocked and tilted when one of us leaned in to work on our picture. So I made my self-portrait, thinking and drawing and talking to Horatio, creaking the table back and forth like a seesaw. Of course he wanted to know what Lisal wanted, but I didn’t tell him right away. I just kind of pretended it was no big deal and then finally I mentioned the pass that Lisal had given me and that I had in the pocket of my uniform.

He was like, let me have it.

I shook my head, no. I told him I had to see her later. Maybe I knew that would make him a little nuts, me not giving it to him. I don’t know. Maybe I did.

He said he wanted it. He promised to give it back. I was like, “I don’t know, Horatio. Why’d you want it?”

And he said he just wanted it.

And then he grabbed R.J.’s picture. R.J.’s self-portrait was just a swirl on the page. I had gotten him started on it. So Horatio just ripped it in half.

I told him to stop, but he said he’d do “worse” if I didn’t give him the pass. Then R.J. started moaning and Teacher G. came over to find out what was going on.

Horatio just laughed. “Crazy,” he said, twirling a finger by his ear. “Cuckoo. The two of them!”

Teacher G. just told him to cut it out and then moved back away toward another table, a table full of the real psychos who were, like, feeding each other art supplies.

I begged Horatio to leave R.J. alone, but I knew he wouldn’t. I mean, I was really mad, but what was I gonna do? When I slapped the note down, the table rocked toward me, making the crayons and stuff jump in the air. I told him I wanted the note back, that I’d tell on him if he didn’t give it back.

He was like, “I already told you I’d give it back.”

And he did. He gave it back just in time for me to go to her office.

So is that what you wanted to know?

I: Yes. That’s good, Kimba. Now tell me about when you went to Lisal’s office.

K: Well, the pass only had my name on it, but most of the guards just kind of glanced at it and no one gave me any trouble about having R.J. along with me. R.J. was nervous—he’s often nervous—so he held my hand and stayed close as we worked our way through all the gates and dark halls. It was kind of exciting, really. Kind of fun. When we got to the office, the door was already open and Lucas was there with Lisal, sitting together in front of a desk instead of behind it. I suppose this was meant to suggest to me that this was an informal meeting, that they weren’t trying to emphasize their authority or anything. Of course I felt uncomfortable anyway. I love Lisal so much, it makes me always act weird around her. I guess I do act babyish. But whenever I don’t, whenever I try to act [unintelligible] or if I say something to be funny, she kind of just looks at me, sort of confused and horrified. Kind of like the way you look at me.

Just kidding. Ha ha. But I mean, Lucas being there just made me feel weirder. Do you know him? Lucas?

I: I don’t.

K: I mean, Lucas is okay, I guess. He’s an advocate and I’m not really sure what it is that he does, really. I mean, once a year they gather us all in the gym and Lucas or some other advocate reads our universal rights. But other than that? No idea what he does.

Although one time, this girl, Soran, got pregnant and it was this huge deal, like there had been failure at so many steps along the way, you know? I mean, she got pretty far along before they even noticed. It was so funny. And then they were like, how was she not sterile? And it must’ve been a guard, because of course none of the kids are supposed to be able to, you know, either. The advocates were all over us that time, for sure. All sort of interviews and stuff.

We heard that the fetus didn’t test positive, so they had no idea what to do, you know? Nobody really knows what happened to her in the end. I heard they sent her home. But Horatio started this rumor that her baby was in one of the next shipments in. I know that was just a rumor because he told me he was going to start it. But, I mean, it could’ve been true. Did you hear about that?

I: No.

K: Oh. It did happen though.

I: Of course. Let’s get back to the meeting.

K: Of course? Of course it happened or of course I’m telling the truth?

I: I’m not sure what you’re asking, Kimba. Are you upset because I didn’t hear about that story?

K: Do you believe me that it’s true?

I: Of. Yes. I do.

K: Because things like that happen here?

I: I think, sadly, that they do.

K: All right then. But I’m saying. I think that’s a pretty messed up story. I think a story like that deserves more than, you know, an “of course.” But fine. Of course.

Okay. Lucas. Like I said, he’s all right. I don’t know, I don’t really like him that much. When I came it he said something like, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Kimba,” like we’d never met before or anything. Which we have. You know. The whole Soran thing. Anyway. He wasn’t smiling, but he was almost-friendly.

There was like this green couch facing them. I pried R.J.’s hand off my own and kind of half picked him up to scoot him into onto the couch. I noticed that Lucas was looking at me funny. I saw that out of the corner of my eye. He was looking at me funny and then he looked over to Lisal and she sort of waved her hand or something, like “we’ll talk about it later.” I sat down next to R.J.

Lisal had a plate with cookies on it and she stood up and offered it to us. R.J. tried to take the whole plate, but she wouldn’t let it go. “One at a time,” she said.

I repeated that, “one at a time,” but he took two anyway.

I took one, too. I only took one. One at a time. When she put the cookies back on the desk behind her, I wondered if there would be another “time” for me to take another “one.”

R.J. wanted another cookie almost immediately, but I took his thumb and gave it to him and he put it in his mouth. That keeps him occupied, at least for a little while.

Lisal was like, “We need your permission to pursue this” and all and she took a piece of paper off of her desk and gave it to me. And, as I held it, you know, it was funny. I wasn’t thinking about the appeal at all. I noticed that my fingertips were leaving crumbs on the paper and I was wishing I had licked them.

Lisal said something about them being “really hopeful.” And then she said that they wanted Dr. Rii there, but that he had a session. But she said she “spoke to him at length” and that he would “support” my application. And then she said, “He thinks you have some issues, but he doesn’t think you’re dangerous. And he also says that you’re extremely intelligent.”

Am I making that part up? I don’t think so. I don’t think that could have existed in my imagination before it happened. I was suddenly in love with Rii. Maybe not in love. But I felt something like that. I felt myself smiling and I couldn’t help it. Extremely intelligent. I wanted to hear it again. Like the cookies. I just wanted more and more and more of it.

I mean, how did Rii get that impression? I can’t remember the things I’ve said to him in the past. I wanted to know what those things were so that I could keep saying them, again and again to everyone, especially anyone I met back on Earth, so that they would think, what an intelligent young woman! And can you believe she was brought up in one of those Extra-planetary Homes?

Anyway, Lisal was like, “Lucas is going to explain all of this to you” and “it’s up to you. You don’t have to do this, but there’s no reason not to.” And then she said something like, the only thing they were concerned about was that there’s always a possibility of failure and they wanted me to know that Lucas was going to make his best arguments, but that there was no guarantee. So I had to be prepared for both eventualities. A finding for me or a finding against me. And then she turned it over to Lucas.

The whole time, Lucas kept clearing his throat. It was kinda gross. And I remember thinking that he was trying to smile at me, but it wasn’t working. He was like, “Okay. I’m gonna go through some of this, Kimba, and if I go too fast or if there’s anything you don’t understand, stop me.”

He’s the kind of guy who says stuff like that but you know that if you ever did stop him, if you were ever like, “could you slow down, I’m not getting this?”, he would be all annoyed and stuff. So whatever. I didn’t listen anyway. Or maybe I half-listened. I was still thinking about being “extremely intelligent.”

Lucas just went over stuff I already knew: once upon a time, the world was a terrible place and people did awful things to one another and all that. How it’s not really our fault. Something in our brains, something in our genes, makes us bad.

“So you have to be prepared,” he told me. He was like, “They may say some things about you that are unpleasant. Hard to hear. But at the same time, they recognize that mistakes can be made. False positives, dormancies, that sort of thing. So that’s what the appeal process is for. It basically means that you shouldn’t be here at all and that you shouldn’t go to the work site next. You were either misdiagnosed, or the gene didn’t express itself, or, and they love this one: you’ve gotten better. You’ve been rehabilitated.” He looked at Lisal and that time he really did smile, but it was a small, mean smile. He said I was in “good shape.” He said I had “good recs and no really problematic documentations.” And he said that most mental illnesses manifest at around my age, so that after a few years in holding I could conceivably be reintegrated into society.

But Lisal was like, “The most important thing right now is for you to stay out of trouble.” Then she said, waving her hand, “Plus, you’re gonna need to cut out this R.J. business.” She said we could talk about it later or that I could just talk about it with Rii. And then she went back to Horatio again. She was like, “you seriously need to stay away from him” and all that. And “don’t waste our time” and all that. I guess she could see something on my face, because then she spoke more softly, all, “I know Horatio seems important to you now, sweetheart, but if we can get you out of here, you’ll see. Someday you’ll be thankful.” And then she asked me if I wanted to sign the paper.

Of course I wanted to sign the paper, to get an appeal. It is all of our dreams, all of the time.

But I did have one question. I asked them about my mother. I asked them if she was still alive and if they thought she would still want me.

That made Lisal frown. She was like, “You know we’re not legally allowed to discuss that with you.”

But I signed anyway. I must’ve, because they gave us each another cookie and sent us back down the hallway.

And, of course, I turned in the pass on the way back.

When I got to the cafeteria, Horatio was like, all over me, touching me, trying to get me to pay attention to him. The first thing he did when we walked in was to kiss me and try to hug me. Gracielle, the monitor, was right there, but she didn’t say anything. She probably just didn’t even want to bother with us. But he was doing that and I was like, I don’t know, cut it out, kind of.

Horatio was like, “What, you don’t love me anymore?”

Horatio isn’t as bad as Lisal was saying. He takes cares of me. Plus he’s funny and he always has ideas. And I do love him. I love him very much.

I told him so and he said, “I love you too, Kim,” and we sat on the cafeteria benches and Horatio scratched my back for me and asked me about the meeting with Lisal.

I stalled a little, playing dumb. He wanted to know why she was so interested in me. He told me that I would have to tell him what was going on eventually. I stayed very still. I felt like if I stayed real still he’d keep scratching my back, like, for forever. You know?

So I was just there kind of holding R.J. and getting my back scratched and I told him I didn’t really know why Lisal wanted to talk to me and then I casually mentioned that I thought that she might want to do an appeal or something.

And that was the end of the back scratching. I mean, Horatio practically leapt up. He was like, “She wants to do an appeal?” It was almost like he was angry. He kinda freaked out, I guess.

He took me by my shoulders and turned me around so I was facing him. He was sitting sideways, like, straddling the bench. He said he wanted me to tell him everything, every word she said, but I told him that I couldn’t be sure. I remember my voice kind of sounding high in my own head. You know what I mean? It’s like, I was trying to lie but I was just giving myself away. I was like, “I’m not sure” and he was like, “You always remember everything,” which is pretty much true. So, finally I just told him what happened.

Horatio could never get an appeal and we both know it. He’s forever in trouble. He got transferred to our section because he got kicked out of his last one because he was caught making menk and before that he got into a fight with another kid and supposedly suffocated him to death. He claims that wasn’t really his fault, but who knows.

When we were talking, some kids at the front of the cafeteria started fighting. Chiffy, this guy we know, like, burst out of a crowd that formed around him and he had one of those safety forks sticking out of his eyeball. It was really gross. So we ran over to see and everything. So that was a distraction and we got locked down for a little while and then we had to go to classes.

But after that, when we came back for dinner, Horatio just kept bugging me about it and then he started bothering R.J. too. He just kept saying things like, “You know what will happen, R.J., if she gets the appeal, don’t you? She’ll leave you here. All alone.” At one point, R.J. was already whimpering and, unfortunately, licking my arm, which is something he does when he gets upset, but Horatio just kept, like, tormenting him. You know?

He did let up for a little while and we kind of just concentrated on our gross dinners, but then he announced, “Tonight. We’re busting out of here.”

See, on a holo night one time, they showed an old holo that had these people escaping a space station. What a mistake! I’m not even sure if I really saw it; it might just be that I’ve heard the story so many times that I think I did. But ever since, we all talk about “busting out.” And sometimes kids try. The idea is always to get to the landing bay and into one of the ships when no one is looking. You could stow away, get back home before they even realized you were gone. And I know it’s ridiculous; you don’t have to tell me. But “busting out.” This was an idea. We all loved to talk about “busting out.”

I was just like, “Come on, Horatio.” But he wanted me to listen to him. He said to me: “Kim, I gotta be honest with you. There is no way that you’re getting an appeal. Zero chance. First of all, have you ever actually heard of anyone ever getting an appeal?” I haven’t. And then he said, like, “Sure, you’re a nice girl. But there’s the whole R.J. thing.” I started to protest, but he went on. He said that our “association” was not going to reflect well on me. And then he asked if I really thought they were going to “reintegrate” me. He said that I might be smart for here, but back there I’d be practically retarded. He said I’d never fit in there. He said that they would deny me the appeal and then that would be their excuse. That all I’d ever known was institutional living, you know, and that I just wasn’t “equipped” to live back there or something. And he reminded me that he knows some things about back home.

Of course he was right. See, Horatio actually does know stuff. His mother did it; she went underground and everything and kept him until he was four years old. He claims to remember it. He remembers his mother and trees and swimming in a lake. Stuff like that. It sounds good, you know? Sometimes he tells me about it and we both cry.

But, so, I mean, he does know some things. And I think he’s right. I think if I went down there I’d be undersized and stupid. Compared to everyone else, you know? I mean here, I’m just normal. Maybe even “extremely intelligent,” you know. Ha ha.

So then, of course, Horatio like, produces a copy of the pass that I had that morning. He’s really something, that guy. I guess that’s what you really wanted to know. When I’d given it to him before, Horatio had gone back into the art room and copied it on the machine. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius, really. The copy was a little smudged, but cut to exactly the right size. It was definitely good enough. Well, obviously it was.

I objected. Of course I objected. I’m not trying to make this look like it was all Horatio’s fault. I did go along ultimately, I guess. But I still had the idea of the appeal in my head, and Lisal’s warning about Horatio, and just an aversion in general to getting in trouble. Maybe it was just the thought of leaving R.J. behind. I mean, I guess that really got to me.

Because Horatio pointed out that we’re all just getting shipped to the work sites next year anyway. And he said we should just get out together while we still could. That we could leave together and then we could take care of each other and stuff.

When he explained it to me like that, I knew it was true. Next year, they’ll take me away from Horatio and R.J. What is there for me, without Horatio and R.J.?

So I told him we would do whatever he wanted us to do. As long as R.J. could come too.

He looked at me and sighed and smiled. “It’ll be tricky,” he said. “Trickier, even, if we have to take R.J. But I think we can do it.”

R.J. scooted even closer to me and I put my arm around him. Horatio rolled his eyes.

So then Horatio said we had to go the apartments first. I didn’t understand what he was getting at, but he said that we needed a hostage to take us to the landing port because none of us, not Horatio, not me, not R.J., knew how to get to the landing port.

I was like, “I don’t know, Horatio. How are we going to take someone hostage?” And he said he had some ideas.

I mean, I was really hesitant about the whole thing. It just seemed like a looney plan that was just gonna get us in some stupid trouble and sabotage my whole chance for an appeal, you know? And he got real serious. I’ve never seen him so serious. He was just like, “I’m leaving, whether you come with me or not. Because either we leave tonight, or else they take you away from me with this appeal or they split us up to the work sites. So I’m leaving tonight.”

So I said okay, that I’d go. And he was all happy and kissing me and stuff. Gracielle noticed this time and I guess she figured enough was enough. She blew her whistle and Horatio pulled away, his arms in the air like, “I surrender,” smiling at Gracielle.

And really, it was so easy. After dinner we lined up for our shots. Gracielle and the other monitor, the one who was giving the shots, were standing by the doorway. We waited on the line and when we got to the front, Horatio showed the pass to Gracielle. “We’re not supposed to get shots here tonight,” he told her. “We have a pass. We’re supposed to go see Lisal.”

And Gracielle looked at the pass, which didn’t say anything about shots on it, and she looked at Horatio and she frowned and just sort of waved her hand. I don’t think she read the pass at all. And, just like that, we left the cafeteria and walked down the empty hallway toward the administrative wing.

We just went along the hallways, you know? Horatio tried to grab the hand that R.J. was holding but I shook him off and said, “R.J.!” and he went around to the other side. He was like, “I love you so much, Kim. You are so weird, but I love you so much.” And he was like, “We can do this, you know?”

I won’t lie. I was excited. But I guess I kind of thought it would just end with us getting chased by the guards and getting written up or something. I didn’t think we’d actually make it to the administrative wing and the apartments.

When we got to the first guard station, the guard looked at me and said, “you’ve already been this way today, haven’t you?” and I couldn’t believe she remembered. I felt sort of flattered that she had noticed me at all. I nodded and she said “Um hum” and buzzed us through.

Another guard said, “A little late, isn’t it?” but Horatio said, “She said it was important” and he too sort of grunted and buzzed us through. And then even Horatio seemed unsure of what to do next.

And he did something I couldn’t believe. He turned back to where the last guard was and walked right up to the booth and knocked on the window.

“Excuse me,” he said.

The guard looked up, alarmed.

Horatio was like, “Excuse me, we’re supposed to meet Guardian Lisal but we don’t remember where she told us to go. Could you tell us where she is right now? After dinner?”

And the guard looked at him and looked at me and R.J. and then he looked down, like he was nervous or something. Now that I think about it, I suppose guards in that section don’t see too many of us, really. He was probably afraid of us! And the way Horatio asked. It was so natural and confident. Like we really had an appointment or something.

So the guard said, “Yeah, sure. Hold on.” And he looked around the desk and then he flipped through some pages on a computer and then he said, “Yeah, okay, she should be in 321A. And if she isn’t you come right back here and we’ll find her. You hear me? If she isn’t in 321A, you come right back here.”

Horatio was like, “Yes sir.”

Of course, we didn’t know where 321A was, but the way the guard sort of nodded his head made us think it was straight down the hall. So we went that way. And then when it dead-ended, Horatio said, “hold on” and he went aways down the right side and then he said “this way” and we followed him.

So we stood in front of 321A. I really didn’t want to get in trouble with Lisal. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back and tell everyone in the dorm how far we’d come and then plan to do it again but really escape next time. But then before I knew it, Horatio knocked on the door and then, a moment later, Lisal answered it.

There was music playing and she was in like a jumper or pajamas or something and you could tell she was surprised to see us.

Horatio said, “It’s an emergency. Kim’s hurt. We need to talk to you. Can we come in?”

I felt bad for Lisal, because she looked mad but also maybe scared or maybe confused.

She let us in. Horatio closed the door.

She was looking at me the whole time, asking me what was wrong, what was going on.

Her room was so nice. It wasn’t so big, but it was the nicest thing I’ve ever seen. Instead of lights on the ceiling there were lamps and there was a kind of music playing that I’ve never heard before and it smelled like soap and maybe menk. I’m not saying it was menk or anything, I just thought it kind of smelled like that. Tangy, you know? And I wanted to lie down on the bed—it wasn’t made and it had all sort of pillows and blankets—and just lie there and lie there and lie there.

Horatio was saying something about needing to talk to her and she was like, “What’s wrong with Kimba? Who gave you permission to be here?” and then she grabbed me by the arm. I hadn’t been paying attention. I was looking at that bed.

She was, like, shaking me, asking me what I was doing. She looked really mad.

And then Horatio grabbed something off of the desk, I think it was a pen or maybe it was something else. It was larger than a pen. Lisal let go of my arm and stood up straight. He had it in her ear, not far enough to hurt her, but far enough to let her know he could. And he had his other arm around her neck.

“I’ll kill you,” he said. “You just stay quiet.”

I was like, “Horatio, stop it.”

“You want me to kill her?’ he asked me. “You stay quiet too.”

But R.J. started moaning and I knew he was going to cry.

“What do you want,” Lisal was saying. “Horatio, don’t do this. Don’t do this to Kimba.”

“What do I want?” he said. “I want to bust out of here. I want to be on the next ship out of here. Can you do that for me, Lisal?” He asked like he thought that maybe she really could.

“No, of course not,” she started to say and then she tried to turn around and then he slammed the stick into her ear.

Which didn’t kill her, but instead made her face go crazy. Her eyes were shooting around like they were trying to see what he’d done to the inside of her head. She started to scream, so he put his hand over her mouth. And I think he maybe punched her or stabbed her some more. I don’t know. I don’t think I was really watching, really.

Then Lisal was lying on the floor making these noises and there was blood sort of bubbling out of her ear. Horatio and I just stood there, looking at each other. Lisal started crawling along and she reached a hand up to her desk and that’s when I kicked her, in the back. As she was reaching up. The noise was kind of like a thud and a gasp. She collapsed back down, but she wasn’t dead or anything, I swear. I guess I kicked her pretty hard, though. It hurt my foot. My toes still kind of hurt.

Horatio kind of grabbed me by the neck and dragged me toward another door, toward her bathroom.

We stood there again, just looking in the mirror at ourselves and each other. I looked small and pointy to myself. He had blood on his shirt. I pointed at the blood and Horatio took his shirt off and went in the other room. He kicked her again then, I think. And then he went to her closet and got another shirt. It was kind of blousy. It was a ladies’ shirt, I think. I wanted one too, but I knew there wasn’t time.

“Let’s go,” he said. He took my hand. He looked in my face. He told me it was okay, that we were still going to get a ship. He seemed really sure.

So we went back into the halls. They have a different lighting in their hallways. They remind me more of tunnels. It felt strange, like I had eaten a bunch of menk. Everything felt very fast and very slow at the same time. I felt crazy, but I also felt sort of calm. You probably don’t know what I mean.

Horatio started to run, but I pulled him back and told him we had to walk. So we walked and turned down other hallways and walked some more. There was a man, a Guardian I didn’t recognize, in one of the hallways and he was surprised by us and then Horatio said to him, not as cool as the last time, “We’re looking for room—we’re looking for the offices. We have a pass. We don’t know where to go.”

The Guardian was like, “What offices?”

Horatio was all stumbling in his words. He was like, “The legal offices? Um, the offices where you can hear the ships from?” We could hear a woman’s laughter from inside the room we were standing in front of. There was the smell of food, but it smelled weird, different from the food we eat.

The man was like, “No, you have to go that way,” and he pointed down another hallway. The guardian asked us who we were supposed to see and looked at Horatio and then looked at me. So I said Lucas. I said it like it was a fact.

He was frowning, probably wondering what we were doing in that wing. But he just kind of gestured down the hall and started to walk away from us.

We thought that we had him fooled, but when we got down the next hallway, a guard was waiting for us. “You the kids that been wandering around?” he said.

Horatio tried the same story again, but he was breathing funny. And Horatio’s shirt, of course, wasn’t uniform. That first man must’ve known. He must’ve known as soon as he’d seen us.

And so then Horatio, really, I thought he would pull it off. When he realized what was happening, he went right up and grabbed the gun off the guard’s waist and stunned him. We ran, but then when we turned down the next hall there was another gate with a guard in a booth behind it and he had seen us running and he was already calling it in. So we tried to run back the way we came and we could hear their boots and voices and it seemed like there were so many of them. Horatio said we had to split up. He pulled my head toward him and kissed me on the mouth and then pushed my head in the opposite direction of him.

And then he turned and ran down one way and I ran down the other. I thought R.J. was with me, but I guess he wasn’t. Maybe he went with Horatio, but I don’t think so. It makes me sick that I don’t know where I lost him. I can’t even really think about it, it makes me so upset. He must have been so scared.

But I was just running and I was trying to listen for the sound of ships so I could follow it, but all I could hear was my own breathing. It sounded like I had sprung a leak or something, like all the air was rushing out of my body. Or maybe like I had spilled myself after all and I was hollow now and all I could hear was like an echo in myself.

I think I ran right into the guard’s arms as we came around a corner. It was like he was waiting for me, like we had planned out a dance and he was waiting for me around a corner. I ran into him and he pinned my arms to my sides and picked me up in the air. He was so much bigger than me. I think he said, “Gotcha,” as he held me up in the air and looked up into my face. I felt like a little baby. I felt like he was holding me up against the ceiling. I keep going back to that, thinking about that, how he swung me in the air and said “Gotcha.” I think we just regarded each other for a moment and then I started kicking him in the face and neck. Then, I think, another guard came along and put me to sleep. And then I woke up and then I found this stuff on the desk and then you came in.

I suppose now is the part where I tell you I’m sorry. I am. I am really really sorry. So you didn’t need to leave the file here. But I did read it. It hurt to read it, if that’s what you wanted. There’s really hardly anything to the file. The results of the initial tests, which I don’t even understand, and a few notes from Rii. He probably never even really said that thing about me being “extremely intelligent” or whatever it was. No one’s really been paying attention to me at all.

Except for Lisal, of course. She wrote that I was “promising.” Did you read that? Here, listen, I’ll read it to you. Listen to this. “Although malnourished and undersized, physically normal. Intellect average or above.” You get that? Then she writes, “Emotionally, K is somewhat stable. Generally gentle and affectionate. But,” and here’s the but, right?: “romantically involved with a true sociopath. H. has problems with authority; delights in scheming and undermining. K. is susceptible to his influence. Also: K. has delusional attachment to an ‘imaginary friend.’ Tolerated by teachers and peers, so not too disruptive. But clearly a manifestation of deep insecurity and need for stable relationship. Surrogate for self, mechanism for expression of emotions she’s ashamed of? Or expression of a need to be needed? Regardless, I believe once she is in a stable environment, insistence on R.J. will cease.”

 [ 507668, © 2010 G. Edwin Taylor ] But of course R.J. is real! I don’t know why she wrote that, unless she’s the one trying to sabotage me and make me look crazy. Ask anyone about R.J. Ask Horatio. Or ask R.J. himself!

So I don’t know why she wrote that.

But I am sorry about what happened to her. I hope she’s okay. Is she? But I mean, even if she is, she probably hates me now and I think I’d rather have her dead than hate me. I know that’s bad to think. But I can’t help it.

[Unintelligible] doesn’t matter anyway, does it? I’m done for, I suppose. Right? But I hope Horatio got away. [Unintelligible] I really hope he did. Maybe he’ll find my mother and tell her about me. Maybe then she’ll write to me.

I didn’t mean that about Lisal. I hope she’s okay. I really do.

And I didn’t mean to kick that guard in the face, either. Not really. The guy who said, “Gotcha.” I keep thinking about him. Do you know him? I don’t think I’ve seen him before.

I’m sorry those things happened. I really am. I really wish they hadn’t happened at all, you know? Do you believe me?

[End recording]

© 2010 Sara Hosey

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