Looking back I realise I may have been using him. Not using him to help me escape the farm I was an animal in. I used him to escape my reality. In Max’s body I found food for my soul. The day I found out I was being farmed for my offspring and eventually my flesh, at the time I didn’t let myself think about what that meant. In my world up until that point I was brought up believing a comet had hit earth and wiped out all of the animals and most of the people. We were told that we were all that was left, so we had to do everything we could to keep the human race alive. Lies.
Lying in the darkness broken up by a mosaic of neon outside the window I ponder what I know now. I know that after the animals were wiped out people started killing each other for meat. The government started cloning people and growing meat products in labs, but there was still a market for fresh, clean unencumbered meat. Me. Years ago an underground movement rose up, an anti-cannibalism group. They wrecked labs all over the world, but they got caught. They were trialled as a group and they were convicted. The men were sentenced to life, which meant they were auctioned off for their meat and the women were sent to the farm, to produce future meat. These people were my ancestors. I wonder what they would say if they could see me now. I wonder what Pip and Sweetie would say.
On my last day at the farm the alarm cut through my dreams. I lay there sleepily sliding my hands across my tummy as I relived the day before. I wondered if this was love, my body screamed for him while I lay there silently. I was sure it was. I traced my fingers lazily across my collarbone, remembering. The girl in the bunk below me stood up putting an end to the illusion. My shoulder throbbed as I pushed myself up and hung my legs over the edge of the bunk. I wiped my eyes and got up, readying myself for the escape. I made my way to the dining hall to have my usual breakfast. Spotting Sweetie on my way to agriculture duties, I made my way to her.
“Hey Sweetie!” She stopped and smiled when she saw me.
“Hey you, off to ag?”
“Yeah.” I gathered her up in a hug, something I had never done before. At first she jumped, but relaxed when she realised it was a hug. My shoulder ached from the motion but I surrendered to the pain. It was nothing compared to the guilt coursing through my veins.
“Hey! You two. Separate.” A guard called out, before making his way to us. I quickly got in line, stepped through the gate, raised my arms and walked through. As I stepped outside the air hit my lungs cold and harsh. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining but there were dark clouds on the horizon. In the distance I could see the snow topped mountains. I loved it out there. The air felt so clean. We filed down the walkway, caged in by the electric fences. Once near the apple field I pealed off and approached the gate. A warden was waiting, rubbing her hands together and jiggling on the spot.
Once through to the apple trees in my section I could see that there was a storm coming. Eventually my hands hurt with cold and started stinging with every apple I picked. I smiled to myself thinking of Max. Was this love? This fire at my centre screaming for him? Just wanting him to be near me, to touch me?
At lunch I watched the clock. My heartbeat was unsteady as I thought of what I was going to have to do that afternoon. This was going to be my best lie yet. I returned to the field to finish my afternoon shift. When the 3pm bell rang I made my way to the gate.
“You have an hour left of duties.” The guard peered at me suspiciously.
“I have a medical at 3.20pm.” I passed him the paper Max had given me the night before. He checked it over before nodding and handing it back to me. I made my way back to the main door. Once inside I wandered up to the hospital sector. I exchanged my piece of paper with the guards on duty and headed down a hallway. I had gone this way before, once every four months to be exact. I walked straight past the door to the medical centre. I knew I wouldn’t be missed because I didn’t really have an appointment.
First left after the centre, second door on the right. I repeated this over and over in my head on the way so I wouldn’t forget. I opened the door to an apparently empty room and closed it behind me. The clock on the wall showed it was 3.20pm. The nightshift would be there in ten minutes, and then I had half an hour to get to the buses. Across the room in a cupboard was the uniform Max had stolen for me, complete with boots and cap folded tidily at the bottom. I pulled on the uniform, careful to tuck it in and smooth out the creases. The fabric of the shirt was stiff and crunched against my skin and the boots felt heavy as I paced the room, working myself up for what was to come. I stuffed my clothes in the cupboard and placed the cap on my head. My reflection was different. I already looked stronger and more powerful.
I scurried down the hall aware that time was getting away from me. Then I remembered that guards don’t rush. I slowed down and attempted to saunter with purpose. I jutted my chin out defiantly, like I was gearing up for a fight. I guess I was, I had no idea what to expect. I approached the first security gate. My heart almost choked me as it violently thudded in my throat. The guard glanced up as I approached, gave me a quick nod and looked back at his screen. I walked through the gate, no beep, no cries of alarm, no nothing. I told myself to keep going and to not look back. I felt like I was going to vomit, sweat sizzled on my forehead and my fingers were slick.
I entered the dining hall. Scanning the room I looked for Max. I spotted him near the agriculture exit. We saw each other at the same time, I wanted to run to his side but instead I straightened my back and sauntered slowly across the room like I’d done it a thousand times before. I told myself over and over, you can do this, you can do this. As I approached Max I could see through his strained smile.
“Hey Betty, how was your first day?” He asked.
“Good, thank you.” He nodded at me reassuringly.
“Cece?” Pip’s voice piped up behind me. I froze. Max looked at me, shaking his head. His face told me to ignore her, to walk away.
“Get back to work.” His voice cold and distant directed at Pin. I didn’t turn around, I couldn’t. If I turned around she would know. If I turned around I wouldn’t be strong enough to leave her behind to die. If I turned around I’d scream as loud as I could about everything I knew.
Instead I stepped toward the gate, nodded at the guard behind the desk and walked through. I could hear Max’s voice rise in agitation as he directed Pip back to work. I kept walking, head held high, not looking back. Max came up behind me short of breath. “That was close. Now, just follow me. Keep your head down, try blend in.”
I nodded and we walked side by side down the corridor. Other guards paired off chatting about their day, so I stuck to Max as we walked toward the exit. The first check point was a full body scan. They scanned us for metals, food products and medication. Max went through first, he stood still at the centre of the gate and the doors revolved around him, a green light appeared and he stepped through.
“Hey mate, how are you?” Max called to the guard at the desk.
“Oh hey Max, didn’t see ya there.” I stepped through the gate and stood exactly where Max had. The door revolved around me making a whirring noise that dulled Max and the other guard’s chitchat. A green light appeared and I gasped in relief. I stepped out and Max waved to the guard as we walked away.
“Get your ID badge out now, scan it straight after me and keep walking. I’m going to try distract the guard again.” We approached the desk. There were five scanners in a row, Max scanned his at the one closest to the desk and I quickly did the same at the scanner next to his. We walked away, our steps in sync.
“Max, I’m so thankful. I just can’t believe everything that’s happened. I…” my voice cracked and I looked up to the sky blinking my eyes profusely. I refused to cry.
“Come on kiddo, we’re almost there.” Max stepped up into the bus showing his ID and walked down the isle. I followed quickly behind him and sat next to him. He gave me a small smile then looked away surveying the rest of the bus. He slid back into the seat next to me and squeezed my hand reassuringly. We sat in silence, our breath synchronised, slow and deep. The bus filled up quickly and as we pulled away another one pulled forward to replace us.
We drove toward the snow-capped mountains through fields and fields of fruit and vegetables. It was so beautiful. There was so much green everywhere. I had had no idea that there were forests and bush left but as we climbed the windy road up the mountain there were trees I’d never seen before. Plants and flowers that grew in wild abandon teetering on cliffs and draped down galleys. I watched in wonder, my nose pressed against the ice-cold glass.
Max squeezed my hand occasionally when he knew no one was looking. The roads got treacherous as we climbed but the chain wrapped tyres gripped to the road and kept turning. As we came over the top of the mountain I gasped at the view. The ocean, it was right there and it was real. The sun was setting to the west throwing warm rays that blanketed the deep blue sea in an orange glow. I had never seen anything quite as breathtaking.
My eyes prickled and glistened but I closed them before any tears could escape. The journey toward the sea took fewer turns, which I was thankful for as I didn’t feel well. It felt like my stomach was trying to escape with every breath I took, so I held each one for as long as I could.