Defect(4)

By: Ryann Kerekes


They all wait for me to do or say something. I keep my face completely composed and stare right back at them, unblinking. The woman takes my arm and pulls me up so I’m sitting on the edge of the table. I swing my legs over the side, and when I’m sure I’ll be steady on my feet, I drop down until my bare feet touch the floor. Now that I’m standing in front of them, I feel small, inconsequential. I can sense they’re deciding what to do with me. Determining my fate.

My gown gapes open in the front, showing everything – or lack thereof – but rather than pulling it closed, I stand there defiantly.

The older man in the military uniform – O’Donovan, as the badge on his chest says – looks me over the way a man looks at a woman. I fight the urge to shield myself and instead stare straight ahead. They can only take what you give them. And I will not give them the satisfaction of having any more power over me than they already do.

The plump lady steps forward. She opens the gown farther and pokes at my ribs. “Nothing to her, so you won’t want her, Will,” she says to the guy about my age. While the rest of their eyes harden and look me over for weaknesses, Will’s eyes are locked on mine, looking troubled. I watch him for too long, until the lady pokes a finger at me again. “You speak?”

I swallow and look away from Will. “I do.” I’m surprised by how composed my voice sounds. My insides are flipping around like fish trapped on the bottom of a boat. “Am I a Reject?” My voice rises despite my best attempt to keep calm, rational.

The woman who administered the test shifts her weight. “There are a tiny percentage of people whose mindscans don’t work properly. You are not a Reject, but you also cannot be declared as passing.”

“What happens now?”

She looks down, as though she’s considering how to tell me. “Defects,” she emphasizes the word, “are taken to the testing center in Ward A, where we try to discover why the technology failed.”

Defect. The stories come flooding back. Whispered rumors on the playground at school. Simon’s older brother was one of them. A Defect. He was kept in the compound for endless psychological testing, as they tried to uncover what was different about his mind.

She looks back up at me. “Defects who show certain abilities are taken to Ward B and trained to become guards, to work at the compound patrolling the fence and doing other jobs under the direction of the military.”

“What are we even discussing this for? She won’t make a good guard. Take her, Dorie,” O’Donovan says and turns to leave.

After a second, Will drops his eyes from mine and follows O’Donovan out of the room. I’m unsure whether he’s relieved or disappointed that he doesn’t have to take me.

Dorie grips my arm and pushes me forward. “Move.”

I stumble toward the door, nearly tripping over my own feet. I clutch the door frame and hold myself there. “Wait. It can’t be right. Do it to me again,” I turn back to face them, pleading.

“There’s no use, Eve. The mindscan is never wrong. And with the results you received – there’s no denying your fate.” What does that mean? What are my results?

Dorie pries my fingers from the door and shoves me forward. I pull the robe closed in front of me and let her move me farther along, down the hall, deeper into the compound.

I picture my mother in the waiting room being pulled aside and told of the news. I can see her eyes fill with tears and imagine her taking the news silently, nodding to their words. Words like diseased, and incurable. Defect. They are just words though. They will not define me.

***

An uncomfortable fullness in my bladder wakes me from a deep, but restless sleep. I shift on the bed, badly in need of a bathroom, before realizing my ankles are tethered to the footboard. Momentarily forgetting about the need to pee, I survey the length of my body. I’m wearing scratchy grey cotton scrubs that I have no memory changing into. I seem to be in one piece, yet feel woozy and weak.

I look over the rest of myself and become aware of new aches and pains. I’m certain I’ve been prodded and poked and shudder at the thought. My arms are bruised with track marks. The skin is tender and purple, puckered up where it met countless needles.

My eyes travel along my arm and stop at the new tattoo across my wrist. It’s a barcode with the number 5491 in block lettering underneath. The black numbers are raised and red, as if my skin is rebelling against them. I am marked as a Defect, a constant reminder that I can never go home.

My head throbs. I clench my eyes closed and curl up on my side, trying to lessen the insistence in my bladder. I try to recall the series of events between walking into the compound with my mom and ending with me in this bed. I’m strapped to a hospital bed in what I can only guess is a mental ward. My stomach grumbles loudly, forcing me back into awareness.

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