‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Not Dead


I got to my feet, using the wall as support, and stumbled forward as I let go. My mind seemed pretty lucid, but it became evident that my body wasn’t cooperating. Stupid drugs!

My head began to spin as the guard marched off to the next door along, leaving me to follow the continuous drip of eerily silent Dreamers as they made their way down the corridor. In front of me was a woman with long, auburn hair falling down her back. It looked like it could have once been beautiful; a curtain of fiery red, but it now hung lank and dishevelled, somewhere in between straight and curly.

‘Uh,’ I said, unable to remember if she was the same one that I’d dared to speak to this morning. I moved towards her, stumbling slightly, still dizzy and unbalanced. ‘Where are we going?’

She turned to face me, her enormous, green eyes that should have been bright and vibrant wide in their too-large sockets, giving me a haunting, empty look.

‘It’s social time,’ she said, her voice light, her tone not just uninterested, but totally emotionless.

I was going to ask more, but the haunting, empty, total lifelessness of her eyes scared me. It scared me because she was once a Dreamer. She once believed in the power of imagination and freedom and dreams, but now she was as soulless, and therefore as bad, as everyone else.

I followed a pace behind her in total silence as she led the route that was obviously so familiar to her down the stairs. Another woman, who had just been released from her cell, was a few steps ahead, and I heard another one come out behind us. It seemed that, unlike lunchtime or home time in schools, there was no mad dash for the doors; for freedom. There was no urgency to get downstairs; we were just walking. As all the doors were unlocked, Dreamers exited in dribs and drabs; so few of them talking, and the ones that did were having very limited conversations, and were quickly silenced by the guards. There were no windows whatsoever in this building—further proof of our total isolation from the rest of the world—so we couldn’t even discuss the weather.

When we arrived downstairs, I saw some...not life as such, because there was no life in this place; only darkness and misery, but at least I saw people talking, and moving, and participating in activities. There was a TV on in the corner of the large, square, off-white room, of course with only a news channel to show; various tables to sit around; a door, which led into what was obviously an exercise area—through the small pane of glass in it I could see people running and weightlifting and climbing and throwing a basketball to each other, all indoors of course, with no windows. There was also a pool table and a table tennis table, though at slightly closer inspection I could see that the bats were shabby, and at least two of the snooker balls were missing.

‘What now?’ I asked the redheaded girl who had stopped beside me.

She shrugged. ‘What do you want to do? This is free time; you can do what you like.’

She was not thinking. She was talking—answering me; making conversation; being polite. But it took no imagination to reply to my question; only enough memory to recite what she had in turn been told on her first day in here. And I was sure that it was what I would, in turn, tell to yet another poor, unfortunate soul who came to join us several months down the line, when my mind was barely still there.

She had called it ‘free time.’ Oh, how our perceptions of the word ‘free’ changed. This was not free time. This was the opposite. This was restricted time. This was caged time.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked the girl.

She looked up at me and, pretty though she was, I only wished she wouldn’t. Her eyes—her blank, soulless, lifeless eyes—haunted me. Every time I so much as blinked, I could see them, there, ready for me, whispering to me that this was what I was going to become. Things in here were going to get so, so much worse before they got any better.

‘Sian,’ she said pleasantly, though without any trace of emotion on her face. ‘What’s yours?’

‘Simeon,’ I said in a grumble. If she detected my unfriendly tone, she didn’t respond to it.

‘Hello, Simeon,’ she said. ‘I’m guessing you’re new.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s my first day, and my first time. How long have you been in here?’

‘Four months,’ she replied. ‘This is my first time too, so I have two months left.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. This was even worse than I thought. If this was what she was like after only two thirds of her time in here, I dreaded to think what we could become after the full six. And what about the people who were in here for their second time; for ten or twelve or fifteen years, or sometimes even more? Did they ever truly recover?

The answer must be yes, because I had met enough of them to know that they were normally good, rounded people, though, now I thought about it, many of them had the tendency to be a little...eccentric, shall we say. Well, more than merely eccentric. Somewhere in between eccentric and a bit insane. Not worthy of mental asylums or anything, but rather odd.

No. Now I knew. If you came in here a second time, you never quite got over it. However much you tried to lead a normal life afterwards, it took months to remember everything about your old life, and once again you only remembered certain parts of it if you were told about them by someone. And that was only if you actually made it out a second time. Not everyone was so lucky. Many people went in to the Institutions twice and never came out again.

Sian shuffled more than walked—more proof of the ‘mental patient’ theory, towards the TV, sitting down on one of the metal chairs beside an older man. Neither of them spoke to each other, but I followed. Purely because she was the only person in here that I could even vaguely say I knew, and also partly because it was always good to see what the news had to say.

Precisely an hour later, a siren rung, and everyone got up. A few spoke, but, as usual, most were silent as they all began to drift off back to their cells.

And suddenly I couldn’t stand it. Sure, these people were alive, but this might as well be a zombie camp. Uncontrollable rage boiled up inside me, and suddenly, like a volcano erupting, the lava spilled over.

‘What the hell?’ I yelled into the near silence. Every face turned to stare at me—so many more pairs of those empty, lifeless eyes that it almost knocked me off guard. Whatever happened, I wouldn’t—I couldn’t—become one of them.

I saw several security men ready themselves, taking a step or two closer.

‘What is wrong with you people?’ I demanded, crying out in exasperation. ‘You’re Dreamers! You’re better than this—all of you! How can you just do this—do what they tell you; follow without question like cattle heading to the fucking slaughterhouse! It’s all wrong! They’re wrong to do this to us, and you’re wrong to accept it.’

‘Stryder,’ a low but authoritative voice ordered. ‘Quiet.’

‘Why should I?’ I challenged, shocking even myself. ‘You—we are Dreamers. For God’s sake, stand up for yourselves and act like you should be.’

There was a strange moment there and then as something of a ripple seemed to silently wash over the heads of every person in the large, white room. There were about sixty of us in here in total, and that was just our block. The Institution consisted of three blocks.

‘Dreamers,’ one man close to me whispered. The word resounded around the room, whispered by more and more voices. ‘You’re...right.’

‘Mr Stryder, get here now!’ one of the guards snapped. I was not having it. What could they do to me? Hurt me? Chuck me in Solitary for a few days? They weren’t going to kill me, because that was, as the government chose to call it, ‘counter-productive,’ and anything that didn’t kill you made you stronger.

‘I knew it,’ another man said. ‘I knew we had to find a way out of this place.’

‘Dreamers forever!’ another woman cried.

I looked at little Sian, standing close by. Maybe she was a little too far gone to fully understand, though even her eyes sparkled with something I liked to think was hope. But not everyone was beyond lucidity. Not everyone was completely insane. Because, quite simply, not everyone in here could be dead inside. I might be the newest here, but I wasn’t about to succumb to these drugs in a week; nor in two weeks. Even in a month, I doubted I could be so dead inside. So where were the other newbies? I wasn’t the only one to have arrived in the last month—I remembered two people from our base in San Francisco going missing barely a week ago. So where was the life within them? Where was the life all these people once had?

‘I told you!’ one man who was still semi-sane cried to another. ‘I said we should fight.’

All hell broke loose.

There was talking, then the talking turned to shouting. One man pushed another, which caused the latter to retaliate. And through all this, I was wading through a dream world. Nothing quite felt real. This was all just in my imagination. As rough hands grabbed my shoulders and dragged me from the room, I was not afraid. I just knew that I was on my way to giving these people what they deserved.

Because not everyone here was dead. There was still some life left in many of the Dreamers. Not much, and not in all of them. But there were some, and that was better than I could have hoped for an hour ago when I first spoke to Sian. I’d heard stories of people getting put in Solitary for being disruptive and disrespectful. I’d heard of various riots and protests, which rarely ended well. Many people were too far gone for that, but the drugs affected some people in weaker ways. I’d heard of the greats: the great Dreamers around the world who hadn’t been broken in the Institution. They had been made stronger. And they had fought.

Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them.

Whether it was through injections, injury, or some other way, I abruptly blacked out.


I opened my eyes.

Who was I? Where was I?

I closed my eyes again.

Five minutes of silent stillness later, a word came into my mind. Simeon. Simeon. What was Simeon?

No. I knew what Simeon was. I recognised Simeon. Simeon was me—it was what they (who were they?) called me. It was something known as a Name.

Simeon...Simeon Something Else. No! I had it! Simeon Stryder. That was me. Apparently. And I was in this place—what was this place? It was darkened, and padded, and cold. I was alone.

Within half an hour of lying relatively still on the floor—I felt too weak to stand up, I had remembered everything. Almost everything. The Dreamers...who were the Dreamers? No. I knew who the Dreamers were. I knew what they were. But what were their names? I had known so many Dreamers, so why could I only remember so few names?

But those names would have to wait. When the dam opened up in my mind, the memories flooded back in, still a little distant and foggy as though what happened just hours ago really happened weeks beforehand. But I could remember things. I’d been injected again—was this how it was going to be every time?

No. It was going to get worse every time. Last time, I’d remembered everything within five minutes. This time, after half an hour a few less significant things were still fairly blurry. But I’d been injected twice in the space of only about six hours. And that was never going to be healthy.

As earlier, another tray of food had been pushed through the sliding letterbox in my door, and I could see as I glanced up that the daylight filter was a deep shade of blue. Had I really wasted that long just lying there, unconscious?

Well, what else could I do? I could sit here, and I could try and think, but what good would that do, ultimately? Maybe I just had to accept that this was how it was going to be for six months.
♠ ♠ ♠
Please comment!