Congratulations! You’ve found the secret page! As a reward, here is a short story in Michael’s point of view. Do you remember him? From the Fosselite Mountain? Michael is slow, but he is a rare example of Fosselite kindness and humanity. I think you’ll like him.
***UPDATE*** I’ve had such a great response from this secret short story, I’ve expanded it into a novella which will be released in fall of 2014. Get to know Rosalee better, explore Michael’s relationship with his father, and learn a few more things about the Fosselites in the process. I hope you will check it out!If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter to get prepper notes and Botanicaust updates, do it here.
The Reaping Room
by Tam Linsey
The day Tula arrived, Michael fell in love.
Tula was green, but she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Rosalee used to read books about love to him. He usually only half listened, mostly enjoying her voice – he loved her, too – but when Tula arrived, he discovered what love really meant. Even Father didn’t treat her like the other green people; he talked to her. The neatest part was that she talked back. And she talked to Michael. Not like he was stupid or useless. Nice, like maybe she liked him. She probably never yelled at anyone.
The other green people never talked. Not that he ever saw. They lay strapped to medical tables so they wouldn’t fall off while they slept beneath the purple lights in the phytogenics lab.
And so they wouldn’t eat people. That’s what Father said.
“Cannibals, Michael. They’ll bite you, harder than Lissa used to, but they won’t say sorry. They’ll keep biting until you die.” Father scared all the lab helpers that way.
Michael rubbed his arm where Lissa had bitten him hard enough to leave a scar, wondering why Father didn’t put Lissa to sleep like the green people.
Father said Michael had to take care of the sleeping green people because he was big and strong. So big he had to duck to go through doorways, and could move people from table to table without any help. He never bothered the doctors, because he didn’t talk. And he didn’t get dizzy from the smell, like Amber. She liked the feeling. It made her want to touch herself, so Father hardly ever gave her green people duty. Michael didn’t like working in phytogenics, but he did as he was told. The sleepers made his heart hurt. They had wires and tubes attached to them, and they sometimes made small, sad noises when he moved them.
One of the sleepers reminded him of his mother, except for being green. He didn’t remember much about his mother, but he remembered how fiercely she’d held him when she’d tried to open the big door. He remembered her saying she would show him the sun. But she couldn’t get the big door open, and Father found out, and no matter how much Michael had cried, he never got to see her again. That’s when Rosalee had started reading him stories. “Your mother is happier now. She’s outside.” Rosalee had frowned and stared at the image of the blue sky and fluffy white clouds on the video monitor. “Its better than being trapped in here.”
He tried to ask why he couldn’t go, too, but words never came good to him. Instead, he would go sit on the concrete floor in the cavern with the big door and put his forehead on his knees. Sometimes he cried. Father always came and made him go back to work.
“Get up, Michael. You can’t go out there. The sun would burn you. Stop crying and man up, for God’s sake.”
That’s when Michael stopped trying to talk altogether. Arguing with Father never did any good.
One day, Michael found Rosalee in the phytogenics lab, crying. She showed him her secret key. “Why do you think your father keeps this door locked? He’s torturing these people with UV lights and then killing them to make medicine. They’re not cannibals. He lied to you. He keeps them asleep so they can’t escape. We have to help them.”
He shook his head. He didn’t want Father to yell at him.
“That’s okay. Just don’t tell anyone.” She smiled and shook her head, the tear tracks wet on her pink cheeks. “Like you’d tell anyone. I’ll find a way on my own, Dear.”
When Rosalee got sick, she stopped talking about the green people. She didn’t remember stuff anymore. Sometimes she even forgot Michael’s name. He was sad she didn’t read to him anymore, but he was glad she stopped talking about the sleepers.
The day Tula arrived, Father didn’t look pleased. She and her friend, Levi, came through the big door. Michael watched Father unscrew the wheel that locked the door, then he helped push the door open. The man spoke the funny language Rosalee sometimes used, but Father and Tula didn’t understand him. Michael did. No one asked him.
“I need medicine for my son. Please. He has cystic fibrosis. Can you cure him?” Levi looked like he’d fallen down the stairs, but he didn’t ask for a doctor for himself. Michael didn’t know what cystic fibrosis was, but he wondered if Levi’s son was big or little. He would enjoy meeting a little boy.
“Is he speaking German?” Father asked.
“I don’t know. We captured him weeks ago in the Reaches. But he’s not a cannibal.” Tula said.
Father didn’t talk very nice to Tula. But Father didn’t talk very nice to anyone. Michael marveled at her words. He’d never heard a green person talk. He followed the group to the cafeteria, keeping an eye on Tula to make sure she didn’t try to bite anyone.
Rosalee came out of the cafeteria as they were going in. Her eyes went wide and she screamed, “Danger!”
Tula threw out her arms, and he thought she was going to hurt Rosalee. Father shouted, and Michael grabbed Tula. He squeezed her hard, and took her to phytogenics. Better she bit him than Rosalee. He hoped Father would be proud.
Tula fought him, and when he reached the reaping room, he was breathing hard. He put her down and pointed to the exam table.
“No way.” She backed against the cabinets, her eyes wide. “Why did that woman attack me?”
He shook his head. Tula was the one who’d attacked Rosalee. She was a cannibal. He glanced at her. Or was she? She’d struggled, but she never tried to bite him. His head throbbed.
“Do you understand me?”
He nodded, looking at his feet.
“Michael, what happened back there?”
He shrugged and pointed at his mouth. He didn’t have an answer even if he could talk.
“You don’t talk?”
He shook his head.
“Can you take me back to Levi?”
He shook his head again, fighting tears. Tula was nice. He didn’t want to strap her to a table.
“I’m afraid that woman hurt my friend.”
He squeezed his eyes tight and pounded his temple with the butt of his hand, wishing he could knock free some words. He would warn Tula to run away.
“Does your head hurt?”
Her question made his headache worse. Maybe he should take her back to the big doors and she would leave. He leaned out into the hall, checking for Father.
“Can you draw?” Tula held a gamma pad out. She’d sketched two stick figures on the screen. “This is me. And my friend, Levi.”
Michael loved to draw. He often communicated with Rosalee that way. But he wasn’t allowed to touch the gamma pad in the lab. Tula shouldn’t touch it, either. She offered the pad to him again. Maybe if he showed her the danger she would run away before Father put her to sleep. Trembling, he took the pad and added a bigger stick figure next to hers and a big rectangle behind them to indicate the door.
“Wow, is that you?”
He flushed and smiled back at her. She was pretty. And nice. He had to make her understand. He cleared the screen and drew a green circle. He placed circles for eyes and flared lashes along the outside, just like Rosalee had showed him to make girl faces. He drew some tubes and wires around her.
She craned her neck sideways to see around the edge of the pad as he drew. “That’s me. Right?”
The heat in his face intensified and he nodded. Heart racing, he got flustered and had to look away.
“Can you write?”
His focus shriveled. Father used to try to make him write. He said it was bad enough his son didn’t talk, but the boy should write. The gamma pad clattered to the floor as he took a step back. He didn’t want to write.
“It’s okay. I won’t tell.”
Father’s voice erupted from the intercom near the door. “Michael, where are you? Report to Medlab immediately with our guest.”
Michael stiffened, eyes wide on the grill where the sound had come from. Not phytogenics? He didn’t have to strap Tula to a table? His whole body went limp with relief. Tula was not like the other green people. She was special. His heart lightened.
The next day, he passed the cafeteria and spotted her sitting there. She invited him to tea. When Becky, the cook, tried to shoo him away, Tula said, “Michael and I communicate very well.”
He wanted to hug her. She did understand him. Or at least she tried to, more than Father or even Rosalee. Michael felt all fluttery, like the people in the books Rosalee read.
She invited him to lunch, and he was happier than he’d been in a long time. He went to his room and made her a necklace, like the ones he made Rosalee while she read to him. So she would know he loved her. He used his best feathers from the chicken coop, and beads he created out of paste. In the cafeteria at lunch, when Tula asked to sit with him, his muscles started to tremble. Her skin was so green, her teeth looked startling and white when she smiled. Manny and Isabelle shook their heads, but Michael decided to man up. She seemed too nice to be a cannibal. She didn’t bite him in the reaping room. Plus, Father didn’t put her to sleep.
He held out the necklace.
He nodded yes, and she put it around her neck and sat. Happy that she put it on, he still watched her carefully, ready to stop her if she tried to bite anyone. She had a glass of white stuff that looked like milk. She didn’t try to bite him, just drank the white stuff. She talked to him and to Manny and Isabelle, and everyone at the other tables watched them. He felt brave with Tula. He was proud he got to sit with her at lunch. Manny and Isabelle liked her, too.
Levi came and sat with them, and he and Tula talked in Rosalee’s language. Tula seemed sad. “Dr. Kaneka asked me to stay. To help them. They’ll help Josef. They have medicine for me.”
“But I want you with me.”
“It’s the only way.” A tear slipped down Tula’s cheek, and Michael’s heart hurt.
Later that night, he walked by her room and heard sobbing. When someone else cried, he wanted to weep, too. That was probably why Father didn’t like him to cry. He put his ear to her door. Could a girl learn to man up?
Tula answered with red eyes. “Michael, what are you doing here?”
He pointed to her wet cheeks and glanced away, realizing she would not understand his wordless gestures like the other lab helpers did.
Instead of ceasing her tears, she cried harder. “I have to stay.”
He frowned. His chest hurt more than ever. She didn’t want to stay? He thought of Mother and her desire to see the sun.
“You’re a good friend, Michael. I’m glad I have you here. Are you here to give me a tour? Maybe get me a little light?”
He sucked in a breath. She wanted the purple light? His arms and legs shook at the thought of Tula lying on one of the tables with tubes and wires sticking out of her. Would she go to sleep and not wake up, like the others?
One time, when Dr. Bolan wasn’t looking, he’d tried to wake the mother-woman. He’d used his fingers to open her eye and looked right in it. But she didn’t wake up. Her eye had rolled around, bumping along the edges of her eyelashes like the mouse he’d caught in the janitor closet. Like it wanted to escape. He’d wanted to tell the mother-woman to not be afraid, but he didn’t talk. Not ever. Instead, he took off his radiation hood and kissed the woman on the forehead. She smelled like the fresh rosemary Rosalee sometimes used when she cooked chicken. He’d rubbed his cheek against the softness of hers, like Mother used to when she told him she loved him. She still didn’t wake up, and he put his helmet on before Dr. Bolan came back.
Later, Father knew he’d taken off his hood. Michael had been warned not to. Not when the purple lights were on. The skin on his face burned – like the time he’d spilled Father’s coffee on his hand. Father had glared at him through his glasses, like he knew his son wanted to cry. But Michael didn’t cry.
He wanted to cry, now. Tula said she wanted the purple lights. He wanted her to stay awake and be his friend.
“Your father said you’d had Haldanian guests before. Maybe you could show me where they stayed?”
Father never called the green people guests, but he had used the name Haldanian before. Maybe she didn’t know her friends were sleeping and couldn’t wake up. Maybe she would wake them up and tell them not to be cannibals.
In the reaping room, he put on a radiation suit and offered one to Tula. She didn’t want to wear it, but he would not open the door until she dressed. He didn’t want her to get burned. Or go to sleep. He didn’t want to have to strap her to a table.
He opened the door, squinting behind his faceplate at the row of beds, each with it’s own hooded light. Tula followed him close behind.
“What?” Her visor muffled the word. She tripped on her own feet as she approached the nearest bed. She ran her fingers along the fat tube leading to the mother-woman’s head and turned back to him, eyes tense. “How did they get here?”
His big body shrank inside the suit. He shouldn’t have brought her here. He didn’t know how the green people came here. They were here when he arrived every morning to clean. Tula was the first he’d ever brought here who was awake.
Tula pointed to an empty bed, the straps dangling limp off the sides. “Is this what’s in store for me?”
Michael had to pee. His fingers and toes went cold. He worked his mouth as if words threatened to come out, but could only shrug inside the confines of his suit. Was this what Father planned for Tula? Would he make Michael strap her to the table?
“I need to get out of here.” Tula rushed past him, into the reaping room and she ripped off her hood. He stood on the threshold to the sleeping room and wrung his hands. What should he do? His ears pounded with rushing sound and he wanted to rip off his own helmet and breathe, but he was afraid of the purple light spilling into the reaping room.
The door opened and Father came in with Dr. Bolan. His face darkened when he saw Tula with Michael. “I really wish you hadn’t seen that.”
Tula screamed for help as Father and Dr. Bolan tackled her. Father yelled at Michael to help him. Michael covered his ears. His chest hurt, and tears filmed his eyes. Father would yell at him for those, too.
The screaming stopped. Father was not yelling any more. Michael watched them lift Tula onto the table in the reaping room. Her necklace had broken, and lay in pieces on the floor.
“Michael, shut the door and help with the straps.” Father didn’t yell. He didn’t even look at Michael. He tapped at the computer while Dr. Bolan stripped off Tula’s skirt and started connecting tubes and wires.
Michael shook his head no. But he didn’t want Father to yell at him, either. He shuffled his feet, sweating inside his radiation suit. The stiff fabric might protect him from Father’s searing anger, so he endured it. Low in his throat, he tried to make a sound. A word. Something to make Father stop.
“Fine. Give me your keycard.” Father didn’t look up from the computer, just held out his hand.
Blinking, Michael reached inside the neck of his suit and pulled out the lanyard. Father yanked it from his grip, but his words stayed calm. “Go to your room and stay there until I call you.”
Michael backed up a step, more terrified than he’d ever been in his life. Father was not going to yell at him. Why wasn’t he yelling? He looked at Tula, then at Father, shifting from foot to foot but not moving.
“Now!” Father barked, and Michael jumped.
Grabbing Tula’s necklace from the floor, he fled the reaping room, lumbering down the hall in a haze of tears. He stripped out of the suit as he went, leaving it in a pile on the floor of the corridor. He didn’t want to go to his room. He wanted to leave. To find the sun, and his mother, and never take care of the green people again. He went into the computer library instead, falling into a seat in front of a dark monitor.
Many years ago, he’d arrived at work to find a new little green girl who’d been too small for the straps and had wiggled free to hide underneath her table. His job was to clean up the sleepers before the doctors came. He’d needed to get the little girl onto the bed, but he’d been afraid the little cannibal might try to bite him.
She’d stared out at him with her thumb in her mouth, and he’d longed to suck his. But Father didn’t like it when he sucked his thumb, and he couldn’t reach through his radiation hood, anyway. For a long time he’d sat on the floor and stared at her. She’d stared right back. He’d only gotten to see a small child once, many years ago when Isabelle was born. Rosalee had let him hold the baby while reading a book to him. Then Isabelle’s mother came and took her away. She said he would hurt Isabelle because he was too big. And then Isabelle grew up to be big, too.
The little green girl never got to grow up to be big.
Father had come in and yelled at him. His voice had been muffled by his radiation suit, but Michael still felt Father’s voice deep in his chest. Embarrassed, he’d picked up the girl. She clung to his neck, and he hugged her back, snuggling the warmth of her little body against him. Even through his radiation suit he felt her trembling. He’d been proud of her for not crying.
Father had turned off the monitor next to the little girl’s bed. “She won’t last long under lights. Not at her age. Bring her.”
And Father reaped her right then, without blinking an eye. He didn’t even label her vial, just attached it straight to his spinal stint. “Too little to bother storing,” Father had winked. Michael had cried. Father scolded him again. Michael had held back tears as he carried her body to the incinerator, then stood as close to the oven as he dared and let the heat dry his cheeks.
He stroked the feathers on Tula’s broken necklace, ignoring the tears and snot covering his face. He’d led Tula right to the reaping room. Was Father reaping her right now? This was his fault. Just like the little girl had been his fault. Tula was his friend. In the stories Rosalee read, friends didn’t let mean things happen to each other.
From the hall, someone called his name. He raised his head to find Levi, the man Tula had arrived with. The man was also Tula’s friend. He would be sad, too. Michael held up Tula’s necklace. “Tula,” he tried to say, the syllables thick in his ears. Bowing his head over the strand, Michael rocked forward and back, ashamed.
“Is she hurt? Michael, where’s Tula?”
Rico came in, wearing his red shirt, and told Levi to come. Rico always bossed everyone around. Father said the red shirt meant people had to do as Rico said. Michael rose to follow. His heart hurt. Was Father sucking the life from Tula right now? He wished he had words, like Levi did. He would tell Father to stop.
Levi kept calling his name.
In the corridor, helpers milled about, curious about the commotion. A head taller than the crowd, Michael watched Levi struggling against Rico. Levi was Tula’s friend. And Michael was Tula’s friend. Did that make Levi Michael’s friend? He thought maybe. He reached through the mass and grabbed Levi’s hand, wrenching him free. Behind them, Rico shouted, but too many helpers were in the way.
The reaping room was locked. Sirens wailed through the hall, drilling into his head. He twisted his hands together. Father had taken his key. How would he get in to save Tula? He remembered Rosalee.
He hurried to her room with Levi close behind. The sirens made him want to hide. Rosalee didn’t seem bothered by them. She sat at the small table in her room reading a book. “Michael, what are you doing here?”
He drew a green face on her gamma pad, worried she was too sick to remember her desire to save the green people. But Father had given her medicine so she could talk to Levi, and she was like she used to be.
She looked up into Michael’s face, brows furrowed. “They took his friend?”
He nodded and gave her a big hug. She gave Levi her key.
“What’s going on?” Levi asked.
“No time to explain. Save her. Go, now.”
Father’s voice came over the announcement system. “Security breach. All team members to Phytogenics. This is not a drill. Apprehend the invader by any means necessary. Deadly force is approved. Repeat, security breach at Phytogenics.”
Rosalee let out a whoosh of breath. “Go!” She pushed them out the door and followed close behind all the way to the reaping room. Rico now stood outside the door, but that didn’t stop Rosalee. She jumped on the guard and pushed him out of the way. Rico hit her, and Michael wrung his hands. He wanted to tell them to stop. He didn’t want fighting. But if he stopped Rosalee, he was sure Rico would not let them save Tula.
Levi used the key. The guard flung Rosalee against the wall. Her head made a loud thump, and she sank to the floor. Rico turned to look up at him, his eyebrows pinched together like Father’s when he got angry. Michael spread his arms and legs to fill the narrow corridor. Levi had to free Tula.
Rico yelled, “Move!” and kept poking Michael’s chest until the outside hurt as much as the inside. The ache in his heart grew hot and swelled until the heat reached his neck and face. He didn’t like Rico. Rico was mean. Michael wrapped his arms around him, easily encircling his shoulders and chest. He stood tall, lifting Rico’s feet off the ground. The guard kicked his legs, bruising Michael’s shins. Michael ignored the pain.
“Your father’s going to kill you!”
He squeezed until Rico stopped yelling.
And then Father arrived. He raced down the corridor, waving a heavy flashlight in one hand. He plucked at Michael’s arms, shouting to let go. He banged the flashlight against Michael’s hand.
Michael squeezed harder, looking at the wall above Father’s head.
Beyond, two more red-shirted guards rushed toward the phytogenics lab followed by a handful of helpers. Father turned to them. “Cut the power!”
The lights went out, erasing Father from view. “Levi!” Father’s voice bounced through the pitch darkness from the right – from inside the reaping room.
Michael’s heart lurched. Tula.
He dropped Rico and stepped toward the voice, tripping over the body. He landed with hands outstretched, stars of pain stabbing his palms and knees. As he lay sprawled on the concrete floor, he fought the sting of tears filling his eyes. He had to save Tula, and to do that, he had to man up. His palms cramped in pain from the fall, and he fought for breath. The breaker for the reaping room was down the hall. Father always said it was important to keep the lights on. Had showed him how to flip the circuit if the lights went off. Sometimes they did when the doctors turned on another purple light.
He crawled between the legs of helpers blocking the hall, everyone as blind as he was, and gained his feet. The helpers made fearful complaints in the dark, asking what had happened. Asking if the cannibals had escaped. They pawed at his chest and back, but he struggled free. He knew how to fix this.
He reached the breaker, found the toggle. Clear down at the reaping room, Father continued yelling. He flipped the switch. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the sudden glare.
Screaming erupted from the corridor. Lots of people screaming. “Cannibals!”
Footsteps thundered past the breaker room. He poked his head out. Father and a guard in a red shirt backed toward him. Close behind them, the green people shambled from the reaping room, arms outstretched. The helpers were gone, and Rico lay sprawled on the floor next to Rosalee.
“Go back to your beds, or we’ll shoot!” Father shouted. He spoke in a low voice for the guard, “Don’t kill them. We need them alive.”
The guard raised his arm to point something at the green people, and a sound exploded in the hall. Louder than anything Michael had ever heard before. The concussion rebounded off the walls, filled the room, made him crumple to his knees in fear and cover his ears. The echoes of it seemed to last forever. When Father began yelling at him again, he could not unclench his hands from the sides of his head.
Father hated it when he covered his ears. He yanked at Michael’s arm, his grip painful. “Get them under control! Put them back on the tables. Cinch them down good.”
He and the guard left without waiting to see if Michael did as he was told. Michael stayed on his knees, fighting the trembling in his limbs. He didn’t want to do as Father said. He wanted to save Tula. He rose and peered into the corridor. The direction his father had gone was empty. In the other direction, toward the reaping room, four green people crouched together. Past them, Rosalee and Rico hadn’t moved. Ears throbbing from the explosion and his own heartbeat, he approached them, hoping to find Tula. The woman who resembled Mother lay curled on the floor clutching her leg. Bright blood smeared her green skin and marred the dull concrete floor beneath her.
Tula was not with them. She wasn’t in phytogenics. Where had she gone?
Rosalee was trying to rise, but couldn’t seem to control her legs. One of her eyes crossed like she was trying to make a funny face, but he didn’t think she was trying to make him laugh. She gestured to the green people with a wildly shaking hand. “Michael, you have to help them.” Her words were soft and warbly, like the voices she did for old people when she read to him.
He didn’t think the green people wanted to be in the room, sleeping. They wanted to be with Tula, awake and talking. Maybe in the sun. That’s where Tula had gone. The big door. He had to find Tula before Father did. He bent to help Rosalee stand and she batted him away. “No, help them.”
Taking a deep breath, he gestured for the green people to follow him. He would find Tula and open the big door. If the green people helped, he could let them out. He could let Tula out. Away from Father.
The bleeding woman limped, but she kept up. He led them past Rosalee’s room. Past the computer room. Another blast like the one that had frightened him in the breaker room echoed down the hall, bouncing off the concrete walls. Michael cringed, but didn’t stop.
When he reached the stairs out to the giant hangar, he stopped. At the bottom, Father sprawled in a puddle of blood. Blood was not good. Blood meant Father was hurt. But Father said he could not die. He reaped the green people so he didn’t die. Michael lumbered down the steps and crouched next to Father. Father’s eyes stared up at the ceiling without blinking.
“Vaaar?” The attempt came out of Michael’s throat without conscious thought. He waited for Father to blink. To sit up and yell at him. The green people had already descended the steps and were moving through the cavern toward the big door. Father didn’t blink.
Michael rocked Father’s shoulder back and forth as if to wake him. The body didn’t resist. It felt like the bodies of the green people he took to the incinerator. Dead.
He stood, eyes never leaving the prone body. Father was dead. Father said he couldn’t die. Father lied about everything.
Frowning, he turned away. He should be sad. But he was relieved Father would not yell at him anymore.
Tula and Levi were at the end of the hangar. Levi pushed against the door, unable to move it. The action reminded him of Mother. He worked the lock and went to help Levi. Tula said something, and the green people helped, too.
As the door swung wide into the tunnel beyond, light reached long fingers inside. The sun. He’d seen videos, but never for real. He stopped just shy of the transition, squinting and remembering the burn on his face. The green people didn’t hesitate. They disappeared out the end of the tunnel.
Levi put a shoulder under Tula’s arm and gestured for Michael to join them. Michael shaded his eyes, tears streaming. Father had lied about lots of things. But Father hadn’t lied about this. The sun would burn him. Swallowing, he shook his head. He could feel his skin tightening from here. But he didn’t want Tula to leave him.
Footsteps echoed in the hangar, and at the far end, where Father lay, someone shouted for a medic. Michael looked at Tula with longing. Father was dead, but he wasn’t the only one who said the green people kept him from dying. Tula would not be safe here.
Levi held out a hand. “Michael, you are the best man I ever met. Thank you.”
His chest felt like it might explode. Rosalee’s stories all had happy endings. This was not a happy ending. Tula had to go. And he had to stay.
He took Levi’s hand in both of his. “Tula. Save.”
Proud of himself for not crying, he let go and backed into the hangar. He was going to keep Dr. Bolan and the others from hurting any more green people. For Tula. For love
Michael was going to man up.
© Tam Linsey, 2012. All rights reserved.
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