Originally written: October 28th, 2018
Sometimes the scariest things are the least cliche. This piece from last term was written after our teacher challenged us to write a scary story that didn’t involve the traditional monsters and ghouls we see in horror today.
Everything about The Process is long: the drive, the line, the interrogation. It’s long enough to make one forget how to love, and learn how to be selfish. To turn their back and say with false mourning, “Maybe next month.” And then, when the next month came, the cycle began again. Drive, line, interrogate.
Drive, line, interrogate.
She is too young to drive, and so the back seat becomes her bed. Somewhere between extra shoes falls her arm; between extra clothes, her head, which bounces to the unique rhythm of backwoods roads. Static gospel spills from the radio, filling the cabin.
A gasp escapes her as they go over a pothole, and the knife in her back shifts, nicking spine. Somewhere between empty food wrappers, her toes twitch. But it’s ok. Soon, this step of The Process will be over, and her numb limbs could finally stretch.
The knife twists. She feels the bone chip, and hears a murmured “there” in the tone of her brother. The gospel disappears, but a chant remains. “There, there,” repeating until it fills her mind. We are there. I am there.
He is there.
Something has opened. Something is touching her face, and it guides her up, holds her firm, and frees her from the knife.
The call for a line echoes off plastic mountains, but the threat of it is real, and so they stand. This time they’ve tied her hands—if she tries she can flex her fingers, just enough to remind the blood to flow. That it hasn’t stopped yet, and should everything go well, won’t stop soon.
She hopes everything goes well. Last month—last month everything did not go well, and while she can’t remember their reason for leaving, she remembers the sound of her aunt’s lament.
Ahead of her stands a stranger in a gray coat. On it sits a piece of black fuzz, and for the first time that day something strong grips her: the desire to remove a blemish from an otherwise perfect picture. If she’s quick, the watchers won’t notice. There’s only two today.
She lifts her arm, and feels the wound on her back pull.
Somewhere in the line, someone steps out of it.
Minutes later, when they return to their place with a red face and wet eyes, she drops the fuzz. It floats to the ground slowly, and is overtaken by a shadow just before it hits.
Someone touches her back, fingers digging into her wound. Together, they follow the beige figure’s command. The sun has risen now, and when she glances the watcher’s way, she sees that it’s formed a halo of light above him.
Through the shadows of his hat, she catches a white smile.
Ahead of them the failed revolutionary whimpers, and continues walking with the rest of them.
Until The Process became ritual, she had thought interrogations were only for the guilty. Yet here she sits, waiting, staring at a reflection she can only vaguely call her own, guilty of no sin. Except, she thinks, looking down at her shirt, maybe one.
She’s only 12. In four and a half months, she’ll be 13. Nobody can believe it, how old she’s getting.
The watchers didn’t believe it either.
Someone passes through the metal detector with a beep. It puts the watchers on edge, until all that’s revealed is a ring. Last time it was a metal hip.
They searched her, and they searched her. She tilts her head—the reflection follows—and she wonders, when does a girl become a woman? School says it’s the bleeding. The watchers, they say it’s once the slightest bump can be seen underneath your polo.
Another beep, another search, and then her family name. She and her two adult escorts stand and make way towards the front, differentiating themselves from the sea of blacks, grays, and whites.
“Reason for visiting?”
“Date of last visit?”
Under the watcher’s eyes she burns. The questions are for the adults, not her. In this part of The Process, at least, she is still a girl. An object, unspeaking, unmoving until they tell her to.
The drive. The line. The interrogation.
Finally, it ends.
They’re let inside, and there he sits: the reason for her bloody back, her bound hands, her bound chest. He sits, rubbing freshly released wrists, and sees them.
The artificial light washes him out, but she’d recognize his face even if she couldn’t see. Even if her eyes were gouged out or sewn shut, all it’d take is a touch and she’d know him. The face that she looked up to when even younger than she is now—the face that she used to grip in her tiny hands and giggle at.
He stands, and though their heights aren’t all that different, she feels him looming.
“Oli.” He smiles, and despite the pain her body is in, despite the mess of The Process, despite the blood from her chewed up tongue choking her, she smiles back at him.