Number eight; before nine, after seven- eight. I was ‘Number Eight’ once. This my story.
| Number eight; it’s before nine, and after seven.
I was ‘Number Eight’ once.
No, not the eighth, ‘Number Eight’. Now I’m Dove –the River Dove- and this is my story.
Living in Sherwood was pure, unrestricted hell; like no prison before, it was built off of human jealousy. Is it hard to imagine this place when you are curled up safe at home? Here, let me help you.
Do you get excellent grades? Are you more athletic than your peers? That’s not good; off to Sherwood Isolative Reformatory for you. You can’t be better than the rest without having done something illegal.
Off to the pitch-black nightmare of a windowless isolation cell, painfully humiliating medical exams that made the Nazis look like saints, and the violation of every right that a human has in the world; that is Sherwood.
Soldiers from all branches of the Senate’s military come here to learn to enforce law by being our personal jailers, but leave as brutal drunks taught to rape and pillage the defenceless. It was run by a mysterious man called only ‘the Doctor’ and he was the leading specialist on the anatomy of the human body. He used us as toys and specimens to show off his medical knowledge to his peers but, sometimes, he just dissected us for fun. As the occupants of Sherwood, our only job is to be good specimens and wait.
At the age of eighteen, every Number disappears without a trace.
Rumours have flown all over the reformatory about what they do to you at eighteen, but nobody knows for sure. Most believe that at eighteen, they come and take you away in the night –when no one will hear you scream- and you are killed so that you never tell the Outside about the place.
I was the eighth Number Eight, my name long since stripped from me at an early age. My family’s death is what put me there –in Sherwood, with all the others- but they say that it was my survival. We had been driving home when a patch of ice sent us careening over a cliff edge and down into the rocky hills below. The emergency crews that came an hour later had to cut the back of the van off to get me out safely. Their logic was how could I, the seven year-old secured into the car seat two rows back, have survived while my whole family perished?
I didn’t know. How could I have?
So I was snatched up by the police bound to “serve and protect” us and taken to a cell with no windows and one light-trapping door. I spent three days there, alone and hungry in the dark, but that is another story not for times such as these. Now I should start, or I will lose what interest you have for my life story- no, the story of my escape will suffice.
In Sherwood, our only time outside was in a courtyard built into the middle of the compound where we would soak in what feeble sunshine we could. The concrete walls on all four sides were white, had no handholds, and towered at least ten feet straight up. All the occupants of Sherwood were never allowed in it at one time, only fifty of us at the most, but I’d once heard that there was ten times that many in Sherwood.
“Hey!” shouted a guard, glowering as Seven and I looked up, our heads close for a quiet conversation. It was discouraged for us to speak here; speaking meant we could make plans. “Seven! Eight! Split up now!” I swallowed as his buzz baton sparked in warning, and then I took a step back from Seven’s side.
Before I go on, you probably want to know what Number Seven looks like. He’s tall, with broad shoulders and a well-chiselled face than reminded me of all the statues you see in Greek museum exhibits. Of course, we are both weedy from a lack of proper foods and access to exercise, but his body is built like a boxers. His hair hangs around his chin, just like his namesake, and his eyes are the palest shade of blue; yes, he’s blind, but he’s braver than most. I gave him the name ‘Severus’ when we met for the first time, seeing the signs of neglect and abuse on his pale skin at once. I hadn’t cared but, when I realized he was blind, my body had burned with righteousness like never before.
“No,” Seven challenged, and he took my hand, his own slick with sweat. “I won’t!” I looked at him in horror, though he couldn’t see my response to his courage.
“Step away!” the guard shouted, and our wardens came toward us with their cuffs and batons at the ready. Our jailers were polar opposites, even when wearing the same uniform, because my jailer Roy’s face held compassion while Seven’s did not. “Now!”
“Sev’, don’t do this.” I urged, “We just got out.”
As the men advanced, I grabbed his chin and turned it until he was looking at me.
“Severus, don’t! If we get into trouble again, the Doctor will-“ I never finished my sentence. A guard’s baton hit me in the side, sending a mind-jarring shock up my ribcage. I would have cried out –or just plain cried- but the voltage coursing through my skin wouldn’t relent and filled my ears over all the other sounds.
‘Severus! Please stop!’ I cried silently, tossing my head back in pain as my face contorted. The guard twisted the baton against my side and suddenly jerked it away; as the ringing in my ears died away, I realized I was screaming. I gasped, breaking my wail, and a guard shoved me to the ground as they all moved in on Severus. His eyes were flying around wildly as their stomping boots made it impossible for him to navigate by sound like he usually did. I reached a hand for him weakly, a feeble gesture, and rasped his name huskily underneath the sound. He perked up in my direction and I whispered,
“Don’t fight them…” Lying on the ground, I forced my eyes off of Severus as his guard came up to him. We had little time out there and I took slow deep breaths and closed my eyes when Severus’ guard came down on him with his baton.
I bit my lip in an effort to stay quiet.
“Up you get, Dove.” My warden, Roy, told me as Severus was dragged away, not even given the time to get to his feet. The brutal man had a hold of the cuffs by the chain connecting them, forcing Severus’ bird-like wrists together harshly as he scrabbled to try and get to his feet. I heard his warden chastising him and winced; he would be whipped again. Roy used the harmless setting of his baton and shepherded me inside. “The Doctor wants you in the examination room for your check-up.”
I shuddered at the name and took a breath between my teeth.
‘Thank you, Roy’ I wanted to say, ‘You’re so good to me, thank you.’ On his first day, Roy had given me a name as ordered –for the purpose of dominating me- but refused to assault me like he’d been ordered; instead, he’d rambled on loudly while his instructor did me in his place.
“Here we are, Dove.” He told me and, for once, I did reply.
“Thank you,” I rasped, “you’re a… good person.”
“How?” Roy asked quietly, “My boss raped you on my first day.”
“But you didn’t.” I reminded him, “And you gave me a name; Dove. So thanks.” I pressed the cuffs around my wrists to the door scanner, which beeped in approval, and the door clicked open. “Bye, Roy…”
“Come in, Eight, I’ve been waiting…”
I’m sorry to say that I cannot tell you this part of my tale. My body may have been on display for that miserable scientist, but I can’t tell you the horrors that awaited me in that room. I’ll skip ahead until after it was over.
Later that night, Roy carried me to my chamber and set me down as gently as he could. Through a film of tears, I could still see his sad, freckled face and did my best to smile at him. The freckled, sun-kissed face of a farm boy had no place above the collar of a starchy black military uniform.
‘Why couldn’t they have left you on your farm, Roy?’ I wondered as he turned to leave. I didn’t ask him that, not with all the bugs and cameras in my cell. It was generic; no windows, one door, padded walls, and a small vent to give me a continuous stream of fresh air. I had lost my bed when Roy had refused to sleep with me, so I slept on the padded floor. In the night, well-past curfew, I heard the loud crack of a laser whip against skin and, tonight, I cringed at the wet slapping sound. Roy bent over me suddenly.
“Dove, I-I need you to come with me…” His face was all scrunched up and I tensed as I got to my feet, groaning in pain. “Shhh…” Roy’s rough glove covered my mouth and he led me back out through the halls, passing Severus’ room, and out into the courtyard.
“Roy,” I said uncertainly, “what’s going on?”
“They told me about the thirteenth, Dove.” Roy said, his voice strained. “You’re… you’re-“
“Eighteen.” I swallowed harshly when I realized he was saying. “No…”
“Do you want to live, Dove?” Roy pressed, “Do you want out?”
“Out?” I repeated hoarsely, “Like… out of Sherwood?”
“Sherwood; the system; everything!” Roy said urgently, taking my shoulders and shaking me hard. “You’ll be free! Forever! You could live life outside of the Senate’s control!”
“Has his on the day before yours.”
“Save him, Roy!” I hissed, grabbing his shirt collar in both hands. “Get him out! His warden will kill him before his day comes! You know he will! He’s crazy!” I could see the images in my head; the disposal team coming down the hall with Severus lying pale and still on the silver push-cart they had. Off to the morgue where he’d be kept until they dissected him.
“And we’ll all be killed if we’re caught!” Roy told me anxiously, “The chances of me getting him all the way a the safe place and coming back for you in time are impossible! I can’t do it, Dove!”
“Then get him to this safe place of yours.” I pleaded, gripping his hands. “Please, Roy, I can’t leave him here!” Roy paused, stepping away from me, and I let him go reluctantly. “Please…”
“Fine.” Roy nodded, wringing his hands. “But I’m getting you out too.”
“Help him first.” I demanded softly, “It has to be him first.” Roy sighed, rubbing his eyes, and nodded reluctantly. I hurried forward and wrapped my arms around his waist gingerly, “Thank you, Roy, thank you.”
Roy was gone the next day. He’d gone on a sick leave, so I got a different guard in his place; he was nothing special, normal hair, normal eyes. I never learned his name in the week he was there, but I didn’t give a shit; Severus was gone too. The Doctor asked me several questions, but I said nothing and didn’t even mention Roy’s absence except to ask if he would return. He told me he would and, as I left, I smiled down at my feet.
They were safe; I could relax. When the new guard was done with me that night, I rolled onto my back and dreamt of them, seeing Roy trying hard to lead the blind teen over rugged terrain he’d once told me about.
A week went by in a flash, never telling anyone why I was so tolerant of everything. My new warden never complained, seeing it as simple submission, and I never spoke to the other Numbers anyways, so they didn’t care. It was simply ‘be alone and be left alone’ until the night of the twelfth.
I suddenly realized what day it was, and what Roy not being there meant.
Tomorrow, I was going to die; turn eighteen; face the unknown fate of every other Number.
It shook me a little to know that Roy hadn’t returned in time, but a deep breath washed that feeling away. I was ready; I’d been prepared for it ever since I’d had Roy take Severus first, and I wasn’t scared.
It’s just fine, I thought, falling asleep, just fine.
Suddenly, I woke up and sat up, hissing as a branch scraped my cheek like a line of fire. Roy was running, and I was on his back surrounded by darkness.
“Dove,” he panted, “Severus’- in a cave- by the river.” I wearily paid attention, confused, but the taser bullet that whizzed by set me on edge. I looked around in surprise –we were out of the reformatory! “Follow the- river! It’ll le- lead you to- safety!”
“Aren’t you coming?” I panicked, and he dropped me. I whimpered when he clutched his side. “No…”
“Go.” Roy pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and spat red. I didn’t hesitate, seeing death in his eyes, and I made my way along the canyon’s edge too quickly. I tripped, feeling watched, and crashed to the ground. Looking around, I saw dark figures pass through the trees, their eyes like ice, and the moon above them made their faces shadows.
“Come home, Eight,” It was Severus’ warden, I realized. “The Doctor wants to say ‘Happy Birthday’.” He chuckled darkly, “Here’s your gift.” He tossed Roy ahead of him by the hair; Roy was soaked in his own blood and the pool beneath his left thigh grew as he lay there.
“Roy!” I choked, trembling as I stared at the man by my feet.
“Over and down…” He cracked open one eyes and croaked, but I only registered the pain in his expression. They’d hurt Roy badly, and I could see the silver glint of his handgun in one hand. I ripped it out of his hand, ignoring his grunt of pain, then pointed it at Severus’ warden in reckless abandon.
“YOU BASTARD!” I scrambled to pull the trigger as they drew their own guns. My gun went off with a shocking bang that theirs echoed and I went tumbling backwards from the force of the shot. I felt the bullets whizz past, tearing the edges of my calf and shoulder, but I continued to fall and realized with horror that I’d missed. The gun I’d wielded fell beside me, the inscribed make catching my eye -‘Desert Eagle XIX’- and I clutched it tightly. Looking back up, I could see the Sherwood soldiers staring down at me.
‘I can’t lose Roy’s gun...’ I thought, wondering whether I would hit water or stone. ‘I hope it’s the ri-‘ I hit the water hard, losing the breath in my lungs, and I inhaled enough water to fill my lungs to the brim. I surfaced, coughing hard, and scrabbled to grip something –anything! The water carried me quickly downstream and I refused to relinquish the gun, so I could do little to stop myself from floating far from the soldiers and their guns. As I floated, I remembered Roy’s words and scrambled onto the next bit of shore I could grab, spitting up water before I stood up and shouted,
“SEVERUS!” I listened hard, stumbling down the shore. “SEVERUS!” When I saw him step out of the rock wall on the other side of the river, I let out a sob that he heard over the water. I tossed the gun over to him, shouting warnings, and he sat on his knees to wait for me to swim across the rushing water and embrace him tightly.
It took us a few days to track down the river without being seen from above, once hiding under a log in the river for hours, but eventually we waded ashore at the mouth where the river fed into a lake. We were cold, wet, and both of us were beyond starving; with a fresh water river, we could drink, but we had no skills to help us find food. We stumbled down the lakeshore, barely strong enough to keep running, and I worked twice as hard to keep his blindness from being a bother.
After half a day of walking the beach, we collapsed and woke up again in a refugee camp, and they told us Roy had been found. Dead, of course, but they took us to his makeshift grave, and took us in. They fed us, clothed us, and now they teach us how to live Outside. We know the truth of the Senate, of Sherwood, and of the state of our world.
They call me the River Dove because of the circumstances of my appearance; I came from the River, so they give ‘River’ as my surname when needed, and I am Dove because –like a dove- I had brought something good to them –us. One man, a leader of their troupe, told me that a famous painter had said long ago, “I stand for life against dead; I stand for peace against war.” He called the man Picasso, but with the censorship the Senate had enforced, society had long forgotten his identity.
Well now, reader, did my story disturb you? Are you confused by my world, by the world that shuns the exceptional? I hope so; I hope you don’t forget this and that you carry it with you. I hope that you never put someone else through horrors like this, and that you never persecute someone different from you. I hope you’re grateful for your cosy life and loving family.
Because of it, you don’t have to go over and down.