Chapter Twenty-One ~Maddie~

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I jerk awake, bolting upright, and the cot creaks beneath me. The pounding of my heart in my chest reverberates through me, pulsing in my throat, echoing in my ears. I swallow thickly as I twist in the cot, laying my head back against the wall, taking deep breaths in and out.

In and out.

In and out.

I wish I could say it was only a nightmare, but I don't have to open my eyes to remember where I am, to know that it wasn't just a dream. Pulling my feet up onto the cot, I bring my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them, squeezing tight.

I open my eyes as I slowly begin to catch my breath and one by one, things start to come into focus- Alex asleep on the cot across from me, the small toilet at the front of our cell, the bars locking us in. I look past them to the faint glow of light in the center of the room, illuminating the bars of the other cells around us.

There are so many of us here. Back home, being a Breeder seemed like such a rare thing, but in here I can see that there are far too many of us. Too many broken girls like me, only they've clearly been through so much worse. Things I can't even begin to imagine that must lie ahead for me.

Resting my forehead on my knees, I continue my deep and steady breathing, trying desperately not to fall into another panic attack. But my breaths come quicker as my chest expands to full capacity, and it doesn't seem to be enough. I can't seem to catch my breath.

I don't want to end up like these girls. Looking into their eyes is more terrifying than anything I've been through since leaving home. None of it compares. Because all it took was one look into a Breeder's eyes for me to know, to know that life here was going to be as bad as I've heard, to know that all of the rumors are true.

The pressure in my chest becomes too much to bear and I find myself rocking back and forth, hugging my knees even tighter as a tingly numbness spreads through my fingers and a few tears slide down my cheeks.

No, no, no. I think to myself as my head shakes back and forth.

Alex shifts in her sleep, and I realize I've said this out loud.

Please calm down, please calm down. I beg and plead with myself, but it's no use. I can't stop the fear from coursing through me, because it's too late. I've seen it all with my own eyes now, images that can't be taken back, and every time I think about it, every time I remember, it throws me into another panic.

Girls handcuffed to beds, claw marks up and down their arms, the lost, drugged-up look on all of their faces, being escorted everywhere they go, the way that they all walk with their heads down, defeated, the way that they don't speak to anyone, not even each other.

But their eyes are the worst. When they do look up at me, it's like looking into the windows of the saddest and most desolate of souls. Broken. Empty.

I slide down and onto my side, curling up into a tight ball.

I don't want that to be me...I so badly don't want that to be me...but it will be. Soon enough it will be. I press my face into the thin pillow, biting down on it when all I want to do is scream.

A long while later, my heart rate begins to slow and it becomes a little easier to breathe. That one wasn't so bad, not compared to the ones I've been having. I've never had panic attacks before today, but all things considered, I'm not too surprised. It was only a matter of time before it all became too much, before it was ripped out of my control to keep it all in.

Just as my breathing evens out, chills overtake my body. They keep coming in waves even though I'm covered in sweat, and I curl into myself, trying to get warm and keep from shaking so much. It must be another fever. They say I have some sort of flu, the upside being that they can't start the in-vitro process on me until I'm better.

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