Prologue: Kelsey

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I wake up with a gasp, my breathing heavy. I sit up in bed, pulling the blanket with me. Luke turns beside me, disturbed by my sudden wakening and the lack of covers. “Are you alright, Kelsey?” He slurs his words, half asleep.

“I’m fine,” I lie. “Just had some gas that woke me. I’m going to the bathroom.”

Luke pulls the blanket back over him as I slide out of bed, tiptoe to the bathroom and shut the door. I pee; this is something I have to do all the time now. I wipe, but don’t flush. Instead I stand, lower the seat cover and sit back down. I need a minute to recover from the dream.

This same vision has invaded my sleep every night for the past few weeks. It’s like watching a movie of the life I could have had. Luke and I in a grand wedding at my family home; my father and I arriving by horse-drawn carriage; Dad proudly walking me down the aisle; Luke and I moving into our first home; decorating as we prepare for a baby; my best friend Susan and I laughing like giddy children together; and Susan helping me pick baby clothes out. Then the dream descends into a nightmare. Susan is yanked away by some unknown force. One moment she’s showing me an infant onesie. The next she is gone — evaporated into thin air. There is nothing but red, bright, dazzling red like her hair. The red darkens, thickens and congeals until I realize it is blood. A pool of blood and Susan is at the center.

During the day, I can force these images from my mind, but at night nothing drives them away. They keep coming back, stronger and more vivid than before. I have put on a brave face for Luke and tried to have a good attitude. Tried to convince myself that all is well, that this is the life I wanted, that this is the life that is best. That everyone is alright. After I fall asleep, though, my thoughts and fears run free in my mind. They seed my dreams, transforming both my wishes and regrets into living, breathing visions.

I always wake up second guessing myself. I escaped the Federation of Surviving States (FoSS) nearly two months ago. I was scheduled for a mandatory kidney transplant; the government would take one of my healthy kidneys and give it to an ailing stranger. FoSS is what remains of most of the former United States, following a pandemic 100 years ago that wiped out 80 percent of the population. The survivors live under the policy of Life First. Each person is expected to help his fellow man survive, even if it means donating his own body parts. After I was determined to be the best match for a sick man, I was officially “marked” for donation. Once marked, your only choice is donation or death. Most people choose donation. I risked death, and fled instead.

I barely escaped to Peoria, a bordering country located mostly in the former state of Florida. The country also includes some coastal areas that used to be part of Alabama and Mississippi. Peoria did not want the Life First policies of mandatory donation and seceded from FOSS many years ago.

While I call Peoria my home now, it didn’t have to be that way. There were other choices, ones I’m regretting not making. Luke asked me to go through with the donation, instead of trying to flee. If I’d just said yes to him, if I’d just gone in for the surgery, I would have learned I was pregnant, and they would’ve cancelled the donation. Instead, I followed the pipe dream of a flawless escape.

I glance at the little clock on the wall. It’s 2 a.m., and instead of sleeping, I’m holed up in my bathroom regretting my decisions.

I touch my belly, hoping it will give me some comfort. Even though I know I’m not far enough along to feel movement, part of me hopes I will. Hopes I will feel some semblance of joy that tiny flutter of life within is supposed to bring. But it’s too soon. I sigh as nothing happens. Most first-time mothers don’t feel movement until the fifth month. I’m only three months along. I blow out a breath, lean forward, rest my elbows on my thighs and place my head in my hands. My pregnancy has been healthy and uneventful so far; that is the one bright spot in this whole mess. I must find joy in that, if nothing else in my new, uncertain life.

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