"What?" I croak, voice nearly gone from the screaming and dehydration. My hands shake as I use them to push myself back into my corner, as far away from him as I can run.
"I see that solitary hasn't softened your attitude," he says, smirking at me. When I don't say anything, he continues. "I just came to tell you that your trial was held before the public. You've been sentenced."
I stare blankly up at him.
The last time the compound came together and voted for sentencing, a man had murdered someone else. It was a huge scandal, because the compound doesn't tolerate fighting, let alone full on murder. My crimes don't even compare, considering I did everyone in the compound a life-changing favor.
"You've been sentenced to death, Jaelyn Price," Hartley says, kneeling down to look me in the eyes, "Death before the firing squad in front of everyone in the compound. You see, my plan worked. They think you're a heinous person. All we had to tell them was that you broke into the Research Facility and destroyed every bit of the cure we had, and they lapped it up. I've never lied to them before, why would I lie now?"
Hartley laughs, standing back up.
"You're the enemy, like you should be. I couldn't kill you; so I'll just let them do it."
I breathe a long sigh, tucking my head back between my knees. While I don't want to die, after everything I've done, maybe I deserve it.
"Anything you need? More moldy sandwiches or water?"
His voice is spiteful, dipped in ice. I look up, pushing back my matted hair.
"What did you do with him?" I ask, voice clear for once.
"Him, who?" Hartley asks, genuinely confused.
I sit up in anger, glaring at him.
"Isaac," I say through my teeth, "My Isaac. What did you do with him?"
"I assume they took him for disposal. You know what we do with the bodies of the deceased, Jaelyn. You learned that in school."
I do know, but I want him to say it out loud.
"We burn corpses," he finally says, blinking, "By now, his ashes are being used to fertilize the crop fields."
I throw myself across the floor, scrambling to grab his ankles. All he has to do is step to the side, and I crash into the wall, crumpling like a toy. His laughter fills my head, bouncing around like a ball.
"Poor thing," he says, stepping over me to head out of the door, "You're absolutely pathetic."
When the door shuts, I've found my strength again, slamming closed fists into it. The sound echoes around the room, mixed in with my maniac yelling.
When my energy wanes again, I sink to the floor, curling up in a ball to cry myself to sleep. I only wake up again when the slot opens, a bag of food dropping on my head.
Pushing myself up off the floor, I shove the bag of food away, the conversation running through my head again.
Hartley assumes. He assumes they took him to the furnaces. That means he doesn't know for sure. The little bit of hope I have left kindles itself back to life. If there's even a chance that Isaac is out there, breathing by any means, I refuse to disappoint him.
Letting myself starve to death inside solitary would definitely disappoint him, because Isaac never gave up hope.
I reach for the bag, tearing off the corner of the bagged water inside. Never in my life have I tasted anything quite so delicious. It's gone too soon, of course, and so is the sandwich inside.
I find new ways to pass the time, picking knots out of my hair and braiding it again. I tear off bits of the paper bags, salvaging what isn't ruined by the ferocious mold. The paper serves as napkins, and if I spit enough on them, I can wipe off some of the blood on my jeans. My nails come in handy now to pick it out from between the threads, and soon, my pants are just a maroon mess, not quite clean but no longer stiff.
After four more meals, the lock clicks again. This time, I don't jump or run away from the light. I just glance over my shoulder to see my father with two armed guards behind him.
"Please, let me have a moment alone with her," he says to them. The guards glance at each other, nodding slowly. "Thank you," he whispers, and the door slams behind him.
Looking at him now, it's hard to think that I blamed him for everything. I thought the virus was all his fault. Mandy blamed him, and I followed along like her puppet. My father isn't capable of anything that evil on his own. Now, as he's looking down at me, I can see that as clear as day.
My father would never intentionally hurt me.
"Dad," I whisper, feeling the tears in my eyes.
"Oh, Jaelyn," he says back, falling down on his knees and reaching out to me. I crawl over, throwing myself into his grasp like child. He cradles me, rocking back and forth gently. I can hear him whispering things to me like "I'm sorry" and "I tried".
It just feels good to be held after being alone for so long.
"I didn't mean to do it," I whisper between sobs, body racking with ugly cries.
"Didn't mean to do what?"
"Destroy the cure. I didn't mean to."
He's quiet, rocking me gently.
"It will be okay. You destroyed the second strand; that's what matters," he whispers into my ear, petting my hair.
"You can't say something like that, Dad. I've been sentenced to death."
"Then, how can you say it will be okay?"
I look up at him, noticing he's looking away, towards a corner. His eyes aren't focused, though. Instead, they are empty.
"Dad," I say as I pull away, "What aren't you telling me?"
He tugs at his earlobe, but he doesn't say anything.
"Seriously. Whatever it is, I can handle it. Clearly, I've been through worse."
He continues to pull at his ear, looking at me now. His stare is intense, into the depths of my eyes. We blink together; no words are spoken. He isn't going to tell me anything.
"Dad, can I ask you something?" I ask, as someone knocks on the door. His time with me is up, and I haven't gotten to the most important topic yet.
"What did they do with Isaac?"
"You mean his body?"
I suck in air fast, clenching my eyes closed for a moment.
"Yes. His body. What did they do with his body?"
Dad doesn't answer me right away. He gets that far away look in his eyes again.
"They brought him to me," he finally answers. "And I sent his body off for disposal."
The door opens, but my throat is closing in.
"Time to go, Doctor," the guard says. Dad pushes me gently away from him, standing up with a groan.
"Don't forget what I said, Jay. It's important," Dad says, meeting the guard. I blink up at him, trying to commit our conversation to memory. Not much was said, and I'm not sure which part he means. Surely he doesn't mean Isaac's body.
The important part has to be the idea that everything will be okay.
Dad gives me a final wave, tugging at his ear one more time. I still don't understand what he's trying to tell me.
"Goodbye, Jay," he whispers, and the guard tugs him out.
The door slams behind him, making the light overhead blink.
Everything will be okay, he says. I repeat the phrase over and over in my head, crawling back to my corner.
How can anything be okay when he's not here with me?
YOU ARE READING
"I live in a place called Compound 4. We are one of ten different compounds placed at strategic locations around the US. It's been thirteen years since the virus overtook humanity, turning about ninety percent of us into zombies. I'm not sure how it...