Eight

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I'm escorted back to confinement, still shaking as Rob closes the night enclosure door behind him. I quickly shed my towel and perch myself on the edge of my bunk, willing my heart rate to settle.

Between the hours of six and nine is what they call downtime. We have to use the treadmill for at least thirty minutes, but after that, we're free to use our time before bed however we please.

I spend most of my nights reading, trying to rid myself of the walls of my enclosure, even if it is only for a little while.

"Reading is the key," Muriel once said to me, her nose buried in one of her books. "Your body might be trapped, but your mind is always free to wander."

I reach beneath my pillow, pulling out the dictionary Jaqueline had given me for my seventeenth birthday. Only books supplied by Marine World are permitted in the enclosure, but I'd grown so bored of my current selection that Jaqueline had promised to bring in more if I'd promised not to tell.

It's the book I choose to flick through most nights, forcing myself to memorize the meanings of words and objects I have yet to encounter. Pretending for a moment that I could be normal, human, like the people on the other side of the glass.

Sometimes I'll go on the treadmill for longer than thirty minutes, desperate to keep my strength up for a time when I'll need it, because I'm going to have to run very fast and very far if I ever want to leave this place. But mostly, I spend my nights staring up at the ceiling, wondering if I'm wrong for wanting to leave the only home I've ever known.

For as long as I can remember, Marine World has been my family, the reason I'm still alive, and wanting to leave them feels as if I'm somehow betraying them. As much as I've come to despise my glass prison–and some of the trainers–I know Marine World does it to keep us safe. My kind doesn't belong outside of the glass. The world outside is too cruel, too dark to bear.

It's why the guests are so desperate to claw their way into ours.

I flip to the back of the dictionary, pulling out the old, faded photograph of Teresa and me, the closest thing I've ever had to a loving mother.

It was Teresa who raised me inside of the facility complex I grew up in, who tucked me in at night and kept the nightmares at bay. But the day I turned ten-years-old, she left without so much as a goodbye and I never saw her again. After that, I was moved into a bigger living complex, where a group of people would regularly check in on me to make sure I was doing okay.

At eleven, the experiments started. Weekly, at first, and then once I hit fourteen, daily. Tests that monitor what they call my abilities, from my hearing and my eyesight to my speed and strength. It was exhausting at times, downright terrifying at others, which was why I was grateful when at sixteen, they moved me out of the complex and into the enclosure with three other girls.

I'd thought maybe things would be different from then on, that I wouldn't have to do the tests anymore and I'd finally have more freedom. But I'd simply exchanged one prison for another.

I run on the treadmill for an hour, allowing my mind to focus only on the pounding of my feet. There is something I find comforting about running, the way I'm forced to rely only on my own strength and determination to keep going. When I run I don't have to think, and when I don't have to think, I don't have to feel. But it also serves to remind me that no matter how long I run for, I am always standing still.

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