*Regular test subjects are needed yearly by the Science Experimenters (SE) for all their experiments. Every person is logged in a data system for the annual drawing where 450 names are drawn at random to fill the places of passed test subjects. (25 people from age group of five starting from 0-5 years to 85-90)*
Every day, he holds my hand and walks with me. He’s my favorite person and he knows it. We’ve been going out for three years now and I know everything about him from his favorite food, lasagna, to his least favorite sport, football, to which spoon in the drawer is his go to for sour cream and which he likes better for soup. It’s really strange all the little things about a person you pick up when you’re trying to remember details that might not be there anymore.
We spend even more time together now than we ever did. I give him more kisses and hugs, but can’t help crying when I think of his leaving day. I don’t feel half so bad about crying because sometimes I see a tear or two on his face when we stand, arms wrapped around each other.
His name was drawn from the millions of names. When it was announced over the monitors at our college, everyone went silent and each head turned to look at him, he stopped talking mid joke, his face suddenly empty and white. I nearly choked on my food, and later on my way home early, I cried.
Nobody wanted to be a SE subject. Most people who were experimented on were not released either because they were too damaged to be kept alive, they were already dead, or their specific experiment would last as long as they lived. The ones that were released, were usually badly injured or suffered from PTSD or another mental injury. Usually only around three of the four-hundred-fifty came back relatively unharmed.
*day of announcement*
I’ve been nervous all day. I suppose everyone probably is on the annual SE drawing day. It’s been engraved in you to be afraid of the day that could change your life forever since the day you could understand. The announcement is always at lunch. The last time someone from this school was drawn was ten years ago. The guy even had a plaque on the wall above his old locker: Tony Flynston, Born 2067; Died 2087 SE Subject RIP. I know about it because I use his old locker and see it every day.
Oh shit, there’s the bell. I only have to wait about 10 more minutes until the announcement and then I won’t have to worry anymore. Most people don’t get chosen, only 450 out of the 3 billion people on Earth.
There’s the plaque again. I’m at my half locker for my lunch and to meet up with Tony Loughn, my boyfriend of three years and my best friend.
Beep...Attention students. The SE Drawing results have come in. Tony Loughn please come to the office immediatel. We are having a half day today. Everyone goes home at 1:00 today...Beep
I stop everything mid-chew trying figure out what just happened. I cough on the food. My vision narrows, and all I can see are my thoughts. No... no. That’s not what they said. Go back to eating. No. That is what they said. You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok. No, not me, what about Tony? Is he ok? How could I be so selfish? I gasp and shake myself. He is sitting right across me white and blank faced, staring unseeingly at the wall opposite him. Every head in the cafeteria is turned to our table I grab his lunch and mine and fump them in the trash next to our table. I take his hand and lead him out of the room to the unlocked storage closet I found last year.
He looked terrible, like he was going to cry and throw up at the same time. The office is just going to have to wait I thought. Once in the small room, I hugged him close to me. I don’t know what I was expecting but I didn’t expect to feel him shaking.
About 70% of all SE subjects are dead when they are released and most are tortured in the experiments, most are glad to die. It’s easier for the people who knew them too. If they are part of the other 30%, with the exception of around 3 people, they’re going to be so different than you knew before.
I held him tight in the dark litrle room, the only light coming through the keyhole. After a few minutes, something dripped on my nose. Reaching up I felt his face, wiping his cheeks. I felt him smile with my hand on his face.
“Keep it there. I’m sorry. Thank you for taking care of me. I know this is hard on you too. You’re the one who will have to live with it longer whether I get released damaged or... or...” he whispered softly, “dead.”
“Don’t worry about me. Please. We have one month from now until you have to go. Please don’t spend it worrying about me when you’re the one who is leaving.”
We stood there for a few more minutes before leaving the closet and collecting our things. We walked to the office together, but he went in alone. When he came back he was whiter yet and retold the conversation to me.
Apparently, they tell you what experiment you are going into sometimes beforehand. That’s why he’s so white. His experiment group he’s been assigned is doing experimentation with brain transplants. They are pairing test subjects alike in size and brains which is a very dangerous procedure. They calculated a 89% death rate in passed experiments, and of the 11% that survive, only 4% will be fully functional.
It’s 1:13 by time we are done with everything we need to be done with in the building, so we are free to go. My car is parked next to his because we didn’t carpool today. I guess it’s for the best because I cry the whole way home.
Why Tony? Out of 3 billion people, he had to be one of the 450. We’re only 19. We were supposed to live a long time. We were even going to get married. We weren’t engaged yet, but I‘d figured out he’d already bought the engagement ring. Now he was going into an experiment where he would most likely be killed in the process or paralyzed or brain damaged or... I need to stop. Stop thinking about everything that could go wrong. Spend my last 30 days with him. Make him happy before he goes.
I followed his car to his house and we spent the night holding each other like there wouldn’t be a tomorrow. For some people, that‘s just a saying but one month from today feels just as soon as if it was tomorrow.
*day before SE Subject Collection Day*
We took a million pictures and went a million places. The college gave the two of us a month break from school and when I went in and requested it. We went to all the library museums and little relics of the past like amusement parks and churches.
We went to the beach and stayed for a week breathing in as much ocean air we could before we left. The boardwalk was simple and cute with little shops on the one side and the sand and waves to the other. We bought fries and salt water taffy.
Back at home, I stayed at his house the entire month. His parents were distraught by the news and his mom spent a lot of time crying while his dad busied himself with cleaning and projects, so he wouldn’t have to think about it. We always had dinner together and this last night, was silent.
Tomorrow they would come to pick him up. And I wouldn’t even know where he was going because nobody knew where the lab was. It was hidden and locked away.
*The collection day*
It’s SE Subject Collection Day and as if to try to make us feel better, it’s a gorgeous day outside. We’re waiting on the sidewalk trying hard to enjoy the last moments before he goes, but even with the nice weather, it’s hard to enjoy anything. The sun is out, there are a few light fluffy clouds, and the perfect amount of breeze blows the heat away, but all I feel is worry, sadness, and hate.
Tony has his backpack on, the only thing he is allowed to take. We see a white van turn the corner of our street and know immediately that that is what is going to take him away from me. I close my eyes as if if I can’t see it then it won’t be there. Screech The van stops and a tall slender man in a white button up shirt with black buttons and black pant steps out of the passenger seat.
“I am looking for Tony Loughn, age 19.”
Tony stepped forward and was escorted around back where he climbed in. As they closed the door, he tried giving me a reassuring smile, but I could see it was just to make me think he was going to be ok.
Now I have to wait at least eight months to know that he’s dead. Most experiment subjects are tested on for eight months. Some experiments are shorter, some are longer, but most end in the eighth month which is when they test to see if the subject is too damaged or can be kept alive and sent home. When exmeriment subjects are dead, they are sent to be used in the Cadaver Lab, but if they can’t be used there, they are recycled in the greenhouses. Just eight months to wait... stay alive.
I’ve waited eight months and still haven’t heard if he is dead, so I can only assume he is alive. It must be around the time when he’ll be tested for the final time and decides whether he lives or is killed. At this point, I know that the surgery has gone well, and he has a new brain and nervous system. Just thinking that makes me sad. He won’t be Tony anymore.
I’ve worried each day for eight months waiting for a letter or announcement over the speaker at school telling us he’s dead. At home, my parents told me to go stay with the Loughns. He was their only son and they needed someone in the same boat to be with them. Still no letter or announcement came. Month after month I got more hope he’d come home.
A week into the eight month, the letter came labeled: To only relation of Tony Loughn. I was confused for a moment in my grief of the letter that could only mean one thing. I’m not his only relation, but I remembered that when he filled out the notification paper he put only my name, so as to not worry his parents.
I picked the letter out of the mail box and stared at it my vision going blurry by the tears. He’s dead. I’m never seeing him again. He’s not coming home. I crumpled the letter in my hand and threw it under my bed.
When I went to bed that night, I couldn’t sleep with it laying inder my bed, so I fished it out and set it on my dresser. From then on I went about my routine as normal all the while trying to figure out how to tell Mr. and Mrs. Loughn that Tony was dead. I kept meaning to go over, sit them down, and tell them. For a week I avoided them until I couldn’t take it any longer.
I grabbed the crumpled letter and smoothed it out as best as I could, the red letters: SE Lab, No Return Address, stamped across the upper left hand corner.
On my way to their house I thought about the best way to tell them. Should I just show them the envolope and let them open and read it? No probably not a good idea. I haven’t even read it so I wouldn’t know if it says it bluntly and would make them even sadder. Do I sit them down and tell them? Will I even have to say anything or just come in crying and hug them so they will know?
My car turns into their driveway and I sit thinking. I force myself to get out so I don’t just drive back to my house and forget about telling them. Inside, they welcome me in as graciously as they usually do and we sit down in the living room to talk or just sit as we’ve done more days than I can remember.
“He’s dead.” I moan softly, “I’m sorry. I got the letter a week ago and I’ve been trying so hard to let you know but I just couldn’t.”
Mrs. Loughn tears up and Mr. Loughn’s face falls.
“Can we read the letter, darling.” Mrs. Loughn asks tearfully.
I pull out the letter and hand it to them. They open it slowly and pull out the folded white paper. Screech I look over my shoulder out the window to see a white van parked by the curb. The tall skinny man in the white button up with black buttons and black pants stepped out of the passenger side and walked to the front door.
The letter was forgotten on the floor as we all jumped up to open the door. Before he could ring the doorbell, I was there opening it wide, so we could all see the man.
“This is the residence of Tony Loughn, correct?” He chirped in a formal, automated sounding voice.
“Yes, yes it is.” Mrs. Loughn’s timid voice sputtered, “What do y-you want from us? You took him and now he’s dead.”
“No.” the man looked confused, “He is in the van. Did you not receive the letter?”
There was a collective gasp, and the man still confused shook his head and grinned. I pushed by him which wasn’t hard because he was so thin he took up only a small amount of the doorway and ran to the van.
“Please can we have him back!” I begged. He was walking leisurely back to the van as though he was allowed to take his sweet time. He unlocked the back door and called “Tony. Stop for Tony Loughn. Yes that’d be you. Out.”
Tony stepped out and greated me with a handshake and a “Nice to meet you. How did you know Tony’s before?”
My mouth fell open and I stared in shock. “I was his girlfriend!” I cried.
“Oh sorry.” was all he said in reply.
He moved on his parents saying “Hello. I’m not really Tony. Well, my body is Tony’s and to be honest its a nice body, but I was Isaac just months ago until they did surgery on both of us and put both of us back together. I don’t know who you are.” They were just as shocked.
This wasn’t Tony. Where is Tony?! Tony wouldn’t come back from that place and give me a fucking handshake! He’d pick me up in a massive bear hug and kiss me all over my face. He’d cry and bring us all in for a group hug before going inside and talking about everything.
Without even knowing what I was doing, I ran up behind the man, jumped on his back and took my arm knife from my pocket, pressing it against his throat like I’d seen in movies. “Where is the other person from the experiment?!” I hissed in his ear.
“I am just the delivery man.” He groaned, “I don’t know anything about the experiments.”
“Then you’ll have to take me and this new Tony back to the Lab to get him fixed.”
“Why not? Because they’ll fire you?”
“You shouldn’t be worried about that with blade against your throat. Take me and Tony back.”
“I can’t promise they’ll help you. Get in the back.”
“New Tony, get in the back.” I called over my shoulder before dropping down from his back and running over to the van.
Once in the back, the guy locked up and started driving. The one other person in the back was asleep on the floor.
“Who’s he?” I asked Isaac.
“Well, technically he’s Isaac, but he used to be Tony.”
I gaped. The skinny blonde boy on the floor was Tony! “Tony!” I yelled, scooting over to him on the floor.
The boy sat up, rubbing his eyes. “What are you doing here?” he asked, threw his arms around me, and kissed me. This is more of the welcome I had pictured.
“What do you mean? I’ve come to get you back in your body and get you home.”
He moaned and laid back down with his head in my lap. “You can’t get me back. They’ll never swap our bodies just for you.”
When I thought about it like that, I knew he was right. I would never get him back in his body. Then I realized, I didn’t need Tony back in his body if he was right here and doing well anyway. They switched bodies, but I still had Tony. They were going to give back the wrong person even though they looked like the right person. The name doesn’t go with the body; the name goes with the brain. And now we were locked in the back of a van headed to the one place I didn’t want to be going, back to the SE Lab.
“Yes, I’d say we’re in quite a bit of it.”
Isaac spoke up suddenly, “We’re not going very fast. I can see out of the keyhole and we are still in the housing area where you can’t drive over 30 miles per hour. we have until we’re out of the housing area to break out of the back or find another way out of here.”
We sat and blinked at him for a couple seconds. “That’s a great idea!” I exclaimed only to realize we can’t just bust out of the metal backs door, “How are we going to do that though?”
“Wasn’t it’s you who had the little army knife pressed against the delivery man’s neck?” He asked sarcastically. Tony looked at me in awe and I grinned at him.
“Yes... and it has a screw driver!”
Isaac stood up and inspected the back door. “Unsure this screw,” he commanded, “and this one, and this one.” He kept pointing out screws and I kept unscrewing. Tony kept an eye on the keyhole to make sure we were still in the housing area.
“Last screw to unscrew isn’t here.” he said pointing to one all the way near the ceiling.
“I can’t reach that and you know it.”
“And that’s why I’m here to give you a boost.” Tony’s said scooping me up and onto his new shoulders so I could unscrew the last screw and we could bust out of this damn van.
“Aah, oh, my back.” Tony grabbed his back, his knees buckling, and I fell to the ground.
“Oh crap, I should have told you. I have a back problem which makes sharp pains go down my spine every time I lift something above my head... or at least I used to. I’m sorry man.” Isaac said looking like he meant it, “if it helps to know though, I’m kinda ripped from exercising each day,” he leaned in closer to Tony and whispered, “and a nice penis.”
I giggled into my sleeve and Tony rolled his eyes at me.
“Thanks man. I noticed when I recovered from the surgery. Now please lift my girlfriend up on what used to be my strong shoulders and back so she can unscrew the last screw.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.” He apologize. And lifted me up on his shoulders.
“I know you are. It just kinda sucks not having my body anymore.” Tony sighed.
I finished unscrewing the last screw. I climbed off of his shoulders and we pushed on the door. It didn’t move. We pushed harder. No results.
“Crap, ther must be a second layer to the door. We can’t break out through the back. There’s a thin metal panel right behind their heads in the front seat. If we unscrew that, we can knock them out, climb through and drive ourselves home.”
This gave us more time which we needed badly because the houses here were new ones which means we were nearing the edge of the housing area. Isaac started pointing out new screws and I unscrewed them as fast and I could. Once they were all out Isaac pushed the metal plate forward as fast as possible and it slammed into their heads. The van swirved violently as driver sat unconscious.
I climbed through and pushed him aside to drive. They climbed into the front with me and stuffed the unconscious men into the back. I turned us around and we headed home. Isaac gave me directions to his house and turns out it’s only 5 blocks from Tony’s house. We dropped him off outside and wait to see the reactions of his parents. When his parents rush out The front door, they stop and ask who he is. After they talk a while, he turns around and gives us a half wave and a smile before turning and going inside with his parents.
When we got to Tony’s house, his parents came outside confused and crying.
Tony stepped out and ran to his parents.
“Mom! Dad! I’m home!”
“I’m in a different body but yes. It’s me, your boy.”
I got out and nodded at them to confirm this.
He gathered them for a hug and motioned for me to to join them. After standing in the yard for what felt like forever, we all went inside laughing and relatively cheerful, just grateful Tony wasn’t back.
It was posted two moths ago... so sometime mid-August of 2020?