“Anyway we can get to the roof?”

“Probably.”

“Think that’s where we should hold up for the night. It’s getting late and night travel while avoiding zombies doesn’t seem all that appealing.”

“Good point.”

“Vic, C, help me with some of theses shelves.”

“Um, okay…”

“Fire wood.”

 

“Anyone know how to build a good fire?”

“I do.”

“Flo?”

 

“Yeah, she does. She’s always quick when we’d go camping. Kinda like she’s been preparing for this kind of thing.”

“Thanks Vic, I’m glad one of us paid attention at camp.”

“I supply the weapons, you supply other essentials.”

“Sounds kinda unbalanced.”

“Eh.”

 

“I didn’t mean anything by it Flo.”

“Racist.”

“No…C, that’s not…that’s not racist…”

“Psshh, whatever.”

 

I got the fire started easy thanks to Vic’s quick flint. “Vic, you doing okay..since, your mom?”

“Yeah…I just…I didn’t kill her, whatever made the zombies did. I…I helped set her free.”

“Yeah…you did.”

“Love you weirdo.”

“Love you too goober.”

 

Izzy sits between the two of us, snacking on some root beer float taffy. “Hey, Izzy? Why the candy store?”

“Already told you.”

“Yeah no, I know but I mean…why not go home or to find your family?”

“Grams died about ten months ago.”

“What about your parents?”

“…Don’t have any…”

“I’m sorry, what happened?”

“They abandoned me…soon as she died.”

 

“…Abandoned you?”

“Yeah…they left me in there.” Izzy points down the road to a building surrounded by large walls and a huge iron gate at the entrance, “Transitional Truth.”

“What is it?”

“It’s…where they send people who are ‘confused’ about their gender.”

 

FLASHBACK

As soon they take me inside I know I’m gonna die here.

“Welcome, Jason.”

“Izzy.”

“Follow me Jason and I’ll show you to your room.”

 

“This is your roommate, William. I’m sure you two will get along well. Jason here likes mysteries too Will.”

“Great. Maybe we can finally solve the mystery to why you keep getting our names wrong.”

“Remember what the doctor says. Jason, get cozy. We’ll call you down for dinner.”

 

“She, she’s my favorite.”

“Ha, I can tell. I’m Izzy.”

“Pleasure. Leanne.”

We hate her for it but Nurse Stacey’s right. We become friends easy. Our room’s our unwanted sanctuary, an escape from entrapment. Leanne’s been here for three years.

“Got dropped off when I was 13. Tried writing home the first year but no one ever responded. Some kids get letters from their families and it’s nice, to see some sense of hope in this place. Then when they write back home, the hope quickly turns to fear. They wonder if this’ll be the time they don’t hear back. While at the same time a lot of ’em don’t feel heard because when they get reply letters their families don’t follow up with things they said or acknowledge any issues they brought up.”

“…Like home gets farther away with each letter they write…”

“Yeah. Could be some weird twisted therapy Doctor Douche told families is ‘Vital to the reversion process.’ Hope you’re looking forward to meeting him.”

I don’t see how I can ever feel hope in this place. I miss my Grams. She’s the only one who ever understood me, or at least tried. I went to my parents first, mistaking that they’d still see me for who I knew myself to be. 

I know they’re conservative, afraid of what people think of them in image instead of their true character, but I really hope they understand.

I show up at my Grandma’s house in tears. 

She holds me and after hearing what happens, she does what my parents couldn’t. She offers me a home and to help me get started in my transition to my true me. I’m ten. I’m put on what they call “puberty blockers” a year and a half later, at 13 and a half I start taking hormones. 

It takes a whole eight months before my physical changes happen, I can’t tell you how happy I was. My Grams and I both. That was eleven months ago, two weeks before my birthday. Grams said, “Seems to me we’re gonna need a much bigger celebration this year.”

Leanne just got the okay for her hormone treatment when her adoptive parents have their second thoughts and drop her at the center.

“Good morning all! Welcome to yet another great group session. I see we have some new faces. I’ll let you introduce yourselves, I’ll start. I’m Dr. Dutch, your new counselor and guide to help you out of your confusion. Next?”

“Umm, I’m Greg…”

“I’m sorry, it says here your birth name is Glen.”

“You said use our real names.”

“I meant your birth name. Try again.”

“I’m Glen…”

“Good. Welcome Glen.”

 

“I’m Izzy…”

“Jason. Please, you heard me tell Glen. REAL names only. From now on that’s all I want you to use when addressing one another…know what, lets do an exercise.”

We all get up from our seats and stand in a circle. He has us write name tags for ourselves using our “real names.” We have to introduce ourselves to one another individually and share three things that we like most about ourselves. 

Leanne and I meet each other about half way in, “Hi, I’m, *barf*, Will. Three things I enjoy are reading, mysteries and getting a rise from double D over there.”

“Haha. ‘They’ call me Jason and I enjoy funny movies, being at the beach during a full moon and taffy.”

Grams and I watch Mel Brooks movies together every Friday and share a huge bowl of taffy. 

 

“Now take your seats. Today we’re going to discuss regret and selfishness…”

It’s easy to see Dutch has it out for Greg for some reason. He picks on him every meeting, with no real cause. Greg’s a trooper though and either shrugs off the attempted jabs or makes a joke of himself out of the attempt. Leanne and I admire him for that. The three of us grow close over the next few months.

“Do any of you have regrets? Regrets about the choice you made that brought you here? Regrets about missing out on all the NORMAL things you could be doing with people your age who aren’t denying their TRUE gender?”

“I have a regret.”

“What’s that Glen?”

“I regret speaking up about who I am because it brought me here.”

It gains some agreement from all of us but Dutch, is fuming. The room falls silent, “Glen, I’m sorry you feel that way. Thank you for trying. Now sit down.”

 

“What’d you thinks gonna happen to him?”

“I dunno. You ever seen Dutch like that before?”

“No. He’s usually much more composed and it’s creepy but that…was like a predator ready to pounce on its prey.”

 

The next day Greg is gone. “Doc, hey…what’s up Doc? Haha.”

“Morning Will.”

“Where’s Greg?”

“Glen, had a major breakthrough last night. She and I had a private session, afterwards she called her parents and they came to pick her up early this morning.”

“What?”

“Come now. It’s a good thing. She’ll be the example for the rest of you.”

We stare at each other blankly.

“Finish breakfast. Group starts soon. Today is gonna be a great day…yes.”

 

Leanne pulls me aside with a stack of letters in her hand. “What are those?”

“These are some of the supposed letters home.”

“Why do you have them?”

“One of the guys saw ’em sticking out of the front filing cabinet. Took ’em out of a folder with the kids name on them.”

“What do you think it means?”

“It means this whole place is out of its mind; we have psychos parading as ‘well intended’ doctors and nurses.”

 

The next week is when everything falls apart. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please sit down. I’m afraid there’s some bad news. We just got word that Glen, has passed.”

“What?”

“It appears she’s taken her own life. That’s all her parents would say.”

“You dick! This is on you!”

“Please Will, calm down. We’re all hurting. Don’t make this about you. Let’s all take some time to grieve, meet back in twenty minutes.”

 

“Hey, you okay?”

“What? No I’m not okay! He, he did something to Greg. I know it. He…he…”

“I don’t doubt he didn’t say something to push him over the edge.”

“We need to get out of here. This place is gonna kill us. From the inside. If we die inside then what the hell is the point of ever getting out?”

“How?”

“I, I dunno yet. But…something’ll come up. I’ll let you know when it’s time.”

 

“Welcome back…everyone feeling a little more grounded…Will?”

“…Yeah.”

“I’ve decided to change the plan for today’s session to: Denial. In light of recent events I’ve been made aware of the power that denial can have on all of us…on each one of you. Denial can be tormenting, it sneaks in and infiltrates who we truly are. It takes control of all we do, say and think, until who we are becomes lost. It’s a parasite that must be exterminated. Less any more of you repeat Glen’s selfishness.

“That’s one key flaw this group shares. Denial. I can’t believe I’d never seen the core issue before. You kids are all in denial and I’m going to work twice as hard to break you of this bad habit. You’re hurting people with your denial. Your families…are hurting because of you.

“You kids think you know everything but…there’s no way you can know yourselves as well as you think you do. You’re just kids. You…were born to be nothing but who you are when you’re born. You’re born a girl so you can be a girl, you’re born a boy so you can be a boy. There’s no in-between or way around it.

“You can’t deny who you truly are. You’re meant to achieve true freedom in life as the person you’re brought into the world as. That’s why we’re here. We want you to be free, truly free and unafraid to accept your born gender roles.”

 We hear the crash through the main hall doors. Six of them, zombies, two of the orderlies try to stop them, a nurse carrying files is taken out by a zombie biting her stomach. The two orderlies don’t last long.

“What..”

“The…”

“Hell…”

Leanne and I head down the hall as more trickle in. “So…I guess this is it.”

“What?”

“Our way out. What do you think, ready to get you some taffy?”

“I guess…but…”

 

“Boys…boys! Help me! Please…”

 

Nurse Stacey is dragged by our room by her legs. Blood strews across her face and back. “Not that way then, got it.”

We run through to the back of the facility towards the back yard and hills. “You think…”

“Climb one of the trees, hop onto the wall and down onto the side of the hills. From there, we run and find out what all this is.”

“After you.”

 

We learn quick there’s something different about the zombies…other than the fact that they’re actually zombies. They’re fast, quiet and only interested in eating. The two of us walk back to back in small circles. We take the stairs but move fast until we reach the bottom level and open the back door. “Here we go, ready to run?”

“No choice.”

“And…go!”

We book it across the yard. Leanne reaches the tree first and starts to climb. I look back and see nothing. “We’re clear. Go, you first.” She leaps to the wall from the adjacent branch.

“Okay, good. Easy climb, your tu…look out!”

Sneaky jerk got me just as I was hoisting myself up. I fall to the ground under it, using the momentum to toss it behind me. “Izzy! There’s more!”

“Go! I’ll catch up, don’t worry about me.”

“No…”

“GO!”

She swings her leg over the wall then she’s gone. I see the horde coming from the sides of the yard. “What…where are you coming from?” Nothing more’s coming from the building, That’s my best bet to escape since there’s no way I’m climbing the tree with so many coming.

 

I slam the door shut and kick the deadlock closed. “Okay…okay, so plan B. Izzy, what’s your plan B?”

It’s quiet inside. No more screaming, no more running. Just, silent. Made it feel like we’d been outside for hours when it couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes.

I see a broken table leg as I’m walking up the stairs, my back’s against the wall and rail. 

I reach the main hall stair entrance, slowly push the metal bar down which despite my effort still made it’s usual “squeak.” The sound echoes ten fold down the empty halls and I wait there for a minute. I think I hear something behind me which sends chills down my spine and I jump into the hallway forgetting to grab the door as it shuts and a loud “Boom” fills the air around me.

“Nothing so far…come on girl, why are you standing here. The exit is right there…just go…get going…run!”

I leap over broken chairs, dodge dead orderly bodies. Nurse Stacey clutches the phone with a lifeless hand, blood dripping from her finger tips her cold eyes stare at the wall ahed of her. 

Just as I reach the door I hear him behind me, Dutch.

“…Ple…please, Jason…”

He looks different. Like he’d been running a fever for a week and was covered in sweat. “…Jason…help…please…”

I don’t understand why he’s crawling on the ground at first until I see him try to hoist himself up. His legs were gone. Nothing there after his mid-thigh. 

He gets closer, I think about turning to leave but…I want to be sure I remember him this way, helpless. He continues towards me and I step closer to him. I see his eyes, one of them is blacked out while the other is beginning to darken at the bottom.

“What Dutch?”

“…Help…please…don’t let me…not like…”

“Help?..”

“Please…I can’t be one of…those things…”

I step closer and kneel down so he and I are face to face. “What was it you said…”

“…Please…Jas…”

“Can’t deny who you TRULY are, Dutch…embrace it…Feel…free.”

PRESENT

“I drop the table leg and leave.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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