by Sonya Watson
My voice made his heart beat. The blood coloured his blue cheeks. I hovered over his mouth and the warmth from his breath caressed my skin. The boy was dead and I had brought him back to life but I felt empty. The Boss had hacked away at my brain until the memories of my past life were gone. The purpose of my lobotomy was to make me more efficient at the task I was assigned. The need for sleep was taken so I could meet the quota the Boss had set. The culling of Ontario was my assignment and my performance was adequate. The Second made sure that I was aware of my mistakes so I could become a better employee. The Second was wrong. I had achieved more than the others so I was extraordinary. The Boss had ordered The Second to scoop the remainder of my humanity out and The Second followed the instructions of the Boss to the letter. The light in my heart flickered, but it never went out. When an opportunity to perform a good deed arose, I took it. My stomach churned when I helped the ones I felt had more to do. The connection I had with the others made my belly ache so I knew that my secret was never truly hidden. The others had informed The Second of my past transgressions so The Second promptly punished me when I made any missteps. I had saved one life that I was meant to take so The Second should have appeared to punish me. The Second never came so I sought out the next person that I was meant to take.
The girl wept when she saw me. Her brown pigtails slapped the side of her face when she shook her head. I gazed at her blue and white checkered dress with black Mary Jane shoes. I bent down and I pried her hazel eyes open. I dried her tears with the back of my hand and this seemed to settle her restless spirit.
“What do you want?” the girl stuttered.
“I want a name,” I cleaned her face with my damp hands.
The pale, freckle-faced girl seemed familiar. I needed to protect her from harm and I had no idea why. The innocence in her eyes reeled me in so I wrapped my arms around her.
“Are you going to take me away?” she sobbed.
“I don’t think so,” I whispered.
“I want to go home,” she pouted.
The girl hung her head.
“You won't be safe there,” I rested my hand on her shoulder.
The people who were near death had a pungent smell. Their souls left a bright yellow trail for any one of us to find so the girl would never be safe. I was a Taker and my job was to take her to the office basement, but I wanted better for her.
“The others will find you,” I paused. "It was pointless to save you," I stretched out my hand.
“What do you mean?” she put her hands behind her back.
“I know everything about you. Your name is Ameilia. You are seven years old. You like butterflies, cupcakes and basketball. The others know these things too,” I took a deep breath. “Do you want to go away like your father?”
“No,” she shook her head.
“I don’t think I can protect you but I’m willing to try,” I held out my hand.
The girl had several questions and I felt obligated to answer them, but I was a new Taker so I lacked the ability to answer most of her questions. Where are we going? I was cornered. The others had the ability to find us wherever we went so I had no safe place to take her. Who was I? I plucked the answer from the company handbook. I was a Taker. I took the souls of the people who had no more time to the company basement. My purpose was to harvest souls and anything I did that fell outside of my task would result in my immediate termination. Why did I want to take her away? She was on the list so I had to take her away. Where did I come from? I had no memory of being born. The first place I remembered was my grey cubicle. The small, clean space felt like home so I never thought about where I came from. Why did I have to take her away? She was on the list so I had to take her away. Who was my boss? Who were the others? Could I feel? Could I fall in love? Did I still want to take her away? Did I want to take her mom and Oscar away? I needed time to find the girl some answers, so I puckered my lips and I whistled. The girl fell and I caught her.
“Stop,” Petersen glanced at the girl in my arms. “Ameilia Beedle should be in the basement. Why is she here?”
Petersen was empty and his face was blank. He was like the rest, so there was no point in reasoning with him. The slender man walked toward us and I took several steps toward the sidewalk when he did.
“It must be returned. The Boss sent me to retrieve you,” Petersen gazed at Ameilia.
Petersen was immune to my abilities. I stood still and I weighed my options. He covered my nose and mouth with his dry wrinkled hands. Petersen was putting me to sleep and I was powerless to stop him. I was the only black girl in the group. I was unique and weak. Several white men and a disfigured black man occupied the cubicles on the thirteenth floor. I was an anomaly and the Second made certain that I got the dirtiest jobs. I wanted to prove that I could do my job better than the others, but an opinion had already been formed about me, so I failed before I attempted any task.
“The pain will start if you choose not to submit,” Petersen’s grip tightened.
I was hot. The dark hairs on my arms fell on the pavement. My eyes were burning and dry. My lips were bleeding and cracked while my mouth was watering. I gulped and I fought, but in the end, I was no match for Petersen.
I woke up at my desk without a guard. Ameilia was gone. I left my cubicle to find her. The others kept their eyes glued to their computer screens when I walked across the brown-carpeted aisle. I pushed a series of buttons that were mounted on the charcoal concrete wall next to the grey metal elevator doors. A vertical line of the numbers to the right opened the elevator that went up while a horizontal line of the numbers on the bottom row opened the elevator that went to the basement.
"The code was changed," Gabon stared at my breasts.
The company had a policy about clothing so I dressed like the men. I wore a black suit with a black and red pinstriped shirt. My chest was covered and the red bow tie drew the attention away from that area. Gabon was exhibiting signs of sexual desire. The Takers were empty so I was baffled by Gabon's longing gaze. He was broken. I pushed the stop button on the wall. The alarm triggered a response team comprised of three men to run towards us. I waited for one of the men to speak since I was a junior Taker. I was required to listen and blindly follow orders.
“Why did you push the alarm?” Petrov asked.
“Gabon was staring at my breasts.”
“Why would he do that?” Petrov glanced at Gabon.
The three men had different names yet their appearance was the same. Their cheekbones were high; their full dark hair was coiffed into a high, rounded peak and their eyes were grey. The men were pale and extremely thin.
“He needs to be fixed,” I stared at my feet.
“I only have your word and that holds no weight,” Petrov looked at Gabon then he pointed to the cubicles.
“I want to see The Second,” I crossed my arms.
“Why did you do that?” Petrov walked towards me.
“I am upset,” I gazed at my palms. “I think,” I wiggled my fingers.
“You are broken. Call the Second,” Petrov glanced at Veeral.
I was broken. I felt anger. It wrapped me in its warm arms and it allowed me to see the threat The Second posed. The Second was my enemy since he wanted me to feel nothing. The anger gave me one option to get my revenge on the Takers who stole my memories and my life. I had to kill the Takers, but the Takers had the means to control death. My anger got me no closer to figuring out who I wanted to be.
“I asked you a question,” The Second ran his flaky palms through my hair. “The texture is unusual. It is straight at the ends but the roots are curly,” he took a deep breath. “Your hair is like you. It is a puzzle. The pieces are mismatched, yet they fit. I have a heart. It beats like yours. If it stops beating, I die like you,” he paused.
The Takers’ lives were just as fragile as the ones they took. Did I want to kill the Takers? They deserved to die. They had taken so many lives and the reason was to keep the scales balanced. That was what they told us. What if they took lives for another reason? Where did they take them? Why did they need them? Where was Ameilia?
“I want to know where the little girl is,” I slapped his hand away.
“She is in the basement. Would you like me to send for her?” The Second dragged the tip of his nose across my neck.
“What are you doing?” I squirmed.
“I knew when I saw you. I knew,” The Second shook his finger. “I knew that you would infect me,” he licked his lips.
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” I gulped.
My anger was gone and the feeling that replaced it made me quiver. It was difficult to understand what I was feeling. I wanted to live and The Second was threatening my existence. I hated the feeling and I wanted it to go away but The Second made that impossible. His presence made the feeling grow inside me so I gazed into his green eyes and I tried to feel what he thought he was feeling. What was he feeling? The Second stroked my neck with his cold breath. He placed his bald head in my lap as he wept.
“You’ve broken me,” The Second whispered.
“I’m sorry,” I stuttered.
I had no idea what that word meant. The ones I took would say that several times in an attempt to change my mind but they were never able to. What power did that word have? Why did I say it?
“I want to see Ameilia,” I bit my bottom lip.
I made a sound that shook the glass window. The Second covered my mouth with his hands and he chuckled. What was he going to do?
“No one will hear you,” The Second closed his dead eyes. “No one would come if they did.”
“What do you want?” I felt a tear run down my cheek.
“I want you. I think,” The Second grabbed my thigh.
I saw a girl in my mind. She was young and very pretty. I felt responsible for her well-being and I would have done anything to protect her. I did. I rescued her from her father but she was too young to appreciate the things I had to do to save her. She was three. How old was she now? Would she remember me? How long had I been away? I had a child when I was sixteen. It was a different time. Men were allowed to beat their women and the world would applaud them for it. The women were to blame. It was their fault that their men lost their jobs. It was their fault that other men looked at them. I never thought of leaving Merin. He was the father of my child and I loved him so I stayed with him until he hit Keiara. I loved her and her father began to resent me for loving her. I gave her the attention she required. Merin thought that Keiara was a thief since she had stolen his time with me from him. He was a selfish man and I was a selfish mother. Why did I stay? Keiara was my daughter and I was meant to protect her but I had failed. She saw things that I could have shielded her from.
“I want Ameilia,” I kicked The Second.
“Why?” The Second groaned as he grabbed his crotch.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” I smiled, “but I like it.” I punched The Second in the face. “I want Ameilia,” I kicked him again.
“How did you get here? He said that you were in the basement. How did you escape?” I kept my distance.
“They let me go,” Ameilia fiddled with her thumbs.
“Why would they do that? Did they do something to you?” I glared at her.
“We should go,” Ameilia peered over her shoulder.
“There are several Takers standing between us and the door,” I crossed my arms.
“They aren’t there anymore,” Ameilia clasped her hands.
Ameilia was different. She seemed distant and hollow. What did they do to her? Could I trust her? Was there anything left of the girl I had saved? Was she a weapon? What did she want? The only thing she wanted when I met her was her mother. What did she want now?
“How is that possible?” I said quietly.
“I don’t know,” she walked away.
“Stop walking,” I yelled.
“They not be dead,” Ameilia placed her fingertips on her throat.
“What did you say?” I frowned.
“Not be they dead,” Ameilia covered her mouth.
Ameilia had lost the ability to speak coherently and my desire to help her was fading so I stopped in front of the opened elevator door. The little girl I chose to rescue was gone. The Takers had carved out all of the good bits so they could fill her hollow husk with whatever they wanted to. Ameilia was beyond my help and I had to right the wrong I had caused. Ameilia was slated to be taken at a specific time and from a specific place. I had created chaos with the choice I had made. Ameilia was no longer a little girl. She was empty and alarmingly focused on a task she had assigned herself. I had to take her back to the basement and leave her there.
“I am so sorry,” I muttered.
There was a girl and she had blue ribbons in her hair. I knew her name but it was tucked away in a dark corner of my mind. Ameilia giggled and I knew that she was the cause of the lapse in my memory. She wanted me to go with her so I did. Her smile made my stomach churn. She had my body wrapped around her finger yet I was able to create free-flowing thoughts. She had subdued my curiosity so I no longer had the urge to question anything that coloured outside of the lines I had deemed normal. She had done what the Takers had failed to do. She had taken my spirit so she could break it open and siphon the life from it.
“Door is it down?” Ameilia growled.
“The door is on the roof,” I tried to stop my mouth from moving.
“Basement rip me open,” Ameilia pressed the penthouse button.
My will was strong, so I was able to lie and Ameilia was able to strip away the lie. She had woven fates together and I had no option but to watch her ruin my life. I had found little joy in doing my job since my clever insights and my successfully completed cullings were overlooked. I had taken ten thousand men, women and children to the basement. The Takers had no concept of time but I had a feeling that I had wasted quite a bit of it in a place where growth and happiness were discouraged. Ameilia had become a vile little girl yet my disdain of her lessened since she was the only one who could make me feel anything. I was numb so any feeling would have been sufficient enough for me to keep pushing forward.
“Open,” Ameilia cleared her throat.
“I was never allowed to open this door,” I glanced at the crevices of the dark brown oak door.
“Smell,” Ameillia took a shallow breath.
The smell was tapered to each Taker. The scents ranged from freshly baked apple pie to sweaty socks. The Boss had stripped away several layers from each Taker so as to make them better at their jobs, but stopping scent memory recall was something the Boss had failed at achieving. The Boss was the devil I knew. My place was with the Takers. The girl was the new devil whose moves were unpredictable and affected by her small, underdeveloped mind.
“No,” I mumbled.
“Come,” Ameilia pounded on the door.
“No,” I grunted.
“Open,” Ameilia shook her head violently.
“No,” I gulped.
“Want,” Ameilia slammed her palm against the door.
“I want to go,” Ameilia said slowly.
“You can speak,” I chuckled. “I can speak,” I frowned. “My blood is coursing through your veins. You’re a part of me,” I felt sadness.
The Boss had fathered a child without my consent. Ameilia was my child so she became my responsibility. I had been dead, partially dead and alive inside. Ameilia was the cause of me feeling partially dead and fully alive. The Taker rules stated that a child fathered by the Boss had to be mothered by the blood used to create it. Ameilia was a vessel I could fill with the love I had envisioned. I needed to plant a good seed so I could nurture the goodness in her. She was fragile and susceptible to the evils of our office. A change in my mood meant a change in her mood so I took a deep breath and I thought of our future.
“I am your mother,” I bent down.
“You’re not my mother. I remember my mother and you are not my mother,” Ameilia threw another tantrum.
“I am. You will inherit some of my traits. Do you know what I mean by that?”
“Yes,” Ameilia nodded.
“You’ve inherited my intellect. That’s good,” I hugged her.
The nights were long but I was able to erase my daughter’s past and I began to build her future. I left work in order to give her a better chance at succeeding in life. The choice was mine since the job was thankless and beneath me. I was a better mother than a Taker. I was happier than I had ever remembered being. Ameilia was nearly settled. She was troubled by the memory of her biological mother. She was torn between the life she had and the one I had built for her so when she asked to visit her mother I took her to see Naomi. Ameilia asked for some time alone with her biological mother so I gave it to her. It broke me in two to leave her alone with the woman who gave her life. I was afraid. I was living in the land of humans so their laws and rules applied to me. Ameilia belonged with me but under their law she belonged with her biological mother.
“I’m ready to go,” Ameilia grinned.
Ameilia was covered in blood. Her eyes were alive; her heart was beating and she was aware of what she had done. My little girl was evil despite all of my efforts. She was made into a monster and I had to unmake her again so I could fill her to the brim with goodness.
“Mommy did I do something wrong?” she stared at the blood on her plaid tunic.
“Yes,” I wept.
“I thought that this is what you wanted. I saw that you were afraid so I fixed it,” she pouted.
“This problem wasn’t yours to fix. You never do anything like this again. You have to promise me,” I placed my hands on her tiny shoulders.
“I promise mommy,” she sulked. “Can we go now? I’m hungry,” she tugged on my arm.
“Sure,” I closed the apartment door.
Ameilia was broken. The Takers had created a monster and I had chosen to nurture it. I was a mother and the well-being of my child outweighed the future danger she would pose to anyone else.