BY ALEXANDER CAMPBELL
You ever get your arm caught in a lawnmower? I did once, when I was 6. It wasn’t fun, let me tell you. I lost my entire right hand just past the wrist. It was, and still is, the second single most painful and scary experience of my entire life, even now, 13 years later. What’s the first one, you ask? Well, that would be the story of how I got it back. You got a moment? Let me share with you it with you then; this strange experience of an Ozardian boy. A place already strange enough by itself.
Ozard is a nation much like yours, I imagine, and by yours I do mean America. Although we do say things like “in the interest of our glorious nation” around here without a shred of sarcasm. We have television and video games, huge sports stadiums, monsters, fast-food drive-thrus and...well, I am getting ahead of myself now, aren’t I?
My name is Leon, and I was lucky to even be eligible for the program. “In the interest of securing a bright future for our glorious nation [see?], we extend certain benefits to those who show promise of being successful and influential people...” or so said the letter my father received a month or so after the accident.
I had “shown promise” by placing dead last in the top tier of test takers in the country that year. I was the worst of the best as it were. Apparently that was good enough, as I hardly had a chance to get used to the prosthetic hand I was given in the meantime.
Now for what I’m about to tell you, mind, I did say I was 6 at the time. I’m remembering the “what” here. The “why” I’m still not sure about, even 13 years later, and don’t even ask me about the “how.” What I am completely sure about, though, is that one morning, when my father called me down to drive me to school, he said to leave my prosthetic hand behind and buckled me into my seat. He was completely silent when he took a left instead of a right towards my school. And then another left.
It was a very long car ride. I remember wanting to ask where we were going but being afraid to when I looked at his expression. It was just a slightly less intense version of the one he had when he was sitting next to my hospital bed. Worried. Uneasy. Tinged with guilt.
The silence made that hour long ride feel like a year before we pulled into a parking lot next to a large white building. It was big enough to be a museum, and that’s kind of what I thought it was back then. There was something stenciled in extremely large letters on the right wall of the front of the building, it read: “D-ReGrowth.” A word then lost on my 6-year-old mind; a word now questionable to my 19-year-old one.
My father took me by my hand—the hand—and we went inside. I remember how formal and stately everything looked, well-funded too. We went up to a counter too tall for me to see over and I heard a voice say, before my dad even had a chance to open his mouth: “Dreg or Growth?” My father’s face turned paler than the outside of the building as he stammered, “GROWTH! G-growth. He’s here for growth.” Pointing down at me. I saw the tip of a pair of oversized glasses peer over the counter and stare at me, focusing on what was there of my right arm. “I see. Please go have a seat in the waiting room and someone will be with you shortly.”
“Shortly,” in that room with floral wallpaper so swirly you could get lost in it and magazines so boring you could read one to go to sleep, ended up being another hour by itself. My father had just begun to relax it seemed, as he had brought up next week’s fishing trip and was regaling me with how his father taught him how to correctly hold a pole in his hands, and how he was going to teach me the same way, when a someone came to get us. I don’t remember that person very well, but I do remember the person whose office they led us to.
It seemed the farther into this place I got the fancier it got, and all the more uncomfortably stuffy all the while. “Ah, yes. Hello. I’m Doctor Deethe,” said the black-haired woman who sat opposite the desk from us in a lab coat. “May I see the letter and his grades please?” I need to stress that I still wasn’t sure why I was here at this point. I thought this was going to be some sort of punishment for my performance in school, although, looking back, I’m not sure if I was entirely wrong about that.
Doctor Deethe looked at the paperwork and then at me, and then smiled for a fraction of a second before talking a very long list of complicated things with my father. Things that were far above my understand at the time, and too far gone for me to remember clearly. Phrases like “trauma counseling” and “rehabilitation” were thrown around a lot. For what I would’ve needed those things for would become rather alarmingly clear a lot sooner than I would’ve ever thought as all of a sudden my father said: “Everything’s going to be ok son,” with a less than reassuring look on his face and a sweaty hug. Then I was halfway down the hallway looking back at him as Doctor Deethe tugged me along by my hand.
It felt like we walked for hours through an unknowable amount of hallways of big double doors. We walked down countless flights of stairs, and took at least three elevators. Somewhere during all of that I worked up the nerve to ask her where we were going and she said: “Leon, I’m taking you to see a very special friend of mine. Her name is Shura, and she’s going to give you your arm back. So just be good, okay? We’re almost there.”
On the way down to wherever it was we were going, I saw a number of people, some said hi to the doctor but no one even looked at me. We eventually stopped after what felt like an eternity of walking and entered the very last room of the entire building. It was an immaculately white area with maybe four people inside looking at various machines, with a few office doors here and there. All of it seemed to be arranged around of this giant thing in the wall.
It wasn’t so much of a door as it was a hatch, with all sorts of mechanical-looking latches holding it shut all from all over the walls around it. We had gone down so many flights of stairs that I wondered if I would see a demons flying by if there were windows to peek out of, but down there was only one window to peek through, and it was dead center in the middle of the hatch.
I had but barely considered braving climbing up to take a look through it when the doctor almost scared the life out of me with a rather harsh tug. She had a serious look on her face that she seemed to have kept hidden until then. “You’re really lucky, Leon. I don’t think you’re quite old enough yet to appreciate just how much.” She pointed at the hatch. “Shura is inside there. Be on your best behavior, young man. If she asks you something, answer truthfully. And whatever you do, don’t scream.”
And with that she nodded to one of her colleagues who pressed a number of buttons on a nearby by panel to open the hatch. The noise it made was indescribable, aside from loud. It honestly felt like I was right next to the lawn mower again, but the reverberations I felt echo through my whole body were more intense than the ones I felt during those precious few seconds between when my hand went under a wheel after I fell and when a blade gave it a handshake I’d never forget. It felt like the hatch itself was trying to suck me in as I started to be able to look inside, but it was just the doctor’s hands impatiently nudging me forward. I looked at her over my shoulder and it was only then I noticed one of her hands was white. I mean, she herself was white in the conventional sense, but her hand was WHITE, like the immaculate walls outside of the chamber.
“Go on,” she said. “And remember what I told you.”
I looked into the chamber and saw trees of all things. Another impatient nudge and I sheepishly entered the chamber, and not a moment sooner than when I was fully inside did the hatch close behind me. This time with lightning fast speed and a thunderous boom which almost knocked me from my feet.
It took me a minute to realize the chamber was a lot bigger than I initially thought it was. It was a giant white room that seemed to be even larger than the area outside, although there was nothing but rows of trees neatly aligned in rows, each confined to a square tile of soil and separated from the others by floor tiles. I looked around for a moment. There were door-less doorways here and there that just led into other rooms with more trees in them. I didn’t know where this Shura person was, but for some strange reason I felt compelled to examine one of the trees before looking for her.
It was a normal tree, wooden, leafy, but there was a mask on it. Or in it, rather. Its expression was hollow, mouth open, a pair of empty depressions in the trunk for eyes. Underneath it a word was carved, followed by the number 847. I couldn’t read the word the word very well because of how gnarled the trunk was. I went to run my finger over it.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose. It wasn’t the mask that spoke but a voice that was directly behind me, breathing into my ear. The shadow of a very tall woman was suddenly upon me, pressing down on my body.
Turning around I met her glare. Red Irises. Unkempt white hair. This person was terrifying somehow, just standing there. She had on a lab coat like everyone else in the building, but it was completely backless. I could tell because both of her sides past her stomach were bare skin.
She stepped forward. In an instant I was against the tree and her face was right against mine. Staring. Unblinking. I forgot how to breathe, let alone speak. All I could do was stare back. Her face curled into a smile I didn’t know faces were capable of making and she spoke. “You can look me in the eye and be quiet. Yes. Good. Good. That’s very good, little one.” She sat down on the floor in front of me, poking a finger at the stub of my right arm. “Is this why you’ve come to see me?”
I could only nod in response.
She took me by my hand and led me past a few rows of trees. There was a little platform that I couldn’t see before rising out of the floor. She had me stand in the middle of it and resumed staring directly at me.
She herself was centered in front of a row of trees that looked younger, more vibrant, greener that the ones at the door. There were carvings and numbers on these trees as well. I could clearly see the words this time, and they were all the same. “Dreg.” “Dreg #4055.” “Dreg #4056.” And so on.
I got so wrapped up in reading the numbers that I stopped paying attention to Shura, not that what she did next could’ve been prepared for. What gained my attention from her was the sickening snap of bone. Instantly reminded of my accident a month ago, I looked down at my remaining hand in horror, but it was fine. The sound happened again, and I looked up at Shura, who still looking at me.
Protruding and extending from her back were a bunch of long, thick, white branches of what I assumed were bone. I wanted to scream from the sight, and I would’ve, completely ignoring the warning the doctor gave me, if it weren’t for the fact that I couldn’t make any sound at all.
The bone branches stabbed into the first row of trees, and they began to shrivel up. Their leaves turned yellow, then red, then brown, then disintegrated over the course of seconds. Before I realized it, the same white stuff, bone, had wrapped around her right arm into a pointed tip and she stabbed it into my right arm. The lawn mower was less painful.
Still staring at me, unblinking, with her red irises, she pumped whatever it was she drained from the trees into my stub of my arm, and it began to grow back. I could feel each and every cell of nerve come back to life. I was screaming without a voice.
It lasted for about a minute before Shura withdrew her arm from mine. She smiled that smile again “Quiet. Yes. Very quiet indeed.” She patted my tear-stained face and reached into her lab coat. She pulled out a lollipop and pressed it into my new hand. “You’re a clumsy child, aren’t you? I can tell by the sawed edge of your bone.” She chuckled as she led me back to the door, giving me a little wave as the hatch began to open again. “I wonder if I’ll see you again,” I heard her chuckle once more and I clutched the lollipop tightly in my new hand, which was the same shade of white as the doctor’s now.
And that, as they say, was that. I haven’t seen Shura again, in case you were wondering. I haven’t, uh, had to. I’ve developed a healthy fear of dangerous machinery and a certain level of paranoia about keeping my grades up. Needless to say, I did indeed need those counseling services.
Do be careful, if you ever visit Ozard, for this is the kind of place Ozard is, with everything being done in the interest of our glorious nation.