Pushing (Part 2)
To read Part 1, please click here.
The countdown stops and there is a moment of silence. We’re all holding our breaths, even table 14 girl. There is a sudden burst of cold air from the vents above and table 5 boy gasps. The cold air drifts down and little bumps spread over my skin. I clench my teeth so they can’t shiver against each other. My breath freezes in the air above my nose. I close my eyes.
“Phase one commencing. Please begin with your toes,” the metallic voice commands.
It tickles, pushing my soul out of my cells. My feet are especially sensitive. Laughing now would be disastrous so I bite my cheek until a coppery tang reaches my tongue. The tickle eases with the pain. My toes feel lighter, stronger, no longer burdened by the weight of my soul. I keep pushing.
Inch by inch, I make sure to remove every spec of soul. I don’t want to fail the scan. Up my ankles, calves, thighs, my soul moves before pooling around my intestines. The real pain starts as small prickles around my knees and increasing to bruising aches in my thighs. My chest is rising and falling heavily and beads of sweat are rolling off my forehead. I take a moment to catch my breath. My legs tremble with lightness causing a slight hum from my table. Other tables are humming too.
“Please maintain control and begin phase two.”
I ignore the groan that comes from someone nearby and focus on removing my soul from each fingertip, left then right. I have to stop every couple of inches, check to make sure my soul isn’t leaking back into my legs, and catch my breath. Somewhere around my left elbow, my body starts fighting back hard. My body aches with fever and a tight coil of pain wraps around my abdomen. Tears leak out, but I manage to hold in my scream. Table 14 girl can’t hold in hers. Her scream sounds like when the guardians kill the kid goats for dinner. Soon moans and screams fill the cavernous room.
“Focus, children!” the voice booms out. The room vibrates with the sound and the screams are reduced to squeaks and groans. Our bodies may be fighting us now, but we can only achieve true freedom by releasing ourselves of the burden of a soul. “Begin phase three.”
I’ve let my thoughts stray, listening to the room and now must rush to catch-up. We only have an hour to push; any longer and the risk of fatalities skyrockets. I take a deep breath and dig my nails into my palms. With one big push I rip my soul from every cell in my upper arms and shoulders, depositing it in my abdomen. Everything from my skin to the marrow of my bones feels raw and tender. I’m breathing in short, sobbing gasps. My body wants me to stop. It’s trying to kill me with fever and pain.
My soul is testing my mental barrier that is holding it from reentering my limbs. Vile, selfish thing! I picture my parents. Happy. Happy and free. I picture the image of the shining, clean City, the place where we get to live once we’re soulless. So different from the grimy wilds of our youth. My parents, the City, a name, they’re what I’ve always wanted. And I intend to have them.
The brain is tricky, so many folds for the soul to hide. My closed eyes see a gray haze, as I sift every synapse, pushing toward my brain stem. I bend my knees to ease the building cramps, but my feet slip on my table, wet with sweat. I lose focus for an instant, as my legs fall in a metallic shudder. My soul swarms back into my brain. Panting, I start over.
I could pass out at any moment. I’m breathing, but it feels like the air stops in my throat. It’s not reaching my lungs, my limbs. I claw at my throat, feel the skin breaking beneath my nails, but it does no good. It’s a trick. My body is trying to trick me, so I pass out or lose focus. The guardians said it could happen. I repeat it in my mind. It’s all a trick. It’s all a trick. It’s all a trick. I can feel myself relaxing and suddenly I can breathe again. I push my soul from my face and neck. I can feel it roiling around my center, but it can’t get out. I’d laugh if it didn’t hurt so much.
“Begin phase 4.”
Phase 4! My limbs are shaking with excitement, along with the pain and exhaustion. I push my soul around and around my abdomen. It starts to form a small ball, getting more compact with each roll. It’s like rolling a boulder up a hill that gets steeper with each rotation. I place my hands hands over my belly-button. There’s so much pressure, I could explode. I roll and roll until my soul is the size of a pea. Then I push it into my heart.
White-hot pain sears me, like a flash of lightning. My back arches and leaves the table. My arms flail, but the only way out of this terror is to finish. I use every ounce of strength I have left and push my soul from my body, fling it really. It burns on it’s way out, leaves me gasping as I slump back to the table. The pain recedes. My fevered limbs cool and relax. I let the darkness of sleep claim me.
“Arise and enter the City,” the voice commands, bringing me out of my dreamless nap. “Your parents and names await you.”
Gingerly, I pull back my robe and run my fingers over my heart. I find the starburst-shaped burn, thick and raised, still tender to the touch. I smile and my stomach is empty of giggles. Metallic groans tell me others are rising and I move to do the same. I feel so light, like I have bird bones, all filled with air. I sit-up and meet the eyes of Table 5 boy, so blue and wide with fear.
Stay tuned for Jen’s No Rules Friday next week.