Epiphany – Part 5
by Steven Mace
“A what?” Thea asked, baffled, wiping her nose.
“What the hell is a Screecher?!” Clyde demanded to know, staring at the blood on his hands and pinching his nose.
Dr Elliott had rushed to a nearby table, upon which was a small case. She picked it up and went to the small boy who was being cradled by the woman, presumably his mother. After she had ushered away the annoyed crowd, she opened up the case and took out a needle. At the sight of it, the mother began to cry but did not pull her child away. Jane Elliott knelt down beside them and injected the boy with the needle.
The small crowd that had gathered now disintegrated, moving toward their respective cubicles and the bathrooms- probably to find tissues and cloths to wipe their noses clean of blood. Clyde had found a roll of tissue on the doctor’s table and took a considerable amount before handing the roll for Thea to take her share. After briefly comforting the mother and the boy (who now seemed unconscious), Dr Elliott returned to them and cleaned her own nose with the tissue. She had bled from her own nose quite profusely, staining her white coat, and Thea noticed that it had got worse in proximity to the small boy. Now however, everyone’s nose bleeds had dissipated.
“What was all that about?” Clyde asked the doctor, frowning.
“Oh. No, you might not know what a Screecher is.” Dr Elliott turned to give them both a serious stare through her glasses. “They’re basically mutants. They’re children whose brains have been altered by the aftershock.”
Thea stared at her. Dr Elliott’s words had brought back echoes from things she’d heard at the facility…
“What just happened was…well, in times of stress, like seeing strangers, these children send out a telepathic shockwave. It’s almost like a distress signal, but unless you’re telepathic, you won’t pick it up. It physically manifests itself in the form of a nosebleed.” Thea and Clyde listened to her intently. “It’s happened here several times, obviously people get frustrated about it but the child can’t help it. It’s a response to fear or anxiety. They call these mutants ‘Screechers’. It’s not nice to experience but…there are worse mutants out there.” Dr.Elliott did not elaborate.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that”, Clyde said. Thea thought she had heard something about it, in her past, but said nothing.
Dr Elliott nodded, and for a moment seemed distant. Then she brightened and said to them: “We have some spare space for you, if you’d like. I can find you a free bed and living space here. We’re not full, by any means. We also provide food, from a cafeteria, for all the refugees that are here.”
“That would be nice”, Thea replied, smiling at her. “It was such good fortune to find a safe place here. We’re very grateful.”
“Just as long as you don’t put us near a Screecher kid”, Clyde said quietly. Thea quickly elbowed him in the ribs. If Dr.Elliott had heard his words or noticed Thea’s reaction, she did not show it.
As they walked past the boy that Dr Elliott had called a ‘Screecher’, Thea looked at him more closely where he slept in his sobbing mother’s arms. The woman was dark-haired, and perhaps Latin in origin, but the boy had white hair. His skin was pale too, and Thea realised that he was probably an Albino. She felt sorry for him, as his mutation meant he was destined to be regarded as a freak all his life. Despite the experiments that had been done to her at the facility, at least she looked and acted normally.
As they walked through the hall of people, some refugees stared openly at Thea and Clyde, some gave them a casual glance as they passed and some ignored them completely. Eventually Dr Elliott led them to an empty living area with an empty bed. She smiled at them and indicated that they could drop their things there.
“Do make yourselves at home”, she said smiling. “The robots can bring you some fresh things to wear. I’ll notify them. ”
“Thanks”, Clyde and Thea said, almost in unison. Amused, Thea wondered how the doctor ‘notified the robots’. Dr Elliott turned as if to walk away, and then lingered. She turned back to them with a coy smile on her face.
“May I ask you something?” she said.
Clyde had already sat down on the edge of the bed provided in the living space. “What’s that? Go ahead.”
“Are you two a couple?”
Thea laughed and Clyde smiled. “No. We’re partners in crime…circumstances have thrown us together”, Clyde told her.
Dr Elliott blinked and then laughed in response. “I see. Partners in crime it is. Good luck then, and welcome to Safe Haven.” With that, she turned and walked away. As Thea busied herself, arranging their things, Clyde watched the doctor as she went away from them, her heels clicking on the hall floor as she walked. He stared at her long legs and stockings, visible underneath the hem of her white coat. She was attractive, he thought, more attractive than the scientists he’d known at the facility.
The robots brought them some fresh clothes as promised. They were ill-fitting, but Thea and Clyde were grateful for something else to wear. Their current clothes only reminded them of the facility. Both of them went behind a changing screen to dress in their new outfits. Both of them had been given orange jumpsuits.
Half an hour later, Clyde and Thea were startled by an alarm in the refugee hall that suddenly began ringing, drilling into their ears. It resonated throughout the hall. They looked at each other in astonishment, feeling anxious. Was there some kind of danger? Everyone around them suddenly started to get up and make their way out. Clyde peered down the aisle and saw that people were heading toward two large double doors near the centre of the hall.
Clyde caught the arm of a man who was passing. “Hey, where is everyone going?” he asked.
The man looked surprised. “To the cafeteria”, he said. “It’s twelve o’clock. It’s lunchtime.”
Feeling somewhat foolish, Clyde released the arm of the startled man and let him go. He turned to look at Thea, who relaxed and smiled back at him.
“Grub time”, Clyde said, grinning.
The cafeteria was another vast hallway within the structure that adjoined the refugees’ living hall. Everyone queued to be served food by robots behind counters at one end. Thea and Clyde joined the queue and waited patiently. As they were one of the last to enter, it took over half an hour to be served. There was not much diversity on offer. They were served potatoes, peas and chicken with gravy. It was the same meal that everyone received. Clyde wondered if everyone got the same meal every day, or if there was any kind of variety.
All the people were sat on long benches eating. The hall looked like one of the old prison dining rooms, in keeping with the orange jumpsuits that the robots had given them to wear. As they wandered around, looking for spare seats while carrying their trays, Clyde glanced around for Dr Elliott but he couldn’t see her. Finally, he and Thea took seats next to a thin, balding man with a crooked nose who was perhaps in his early sixties, and a slightly overweight thirtyish looking man with thinning black hair.
Clyde and Thea were hungry, and they were more interested in food than conversation. They had been sat there for a few minutes, and then the younger man –who had been casting curious glances toward them- decided to introduce himself.
“Hi”, he said. “I’m Paulie. You guys are new, aren’t you?”
As his mouth was full, Clyde nodded. “Yeah. We only arrived today”, he said finally.
“So what’s your back story?” Paulie asked. “Where you from?”
“Home town was destroyed”, Thea lied. She gave Clyde a meaningful look.
“Yeah, been wandering coast to coast since”, Clyde said uncertainly.
“Jesus!” Paulie seemed surprised. “It’s a miracle you guys survived. There are some nasty mutants out there. I’m telling you, really nasty things. You’re lucky to be alive. You’re safe here though.”
“How safe is anybody, anywhere?” The new speaker was a much younger man with light brown-coloured hair, sat several seats away. He’d evidently been eavesdropping on the conversation.
“This place is as safe as anywhere can be now”, Paulie replied, speaking loudly so that the man with light brown hair could hear him. Clyde glanced down the table and briefly made eye contact with the man who had spoken, but that man said nothing more. Clyde looked at Paulie questioningly.
“That’s Elijah”, Paulie whispered. “Strange kid. I’d avoid him, if I were you.”
As Clyde sliced into one of his potatoes with his knife, he thought that he’d be avoiding most of their fellow refugees for now. He didn’t need to look at Thea to know she was probably thinking exactly the same thing…