This story is by Asma’ Jailani and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The room’s cold; like most things in the facility, and Jason shivers, his scratchy sweater not helping much.
“Alright,” a voice says from a speaker fixed on the wall. A one-way mirror takes up half of the wall in front of him, separating Jason from the scientists behind the glass. “Take them off.”
Jason acquiesces, peeling off his black nitrile gloves to reveal smooth hands with thin fingers and too-short nails. He wonders when the day will come for these hands to morph into something more gruesome. Alien appendages or perhaps even claws; a clearer indication of the pain these hands could inflict.
“You see that orange?” His attention is drawn to the fruit lying on the table at the center of the room. “Focus only on a single section. Restrain your ability to affect a single part of the fruit and not the whole thing.”
Jason moves to grasp the orange with both hands. He zeroes down on a single section, willing only that part to be touched by decay.
He watches, resigned, as the whole fruit takes on a darker hue, the formerly vivid orange turning a sicklier shade. Slowly, green fuzz creeps along the smooth skin, followed by mottled blue patches and Jason releases the fruit from his hold, his skin crawling. He feels sick.
Jason hates his hands.
Because his hands make him a monster. They’re the reason why people shoot him wary glances in the corridors and inch away out of arm’s reach, as if a single touch is all it will take to knock them dead.
They’re not wrong, but it still sucks.
That disembodied voice returns, flat and devoid of emotion. “You wanna try that again, Jason?”
No. Jason doesn’t want to try again. All he wants to do is return to his room and burrow under his synthetic fiber blanket, so he can forget the image of something reduced to rot underneath his palms.
Instead, he nods, not trusting his voice, and it takes several moments before the door behind him clicks open; someone with another fruit, maybe an apple this time.
Underneath the table, Jason tries to stop his hands from shaking.
He’s halfway through the eBook version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when he hears a knock on the door.
Strange. He hasn’t had visitors since the doctors and caretakers who used to come by when he was first admitted into the facility.
The door opens, and in steps a man. He grins at Jason, surprisingly at ease. < Is he lost?
“Hello!” The man says cheerily. “I’m Luke, and from today onwards, I’ll be your friend!”
Jason doesn’t move when Luke sticks out a hand for him to shake. He merely gazes at him speculatively, government issued tablet gripped like a shield.
“Ah, right.” The hand retreats. “Sorry about that.”
“That should be my line.” As quiet as Jason’s voice is, it carries well enough through the small room, and he forgoes his tablet to get up and pull on his gloves instead, anything besides watching Luke, who was now looking at him with an emotion he refused to name.
After Jason’s done pulling on his gloves, Luke sticks out a hand again.
This guy really doesn’t give up, does he?
“I’m Jason,” he says begrudgingly as he shakes Luke’s hand. “And you’re crazy.”
“I’m not crazy, I’m simply following orders.”
“So you’re here unwillingly. Should’ve known.”
Luke shoots him a funny look. “I don’t think twelve-year olds should be this salty.”
“Well, twelve-year olds shouldn’t be able to make things age at an abnormally fast rate with a single touch either, but I guess I’m just special.” Jason spits out that last word; venom in his mouth. He slinks away to sit on the bed, content to leave Luke standing.
“Honestly kid, I don’t think this thing you have is as bad as it seems.”
Jason glances sharply at him. “Get out.”
Something in Jason’s eyes unsettles Luke, because he backs away, hands held up in surrender. “I can prove it to you the next time I come.”
He doesn’t bother to respond, only waiting for Luke to leave.
Once the door shuts behind him, Jason rips off his gloves and throws them across the room.
Jason’s been in a sour mood since this morning -yet another examination failed- and he throws his ‘friend’ a sharp look.
“Oh great, you’re here again.” He notices that Luke has something held behind his back, and his curiosity overpowers his distaste. “What’s that?”
Luke grins, somehow brighter than the fluorescent lighting overhead. “It’s a peace offering,” he says before presenting the surprise with a flourish.
“…Dirt. You brought me dirt in a pot.”
“C’mon kid, I know you’re smarter than this. What’s dirt used for?”
“It’s used to grow stuff.” Only then does it click.
“Give it a try,” Luke says, before Jason can shoot the unspoken suggestion down.
He’s never used his ability for something like this. For life, instead of decay and destruction. It sends a thrill of intermingling hope and fear shooting through his spine, and he finds that his hands are shaking.
Slowly, Jason sticks his fingers into the pot, digging around until he feels the tiny seed embedded in the soil. After a while, he feels something shift under his touch, and he watches in awe as a green sprout slowly pushes through the soil, leaves gradually unfurling.
“Alright, that should be enough.”
Jason startles and removes his fingers from the soil. It’s probably just his imagination, but they actually feel kinda tingly.
“Well?” Jason looks up to see the smug look on Luke’s face. “Told ya it wasn’t so bad.” He curls his fingers into fists. Luke was right. It wasn’t.
But then reality kicks in. “But they don’t want me to garden for them. They want me to use my hands to destroy.”
“What if I told you that it’s a little different than that? What if I told you that those hands of yours could heal?”
That single sentence hits Jason like a freight train.
“I’m not.” Luke’s smile is still easy. “It all depends on you getting a handle on your… whatever first, though.”
Suddenly, all the examinations make sense.
“Unfortunately,” Luke continues. “The higher ups have grown impatient. They think it’s about time you earn your keep and use your ability the only way you know how to.”
Dread swirls into a hard lump that weighs down Jason’s stomach. “What do you mean?”
“A couple of scouts from an enemy country just got captured,” Luke explains. “Even after interrogation, their traps are still shut. The higher ups think it would be a good idea to use you to intimidate them into spilling the beans.”
Jason doesn’t want him to say it. He doesn’t-
“They’re gonna make you kill their comrades right in front of them.”
His world comes to a screeching halt.
“You’re lying. There’s no way that they’re gonna use me like that. There’s no-“ The words catch in Jason’s throat. Sure, it wasn’t the best way to live but they treated him decently and let him read books and have warm meals. He never got abused for his inadequacy, even in the early stages of his stay when he would break down into a crying fit in the middle of the night, the nightmares jolting him out of his sleep.
“I’m here to get you out.”
“You can’t,” Jason spits. “The first thing they told me when I stepped foot in here was how lucky I was. That outside, there would only be people who’d exploit me or kill me. That I was so lucky because they were willing to accept a monster.”
Funny, since he always felt anything but lucky.
“I’m from an organization that’s willing to take a gamble with you,” Luke says. “We still think that this ability of yours can be used for good instead of bad.”
“What if you’re just lying to me? What if you’re just trying to use me too?”
Irritation flashes across Luke’s face. “Alright, so maybe you can’t trust me. For all it’s worth, I could be planning to abduct you just so I can use you as some twisted weapon.” He quirks an eyebrow at him. “And let’s say that what I’ve been telling you is all true, and you follow me out. There’s no guarantee that I won’t throw you to the wolves should you be unable to control your ability. At the end of the day, it’s your choice, kid.”
“What do you mean it’s-“
The ground shakes under his feet, an ominous rumble echoing throughout the building and Luke grabs his elbow before he can stumble.
“That’s my cue, kid.” He strides to the door, pulling it open before turning back to him. “You in or not?”
He shoves the bile rising in his throat back down and grabs his gloves.