Part 1 of 4
Change is the only constant in Annabelle's life. Changes that only seem to result in more pain. But although this newest change may be painful it offers a hope for a real life; if she can find the strength to fight for it...
Smack! "Worthless bitch!" Dad yelled down at me.
I held my hand to my burning face where Dad slapped me and tried not to cry. Under his wrathful gaze I scurried out of the room and started making dinner. Why did I have to be so useless?
I'd just gotten everything started when Jerry came home. He glared at me when he saw that dinner wasn't ready yet, "Can't you do anything right?!"
I hung my head and hid my tears behind my long hair. "Sorry Jerry." I mumbled.
He shook his head as he walked out, muttering, "Stupid girl!"
I sighed and focused on cooking. When it was done I turned it down and told Dad and Jerry. By the time they got to the kitchen I had their plates ready for them on the table along with their drinks. They each glared at me as they ate, never giving any indication if they liked it. But that was normal.
Ever since Mom died things had been different. Dad was always disappointed to have a girl, though Mom said he mellowed when Jerry was born a year later. He still never had much use for me until Mom died and he suddenly needed someone else to cook and clean for him. I tried hard, but I wasn't as good as Mom had been.
I waited patiently as Jerry and Dad inhaled their food. When they demanded more I silently filled their plates and stood aside. When they were done I removed their dishes and brought out dessert. While they were eating that I cleaned their dishes. Once that was done I removed the last of the dishes and cleaned up. The whole time I was as quiet as I could be. I'd long since learned that attracting attention was not a good idea.
Once all that was done I could finally start eating my own dinner. Then I had to clean my dishes and the pans I used to make dinner. Leftovers went to the dog on a plate that I then had to clean. Then it was time for house cleaning.
By eight o'clock I was exhausted, but could finally start on my homework. I wasn't sure how long I could keep this pace up, but I didn't have any choice. As my father kept reminding me, my Mom had worked all day and still did everything I was doing now. I knew I could never fill Mom's shoes, though. I'm just not strong enough.
I only went to college because Mom had wanted me to. It seemed pointless, now, though.
I was startled from a light doze by my father yelling, "The toilet's stopped up again! Fix it!"
Groggily I got to my feet and walked towards the bathroom with my father's glare burning into my back. But when I got to the doorway I suddenly felt weak and dizzy. I grabbed onto the door frame to keep from falling.
"What are you waiting for?!" Dad growled, stomping towards me.
"Sorry!" I tried to say, but suddenly I couldn't speak as a dark green light filled my vision. It passed quickly, but with a sinking feeling in my stomach I looked down at myself. As I feared, I'd changed. I was a Wyld now. And was it my imagination or was my skin kind of greenish?
"Shit!" Dad exclaimed in shock, stopping several feet away from me. But he quickly shook off his surprise, "I should have known a worthless bitch like you would turn out to be one of those freaks!" With that he turned and marched out.
I looked after him in sorrow, knowing my miserable life was about to get worse. Unable to restrain my curiosity, I stepped into the bathroom and turned on the light to get a look at the new me. I gasped in shock at the sight.
The woman in the mirror was taller than before; perhaps six foot tall. I did, indeed, have greenish skin, though it was fairly pale. Muscles bulged with every movement of my arms like some kind of body builder; though my arms weren't that much thicker than before. My fingernails had grown half an inch and turned black. They seemed thicker, too. But the real shock was my face.
Thick eye ridges protruded above my beady yellowish-brown eyes. The whole structure of my face was changed by thick, hard planes from protruding bone. And my canine teeth had elongated into small tusks. Oily black hair did nothing to enhance my almost masculine appearance. I was hideous!
After long seconds of staring in the mirror I think I screamed. The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor in tears and men were bustling into the bathroom. I looked up wearily to see Wyld Control officers. I started to panic, but before I could make a move I was chained at the neck, wrists and ankles. The chains were quickly connected to each other and a leash attached to the neck with which I was hauled painfully to my feet.
No words were spoken as they dragged me out of the house. My father glared at me as I passed, while my brother grinned malevolently. My life was officially over.
A new life awaited me; I knew that. A life even more difficult than the one I had known. The life of a slave.
There was at least a week of abuse and humiliation before that life began. I had to be 'evaluated' and examined by a stream of nameless faces before I got the collar that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
The day I got the collar was a relief, despite the grueling work I was immediately thrust into. No more faceless scientists, doctors and whatever. And no more abuse from bored guards. Or so I thought.
My job was in a factory. Making what I really don't know. It was on an assembly line, so I only saw part of it. I was chained to my station twenty hours a day. For the remaining four I was allowed to sleep while a 'real human' did the job in relative comfort.
Dry meat, bread and water were all we were given. Not a lot of it, either. There were hundreds of slaves in the factory that I knew of. Maybe thousands. We were forbidden to talk to each other but we often managed amidst the noise of the machines. Learning to talk without moving your mouth or looking at the person you're talking to helped.
I was there for three months before I got the hang of it and was able to speak to the other slaves without being caught. Usually.
The slave next to me, a snake man with a pronounced lisp, was the first I talked to. "How long have you been here?" was the first question to which I was able to get an answer other than a whip.
"Nine months." he replied, his eyes darting to meet mine for a fraction of a second before returning to his work. He never looked at me again, but we began speaking regularly. Usually about our lives before going Wyld. We both agreed it was the worst thing that ever happened to us, despite having pretty lousy lives before hand.
During those first three months I witnessed many whippings and beatings and three deaths. My neighbor, Sam, had seen far more. He told me that to the best of his knowledge slaves never lasted more than a year in the factory. He was well aware of what that could mean for him.
Another month had gone by when a new Wyld joined our ranks to replace the man who had been on the other side of me. He had been working slower and slower and suddenly stopped. When he was whipped and told to get back to work he hadn't reacted at all. That was the closest to death I'd ever been and it wasn't pretty.
The new Wyld was, if anything, even uglier than me. She had such brutish features that I could only tell she was female because she had breasts. She quickly learned to converse as we did and was soon talking about escape.
"Shh, don't let them hear you talking about that!" I'd whispered the first time she brought it up.
"I know people who will help us." she had replied. I doubted that very much. Nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of the Wyld Control office. Those guys were brutal to anybody that got in their way, Wyld or not.
But she kept talking about it and trying to get me to agree to help her. I finally did, just to shut her up. I was afraid the guards would hear and punish us both. Sam thought I shouldn't encourage her, but I didn't think anything would happen.
I was so wrong!
Three weeks after she first mentioned escape it happened. Four hours into our shift the ground started shaking. The machines groaned alarmingly, some smaller pieces falling to the floor. Everyone started screaming and the guards flailed about with their whips indiscriminately.
Then the whole building shook, dust falling from the rafters. Then it shook again, and again. Lisa, my new neighbor, grinned. "They're here!" she said.
I just blinked at her in shock. I'd thought it was an earthquake, but she thought her friends were doing this?! Some friends if they brought the building down around our ears!
A terrifying roar shook the building again, causing everyone to pull against their chains in a panic. Even the guards looked worried now. Lisa jut grinned and gave one quick pull at her chain, snapping it with ease. I goggled at her as she calmly did the same for my chains and Sam's.
"I'm an ogre." she'd said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "C'mon!"
She didn't try to free anybody else, but then there were several others doing that. The guards were busy fighting several Wyld. Some of them were slaves, but some were in far too good condition to be slaves. Where they could have come from I couldn't imagine.
We ran, but Sam was falling behind. In frustration Lisa picked him up and threw him over her massive shoulder. I hadn't realized quite how big she was. She had always been hunched over but I could see now that she was close to seven feet tall.
A guard tried to get in the way but I surprised both of us when I caught the whip he swung at me and pulled it right out of his hand. Lisa got over her surprise quickly, backhanding the guard out of the way.
When we reached the outside wall of the factory I stopped in shock. There was a gaping hole in the wall about fifteen feet high and at least as wide. The edges were torn and bent inwards like jagged teeth. Through the hole I could see dozens of guards fighting with Wyld while a group of what looked like soldiers were firing on something that looked suspiciously like a dragon!
"C'mon! We don't have much time!" Lisa yelled back at me. She'd paused just long enough to yell at me before plowing on through the guards that tried to stop her. I shook myself and followed.
As we came out of the factory the noise level changed as the machines became less overpowering and the roars of the dragon and the gunfire took over.
The dragon was massive, at least a hundred feet long. It looked just like ones I'd seen in movies with a long, thin neck and four strong legs with long claws. It's wings were folded down against it's body, but most have been truly amazing unfurled!
Lisa led me through the chaos as if it wasn't even there. She never even glanced at the dragon or the other Wyld. They all made way for us before resuming their fight. The guards were too busy to interfere.
We got clear of the fighting and found ourselves in a parking lot behind the factory bordered by thick forest. A single road breached the wall of trees and it was filled with military vehicles!
"Damn, they responded faster than I thought!" Lisa growled, turning away from the road and into the forest. I followed, hearing bullets hitting the asphalt too close for comfort.
In seconds we were in amongst the trees. Lisa seemed to know where she was going; though how I couldn't imagine. I could only see a dozen feet in any direction before the thick growth blocked my view.
We weren't the only ones in the forest. Wyld and soldiers alike were barreling through, occasionally clashing. Shots rang out from time to time, though how close I couldn't guess.
Suddenly we broke through into a clearing. A giant fallen tree filled part of the clearing, with it's base near the center. Lisa went directly towards the giant stump.
"What are you doing?" I asked when she started pulling loose branches away from the base of the stump.
"Escape tunnel!" she replied, pushing Sam at me. He seemed glad to be on his feet again.
In moments the hidden door was revealed and she heaved it open. It was thick, solid wood and probably too heavy for any ordinary person. Even Lisa seemed to have some trouble. She held it open and ushered us inside. Sam gestured for me to go first and, not wanting to delay things any more than necessary, I went without protest.
That's what saved me, and doomed poor Sam. Shots rang out just as I descended into the tunnel and I heard Sam grunt in pain. Lisa pushed me down further into the tunnel and dropped the door, effectively sealing me in. I heard more shots and what sounded like Lisa grunting in pain before I fled.
I kept telling myself that I should go back and help them but part of me realized that they were already dead. And I would be, too, if I didn't hurry. Not that I knew where I was going. I could only hope that Lisa's friends had planned for this.
My steps became slower and slower as I ran, then walked, then stumbled along the dark passage. There were no visible lights, but I could still see. Barely. Before long I was left leaning against the soft dirt wall, gasping for air.
Shouts behind me spurred me on, though I couldn't move very quickly. But soon the passageway opened out into a large, roughly circular chamber with several other entrances. All of which were rough and looked hurriedly dug except for one. In the center a tall Wyld who looked similar to Lisa was directing other Wyld coming from the tunnels through that one, older, stone passageway.
I stumbled over some loose rocks and fell at his feet. He seemed to recognize me somehow, asking, "Where's Lisa?"
I shook my head, "She shoved me through and closed the door. There were soldiers and..." I couldn't continue, but he understood.
He shook his head sadly and helped me to my feet. "I'm sorry to hear that, Lisa was a friend. Can you walk?"
I shrugged, "I'll manage, I guess."
He frowned, but nodded, "This operation didn't go as smoothly as we'd like. A lot of good people died out there today. We're going to have to collapse these tunnels to keep them from following us. We'll start with yours, since it's obviously compromised." With that he pointed his hand at the tunnel while looking at a normal looking girl with bright neon green hair. She nodded and stared at the tunnel. With a groan it collapsed, throwing dust into my face. When it cleared there was no sign there had ever been a tunnel there.
As others came through the tunnels they would indicate whether more were coming or not and the tunnels were collapsed one by one. I don't know why I waited. I told myself to catch my breath but maybe I was just scared. Every time my life changed it did so for the worse. What waited for me outside that last tunnel?
Finally the last tunnel went. Dozens of Wyld had escaped, along with at least half a dozen Wyld who had helped in the escape. With the collapse of the last tunnel the girl with the green hair gestured for me to go through the stone tunnel. Reluctantly, I did. Everyone who was left followed after with the girl going last. Once we were all inside she collapsed the chamber as well.
I followed the others, wondering where we were going. Would it be any better than what I left? I didn't even know why I'd been freed, or by who. The fact there were Wyld among them was promising, but hardly proved their benevolence.
The tunnel was long and every so often it would shake as the girl would collapse another section of it. This was a lot louder than when she collapsed the other corridors as this one was mostly stone instead of dirt. I wondered how the dirt ones had held up at all and guessed the green haired girl did it somehow. She obviously had a lot of power.
A lot of us were dragging our feet; falling behind the rest from fatigue. The man who had asked about Lisa stayed at the rear and encouraged us. Finally he picked the last one in the group up when he proved incapable of going any farther. Half an hour later I was being bounced along on his other shoulder when I collapsed. Thankfully I passed out soon after.
I woke in another underground passage; a natural cave this time. I found I was lying on a sleeping bag in a long row of sleeping bags. Other Wyld laid on some, while others looked to have been used recently but were empty now. I glanced around and saw Wyld wandering around, talking quietly or just staring at the walls. The green haired girl and the big guy who carried me were no where in sight.
A man I vaguely remembered from the factory was sitting nearby, so I walked over to him. "Where are we?" I asked him.
He shrugged, "No idea. Somewhere safe, supposedly. Haven't seen our 'hosts' for a couple of hours now. Don't like it."
I could only nod in reply. Were we going to be sold off to somebody else, or was this a legitimate rescue? He seemed doubtful, but I remembered him being pessimistic before.
I was still tired, so I laid back down and hoped for the best. There was nothing else I could do.
I must have fallen asleep, as the shaking of the ground woke me. I joined the others in looking around in fright for the source. A moment later it proved to be the dragon. He wasn't moving as smoothly as before and had several scales missing with rivulets of blood dried here and there, but he was still moving. Or she, I couldn't tell.
"Hello everyone!" his voice boomed, shaking the cave again. "Sorry if I frightened you. We're ready to move you all further towards freedom now. Just follow me and don't be afraid!"
With that he somehow turned around even though the cave seemed no wider than his shoulders. We all glanced doubtfully at each other, shrugged, and followed. At the prompting of someone riding on the dragon's back we gathered up the sleeping bags and carried them with us.
He was riding just above the tail. Once we had gathered all the sleeping bags and were following along as closely as we dared, he spoke up again, "I imagine you're all wondering why we're doing this, right?" Several people nodded warily, "That's fine, I was cautious when I was rescued, too. To put it simply, we've all been in the same boat. Or at least a similar one. Everyone here is Wyld. Our patrons are mostly normals who hate how Wyld are treated and wanted to help."
"Where are we going?" a woman asked hesitantly.
He frowned, "Well, normally we'd just smuggle you guys out to the safer states around here. But the army is in on this one. Usually we just have to deal with the police and maybe some spooks. Troublesome, but not too bad. With the army being involved we're going to have to move you all down through Mexico."
I gasped at that. I'd heard rumors of how chaotic Mexico had become. Although the country was technically intact, it sounded like a loosely allied group of warlords rather than a proper country. And most of the warlords were powerful Wyld or had powerful Wyld among their troops.
He nodded at our reaction, I was hardly the only one concerned about it, "I know. Mexico isn't ideal, but it gets us out of the states. Most of the states have mutual assistance agreements when it comes to Wyld, so this takes us out of the equation for them since none of them are in good standing with Mexico. We're not going to dump you in Mexico, though. We've arranged for a boat to take you all to Hawaii. It's a long trip, but the destination is about as good as it gets for our kind."
There were excited whispers and relieved sighs at that. Hawaii definitely sounded promising. Even freaks like me were supposed to be accepted there.
He didn't have anything else to say after that and joined us, saying he felt guilty getting a free ride while we were all on foot. I liked him immediately.
The cave opened out sometime later. The dragon left then, saying he would attract too much attention. The man stayed behind, along with two other people who had been riding the dragon's back.
We trudged along for hours before reaching a small shack out in the middle of nowhere. It was only five feet on a side. But when opened it revealed canteens full of water and some canned food. And a couple of can openers. There were also some large backpacks which all the food fit into. The ones who came with the dragon carried those while we each got a canteen and a caution to drink sparingly.
The girl with the green hair and the other guy weren't with us and I wondered where they'd gone. That was answered a few hours later when we came across a large mound of dirt. They were both waiting there and it didn't take much to realize the mound must be the entrance to another tunnel.
It wasn't a tunnel, though, but a large room hollowed out of the ground. When we were all inside the green haired girl sealed the entrance. "Are we going underground the whole way?" a guy asked.
The green haired girl shook her head, "It takes too long to build tunnels for that. I'll be coming along to provide shelter to sleep under at night, but that's the best I can do."
After that everyone opened their sleeping bags and laid down. We were all tired from the long walk, and the lack of good food and rest at the factory. We were too tired to eat.
Wonderful smells awoke us in the morning. Our guides were sitting around a fire, heating some of the cans of food. When one was deemed finished it was handed off to one of us. Before long I was eating, or more accurately drinking, some kind of soup with lots of vegetables and meat in it. It was the best tasting food I'd ever tasted!
We left the cave as soon as everyone was done eating. We all had a new spring in our step. Not only were we free, but we had full bellies for the first time since this whole thing began.
Everyone was more animated that day, and even more so the next. That's when I noticed one of the guys kept staring at me. He didn't even stop when I looked his way; he just grinned at me in a way which made my blood run cold. It was just like the grin my brother sometimes had.
That night he laid his sleeping bag next to mine without saying a word. I thought my fears unfounded when he settled down to sleep with his back turned toward me. But I couldn't sleep.
Some time later he sat up, his gaze slowly passing over everyone. When he was satisfied with what he saw he turned to me. "Time for a little fun, girl." he said, grinning lasciviously.
My heart dropped at his words. They were so familiar... I phased out.
To Be Continued...
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