Okay, so I just wrote this up in an hour this morning… I think I’m going to serialize the story here. Seems like there’s a lot I could do with it. Let me know what you think! Oh yeah, and if anyone tries to steal it, I’ll hunt you down myself. With a chainsaw.
By Jared Schmitz
My little brother is dying.
He’s only seven. Sweet little fella. He’s got hair curly as mine, just as blond, but he’s also got Pa’s dark soft eyes and that golden-brown skin. Me, I take after Mama. Pale as a sheet, I am, and no one could tell by looking at me that my mama and pa ain’t the same color. They give us grief for that, at school: they tell me it ain’t right for two folks of different color to have kids. Some call my mama a–
But that ain’t no matter. No one treats anyone nice in school. It’s been that way forever and ever and it won’t ever change.
He’s wasting away.
I remember his face, as I swing up toward the sky. Back and forth, forth and back, not stopping. It’s all sweaty, my little brother’s face. Dripping, almost. His hair sticks to his forehead. Eyes won’t open. He shakes, but I touch his hand and it’s cold, too cold, like a dead pig. I touched one before they took them away. No one’s allowed to keep pigs no more. I wonder if we’ll get to keep my little brother. Mama and Pa ain’t called the doctor yet. They’re holding off, they don’t want to let them know my little brother is sick. I don’t want them to know either. I don’t trust them.
I know that’s a horrible thing to say. Doctors is everything. These days most everyone gets sick. We wouldn’t survive without those doctors. Pa says when he was a little boy, and the world was bright and shiny and new, people didn’t get sick so much, and doctors weren’t so important. But these days everyone has a disease. Those doctors, they’re giving everyone all these medicines, vaccinating and vaccinating, but I never seen no call for it. I been taught in school most of these diseases are all in your head, but if that’s so, why do they need so much medicine? Imaginary diseases can’t hurt you none, can they?
But my little brother’s disease don’t look so imaginary. I heard Mama and Pa talking one night, when I was supposed to be asleep. They said his body don’t like the medicine. They said he had a reaction. Pa talked about his brother, who also reacted and the doctors came and took him away. My uncle. I never knew I had an uncle. Never met him. Never saw him. Because the doctors took him away.
That night, I prayed they wouldn’t take my little brother away. I prayed to the Old God, the one who you ain’t supposed to pray to anymore. They called him Jesus Christ, and just speaking that name made me shiver all over ‘cause it was so illegal. They said those Christians were Terrorists. Didn’t tolerate no one and just wanted to kill everyone. Well, they sure caused a lot of damage before they all got killed, so I figured their Old God must have some sort of power. So I prayed to him.
In the next few days, my brother got even worse. I couldn’t bear to look at him. So I came out here. To the playground. It’s old. It’s rusted up. No one ever comes here anymore. The reason is that old church next to the swings and stuff. It had a steeple, with a big old cross on top, but that steeple’s been pulled down. You can still see the cross, though. Right there. Half-buried. There’s bits of colored glass around it, from when they smashed the pretty colored windows. It’s all graffitied up now, with bad words Mama told me never to say.
Pa told me it used to be, people would come here and sing. They’d all sing together, which no one does anymore, because the only singing you hear is from the Stars. I never liked their singing. It’s all about love and beauty and boring stuff. I never liked the Stars neither, but that’d get me in trouble if I said it. They always seemed like plastic to me. Plastic skin. Plastic faces. Hair like wires. Don’t look real, none of them, and sometimes I secretly think they might be robots. I told Mama once, and she laughed, but then she looked scared. She pointed at the Eye in the corner. Everyone’s got an Eye in their house. It watches ‘em. Makes sure they don’t say anything bad.
I swing to a stop, my feet dragging over the old rotted bark chips on the ground. I know I’m just trying to get my mind off it. Off my poor little brother, who’s like to die. I should be thinking of him. Trying to find a way to save him. But I don’t know what to do. Them doctors, they’d say he needs drugs. Drugs and drugs and drugs, they’d say, to fix him so he won’t react to the drugs he’s already taking. When I think of drugs, I start feeling sick. It’s been too long since my last dose. They say if you go too long without those drugs, you might die. I don’t want to die, not yet, so I get off the swing and run on home.
Mama and Pa are out to work. They won’t be here ‘til it gets dark, ‘cause they’re busy being productive. People always say “a productive person is a happy person!” And why would they lie?
My little brother’s on the couch, a blanket over him, moaning.
I don’t look at him. I go to the Drug Cabinet, which takes up a whole wall, and take out my pills. Three different bottles, red, blue, green. I take them, and sigh with relief. Then I look at my brother. A whole Drug Cabinet, and nothing in there to help him. I kneel next to him, and take his hand. It’s cold. So cold. It reminds me of the pig again. I put my hand on his forehead. That part of him’s hot, like the oven when Mama used to cook, back before we came to town. I don’t see how we can go much longer without calling the doctor. But they might take him away. Sometimes they do when someone has a reaction. They might say he ain’t fit to live, they might say he’s too sick and a danger to society. But no one else can help him. None of us townsfolk, none of us know nothing about medicines and drugs and stuff.
Then I remember someone.
It was years ago, when I was just a little girl. There were an old woman, who lived outside of town. Out in the country. Most people who live out in the country are farmers, and I should know because we were farmers, before they killed all our animals and made Mama and Pa work in the food factory. Like a farm, they said it was, but better, because you didn’t have to kill no animals to make the food. Didn’t hurt nothing to make food from chemicals, so weren’t that the humane thing?
So there was an old woman. She weren’t a farmer. She had this little cottage out in the woods, made of rocks and logs, the roof all overgrown with moss. Lovely little thing, it was. I used to visit her, and I’d go on bare feet through the soft dirt. It felt good between my toes, that dirt. The old woman always laughed when I told her that. She seemed happier than anyone I’d known. Always happier, even though her face was wrinkled and brown and she wouldn’t get no beauty treatments. They said ugly people were sad people, but she never seemed so sad to me, and when she smiled, she wasn’t so ugly neither.
She called herself an herbalist. Wouldn’t take no drugs or no medicines, she just gathered up leaves and mushrooms and plants and gross things, and made them into her own tinctures and elixirs and such. She said they were better than the medicines them doctors would prescribe. She said those medicines had bad stuff in them, but her herbs wouldn’t hurt nothing. A queer sort, she was, but that never bothered me. She had a granddaughter my age, who lived with her, and believed in everything she said, and that always made me trust her. An old lady with a little granddaughter couldn’t be so bad.
One day they came. Dressed all in black. Black visors over their faces. That dreaded word on their shields, “POLICE.” They beat her half to death and dragged her away, the herbalist. Called her a witch. Said she was an evil Pagan. Took her granddaughter, but Mama came and rescued me before they could take me too. Weren’t long after that that they killed our animals and we lost the farm.
The old herbalist lady could help my brother. If she was still alive. If I could ever find her.
He gasped in a breath, his chest heaving.
“Sh,” I whispered, resting my head on him. He smelled sick. Smelled terrible.
I wished the herbalist was still here. They said Pagans was evil. Bad as Christians. Those Pagans didn’t want to listen to the doctors, didn’t want to use no drugs and medicines, so people said that they weren’t right in the head. Said they all had mental disorders, and should die before they could breed and pass the disorder to everyone else. Pagans is almost as hunted as Christians these days. Nobody’s allowed to talk about magic or witches, and they banned my Pa’s favorite book. But that as back when novels were still allowed. These days, they say novels are lies, and no one should read anything that ain’t government issue.
I fall asleep with my head on my little brother’s chest. I might catch the disease from him, but that ain’t no matter. I don’t see how life’ll ever be the same without my little brother in it. I dream while I’m sleeping there, about a doctor coming with a needle, and jabbing my little brother in the arm. He don’t wake up after that. But I wake up. I wake up screaming. Mama comes running, and wraps her arms around me.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” she murmurs.
“He’s going to die,” I say, my voice all choked.
“Sh, sh. He won’t.” She strokes my hair. “Everything will be all right.”
But I don’t believe her. “He’s going to die!” I repeat, louder. “The drugs don’t work on him! He ain’t gonna survive without those drugs! And if them doctors come, they’ll give him more and that’ll kill him for sure!”
Mama’s face was white. Pa came over then, a sandwich in one hand, gaping at us. I didn’t stop shouting.
“I hate doctors! They just want us all to take their drugs and take more drugs, and they don’t care nothing for little brothers who–who–Mama, he’s going to die!” And I bury my face in Mama’s shoulder, crying, crying so many tears I feel like my eyes might fall out.
A noise comes from the corner. I go all tense and hard, because I know that noise, it’s the noise the Eye makes, and it means someone is coming. I pull away from Mama, and see her staring at Pa, both their eyes wide.
“Mama,” I whimper, tugging at her shirt. I know I’m acting like a little girl, but I don’t care.
“They won’t let us off so easy this time,” Pa says, his voice deadly serious.
Mama nods, and it looks like she’s going to cry. But she doesn’t. She stands, and she puts a hand on my shoulder.
“We’re going to leave now,” she says. She tries to smile, but she can’t, not with the tears leaking from her eyes. “Pack your things. And hurry.”
She doesn’t say it loud. She doesn’t say it fast. But I know I better do what she wants. I run to my room and throw everything into my little pink backpack, my favorite clothes, my notebook, my pencils I use for drawing and sometimes writing. But that’s all in there I care about. Don’t care about none of the old toys. At the last minute I take my yellow teddy bear. When I leave my room, Pa has my little brother strapped to his back, and Mama is wearing another backpack, much bigger than mine. The sound of sirens comes from outside. Them sirens, I’ve heard them before, and they always scare me. It means the Police are coming. Means they’re going to take someone away. Those sirens played before they beat up the old herbalist lady. They’re playing now, as we run out through the back door, and sneak away before the Police cordon can close us in.
We’re on the run now, and it’s all my fault. I said something stupid. I said I hated doctors. They could put you in a Special School for that. It weren’t right. That was hate-speech, that was. But running was kind of exciting.
We might not make it, though. I never known anybody who ran and didn’t get caught.
And my little brother is still dying.