Updated: Oct 8
(Wait! Don't Go! My blog is undergoing a bit of a shift. After a year and a half of writing about day to day life, I'm going back to what I truly love: writing fiction. I hope you will take the time to meet Parker and hear their story. Feel free to share this far and wide because stories are the gateway to understanding each other and the world we live in. This story will unfold week by week. Thanks for reading!)
Being non-binary used to be the biggest of thirteen year old Parker's problems, but that was before they were labelled a super spreader. After months of being locked up by the Authority, the nation's health and wellness police, for their supposed ability to spread the newest paravirus to everyone they meet, Parker must survive a desperate escape and find safety in a world where they are considered the ultimate danger. Along the way, Parker hopes to somehow see their family again and understand what it really means to be a spreader.
Parker ran along the side of the river, or at least they would have if there was any way to avoid the sucking and pulling of the thick grey mud that lined the waterways leading in and out of the city. Running was proving impossible, it was more of a tumbling slop. Pulling themselves from some particularly wet ground, Parker stumbled and fell into a large tangle of a dead decaying tree barely managing to suppress a scream as a jagged stick tore a deep gash along the side of their exposed neck.
Parker was held by the branches, like a windblown scarecrow, butt in the air and body bent like a contortionist. Despite the intense pain and ridiculousness of their situation, Parker forced themselves to be still and quiet, listening to the sounds of the night.
Several uneventful minutes passed and the only sound that Parker could hear was the beating of their own heart. “It’s too early,” they muttered reassuringly to themselves as they tried to pry themselves free from the jumble of branches, “they don’t even know that I’m gone yet.” The words were comforting even if there was no way to know whether or not they were true.
After several minutes of struggle, Parker managed to right themselves. With gentle fingers, they examined the wound that the branch had inflicted and were relieved to feel that it was more long than deep, blood flowing out in a trickle and not a gush. Shaking off the pain, Parker stared into the darkness willing their eyes to see more than the clouded night would allow. This wasn’t going to work. When Parker had calculated the time and distance that it would take to get to the old boat shed, they had not factored in the mud, the complete blackness or the sunken, broken trees that littered the river shore like well laid snares. Continuing on like this was laying a nice neat trail for the trackers who would be on the chase the moment their empty bed was discovered. The authority would not have to wonder if they had come this way, their blood splatters would offer undeniable proof.
Reluctantly, Parker flicked on their headlamp and scanned the nearby homes for any sign of a water vessel. They knew that using the light was an added risk, but continuing blindly through the mud didn’t seem like it would serve them any better.
It had come to this.
Parker, who up until less than a year ago had been a pretty boring thirteen year old (one who wasn’t even cool enough to play violent video games or hang out at the mall,) was now on the run from the Authority and was about to become a thief. It didn’t really matter, or at least that was what Parker tried to tell themselves. Even if most people couldn’t think less of them than they already did, Parker had never imagined the day that they would be forced to steal. Then again, Parker couldn’t have imagined all that had gone on since they were called out of English class (in the middle of a stunningly boring lecture about paragraphs) never to return to school or home again.
Being non-binary had always been the biggest of Parker’s problems. It made them an outcast, the odd one in an even world. They didn’t fit into the boy/girl roles that were generally expected and they preferred to try to be invisible rather than to forge a new path. If it hadn’t been for Omar, their life would have books, drawing, origami, minecraft repeat. Omar had moved in a couple doors away when they were babies and they had been friends ever since. Fortunately for Parker, Omar was good at just about everything and friends with everyone. Parker had always been shielded by Omar’s coolness and Omar had always stuck by them no matter what. It used to matter so much to Parker, what all of those kids thought of them. Looking back now it felt stupid and petty.
All of that was before they were labeled. Spreader. The word alone was enough to strike fear into the hearts of just about anyone anywhere in the world. Omar could stop the kids from choosing Parker as their favourite target for torment, but he had no power when it came to the authority.
Parker turned off their light and headed up the grassy slope towards the biggest house in sight, wincing in pain as their hands passed through a bed of thistles, they clambered on towards the bigger of two smaller buildings that stood between the river and the house. Parker felt sure that one must hold some kind of boat, something they could use to get away. Once they were close enough to the first building, Parker reached up to turn on their light just in time to avoid several toy trucks strewn along the grassy lawn in front of them. Carefully avoiding the obstacles, Parker siddled over to the building, but was met with bars on the windows and a reinforced metal locked door. They had no idea how to break into anything, especially when it needed to be done quickly and quietly. They didn’t have a crowbar, and realistically even if they had had one, they had no idea how to use it effectively.
Parker turned off their light and heart pounding in their throat, they groped their way around the building to see if there was another entrance. As they came around the back of the building, their foot hit something hard and hollow sounding. After a moment of listening to the silence again, Parker flicked their light back on and saw that they had found a boat! Well, sort of. There was an old green plastic kid’s kayak, half covered in ivy. The plastic was worn and faded, but there was no other obvious damage. It was a bit small, but Parker wasn’t very big or heavy for their age. They scanned the area, carefully digging through the weeds as they moved the boat out of the foliage and into the yard. There was a half inflated soccer ball, an old plastic slide and an empty water bottle, but nothing that would be useful in paddling this little boat.
Parker turned off their light for a moment and tried to think about what to do next. Every moment that they delayed gave the Authority more time to start their search. Maybe Parker could find a stick to use as a paddle? They were going with the flow of the river, so really they needed a paddle to steer and not so much to keep them moving. Parker fought against the paralysing fear that threatened to take over their body. There just wasn’t time to think about anything. Not about how little experience they had on a boat, how fast the river flowed or what would happen if they capsized without a lifejacket. “Better dead than jailed like a lab rat,” Parker said defiantly to the memories of the needles and cages they had left behind.
Parker felt the current tug them further and faster than they were ready for. “This was a bad idea.” They mumbled as the boat turned sideways, rocking uncomfortably in the water. They tried to use the long, misshapen stick they had found to steady themselves, but it was useless. All they managed to do was splash water all over themselves and point the boat towards the shore. Parker flailed again at the water and managed to get the boat kind of pointing in the right direction before stuffing the stick under their legs, flattening their body to the plastic ship as much as possible and clamping their mouth firmly shut so that the swirling water and fear didn’t make them puke. If they puked, they would definitely rock the boat.
The moon leaked through the clouds overhead and for a few minutes, Parker almost felt euphoric. They had done the impossible! They had escaped from the Authority’s prison and made it to the river. The boat coasted almost peacefully for a few minutes and then suddenly lurched, turning towards one side and then the other. Parker saw the looming wall of cement arching high over their head and clutched the edges of the boat. They were headed right for the huge cement post that supported the overpass.