Billy B. Bye was bragging to his friends about how they weren’t going to come for him when they came for him. The men stood at the mouth of the alleyway, their white suits spotless and meticulously creased. Billy’s friends melted away faster than ketchup can stain a shirt.
“William Bartholomew Bye,” the just bigger of the two men boomed, “you have been reported as Unclean.”
Billy pulled on his sleeves, stretching the cloth until it overlapped his hands. He cleared his throat. “For what?”
The just smaller of the two men pulled open the white messenger bag that hung from his shoulder and extracted a tiny computer. Its black shell contrasted sharply with everything around it. The man held it in one hand and typed with the other, the backlight outlining his facial features. He read what was on the screen in a monotone. “Your body, possessions, and/or dwelling were not properly sanitized.”
Billy tried to cut him off. “But—”
“Third offense.” The man continued without even hesitating. His eyes came up from the screen to meet Billy’s. There was no emotion behind them, no pity, no pleasure. He was a blank canvas.
Billy’s left foot slid back millimeter by millimeter. A muscle in his right thigh twitched. Pins and needles poked up and down both legs. But he paused. Running got you instantly killed. He’d seen it a time or two, enough to know that he didn’t want to die that way. His eyes snapped onto the shorter man. He didn’t want to live that way either.
A cold metal band snapped around his wrist, ending any thought of escape. The larger man held the other end of the short chain tightly in his fist. His bulging muscles gave no doubt that the chain would be in his grasp until he chose to release it. He tugged on it, using it like a marionette string, jerking Billy’s arm.
The small man led the procession, the second man not close behind, pulling Billy along like a dog on a leash. The boy was surprised he could even walk. Fear shook every bone in his body, making his teeth clank together. His tongue came very close to being bitten several times.
His captor yanked on his shackle. “Silence.”
Billy bit down hard, pressing his teeth together to make them stop. He concentrated on it, the pressure his jaw created, the slight movement of his teeth against each other, and slowly the shaking stopped.
The man’s next command was, “Cease.”
They stood at the edge of a small platform, twin rails running across the ground in front of them. The buzz of electricity hovered in Billy’s ears. It was unusually loud, not another sound to compete with, not even a breeze.
Then the buzz was knocked from his ears. An amped up version of someone blowing their nose crashed against his eardrums. And the train was coming to a halt in front of them, forming an endless grey wall. The short man stepped forward and placed his hand against the smooth metal. A soft light outlined his fingers and a door appeared in the side of the train.
The large man dragged him inside and the other shut the door behind them. Hard benches with no cushions lined the interior walls.
Billy took a seat close to the door, keeping his back straight, trying not to wrinkle his shirt. His guard sat next to him, close enough that they touched. He stared straight ahead, right over the second man who sat across from them. Billy glanced from where their arms met to the man’s face. The sick thought that he didn’t have to worry about his shirt being wrinkled anymore crossed his mind.
It was so surreal. Sitting in a train as empty as a room where someone had spilled punch, touching someone, not having to worry about his appearance. He thought he might be in shock. Numbness started to creep up his legs.
The train stopped and the small man stood to open the door. Billy rose without waiting to be told and was jerked back into his seat.
“Only do what you are ordered,” the big man said without looking at him.
His legs carried him after the two men despite the fact that he could no longer feel them. The numbness crept up passed his legs and his stomach started to grow cold. The cold seeped away the sick feeling that had been resting there, curled up like a hibernating snake.
The train was gone as soon as both of his feet hit the platform, leaving him with the two strangers, miles of too-bright fake grass, and a precisely square building bigger than any he had ever seen. Billy stared at it as he stepped off the platform onto a concrete path that led up to the mansion’s only opening. No windows broke up the endless white walls.
When they reached the front door, Billy searched for a knob. There wasn’t one. Only the crack that proved the rectangular metal piece hid an entrance
The shorter man pulled out his computer and a black cord. A compartment opened on the side of the computer and he attached the cord to it. Another compartment slid into view when he touched the door. The other end of the cable fit in the slot perfectly. The man typed something into his computer and the door shot up into the wall.
A tendril of fear wound around Billy’s chest, squeezed, and then it fell away, dead, as the numbness continued up his body. He left it behind as he followed the taller man inside, the littler one shutting the door after them.
The front hall offered a million different ways to go, including a grand staircase straight across from them. Their shoes clicked against the floor as Billy was taken to the double doors set in the left wall. They rose almost to the ceiling, whitewashed wood. The large man opened them, shoved him inside, finally letting go of the chain, and slammed the door.
Billy turned on his heel to face the curved table across the room, behind which eight people in white smocks sat. He swallowed, though he didn’t know if it went all the way down. The numbness had reached his breast bone.
“William Bartholomew Bye,” a woman, her hair bleached, spoke, “you have been brought here as Unclean, a third offender.”
Billy licked his lips. They stared. He swore some of their eyes held pity.
“You know what this means?”
He didn’t know what to do.
“You must be Cleansed. Sanitized. Wiped completely Clean.”
“Please.” He didn’t know how he got the word out. Cold tickled his chin.
The woman sighed. “It cannot be helped. Another outbreak would kill all of us.”
“One more chance. Please. I’m only fifteen.”
She smoothed her hands across her smock. “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. The process has already begun.” She pointed.
Billy glanced down at his wrist, the metal band still surrounding it. And he couldn’t even bring himself to care. The numbness covered him completely.