You awaken.

Eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, back sore after the night of tossing and turning on the concrete floor beneath you. The metal-barred window that kept you from freedom, lined up to your gaze as you rubbed the sand from your eyes. A faint stomping sound in the distance let you know that the guards were handing out breakfast, the one meal of the day. The stomping grew closer, so you hurriedly cleaned out your bucket to receive your day’s food. The guard appeared in his normal grey uniform with the slop bowl in hand. He dumped it out in your bucket whilst muttering an insult to you. As he left, you catch the glimpse of the insignia on his left breast pocket, a painful reminder of the regime that imprisoned you. You ate the watery substance, nearly throwing up at its taste. You had to get it down, though; you had to persevere. You had thought for a while now to just give up—it would be easy to stop eating and die—but somewhere in the back of your mind, you knew that you could survive this. Maybe you could get back to the way things used to be, before the war, before the violence against your kind.

It all started two years ago. There had been a growing dissent in the public beforehand, but after He was voted into office, there was open hatred. You were still very naïve at the time and didn’t see the plans that were being made right in front of you. Some businesses would refuse to let you in, and even your friends distanced themselves from you once they found out who you were. The world just kept spiraling down for you; it didn’t feel as though you had done anything wrong, but by merely existing, you were looked down upon as worse than dirt. It’s a shame you didn’t recognize it sooner—you had two years to leave the country—but the thought of being away from all your friends and family was too horrid to consider this move. How stupid you had been.

Yes, it all went downhill when He was put in office. It’s as though His speeches were the thoughts of the people he spoke to, and the thoughts of the people they became. He was incredibly charismatic, even if you didn’t know him; when he walked into a room, it was His room. He had made all the country fall in love with him in a short six months leading up to the election, and when he won, the country rejoiced. At first, he improved the country’s economy, digging it out of the grave it had laid itself down in so long ago. He improved infrastructure, and the streets that were once ridden with potholes and the communities in disrepair were now bustling with happy citizens. He used these administrative victories to his advantage when he spoke against your kind, blaming the past conditions of the nation on you and your people. The public listened, and the minority who disliked you turned into the majority who despised you. More than petty discriminations at this point, your kind were hunted, sometimes by the state, and taken away, never to be seen again. They took your brother at first, then a week later your best friend disappeared. The people you used to talk to online stopped showing up to chat; truly, a terrifying feeling of loneliness.

Not long after, you too were taken away.

They came like a whisper in the night: you had been fired the day before, so you were in a drunken state, passed out on your couch with the TV on. You never heard the door open or the footsteps of the men; you only felt. You felt the blindfold go on and your mouth gagged as you were thrown over someone’s shoulder and taken out of your home. You felt the metal floor as you were thrown inside a van, and you felt the needle go into your left forearm. You struggled for a moment, but the effects of whatever it was quickly overtook you and the world faded away. You remember dreaming, which was strange; you hadn’t dreamt in a while, much less remembered it in such detail.

You dreamt of your closest friend, Anna. She was much more than a friend to you, but of course you never had even a fourth of the courage you’d have needed to tell her how you felt. She was wearing a white dress, one of the frilly kinds you would see in a very elaborate wedding. She was smiling and laughing with someone, clearly not you. He was tall and well-built, with blond hair and a red T-shirt. He was laughing with her, and after a bit of indistinct conversation, he asked her something. Everything sounded muffled from the distance you were watching them from, but she was overjoyed at whatever it was. She leapt at him and with both arms hugged him and swayed, looking deep into his eyes, whispering something. The man took her by the hand and led her into the fog surrounding them. They disappeared, and with that, the dream ended.

You woke up to the sound of coughing and the smell of vomit. Slowly opening your eyes, still hazy from the drug given to you, you looked around at your surroundings. You were moving away from the town, and after further investigation found yourself in the back of a truck sitting upright with your hands and feet tied together. There were some others in the truck with you, one of which spoke up, “Hey you, you’re finally awake. They took you out of your home, right? Seems as though it’s the same with everyone here. You know where we’re headed?” the unknown voice said. “Oh, give it a rest, he won’t be ready to talk for at least five more minutes, its that shit they gave us, remember?” said another. You hit your head on the back of the truck as it went over a bump in the road; your eyes shot open. The men laughed at you, “Well, that woke him up,” said the man furthest away, a skinny one, looked real strange with the amount of light coming from the sunset. You had half the urge to punch the one closest to you, laughing at your pain, but honestly, it would have been a waste of energy.

“So, you get hauled from your house or not? That seems to be the common theme here, anyways. Pussies, had to get us while we were resting at home,” the muscular man said. You nodded your head in agreement to both sentences and asked the man’s name. “Joseph, the names Joseph, what’s your—“ Joseph was cut off by the sound of gunfire in the distance. “Damn man, that’s the third exchange we’ve heard this hour,” said a fatter, older man. “They seem to be getting more frequent; wonder what the hell’s happening in the city,” said Joseph again.

The older man introduced himself as Brian, mentioning how glad he was that you weren’t in a coma or something. It was an odd question to you; it didn’t feel like you were asleep for that long. “How long was I out?” you asked. “A little more than a full day,” Joseph said, “everyone else woke up pretty early in on the trip. Guess they gave you a bit too much of the drug on accident,” he chuckled.

You talked with the rest of the people there, introducing themselves one by one, reminiscent of the start to a college class. You all talked for quite some time, discussing theories on where you were being taken, or how long it would take to get there. It took nearly the entire night to get to your destination.

The Compound.

You saw the soldiers for the first time, coming around the back side of the vehicle. They took one, then the next, and the next, until they grabbed you from the back and escorted you down the path to the Compound. It didn’t look terrible at first; it just looked like the premises of your old high school in the dark. It wasn’t until you got closer that it looked like a prison. The razor wire on the tall fences surrounding it, corridors of fencing with airlocks in between to ensure no escape. It took twenty minutes of walking to reach Building A, the place that you would come to know as home for the next year. After being processed and patted down, washed and analyzed, you were shown to your cell. You had no belongings in the room; it was simply light grey cement bricks with no paint. It was obvious that the construction of the building was hastily done and of very poor quality. The bed was stiff and the toilet doubled as a sink.

You rested for a while on the bed, and after several hours, the guards showed up outside your cell with who you assumed to be your bunkmate. It was Joseph; he recognized you and smiled; the guard shoved him inside and slammed the gate shut, leaving you two alone. “So what took you so long to get processed?” you asked, “They had me go through additional tests; they want to use me for outside labor,” Joseph said, “apparently we’re all getting jobs.” The two of you talked for a while until the guard appeared at the doorway. “Ya’ll want food?” he said in a slight Southern accent, “ya’ll gettin’ food.” He handed out two plates of something that looked like overcooked microwave dinners. Quickly scarfing down the meal, you hadn’t realized how hungry you were since all of this had taken place.

Things quickly became routine after the first day: wake up at 6AM, go to breakfast at 6:30, back to the cells until around 8AM, work until noon, have lunch and then go back to work at 12:30 PM, work until 6PM, and then go to dinner. When dinner was done, it was free time; you could go to the outside area or request a book and read in your cell. This routine went on for close to a year. It seemed monotonous at times, washing dishes and doing laundry all day, but how you longed for those days to come again.

Days of safety.

The routine changed one day. You awoke in your bed like normal, but no one was there. You and Joseph became very close friends in the year of being the cell together, and not once had he not been there when you woke up. You called for a guard, and after five minutes of panic, the same one with the Southern accent appeared. “Boy, you gotta lotta damn nerve to call out when its not even 6AM,” he said. “It’s Joseph, do you know where he is?” you asked. “Oh, the big fella? Yeah, it’s a shame they decided to pull him out first. Listen, I’m not really supposed to be talkin’ about this to you, but Joseph is being pulled out of the prison and all of y’all are being transferred sooner or later to the new location,” he said. “So don’t worry about him; you’ll see each other again soon enough.” “Why are we being moved?” you asked. “Well, there’s a war going on outside these walls.” He pounded the cement wall to his right with the back of his hand. “It’s draining our supplies, having you people in such nice living conditions,” he laughed. The conversation ended there and the guard hurriedly left after being called away from your cell.

It took three days before you were woken up in the middle of the night to the cell door creaking open. Three men blindfolded and gagged you, same as before, and once again, you felt a needle in your forearm. It went a lot quicker this time; you felt the sleep coming on and didn’t even have the chance to fight it. Once again, you woke up in the back of a truck. Several men you hadn’t seen before sat alongside you, none of them bothering to ask your name or make conversation. Just silence.

And in silence you sat for nearly three hours until you reached the end of the road. It was a much smaller building with a huge pit dug out beside it. “You think we’re going in that?” said one man in the line. A soldier hit in the stomach with the butt of his gun. No one spoke after that. There was much less security; just a single razor wire fence, not nearly as tall as the last one, with a couple of airlocks inside the building. It was a very claustrophobic feeling, walking inside. There were no examinations, no washing or probing. Just following the person in front of you until you got to your cell.

Yours was the first in the row, and seeing it made you queasy. There was no bed; just a floor with no toilet or books, either. What laid there instead was a single bucket, multipurpose as you guessed. It was a small, cramped room, so old it was probably built in a year starting with 18. The guards, tired of you glaring at the room, shoved you in and locked the door. There was a single, barred window in the room. “One amenity the old one didn’t have,” you said to yourself. There was no work or food for the rest of the day. Just sitting in silence. You tried sleeping to pass the time, but that was no use on the hard concrete floor. You tried talking to the others, but the guards quickly shut down any and all conversations.

You began to wonder where Joseph was, if he was okay, even if he was in the same place as you. These thoughts continued until the lights were shut off and you assumed it was time to sleep. You tried again and again but couldn’t manage for the first couple of hours. Eventually though, it came naturally, and even with the floors being as uncomfortable as they were, you slept. It was not for long, though; you got what seemed like but one second of rest before you woke up.

After receiving “breakfast,” you sat in silence. Then more silence until it was time to sleep. Occasionally, you would hear a scream, but it was quickly muffled; you had guessed the guards were doing something to the others, but what it was, you had no clue. This continued for close to a week—the window helped in telling time—until it was you who woke up screaming. It was involuntary, like the silence overtook you and forced you to let out some sort of noise. You couldn’t stop, and you could hear the guards stomping to your cell to gag you and take you away.

When they got there, you weren’t gagged. Instead, you were given a drug forcing you to stop screaming and making you go limp. The guards grabbed you by your legs and dragged you down the hallway towards the exit. Flashback thoughts of the pit appeared in your head, almost as premonitions. Panic overcame you, but whatever they gave you was too strong and you couldn’t move. You were taken outside, feeling the dirt run through your unkempt hair as you were dragged further and further from the building. You felt some movement coming back; you could wiggle your fingers. Whatever the drug was, it was wearing off quick, which explained why the guards were almost sprinting to get you to the hole.

Your legs were back online; you resisted the urge to kick and throw them off, knowing that even with your legs working again, you still felt nothing in your arms and without them, getting away would be impossible. You were dragged to the edge of the pit where you were laid down, the smell of rot in the air. The soldiers sighed in exhaustion after their work, and after looking at them closer, they resembled skeletons. Both were extremely skinny, and if their faces didn’t show it, their belts did. Both had three, maybe four extra holes punched into the belts holding up their much too large pants.

After a minute of hearing the guards panting, you felt the feeling creep its way back into your arms. You knew this was your chance; you didn’t know what lied in wait at the edge of the hole—or at the bottom of it—all you knew was that you had to move. You were weak, but the adrenaline kicked in and you were on your feet faster than the guards could blink. You dashed across the field trying to look for any way out. The prison looked severely understaffed, with only one officer guarding the door and the two other guards you left behind. You could tell their iron sights were being lined up on you, and after the first shot rang out, you didn’t have time to feel if you had been hit. You ran towards the fence, and in a split-second decision, decided to climb it. You scaled the seven-foot fence in an instant, and more shots rang out; you felt one graze past your leg as it hit the fence post below. You came face to face with the razor wire with no regard for your safety. You made an effort to half-jump over it, but landed on it instead; your stomach, torn and cut from the razors, made you cry out in pain. You knew that if you stopped now, you would surely be shot, and you would much rather die outside the camp from blood loss than inside by the guards’ hand. You managed to crawl over the rest of the fence. Landing on the dirt and grass ground below, more shots rang out and a siren started wailing. You felt your ankle take the brunt of the fall, but that gave you no discouragement. You ran as fast as you could downhill from the prison; you heard the sound of a car starting up, but by the time they opened the gate of the prison, you were already halfway across a dirt field towards the woods. You can’t remember for how long you ran, but eventually the adrenaline wore off and you collapsed on the ground in the woods. You were bleeding badly from the deep cuts made by the fence, but your ankle was starting to feel better; thank God you hadn’t sprained it.

You carried on in the woods, tearing apart your shirt to use as makeshift bandages for your wounds. It took at least three hours of walking before you reached what looked to be the outskirts of a small town. The place looked abandoned; no cars in the streets or people around. You saw, out of the corner of your eye, a thrift store. Seeing your obvious need for clothes, that was your first stop. You got to the entrance; no one inside. You looked for some kind of closed sign, but the schedule at the door said that it was open. You tried opening the door; locked. You went around back to the dumpster area instead, finding the back door unlocked. Walking inside, you scavenged for clothes and stole some snacks you found at the front desk. Walking out, you felt like a real person again, but one thought nagged you: where on Earth was everyone?

You walked around for a bit, looking for a person to talk to, but to no avail. You decided to head over to the apartment complex not too far away in search of people. On your way there, you found a newspaper on the street. It looked old, maybe by a month or so. The front page read “All Known Gamers in the States Successfully Contained!” A grim thought formed in your head whilst reading the rest of the paper. “I’ve tried to reason why these actions were taken.” “They did it not because of what we did to them, but because of what we could’ve done.” Determination filled you after reading the paper; the feeling of you surviving, despite everyone’s efforts to make sure you were dead, was one of ecstasy. You carried on down the abandoned town with newfound spirit, scavenging food, hiding from soldiers, surviving the gamer holocaust.