The light flashed on and Cody groaned, hiding his head underneath the pillow. It had felt like he had just fallen asleep only a moment prior. An unfamiliar voice carried across the room, unclear from other side of the pillow. The cold air bit at Cody’s arms and he shifted in his bed to get his entire body below the sheet. A few seconds later, both the sheet and the pillow were torn out of his hands. Cody panicked, and squinted as he looked up. He quickly propped himself up, one hand clutched around his necklace, as he heard a quiet voice calming him down.
“Hey, don’t worry, I’m here to help you out. First few days are gonna be tough, but you’ll learn to like it here. They do roll call every morning bright and early at eight. We heard you come in last night, but they kept us all in our rooms until this morning so we never got a chance to meet. Sorry about the sort of rude awakening, but if we don’t hurry then we’ll be late. Nobody’s happy when someone’s late. Now, c’mon, I’ll explain more afterward.”
The girl was only a few years older than Cody and just as thin, with a small mole on her cheek and brown hair down to her shoulders. She was already out the door by the time Cody scooted his legs around the side of the bed, wincing at his sore legs from the running he did the day prior. He gasped at the cold as his bare feet found the floor. With a yawn and a chill, Cody stood up and left behind his new room and followed the older girl.
“New kid! Down here!”
Cody looked down the end of the hallway, towards the way he remembered trying to escape. The door at the end was wide open with several others near Cody’s age standing beyond it. He hesitantly walked towards it, still chilly from his cooled room. Several of the doors he saw from the previous night were wide open. Peeking into them as he passed, those rooms looked more colorful, or at least warmer, than Cody’s. When he reached the end of the hall, there were a handful of kids there to greet him. It opened up into a carpeted room that looked like a playroom. There was a small TV up against the wall with wires and boxes that looked like the ones he and Ian played with at their house with the Reinhardts. At the other side was a table with decks of cards on top and a few board games.
“Cody! You’re here!”
Next thing he knew, Cody was wrapped up chest high in a hug from his ‘little brother’ Ian. The ten year old squeezed hard, face buried into Cody’s chest. The other ten or eleven kids in the room looked at him with a mix of confusion and interest. Hesitantly, Cody hugged back, trying to take in his surroundings still. Most of the others in the room were around his age of 14, but mostly younger. Some of them, Ian included, were in the same thin white clothes that Cody wore, but others had jeans or different colored shirts. The girl who woke Cody up had a black hoodie and was trying to get the younger ones to stop looking and line up.
“Alright you two, you gotta split for now so they can make sure you’re here. It’s a daily routine we have to go through, just bear with it. Hold still while he counts us, okay?”
Ian let go, and looked up into Cody’s eyes and smiled for a moment before standing next to him in a lineup that the older boy had arranged. There was a chiming sound above the door, and Cody looked up to see a clock softly announcing 8am. A moment later, Dr. Julian strode in with a clipboard stuffed full of papers. He ran his eyes down the line of kids, counting them all quietly to himself. He began checking off a list on his board, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Okay kids, nothing big happening today for most of you. We’ll need to see you this afternoon, but the rest of you all are free to go to breakfast.”
Dr. Julian had pointed at Cody while addressing them, but left without giving him a chance to ask him anything. The others relaxed and Ian immediately attacked Cody with another tight hug. His foster brother had moved so fast Cody barely had any time to brace himself, nearly toppling over.
“It’s good to see you too,” Cody said, half laughing. Even his actual little brother wasn’t so clingy. Or was he? It felt like an eternity since Cody had seen him. Cody grasped his necklace through his shirts with one hand while wrapping his other hand around Ian’s back.
“I was so scared. They hurt Mommy, and I haven’t seen Daddy. I’m really happy to see you, Cody! I’m still scared, but I’m really happy.”
Before Cody realized it, Ian was crying into his chest. Cody rubbed his foster brother’s back, trying to soothe him as the others left the room. The older girl in the black hoodie stayed back and let Ian get it out of his system.
“Hey, breakfast is at the other end of the hall. I figured you two should know. If you have any questions, you can talk to me. The name’s Ellie."
"I'm Cody. Where are we?" He started to guide his brother towards the hall, who quietly followed.
“Where? None of us know. They won’t tell us anything we want to know.”
“The guys in doctors coats and sometimes there are people in suits.”
Ellie led the way through the hall, stretching. Cody found his arm wrapped up in Ian’s hands, smiling at his younger brother. If nothing else, he was thankful for the warmth. The hallway was otherwise just as chilly as Cody’s room, and air vents blew down on them from above.
Breakfast was in a room labeled Mess Hall, with a small number of gray tables and benches to sit at. The food was similar to what Cody had been given at his short lived foster home, but with less color to it. He managed to find a seat close to Ellie while the rest of the kids crowded in on either side of him. Ian squished next to Cody, starting to ask the others their names and where they were from, while Cody listened quietly. He said 'Hello' when prompted, but kept glancing away, hoping to catch Ellie's eye.
There was no doubt that she was their leader, cracking jokes and always with a grin on her face. Those at the far end of the table were leaning in, hoping to hear the conversation. Cody leaned in a little too, until the boy next to him nudged an elbow into the ribs.
"What are you looking at, new guy?" the boy said with a devious grin. Cody blushed.
"Nothing, she just...she reminds me of someone," he answered quickly. The other boy nodded, raising his eyebrows, not believing a word Cody said. Scowling, Cody looked away.
She does seem like Chloe, and kind of looks like her too. Cody sighed. All three of his siblings were back home somewhere, and Cody was never able to figure out how he could find them. Just seeing his father again was enough to spark his hopes back up, but they were separated before Cody ever got to ask how anybody was or how they were able to meet again. And then mother...
Cody blinked twice, and the kids around him laughed. Ellie gave him a look, bringing her hand back across the table. "Already lost focus, new guy?" she asked, ready to crack a joke but with a hint of caring behind it. Some giggles came out nearby.
Smiling, Cody rubbed his eyes and gave a little laugh. "Yeah, sorry, I guess I'm still tired. Zoned out, you know?"
"So is it true? All the stuff Ian says?" one of the younger girls asked. Cody glanced down at Ian, who smiled.
"I was telling them all the stories you told me. About the different world and the war and you fighting and all the stuff you told me."
"Oh. Yeah, I mean, nobody here ever believed me but Ian, but all that stuff happened."
"What was it like?"
"Um, have you ever been in a war? Like, in your own country?" Cody looked around and the kids all shook their heads. "Oh. I don't know how really to describe it. I thought I was gonna die every day. I went to bed to the sounds of guns so much that I got used to it. I had to run away with my family, and every town we went to had been bombed or destroyed somehow. We got separated and I was running with my best friend for awhile until...until..."
Cody hugged himself, trying not to lose control like he did at school. He squeezed his eyes shut, and took in a deep breath. Letting it out, he felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes. Turning, Ellie had moved from her chair and had pushed off one of the other kids to sit next to him.
"It's okay. The first few days are tough, and it sounds like you've been through a lot. Finished with your food? We can talk or chill or whatever back in the game room."
Cody nodded thankfully. He didn't look around at the others as they got up. Ellie threw back a quick request for someone to clean up their abandoned plates before leading Cody back into the hallway.
"There's not much to explore around here, unfortunately," Ellie told him. "We have our rooms, the Mess Hall, our game room, and two bathrooms that have toothpaste and shampoo or whatever you need. Oh, and if you get caught in the girls' bathroom, we're gonna lock you in your room. I did that to one kid, and he finally started crying and begging to be let out. It's not easy dealing with a hall full of teenage boys sometimes."
Cody gave a nervous chuckle as they walked back to the game room, getting a better look. With blue paint, it was the only room in the place that had walls any color other than white. Saggy bean bag chairs and a faded red couch were the only places to sit, with toy cars and trains spread across the floor as little caltrops. Ellie dropped onto the largest bean bag and stretched. Cody found one nearby, having never sat in one before, and carefully lowered himself down.
"Whoa, cool," he said quietly to himself as he sunk down into it.
Ellie yawned. "So you're from a different world, huh?"
"Yeah. Wait, you believe me?"
"Of course. It's not the strangest thing I've heard from the kids here."
[Part 16][Part 18]
"As for now, I'm probably going to stop releasing this story here online until it's fully complete."
Turns out, that little quip from my last post was a lie. I'm still rolling, even if it's been over a year. I've actually gotten through Part 20 complete at this point. No telling what's coming after (or when it's coming).
And with that, I leave you with this.