Mr. Cohen walked around the classroom and put a baby human’s brain on each table. He then handed a knife to each student and a worksheet with instructions. I was at a table with three other people: Stephani, Sofia, and Lane. I wanted Mr. Cohen to be done talking about what we were going to do so we could start. I had been looking forward to this for a while because some twelfth graders told me it would be really cool. It smelled bad, though.
“You may start dissecting each brain now. Remember, try to follow the instructions, but if you mess up, I have many spare brains. Just come tell me. We’ll throw out the messed up one and grab you a new brain to use. It’s not a big deal”. At that, everyone picked up their knives and dug into each baby’s brain. I asked if I could be the first one to cut into the brain, and my friends said yes. I picked up my knife and tried my best. The cut was a clean cut.
After around twenty minutes of quiet in the classroom, John raised his hand and told Mr. Cohen that he had messed up- he had cut into the hippocampus when he wasn’t supposed to. Mr. Cohen came over, picked up the brain, tossed it in the garbage can, and handed John a new one. Everyone resumed working.
When the bell rang at the end of the class, I didn’t want to go. My table was so far into the dissection and I was enjoying every minute of it. But we had to go, so we reluctantly packed up our books and left.
The rest of the day was not nearly as interesting. I almost slept through the rest of my classes because they were so boring and then the bus took forever on the trip home. But eventually, I was home. When I reached my bedroom, I found an envelope neatly lying on my bed with my name across the front. I ripped it open, unsure as to what it would be. In it, I found a short, simple note. It informed me that I was chosen to perform a special job for the government and it would start next week. I would have to drop out of high school, go live somewhere else, and I would not be allowed to bring anything other than my clothes for that day. What I would be doing seemed to be a mystery. I had never heard of it before. I thought it was possibly a scam, but before I could rip up the letter and toss it into the recycling bin, I decided to see if my mom knew what it meant.
“It is not an option” she said in a very controlled voice when I asked her what the letter was.
“But what is it?” I responded.
“I don’t know, but I do know that you have to go. I have seen this happen before and there is no way to get out of it”. My mom seemed upset. Would I not be allowed to come back? Would I ever see her again? Once I left, it would just be my dad and her in my house. They would be lonely.
A week later, it was time to go. My parents had made it pretty clear that there would be serious consequences from the government if I didn’t go, so I stopped questioning it. I showed up at the address the letter gave me, by myself, just as I was instructed. I arrived in front of what looked like a huge, circular brick building in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I had not passed any houses or stores in at least ten miles.
I could feel myself starting to breath more irregularly and my palms were getting sweatier. I had absolutely no ideas as to what to expect once I walked through the heavy, black, metal double doors. I was suddenly very aware of the concrete sidewalk under my feet and the fiery sun heating my skin in an unpleasant way.
Eventually I forced myself to go in. I had to scan my finger print for the doors to open and then I immediately entered a small hallway with a guard at the desk. I went up to him and introduced myself. He didn’t reply but looked something up in his computer, then started writing something down.
Audrey Klossner. 16 years old. 5’4” tall. Purpose: Keeper. Code: 309275489.
I glanced down at the guard’s pad of faded yellow paper as he scribbled down information about me in a deep blue ink. Most of it didn’t mean very much to me. Keeper. Thoughts and ideas flashed through my mind, though none seemed to explain it. Keeper. The guard looked back up at me when he was done writing with a drooping frown and knowing eyes. There was no life in his face– it was apparent that he had seen too much hardship for one man. Had he been a “keeper” too? As quickly as this thought manifested itself inside my head, I was already being shuffled out of the room. Apparently I had places to go and things to do. I guessed that I would just have to take his word on that one. I was handed a pager and shoved out of the room.
A beep of tremendous volume pierced the silence. Terrified, I frantically searched for the source of the repetitive noise. I threw off my belt, my sweatshirt, my shoes. It wouldn’t stop or even get quieter. I was still searching for the noise when another noise added to the chaos for my ears. It was a loud clank. My pager had fallen out of my pocket and landed on the concrete. Stretched across its tiny screen were four words: Come to 406 now.
Having no clue what to expect, I reluctantly made my way through a maze of hallways to room 406. It was nothing like what I expected. It was not normal. Yes, there was a real roof, walls, and a floor. And there was a desk with a chair on each side of it. One of the chairs was filled by a man in a dark gray suit and no tie. But there were no photos of the man’s children, wife, family. No paintings on the walls. No windows. It was plain, simple, sanitary. I glanced at the man on one side of the desk and when he didn’t look up, I decided to sit anyway. As soon as I had done this, his head jerked upward to make painfully intense eye contact.
“You have an assignment” he said to me so robotically for a minute I thought he was kidding. I even almost laughed. But he wasn’t kidding. He didn’t take a break, pause, breathe, or give me a chance to say anything before he continued. “You have to take B2361 to room 0000 from 3002. This has to be done now, discreetly, silently, and fast”.
He handed me a cup with some water in it.
“You must be thirsty” he said as if he had practiced that line too many times. I took the glass from him and drank it in one gulp– I was thirsty. As soon as the water came into contact with my tongue, it tasted weird. I felt different. Controlled. I no longer was about to laugh. Instead, when I realized he expected no response from me, I pushed back my chair and walked out of the room. On the way out I grabbed what appeared to be a map of the place. I unfolded it shakily and searched for room 3002. As soon as I had spotted the small number on the map amidst a huge amount of numbers, I started walking. And like he had instructed, fast.
It was not hard to know when I was there. Room 3002 was not mistakable for a bathroom, bedroom, or living room. I could hear it before I saw it. But the sound didn’t match with what I saw. It was as if some huge guy was about to start singing and he turned out to have the highest voice in the world. Fascinating, but also terrifying. That is what 3002 was like. There were mechanical noises, huge amounts of banging and constant hissing. It reminded me of the MRI machine that I had once been shoved into when I broke my ankle. But when I got there, it looked unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. The walls were all painted a dull gray, so were the floor and ceiling. There were glass cages with air holes stacked everywhere. And then, as I got closer and past the sound of incredibly large machines, I heard crying. Endless crying, gasps for air and piercing screams. These abruptly took over the hissing and banging and scraping. Nothing was worse than the sound of a baby in agony, especially if there were at least a hundred of them in cages stacked up all the way to the ceiling.
As soon as I was fully inside of the room, the adults appeared from around a corner. Head to toe, they were dressed in what looked like a garbage bag. See-through, and very protective. I remembered what that man had told me. I had to do this quickly. I walked as fast as my jello-like legs could go. I stopped the first adult I was near.
“I have been sent here… to room 3002…. to get B2361.” I pretended to know what that meant while having a confident facade. Hard to do, but probably good enough.
“You will have to wait” the adult replied. That seemed non-negotiable, so I stepped back into the doorway to be out of the way. It seemed like something was about to happen, but I couldn’t tell. Everything had turned blurry and I couldn’t figure out where the floor was relative to my head. Then, what I saw next, was pretty hard not to understand. Each adult had a bucket. White, plastic, and pretty big. Each adult, there were probably a total of six, stood in front of a machine. They took the bucket, emptied it into another bucket which was part of a machine, and pushed the start button. But inside that first bucket, that was a chunk of red meat. Raw, red, bloody, and on the bone. It looked like a thigh from where I was standing. Once the contents of the buckets were put into the machines, the hissing got louder. After what seemed like forever, the hissing returned to its previous volume. Then, through a pipe stuck into each glass cage, a glob of ground raw red meat was pushed into the cage. It was like feeding fish. Each baby went for that meat instantly- uncivilized, with only their mouths, their hands behind their backs, with no mercy. They did not look like human babies. They were animals, wild, and completely out of control. The crying ceased completely, but the hissing of the machines was still picking at my resilience. I wanted to leave, I wondered why I hadn’t already. I tried time and again and couldn’t. I physically couldn’t leave that room. At least not yet. My mind flickered back to the water the man had given me. The foggy, strange tasting concoction.
As soon as the… feeding… seemed completely over, I approached the adult again. This time, instead of speaking, she gestured for me to walk with her. I cautiously followed. She went over to a glass enclosure, took off one of the walls, grabbed the baby boy inside of it with one hand, and tossed it in my direction, hoping I would catch it. I did, but barely. My limbs could barely move. Shock and fear had taken over. But I needed to be able to move. I now had a small baby boy in my arms, reaching for my hand for some comfort. I reached out my pinkie finger for him to wrap his tiny hand around. But the adult saw this. She started yelling and kept going as if she would never stop. She grabbed the little boy out of my arms and demonstrated proper holding technique. Under the arm pits, wrap your hand around his chest. Hold him upright and away from your body.
I tried my best to hold him properly as long as I was still in the adult’s view. I took the baby- naked, raw meet still around the edges of his mouth- all the way to room 0000. This was quite a walk away from 3002, or any other room for that matter. At some point I took the baby and cradled him in my arms. I didn’t care who saw me, what they did, what would happen to me. The water didn’t seem to be able to stop me from doing that, as long as I kept walking. All I cared about was this tiny child being turned into an animal but longing for loving care.
We finally reached room 0000. Again, everything was painted a dull gray. There were no windows. It looked like a doctor’s office waiting room. Chairs, a check-in desk, except there were absolutely no decorations.
As soon I entered the room I was told to sit down and “toss it” onto the seat next to me. I pretended to comply. I actually did comply, minus the “toss” part. I placed him gently and carefully. Only a few seconds later, my baby was called into a room in the back.
“We are set up for B2361” a voice over an announcement system said. The person behind the desk motioned for me to get up and bring the baby into a room in the back. I held him the “proper” way as far as I was able to force myself to.
“Stand there. You should watch” a man told me who was wearing a complete surgery outfit. He had thick gloves on and goggles which covered most of his face. He grabbed the tiny boy from my arms as he said this and pointed to a glass observation room. I went in, hoping my baby would be OK with this other man. This person, the surgeon, held the baby the way I was taught to. Except he did it without any regret or guilt. I went hesitantly to the observation room, not knowing what to plan on observing.
As soon as it started, I knew what was happening, but it seemed all wrong. There was no anesthesia, no pain killers, no calming voices. The baby was strapped to the table as tightly as possible. The surgeon washed his hands and prepared his sharp, shiny tools. The crying coming from the tiny lungs of the baby boy was deafening. Before I could prepare myself, he was slicing into the poor baby boy’s head and pulling something out. Then his tiny, once-beating heart through his chest, and both his kidneys. Boxes were already set up for each item. The heart, part of the brain, and kidneys were thrown into the designated boxes. Each box had “For Scientific Research” written neatly on the side in black ink. Suddenly an image of the dissection of the baby’s brain in my science class flashed through my head. I had not even wondered where the brains came from and why there were so many to spare. No one else had either. It was not given any thought by anyone in the class. Even Mr. Cohen probably didn’t know where the brains where from. It probably never occurred to him to ask.
Then, worse than anything I had ever imagined, the surgeon unstrapped the un-moving, dead, baby. He carried him, this time by the left leg, across the room and threw him like a basketball into the garbage can. When he got the small body in, he threw up his arms and yelled something that was self-congratulatory. He had made a basket, yipee. No one here cared what they were doing to these children. They didn’t even seem to notice it was wrong, bad, immoral. Maybe they had been hardened by time. Were they once like me, but then they just weren’t able to keep caring? I thought of how long this surgeon must of been working here in order for him to be so cold, so emotionally hard. Maybe that would be me someday. This thought was collapse-inducing, but I had to fight back. I could not collapse. Not now, not here. I had to fight for all those other babies, about to be slaughtered. But I couldn’t leave that observation room, no matter how hard I tried. Eventually I gave up and let myself sink onto the scratchy concrete floor. As my eyelids were drooping shut with thorough exhaustion, the surgeon spoke to me over the announcement system.
“That will be you in two weeks. For the rest of this week, you will continue to be the transporter. Then, next week, you will be the feeder. After that, your third week, you will be doing what I do. You will be the dis-assembler. You must report to room 406 again in the next ten minutes to be assigned other transporter tasks for today. You are a keeper, after all.”
Rachel Kasdin, Age 15, Grade 10, The Dalton School, Silver Key