Lab Rat 421

‘OWW! How the hell did I poke myself in the eye when I’m swimming?!’ I think to myself. Then I realise, I’m not swimming, I’m dreaming, and Albie is sitting on top of me, poking my face repeatedly.
“Albie, what the hell are you doing?” I whisper furiously.
“You told me to wake you up before the waking bell, so we don’t get beat,” he mumbles, put out that I’d been mad at him.
“Alright, go wake up mum and Flo, but do it nicely, don’t poke them,” I sigh dejectedly.
“Okay,” he says, before scurrying off to poke mum and Flo like he always does. A second later, Flo comes over, rubbing her eye, followed by mum, who is glaring at a defensive Albie.
“I didn’t poke you that hard,” he mutters, defeated. I’m about to tell everyone to get dressed when I realise they already are. Just as I think this, the waking bell goes off and guards start coming around, beating and taunting people. When they reach us, they look puzzled. I don’t think they’ve ever seen a rat up before the waking bell goes off. Then one of the guard’s expression changes. I see it, in my head, what’s about to happen. I start to throw myself forwards.
“Smart arse rats!” he yells angrily as he kicks out towards Flo and Albie, who both look startled.
“No!” I scream desperately as I throw myself into the way, protecting Flo and Albie at the cost of a very painful bruise to my face.
Later on, when I walk into the Lab with the others, I catch a few sympathetic looks, but not many. Most people are worried about their own bumps and scrapes. I cross over to an annoyed looking scientist, with Mum, Flo and Albie in tow. I sigh at the prospect of having Wrinkle face all day. He is known for being irritable and cruel. I’m not sure who gave him the nickname, but it stuck for a reason.
“Hurry up, you dirty slaves!” he calls.
Wrinkle face never calls us rats or uses our numbers. He has his own list of names for us and they usually include an insult and the word ‘slaves’.
“Alright, listen up you filthy lot!” he says maliciously.
“Commander Juldahia wants to know why we haven’t got any new bomb designs. So today, we’re experimenting with explosives. And if I get any messing about from you stupid slaves, then you’re going to wish you’d never been born, got it?”
“Got it,” we murmur back, miserably. The rest of the day has us reading complicated equations, learning about what the bombs are for, and listening to Wrinkle face’s obscene mutterings about slaves who haven’t been disciplined enough and how they should give him a whip and a free rein.
I’m standing with a lit match in my hand, and a Bunsen burner in front of me.
“Okay Flo, you can turn the gas on now,” I say carefully. I hear the sound of the gas tap being turned and I’m about to light the Bunsen burner, when a gust of wind blows the match out. I go after it, leaving the gas tap on, and after about a minute of searching for it, I give up.
“I’ll do it,” I hear Flo say.
“Wait!” I cry, knowing what will happen when she lights the match with the build-up of gas in the room.
Too late.
There’s a noise like a bomb and I’m thrown back against the wall of the lab by the explosion. I can’t hear much, because of the ringing in my ears, but what I can hear doesn’t sound good. Screams, crying, other noises I don’t want to find out about. The smoke clears enough to see a little, and adrenaline kicks in. I spring up, grab Albie, who’s next to me, and make my way through the rubble with him as fast as I can. I hear, rather than see, Flo. She is hunched over mum, with tears pouring down her face.
“She’s not moving,” Flo manages to choke out. I touch mum’s chest and realise she’s dead. Flo’s still clutching on to her, sobbing. Now I’m crying too.
“She’s dead Flo, there’s nothing we can do for her,” I sob uncontrollably, pulling Flo away from my mother’s lifeless body.
“No!” she screams desperately.
“We have to go, Flo. Now!” I manage to pull her away with a final, strong yank on her arm.

FOLLOW US was established in 1997, and since then we have successfully completed numerous short story and poetry competitions and publications.
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