The factory jumbotron lights up with the Town King’s face and our morning greeting:
“Good morning, wonderful people! I’m here to remind you that you are special. You are one of a kind. And you are a star!”
The face fizzles away like soda bubbles and another body is pulled up onto the worktable.
What am I doing here?
The answer I usually have is: “What would I do otherwise?” Boredom is a worse fate here than the occasional nightmare.
I’ve been assigned as a Specimen Maker. It’s one of four jobs on the Red Hill. Everyone has a worker ID number that the drones can scan in an instant. The Town wants to make sure of who comes and goes. We were all sent here because of our special brain composition that makes us fit for the work the Town needed done. It feels good to be useful.
I’ve lived on Red Hill for the past two years. Other than the smell, it’s not so bad here. At least it’s away from the Sadness, that sticky cloud that hovers over everyone and everything in Town. I used to live in Town with my brother, who worked in the back office for the Town King. He’s not really a king, just a loud man everyone listens to, so things get done. People in Town like giving people titles. My brother had a title, too, until he made the mistake of stealing from the King and then fleeing to the Snow Mountain. I was left to pay his debt. I was relieved at first because debts mean you don’t need to go to School, and I never got along very well with the other boys in my School.
School has three hierarchy levels: the elites, the ghosts, and the garbage. It’s not easy to ascend levels, but it’s child’s play dropping down one. Arguments in School are almost always settled through physical fights. The teachers act as referees; some provide the weapons. The principal tells us that only the strong deserve the right to rule this world. I told him: “Doesn’t that make the monsters on Snow Mountain the rulers then?” He didn’t like that. That day, I got ten hours in the Dark Room, developing photos of bodies sent to the Specimen Labs. Better than class, I guess.
Now here’s something you may not know: no grave in Town has a body in it. Don’t let the roach-faced man in the Funeral Home tell you any different. All the bodies are sent to the Specimen Lab for treatment and then returned to the House of Delights. The Specimens that have fallen into disrepair are burnt and mixed with gunpowder that fuels the special weapons the Town uses against the monsters that wander down from the Snow Mountain.
“Willy, close the window. The smell of the rain is distracting me.”
That’s Dio. He developed the original process to create these bodies. He said the idea came to him while burning one of the Snow Mountain monsters that had wandered into town. “We’ve turned death into such a wasteful process. Burn, bury, hide. All those beautiful organs and intricate muscles turned to dust. We have no respect for the human body. Now the ancient Egyptians were on to something.” He says the same thing to anyone who’ll listen.
When they introduced the first Specimens, I was sleeping in our grungy hut on the bottom tier of the Town Towers—rows of fire-hazard apartments made of cheap wood, where you can hear what everyone else is doing from shitting to singing along to the radio. Trinny nearly knocked down the door. I know it’s her from the window because of her big blue hair. She always goes to the Town Halls for the free food and updates me when she gets back.
“They’re building something big in the center of Town,” she said as we unwrapped our no-name meat sandwiches. “They’re calling it the House of Delights.”
I assume it’s another buildable skin and holes shop, like all the others that opened when the Sadness first swept over the Town. Satisfy the body, and you satisfy the mind, the Town King had said, and then went all quiet after an old man had a heart attack in one of them.
“And there’s gonna be some kind of Stadium at the center where guests have the chance to chase and kill a Specimen,” Trina continued, her eyes widening for dramatic effect.
“What’s a Specimen?” I asked, gobbling down the sandwich she snuck out for me. I like when she really gets into explaining something, even if I don’t really understand most of it.
She licked her lips. “Reanimated dead bodies that run pretty good. Made just to satisfy people’s uncontrollable urge to kill something…for something to die.” She made a gun with her thumb and index finger, pointing it at my forehead. “That’s what the Town King says. They’re gonna lower the crime rate. It’ll work for real this time.”
“Do they feel anything? I asked.
“Who knows?” she shrugged, picking out a clump of pink meat from between her teeth.
Trinny joined the Red Hill a year before I did. We grew up together, even though few people on Red Hill know that. Her mom and dad used to run an illegal refuge for monsters that had wandered down from Snow Mountain. A few neighbors caught on and notified the Police. Her parents paid a large fee, but all further punishment was reduced after they agreed to keep running the refuge and funnel all new monsters straight to the Prison. Meanwhile, Trinny had to pay a decade of servitude for not reporting her parents. She said she hasn’t seen or spoken to them since she moved here. The only family she’d kept in contact with was a cousin who sometimes sent her Town clothes that she never wore.
“At least I’ll know if my folks are dead. They’ll have to pass by here, right?” she said, pointing at the scoreboard on the wall of all the current Specimens.
Trinny works as a Specimen Trainer. She wakes up before dawn and drags herself to the silver dome in the north corner of the Red Hill. That’s where the streets empty into the forest, and beyond that, the Snow Mountain.
She says the Specimens are like her grotesque children. None of the Trainers can stand the smell at first, but after all the hours of helping the Specimens through the mazes, the survival exercises, the feedings, most are proud when they send their children into the underground tunnel for their first chase. Trinny named her first Specimen Sweets because he liked candy more than the superfeed they give the Specimens. He managed nine escapes before he was finally caught by two Stadium guests. Both of his legs were blown off above the knee, along with the bottom half of his jaw. Trinny cried all night. The Makers tried to repair him, but we didn’t have the right muscle materials at the time, so we carted him off to the Specimen Decomposers. She insisted they use his bones as part of the casing for her first weapon despite the instability of the material. No one uses Specimen leftovers for anything but gunpowder, but she’s strangely sentimental like that sometimes.
On the first day of each year, a Red God is selected. A name flashes up on the jumbotron in the Public Square as we’re all picking up our New Year’s drinks and just like that, a random resident now runs the Red Hill. Around noon, the Town King makes a brief appearance in his shiny silver car to give the person a shiny new mace and the right to kill anyone he wants for the next twenty-four hours. He calls it the Clean-up, but they say the twenty-four hours of terror are broadcast in Town as a special New Year’s program, one of the most popular shows of the year.
I don’t hate the current Red God. We used to work on the same floor in the Specimen Labs. His name was Brian. He was quick at replacing the organs. He said he used to be a doctor back in the Town more than a decade ago. He was sent up here after falling into the Sadness and trying to drive his car into the School. The Town doesn’t tolerate suicide. There are already too many dead bodies to deal with.
Yesterday, he dragged a girl into the Public Square. A pretty girl with silver eyes and no hair. I was on break, smoking a cigarette behind one of the statues, so I happened to see. He claimed she was a Snow Mountain monster that he’d caught, but I thought she looked like a Town girl at first. She was too beautiful to be a monster. The smoothest skin like a polished bone. The only one I’d ever seen in-person was a horse-faced man with fat lumps on his neck who’d broken into the bottom tier of the Town Towers when I was still a boy. As the guards chased him, he spun a clone out of his body, fleshy threads sprouting new eyes, mouth, and legs, the two of them darting across the concrete alleys in opposite directions. I remember watching the guards beating and packing a limp body into the back of their black van, wondering which one they had killed.
A small crowd had gathered along the lamp posts of the Square, mostly Specimen Makers and Decomposers who had snuck out of the factory line to rest their eyes and hands from all the chemicals.
“Little thing here was trying to climb into the old well in the forest,” the Red God spoke to them, always excited for an audience. “Probably trying to poison our water supply with these devil hands. You wouldn’t believe the things she could do with this pretty little head. It was pure sorcery.” His oily, scarred hands snaked around her neck as if massaging a slab of wet clay. I’d seen those same hands touch countless female Specimens as we splayed open their chests to insert new mechanized organs.
I felt bad for the girl. But then I realized something: she was watching us, studying us. Her eyes moved steadily from person to person like the morning drones scanning our worker IDs, searching for something.
“If you’re gonna kill her, she’d make a good test subject for a new Specimen model I’m working on,” Dio snorted, limping down the stairs from the Specimen Lab to the Public Square.
“What kind of creepy ass Specimen is it this time, old man?” the Red God snickered. “You gonna give your zombie gladiators something soft and warm to fuck when they do a good job?”
A poor choice. More than once had a Red God mysteriously ended up on Dio’s cutting board a few days after his reign ended.
Dio adjusted the patch over his left eye, taking several steps closer. “I’m designing a new helper Specimen. I need smaller bodies,” he answered.
The Red God ran an index finger over a vein on the girl’s neck. “I’d be happy to hand her over if you make sure I get to be the first one to…break her in after you’re done. How does that sound?”
Dio sighed as if he’d been asked to coach a parrot on how to bake a cake. I puffed on my cigarette, enjoying the free show. The only entertainment on Red Hill were the nightly Chases broadcast on the jumbotron and the occasional theatrical suicides. Everyone knew that the only way of getting out of Red Hill once you were sent here was as a freshly dead Specimen bound for the Stadium.
“You put too much faith in the idea of power, the belief that you are invincible now that you have the title of God. But that kind of power is too contingent on the cooperation of everyone else. It is only as strong as the sum of its believers. You have too little respect for the absolute value of real physical power. That’s something the ‘creepy ass’ Specimens, as you call them, have been blessed with in their bones and muscles.”
“You’re spewing the boring philosophics again, old man. I’m not allowed to twist your little neck, but you got me in a bad mood now,” the Red God said, chewing on his lower lip. “Still, I’m a generous man. I’ll still let you take this pretty little monster if you let me be the first one to—”
“Are you done yet?” the girl asked, turning to the Red God, her silver eyes half-open. She looked tired or bored. Or hungry.
The Red God began to cough. He tried to hold onto the girl, but she brushed his hands off. His cough grew more violent, his whole body heaving. Several people in the crowd stepped forward, unsure of what to do.
Then he suddenly froze, looking up at us the way the way people sometimes do when one of drones beeps red after scanning them. His mouth opened, wider and wider, unhinging like a snake about to swallow a mouse. Syrupy black liquid gushed out of him onto the Public Square. It smelled even worse than storage hall where the corpses were left before Specimen treatment. The black vomit then, as if attracted by the heat, swarmed back up the Red God’s legs and arms and over his head like a blanket of ants, covering every inch of him. Crack, crack, crack. It was the sound of his bones. It didn’t bother any of us; we were all so accustomed to the sound from the Specimen Lab. Bursts of blood squeezed out of tiny pockets between the black mass, a large red pool expanding at the base where we could still see the fancy sneakers he’d bought in Town.
No one tried to stop the girl when she ran off.
Dio watched from several feet away, his wrinkled brown eyes squinting at the black bloody mess, a small smile pulling on his lips. He looked enthralled. Some thought they heard him murmuring, “Death is always an opportunity to learn.”
I stubbed out my cigarette on the pillar and left before the drones came to quarantine the space.
Ten Specimen Hunters were sent to search for the girl in the forest and fields surrounding the Red Hill. It was the first monster sighting in over a year. Word eventually reached the Town King who made a quick visit to the Red Hill to make sure the Specimen Lab was still intact and operating at capacity. The nightly Chases were sold out for the next three months, and he wanted to make sure we would still be able to deliver the Town’s top entertainment.
I had many dreams of the monster girl during this time, her silver eyes and the slurry that had killed the Red God spilling around her like a black lake. Sometimes she sees me, sometimes I just watch her from behind a statue, pondering what to say to her. Other times, the Specimen Hunters find her instead and send her down the corpse chutes. I’m cutting her open the next moment, the overhead lamp beaming down on her open eyes, a mechanical heart on the metal tray, new eyelids to stitch in.
Out of the ten Specimen Hunters, only two returned—a pair of young men who had joined Red Hill less than four months earlier to pay their father’s gambling debts at the House of Delights. The other eight had been found at the lip of the forest, bones crushed and drained of blood. When asked what happened, the two survivors recalled a bald man with a patchwork scalp standing among the gnarled trees in the forest. He wore a Specimen Maker’s uniform, though no one recognized him. The other Hunters dropped to their knees as he approached them, vomiting black sludge. Neither of the young men could remember what happened after that. Only that the black mass had touched their faces, but it had let them live.
Rumors spread. Soon people started calling the black mass the Old Blood Seekers. All of the dead, including the Red God, were over the age of thirty and were among the oldest residents of Red Hill.
News reached Town, and everyone there wanted to learn more about the new monsters. Kids drew comics of what they thought the beasts might look like, and the local radio station made “Blood Seeker” audio plays. The School distributed new weapons to the students and organized field trips to the Stadium. It was the greatest excitement since the Night Chases were first introduced. The Town King ordered us to develop a new Specimen that could recreate what we’d seen happen in the Public Square, under the bright spotlights of the Stadium. Those of us who had witnessed the attack on the Red God were assigned to design the silver-eyed girl, while the two surviving Specimen Hunters were brought in to describe what the patchwork-headed man had looked like. Dio locked himself away in his lab for days, subsisting on speed cocktails and protein injections, as he developed a new serum that would turn a Specimen’s blood into a self-multiplying parasitic mass upon contact with foreign living cells. The parasite was designed to keep consuming until no living cells remained on the host.
The Town held a night festival on the day the new Specimens were released into the Stadium. None of the people from Red Hill could attend, of course, but they broadcast the festivities on the jumbotron in the Public Square: children donning plastic masks of the silver-eyed girl or the scarred patchwork-headed man, women and men chomping on black cotton candy that made it look like they, too, were vomiting the black mass, old people fanning themselves with cardboard fans painted with the names of the new Specimens, BLOOD TWINS, on one side and a mouth with dribbling black mass on the other. Flashing over the House of Delight’s stone towers were LED signs advertising the new show:
The new Specimens were a hit in the Stadium. The Blood Twins were beautiful and brutally efficient. They hunted and killed at least four of the old Specimens each night. Only shoes and hair would be sent back to the Specimen Decomposers for disposal. Their kill counts on the scoreboard quickly climbed and broke records. Guests joined in the chase from an elevated walkway, shooting at the Blood Twins with their special rifles, but by the end of the first week, no one had been able to catch or even injure one of the Twins in the allotted time. Some of the more veteran guests became frustrated and despite official warnings, jumped into the maze to get a better shot. They designed and brought in their own traps. Two guests came into direct contact with the Specimen’s blood. One had to have an arm amputated before it killed them, the other was not so lucky. A third person was accidentally shot in the face by another guest. News traveled back to us on Red Hill. We learned that anti-Stadium factions had slowly grown in response to increased casualties. The mother of the man who had been shot in the face demanded the immediate execution of the Blood Twins.
The Town King came to the Red Hill with a new request. The Town people had tired of seeing the Blood Twins take out the older Specimen models. They wanted to see something more dynamic, but with less liability. What if the Specimen Hunters took on the Blood Twins instead? The two young men who had survived the encounter in the forest stood silently as their leader reluctantly agreed to the King’s demands. Like the rest of us on Red Hill, the men knew they had no other choice. They also knew that even if the Snow Mountain monster had shown them mercy, Dio’s Specimens would not.
Trinny came knocking on my door a few nights into the new Specimen Hunter chases. It was raining and her blue hair clung to her face like one of those swamp monsters in the old movies. It wasn’t a bad look. Her purple sneakers were caked in mud. She said she’d seen the silver-eyed girl in one of the training mazes. I told her that she’d probably imagined it. She told me to shut up and just go with her, so I did. I didn’t tell her about my dreams. She’d probably call me a pervert, but I thought maybe I was in love with the beautiful monster that had killed our Red God.
After midnight, the Training Dome is eerily quiet. There are four sunken mazes that snake around the perimeter, leading to separated feeding cages and battle stations. The Trainers avoid direct contact by working from an elevated steel walkway above the mazes where they can watch the Specimens complete their daily tasks from extreme cardio to dodging snipers and breaking free from leg-snapping traps. The Trainers control the Specimens by using a series of speakers and odor guns—the bodies are attracted to music but repelled by the smell of burning wood. As a last resort, every Trainer carries their own weapon— not for self-defense, but to stop a Specimen if it tries to escape.
Each of the four mazes has its own unique set of traps, but all eventually feed into one of the underground tunnels that then merge into a one-way path toward the Stadium. Once a Specimen is in, fire is slowly set off along the path to prevent them from stopping or returning. The Specimens don’t know fear, but they still have survival instincts.
“I saw it running down Maze #2,” Trinny said as we walked along the elevated walkway. The soaring ceiling lights glowed above us like tiny suns, reflecting off the reinforced glass that covered the mazes. The floor was so damn wet and smelled like rotting shrimp, but there was no sign of anyone.
“Maybe it was just a silver-furred rat,” I said as we neared the end of the path.
“That wouldn’t be bad either,” Trinny said, running her tongue over her teeth. The Red Hill hadn’t received a delivery of live meat from Town in weeks.
When we reached the tunnel doors, Trinny lowered a metal ladder from the elevated walkway down into the maze. I think she saw my hesitation because she told me I didn’t need to come down.
“Just watch out for any Specimen wandering over in the maze. Or nosy coworkers that might report us to the Town King for snitch points. The one with no eyebrows has been giving me trouble lately,” she said. She gave me a mock-salute and began climbing down the ladder. Her face didn’t look as courageous as her words. This was probably her first time entering the maze alone.
Something hissed from below. I leaned forward to get a better look, but smoke ballooned across the glass, making it impossible to see into the maze. The smell of burning wood pooled out of the chute. Trinny said something, but I couldn’t hear it over the hissing pipe. I only saw her blue hair as she slipped on one of the ladder rungs and fell in. She didn’t scream; she was smarter than that. The Specimens are trained to kill, and that includes their trainers. Trinny didn’t have a chance if any of the Specimens were awake. I knew better than to call down into the maze to ask if she was okay.
I ran back to the housing hive and sought out one of the Specimen Hunters on my floor—they’re the only ones who have the skills and weapons to take on a Specimen in face-to-face combat. He opened his door warily.
“Did you push her in yourself? Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t mad, but I ain’t wanna know nothin’ either,” he said, rubbing his eyes. Trinny often argued against the Hunters’ ruthless methods for capturing runaway Specimens, so she had few friends among them.
“I didn’t push her. She said she saw something down there,” I said, not wanting to tell him about the silver-eyed girl.
“If she ain’t already dead in the tunnels, she’s gonna be dead by the time the Stadium bell rings tomorrow evening.” There were trash bags stacked around the room and a wooden table covered in guns near the door. “Don’t worry. Her body’ll be blown in with the remains of whatever Specimen’s gonna be used as Blood Twin cattle tonight. You gonna get your closure.”
He patted me on the back. Maybe he was thinking, better her than me, I don’t know.
The next day, I watched the Night Chases on the Public Square jumbotron, chomping on a pink meat sandwich with some of the other Makers. The head of the Decomposers was collecting and paying out on people’s bets. Tonight, there were two dead Specimen Hunters, another narrowly surviving—his arm had been blown off by one of the guest’s rifles. He wouldn’t last another forty-eight hours without treatment at a Town hospital, and we all knew no one but the Red God gets that. The Stadium bell sounded like an old train taking off for a long night’s journey into the darkness, and all of us got up and started toward our shack homes. I waited by the garbage chutes for at least an hour, but none of the remains included Trinny’s purple sneakers or blue hair.
I pined things over for a while in my coffin-sized room. There was a hole in my ceiling that’d been bothering me for weeks. When I start thinking about something, it’s hard to stop, like a propeller that just keeps spinning faster and faster until you can’t tell which direction it’s moving anymore. The neighbor’s dog whimpered outside. He probably hadn’t been fed for a couple of days. I opened the window and tossed him the remainder of my pink meat sandwich. He padded over, his dark black eyes staring at me under the moon, almost human-like. I watched him chew up the meat and leave the bread.
I went back to staring at the hole. It had gotten larger over the past two weeks. That’s what Trinny said when she came to tell me about the silver-eyed girl. I was never good at heroics; she knew that. That’s the kind of thing for the bigger boys in School, the ones who win the fights and send other boys to the corpse chutes. I was good at hiding. At playing dead. At following orders.
But Trinny might still be down that tunnel, and I didn’t want any ghosts haunting me in my sleep when she finally passed on. She was the kind of person who held on to grudges like winning lottery tickets.
Taking a box of cigarettes, I headed to another house in my Hive unit to bribe one of the younger Specimen Hunters to lend me his weapon. He’s one of the two survivors from the team that had searched for the girl from Snow Mountain. His house was covered in plants, cracked potters all over the tables and floor, sorry-looking ferns, dried-out poinsettias, and sunflowers that look more like fanged Venus flytraps. Maybe it was some kind of therapy after the attack. Or maybe he was just hoping they’d eat him up in his sleep.
“Ya think she’s still out there?” he asked, watering a row of purple-flowered plants shaped like fingers. He had a look like he was talking to the plants, not me.
“Nothing’s washed up from the chutes,” I answered. “When ya die, ya don’t just disappear.”
He nodded at the plants. Honestly, I didn’t like him very much. I thought he had a bit of a crush on Trinny since they grew up on the same Town Tower Level, but a weapon’s a weapon.
He put down the empty cup of water and dipped his hand deep into one of the potted ferns. Soil spilled onto the kitchen floor. He didn’t seem to care, a faint groan escaping his lips. I looked away, feeling like I was watching some private ceremony.
“Take this,” he said, pulling out a small pistol from the soil. “It should be uncontaminated by now.”
The boy had that crazed look a lot of the Specimen Hunters got after surviving a night at the Stadium. I thanked him and headed back to my room before the drones did a sweep of our neighborhood.
A little past midnight, I packed the weapon into a knapsack and snuck out. The dog didn’t bark; he was snoring with a full stomach now.
The Training Dome was as empty as the night I’d come with Trinny. Who wants to see the Specimens when they don’t have to? I scrambled up to the elevated walkway and followed the same maze path as before, my shoes clanking against the metal grating. When I reached the end of the walk, I lowered the ladder into the maze, climbing down the same chute Trinny had fallen down several days earlier.
The tunnel floor was sticky and smelled like vomit. I turned on the small flashlight I’d stolen from the Specimen Lab and beamed it down at my feet as I walked because if something was coming to kill me, I didn’t want to make eye contact with it before it did.
The tunnel eventually led to a closed door. I flashed my light over it until I found the manual latch, covered in dark red stains. I sucked in another breath and pulled it open.
It was equally dark on the other side. The stink of vomit was replaced by the faint odor of soil. The air was colder. I was getting closer to something, but I didn’t know what.
A few more minutes of walking, and my flashlight started to flicker at my feet. I was running out of battery. A few more steps, and the light gave out. I was now sliding along in complete darkness like a shapeless creature in the deep sea. It’s amazing how terrifying your imagination can be in the absence of light. I fought the urge to hum or sing because I knew that would attract anything else in the tunnel with me. Instead, I focused on the small white slivers that shot across my vision like tiny fish in the dark, phantom light inside my eyeball.
My left foot bumped into something hard. I waved my hands in front of me, feeling for a wall. Nothing but air. I kicked my right foot out, and again it struck something. I’d reached a staircase.
I wasn’t sure how long I climbed, but my legs were cramping by the time I saw the pinprick of light ahead. I reached for the railing and nearly fell. There was nothing there. I didn’t know how high I’d come, but there was no safety railing on either side of the staircase. I was afraid of heights, but if you can’t see how high you are, it’s just a mind game. How well could I trick my brain into thinking it was safe, to steer itself forward without hesitation. Hesitation is what gets people killed, not fear.
The pin of light soon stretched into a square outline, the edges of a door. I pushed it open and climbed out, closing it behind me quickly. I didn’t want to see how high I had actually come.
Sunlight filtered in from a canopy above. Cicadas buzzed in the trees. Wasn’t it nighttime when I’d gone into the tunnel? I was standing in the middle of a forest. Ahead, a stone well was soaking in hot afternoon light, a scattering of dead leaves around the base. Where was the bloody Stadium maze and the elevated path where guests would chase and shoot at the Specimens below? Where was the towering timer board we’d seen on all the nightly television broadcasts, the body count rendered in smiley faces with X’s over the eyes displayed next to the number of remaining minutes?
The silver-eyed girl was sitting in the shade, reading.
“You people are persistent,” she said, putting down her book. She wasn’t exactly annoyed, but she didn’t seem to be interested in talking either.
I just stared at her, like I had so many times in my dreams.
“Something wrong with your tongue?” she asked, frowning. “I saw you at the Public Square. You’re one of the Makers, aren’t you?”
I nodded, still trying to find my voice. It was weird how your head could work fine one second but be a chunk of cheese the next.
“Okay, so not much of a talker,” she said, plucking up a handful of grass and then letting the blades fall between her fingers. “I assume you’re looking for your friend?”
I nodded again.
“Her name happen to be Trinny?”
I nodded again.
“You’re too late then. She’s gone,” she said, standing up and circling around to the well. I pulled my knapsack close, feeling the handle of the weapon dig into my chest.
“Did you kill her?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“So, you do you have a tongue after all.” She turned around, looking amused. She pulled the wooden lid off the well and peered in like someone who’d dropped their hat. “My skill isn’t killing people. And it sure isn’t that black mess that your people seem to love so much.”
“But you killed the Red God. We all saw.”
“You saw him die. You didn’t see me kill him. There’s a big difference.” She sighed loudly into the well before standing up straight and looking me in the eye. She really did have a beautiful face; I could almost picture the smooth muscles and symmetrical bones underneath the skin. “I’ve been living in your Town peacefully for the past year, trying to understand what happened. Your idiot Red God just happened to find me between transformations.”
“I change faces, bodies. Whatever’s convenient at the time. It was all just poor timing on his part really…”
“So, you did kill him.”
“I think I liked you better when you didn’t speak,” she said, frowning again.
“To answer your question. No, I didn’t kill your Red God. I simply witnessed him die. As did many of your friends. No one tried to stop it from happening. He didn’t seem be very popular in your little town.”
“No one knew what to do.”
“Most people don’t know what to do until they do it,” she answered, staring down the well again. She motioned for me to come closer. I listened to the sound of my feet shuffling across the dry grass as if possessed. For a moment, I thought of my brother when we were both children, and our long walks to the cemetery to visit our parents. We barely spoke during those visits, but he’d always hold my hand tightly as if afraid I, too, would be whisked away like our parents had been.
I put my hands on the edge of the old stone well, less than a foot from the girl’s bone-white fingers. She smelled good. Were monsters supposed to smell good?
“I didn’t kill Trinny,” she said. “But I can take you to her if you help me out with something in return.”
She waited for me to agree, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I couldn’t stop staring at her hands.
“If you’re just going to waste my time, go back over there, open that hatch door again, and go trotting back to the Training Dome. No one would even know you left,” she said.
I didn’t like the idea of descending back into the darkness, but the girl had already begun climbing down the rusty metal ladder into the well.
“What do you need me to do?” I called out. If she wanted to kill me, she could have done it already.
“Nothing you don’t know how to do,” she answered, her voice echoing up along the stone walls. “Cover that for me, will you?” She pointed up at the opening of the well. Her silver eyes reflected the streaks of sunlight from above. “Or, if you’re coming along, then hurry up and come down already.”
I dragged over the wooden lid and climbed into the well. Obediently, I pulled it over the hole, dropping us both into complete darkness.
“How long have you two known each other?” the girl asked as we climbed down.
“A little over ten years,” I grunted, my hand tightening around the ladder’s rusted handlebars. How deep did this well go? The teachers at the School sometimes told the story about a well so deep that if you climbed down to the bottom, you’d find another version of yourself waiting for their turn to go up.
“I guess that’s a long time by Normals’ standards huh?” the girl replied louder as if sensing my anxiety. I tried to focus on her voice instead of the dark. “Trinny’s a nice girl. A bit overly energetic, but nice. She cares a lot about people, which is hard to find nowadays. I met her a few times when she came to the Training dome to run at night. She seemed to have trouble sleeping. There was always a lot on her mind. I think she was thankful for someone to talk to.”
She explained how Trinny’s parents had created an anti-Stadium faction and had quietly sent her information folded away in the pockets of the clothes her cousin sent her. Trinny was responsible for sneaking out at least two Specimens per week through the underground tunnels. Her parents didn’t tell her what they were doing with them, only that they were close to getting those of us on Red Hill out.
The letters from her parents stopped coming a week after the Blood Twins were introduced. She had no way of knowing what had happened to them or even if their escape channels were still safe. Several days ago, after one of her good friends, a Specimen Hunter and fellow anti-Stadium worker, was killed in the Night Chases, she decided to find out what was going on in Town.
As the girl spoke, I realized I knew nothing about Trinny. I’d been staring at a frosted window, never really seeing inside. We’d simply known each other for a long time, but time was not a reliable measurement of friendship.
“Your friend had no idea what she was doing. She’ll probably end up causing more trouble than anything else, but I suppose the Normals would categorize her as brave,” the girl said, her voice echoing like water in a cave. “I told her she should take the same path out as the Specimens. It’s the only place the guards wouldn’t think to look. It can be dangerous, but if timed right, it’s safer than any of the other options. It’s how I got in too. I didn’t really think she’d do it. She didn’t seem like the type of person who liked doing things alone, which is why I think she called you. Maybe she thought you were the only one stupid enough to follow her.”
Trinny would think that.
“You were late though,” she said. “And sometimes late is worse than never.”
I dangled one foot down, searching for the next ladder rung, but found solid ground instead. The well was dry, the bottom paved over with cement. Part of the stone wall had been blown through and an underground path carved out.
“Come on,” the girl called.
Her flashlight flickered on several yards away. She had jogged on ahead. I didn’t know what to call her, so I just followed the light. Music stirred the darkness distantly, slowly growing louder, like the Town King’s car approaching each New Year’s. The sound of a mace dragging on the ground. The jumbotron flashing with a new face. Memories molded shapes out of the dark. The girl walked faster than I could follow. I kept a hand on the wet wall as the shadows expanded in front of me. The pinprick of light from the girl’s flashlight shrunk smaller and smaller. I tried to run, but it was too late.
“Hello?” I called out, alone in the dark again. I pulled out my flashlight and fumbled with the switch. I shook it a few times and the light flickered back on, twitching like the old lamps in the Specimen Maker bathrooms.
The light beamed over a body in a lab coat several yards ahead. It was hunched over something on the ground.
“Hello?” I repeated, barely a whisper. I took a few steps forward, but the flashlight shut off again. I shook it again, toggling the switch. Light skidded off the wall and onto a face. It was looking straight at me. The light flickered off again. I rattled the flashlight, but it wouldn’t come back this time. Footsteps approached me in the dark. The music crescendoed into a storm of trumpets and drums. I reached into my knapsack for the pistol, my heart pounding in my chest. Did I even know how to fire it? I’d been in such a hurry to leave the boy’s stinking pseudo-greenhouse apartment that I hadn’t bothered asking how to use it.
A light flickered on, but it wasn’t mine. Glowing in the concrete tunnel ahead, Dio was holding a flashlight. He took a few steps forward, limping toward me. My hand tightened around the pistol. Trying to escape Red Hill was a punishable crime, considered worse than murder. Offenders were locked in one of the Specimen Decomposers’ ice rooms with the mangled Specimen remains for thirty days. Still, that didn’t sound so bad—anything would be better than becoming one of Dio’s test subjects.
“It’s me,” he said. His eyes were silver against the flashlight’s white light. The girl’s pretty, silver eyes. “Sorry, this appearance will help us if we encounter any Townspeople along the way. Did you bring any weapons?”
I debated whether or not to show the girl the pistol I’d borrowed from the Specimen Hunter. “Nothing very strong,” I answered.
“I didn’t kill any of those poor Normals who came looking for me afterwards either, in case you’re wondering. That was all your pal Dio enjoying his new test subjects,” she said, seeing my hesitation. “I did pull two of the boys out of the way of hungry wolves when I saw the bad condition they were in after the black mass got them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Dio, your oh-so-reliable boss, had the patchwork-headed monster prepared for weeks. Even before I showed up. I just became the perfect scapegoat,” she said.
No one knows when the Sadness started or why. One day everyone was fine, and then the next day, people were jumping from their Town Towers homes like birds that had forgotten how to fly. The doctors called it a temporary affliction—that was the term they used for anything that only killed the garbage people, those of us on the outskirts that didn’t matter. When it had spread to the gated residences outside the Town King’s house, the Police were dispatched. People were arrested. Most were beaten and interrogated for days. How had we inflicted the disease on them? Houses were burned. Free therapy was offered at the School, though no one was stupid enough to go. The sick were quarantined, but it continued to spread as if the contagion had rooted itself into our water and air. People grew paranoid, afraid that a night of bad sleep, or a prickle of headache, was a symptom of the disease. The streets were filled with smiling people, everyone doped up on meds that made you forget.
Months passed and then years. Smoke rose over the Town, heaters guzzled oil, leaves shriveled on trees, and still more bodies fell from open windows. Time went on and on. The Town King made suicide a criminal offense, but it was no use. How do you prosecute a corpse? The Sadness had spread to more than ninety percent of the population in Town, suicides quadrupling in the past decade.
Then the reports began flooding the screens in Town:
The Joy Spiders fed off crystallized larva in the Shrine of the Snow Mountain King. No one knew how the Town King had learned about them. They were rumored to take root in the ears of the shrine maidens and elicit pleasurable dreams. Anyone who spent enough time in these happy dreams could have their brains reformatted—a painless and
permanent cure for the Sadness.
The Town King launched his new Joy Liberation Army to gain control of the shrine. At least a fourth of the children at the School signed up, each one boasting about how many monsters they’d kill. My brother thought it was stupid, so I didn’t join. Secretly, I was thankful.
Dio was enlisted to create steroid serums for the Town’s soldiers. The boys trained through the summer and fall, experimenting with different weapons on the monsters they’d kidnapped from Trinny’s parents’ refuge house. They wanted to see which ones worked best. Poison-tipped spears, spiked muzzles, nerve gas, expanding bullets, acid balloons. Younger monsters were used to bait out more adults. The Town King was not only testing how effective the Town’s weapons could be, but how far the boys could be pushed.
The attack was scheduled for New Year’s Day. The Town King gave a speech in a fancy golden helmet with red feathers. The boys pumped their fists and cheered, or at least that’s what they showed on the screens. We all watched the battle unfold while slurping up our New Year’s morning slop at home. The Town King liked to have everything broadcast. “HEROES vs DEMONS” flashed across the screen as his Joy Liberation Army was swiftly sliced down by monsters with sickle-shaped limbs, or those who could enter a person’s body through the eyes and rip them apart from inside. The Army’s weapons bounced right off the hardened bodies of the monsters like plastic toys. With the right soundtrack, I wondered if it would look comedic.
The survivors tried to drag back as many of their injured friends as they could, but most died along the way. The town’s Funeral Home filled up with dead bodies awaiting proper burial. The mission for the miracle Joy Spiders was called off and the screens made no more mention of them. So ended the Town’s short-lived war with the Snow Mountain.
“So, that’s the official story?” The monster girl laughed. She handed me the book she’d been perusing through earlier and tossed me a spare flashlight.
“A fun read, perhaps,” she said. “I’ve spent the past year and a half snooping through your Town and its dirty secrets. Snow Mountain tries to keep an eye on its sad little neighbor. We didn’t think you’d all be so good at making your own lives so miserable.”
It was a notebook. I flipped it open to the first page: The Secrets of Red Hell. I assumed this wasn’t a spelling mistake.
The first few pages detailed the attack on Snow Mountain much like I knew it, with the mass slaughter and gruesome retreat. According to her notes, however, several days after the failed attack on Snow Mountain, almost all the dead bodies woke up in the morgue or in the ice kitchens. Wounds still open, many still missing parts of their face or legs where the monsters had attacked, they were alive, most shrieking in agony.
The King ordered a quarantine and lockdown. More doctors were brought in to observe the reanimated corpses. Some hailed it a miracle, others called it evidence that the soldiers had forged contracts with the Snow Mountain devils. Dio was delighted. Even as the wounded soldiers begged for death, he smiled as if their cries were paving a road to infinite possibility.
The doctors, on Dio’s orders, experimented with ways to kill the soldiers. They found that with each regeneration, the brain lost a significant portion of its clarity. By the tenth regeneration, the person had lost most of his or her memories and motor functions, basic cognitive skills replaced with an insatiable urge for death. Many in quarantine had successfully hung themselves in their rooms, only to wake up hours later confused by what had happened. None could remember dying. It was as if the last several minutes of their life had been spliced off like excess film footage.
The King was afraid the people in Town would soon realize what they, too, had become. Thinking the war would come into the Town, he had ordered the steroid serum distributed to the citizens through the Town’s meat and vegetable supplies—chicken packs and broccoli injected with what Dio called the Death Dose. Any man, woman, or child who had eaten anything from the town in the past year had been unwittingly “enhanced.”
Corpse Collectors, codenamed “The Police,” were organized to collect any dead people in Town before they could regenerate. They screened hospital and emergency calls and monitored street activity. The King wanted to make sure there were no witnesses to a body reanimating. The town was put under an information quarantine.
The amount of time it took for a dead person to regenerate varied depending on the level of injury. This determined the level of priority any specific corpse clean-up received. The girl had copied records taken from real-life cases from the town hospital:
REGENERATION TIMES [CORPSE TIME]
- Severe blood loss (e.g. 45-year-old man—slit throat)
- Asphyxiation (e.g. 21-year-old woman—strangled with rope by roommate)
- Severe bone & muscle damage (e.g. 28-year-old woman—jumping from twentieth floor of Town Towers)
- Medium neural damage (e.g. 16-year-old boy—electrocuted with taser by teacher)
- Severe brain tissue damage (e.g. 55-year-old man—major head trauma from blunt impact with hammer; 36-year-old woman—brain aneurysm)
- Molecular-level cell destruction (e.g. 68-year-old woman—leukemia; 12-year-old girl— severe radiation poisoning)
- The bodies accumulated in the underground hospital, people waking up confused about why they were being held like prisoners. The King became desperate and ceased all public appearances.
In the chaos, Dio offered a solution: why not utilize this miracle? Hadn’t all of this risen from a need to cure the Sadness? The townspeople had become immortal, but they were still bored and miserable. One could only watch the same television and stare at the same scenery every day before something started to feel inherently missing. The human body craves stimulation—every part of it is designed for that. No wonder the Sadness had spread so quickly—boredom itself was the illness. He introduced the concept of the Specimen and an amusement complex where people could hunt and kill his unkillable targets—a safe new thrill to reawaken their dopamine centers.
The Town King loved the idea. He gave his first public speech in months to announce it. A retired sports stadium was renovated, the bleachers and batting cages converted into weapon and clean-up rooms for Specimen Hunters, the old plastic spectator seats replaced with reclining chairs each embedded with buttons for audience members to vote on their favorites. Greasy food stands were transformed into hunting game simulations for the children. The House of Delights was born. All Town residents were required to attend the nightly chases. Television was shut down permanently, and jumbotrons were installed in all major squares for those who couldn’t fit into the stadium. A corpse chute was constructed to funnel all the bodies that the Corpse Collectors gathered directly to the Specimen Lab on Red Hill.
The Specimen Maker procedure was largely a sham, designed more to lengthen the corpse’s regeneration time for pipelining purposes and desensitize those who worked on them. Organs were cut and replaced with mechanical parts that prevented the bodies from properly regenerating, limiting their strength and speed. Teeth and tongues were removed, and the mouths were fitted with muzzles that supposedly made it safer for the Trainers, but were in truth, intended to silence the dead. Plasticine coatings were brushed over the skin to hinder movement and provide the grotesque sheen of a monster.
As I flipped through the notebook, I found lists of people grouped by job and ID number. The girl had circled the name of the two boys who had survived the Specimen Hunter mission to find her. Next to their names, she’d written, “Specimen candidates.”
“What does this mean?” I asked, looking up. The girl was still transformed as Dio, limping along the dim trail of light from his flashlight.
She stopped and squinted at the text I was pointing at.
“The only people who weren’t affected by the Death Dose were those on Red Hill. Do you know what makes you guys so unique?” She turned to me, her lips wrinkling up into the same grin Dio had whenever a new corpse was delivered to his cutting table. “Absolutely nothing. Red Hill’s produce and most of its meat are harvested locally or from the half-rotted supplies from Town that haven’t passed sanitation tests. None of it had been injected with the Death Dose. The only Red Hill residents afflicted with the Deathless illness were those newly sent in from Town over the past few years. That includes those two boys on the list.”
“But we have a special brain composition for working with the Specimens,” I said, reciting the spiel the speakers cranked out every morning before work. But I wasn’t so sure anymore.
The girl laughed.
“Let me tell you what ‘special brain composition’ means. It means you have nobody you care about seeing dead anymore. You don’t even recognize the corpses coming in, do you? That makes it much easier to do your job.”
I kept reading, not understanding. The girl had copied notes she found from the killing experiments conducted by the doctors.
METHODS TO HALT REGENERATION
- Sever head. Regeneration will occur from the head while disconnected body will rot—full recovery within forty-eight hours.
- Removal and separation of all organs. Regeneration will occur from the brain while original separated parts will rot—full recovery within forty-eight hours.
- Mince all body tissue. Very slow regeneration but will occur from shreds of brain tissue—full recovery may take up to one week.
- Destroy all tissue through ultra-heat. Very slow regeneration, but spontaneous repair will begin with brain tissue—full recovery may take up to two weeks.
- Consume Specimen tissue. Successful in multiple cases.
Regeneration could be permanently halted if one Specimen consumed the other. The doctors only discovered this method after a group of six Specimen were left unattended in the same room, and days later, only two remained, with no trace of the other four. Cannibalism had turned into the most efficient method for disposal. That was how the Specimen Decomposers did it, even though they themselves were not aware of it. The bodies were ground up, divided, combined like a trail mix, and packed into boxes that were sent to Town. The King had this cooked into a slurry with additional meats and vegetables, which was then redelivered and marketed as a hyper-powered feed for the Specimens in training. When there were too many Specimens that needed disposal, they began to combine the slurry into the rations sent to the people of Red Hill.
We walked through the tunnel for what felt like an hour, but it was comfortable talking to the girl. It was like chatting with Trinny again, the way we used to before coming to Red Hill. Trinny and I would share a pack of crackers on the roof of the School, and she’d patiently list off all the day’s gossip, thrilled when she hit on something I hadn’t yet heard. She’d always give details other people never mentioned, like the color of a person’s eyes, or what the weather had been like when something bad happened. I always liked how she’d walk a few paces ahead and glance back to smile at me, as if she were leading me somewhere only the two of us would know.
A pale red light glowed ahead, a neon exit sign flickering above a steel door. Was it wrong that a part of me didn’t want this walk to end?
“What kind of place is Snow Mountain?” I asked.
“It’s beautiful. There are blue flowers that grow over the lakes throughout the year. Not even the snow can kill them,” she answered.
I watched girl-Dio’s back as she unlocked the door. I wished she would transform back into her pretty self. She mimicked Dio too perfectly, from the limp to the eye patch. I knew it was her, but visual cues are hard to override with blind belief.
It was freezing inside. Opera music looped from two large speakers bolted to the ceiling. There was a blue wig on the steel countertop, a box of latex gloves and antiseptic fluids on a shelf above the sink. A foul smell emanated from the large steel garbage bin in the corner.
“What is this place?” I asked, watching the girl-Dio take off her lab coat and hang it on a silver hanger on the wall. She turned on the faucet and washed her hands, drying them on a green towel hanging off the sink. She looked like she’d just come home. Behind another door, I heard the grind of machines.
“The Corpse Chutes,” she answered finally.
She picked up the blue wig and put it in my hands. The underside was dried and scaly like the scalps on the Specimens.
“I wash and combed it to get out all the sweaty tangles. Feel how nice and silky it is now,” she said, running a hand through the hair fondly.
My fingers tightened around the familiar strands.
“Where’s Trinny?” I asked.
“‘Where’s Trinny? Where’s Trinny?’” she parroted, waving dismissively. “After all I’ve told you, that’s still all you’re worried about?”
“What did you do to her?” I demanded, my hands shaking under the shimmer of blue hair.
“Just a bit of housekeeping. I needed a new job so I wouldn’t stick out. I think I’ve studied enough of her mannerisms through our nightly chats to not draw any unnecessary suspicion. What do you think?” She opened a locker and pulled out a smock. Hanging inside was a T-shirt like the one I’d last seen on Trinny on that rainy day. Her purple sneakers were perched on the box above, still caked in dried mud. “Unfortunately, this is all that’s left of her. But I’ve kept my promise. Now that I’ve brought you to her, you’ll have to do me that little favor.”
“How can you do this? I thought you liked Trinny.”
“How?” She raised an eyebrow. “That’s a pointless question. Creatures always muster the ability to get things done that need to get done. Or they die. You should know all about the importance of doing your job. Mourning the dead should only come after everything is done. And right now, work still needs to be done. We might be able to design a cure for the Specimen condition for you Normals if we force Dio to cooperate with us. We were so close, but your idiotic Red God made it impossible for me to return to Red Hill as myself. I needed a new face and worker number. A new identity. Blame it on your horrible Town’s system. Trinny would understand. This is for the greater good.”
“Why do you even care what we do to ourselves?” I said, backing up against the counter. “You’re just a Snow Mountain monster. Shouldn’t you be happy to see us killing ourselves?”
“Personally, I just find you all frustrating to watch. Make, destroy, rebuild, and repeat. The basic human condition. It’s like peace and happiness make you nervous,” she said, taking a gun out of the locker. The handle was bone-white. It was Trinny’s gun, made from Sweet’s bones. “I’m not doing this out of kindness. I’m doing this because someone needs to clean up our Father’s mess. It’s the right thing to do. He had a bit too much fun with you Normals, playing God. We never intended for it to go this far. Even this new black mess…that idiot Red God was just his first test subject.”
“Your father is Dio?”
She frowned as if the name had an unpleasant taste.
“No, he’s the one you call the Town King.”
She threw the smock at me. “Now please put this on so I won’t have to make a mess of your clothes. We’ll be needing those.”
“You have a role too. My brother needs a new identity. He was one of the Specimen Hunters ‘killed’ during one of the recent Blood Twin chases. I never did like that name, by the way.”
I put the smock on, not knowing what else to do. I was always good at following orders. I tried to think of what I had said to her in the few dreams where we had spoken. We’d gotten along so well then.
“Unfortunately, you and Trinny both had a bit too much to eat in Town during the attack on Snow Mountain, otherwise this could’ve been done a bit more cleanly, more painlessly,” she said, checking the barrel of the gun. “Don’t worry though, we’ve found an alternative to cannibalism. Feeding the body to animals works equally well. Worked perfectly for Trinny.”
She aimed the gun between my eyes. The blue hair was still in my hands. I remember how once, after I’d come home crying from School, fat bruises all over my face, Trinny had let me comb through her hair. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the warmth of her scalp, all the blood vessels underneath, the delicate pulse of her skull, all the cells that had died and all the new skin that had to replace them, the nerves that fired each time my fingers caught a tangle. To be alive was such a complicated, exhausting endeavor. And yet, now, looking at the remains of my only friend, death didn’t seem much better.
I slowly unzipped the knapsack underneath the smock and reached for the weapon I’d borrowed from the Specimen Hunter. As my hand ran over the cold metal head, I realized something I hadn’t really thought about before: I didn’t want anything to change. I was good at what I did. I didn’t want to go back to the Town, to the School. Back to becoming garbage, dead weight. What was wrong with Red Hill? What was wrong with the Specimens? Hadn’t the suicide rates finally gone down? Why did people always need to start trouble? My brother had always been stupid and selfish. Our parents too. Trinny too. I was the only one who had learned anything from all the death: those who survive are never seen. Only the dead, the arrogant, the foolhardy who crave change, are known.
“Don’t take this personally,” the girl said, clicking off the safety. The gun fired, the popping sound like a tiny bomb detonating in the low-ceiling room. Shrapnel, bone shards, and threads of flesh flew in slow motion. Blood splattered on my smock and onto the smooth metal countertop and sink. I instinctively reached for my face. There was no pain. The gun had exploded in the girl’s hand. Trinny must have never used Sweets’ gun in all these years. Maybe she had never intended to. Sentimentality had an odd way of looping back.
I pulled my pistol over the smock, dropping the blue wig to the floor. The girl was too slow, too startled by Trinny’s final revenge. I took aim, my eyes hyper-focused from the adrenaline. The first bullet blasted through her left shoulder. Her whole body swung back from the impact. The second shot pierced her chest. The third through her neck. The fourth through her right shoulder. My ears were ringing. I lost count. She stumbled back, hitting the locker, blood running down Dio’s lumpy body and pooling on the concrete floor.
“You’ll never be able to die. None of you will. Do you understand?” the girl gurgled through the blood, her long white fingers pressed against her throat. She slowly transformed back into her pretty self. The color had drained from her face, but she still looked perfect with her silver hair. I walked closer, examining her body as I had hundreds of Specimens before her.
“Are you here to save us?” I asked, holding the gun up again, this time between her pretty silver eyes. “Because sometimes late is worse than never.”
“They say the townspeople are getting bored of the Blood Twins,” the man next to me says as we sew up the chest of the first Specimen of the day. It’s a clean stitch—I’m good at what I do.
“They’ll think of something new. They have to keep the people entertained,” I say, sliding the body along to the plasticine painters.
“I’m just sayin’, it’s been a few years after all,” he insists. “The whole thing creeps me out, to be honest.”
I take off my gloves. It’s time for a cigarette. To feel the smoke go through these lungs while they’re still just flesh and blood. Never know when it’ll be my turn to go down the chutes, to lie flat on the cutting board.
I turn to the man. He still looks unsatisfied. He’s new here.
I pat him on the shoulder like my brother often did when I came home from school unhappy.
“Think of it this way,” I say as the jumbotron lights up with the Town King’s morning greeting. “What would we do otherwise?”
Copyright © 2023 Angela Liu