Your Story 42 Winner: The Safe Zone

Prompt: Begin your story with the following line of dialogue: "I've got to get out of these clothes—fast."
Author:
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Prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: "I've got to get out of these clothes--fast."

Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in the competition (either by entering, reading or voting).

Out of more than 600 entries, readers helped us pick “The Safe Zone” by Patricia S. Cook as the winner. For winning, Patricia’s story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.

Winning Entry

"The Safe Zone"
By Patricia S. Cook

“I’ve got to get out of these clothes—fast,” I say softly to myself, my voice breaking. I obey the man holding a cattle prod inches away from my half-naked body. When the electrified stick crackles close to my ear, the fine hair across my skin raises. I twitch.

“Lift your arms and keep your distance girl,” he roars. “Good. Lift your head. Let me see your neck. Good. Turn around, bend over, touch your toes and spread your legs.”

I move fast and follow the orders given. Besides, what choice do I have? If the man with the prod doesn’t get me, I’m sure one of the others with the M16s would. All the guards look the same with their yellow bodysuits, black gloves, clear face shields, and identical nervous looks in their eyes.

“This one’s clear,” he shouts and then nods at me. “Move along.”

With one last checkpoint ahead, I see the lucky clothed people behind the barbwire fence huddling in groups with army green blankets. I join a woman in line and watch her try to cover her naked body with her hands. I dispense with any sort of modesty and hug my arms, rubbing them in hopes the friction will warm me.

Puffs of smoke laced with the aroma of grilled meats drift by. My stomach aches for food. I don’t dare look down because I imagine it looks as if an alien perches inside, ready to burst through.

Icy winds bite at my flesh. I squat, wrap my arms around my legs and rest my head on my knees. The tingle of tears pricks my eyes while I ignore the knots twisting inside. It’s dusk, and all those who don’t pass the checkpoints by dark will be forced to start all over again tomorrow.

The cry from the woman in front of me draws my attention. She winces as the man scrapes her head with clippers. The buzzing shears moan in protest against her thick blond hair, which falls in strips at his feet. I see his eyes widen right before he jumps back—and I realize she’s infected. He screams and races toward a decontamination tent.

I don’t know if I hear the shots first or see her body jerk under the impact of the bullets. As she falls to the ground, three men with meat hooks in their hands run up to inspect the spot right above her ear. I strain to hear what they say, but can’t make out their muffled words. With blunt force they sink the metal talons deep into her flesh and drag her away to a pit full of other lifeless bodies.

My mouth gapes and my body heaves from the sight, but no tears fall. My humanity is denied all because of dehydration. The pain in my chest deepens when I glance at the people behind the fence, and they seem not to notice or care for the fallen. I’m not sure which.

“This one has been in line with her all day,” I hear a guard announce to a new man at the post.
The words rip through me and my chest tightens. “I’m fine.” I raise my hands in a submissive position. “I’ve kept my distance. I didn’t touch her or even talk to her,” I plead.

“No.” He grabs me to brand my arm with a rejection mark. “Don’t come back for nine days.”

“Please, I’ve traveled so far and I will freeze without clothes,” I beg and pull against his tight hold.

“I can’t help you.”

“Don’t send me back out there,” I sob.

“How old are you?” His brow creases.

“Twelve.”

The man drops my arm and I overhear his whisper. “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He stares at me. “My daughter was twelve, too.” A tear betrays his appearance of control. “Where is your family?” he asks.

“They died in the first wave of bio-attacks. I’m all alone.”

He takes a quick glance around and looks to the sky. “Damn it,” he mutters.

I don’t move or say a word as I watch the man unravel in front of me. But I do smile for the first time in three years when I hear the gentle hum of the clippers click on.

It’s dark as I stumble through the last checkpoint. A guard leans down and strokes my cheek. “Don’t be scared little girl,” he hands me a blanket and grins. “You’ve made it to the safe zone.”

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