The Phase, Chapter 11
“He did that for you?” Sara Sofia asks, “Oh my god…that is so…romantic…”
Sara Sofia is literally at home swooning like this is some sort of love story. They had been gone for days. Dennis, Elias, and Gato. They just came and fucking took them. I just let her know that my best friend literally gave himself in to be taken away to some fucking concentration camp in order to protect me.
“This is serious Sara…”
“Did you call his mother?”
“She says that she is going to take the next flight out here, but there’s nothing she can do,” I stated shaking her head, “What is she going to do call a lawyer?”
“I know you’re upset, JD, but I think the only way to fight this is legal…”
“You don’t get it, Sara. THIS IS a NEW LAW!”
I feel bad for screaming at Sara Sofia. I know she is just trying to help. I know everything she is trying to say to me is to make sure I don’t freak out. But the problem with trying to keep me from doing that is I’m already there. I’m already blaming myself. I knew Gato. He wouldn’t have done that for anyone else but for some reason, he just couldn’t help but do stupid shit to help me. What the hell was his problem?
Sara Sofia seems to have given up. She just pats me on my back at that moment in the same way she did with Mom when Dad died. I knew when Sara Sofia didn’t have an idea that it was pretty much pointless.
Just then the door opens.
I look over at the door confused. We weren’t expecting anyone. That’s when my little brother walks into the room. No, he just doesn’t walk into the room. He scuffles. His eyes are really red. He has this glassed over look on his face. He doesn’t even realize Sara Sofia and I are in the room it seems like. He goes to the fridge, grabs one of my dad’s beers that he left behind, opens it and sits at the table.
He silently just sits there.
“Juan Martin?” my sister asks.
It definitely doesn’t look like him. I’ve never seen my brother look so drained. He ignores her, takes a couple of sips out of his beer and slams it on the table. Then he just drops his head down and starts sobbing. My brother wasn’t a crier. I knew this and so did my sister. Maybe that’s why we turn to one another and glare.
I take a deep breath turning to Juan Martin, pressing my hand on his arm and giving it a little squeeze, “Juan Martin, what’s wrong?”
“I saw the camps.”
Shit. My heart was racing.
“You saw where they take the Phased?”
He nods, “Camps in the valley. They are isolated from everyone. JD, it’s….it’s worse than you could ever imagine. It’s oh my god…”
That’s when he starts to cry. It’s as though that huge tough boy image he liked to portray faded away in a matter of seconds. He just becomes my little brother again. The innocent one he was before the Phase. He’s tearing up and we both gather around him in support. He lets it all out and even though I’m happy that my brother is showing some vulnerability I’m nervous about what made him so upset in the first place.
“It’ll be OK,” I tell him.
“No it won’t,” he explains, “You don’t get it. It’s worse than you could imagine. I’m sorry JD. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. I’m sorry I treated you so bad…”
I look at my sister again. It had to be bad. It had to be really bad to have Juan Martin not only apologize but sit at the table shaking as though he’d been through the worst things possibly known to man.
“It’s OK,” I tell him.
Sara Sofia awkwardly lets out a, “What did you see?”
I’m nervous about the answer. I knew Gato was strong. I knew he could get through everything, but I didn’t think that he could get past this.
“I can’t talk about it…”
“Bro—-Gato is there,” I explain to him, “It’s almost been a week. I need to know what is happening. I need to know what my best friend is going through.”
His eyes open up really wide when he thinks about Gato being there.
“They do things…some people don’t survive them,” my little brother explains, ‘Some people do. But in the end, they get bored with testing against some people. And that’s when they just get rid of them.”
I swallow my spit.
There’s no way.
“Get rid of them?”
He nods, “No one’s coming back…”
It’s the middle of the night. My little brother doesn’t say too much more about what he has experienced. We are able to finally calm him down late at night making a special tea that my dad used to make for us. That is able to really put him in the mindstate to at least rest, but I’m worried about him. I’m worried whatever he saw at these camps were going to set him back.
“What are you doing?” Sara Sofia asks.
It’s almost morning. She must have woken up early because she sees me going through Juan Martin’s things.
“Going through his phone. I want to know the location of the nearest FAM camp.”
She gives me a weird look, “JD, why?”
“Why do you think?”
I grab the military jacket that Juan Martin had on. It pretty much fits. I see my sister giving me this look as though she was nervous as hell.
“You’re not going there?”
“If Gato is there, then yes, I’m going there. I’m going to find a way out,” I assure her, “Hopefully try to bring Dennis and Elias. Hell, maybe even Juanita…”
“You’re going to pretend to be Juan Martin?”
“Yes. People say we look alike all the time. It’s time to prove it.”
“Goddamit,” she states, “You don’t realize what you’re doing. It’s dangerous. What if YOU get discovered.”
“I LOVE HIM!” I tell Sara Sofia.
We get quiet. Real Quiet.
She nods as though realizing this is something that has been building up for quite some time.
“I love him,” I explain to her, “I guess I always did, as a friend. But now I realize that he’s the perfect man for me. He’s perfect in every way, Sara. The reason he was never able to settle down and be satisfied and the reason I’m not able to find a girl I like is that we were made for one another.”
“You can’t possibly know that. This is Gato…”
“I know he’s not perfect. I know people don’t understand him. But I understand him and he’s perfect for me. So I have to go to Sara Sofia. I have to get him back.”
Sara Sofia sighs a little bit. She’s nervous. She doesn’t want to lose someone else in her family. I get it. But there was someone in my family missing as well. And I was going to get him back no matter what.
“Good luck,” My sister gives me her blessing.
I pull up to the gate. Juan Martin has been assigned his own van. He’d been assigned his own weapon. The facility is guarded by a fence higher than I would have assumed they’d build for something like this.
I hesitate when I pull Juan Martin’s ID out. We did look alike for the most part. I mean if he gave me a quick glaze he wouldn’t have noticed. I stare outward trying not to seem nervous or even allow him to have too long of a stare.
He stares at the ID.
Stares at me.
Stares at the ID.
Stares at me.
“This must be a mistake…” he states.
Oh shit. I pace myself… “I’m sorry?”
“You aren’t supposed to report to this gate. Your gate is about a block down. But it’s fine. Go through here you can always circle over once you get in.”
I want to feel relief when I get in but I don’t feel it long when I start driving up and seeing the tents. They’d put people in gray. Regular people. Good people. They were walking around with shoes that were barely there. Their clothes were pretty much in shambles. I think this can’t be real life as I drive through crowds of them. When they see my car they seem somewhat scared shuffling away into different tents. The entire area is populated with them.
People like me.
People who felt like they loved someone else of their own sex.
I pull up to the administrative building thrusting forward hoping to god not to seem out of place or uncomfortable when I see a group of Agenda officers coming up to me.
I stop. I turn. One of the men in the group called out to me. I turn and start walking over to him. What if they recognize my brother’s name? What if they realize that I am not him? What the fuck is the punishment for trespassing on a place like this? What would happen?
“You’re with us,” the officer states, “We are on patrol duty for the infected.”
An officer is a young man. He is relatively handsome. He has a goatee and seems almost my age if not even a little younger. It scares me seeing him because I could see my brother in a situation like this. What the hell did my little brother know about authority?
I didn’t know what patrol duty consisted of but I knew what he meant by the infected. He was talking about the crowds of people who they were treating like cattle. I pretend to be like the others as he leads me down the steps. It seems like they start breaking off into the crowd of people and they were just generally ordering them what to do.
“CURFEW IS IN AN HOUR!”
“NO WALKING SLOW!”
“BACK TO WORK!”
That’s when I feel an arm next to mind. I look over and it’s the officer with the goatee that invited me out patrolling on the first place. He looks intrigued for some reason as he joins me for this patrol, walking right next to me.
“You’re new here,” he states.
“Yes pretty much…”
“It’s training as you go here,” he states, “You’ll get used to the smell. We only let the filth take a shower 3 times a week.”
“Seems like that would cause disease, wouldn’t it?” I ask.
The guy laughs, “Not like they are going to be alive much longer anyway.”
He laughs heartily and halfway through I realize I shouldn’t be acting disgusted. I had to pretend like I enjoyed this. So I laugh with him. And the whole time I feel like shit. The conditions here were worse than I could imagine.
“Yeah they deserve to die…because you know being gay is just the worst thing imaginable…right?”
I wish he doesn’t hear the sarcasm in my voice but when he stops walking I am afraid he does. He stops and gives me a hard look as though coming to some conclusion.
“You know what?”
I’m nervous. I swallow my spit.
“I like you. I want to show you something…”
The man takes me to the top of a hill. For a moment I’m confused by it. I’m confused by why he takes me there. I realize that he seems to know his way around this place when he leads me here. It makes me feel like he knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what the hell was going on here. We’re standing at the top of that hill and we look down.
Sure enough, up here, the snow was falling. I reach my palm out and watch the snow. I watch the officer smile as I hold my hand out.
I stick my tongue out to catch a bit of it.
“Snow in Arizona…no that’s not snow…”
That’s when I see it in the distance. I smell it. There is a factory in a distance. A factory and something is burning. That’s when I realize I’m wrong. I’m completely wrong. It’s not snow. These were bodies. These were BURNING bodies.
I couldn’t stop myself if I tried to and I don’t try. I lurch over into the grass vomiting my guts out. My eyes swell as I heave to the sound of laughter from the officer behind my back.
“You’ll get used to it. Welcome to the new world…”
The daily lineup that took place every morning after wakeup and each evening after returning from labor, was one of the horrific aspects of the prisoners’ lives in the camps. They were forced to stand completely still, often for hours at a time, exposed to the elements in the rain, or cold and to the terror of sudden violence by guards. I watch as the other guards torture them for no reason. It’s search through the numbers looking for someone I can see. But there are so many of them. There have to be hundreds of them.
What If I never find him?
What if he got transferred somewhere else?
After the lineup, they seem to go to their normal routines. The camp routine was composed of a long list of orders and instructions, usually given to all but sometimes aimed at individual prisoners, the majority of which were familiar yet some came unexpectedly. All of one’s strength had to be enlisted to overcome the daily routine: an early wake-up, arranging the bed’s straw, the lineup, marching to labor, forced labor, the waiting period for the meager daily meal, which today consisted of a watery vegetable soup and half a piece of bread which was insufficient for people working at hard labor, the return to the camp, and another lineup, before retiring to the barracks.
It isn’t until I am forced to get these people gathered like cattle towards the barracks that I feel a hand on my shoulder.
“You have to be kidding me…”
I turn and realize who it is. Elias. My heart gets heavy when I see him standing there. I almost want to cry.
“Oh my god, I barely recognized you,” I state.
Elias has lost weight. It’s only been a week so I’m thinking malnourishment and anxiety have caused this. When I reach over to hug him, he stops me.
“Not here…” he states, “It’s not safe. Follow me.”
He leads me through the tents until we get to one on the far side. My mind is getting the best of me when we get in there.
“Elias is everyone OK?”
“No…someone isn’t doing good. Not good at all…”
That’s when he takes me into a tent and I see someone is squirming out in pain. I am walked into there and I see who it is. It’s Dennis. I feel sick because a part of me is grateful that it isn’t Gato. I notice the people who are around Dennis scatter when they see me. They are afraid because of the uniform. As I look down at Dennis I realize that he’s in really bad condition.
“What happened to him?” I ask.
Elias shakes his head, “The guards beat him when they found out that he was really gay and it wasn’t the Phase that was doing it. Maybe you can help him. Maybe you can get him out of here.”
“No, he can’t…”
We turn at that moment and I notice the voice who said it. It’s Gato. Seeing Gato right now makes me run over to him and almost claw at his body until he completely engulfs me in a hug. I don’t know why we hug as long as we do but I do know that tears are rolling down each of our eyes. He doesn’t let me go even when Elias gets up and stares at us.
“Why’d you fucking come here?” he states.
“Why do you think?” I ask, “I’ll never be far away from you.”
“I knew what I was doing when I gave up myself for you,” he explains, “You should be far away from this place right now. Take your brother and sister. Take your mother. Get away from the cities.”
“I’m not leaving without you,” I assure him.
“Maybe you can help us leave…” Elias adds in.
“He’s not risking himself for us,” Gato tells Elias…
“They think he’s a guard,” Elias adds in.
“He’s NOT RISKING HIMSELF!” Gato barks at Elias, “I’m NOT RISKING HIM!”
Hearing Gato says that he won’t risk me means the most. I feel it in my chest almost.
“Can we talk…in private?” I ask.
Gato looks like he is on edge. He grabs me and pulls me towards him. He is leading me to the other side of the area. His sleeping area is a walled off area barely small enough for him to lay down by himself. He has created some makeshift room with sheets for privacy and a candle is his only source of light. He doesn’t stink, surprisingly and the weight loss actually just makes his abs pop out more.
It makes me laugh.
“What’s that about?”
“Only you can manage to look so good even as a prisoner,” I state.
Gato smiles, “Don’t make me laugh about this man. I’m in shock. How the fuck did things get this bad? How did this happen?”
“No one was paying attention to the hatred,” I state.
The hatred became normal. And then it became acceptable. And then it became widespread. That’s how hate spread. And it had happened right underneath our noses.
“Well, it’s worse than you know. These people, they call themselves the Straight Agenda and they have had it out for people since day one. You have to leave and you have to tell people what they are doing but only when you’re far away from here,” he explains.
“I’m not leaving you.”
“I’ll be OK…”
“No you won’t,” I explain, “They are incinerating people!”
“They are burning the bodies of terminated people,” I explain to him, “One of the soldiers showed me himself. They are burning people who have the Phase. This really is a gay holocaust.”
“Now you see why I’m not leaving.”
“You can’t sacrifice yourself for me after I sacrificed myself for you,” he explains, “That defeats the purpose of me being your hero.”
I smile, “Is that what you’ve been trying to be? My hero?”
“I’ve always wanted to be your hero,” he explains, “Always. But you just won’t let me be great. You had to come here and be here…”
“Because I’m in love with you…”
He gets quiet.
“I know what you’re going to say. It’s the Phase. But it’s not. It’s not the Phase. I’m in love with you Gato. I always was.”
That’s when I kiss him. I kiss him hard. The warm kiss swells over our bodies as I put both hands on his cheeks. He allows me to explore his mouth and at first, he doesn’t react. It isn’t until I put my hands on his chest that I finally feel Gato kissing me back.
Yes, …it was happening.
He was kissing me back. His hands circle around to my ass. He squeezes my ass. Our bodies collide onto one another. Our faces smash into one another. He was kissing me! And he was wanting to kiss me.
He’s on top of me.
“Dammit I shouldn’t be doing this,” he states.
“Because you’re not attracted to me.”
“No that’s the problem, I AM attracted to you,” he admits surprisingly, “It isn’t about sexuality. You’re my best friend. I don’t want to mess that up with this…”
He literally throws himself off of me. That’s when I look down and notice something. His dick is hard. I mean it’s hard to the point that it is literally tearing at the shorts he has on. His dick is aching to get out of his pants.
“I thought you weren’t under the Phase.”
“It’s not the Phase. Not with me. I’ve always felt this way about you, but I always thought you were straight. It’s not like I’m gay. I’m just attracted to you and only you.”
Shit. Was this Gato admitting that he was attracted to me this whole time?
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“What was I going to say? It’s not like I was gay. I couldn’t really come out of the closet cause I didn’t feel this way about anyone else, including Dennis when he tried me. I never got hard. Every time I’m close to you I’m hard. It’s like I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I’m just…into you…”
“Gato I’ve seen you fuck a ton of girls…”
“Fucking them. Not making love to them. You HAVE to know, kid. It was you. It was always you. Me having sex with all those girls is so that I can stop thinking about you. But it never worked. In the end, they were just bodies that weren’t you. In the end, only you mattered. And only you still matter…but I don’t want to ruin our friendship. Our friendship matters so much to me.”
I pause at that moment. It feels heavy. This was deeper than I thought and he had a point. He wasn’t admitting to liking me. He wasn’t admitting to being attracted to me.
He was admitting that he thought we were soulmates.
And the fear of not being able to really know that paralyzes me.
“You don’t have to say anything right now…”
“I’m just afraid, I don’t want to hurt you. What if the Phase goes away for me? What if I stop being attracted to you?”
I’d heard it happening with other people. One day the Phase just went away.
“It may go away but there will be a part of you that always is. It’s the same for everyone.”
“What are you saying?”
“They told us on the way in,” he states, “Almost as though they want to rub it in our face. The phase is something F.A.M created…”
“We figured that.”
“But what you didn’t know is that the Phase never turned people gay. It just made people who were already feeling gay feel more open to being themselves.”
Shit, “They were never trying to stop something unnatural?”
Before he answers I know that this is my last chance. I needed to get Gato, Elias, and Dennis out of here now or I’d never have the chance. They would die here.
He shakes his head, “They wanted us to reveal ourselves. And then they want to eliminate us.”