*Short story originally written for The Iron Writer Challenge in which no more than 525 words could be used to tell a story in which the required elements were: drums beating in the distance, a thumb twiddling machine, and moss.

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Mackenzie was gasping for breath by the time she finally stopped and leaned against a tree. Her heart was pounding her chest, sweat dripping down her back. She wasn’t sure how much farther she could run, but she knew she had to try. It was bad enough to have been in that monstrous lab for as long as she was, she couldn’t imagine going back. What horrible experiments would they perform next?

Don’t think about it, just move. With a quick glace behind her, she pushed off the rough bark and continued running, staying close to the creek but careful to avoid the mossy rocks near the water’s edge. Mackenzie knew they had dogs; big, aggressive dogs that would inevitable be used to hunt her. She hoped like hell that the creek would help to mask her scent.

She had lost track of time, but she knew it had to have been months that she’d been trapped in the lab. They kept her like a rat in a cage, isolated and alone. She knew there were others in there. She could hear their screams, she could smell their burning flesh.  But she was never allowed to see or talk to them. Instead she was left in a secluded cell to question why this had happened. Why had they chosen her? She had no memory of how she came to be there. Had they wiped her memory clean or had she been created there, an adult with no childhood to remember?

Day after day they hooked her up to machines, electrodes connected to her brain tracking.. Who knows what. The mildest one had been the thumb twiddling machine. She would be forced to sit for hours in a stiff metal chair twiddling her thumbs, listening to the droning hum the machine produced. At first the frustration was maddening. “What is the point of this?!” she had screamed, and received a blow to the head in response. But in time, frustration turned to a strange sort of comfort. At least this machine didn’t hurt her; at least if she sat silently twiddling her thumbs she wouldn’t be enduring harsher, more painful experiments.

Mackenzie shook her head and tried to clear the images from her mind. She was free; she would find someone and she would get help. She had to. She stopped again, bending at the waist hands on her knees. She struggled to breathe in the cool, fresh air. In the distance she thought she heard shouts. They’re coming. Have to keep moving.

She reached for a tree limb and began navigating across the creek when suddenly she slipped on a patch of slimy moss. Her head made a cracking sound, stars filled her vision as she landed hard on a rock. She lay there in the creek, feeling the water flow around her, knowing she should move. She heard drums in the distance, beating to the rhythm of her heart and slowly closing in on her.

The sky was slowly fading to black. Is that my mother’s face appearing in front of me? Or an angel? Do I even have a mother? Or am I a creation, with no mother to envision?

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