Joe here: Earlier this month, sixty writers submitted stories to the Wordhaus Writing contest, which we co-hosted with Wordhaus Literary Magazine. Today, I’m honored to present the winning story, “The Change” by Tom Farr. Wordhaus has published the finalists, and so make sure to subscribe to their magazine here. If you’d like to participate in future contests like this, make sure to sign up for the Becoming Writer waiting list. We will be re-opening the community on Monday. Enjoy the story!

The Change by Tom Farr

The world has changed a lot since my father was a kid. He tells me the technology we rely on now was a lot more primitive back then. But when I feel baby Hunter kick inside my belly, I wonder why pregnancy hasn’t become any easier.

I look down at the implant in my wrist. Kagan hasn’t responded, and my heart races with worry. I wonder if Hunter can feel my anxiety, and I take a breath to calm myself.

“It’s okay,” I say in a calming voice. “Your daddy’s okay.”

I wait a few more moments, eager to see my husband’s face. I’m about to give up when the implant lights up and Kagan’s projection appears in front of me. My muscles relax and a smile spreads across my face.

I can tell he’s been running, and I hear the sounds of fighting in the background. This is how it’s been for weeks.

“Mal, it’s bad out there,” Kagan says, his breathing labored.

“Is my dad still okay?” I say.

He looks down, unable to meet my eyes.

I feared this day would come. My dad believed this war would stop before it could get off the ground. He believed the resistance would see the futility of their pursuit and give up. But the world has changed. Most of us don’t remember what the light of day looks like anymore. The light we get comes through rare cracks that sometimes appear in the black cloud cover.

Someone must know where the clouds came from and why they’ve stayed so long, but outside of a few theories about a top secret security breach, the truth remains hidden. Much of the landscape looks like it’s been burned. Dad used to describe how beautiful it once was. I wonder if it will ever be again.

“The Sector has him,” Kagan says. “They stripped him of his clothes and removed his implant.”

I have to remember to breathe, fighting back the tears in my eyes. I’m sure I might die of heartbreak, but the child I carry has the hope of the world buried within him. I look down at my belly. It sticks out, though not as much as it should. Food is a rapidly depleting resource in our world, but Kagan takes care of me the best he can.

“I’m sorry, Mal,” Kagan says, breaking into my thoughts.

I take a breath. “Can he survive?”

“We both know he will.”

“Will he remember who he is?” I think of the injection my dad created. The one he tried to destroy before the Sector got ahold of it.

“I’ve seen these things,” Kagan says, almost at a whisper. “They don’t remember their humanity, and there’s more of them than ever before. Soon, there may not be any of us left.”

I feel Hunter kick. He may be the only one immune to the disease my dad created, and that’s why I have to protect him.

“They’re strong, Mal.” He hangs his head in defeat. “We can’t stay here anymore.”

I know he doesn’t want to suggest it, but staying here for my dad will only get us killed. Kagan isn’t a coward, so if he’s suggesting we leave, I know it must be bad.

“Where will we go?”

“There’s a place your dad told me about.” There’s a noise like something falling in the background, and Kagan looks behind him. “It’s a place where the clouds haven’t touched.” He speaks more quickly. “An island. We could be safe there. Hunter could grow up away from this.”

I breathe in, my nerves on fire, once again fighting the tears that are struggling to escape. “Okay. I trust you.”

Hunter kicks again, and though I’m scared for my dad, I know this is what he would want. It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, my dad was a regular public servant before people viewed him as a threat to progress. What will people think of him when they see the creature he will become? What would I think of him? I shiver at the thought.

“Meet me at the safe house,” Kagan says. “Bring whatever you need to take with you.”

Another noise and he turns toward it. My heart rate quickens.

“What is it?” I say, repressing panic.

“Shh.”

I stay quiet, shaking away thoughts of watching my husband dragged away by a mutated soldier.

“I’ll meet you there,” he says.

“Please hurry.” I notice the sadness in his eyes.

He studies my face, then he looks me in the eyes and smiles weakly. “You’re so beautiful,” he says and I’m sure I’m blushing.

He takes a deep breath. “If I don’t make it back, just know that I love you.”

I can’t hold back the tears anymore. My voice breaks as I say, “You have to make it.” I swallow the lump in my throat. “We need you.”

I can see a tear fall from his eye, and I want to reach out to him. But then I remember that he’s only a projection. “Please be there,” I whisper.

“I’ll see you soon,” he says, wiping the tear from his cheek.

The projection vanishes. I think I can hear my heartbeat until I realize it’s the sound of a helicopter outside. I run to my room and grab a backpack. I stuff clothes into it. I grab a photo of my parents. I stare at it for a moment and remember the way my mom used to warn my dad that messing with the biotech was dangerous. Maybe he would’ve stopped if she hadn’t died.

I toss the picture into my bag along with my journal and a gun I had hidden away under my bed. I rush out the door.

###

The safe house is dark when I arrive.

I walk through the front door, and the floor creaks under my feet. I hear movement, and I feel relief. I walk toward the back, the creaking getting louder with every step I take.

“You have to leave, Mal!” It’s Kagan’s voice, and it sounds strained. “Go to the place I told you about.”

I slow my pace.

“What’s going on, Kagan?”

I reach a door cracked open, and I see him slumped on the floor, holding his head. He screams, and I jump.

“I have it!” he says. “They gave it to me.”

My heart drops. By now, the biotech serum is running through his body, modifying his DNA, enhancing some parts of his humanity while diminishing others. The most frightening part, the part my dad tried for years to fix, is that Kagan’s mind is forgetting that he’s human, and will soon only see humanity as a threat.

“They’re looking for you,” he says, his breathing heavy. “They know about Hunter.”

I put my hand on my belly and start backing away.

I’m torn. I love this man more than anything. He’s the father of our baby, and we’re supposed to live happily away from all this.

With that thought, I rush to him and throw my arms around him. He pushes me away with a strength that makes me shiver.

“No, Mal,” he says. “You can’t stop this. Hunter is the only hope the world has against these things.”

My eyes burn from the tears. I’m tired of crying, but I know it’s only beginning.

Kagan lifts his head and looks at me. His eyes are already a bright green color, and all the muscles in his face are tense. “You have to save our son,” he says. “Whatever is necessary.”

I feel Hunter kick. I wonder if he hears his daddy’s voice and how it affects him. I wonder if he knows this will be the last time.

Kagan hands me a piece of paper. I open it to see a pair of coordinates scrawled out in black ink. I look up. His eyes are pleading, and I know there’s more there than the simple request for me to leave him.

“I know where you’re going,” he says.

With that, I know that Kagan won’t remember his humanity, but he’ll remember where he’s sending us.

I want to run. I want it to be that simple.

I hesitate before opening my bag and pulling out the gun.

Kagan screams, pushing me away. I fall backward, the gun still in my hand.

Kagan lifts his head, and the look in his eyes is one of hatred. He stands, taller than before with broader shoulders, muscles rippling all over his body. He stalks toward me.

My heart breaks. “Please, Kagan.”

He doesn’t stop, and I know he’ll kill me.

My heart races as I lift the gun and aim it toward his head.

“No! You love me!”

He lunges forward, and I scream, pulling the trigger and watching him fall to the ground, a gaping hole in his head.

I feel Hunter move around in my belly, and I know that I’ll do anything to protect him.

Tom Farr
Tom Farr
Tom Farr is a storyteller, blogger, freelance writer, and high school English teacher. He loves creating and spending time with his amazing wife and three children. Follow him on Twitter or visit his blog The Whisper Project for writing tips and updates on what story he's working on next.