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Saturday, November 26, 2011

(Crimson) Chapter 1

If you are reading this, STOP! (Today's date is 12/20/2012, different from when I originally posted this over a year ago.) If you didn't know, after writing three chapters of this story, the first of which is below, I started over because I hated the direction it was going in so I started over from a new direction that is so much better it's not even funny. You are free to read chapters one, two, and three of the bad story if you choose. They are still up on this blog. But I would highly not recommend it for its superficial quality and all around bad writing. Also you might get confused. Instead, I recommend you follow this link here to the real chapter one. The prologue is the same for both, so worry not if you've already read it. If you haven't, I recommend you read that first, lest you get confused. The next paragraph (the one not bolded), is the start of the original post posted on 11/26/2011 at 9:55 PM Mountain Standard Time.



I was reading some stuff today for aspiring authors and learned that one important quality in a critique group is to critique. So if it wouldn't be too much trouble (that was in a sarcastic tone if you didn't catch that, in other words DO IT) please tell me what you don't like.


Chapter 1

Eight years later . . .

I mentally prepared myself for the onslaught that was sure to come. It was my first day at senior high. Up until this point of my life, boys and girls had been segregated into their respective schools. Now that I was 17, I’d been moved to the combined school. This was the age that the government had deemed right for boys and girls to start paring off, not that I’d ever be permitted to get married. I would attend senior high until I’d completed my final three years of class. After that, the government would decide what to do with me.

To me, boys were a completely different race. Living in the girls’ orphanage, attending the junior girl’s school, I’d had practically no interactions with any boys. I had no idea what to expect.

I sat in the back of the bus by myself. The rest of the orphanage girls were chattering nonstop in the front. Loneliness had been my only companion for the past eight years. I absently rubbed the hem of my shirt with my thumb and forefinger. It had become my nervous habit. Most of my red shirts were torn in the spot I was now rubbing. Every shirt I owned looked exactly the same. One good thing was I never had a problem choosing an outfit in the morning. One bad thing was my life was horrible and I never had a choice in anything. So far as I knew, no one had been named Crimson since me.

I’d replayed my doomsday over and over in my mind. It had taken me a few years to uncover my mistake. My mistake was succeeding. The whole point of the room was to judge my reaction. From what they had witnessed, I had no fear. I had methodically found the handle, something that must have been very rare among nine year-old children. And what’s more, I had escaped. The number of people who had accomplished that feat had to be close to none. If I hadn’t escaped through the duct, the walls would have stopped before squishing me. All of it had been a test to assess my fear. I’d proved to them that they couldn’t scare me. I’d proved to them that I had an analytical mind. I’d proved to them that I was a criminal. Now my life was an ugly, dark, black hole because I had been too stupid and stubborn to sit down on the floor and cry like any other nine year-old. Leave it to the government to create a test where failing was passing and passing was failing. It was a wonder any of us were sane.

I had been nursing another theory in the back of my mind for some time. Maybe the government hadn’t named me Crimson because I was the most likely suspect to commit a crime. Maybe they had named me Crimson because they feared me.

I was probably a long way off, but the idea made me feel better inside.

The bus rolled to a stop in front of the school. I closed my eyes and counted backwards from ten. The fear was gone. I was ready to face the harassments.

I filed along after the giggling girls down the aisle of the bus. I could hear boys outside catcalling to the girls in front of me as they exited.

I was the last off the bus. I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what I received. The boys became louder.

“A Crimson!”

“We got us a Crimson, boys!”

“Didn’t see that coming!”

“And a pretty little Crimson at that!”

“I call her!”

“No way, man! She’s mine!”

“I saw her first!”

My cheeks flushed in embarrassment. I expected the boys to back off and pay some attention to the girls that were practically pushing themselves at them. That wasn’t the case. I sped up my gait so I could reach the school.

One of the boys stepped into my path. I pulled up short of running into him. He had dark hair and gleaming eyes that matched. He slipped a piece of paper into my front pocket of my red jeans. I jerked back. His hands were not allowed to be down there!

“It’s my address,” he told me. His face twisted into a smile that curled my stomach. “Come over any night you’re lonely and need a man’s help.”

I didn’t understand what he was hinting at. His friends did, though. There obnoxious laughter filled the air around me. I pushed passed the dark haired boy. One thing the boys had said was true: I wasn’t exactly on the tall side. When the boys attempted to follow me, I weaved my way through the students.

The first thing that struck me as I walked into the school was the noise. It echoed off every wall directly into my ears. I would have to get used to that. Inside, there were lines of waiting people. They were the lines to pick up your schedules. The line you were in depended on your last name. I looked longingly at the line labeled G-J. I pictured myself standing in that line, telling them my name was Kya Harris. I saw them giving me a schedule that matched.

I blinked. The fantasy was over.

My line was positioned at the far right end of the table. I don’t know if line was the right word considering there was nobody in it. I walked to the CRIMSON line.

The lady sitting behind the table gave me a smile. It was a gift I wouldn’t wish to bestow on anyone. Her eyes held absolutely no joy. A small folder was sitting in front of her.

“What’s your name?”

She knew my name. There was no way she couldn’t. She wanted me to say it to remind myself who I was. “Kya Crimson.”

Her smile widened. “Yes, it is. Don’t you forget that for a moment.” She pulled my schedule out her folder and handed it to me. “Enjoy your next three years at Senior High, Miss Crimson.”

Her eyes looked passed me. There was someone waiting behind me. There was someone waiting behind me?! The person pressed a torn piece of paper into my hand. I curled my fingers into a fist around the paper. I stepped to the side so the person could have their turn with the nasty lady. I walked a short distance away and looked down at the words in my hand.


Wait for me. We need to talk.


Hope built up in my chest. There was a chance that I could have a friend after all.

I waited while he exchanged words with the lady. I was close enough to hear what was being said.

“Name?”

“Scott Bentley.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t have anyone by that name attending this school. Is there perhaps another name you go by?”

Her acting made me sick.

“No, there’s not.”

The lady sighed. “Oh, Scott. One of these days you are going to learn that your defiance is the reason that you’re in the position you’re in. I pray for your sake that you learn the lesson soon.” She handed him his schedule. “Your name is Scott Crimson. Don’t forget it. Enjoy your final year at Senior High.”

Scott turned away without a second glance. He stormed in my direction.

Whatever I’d imagined him saying flew from my mind when he opened his mouth. “Listen close because I’m not going to repeat this. I’ve worked too hard to get where I am to let some new little crimy mess it up. Just because we’re in the same boat doesn’t mean I’m not eager to throw you to the sharks. Don’t talk to me. Don’t eat lunch with me. Don’t even look at me. To you I don’t even exist. Got it?”

He walked away without giving me a chance to respond.

I could scribble make a friend off of my Things-To-Do list. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. So far, my first day at Senior High was running smoothly. I gathered up the shattered piece of my dignity and went to my first class: Modern History. I don’t know why they called it Modern History. It was the only history class offered. It was the government’s way of reminding us how we got to where we are. I hated it. It was a class where everyone would consciously be aware there was a Crimson in the room.

I walked into the classroom long before the bell rang. I carefully chose my seat in the back corner farthest from the door. I could feel the teacher’s eyes on me, but I didn’t look up. Modern History teachers were the worst when it came to persecuting the Crimson. I sat down in my seat and didn’t look up.

There was a very specific reason for my seat choice. The back corner of the room provided three things. The first, nobody could sit behind me and stare daggers or play pranks. I did not want a repeat of my 11 year-old class when somebody decided to give me a haircut. The second thing was that fewer people could be adjacent to me. The fewer people sitting by me, the easier it was for me to protect my things. In my last school, it had been a sign of popularity to have one of the Crimson’s things. My stuff wasn’t exactly easy to replace and so I didn’t appreciate people stealing it just for the fun of it. The third reason, I would be last out the door. This reason followed the same reasoning as my second reason. The fewer people brushing by and walking passed my desk, the less chance I would have of misplacing my stuff. Stealing my things didn’t make them criminals, unfortunately. Stealing my things made them jerks.

The national anthem started playing in the halls. That was the signal to get to class. As the students began picking their seats, I let a small smile break out on my face. It wasn’t a full class. Nobody sat in any of the desks surrounding me.

The teacher stood up and began. “Class, my name is Mr. Ember. In here you will learn what advancements we’ve made over cultures in the past to reach our high level of society.” He flicked off the lights and turned on a slide show. The first picture was a pre-society painting of a meteor about to strike the earth. A hurricane was just offshore. A tornado was ripping buildings apart. The city was aflame from lightning crashing overhead. The streets were folded in on themselves from an earthquake. In the distance a volcano had erupted. People were dying in the streets. The caption at the bottom read “The End of the World: December 21, 2012.”

Mr. Ember continued. “December 21, 2012. Pre-society, this was a day people feared. To them it was the appointed end of the world. But The One and his original council didn’t see it that way. They saw the date as the end of a cycle. And with the end of every cycle, there must be a beginning. The One had a beginning in mind.

“On December 21, 2012, The One led a successful coup against the officials of what was once the United States of America. Some of the citizens rebelled, but a large majority accepted The One with open arms. ‘It was time for a change,’ they said. The rebels banded together and went into hiding. The One found them and they were taken care of.”

I didn’t like the way he’d said, “taken care of.” It sent chills down my spine.

“The One destroyed practically all criminal activity overnight. The prisons were emptied with no ill effects. It is still unknown to this day how he did it all. He knew that it wasn’t enough to rout out the standing criminal enterprises. If he didn’t do something, it would continue on with the rising generation.

“He pulled an idea from the book Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Half way through the book, a man named Porfiry theorizes that children would have signs at birth that pointed them out for the scum they truly are. He developed the test that each of us takes at the age of nine to see if we had the attributes that pointed us out as good citizens or criminals. The criminals must wear only red so us good citizens can see them for the scum that they really are. Isn’t that right Miss Crimson?”

I had expected this. I’d been asked this same question in every Modern History class I’d taken since I was nine. It didn’t get easier as the years passed.

I took a calming breath. “Yes, sir.” Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. I would be strong.

One thing he’d said had been wrong. Crimsons didn’t only wear red. Crimsons lived red. I adjusted my red bag to a more comfortable position on my lap under my desk. I looked away from Mr. Ember. I picked up my red pen from where it sat next to my red eraser and started doodling red pictures on my red lined paper. To top it all off, the glances from my fellow students scorched my face until it turned red.

Only when Mr. Ember decided that nothing more could be gained by staring me down did he continue with the lesson. I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t listen at all for the rest of class. I had every part of Modern History memorized. The events that took place were the only reasons that I was different from everybody else. Then again, perhaps it was good they did happen. Pre-society I might have been out robbing a bank. This was, and would always be, the better way to live.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crimson

This story is my other idea for an entry for the novel scholarship I want trying to get. Please respond with feedback or vote on the poll on the right for your choice.


Prologue

My chair was hard and I shifted every couple of seconds to find a more comfortable position. My dad’s arm slipped around my shoulder. “Stop worrying,” he whispered against my hair.

I gave him a nervous smile. He was right. I didn’t have anything to be afraid of. I’d spent the entire first ten years of my life in anticipation for this day. I would be fine. Almost nobody failed anymore. The system had proved very affective in rooting out criminals from our society. It had been in place for nearly 100 years now. Crimes had become all but extinct. There was absolutely no reason for me to be afraid. I took a few steadying breaths and relaxed.

“Kya Harris!”

It was my turn. My nervousness flooded over me again. My parents smiled encouragingly at me. I gave them a weak smile in return and stood.

The walk to the doors was a long one. Actually, it was only 50 or so steps, but each one felt like I was crossing a chasm. I felt every single one of the pairs of eyes boring into my spine. After I was gone, they would wait to learn my fate. I crossed through the doors. Most of the people in the hall I’d just exited were bored out of their minds. It was all so predictable. Nobody came up red. I could even imagine some of them wishing that I would be red just to end the monotonous of it all. I would prove them wrong. They would have to wait for a little longer before the streak ended.

I had no idea what to expect beyond the door. A smiling attendant with a clipboard greeted her. She made a show of looking down to at her clipboard. I knew it most likely that the lady had checked the clipboard before I had entered through the door. Everyone liked to be prepared in advance, why would this lady be any different. The show was probably to help the nervous nine-year olds relax with how ordinary of a thing it was.

The attendant “found” what she was looking for. “Kya Harris, room 103 on your left.” She flashed me a wide smile.

I found it very difficult not to roll my eyes. I smiled back at her and continued down the long white hall. The moment she was out of view, my smile fell. I hated fake people. Now most nine-year olds don’t scrutinize every move a person makes. Most nine-year olds did what they were asked without hesitation. Most nine-year olds would find themselves soothed by the fake attendant. Let me set one thing straight. I was not like most nine-year olds. I was a thinker. That’s what my parents and their friends always said after I asked a question. They would laugh then say, “That Kya Harris is a thinker.” Then they would continue whatever they were doing without a second thought. Hardly ever did they actually answer my questions. Two years ago I stopped asking questions altogether. I started learning by observation. That’s where I learned that what someone said and did had a completely different meaning from what they meant.

Despite the fact the attendant had attempted to be reassuring, the building did exactly the opposite. The architect had purposefully made the building as foreboding as possible. The white walls stretched higher than regulation permitted for non-government buildings. The doors were all slightly larger than normal. The black handles on each of the doors I passed were a few inches higher than any other I’d ever seen. Door after door stretched along the hall, each one seemed to be farther away from the others than it should have. The white carpeted halls swallowed the sounds of my footsteps. The purpose of this building, and all other government buildings I’d later learn, was to inspire fear. In this building you couldn’t help but feel dwarfed. It created a subconscious mindset that you were powerless.

There seemed to be no end to the doors. I knew that it was more likely than not that every single door I’d passed led to nowhere. The fact that you felt like you’d never reach the right room added to the fear factor. Every step was designed to suck confidence from the victim. I knew this all. Still, any resolve that I’d gained was being leeched from me. The building was doing its job.

Finally, finally, I reached room 103 on the left. I paused for a moment to rein in all of my emotions. Blank slatted, I twisted the too high handle on the too large door.

The room was pitch black. I didn’t move from my spot in the open doorway. On the far side of the room I could see a small person standing in a doorway, light from the hall silhouetted around them. I didn’t take me long to realize I was looking into a mirror. I was seeing myself. I took small steps forward until I was completely in the room. The door slammed shut behind me.

I couldn’t see anything. I spun back to door. There wasn’t even any light seeping in from around the edges. I searched frantically for a handle that didn’t exist. I was trapped.

I stilled myself and counted backwards from ten. After that I felt no fear. They were testing me, and I would pass their test. If everyone else could pass it, then I should have no problem.

I placed my left hand on the wall and started walking. I walked slowly, running my hand up and down as I did so. If there was a light switch anywhere, I wasn’t going to miss it. The wall was a glassy surface. Mirrors. All of the walls were covered in mirrors.

I made a mental map of my route. Four steps. Corner. twelve steps. Corner. twelve steps. Corner. twelve steps. Corner. Four steps. Door. In another four steps I’d reached the other side of the door. According to my map, I was back to where I’d started.

I hadn’t found anything.

I had to leave the comfort of the wall.

I walked to the corner and dropped to my hands and knees. I felt along every square inch of that floor in search of something. In my literacy class a few months ago, we had read The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe. As I felt my way across the floor, I experienced a very strong sense of dèjà vu. I told myself I was looking for some sort of switch or lever, but in all actuality I was looking for a pit.

On my third pass along the floor, I found a notch. I lowered my hand into it. A smile broke out across my face. There was a small handle like you’d find on a car door. In relief, I pulled it.

The whole room around me exploded in light from an unknown source. I had to shut my eyes against the sudden brightness. The lights were followed by a soft pneumonic hiss. I forced myself to look.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing was real. It didn’t make any sense. But I was soon certain. The mirror walls adjacent to the door wall were closing in. I was going to be crushed!

I looked up.

In the ceiling at the exact center of the room was a hole. If I could get up there I wouldn’t be squished.

For a second I was frozen in disbelief. I’d never heard of anyone going in for their final evaluation and never coming back. Surely they wouldn’t kill me. This had to be another part of the test. If everyone else had passed it, so could I.

There was no way I could reach the hole by jumping so I didn’t even bother trying. I looked around to see what I had. It was a quick look. There was only the walls and myself. I formulated a plan.

I sat down on the ground and yanked off my shoes and socks. The soles of my shoes had very little traction and wouldn’t help me. I stuffed my socks into the toes and threw them into the hole. I had to wait a little longer before I could follow them.

I wiped my sweaty hands off on my pants and waited. I stretched my arms out to either side of me. I closed my eyes to calm myself. When I wall touched my outstretched hands I was ready. I wouldn’t have any second chances.

I put one foot on one of the walls and hopped so the other foot could do the same thing. I braced myself with my hands. Carefully, I started walking up the wall.

As the mirrors became closer and closer to kissing, the climb became harder and harder. I slipped only once, but my braced arms stopped me from falling. Up above the hole was a metal pipe. With only a foot and a half of space left between the walls, I grabbed onto the pole and hoisted myself up the rest of the way. I collapsed on the floor panting for breath as the walls smashed together.

Eventually I controlled myself enough to sit up. I smacked my head on the top of the small space. I rubbed my head angrily and found my shoes. There comforting presence was a welcome to my cold feet. I was in, I think, an air duct. Light burst from another hole 30 feet down the duct. I arranged myself and did a low crawl to the light. Through the hole was a room. I grabbed each side of the hole and lowered myself in. I hung for a moment before dropping to the ground. As I landed, I let my legs bend under me to absorb the impact. I ended up on my hands and knees on the floor. I would have to learn how to land more gracefully in the future.

I stood up.

I was in a room covered in monitors. Stern looking men and women were glaring at me. On one of the screens I could see walls coming apart. It must have been the room I’d vacated. They’d been watching my every move. I felt self-conscious under the weight of their glares. Was there some vital thing I’d forgotten to do?

“Did I pass?” My voice sounded small to my ears.

One of the men stepped toward me. He was holding something behind his back. “Yes, you passed, but in doing so, you failed.” He deposited the item behind his back in my hands.

Tears stung my eyes. I’d failed. Under their watchful eyes, I slipped on my new red shirt. I walked out of the door and down the long hall back to the waiting people. Maybe my parents would still accept me. Maybe they loved me enough that they didn’t want anyone else raising their child. Maybe I was a naïve, wishful thinker.

I was a Crimson. No longer would I ever be called Kya Harris. I was now Kya Crimson. While I walked down the hall, I sent angry thoughts to the clever person who decided that all the red shirts would be dubbed Crimson. Crimson being a shade of red, all the while not being a far cry from criminal. During the time I’d spent in the mirror room. My life had been irrevocably changed forever.

There was an audible gasp when I stepped through the door. My parents couldn’t look at me. My mom was crying. I used to think it was because she was sad. Soon I learned that it was from shame. The last Crimson had been a boy two years ago. Now it was me.

The officiator spoke up. “Harris family, will you accept or reject your daughter Kya Crimson?”

My dad stood up. There was no possible way he could look angrier than he did. “She is not our daughter anymore!”

Now it was my turn. I had to make an official apology and acceptance. My voice cracked once and I had to start over. I’m sorry I have failed you. I accept your decision.” The words were mechanical. They weren’t from me.

My father sat down.

I couldn’t move.

The officiator gave me a small push in the direction of the orphans. The orphans who had been placed looked at me with disdain. The orphan who hadn’t, fear. They did not want to share my fate. I found an empty spot in the back of the group with no chairs around it. I was the only red shirt in my year.



Chapter 1

Snow fell softly. The day had yet to wake. This was always my favorite part of the day. It was the time when nobody was yet awake to spread their ugly stain over the dying world. Sorry, the “healing” world. At least, it was temporarily healing. It would continue to heal until our pathetic little point on the globe passed under The Burn Zone. Then everything would die. It would happen. I knew it. If it had happened before, it would happen again. It was only a matter of time.
The snow covered the death, that’s what I liked best about it. As long as there was a layer of snow, the world looked pretty. However, the gleaming sparkles would soon be the color of the gray death they covered. The plows would roll through, and the pretty would be gone. But that time was not yet. Until then I would enjoy this respite from my dreary existence.

Behind me I could hear the deep breathing of seventeen other girls. Not one of them had ever said more than maybe two words to me. I could say that it didn’t bother me. I could say that I liked the loneliness. I could say that listening to them talk about this boy or that boy or the fabulous life associated with doing this or that job. I could say that I never wanted them to include me in their meaningless conversations. I could say all of that, but I’d be lying.

My bed was the closest to the window. In most living situations, that would be the best place to sleep. But this wasn’t most situations. This was an orphanage. I’m sure that back before The First Burning, orphanages were well funded. They were probably stocked with blankets and pillows and four square meals a day for the children who weren’t old enough to go to their Glimpses. But that was in the before time. This is now. I shivered and tugged my thin blanket tighter around my shoulders. The chill coming through the window was enough to rattle teeth. Yes, this was the worst place in the room to sleep. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be there. In coming days, the other girls would push their beds together and huddle under piles of blankets as they attempted to go to sleep. They would use each other’s body heat to stave off the biting cold. I would be stuck on my own by the window.

My hand dropped absentmindedly to my foot before I had a chance to stop it. Under four layers of socks, one would find my small right toe dead and blackened from one of the horrible winters a few years ago. I’d cried for day, but nobody had bothered to check and see what was wrong with me until it was too late to save my small digit. After that, the caretakers had given me extra socks, red like all my other clothes, but nothing more. I’d taken to sleeping in a sitting position after that, with my feet tucked under me and my body curled into a ball over my legs. It had taken a while for me to get used to that position, but I’m sure it was the salvation of quite a few of my other toes. I could say I’m glad that none of the other girls ever ask me to share a bed with them, but I’d be lying. As I child I used to cry myself to sleep at night, but that stopped when winter hit and I’d wake up with frozen crystals on my cheeks.

Despite the horrors associated with the window bed, I did find a bit of joy. It came from looking out the window. If I didn’t sleep where I did, I would have forgotten long ago that sometimes, the world could be beautiful.

I heard a plow’s rumble from down the street. The fantasy was over. I laid back down on my bed and squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see the destruction of my perfect world. The roar of the plow grew louder and louder and softer and softer. It was over. Time to wake up and face another day.

On cue, the door opened and the overhead florescent light burned my retinas. Groans erupted from my formerly sleeping roommates.

“Up girls! Wake up! It’s time to make memories of another glorious day!” Ms. Whitley skipped around the room, checking to make sure all the girls were indeed up. Right before she reached my bed, she swirled around and skipped back down the row of beds the way she’d come. I can’t ever recall a time when she met my eyes.

I rolled off my bed and landed with a thump on my hands and knees. I pulled my small trunk of clothes from its place under the bed. I could say that I’m glad all my clothes are the same so I don’t have to make a choice in the morning, but I’d be lying. Back when I was still newly red, I’d asked one of the caretakers why, if my trunk could fit five tightly packed jumpsuits and four sets of night clothes, did it only have two of each. That was before I’d learned being a thinker was not a good thing. I shed one of my two sets of night clothes and dawned one of my two jumpsuits. I kicked it back under the bed and stood.

I wasn’t exactly tall, but I wouldn’t consider myself short either. Other people probably did consider me short, but that was a matter of opinion. The only description I could give my hair was brown. I gathered it up in one hand and pulled it over my shoulder. As I crossed the room of groaning, stretching girls, I ran my fingers through the snags a few times before weaving the strands into a braid. When I let my braid fall down my back, it reached my lower back. I would need to find something at the plant sometime and hack a good portion off. It was at the point where it was always in the way. Life would get simpler with it gone.

In the dining area, I downed a cup of something in one go. I struggled not to let it come back up. I think this slop used to be called breakfast, but most times I would rather continue to fast than choke it down. However, I’d missed dinner the night before and I’d need some strength to make it through the day. I rinsed my mouth of the awful lingering taste of the slop mixed with morning breath. And just like that, I was done with my morning routine, ready to face the day.

I walked out the front door the orphanage. Nobody said goodbye to me. Very few days did people in the orphanage actually acknowledge my existence. They would all be happy if I disappeared forever. To tell the truth, so would I.

I kicked up snow as I waded down the sidewalk. In a half hour, a bus would arrive to take the other girls into the district for their respective Glimpses. My job was in another sector, and the bus wouldn’t be heading in that direction. Jack Frost was on my heal, urging me forward more quickly. I apologize for my use of an allusion that you probably don’t understand. Back before The First Burning, people used to say that there was a man named Jack Frost who brought the winter chill every year. When I said that he was on my heal, I was referring to the fact that I’m freezing cold and the sooner I reach the plant, the sooner I’ll be warm.

My red jumpsuit stuck out starkly against the gray white sludgy snow that the plow had cleared out of the road. I didn’t bump shoulders with anyone though sidewalks were crowded. Back before, everyone used to drive to get anywhere. Now, the dwindling gas supply was kept in close reserve and only officials and the rich were still driving. I suppose it’s a good thing not as many people drive now. Burning fossil fuels is one of the key reasons we are living in the messed up world that we are. Our ancestors destroyed the ozone and started the burnings. Anyway, nobody brushed shoulders with me. Nobody ever did. The crowded sidewalk parted for me the like Moses parted the Red Sea. Sorry, that was another old allusion that you probably don’t understand. I’ll try harder to avoid those. One day they I’ll say one of them aloud and get in trouble.

The streets were wide. With so few cars, as many people walked in the streets as did on the sidewalks. Tall buildings loomed up around us, their purposes long since forgotten. The One commanded us to stay out of them, so we did. As I got closer and closer to the plant, the crowds became thin. Soon, there were very few people still about me. Nobody was walking in my same direction.

I was alone.

The plant loomed up in front of me like a giant blot against the gloomy sky. In front of me was the rest of my life. My moment of pause that I always took before entering the building was over. I climbed up the giant steps to find out what new surprises today had in store.

The plant was giant. Though it was shoved off to the side of the compound, it was the heart that made our society run. Below the floors was a massive storage empire. Food, clothes, gas, whatever, anything that had to be stockpiled, was stored here. Under that labyrinth of mazes and rooms, was the giant electric turbine that lit our world. The turbine ran twenty five hours a day eight days a week. In other words, it was always going. That is, always unless we were hit with a burning.

I arrived at the elevator and rode it down. Nothing was on the first floor except offices. I was headed to The Crimson Room. From there, I would get my assignments for the day. I breathed deeply through my nose. I was claustrophobic, thanks to a mishap I’d had before my evaluation day. The elevator ride down was bad, but the ride back up, when it would be choked with other bodies aside from my own, would be worse. The only thing that made the trip up better was my continued reminder to myself that I was heading to the outside.

I forced my breathing to remain even as I stepped out of the elevator and walked down the narrow hallway to The Crimson Room. My feet vibrated with the energy of the turbine on the floor below. There was one good thing about the plant: I wasn’t cold anymore. I wiped a bead of sweat off my forehead and pushed open the door to the room. I was, as usual, the first one to arrive for the day shift. Back when I was still a thinker, I would purposefully make sure I arrived long before anyone else. That way, I’d be able to gauge the other Crimson from them that day. Now, I only arrived early out of force of habit.

On one wall of The Crimson Room was a giant screen. The names of all the Crimson were organized into categories of what they would be doing that day. My name was under mechanics. I walked over to the corner where all the tool belts were stored. I always used the same one. It gave me the feeling that something was actually mine. I searched through the disorganized pile until I found mine. I secured it around my waist with a smile. The fact that I was on a team today and not doing a special job was a good thing. Because of my size, I was always assigned the special jobs that required a small person. Any day I wasn’t forced into further seclusion was a great day. I leaned up against the back wall of the room where I wouldn’t be readily visible to those walking in the room. I waited.

I didn’t have to wait long before me “coworkers” began to arrive. I’d been working with all of them for just over eight years. I didn’t know a single one of them by name. We weren’t a very sociable group. We weren’t allowed to be. For the most part, my fellow Crimson were men. There was two other women, but they were nearly as severe looking as the men. Our lot in life didn’t make us the most friendly people, as if someone would want to be friends with us. Back when I used to think, I knew a few of these criminal’s names. I had memorized the group of assignments as well which face went where. Each day, the probable names for each individual would get smaller as the teams changed until there was only one option left. Knowing their names was a stupid, pointless task, and since then, I’d worked hard to forget them. It was better this way. The Crimson had almost all arrived. We would soon be put to our respective tasks.

It had taken me at least a year to discover what about me the evaluators had deemed bad enough to destroy my life. I puzzled it out until I realized, no normal child would be able to do what I did. I was supposed to fail the evaluation. Instead, I’d passed and, by doing so, failed. Fail to pass and pass to fail. I should have realized before it was too late, but that’s the glory of hindsight. After this revelation that thinking was bad, I’d stopped. Now I was living life one day at a time.

The last Crimson arrived. The room was filled with our red presence. The white walls held us all in together. Red jumpsuits against the white walls like a drop of blood against newly fallen snow. We were the scourge of society, the ones that didn’t quite fit the mold. We are the Crimson.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

(Princess Story) part 2

Tyler watched her disappear with a sinking heart and growing frustration. He turned around and walked back into the alley. The man was still groaning, but Tyler ignored him. He quickly found his knife and jammed it into its sheath. He looked hard at the ground, silently begging it to swallow him up. His eyes were drawn to a long knife sitting on the ground not too far away. Tyler curiously went over and lifted it up. He found the royal insignia emblazoned on the hilt. That’s when he knew it was Allison’s.

Tyler pushed all thoughts of her away and stowed the knife in his satchel. He left the alley and went back to the pub. The once crowded room had emptied since he’d gone. Tyler didn’t stop to acknowledge the bartender, but went straight to retrieve his guitar before sulking home.

The house was a simple cottage on the outskirts of the village. Tyler lived there with his dog, Bandit. When he walked through the door it seemed more empty than usual. He set his guitar aside and sat down at the table with his head in his hands. Wearily, Tyler replayed the night’s events in his mind. Allison had come to hear him sing, but that didn’t necessarily mean she liked him. Somehow she’d ended up in that alley and he had rescued her. So she was probably grateful to him, not in love with him.

And then he’d tried to kiss her. Tyler slammed his fist against table, a pained expression on his face. She probably thought he was some creeper, the same as those men who had almost . . . Tyler couldn’t bear to think about it. No wonder she had run away like that. Any minimal chance he might have had with her was now crushed. Tyler looked up at the weapons that lined the walls. He had practiced countless hours with them every day, so that, if the need arose, he might be able to protect his princess. First part of the plan had worked, so why had he tried to kiss her?

Tyler looked at the other wall; this one was lined with instruments. When he wasn’t weapons training, he was practicing his instruments in hope to one day win her heart. He realized he would never be invited back to the palace to play ever again after Allison told the king and queen what he’d tried to do. A huge source of his income would be gone because he’d tried to follow one stupid impulse.

Tyler stood up and walked outside to see the stars. His eyes were automatically drawn to two stars in the western sky, one dim and one bright. As a young boy, Tyler had labeled the bright one Allison, and the dim one as himself. Tonight, the stars seemed farther apart than they had ever been before. Tyler realized exactly how much of his life he’d devoted to a fantasy. He walked back into the house with new resolve. He would stop chasing after a dream. If she didn’t want him, so be it.

* * * * *

Tears streamed down Allison’s face as she rode through the silent city. She was almost amazed she still had tears to cry after all that had happened. Had he really almost . . .? Did he really just . . .? She couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to marry a prince, not fall in love with a commoner. But I don’t love him, she reminded herself again.

She could see the palace looming closer. She brought her mount to a halt, and gracefully dismounted. They moved surreptitiously to the gap in the hedgerow she had long ago discovered, avoiding the guards at the gate. They secreted to the stables, where she gave the horse a quick rub down before heading to the palace. Allison moved like a shadow across the yard to her window, a skill she had mastered as a girl. There was a rope hanging out of it from when she had snuck out earlier. She started climbing, and soon she was over the window sill of her second-story room. She dropped lightly to her feet and glanced around her darkened room. Everything was the same as she had left it. She pulled up the rope and stowed it away. After quickly changing her clothes, she collapsed onto her bed.

Her mind couldn’t seem to comprehend what had transpired. Images washed through her head, threatening to overwhelm her. She tried to push her emotions away, but they kept coming back. How would she ever be able to face him again? He had saved her. And before she had even given him a proper thank you, she had run off. Tears began to stream unbidden from her eyes.

Prince Andrew was coming the next day. The queen had invited Tyler over to play background music while he was over. Her anger overpowered her. She hated being put on display like a package. She suddenly wondered why she had cried as she had over Tyler. “I don’t even like him,” she whispered to herself. Tomorrow she would say thank you properly and put the whole matter behind them.

* * * * *

Tyler walked through the front door of the palace cautiously. He had been surprised that the guards had let him by without a single word. Maybe the King and Queen wanted to punish him for the way he’d treated their only daughter. The thought flustered him. He couldn’t face the Princess after what had happened.

Since the event he was playing for was a dinner party, the servants had set up his harp behind one of the curtained off areas. That way, he would be heard but not seen. He took up his position at the palace harp warily. He had not yet encountered any of the royal family, and no one had barred his way. His fingers ran up and down the strings experimentally. The soft music filled the silence around him, bringing a smile to his lips. He wasn’t allowed to bring any of his own instruments to play. Tyler didn’t care. He loved the palace instruments. They were all of the very highest quality. He would never be able to afford even their mediocre imitations. The party was due to arrive to the dining hall any moment. He let go of his thoughts and fears the let the music take over.

Prince Andrew escorted frowning Allison into the room. He leaned close to her and whispered in her ear. “You could at least try and pretend you don’t hate me before I’ve had a chance to confirm or dissuade your opinion.”

Allison didn’t need to listen to him. Everything about him spoke volumes about who his was. The way he held himself said haughty. The countless number of rings on his fingers spoke of greed. And the way he had looked at her from the beginning screamed hungry. Even as he escorted her to her seat, he was holding her a little bit too close.

He sat down across the table from her as tradition dictated. He stretched his legs out carelessly. Allison had to practically turn sideways in her seat to avoid touching him. He talked about himself unabashedly. Allison added conceited to the list of things she hated about him. She didn’t even bother listening to what he had to say. Her three brothers were absorbed in their wives and her parents were talking merrily with Prince Andrew’s. Allison had a sick feeling in her stomach that she was not going to be happy with the result of their visit. The only thing that stopped her from standing up and walking out like she had with other suitors was Tyler. His music swirled around her, leaving her breathless. She had never felt quite like this when she’d heard him play countless times before. Allison blamed it on the fact that she was hyper aware of him because of their encounter the night before and her rude exit. She needed to talk to him as soon as possible to apologize for her behavior.

She ignored His Princeliness and lost herself in the music. To say she zoned out would be a massive understatement.

Someone tapped her shoulder. “Princess?”

Allison jumped. Prince Andrew was standing at her side. Everyone else had left the room. A shiver traveled up her spine.

“May I have this dance?” He didn’t wait for a reply.

Her arm almost jerked out of its socket as he yanked her to her feet. She slammed into his chest and he held her tightly there. “Let go of me,” she hissed at him.

When he smiled at her, she realized she was very, very scared. “Not a chance.” He started spinning her. She had to lean into him to avoid falling down. “That’s more like it,” he whispered into her ear.

Allison’s face flushed in embarrassment. She released her tight hold mid swing and went tumbling backwards to the floor. Her arm scraped against the stone floor and she forced herself not to flinch.

The prince immediately pulled her to her feet and attempted to resume the dance. Allison tore her hands out of his and shoved him away. “What’s the matter with you?!”

Anger glinted in his eyes. He stepped forward and gave her a shove of her own. “What’s wrong with me? I think the better question is what’s wrong with you?” He shoved her again. “You’re nothing but a spoiled brat princess who thinks she’s too good for the world!” Shove. She lost her balance and was back on the floor. In the back of her mind, Allison noticed the music had stopped. “That’s it isn’t?! You’re too good for Prince Andrew! I’ve never had any girly turn me down before, and I’m not going to start today!” He moved forward to shove her again, but found himself looking down the blade of a sword.

“I wouldn’t take another step if I were you.” Tyler’s voice was harder enough to shatter diamond.

The prince’s face turned pale. He swiftly backed away.

Without taking his eyes off of Andrew, Tyler stepped back and reached down to help Allison up.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

He looked over to smile at her. That was his mistake. The instant Tyler’s diverted his attention, Andrew unsheathed his knife and sent it spinning across the room. Tyler saw it coming too late. He only had time to push Allison behind him. Tyler caught the blade . . . in his stomach.

He gasped in pain and sank to his knees. Allison screamed. Andrew was advance with his sword drawn, fury was etched in ever line of his face.

Allison crouched down beside him. “Tyler!” she yelled.

Tyler weakly pulled himself free from her grasp. He stood and raised his sword. Even injured, Tyler was the far superior swordsman. With one strike of blade against blade, Andrew’s sword was knocked from his grasp. Tyler raised his sword to Andrew’s throat. He spoke through gritted teeth. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you!”

Force of will alone stopped Andrew from quivering.

“No!” Allison ran up and tugged on Tyler’s arm. “You can’t! It would be a declaration of war!”

Tyler didn’t make the mistake of looking at her again. He could barely stand as it was. He couldn’t afford to lose focus again. “This man has done nothing but disrespect you, Princess. I find that plenty of justification to go to war.”

She tightened her grip on him. “Please, Tyler. Don’t.” Tears were falling freely from her eyes. She stifled a sob.

Tyler couldn’t deny Allison anything. “Fine. He will not die today.” His next words were spoken to Allison, but directed at Andrew. “But if he fails to properly respect you ever again, I promise his life will come to a very abrupt end.” Tyler stepped back and lowered his sword.

They all turned at the sound of running footsteps outside the dining hall, brought by the sounds of Allison’s screams.

Andrew took advantage of the moment. At the same time, he pulled yanked Allison toward him and kicked Tyler away. For Tyler the pain was too much. He collapsed on the ground, his sword clattering a few feet off. Tyler curled in pain, his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. He’d already lost a lot of blood, and he was starting to feel the effects of it.

The two royal families came storming into the room. Andrew hugged Allison firmly; her face was pressed into his shoulder, preventing her from making any noise.

“What happened here?!” Allison’s father yelled.

“Dear King,” Andrew’s voice was dripping with lies, “you’ve come just in time. This man,” he pointed to Tyler, “attacked the princess. If it weren’t for me she would probably be dead.”

Andrew’s parents beamed proudly.

Allison and Tyler could say nothing in the latter’s defense. Tyler was too weak, and Allison, try as she might, she couldn’t fight free of Andrew’s grasp.

The kings’ face was red with anger. “Guards, take this minstrel to the dungeons immediately! He will be executed forthwith!”

Tyler could only cringe in agony as the guards dragged him away. Allison’s fighting became so rough that Andrew could not keep his hold on her.

“No!” she screamed. She ran across the room and threw herself in her mother’s arms. “No no no no NO!” Everything else she wanted to say was unintelligible due to the severity of her sobs.

Andrew joined them on the other side of the room. “She’s in shock,” he said by way of explanation. They all nodded their understanding.

“Dylan, could you take Allison to her room?” the king asked his eldest son.

Dylan nodded. He extracted Allison from the queen and carried her to her room.

The kind addressed Andrew. “Thank you so much for all you have done for our daughter, Prince. I don’t know what we’d do if you hadn’t been here.”

Andrew’s mother was overcome with pride. “I hear wedding bells!”

Everyone in the room smiled. Except for one.