This story is by Cindy Spain and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Lazalea could feel their presence as she crouched in the darkness. She could hear the whir getting nearer. She knew they were closing in on her. Her mouth was dry. The beat of her heart grew louder in her ears. Her hands stung as if tiny needles were piercing them. Should she come out of the shadow or should she try to run away from law enforcement? Her question was soon met with an answer: they had found her first. As they took her away, Lazalea thought about her path to this point.
Every afternoon Lazalea was given a break from working for The Sovereign. She walked the streets around the compound. This was the one time of day she felt she could be herself and be within her dreams. She tired of the daily chores and wanted to escape. This day, something above caught her eye. She had never seen anything like it. It looked like it floated on the breeze.
Lazalea had always been curious, to the dismay of her overseers, who often told her she was too headstrong and needed to obey without question. Today, though, Lazalea followed her heart. She began trailing the bird in the sky. It took her to parts of the compound she had never seen before. The grass began to get taller. She could see trees ahead of her. She realized that she had been gone a long time, and would soon be missed and decided to go back to her unit.
Lazalea was almost home when she heard the nearly ever-present whir. Soon, they were calling out to her. “Halt! Who are you and why are you late returning to your unit?”
As she turned, the reflection of the sun on their uniforms blinded her for a moment. The Drone Police had arrived. They escorted her to her unit, and told her overseers she should not have her afternoon break tomorrow.
Inside, her mother matron took her aside and listened to her explanation. “I lost all track of time,” was Lazalea’s response.
Gerda was the first matron Lazalea learned to have feelings for. Gerda knew Lazalea was special. Yes, she was willful, and sometimes impulsive, but Lazalea reminded Gerda of something she felt many years ago… what it was like to be 12 years old and want to have no duties or expectations. She recalled stories from long ago, where children were allowed to roam free all day. But, this day, she had to make it clear to Lazalea that she needs to be more responsible with her time, or there would be consequences.
The next day, Lazalea was forced to stay inside and do her chores. She wondered about her future. She knew soon she would be assigned her life role for the community. There had been talks with her overseers that she would be a good prospect in the greenhouses. This was not something she looked forward to. She knew a life of working inside was not for her. Gerda told her she would be able to see the sunshine and know she is helping others, but this didn’t bring Lazalea joy or hope.
The following day, time seemed to stand still for Lazalea. She could hardly wait for the bell to toll for her break. As she started to walk out the door, Gerda reminded her she shouldn’t dally. Lazalea reassured Gerda she would be back before the gong.
Lazalea knew exactly where she was headed. She was nervous, looking back every few moments, hoping the drones weren’t aware she was creeping away from the main compound.
She quickly found herself again in the forest. It seemed she had stumbled upon an old trail and soon Lazalea was standing on a precipice overlooking a deep ravine. She could see water below. This must be the edge of her compound, and below was the river. She had heard it called the “river of no return” among some elders.
Across the river was a land she had also heard rumors about. Was this land real? Could there be freedom there? Or, was it a mirage filled with her dreams? Then she noticed her bird flying over the river. It glided toward the other side and soon disappeared.
Lazalea sat on the rim of the ledge. She laid back and felt the warmth of the sun on her face and dreamed of another life.
After a bit, she realized she would soon be missed. Lazalea ran back to her unit as fast as she could. Just as she entered, the gong began to ring. She was safe for another day.
To buy time, Lazalea learned the pattern of the police. However, to be on the safe side, she felt she needed to trust Gerda to keep her secret and began telling Gerda about her experiences. Gerda understood that if she were an accomplice to Lazalea breaking the rules, she would be punished as well. But Gerda had lost her dreams long ago and needed something to dream about, even if it was for another person.
Lazalea found a shortcut to the ledge, and would run through the brush and bramble as fast as she could. One day, she saw a strip of land she felt she could cross to reach the other side. She then found a way to negotiate the rough terrain down the edge of the cliff. She looked all around. There were no drones, but she was afraid of crossing. Just then, a voice could be heard from the other side beckoning her to keep coming. Lazalea could see a boy waving his hands. “Come on! You’ve got this!”
The boy greeted her and held her hand as she timidly stepped onto this foreign land. “Hi! My name is Ansel. Come join us. There are many others and you are welcome to live here.”
Lazalea was hesitant. She knew Gerda would try to cover for her tardiness, but Lazalea did not want Gerda to be hurt, so she said goodbye to Ansel, and told him she would return.
When Lazalea told Gerda of the land and the boy, Gerda nodded. She had heard of this land. It was well known around the compound. The Sovereign felt those who lived there would not be a threat, therefore it was of no significance. This would be to Lazalea’s advantage.
Lazalea asked Gerda, “Why don’t you and I leave the compound and live on the other side?” Gerda answered with a quiet sadness, “My life was long ago defined. I have come to enjoy my children and they sustain me. But, I will not discourage you from trying to reach your own joy.”
She returned the next day and was met by Ansel once again. He showed her his falcon, which he had trained with the help of his grandfather. Lazalea met the grandfather and the rest of Ansel’s family. This was another unusual experience for Lazalea. She felt at peace for the first time in her life.
Lazalea wanted others to feel this peace. There weren’t as many rules to follow. Children weren’t made to work. They could live with a real family, and not be placed with overseers whose job was just to prepare them for the life role that would be assigned to them.
For the next few weeks, Lazalea would take one person she could trust to the land she came to call Glory, whenever she felt it would be safe.
But, it didn’t take much longer for Security to become suspicious, and one afternoon, there they were, waiting for Lazalea to return.
Lazalea knew the time had come for consequences. The Sovereign had decided her punishment. A special prison had been quickly built just for her on the edge of the precipice. Security drones led her into the dark room. She saw a chair in front of a window. The window was crystal clear and overlooked her beloved Glory.
She closed her eyes as the sound of straps clicking in place was deafening. Soon she felt tubes entering her body. There were more tubes exiting her body. A nurse adjusted the straps so they wouldn’t harm her, but ensured security she could not escape them.
This would be Lazalea’s fate. The only other human being she would see would be the nurse on her daily check of Lazalea’s tubes. These would provide her with complete nourishment and bodily functions. Four times a day, she would be allowed to stand for five minutes. She would then be strapped down again.
Lazalea would spend the rest of her day looking at Glory. Her only inspiration would be the daily appearance of the falcon. She knew Ansel had sent it. This would be the one thing in her dismal days to bring a smile. Ansel, his falcon, and those she had helped to escape, would forever feel freedom. Was her fate worth it?