This story is by Andy Steven and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Enter Kelly, my best friend. She’s educated, smart, and full of hope. She’s also more beautiful than any other creation seen or dreamed of, and the nicest too. I love her more than anything.
A month ago, we graduated from General Education. I contemplate the scene endlessly. Kelly’s family wept for joy as she crossed the podium in her cap and gown, gorgeous and stately. They, like myself, were overwhelmed with emotion at the sight: a confident young woman soaring into life. I offered no such marvel. I stepped across the stage an anxious child. My family gave condolences instead of adulations. My father offered a handshake as he stared at his feet. Kelly reminds me endlessly we both graduated as top students, smart with good grades. But we live in different worlds.
Until our convocation, we were only friends. For years we did everything together, from band to drama team. Hiding my love, the fear of losing her crushed me day after day. I finally succumbed to waves of inward pressure days after graduation, and professed my adoration. Instantly, we were inseparable. Our days were filled with blooming passion, and long walks contemplating our future. In her vision, we feed each other strawberries and kiss on a white-sand beach. In my vision, we despair, work and argue until tears roll to lubricate the pain. Unlike Kelly, I know the suffering the Monster can cause.
Kelly says I have no reason to fear the Monster. It is good, she says, that the Monster controls everything now, as it has since the Great Collapse. The Monster decides everyone’s job, class, status, house and possessions. It searches through the lives of teens and Places them into their destinies, good or bad. There is no choice but acceptance. Rebelling comrades are shredded like old files, and crumpled as trash. The laborers, i.e. the trash handlers, the janitors, and the commune cooks, revolt the most. Many are killed mere minutes after meeting the Monster during their placement. Their looks of disgust and protest are met with electrocuted weapons, and their lifeless bodies are heaped into decaying piles.
Still, many childhoods are happy up until Placement. We accept the Monster as a necessity and optimism is high among the juvenile. There are no food lines, homeless, or trash lining the streets, common before The Great Collapse. Now, there are recycling bins, manicured trees, and clean rivers. Everyone plays a productive role now, instead of drifting between dreams of greener grass and golden cities. The days of the dreamers are long gone.
My father dreamed, before the Collapse. Now, he is a member of the labor class. Laborers survive, but not much else. But even survival was difficult before the Monster. Thousands, if not millions, died in the streets in the Collapse, starving and penniless. Disease was rampant and depression held many in its iron grips. There was war, and sadness. The Monster changed everything. Our teachers tell us this from the moment we are born. We listen, and many have happy childhoods.
My childhood was different. My father hates the Monster. He says it made him a janitor, my mother a dishwasher, and our whole family less than the scum of a tub. My father speaks only of anger and misery, between the drunken nights and beating us.
After graduation, I rode our family’s bike to Kelly’s. We mused over our lives, as always. I spoke to her of my terrors, the Monster’s cruelty, and losing her. She blew me off. Nothing could tear her away from me, she says, neither beast nor man. Returning home, the skies sprinkled softly, and the drops on my skin soothed my aching brain. I felt free of the worry and depression that haunted me. My father was waiting for me outside our housing block. He exploded into a bout of rage.
“What the hell are you doing?! Are you against us too, wrecking our bike in the rain! You stupid little shit, I’m going to knock your fucking head off!”
I was petrified with surprise more than fear. He grabbed a metal chair and swung it over his head, slamming it down in my direction. The chair missed and clanged against the concrete, and I scrambled away safely. I returned home days ago, but the feeling of freedom was lost.
The nightmares started once I returned. They all begin with an eternal expanse of darkness, filling every recess of my brain with dread. In a corner of the deepest black, a bright white spotlight clicks on, and reveals me sitting in a metal chair. I am bound with rope, and a soft light appears, shining through the cracks of a door feet away. A figure opens the door and walks into the dark. It approaches me and leans into the spotlight. Kelly’s face is illuminated. She kisses me on a clammy forehead, but pulls back with disgust. Without hesitation, she punches me again and again. I beg her to stop, cry and howl until I am nothing but blood. Close to death, I wake up.
The nightmare repeats night after night, and pushes me to insanity. I yearn escape, muse of ridding myself of the Monster and life’s heavy chains. I tell Kelly, but she is dismissive. The nightmares and thoughts of desertion only worsen.
Finally the day of Placement arrives. I walk with thousands of other freshly-minted graduates down the streets to the Grand Center in the middle of our city. Faces show very different expectations. Kelly and I line up together, a single line of youths leading to a small blank door. Every few seconds, the door swings open to fate and a body enters through.
My turn comes quickly. The door handle feels sweaty and heavy. The room is exceedingly bright, and blinds me, blurring the enormity of the Monster. Obscure outlines of armed guards fidget about the immense space.
“Step forward, and sit in the chair,” a unseen guard commands.
In the haze, there is a metal chair, straight from my father’s grasp and nightmares. It is frigid cold when I sit. The Monster doesn’t hesitate. I hear no voice except in my head, full and deep.
“Lawyer. Prosecutor for the state.”
No frills. My entire future conveyed in two succinct fragments. I stand on wobbly legs, and nearly collapse. My heart dances and I can breathe again.
“Exit forward now.”
I stumble into a sunbathed street. There are hundreds of others milling about, freshly Placed and grasping at comprehension. The Monster doesn’t allow families in this area to greet their children. Guards lurk instead, armed with lethal shock sticks. Dozens of my comrades lay bloody and still on the ground. No doubt, they were unsatisfied with the Monster’s command. Cleaners work quickly, tossing broken bodies into bins like litter.
A crowd gathers near, and yells leap from a tall brick building. There is a young man, climbing up a ladder on the side. He reaches the top, standing behind a small safety wall, and smiles. There is no hesitation as he mounts the wall and launches off. He dives directly onto his head. The crunch is sickening, and the sound of death is unmistakable. There are several others, now, climbing the wall.
I turn back to the exit and search for Kelly. After a moment of panic, I see her walking away from the door, disoriented with jerking steps. I catch her in a state of hysteria.
“Everything’s OK,” I tell her. “I’m a lawyer for the state now. You were right. Everything’s OK.”
She bursts into tears. “This isn’t fair. Let’s leave Nick. Please. This is bullshit.”
Her sentences become unintelligible. She wails uncontrollably and slumps to the ground.
“Nick, you were right. This life, it isn’t right. It isn’t fair. The Monster said I’m nothing but a nanny. Let’s escape like you said, together. Please Nick.”
Her fate smashes into her, and breaks her into pieces. She begs and cries at my feet, groveling like a wounded animal. I am stone, stuck in place in the midst of a dilemma that I never foresaw. Kelly, my only love. Yet her dismissals echo through my head. I can’t remember love anymore, only the pain of her punches.
I leave her there, screaming and crawling in the dirt. She might escape. She will certainly suffer, or perhaps she’ll join the others on the wall. It isn’t my problem anymore.
I step away from the suffering and towards my new life. Everything will be OK. For me.