Chapter 1: Sunset Pg. 3
Chapter 2: Lost Country Pg. 12
Chapter 3: 1:00, Matt's Pg. 22
Chapter 4: Choosing Day Pg. 30
The sunset is blinding through the thick glass windows. The bright oranges and pinks bounce around the sky gleefully, but the dark purple black bruise of the night sky eats away the edges of the beautiful colors. I press my hand against the glass as if I could push through it and run into the sunset... but the glass is too thick, and I am stuck behind it.
I sit on the large gray couch for several minutes, tired after the long day of school. "Ava!" My brother calls me from the kitchen, on the way to the fields. I get up with a sigh, and follow him through the dull brown dining room and into the cream colored kitchen. Since the closing of the factories, all of the paints are made with plants. I wasn't alive (nor was anyone alive today) when we had factories pumping out colorful paints, but I can imagine the bright red and yellow walls I would have painted; just like the sunset.
It's time to pick crops now that it's dark outside. In the day time, it's too warm to do anything in window rooms. Besides, the radiation from the sun would be too great. The windows don't act as another atmosphere, but they can protect us and the crops from the toxins well enough to keep us alive.
Into the elevator I follow my brother, and up we go. They don't make elevators anymore because there are no longer factories to make them, but my family is lucky because our house is old, but is still considered safe by The Counsel, and therefore not closed down. The robotic female voice tells us we have reached the second floor. I've always found that irritating. Of course I'm on the second floor, where else could I be? There are only two stories in my house, and I just left the first by pressing the button for the second floor. I don't mention it to Colin because he probably wouldn't be interested. He's never interested. Not even about the outside, or the sunset.
We step out of the elevator, and as I gaze out over the corn fields I can imagine the huge glass walls melting away, and I can nearly feel a breeze rubbing against my skin, cool, and free of toxins. Then Colin walks into the field, making the tall corn stalks sway, and the moment is gone. I am once again sealed in. I pick corn for a good half of an hour, but I manage to sneak off to a far corner of the indoor crops which is different than the rest of the field. It has a hollow log sitting in it.
The log has been preserved but it is not any less real, and it is not any less from the outside. I crawl inside the log, which is about two inches shorter than me, making it about five and a half feet tall. It feels small even though the textbooks at school say that most trees never got bigger than having a diameter of three feet before being cut down and either being burned, or turned into paper. Now we use reed paper, that people make by hand. It takes a little longer, but it is much better than burning the atmosphere.
I sit in the log and close my eyes. I pretend I am sitting on a hill top, surrounded by green trees covered in needles. They are big trees, the ones of legend called redwoods. It is sunset, like it always is in my daydreams, because I think it is the most beautiful time of day. The dying sunlight warms my cheeks, but the chill of the night wind licks my shoulders. I often think that my only wish is to go outside, but that isn't true. It is to be outside in the olden times, when the air was clean, and plants and animals were plentiful. I imagine them now, the rustle of the bushes, the screeching of an owl, and the chattering of a squirrel. All of these sounds, I will never hear except in a recording. I suppose I am lucky though. I have heard of townships that are so isolated, all of their tech has broken, and no one is near enough to give them spare parts. The students can only see a picture of a bird until it has ripped or lost its color. They will never hear the sound of a woodpecker chipping away at bugs in a tree, because they no longer have CD's. I smile softly as the imaginary wind tickles my chin, but then, for a sad moment I realize I might not be envisioning everything right.
When the people moved inside, and all the farms came too, the people took the advantage of not having the natural annoyances of weather, and animal pests. That meant no rain, no wind, and no birds or bugs. They manually polinate plants now because the bees stung people, and the other bugs ate too much of the crops. It seemed like a shame to me, because I have never experienced the so called pests. I will never know if they are as wonderful as they are in my imagination, or as frustrating as my family and teachers have told me time and time again. Whenever I bring up the idea of going outside, or even just the place itself, my parents tell me to keep my mind focused on school so that The Counsel chooses a good job for me when the time comes. My parents seem to think we still live in the 60's. The people protested and won their rights, we get to choose our own jobs! The Counsel only tells us our job description.
I doze off in the log, and it's early morning when I wake up. I'm surprised, because normally I only sleep a few hours when I come up here, but I estimate I came here at 9:00 since that's when it's usually cool enough to pick, and now the sun has risen just above the horizon, so it has to be 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning already. I watch the huge ball of gass as it climbs higher and higher into the sky, and the darkness return to light. The sun seems to get smaller as it distant's itself from the ground. I get up and run back to the elevator. It tells me I'm going to the first floor in its annoying monotone voice, and I wish it would be quieter even though my parents probably can't hear it through the steel doors. My parents don't know that I come up to the log to think. They think my aspirations are silly, and that I shouldn't get my hopes up about going outside. Still, I don't give up hope, and I confront anyone who I think can help me. Sometimes this helps, but most of the time I get distainful looks and lectures on politeness for being so up front about everything. Mostly, they just don't want me to talk about going outside, but that doesn't seem like a valid reason, so they come up with others.
I get out of the elevator and slip into my room. From the elevator, I have to go through the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room (which is connected to my parent's room) in order to get to my room, so I have to be very quiet not to wake anyone. I pull the covers up to my neck, and let my head hang to one side as though I were asleep. Soon enough, I hear my mom's soft footsteps, and she opens the door. "Wake up Ava" she says, "time to get ready for school." I yawn, and make the groaning sounds of a waking teen. I sit up slowly, and greet my mom with a grunted good morning. Then I pull out a pair of shorts (all organic materials of course) and a purple/blue t-shirt died with a berry mixture. As I enter the dining room, my dad greets me with a howdy. He is from the Austen township, in the Texas region and has a slight accent. When breakfast is served, I eat quickly, say my goodbyes, grab my lunchbag, and run out the door. I leave before Colin so that I don't have to walk with him. Colin and I are very different. He is perfect for our community, quiet and disinterested. I on the other hand, am up front and very curious.
Our township is built in what used to be called Michigan. Now the famous lakes have disappeared, dried to dust. As far as the United States knows, every country in the world is like that; withered, and dying.
We lost communication with most countries. We get reports from Canada and Mexico sometimes, but it's a long journey through the tunnels to get here. The tunnels are underground passages which are the paths to get from one place to another. It was Germany's idea to create them, but the telephones and radios died shortly after this suggestion. The last we heard from South Korea was that North Korea had used the traveling tunnels as an excuse to dig and was invading South Korea from underneath. Once again, radio signals died quickly after this, all though we still don't know why.
In order to get the necessary oxygen for people to live, The Counsel built vents into every building and tunnel. The oxygen from the crops in the farming homes is pumped around the township continuously, making the air breathable. Extra CO2 was vented out of the buildings and into the outside. Although we did have a way to protect ourselves from the greenhouse gasses, we still didn't have factories because someday we hoped to move outside again. The Counsel gives weekly updates of fume levels through the newspapers that are passed out to each family. They predict at least another 75-150 years. Because the technology isn't very good any more, the estimates aren't very exact and change every few years in dramatic numbers. I probably won't be alive in 75 to 150 years, or in the time span of the next random guess, but I still hope the numbers will go down someday, preferably before my death.
The hall that the door leads to gets rapidly steeper. Once it goes down for about 50 yards, it flattens out, and I am 130 feet under the soil. Most of the tunnels are parts of old subway systems (an ancient mode of transportation) or underground walkways from many, many years ago. I run down the tunnel until there is a T with a sign pointing blue in one direction and orange in the other. I follow the blue tunnel, which goes into the work and school areas. Had I taken the orange path, I would have encountered grocery stores and shopping centers.
I hang a left when I reach another intersection, and begin to see people wandering out of their houses on their way to work or school. We have three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. I am in the fourth year of high school, and I will start my career at the end of this term. I will probably choose a science career, because it is my best shot at studying plants and animals. I it's not definite that I'll get a biology career, but since it is my best subject at school, it is likely.
The first few hours of school rush by. First I have Language (we have two languages to learn. There's an English/Spanish class, and an English/French class. French and Spanish are the only options because Canada and Mexico are our only two contacts right now.) I find Spanish interesting, but it's one of my best classes, although in general, I am a good student. Then I go to social studies (not quite as interesting) and then an art class (also not very interesting.) Finally, at the end of the day I have math and science, and I can enjoy myself while reading a book about genes and how to make punnet squares. I enjoy math too, but algebra isn't as fun as the science part of the class. When class gets out, I head home to eat and get my homework done.
I sit down at my desk in the right corner of the front row, and get out the science book. I open it to the page written on the clay board at the front of the room, and find myself looking at pictures of chromosomes undergoing mitosis. An adult walks into the class room, but it is not Mr. Samson like I expect, it is another teacher. He sits in the teachers chair next to the board and I sigh. We have a substitute today, and therefore almost definitely, a bad science teacher. Most people living in our township don't think that science is important, for obvious reasons. Biology is useless, and unless you'd like to design houses and buildings, engineering isn't the most welcomed job either. Resources are scarce, and dirty for the planet. Most people only become science teachers because the council needed more science teachers, not because they wanted to. Mr. Samson is the only exception I've found so far, which is pretty lucky on my part considering I want to pursue science.
The man introduces himself as Mr. Morison, and starts to go over the chapter in the book. As we finish the second page, Mr. Morison suddenly starts to talk about criteria that isn't even in the chapter. I flip through the next couple of pages, but can't find it. By this time, he isn't even talking about genes any more. I raise my hand to point out his mistake. "yes?" he asks me in a rough, crackly voice. "The material you're teaching isn't in this chapter," I say, trying to get back on topic. "so? This section of your science class is only here to preserve knowledge, even if it's not useful. If you really want to learn about genetics, you can read about it at home." His answer surprises me. This is the first time a teacher has aggressively told me that they didn't care. I start to protest, and to explain how Mr. Sampson would do the lesson, but I'm cut off. "Everyone get out your math books," Mr. Morison says. I take out my math book, but don't open it. I read from the science textbook for the rest of class, ignoring anything that Mr. Morison tells the me. This is my silent protest for the next half hour, until the class ends.
Colin finds me before I can escape and asks me how school was. I start to complain about science, pridefully explaining my strike on not learning science. Colin seems horrified (although I suppose he has a right to be, he is a teacher) and starts lecturing me. "Ava, you need to respect your teachers more. No matter how badly they teach their subject. Science isn't the most important class after all, and people like to be important. They like to matter in peoples lives. That's probably why he teaches more math then science, so he can matter in students future careers.
"You're as bad as Mr. Morison!" I yell at him. "Science is very important! if people took it seriously, we would already be living outside again. With clean air and animals, and the sun!" "Ava, you don't mean that. The Council is doing all they can to help us get back outside. They help us survive until the day we can return to the outside." Colin seems to believe what he says, which makes me even more angry. This isn't just a 'you need to cool down' talk, he truly believes that people should just wait out the smog.
Before he can say anything else, I run in front of him until I reach an intersection. At first I go the opposite direction of my house, but quickly change my mind when I feel my stomach pinch from hunger. I turn around and head home even though I know that my parents will tell me off for running away from Colin. I can't just leave everything behind me, I wouldn't be able to survive. With no money and no home, I would have no where to go and nothing to eat. No matter how frustrating my community and family can be at times, they are necessary.
When I reach home, everything goes as expected. My parents agree with Colin, I get frustrated, I get lectured, and then everything goes back to normal. Mr. Sampson comes back the next day, and laughs when he reads the class notes from Mr. Morison. He talks to me after class, but is obviously not too upset. The day goes on, and nothing particularly special happens.
The next couple of weeks are not exceptional. Finals are coming up, so most of my time is spent studying. It's nearing the end of the year, and these final tests will help determine my future job. Although the system was created so that jobs would be spread out among the people, the system is easy to work around.
Supposedly, on Choosing Day, the child who is selecting their job will state their category, and the council will review the kid's file and give them a job. The Council will choose the job based on what the child has showed promise in in the past. Mostly, the information in the files comes from schools and test scores, so if a kid wants a certain job very very badly, then they can ace the subject they like, and fail the others. I'm not quite that extreme, but I've purposely done worse than I could have on physics tests so that biology shows up as one of my 'best subjects.'
It's a little over a month until Choosing Day, and my mom is already choosing out clothes she thinks would look nice for the celebration. For a while I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to go in a big fluffy cream dress, but then she finds a nice blue skirt tucked in the back of my closet that she likes better. My mom doesn't normally act like this. She's a very down to earth kind of person most of the time, but she can get really excited about big events- mainly when she isn't in them.
Later in the day, I find myself alone in the house. My mom and Colin have gone to their work places, and my dad is out of the house, probably trying to find the cheapest fertilizer that he still considers 'good quality.' This generally means it has to be really nice. I decide to slip out before anyone gets home, and head down to the library.
Once I get there, I go to the desk, show the librarian my card that says I volunteer there, and head for the back room. The back room is a dark little corner of the library that is full of boxes of books. And when I say boxes, I mean hundreds. Piled against walls, stacked to the ceiling. I find the box I'm looking for, and turn on the light at the desk in the back.
Once the box is unpacked, I have about fifteen books spread out in front of me. I sift through them until I reach a book I haven't read yet. I just finished my sixth book from this box. Most of the books in this room are pretty boring. The storage room is mostly there for books that people don't check out often, but since most people didn't care about sciences they couldn't use, I found some good bio books too.
All parts of biology aren't considered useless. For example, many people still study bioengineering, because it can help with all sorts of stuff like medicine, and the indoor crops. This however is not what I mean by biology. I mean field biology more than work biology. As most people point out, this is rather difficult to do without a field. In ancient field bio, field scientists could just go hiking, drawing and recording animals and their sounds and every little detail. Today, field biology has just become scientists looking at hundred year old specimens, trying to piece animals back together or trying to figure out the purpose of plant A, B and C. It can be very disheartening to think about my dream job.
The book I've selected sounds a bit less realistic than most of the books in the box. Almost like science fiction. It's called Cascadia: The Lost Country. The other book sound more like text books. The titles include Understanding the structure of Cells, and Hikers Guide to the Northwest. I open the Cascadia book and it appeares like most text books. It has a table of contents, and sections on the ecoregion and Flora and Fauna.
I start reading, but don't recognize a word. I flip back to the glossary, but I accidentally go to far. At first, I think nothing of it. I find the glossary, then flip back to the table of contents to find where I was. Then I realize that there shouldn't be any pages after the glossary. I read through the table of contents, but there is nothing there. It says glossary and then nothing. The pages shouldn't exist. I start to go back to the end of the book, but someone knocks on the door behind me and I jump, dropping it on the floor.
"Hey, honey," my mom says behind me.
"Oh, hi," I reply. "How'd you find me?" She laughs quietly, and I smile back.
"I just figured you would be at the library when I came home and you weren't there. The woman at the desk told me where you went."
"Oh," I say. I look up and see that she has more to say. When people are talking to you, it's normally pretty easy to tell when they're not done. I wait, and she continues.
"Well, I just came by to to tell you that we're having dinner in about an hour, so please wrap up here soon."
"Ok," I answer. "I just need to clean up and I'll be right there." I start to put the books back in the box, and my mom goes back out into the main building of the library. When I finish putting the books in the box I set them back on the shelf. I turn around and see the Cascadia book still lying on the floor. I pick it up and begin to set it back in the box, but then I don't. I'm not sure why, but I don't set in the box. Instead, I slip it into my backpack, and go back into the main building where I find my mom.
"I'm ready," I say.
"uh huh" she says distractedly. She's looking at the history shelf, which means we might have to wait a little longer than expected until dinner. Colin definitely got his interest in history from my mom. I guess we both got an interest in history from her, we are just interested in different aspects of it. This realization surprises me. I'd never really thought of Colin and me as similar. Ever. I am beginning to wonder what else I may not have noticed about Colin and me, and for that matter, how I fit into my entire community, when my mom's voice startles me out of my thoughts.
"Sorry, Ava" she says "I'm just geting distracted. Let's go home."
We head down the tunnels to our house in silence. My mom and I are both fairly quiet people, often getting lost in our thoughts. People don't always see me that way because I love to argue, but I think my mom gets it. As we walk down the tunnels, I can't get my head wrapped around the fact that I neglected the idea of me being similar to Colin. I have always though of everyone being scornful of me because I ask questions and have a ridiculous dream, but now I realize that I may be doing the same thing. I know that my feeling of being an outsider has not been completely imagined by me, because I can recall some very angry conversations with teachers (Cough Cough, Mr. Morrison) and peers, but I wonder if I may have helped my loneliness along a bit.
We arrive at our house, and find both my dad and my brother there. They sit on the gray couch reading the weekly paper.
"The milk arrived, Dana," my dad says.
"Okay, thanks," my mom says. She goes into the kitchen and starts preparing dinner. She asks me and Colin to set the table. I start to walk to the dining room, but get distracted when I look out the window. It is sunset, and the brilliant lights paint the sky with mesmerizing colors. Colin chuckles at me when he sees what I'm doing. I begin to remember why I find him so infuriating.
My family eats dinner together and recounts their days. I tell them I found a good book, but not what it's about. I don't want a big family discussion about how I shouldn't be wasting my study hours with silly nonsense. Although it may be siily nonsense, as soon as dinner is over, I run to my room to read.
I take out the Cascadia book and open it to the back pages. It apears to be a diary. In the top left corner it reads, March 8, 2234. It's been more than 50 years since this was written. I continue to read. I just got placed in biological science yesterday. Lucky. I'm not sure what to think. I'm glad I'm in science, but my friends have always said that there's some dark secret around this specialty. The Council really needs to come up with a new name. It's not really a specialty if we're forced to do it. I still wish I had been selected for teaching, but I suppose the system wouldn't work very well if I could choose my job. Too bad they hadn't figure out that it does. I guess it might be fun to be in the mystery job. I can tell my friends all about the awful things they made me do. Of course, it will only be what they want to here. They are all a bit dramatic. That's all for tonight I guess. My mother says I must go to bed.
What a strange name. I wonder what it means. The meanings of names are very important to our township, and most of the ones near us. My name means 'like a bird.' My mom says that it can take weeks to name a baby. My dad named me. He always said that I came flying into the world instead of walking.
The next entry looks more like a letter. It also apears to have been pasted on top of the page, because I can see the hardened brownish goo coming out from under the edge of the paper. I read on:
June 23, 2234
Dear Mbube, at last I have found you. The last few months seem almost unreal. When The Council told be you were gone, I could not believe it. They told me and your family that you were lost, as the you were a possession that had fallen from their pocket. I first found evidence that you were alive about a week after we were told you were dead. Your parents gave me the book that I showed you, and told me that it had been given to them by The Council. They did not question how they got it, because it had been hanging around your house for a while. They did not realize it's worth or that you would never take on a potentially dangerous trip. I took it and found your note. It took me a long time to figure out what it meant, but I eventually figured it out. I will explain further when I see you next. Yes, that's right, I am coming to find you. Chakide will take you this letter on his next trip back. I will have to leave not for another two weeks after because of some complications with family events. If I wait, they won't notice I've left until I'm long gone. We will meet again soon, my love.
I begin to feel uncomfortable, like I'm listening in on someone's private conversation. Unfortunately for my comfort, my curiosity won me over. So many questions kept popping up in my head. Who were these people? Why were they being hidden in the back of a book? Why was The Council lying about someones death? I suppose the book could be wrong too. It could be a joke written by some kid, or a misunderstanding. I don't understand why, but I keep reading. I find myself believing Vemvane's story, even if I have no proof of her existence. I kept reading to the next page. This time, the letter was addressed to someone different.
July 1, 2234
I hope that I spelt the name correctly. When Mbube started calling me Venvane, I thought it was a joke, but now I realize I was mistaken. This is just my letter of notice. You will have a new citizen within the month. Chakide tells me it will take a little over two weeks to get to the pick up cite. I plan to be there as soon as I can. Mbube can tell you I am anything but a Council spy. Tell Mbube when I will arrive please.
My mother comes into my room, and I snap the book shut. I decide in that moment not to tell anyone about the book until I know more about Vemvane and her strange fantastic land she's heading to. "Just checking on you." she said. "Thought you might want to know that it's the 25th tomorrow. One week until Choosing Day!"
"Really?" I ask, trying to mask my horror. After finding this book, I want choosing day to be as far away as possible. I need to learn more about The Council's reason for faking Mbube's death.
"Yeah, I thought you'd be more excited. You've been waiting to start the job of your dreams since you were like, 4."
I try to think up an excuse. "Oh, sorry. I'm just tired. I've been studying for my finals. They happen on Friday, so I've been studying a lot." She seems to buy it, and leaves.
I go back to the book and find the next date. It's a journal entry again.
July 8, 2234
I've picked up my bicycle from the shop downtown. Chakide modified it so that it can collapse into a tiny square. He also gave me a compass so I could find Missoula. He said to keep a journal of my journey, and that if I came across any 'green' areas as he put it, to mark down my approximate location. I don't know how I'll ever find Cascadia, but I here that I'll have to cross a mountain range called Rockies. Very original for a mountain range. Still, I'm slightly terrified of the prospect of the big, towering mountains and me climbing them by myself. My bike works pretty well, and it is very light, because it's made from recycled titanium. I have only been gone a day, and already I have seen more trees than ever before in my life. Not that that's saying much. I've only ever seen the two outside the windows of the schoolhouse. I must sleep now, so I am ready in the morning. It is very difficult to sleep out here. I must sleep on top of my bag, because the ground is so hard.
By this point I realize that Vemvane is not talking about a trip through the tunnels. She means actually going outside. As in, not being inside. I don't understand how this could happen. Wouldn't she get sick? wouldn't she die from the toxins?
I look at my clock and realize that I have to go to bed now or I won't get any sleep at all. I turn off the lights and try to go to sleep, but the information is too much. There is no way I can stop now. I reopen the book and keep reading for a couple more hours.
The next several entries are still from Vemvane and about her journey. She describes the scenery, describing every bug to its very last detail. The entries gradually get shorter and shorter as the trip continues. When she reaches a place called Montana, her writing becomes more detailed once again. She keeps saying, just a little while longer. another day or two. On the last journal entry, she writes "I have reached Cascadia. I have made it." That's all there is on the last entry.
My body swells with hope, and excitment. Could there really be a way outside? Is this just a story made up my some kids, or are Vemvane and Mbube real, living out there in this place called Cascadia? There are a few more pages after the journal ends. They include a list of supplies, a time, and a place that I recognize. The location is the name of a bakery in town, the time is much later than the closing time though. I wonder what would happen if I went to the bakery one night. Would I meet one of these people from the journal or from the letters. My eyes slowly close as I process all of this information. My breathing evens, and my body relaxes. 1:00am, Matt's, I think, repeating it over and over again in my mind. 1:00, Matts.
I wake up half an hour late. My mom is shaking me. "Ava, come on. Get up, Honey." I mumble something, my brain not working well enough to use language yet. "You're going to be late," she says. The fog begins to clear from my mind, but the only thing I can think of is
"1:00, Matt's," I accidentally say out loud.
"What?" My mom asks, confused at my sudden outburst.
"Nothing, nothing," I say quickly. I start to remember what I found last night. I don't want my mom getting suspicious. "I just forgot to tell you, I'm meeting Leyla at lunch today. We're gonna talk about Choosing Day. We're meeting at Matt's."
"Oh. Ok," she says. She turns on the light, blinding me, and says "you've got ten minutes before you need to leave for school." That gets me moving. I've never been late to class. Ever. I hurry to my dresser and put on a brown t-shirt and some loose fitting pants. I grab a box of strawberries and some crackers on my way out the door. While I walk to school, I look down at the food I've brought. I eat a couple of strawberries and save the crackers for lunch, as I am not actually going to lunch at Matt's.
At lunch, I do however meet Leyla. Leyla is my only friend, and has been since we were very young. I know that 'only friend' sounds lonely, but it's not. I know other people, and I tolerate them, but Leyla is my only real friend.
When I walk in to the cafeteria, I find her almost immediately. She is sitting at the table we always sit at, but she also kind of stands out. She is imensly beautiful, but plays it down as best she can. She has darker skin than most people in our township, a chocolate black. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, but each strand, instead of one hair is a tiny braid. She does her best to down play her beauty by wearing ratty clothing, much to her parent's dismay. Today, she wears a pair of jeans and a leather jacket.
"What's up?" I say as I sit down next to her.
"Well, I would say the ceiling, but since I have a feeling that's not what you mean, my response is not much." She replies.
"Good choice," I say. She often speaks like that. Overthinkng the simpleist sentences.
"So, I've been thinking up ways to escape the Choosing Ceremony, but so far, only one option has presented itself."
"Oh yes, and what would that be?" I ask. "Go outside, be contaminated by toxins and have to be quarentined over the next 21 days?" She laughs, a deep, melodious laugh.
"No, of course not." She says, and her face turns comically serious. "Infect myself with some sort of awful virus that lasts only long enough to keep me in bed for the next week. I don't want to miss my first day at work."
"What's wrong with the Choosing Ceremony anyway?" I ask, last night's reading pricking my mind like a sewing needle. I push it away, reminding myself that the book is ridiculous, and I have no real evidence against The Council.
"Ugh, how can you even ask that? All of the formalities and foofy dresses." She shudders. "I can't bare to even imagine it." Leyla's mom is big on parties. I'm sure Leyla will arrive at the ceremony completely covered in ruffles and bows– not exactly her normal style.
"Oh, you'll survive." I say.
The rest of the school day slowly drags on. All I can think about is 1:00, Matt's. It's like a song that's stuck in my head. As soon as the day ends I walk home to find the book. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to bring the supplies to the meeting place or not. I decide I will bring the small things that I can carry with me, and if it is necessary, I will come again the next day and the day after that, until I have everything I need. I find myself planning out how everything will go. Calculating how I will buy a bicycle and how to get the winter clothes (also listed) out without the rest of my family noticing.
I reach home, and I have an entire plan of how I'm going to escape, but now I'm walking into my house, and I see my dad sitting on the couch waiting for me. Colin comes up the tunnel and walks in behind me. I look around, and realize I didn't even consider the fact that I'll be leaving them. I'm willing to give up everything for the chance to go outside. Even when I do see my family sitting in front of me, my mind doesn't change. I'm still planning on leaving. There is no conflict like there should be. No part of me that says it's crazy to even think about leaving like all the hero's and heroines in books have before taking off on a dangerous quest.
I shake the guilty feeling off and go up to my room. When my dad asks me where I'm going, I tell him I have homework. I don't, but I do have some reading tp do. I grab The Lost Country and flip to the last couple of pages, after the journal and letters. First there is the 1:00, Matt's note and then the list of supplies. I read them and count how many I can carry to the meeting site. There are 15 items, and I own 10 of them. I can only carry 5 of the items, so I stuff them in a bag and hide it in my closet. I look over the list one more time to make sure I didn't miss anything.
Titanium mountain bike
Dry Food for three weeks
Letter of recomendation (From Chakide)
Three or more pairs of walking shoes
Lightweight water filter
Guide to plants from Michigan west
Guide to animals from Michigan west
First aid kit
Strong, loose material
I own a sleeping bag for sleepovers at other peoples houses, a flashlight, duct tape, a first aid kit, and a backpack. I can get to guides of plants and animals at the library. If I snooped around the house, I could probably find some strong material and some good walking shoes. I'm not sure what a mountain bike is, but I hope to find out tonight. Everything seems to be in order for the meeting.
* * *
When my family says good night, I grab my flashlight and open the Cascadia book. I still haven't finished the last pages, and I want to read them before I leave. It starts off with some statistics that I've read before. The toxin levels, the number of years before we can go outside again, etc. I scan over them, hoping there is something new. A paper falls out of the book when I turn the page. It's not dated, but from the kind of paper that it's written on, it has to be more than eighty years old. And yet, it can't be, because the fume levels are way less than the ones from the newspaper just last week. The fume levels couldn't have risen, could they? And besides, these levels are below the toxic amount. If this was where it was at now, I could walk outside whenever I wanted to. I look at the place in the book that it fell from. Another paper pasted into the book is dated only two years ago, but has similar results. I look at the page before it with the higher fume results. The same date is on both the low account from two years ago and the high account.
The clock reads 12:30, and I jump out of bed. I glance at the book again, and throw it into the bag with the other supplies. I manage to get across the living room fairly easily, without making much noise. The front door is squeaky, but no one comes running out of their room screaming "intruder!" so I figure I'm okay.
Once I'm in the tunnels, a strange calmness washes over me.The dark seems almost comforting, but eerie as well. I walk quickly, occasionally glansing behind myself as though someone is following me. There is no one out at this hour. No workers, students or pedestrians. It is strange to see the township this quiet. It is as though everyone was wiped out. Nothing left but the buildings and the quiet and the calm. My breathing matches my footsteps, coming out in little short bursts of air. It is warmer than I expected it to be. I always figured it would get cold at night, but it is the same temperature it always is, just around 65º. The Council keeps it that way all the time. There are no seasons indoors. All foods grow all year. All weather doesn't exist.
I turn the corner onto the orange path, and wander down the lonely tunnel. My flahlight shines before me in a little ball of light. Matt's is fairly close to the beginning of the street, and I see its sign hanging above a ramp leading into the restaurant. The sign reads Mathew's Cafe, but everyone just calls it Matt's. This is mainly because the owner (Matt) is well known by everyone, and no one has ever called him Mathew in his life. I walk up the ramp and find the door to the restaurant locked. There is no sign of a person anywhere. It is still just the quiet comforting darkness and me.
I turn my flashlight around in a circle, looking for any clues that might lead me to, well, I don't know. I sit down heavily on the ramp. Nothing is here, no one is waiting. I can't believe I didn't prepare myself for this possible outcome. I feel so upset, I have a hard time getting in control of my anger that I was fooled. Then, the anger fades and is replaced by someething else. Rather than anger, a sadness comes rumbling through me. It is not a calm sad. It is a loud, crazy sad, that screams to be heard, to be known. It makes me even more motivated to find something. It is not a sit down and cry sadness, but more of a dissapointed sadness. One that is frustrated that something so important couldn't work. One that is sad that I could not find my goal.
I glance up one more time to make sure that I didn't miss anything. A small black circle on the door catches my attention. I look at it more closely. It is just the peek hole. I fill up with the angry sadness, and turn and run. I run down the tunnels, down the orange path and go home. I catch my breath at my doorstep, so that no one hears my loud breathing when I go in. I slip into the house and into my room. I check the clock, and it says that it is 3:00 in the morning. Instead of going to my room, I go up the elevator. I walk out to the corn field, and feel the corn leaves brush my face as I walk through the field. The stalks whip back as my body's pressure against them moves on to the next stalk. I go to the corner with the old log, and climb inside. The images of the outside flood my mind, creating perfect scenes of nature.
A large river flows past me on my right. on all sides of me are mossy trees and large brush. I am sitting cross legged, my eyes closed, and yet I know what it would look like if I opened my eyes into the dream. Eventually, I do, and infronnt of me stands a huge, bold mountain. It is perfect and pointed, and most of all, white. The snow on the mountain is white and clear and beautiful. There is no part of this dream that makes any sense, but I don't really care, or notice. The strange glassy whiteness of the mountain is suddenly right in front of me. I look down and find that I am at the very top of the mountain. High up in the clouds. I try and take a step, but my feet are stuck. I looked down, and can't see past my knees. I try to dig myself out, but the holes keep filling. The snow is not solid, but in fact, a powder. In pictures, I had never seen it like this. My dream logic finds it completely normal, but a small part of me questions the snow. Is it real snow or is the solid slabs of white that I have always imagined as snow the real one. Something flutters into my eyes, and I blink them. At first I think that it is snow falling from the sky, but I can't see it. I wake up and find wood dust in my hair and on my face. I brush it off. and look out of the log, out the window. It is still dark, but I hurry down stairs anyway. I want to be down there before anyone else wakes up.
I go to the elevator's entrance, but the light on top is already on, showing that it is moving floors. A ding sounds from within and a mechanical voice says "second floor." Before my brain entirely registers what's happening, I jump backwards and hide among the corn stalks. I hear my dad's wistles ringing throughout the room. Once his noise reaches what sounds to be the middle of the field, I creep as stealthfully as I can back to the elevator. The cornstalks swish ever so gently as I move. My dad's wistles stop, but I can hear his footsteps. I freeze, worried he has noticed the movement of the corn, but the sound of feet het quieter, not louder. He is heading away from me. I run the last few steps to the elevator, ignoring the corn's movement. My dad is a bit oblivious sometimes.
I hit the first floor elevator key as soon as the elevator doors open, and wait anxiously as the elevator goes down. I'm worried someone will hear it, but I get to the ground floor without anyone noticing. My mom hums as she gets ready for work, but she remains in her room. The clock says that it's just before six in the morning, so I've got another hour to sleep. I slip into my room and pull the blanket over my head. Sleep pulls me in, and the darkness of the tunnels comes again in my sleep.
It's early morning, I think. A small stream of light shines above my bed. I stare up at the ceiling, unmoving. It has been 4 days since I went to Matt's. I haven't gone anywhere except home and school. My mom thinks I'm moping because Choosing Day is so near. It is on the Saturday of this week. I glance at my clock to check what day it is now. If you have the same pattern everyday, with no plans or planning, the day of the week gets forgotten easily. The clock says that it is 5:08 on saturday morning.
Saturday! I bolt up right, my body moving faster than my brain. I have to get up, I'm going to be late! I promptly fall over. As I stand back up, my brain registers the first half of the time. It's also only 5:00 in the morning. The Choosing Ceremony doesn't even start until 3:00 in the afternoon. I groan and flop back into bed. I lay there for quite some time before my mom comes in to get me up. As soon as she enters the room it's go, go, go!
First there's the clothes. We finally decided on a pair of black slacks and a blue blouse. Then we move to the hair, which my mom plates into a swirling braid going down my back. My brownish blond hair looks just a little more golden once its tied up nicely like this. After my mom finishes my hair, she steps out of the room for a minute. When she comes back, a beautiful purple pendant is hanging from her hand on a golden chain. I gasp, and my mom tries to hide a pleased smile. "I'm glad you like it," shse says. "It's your Choosing day present, but I thought you should wear it to the ceremony.
"Thank you!" I say, getting up to hug her. My mom squeezes me to her just, and then turns me around. She hangs the chain around me neck.
"It's amythest" she tells me, pointing at the purple stone. I thank her again and she leaves the room to go get some other stuff ready for the party that evening. I look around my room trying to think of anything I might have forgotten. My eyes land on The Lost Country, and I immedeatly feel guilty. How could I have even thought about just picking up my life and going on a potential suicide trip outside. My family loves me so much, even though I don't really fit in with them or the community. I rub the amythest pendant between my fingers. It will be my reminder from now on, I think to myself. I do belong here, and I can't just leave without my friends and family. My dad's voice from the doorway surprises me.
"You look beautiful," he says.
"Thanks," I say back, trying to settle my nerves. I am suddelny very jumpy. Excited for the ceremony as well nervous. Worried I won't get the job I want, worried I might run away at the last second, off to Cascadia and never look back. I sigh to myself, wearied by my thoughts. I turn around and head out my bedroom door. It's almost time to leave.
* * *
The Community Center takes a while to get to from my house. Even though it doesn't really matter because everyone lives in a confined space now, the farming homes tend to be on the outside of a township, near the edge of town. The community center is right next to City Hall, in the middle of town. We could have walked, but my parents didn't want me to get messy before the ceremony, so they rented a bicycle carrige. The drivers arrived perfectly on time, and we all climbed into one of the two seats in the back. My parents rode on one bike, while Colin and I rode on another. Bicycle carriges are just like normal bikes, but they're longer, with a bench on the back of them for passengers. Some families have their own bikes for getting around. It's the only non walking transportation there is here.
Text: ©2014 Tess Reding Hoffart
Publication Date: 08-18-2014
All Rights Reserved
To my sister Ruth, who constantly bugged me to start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys rather) and start writing down all my ideas.