AUTHOR: emmawatson, formerly scared_of_this
SUMMARY: It's the year 2099. Most of the earth has been swallowed by water and destroyed, and people are contained in vertical miles in the sky. The government isn't being completely honest.
NOTE: This is a very long story that I haven't finished yet, but almost. I decided to post it in parts.
It’s six a.m.
The fluorescent lights overhead zap into life, but you continue to stare directly into them. Now that the lights are on, you can move about the flat with ease. You walk over to the sink, turning on the tap, and wait for the water to rumble through the pipes and fall into the sink. Rumble is an overstatement – it’s more of slow gaunt, but you stick your toothbrush in it anyway and begin to brush.
There’s no windows in here, or anywhere, only the harsh lighting from above, so you barely glance at yourself in the mirror, only expecting to see a face you’ll never recognize. You walk over to the bed, sitting down slowly as it squeaks under the pressure of your slight weight. Grabbing a book off the floor, you lean back against the wall and further crinkle the pages with your fingers. You’ve read this one before. You’ve read them all.
It’s silent out in the hallway – it’s not like there is anything for anyone to do – so you lay back and feel for the recorder underneath the pillow. Voices suddenly fill the room, echoing against the cold plaster.
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, come on join in, happy birthday dear Frankie, happy birthday to you! Blow out the candles, come here Frank, I love you so much, give your mother -
You stop the tape before your father’s voice appears. You were eleven, and desperate to record everything – television shows, birds chirping outside your bedroom window, your parents making dinner. All you had to do was press record and instantly all that you loved was preserved forever – you must have known even then that this day would come.
It’s the year 2099. Most of the world is underwater.
Increasing amounts of land have been greedily swallowed by surging oceans, pregnant waters that grew from every melting icecap. The Jersey shore you came to love as a child has vanished, and a new coastline has replaced it – probably somewhere near the middle of the country. The response was to construct buildings like vertical miles – enough space to house everyone, except the people that died.
The world grew into a cumulative riot and spared no one. Everyone was separated from everything they knew in a flicker. The government tried to control the swelling and angry masses, the distraught and ill-equipped families. But they used violence, scare tactics and detainment. Some might have accepted the fact of the dying world, but all they wanted was for it to end on their terms. The government wasn’t having that.
Your parents knew they were coming to house you – you were sixteen and useful. Your parents tried to fight it, to hide you, to play coy, but they couldn’t be outsmarted. Your mother and father were convinced that there were communes, gatherings of like-minded people who didn’t want to fall into their trap but only live a civil and passive life as much as possible. They didn’t want to be caught in the wars raging against every person, they just wanted you to enjoy some of life’s freedom and beauty before it was over forever.
You were skeptical that this could happen, that it could exist. But you listened to them as they whispered at night, making plans and pouring over recently inaccurate maps, trying to find a clue that might lead them there, to this sacred and secret place. You feel poorly for not believing, not that you have any proof that these protected lifestyles are real. You just hope for their sake that they were right, that they’re there and still alive and plotting your return.
You don’t want to be alone anymore. And this is the only thing that gives you hope.
It’s not a prison, but you couldn’t leave if you tried.
It’s a labyrinth. Perhaps a sphere with layers to the core you have never seen. There are no corners here. You are on the ten-thousandth floor. Sometimes you feel the unrelenting and powerful winds sway the architecture left and right. You stay on your floor, unable to leave but afraid to be lost forever within its confines anyway. You see this place as something alive and hungry, ready to swallow the lone wander. Sometimes you look down its middle, its hollow core, and you think you hear them – screams and pains and the last of people’s hope spewing out only to be heard by people like you that can’t do anything. You’ve heard rumors that they put the criminals in the lower levels. You imagine dungeons and chains and masked torturers. But you’re not so sure they’re all criminals – the prisons were the first to be destroyed anyway.
You have a small room to yourself. You used to have a roommate, but he’s gone now, lost somewhere in the labyrinth. You had a fight one day and you’ll never forget it. Ray - he was so convinced that there was a way out of this place, back to earth. He wanted to die a real death, not this Big Brother is Watching You bullshit. He wanted freedom until the very last moment. But you told him it was idiotic, there was no way out, we were best left here, unhappy but at least safe. Ray said fuck you – if you think this is safe, you’re the moron and you’ll find out the day they come for you. And he left. He left the ten-thousandth floor and disappeared.
You felt cowardly and lonely afterward – your only companion to talk to and you chased him out with your fears – afraid to lose him like you lost your parents, yet you lost him anyway.
You dream at night of Ray making it – whatever that fucking means, Ray – maybe he’ll even come back to this hellhole for you. But why should he.
When the alarms sound off it’s time to leave your room and enter the endless line of people shuffling their way to get in the front so they can receive breakfast, or maybe it’s bunch, sometimes they just don’t get around to three meals a day. And you have to be quick, be ready for the siren because once it goes off it’s to time run and scramble your way into the hordes of dirty people. It’s not unusual for fights to break out. You’re not even sure if you will see these people again. They don’t like disorder here.
You eat your bland food and wonder what is next. There are books that float around and chess boards that occasionally appear. Some days you can’t even find them where they used to be. There are rooms for pre-approved educational movies, but in actuality it is propaganda. Films on how they are excelling at novel techniques to grow fresh food from zero nutrient soils in confined areas. Or how one day we’ll be able to move back to the land and restart civilization as we knew it, as we want it. Sometimes you get the feeling they are not being entirely truthful, but you want to believe.
You may walk around and talk to a few other residents; every person since their arrival has coped in their own way, changing who they are and you’re curious as to what they’re really like. There are tranquilizers and every kind of diazepam available to enjoy a disconnected reality. There are others that seclude themselves in their quarters, crying to themselves as if it would change anything. Some choose to procreative and bring new life into a world of captivity. Still on occasion others prefer jumping off the railing into the circular abyss from ten-thousand stories in the air and then who knows what.
As for you, well, you’re not as dramatic as the others, just lonely perhaps. Even though you have been here for four years, you will never be used to this prison, never be used to the fear that one day you’ll be dragged out of your bed and become one of those screaming souls from the bottom of the maze – the ones that got lost and delirious and will now suffer for not being strong enough humans.
But mostly you miss your family, torn away from them at such a critical age and you pray every night that they found what they were looking for.
You open your eyes groggily, unable to sleep last night until the moment the overhead lights sprung into life and you think shortly after you hear a banging near the door, but the door is already open.
“Yeah, yeah that’s me,” you reply wearily, pushing yourself up on the bed.
“New mate. Way, Gerard. Move your stuff over and don’t start any trouble.”
“Yes, of course, yes.”
“Good, we have some jobs for you boys later on this afternoon, don’t disappear.”
And with that the officer turned around and left, leaving a tall, pale man standing at the door. You’re so freaked out by the presence of a new roommate that it doesn’t even register in your mind that the officer mysteriously has a job for you.
You sit on your bed looking down to the floor before you hear a cough come from the man.
“So is this my bed?” he asks.
“Oh yeah, yeah, it’s yours, it was Ray’s, but Ray is gone now, so yeah, the bed is yours,” you ramble, looking around the room but not at the man.
“Name’s Gerard,” he says before you realize he is standing right in front of you with his hand sticking out. You grab his hand and weakly shake it.
“I’m Frank,” you reply.
This man has come as surprise to you. Mrs. Prescott from room 10346 was supposed to move in now that her husband has passed. You realize you are acting rude or at least odd so you put a smile on and turn to face him.
“I, um, I wasn’t expecting you, someone else was supposed to move in here,” you tell him in an effort to explain your behavior.
“Well, here I am, at least for now,” he replies, almost winking so quick you’re not sure it was real.
“For now?” you ask confused. You watch him as he moves to sit back on his bed, his dark hair falling into his face and covering his large eyes.
“Frank, how long you’ve been here?” he asks, taking a few pills out of his pocket and swallowing them down.
“Four years or so, why?”
“Just wondering. I think I’m going to take a nap now, it’s been a long night.”
You watch as he turns over on his side, still in his coat and shoes and proceeds to pass out before you can even tell him he’s about to miss breakfast.
Your eyes shoot open. You feel something wrapped around you and you inhale sharply, knowing the moment has come for them to tie you up and make you disappear. But sheepishly you realize that you’re not tied down and you feel something almost warm and comforting next to you.
You hesitantly slide around onto your back, an arm falling off of your body. Your new roommate is curled next to you completely asleep, his eyes pinched shut as if he has to force them to stay that way. You’re alarmed by his presence, having only met the man early this morning, but something tells you he’s been through a tough time.
You don’t move or wake him until there is a quick knock on the door and you jump up as the door flies open and in steps an officer.
“Iero stay standing. What is Way doing?” the man asks.
“Um, sleeping, I think, officer,” you reply, terrified you’re in trouble for something you are unsure of.
“Well wake him up and get the hell out of here, I told you I have a job for you to do, and I mean now.” The officer rolls his eyes.
With that the officer spins himself out of the room and goes to talk to someone outside of the door. You don’t understand how Gerard has not woken up through all of this, so you start to poke at his shoulder hard and fast, afraid of being reprimanded again by the officer.
“Gerard, it’s, um, it’s Frank, your new mate, wake up please, we have to go,” you whisper, one eye peering outside the door.
All of a sudden you find yourself flat on the floor with Gerard looking down on you from on top of your bed.
“Fuck, man, I’m sorry, you startled me, fuck, I’m so out of it, do you have a cigarette?” Gerard spits out, looking around the rumpled bed sheets tied around his feet as if he’ll find a cigarette there.
You slowly stand up, a little pissed off that this stranger is in your bed, knocking you down and not even offering to help you up.
“No, Gerard, there is no time for cigarettes, we have some assignment to do, remember? And I mean we need to do it now, so get the hell out of my bed and start moving,” you bellow, immediately embarrassed.
Gerard gets up, says nothing and walks outside. You quickly follow him and walk with the two officers to room 10346. You’re mind finally catches up with you and asks why you’re here, why they’re using you for some unidentified task and you’re kind of curious until the moment they open the door.
Mrs. Prescott’s decaying body is laying on the floor. You’re instinct is to run in there and shake her, yell at her, do something, but the mottled cyanotic skin sloughing off of her body and her awful rigid posture is enough to tell you that this is beyond repair.
“She was my friend, why are you showing me this?” you shout, but the officers are quick to you pull you and Gerard into the room and close the door.
“Iero it’s time for you to start taking some responsibility around here, you’ve been here long enough and you are way past an adult. We need you and Way to take care of this, to contribute, to become good citizens. You want that don’t you? To be a good citizen?” the officer whispers, staring down into your face, no hint of emotion in his eyes, only seriousness. Frank doesn’t know the answer to that rhetorical question.
“I, she’s my friend,” you stutter, turning around to look at Gerard for support, but he’s only looking at the ground with his hand covering his nose from the putrid smell.
“I’ll do it, whatever,” Gerard says and walks around to the body and begins to take off her wedding band and necklace.
You’re shocked that he would just jump into this with any moral qualm and begin to dismantle someone’s body. What do they even want you to do with it?
“Strip her down, all valuables will be returned to us and we’ll know if you’re holding out, so don’t try anything – then put the body in this bag and take it to level twenty-one and they’ll know what to do from there. Once you’re done get straight back up here, and we’ll know if you don’t.”
The other officer sidles up to you and leans down into your face, breathing hot intoxicative breath past your nostrils, “Iero, we trust you, so do not ruin that – teach this kid the ropes and make sure he stays out of trouble, now get to work and keep your emotions out of it.”
The door slams behind you and your left with Gerard picking through Mrs. Prescott’s pockets and the rancid smell of death filling every pore of your body and you want to vomit, but instead you take your unsettled emotions out on the one thing you can.
“What the fuck are you doing? She is my friend, she was supposed to move in with me before you came and ruined everything, she was kind and she lost her husband and what the fuck are we supposed to do with this body,” you shout as you push Gerard’s hands away from her chest and almost fall into tears.
“Look man, I’ve seen and done worse, we just have to get her out of this room and I am sure it will be fine. Besides, it looks like your friend didn’t want to be here anymore,” Gerard replies as he pulls her shirt away from her and reveals a broken shard of plate shoved into the side of her neck, dried blood down her neck and pooled on the floor.
“Looks like she really didn’t want to move in with you. So how bad of a roommate are you, Iero?” he laughs.
Your stomach flinches and you throw yourself at this man, tumbling over on the floor and you’re top of him and ready to punch and all he can say is do it Frank, do it, just fucking get the anger out and you look into his face and into his eyes and you don’t know what you recognize, it’s dark and scary. You don’t understand the sudden, uncharacteristic mania coursing through your mind so you have to stop it.
You stand up and he stands up and that’s it. You turn around and give your blessing to Mrs. Prescott in your mind before you two work together to place her gently into the black bag. It’s rotten and disgusting and you have to turn around while Gerard pulls the final zipper closed.
Gerard puts her jewelry into a small brown envelope and sticks it in his pocket. Together you each carry an end of the bag - you are afraid of what other residents might suspect until you realize you don’t even know how to get to level 21 having never left the floor you’re on. The thought paralyzes you.
“How, how are we supposed to get there?” you falter, the first real sentence you’ve spoken to Gerard.
Gerard isn’t paying attention, he’s looking at a tiny piece of paper in his hands, counting out blocks along the wall.
“Where did you get that?” you ask, incredulous.
“This is how we get there, but we wait for now,” he silently replies, sliding the body bag off to the side near the door. The hall is empty and quiet.
“I’m so confused, why did they want us to do this? Don’t they have workers or officers for this?”
“I’m sure we’re not the only people doing the dirty deeds they don’t want to do and like they said they trust you for whatever reason,” Gerard replies with a shrug.
“But what about you? You just arrived, how do they trust you to do this?”
Gerard doesn’t answer, just slumps down against the wall and you follow his lead. It’s the first time you’ve had to try to collect your thoughts since you were awaken from your nap with Gerard’s arm around your waist. Your eyes trace his face, the upturned nose, the small red mouth, his large eyes. This man has been sprung on you all of a sudden and while he seems nothing like Ray so far that may be all the more reason to get to know him or stay away.
“So are we just waiting for some door to magically appear?” you ask, a little ticked off that Gerard got the piece of paper when they said you were the one they trusted.
“I don’t know, Frank, I just know to wait,” he replies, looking down at his fingernails while he speaks.
You study him some more – the dirty leather jacket and scruffy black hair. It occurs to you that he might of come from the outside, that he was living as a free person before they caught him. You’re tempted to ask, to know what it is like out there, to know what has changed in the past four years, whether there is communes of people living out their lives in peace in spite of the decaying earth but suddenly a door appears when you weren’t looking.
Gerard stands up and grabs the bag and drags it while you solemnly follow, and you feel remorse for Mrs. Prescott and her husband for having to die in this messed-up confinement as if it was home.
The room or elevator takes you down, and revoltingly fast – you feel sick and dizzy and Gerard has to hold on to you before you bash your head into the side of the wall.
“Don’t they feed you in here? You’re so tiny,” he whispers into your ear.
“When they get around to it, you know.” You’re suddenly grateful Gerard is here to help you with this mess.
And just like that the elevator stops, and you step out onto the twenty-first floor, the first place you’ve been other than your floor in four years. You’ve always been afraid of the deep core of this snarl and you contemplate telling Gerard about the screams that echo all the way up the maze, but suddenly three men walk up to you and motion for you to follow.
Gerard is still dragging the bag behind him, and you offer to take it from him but he refuses. You pass rooms that look like laboratories, plants and soil beds and people in white coats and you believe for a moment that they are actually doing what they have said – designing novel techniques for plant growth in the earth’s current condition and maybe things will work out and get better and soon there will be real, nutritious food to eat for everyone.
“Drop the bag now,” someone demands.
Gerard complies and you both watch as they unzip the bag and inspect her mangled, rotten corpse. Gerard hands over the envelope with her jewelry.
“Now the two of you place the body on this conveyor belt,” the officer commands.
At first you think that they are going to incinerate her, turn her body to ashes, but something is wrong. There is no heat source within the tunnel, but mechanical devices with long torturous blades that rotate, strong enough to chop the body into many small pieces. Your eyes well up with tears.
“Wait, what are you doing with her body?” you cry, scared and disgusted.
“What do you think?” the officer laughs, “It’s for the ‘greater good,’ don’t worry young man.”
“Just turn away Frank, we can’t do anything,” Gerard breathes into your ear and you turn away to look into his eyes and find something, comfort, pain, anything. The sound of the conveyor belt signaling its movement.
“This is your new job boys, get used to it,” and they laugh again.
Suddenly, you feel light-headed and you maybe drop to the ground.